Review: Martin Logan CLX Speaker

Category: Speakers

A week ago I went over to Audio Archon located in Libertyville, Ill., which is the home salon of Mike Kay to audition the new Martin Logan CLX's paired along with the reference Descent i subwoofers.

Yes, I had read the Jonathan Valin review in the Absolute Sound, had talked to Mike about his impression of the CLX's now that his demo pair was fully broken in and that his system and room had been "dialed in" ( Mike is a truth teller), so when he shared his excitement about their stellar performance I knew that the CLX's offered something special. However, I'm a hard core skeptic and have to use my own pair of ears' to really make a decision of what's going on sonicly with a piece of gear.

I have had the great pleasure of listening/auditioning to some of the most highly regarded speakers in all of high end audio ( Wilson's, Kharma's, Sound Lab's, MBL's, Magico's, Magnapan's, S&P Tech's, Rockport's, B&W's, Audio Analysis', Avalon's), I do have a preference for planar speakers which I find to offer more of the "illusion" of real music, so I was intrigued about what this full range electrostatic speaker had to offer.

The physical appearance of the CLX's is quite striking compared to the pictures I had seen before of this speaker. Mike's pair was the anniversary edition with all aluminum frame, in silver, and is high tech looking for sure, but at the same time almost demur and delicate because of the transparency of its panels. Great eye candy! The CLX's also appear to be extremely well built using the finest materials. None of the above would matter if the CLX's did not perform sonically at a world class level. They do, here's the details:

1) World reference level clarity/transparency without etch or harshness. This speaker floats the music into the acoustic space with all the micro-details without being in your face. I have no doubt that if anything less then reference level upstream gear were used to drive the CLX's or if you play badly recorded or hot sounding sources this speaker will not sweeten up or euphonically cover over these deficiencies.

2) In the older generations of Martin Logan's I always felt that they sounded lean regarding the part of the harmonic I refer to as the body, not the leading edge or decays. They nailed the leading edge and decays, but kinda left out the middle body. The CLX's have completely eliminated this short coming. The speaker offers both the speed and accuracy of the leading edge of notes, but now have the fullness of real music when it comes to the body of these notes. This reminds very much of what happened sonicly when I put my MG-20's on Myesound stands, they dramatically picked up speed/clarity/transparency, so that the 20's now had that prcise leading edge of the harmonic and still retained the body/fullness of the notes. So, the MG-20's got faster and kept their warmth and the ClX's still are lightening fast electrostatics that now have body and warmth that other generations of Martin Logan's lacked.

3) One of the best soundstage presentations I have heard regarding width and depth, along with precise pinpoint 3D imaging without an artificial sense of having "cutouts" posted on the overall soundstage. These images are totally intregated with the rest of the players and fiber of the music.

4) Because of the CLX's clarity/transparency microdynamics and details can be heard at low volume levels, yet the speakers can kick out macrodynamics at loud volume without compression or breakup at all. The low end extension with the Descent i subwoofers is seamless with great punch and accurate timbres.

Because my reference is a pair of MG-20's that are biamped and sit on a pair of Myesound stands it would be fair to compare the sonic performance of the CLX's to the highly regarded MG-20's or 20.1's. I believe that if there not identical twins that they are at least fraternal sisters. Might the CLX's be a smidge faster/cleaner, I'm not sure. They are both terrific world class transducers that offer great performance. Now, I'm comparing a pair of speakers that retail for $13000.00 for the MG-20.1's to $23000.00 for the CLX's, however, in my opinion, to get either the MG-20's or 20.1's to really sing you must add on the following expenses:

1) Myesound stands $600.00 A must for all Maggies!

2) External active x-over $3000.00 I use a Bryston in my system.

3) An extra great stereo amp or pair monoblocks since you need to biamp $60000.00 to what your willing or able to spend. I use a pair of Pass Labs XA-100's, retail cost $13000.00.

4) You need two extra reference level IC's since we are biamping $2000.00 to what your willing to or able to spend. I use Stealth Metacarbon's, that retail for $3500.00 for a one meter pair.

Total cost: $236000.00

So, now the cost difference for us screwball audiophiles looking for the ultimate performance does not seem quite as drastic as it first appears to be between these speakers. MG-20's or 20.1's with their passive x-over, sitting on their stock footers and being driven by a great single amp are wonderful speakers and quite a bargain at their price, however if you really want to get them to live up to their true potential, the above stated options & costs are part of the deal.

A final note. Mike Kay is one of the great guys of high end audio, both in his knowledge and honesty and a pleasure to work with. So, if you have any questions or want to setup an audition, just give him a call at 847-687-4800. His Audio Archon salon is a great addition to the high end community in the Chicagoland area.

I always say their is no "BEST" in the world of high end gear. Personal taste and system synergy lead to what each of us want to listen to and own. Now that I have heard the CLX's I put them on my list of world class reference speakers and believe they compete with any speaker regardless of cost.

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teajay..i agree with your impression of the clx speakers. i heard them at 'audio advice' in raleigh,nc a few months ago and must admit i thought they were amazing.
I listened to the clx spks, although great sounding, they left me wanting for more, the sub is a must!
Hi Emailjohn,

Totally agree with you regarding the subwoofers, I would not own this speaker if I did not have a pair of ML reference subs to provide the missing bottom end. That's how I auditioned them at Mike's house.
I like electrostats too, but in 2 channel I prefer box speakers. I heard all the ones you mentioned plus Hansen (the King E), Y G Acoustics, Vivid Audio, Most horn speakers, TAD Reference 1, Marten Coltranes, Sonus Faber's flagship, and Focal Utopia. I prefer the TAD and Hansen. I have not heard the new Sony AR1, maybe Rocky Mountain. I do use the Final Acoustics full range electrostats with JL Audio sub in a 5 channel set up and enjoy them as well.