Electrostatic Speakers

Hello Audiogon! Been around the forum scene for quite a while, and just joined this forum and thought I offer my thoughts on some equipment I just bought: speakers and the cables that came with it.

I couldn’t afford brand new speakers, and thought I’d try a different type speaker as opposed to my B&W 805 Diamond speakers. My dealer has loaned me Marten Logan Quest Z electrostatic speakers, as well as TARA Labs “The One” cables for this purpose. Right away I could hear a difference in sounds between the B&W and The ML. My B&W definitely have more punch to them, and the bass is quite remarkable. (this works great when I’m listening to my classic rock collection) What I found interesting was the way the ML speakers had a sound that seemed to encompass the whole room. Like a wall of sound (courtesy of Phil Spector) If you’ve never heard a good pair of electrostatic speakers, then I’d urge you to try and listen to some if you can. Really a whole new world out there. The cables that my dealer loaned me where TARA Labs. Though I’ve heard of them before, I haven’t really seen any advertising in any magazines showing off new models etc. I saw them in Stereophile Recommended components issues. I’ve always used Wireworld cables in my system before and do love them. I will say that I immediately heard a difference when I put the TARA Labs cables in my system. The high frequencies were insane to say the least. As a matter of fact, the Marten Logans with those cables really expanded when I put Dark side of the moon on (180gm vinyl) Anyone out there have any experience with electrostatic speakers?

-Brian J.
I was a Martin Logan dealer for many years along with being an Acoustat dealer from the start to the end of that company. I also sold Audio Static and Magnepan, (Maggies are planar magnetic, not electrostatic).

I have personally owned well over 50 different pairs of "panel" speakers from the above mentioned and Quad, Sound Labs, Monsoon and a few others.

I am a panel lover...period. I have owned a lot of other speakers, but always keep or come back to either electrostatic or planar magnetic speakers.

Panel speakers are just like any other speaker. You either love them or hate them. They have their pros and cons. For "me" they just sound right. YMMV
Hi Brian

I have always liked electrostatics - really transparent - especially in the midrange.

The issue I find with ML is they are disjointed in the bass as they transition to the bass driver - it sounds like a system with a subwoffer.

That said it is highly variable on if it worries people -to some they cant stand it, for others they dont even notice it. Personally I am in the middle.

"The issue I find with ML is they are disjointed in the bass as they transition to the bass driver - it sounds like a system with a subwoofer."

Having personally owned probably 20 different Martin Logan models, that was somewhat true of the older models, although it never bothered me. With the new Vojtko crossovers, this really isn't a problem anymore. These new models are as seamless as any other speaker out there...IMHO anyway.

I have had various electrostatic speakers since the late 1980s. I have owned Martin Logan SL3s since 1998. The SL3s are one of my favorite ML speakers. I have tried some newer MLs including the Accent but I did not feel they were as good. I have not heard the Quest Z, I have heard the request. The SL3s blend the panels with the bass much better than most.

Setup is very important with panel speakers. They need to be away from the walls to sound there best.

You don't mention the rest of your equipment such as the amp you are using. Martin Logan speakers really benefit from high quality electronics.
No matter how many times I tried to listen to electrostats or pannels, they always sounded outside and far away of actual reality at any price point. They fill up listening room very well and have an incredible imaging abilities, but at great sacrifice of tonal balance and deapth so that most of vocals would sound unrecognizably thin to the point of Leonard Cohen with pitch of Bob Dylan. Headphones are great tho.
My experience with ESLs is that they can be really seamless and fast, with great tonal balance and excellent soundstage width and depth.

IMO the state of the art in ESLs are the Sound Labs. A recent change in their electronics has made them much easier to drive. They are also moderate impedance (which was the case with all ESLs in the old days) such that they are easily driven with tube amps, although you do need some power to really make them go. However 200 watts in a tube amp is enough for all but the biggest rooms. If you run solid state, you may need about 600 watts to do the same work, on account of the fact that the impedance curve allows a 200 watt tube amp to make about the same amount of power as a 600 watt transistor amp.

The Sound Lab is one of the few that will go down to 20Hz and shake the walls.
Hello Brian, I also have a pair of Martin Logan Quest Z speakers that I’ve had for years. I’ve heard dynamic speakers for many years and always preferred electrostatic speakers. They have always had my ear as opposed to more directional speakers. I use a JRiver music server though I admit vinyl has always interested me. I like the convenience of it. The only downfall I can say about the Quest Z speakers is that they are too big for my bedroom, as that’s where I keep my system. They are like two tall towers that loom above all else. I’ve known about TARA Labs for years also. And no, I never see them advertising in magazines, though I frequently see them in blogs. I’m not so sure that ads in magazines mean anything anyway. So welcome to the world of electrostatic speakers, Enjoy!!
The open baffle spatial audio M2 turbos that i'm currently breaking give that panel-like transparent sound along with extremely high efficiency. Bass response could be an issue though if not pairing with a subwoofer. Something to consider.
Take a look at OHM Walsh speakers for a unique dynamic design and means of operation (wave bending).

I liked various dynamic speaker models and owned Maggies prior. I wanted Quad ES-like sound with bigger dynamics and a tad more meat on the bones for half the cost or less. That's pretty much what I got with the newer, third generation OHM Walshes. Note that I owned original first generation models prior and never thought those to be up to snuff in terms of detail and clarity compared to good ES speakers, but that changed with the third gen series 3 models. Current models are one design revision newer, advertised as evolutionary not revolutionary. I've never heard the gen 2 series 2 models, but understand those to be somewhere between the originals and series 3.
Thank you all for your replies! I currently use the Rocket 88 tube amp from Cary. Not sure if this is the best choice, but what I have to use. I appreciate your comments here. Also wondering everyone's take on the cables...anyone have experience with TARA Labs or Wireworld?
Are you still a dealer?
@jasongreene Manufacturers spend fortunes on placing ads in magazines and smother us in the virtues of how their product is better than everyone else. You want to know how good products really are? Read the comments in audio-blogs. If you read good things about a particular product, and lots of bloggers are writing this…. you would be well to follow that advice. They base the reviews only on their own experience, and not on dollars spent with ads
Are you still a dealer?

No, sorry I am not anymore.
Electrostats can be great speakers, though for me they are second-best in type to horns. They lack the sheer dynamic range of horn speakers, and I don't mean just on the loud end, but also the softs. That said, I do like most pairs of electrostats I have heard.
Learsfool, most guys who have not heard great horns, but love stats, will think you are crazy. They just have not heard the right horns.

I agree totally. A great horn can do the electrostatic softness, subtelty, transparency, but can also do the snap, the instant wide range transients that no stat can do.

Like you, I also like most stats.
10-22-14: Abcaudio
Thank you all for your replies! I currently use the Rocket 88 tube amp from Cary. Not sure if this is the best choice, but what I have to use. I appreciate your comments here. Also wondering everyone's take on the cables...anyone have experience with TARA Labs or Wireworld?
I have no directly relevant experience, but I'll mention that the impedance curve of your speakers, as shown in Figure 1 here, will result in their tonal balance and sonic character being particularly sensitive to the output impedance, damping factor, feedback characteristics, and drive capability of the amplifier that is being used, and (especially if cable length is long) to the inductance and resistance of the speaker cables. So my suggestion is simply that you consider responses that may be provided to your question to only have much relevance if they are based on experience with the same or similar M-L speakers.

Enjoy! Regards,
-- Al
Your Cary Rocket 88 amp is really way too little power to drive those Quest Z speakers properly.

I would recommended a higher powered amp for sure. As long as you aren't listening very loud or trying to fill a large room with music, you'll be okay, but if you are thinking about keeping those speakers, you'll need to invest in a bigger amp.

Thanks Al for the info and as usual you are correct.
Ralph has said it all. I own both the Sound Labs and his amps and what he describes I feel privileged to hear every day.
Horns can be magnificent. I love the aCapella offerings, but after many hours of listening, they did not make me part with the SLs. They -to my ears - came sometimes closer to what I hear at live concerts.

The Walsh drivers with their excellent dynamics have been perfected by German Physiks. Their bigger offerings, like the Emperor, with four of their DDD drivers per side, could perhaps one day lure me away from ESLs, for the first time in my 50 years career as an audiophile.
I agree, Omsed. Horns, driven by tube electronics, sound more life-like, if we are talking non-amplified live acoustic music, than anything else. But stats do a fine job as well, I have heard some great ones.
Living with a great panel speaker (I have Apogee Duetta Sig's) for a while is like living with a great passive preamp. It might not do everything right, but once you are used to the transparency that they bring to the table it is hard to find anything else that improves on their weaknesses but still retains their strengths.
You will hear a difference like you did with the cable, with more good clean power for your Quest Z. I have Martin Logan Aerius i driven by Threshold T series pre and power amp purchased new back in '98. The entire system is wired with Tara Labs RSC cable. I think Tara Labs and electrostats are a great match - to me they sounded better then all other cables I've tried. Nothing wrong with tube amps, I like them too, but I think you will need one with more power if really want to hear the full potential of your Quest Z. IMO, solid state amps with lots of good clean power work best with electrostats. Be sure to pull the speakers out at least 3 feet away from the front wall (the one facing you) and side wall.
I am a stat lover and would own nothing else. Not an ML fan but definitely a STATLOVER.
I have been a mostly electrostatic user for the past 30 years. Acoustat X, Acoustat transformer based, Dayton Wright,Quad USA Monitor, Quad ESL and now .. Beveridge Electrostatics.

There are definite trade-offs between electrostatic presentation and cone type drivers. The delicacy and presence of the 'stats are always difficult for me to give up. The power and pressurization of a room is mostly unmatched with conventional drivers.. either way personal preference comes into play.

I will agree with Atmasphere that the Sound Labs are probably SOTA in electrostatics today..never owned them but did have a chance to critically listen recently. While I think ML have come along way in integrating the woofer to the panels, my favourite ML is the original CLS.. no longer made. The more recent models are definitely easier for most to live with.

Good Luck.
I've been a stat fan since the late 70's when I heard the original Acoustat3 with the provided servo tube amps.
Later I bought the medallion 3 panel versions and used a CJ M75A-1 amp.
Sold them, moved on to cones, had several good pairs but whenever I listened to my pals with the tubed Acoustats I felt something was lacking with my speakers.
So back to panels, first with ML Sequel, then Quad 63, then two pairs of ML CLS 11z, then stacked Quad 57's.
I tried some Tannoy Ardens, Grand Veenas, and then I found a pair of the original Acoustat monitor 3 with the servo tube amps.
I got the amps modded and updated, braced up the cabinets and fed them with dedicated power and good gear upstream.

This is closer to the "dream" sound that I've been chasing.

But, I've done a lot of room treatment, and tweeks to get to where things are sounding good.

I would agree panels won't work for everyone.
I have friends who have been loyal to the same pair since the middle 70's and others who flit from cone speaker to cone speaker on a monthly basis.

I've been happy to be back in the stat fold for a few years now and ,though they aren't perfect, nothing else is either.

Try some good solid state amps with the ML's.
I found a pair of Classe DR 8 in mono worked very well.
Tube amps not so well.
Brian I just moved from Soundlab m2's to Nola KO's; so far only 1 weekend listening.
I am still playing with positioning of the KO's but I like what I hear thus far and I still have the nola blue thunder speaker cables to install as I am still running my transparent musicwave super's.
I would encourage anyone to at least try and hear a ESL speaker (especially the soundlab's) and see for yourself; ESL speakers are quite awesome.