Review: Martin Logan SL3 Speaker

Category: Speakers

Martin Logan SL3
Owned since April 2006

Overcoming the Martin Logan Single Sweet Spot

A friend recommended Martin Logans. He has the Prodigys which are much bigger than my SL3. Oddly enough his speakers are in a room smaller than mine. We have always wondered about switching, but never got around to the experiment.

My SL3s began in my home in a large living room with 20’ ceilings, open on one side, glass on the other and a gas fireplace in the middle of the speakers. Not surprisingly, I could never get them to image well. After changing out most of the rest of the gear (it’s an analog rig), my wife agreed to let me have a smaller room upstairs for audio.

I was never happy lining up my friends train style, one behind the other, to get to the sweet spot. Mostly the room wasn’t big enough & I grew tired of dragging chairs around. Alone, I could find the sweet spot, but a twitch of the head and suddenly it was just Left or just Right. There had to be a better way!

Back to the upstairs room over our garage. Dimensions are roughly 15’ x27’x9’ with a 51” knee wall. The room is carpeted with a small window near the front (behind the speakers) and three skylights. There are 4 can lights down the axis and a ceiling fan mid-room. I have two IKEA 2x4 shelves along both walls and beside the window on both sides. They are full of records, roughly 3,000. There is a essentially piece of cardboard used as deflectors on tables along the wall in front of the MLs to “push” sound into the room.

The speakers are approximately 4’ from the side walls on spikes on 1” thick cutting boards. They are approximately 8’ from the back wall. Speakers are pointed straight into the room, not toed in as ML suggests. A flashlight shining onto the panels from the recommended listener sweet spot in the middle of the speakers creates a line about ½” from the inner edges of the speakers. Normal recommendations are about 2”.

The evolution of the system has been from essentially solid state to tubes. I don’t want to run down any of the fine gear I have owned, but I prefer tubes and this seems to work with my speakers…now clearly the least expensive piece in the room.

What I have now is a Basis 2500 TT, Graham 2.2 arm, Lyra Titan cartridge, Tara Labs Phono GX cable (DIN -> XLR), Atma-Sphere MP1 preamp, Tara The Twos IC, Cary Audio SLM 100 monoblocks switchable from 4 Ohm to 8 Ohm(with Shuguang Treasure KT88s and Tung Sol 6sn7s), Combak Harmonix SLC speaker cables to the ML panel and Straightwire Creschendos to the ML woofer. Luminous Audio Technology Mega Power Lynx power cords to the MLs. Combak Harmonix SDC power cords to the mono blocks. PS Audio P500 regenerated power to the amps (Sine wave, 60hz, 117v). See my system in Virtual Systems on Audiogon.

All of this gear makes a difference in the chain, but what made the most difference? Not the table nor the arm as I was able to get this big full soundstage with lesser gear (SOTA Star Sapphire and Linn Ittok LVII arm/Thorens TD124 with a Lyra Helikon Mono cart).

I noticed some improvements in soundstage with better power cords, but the greatest improvement with the addition of the Grade A Shuguang Treasure KT88s in my amps (set on 4 Ohms).

For those of you who are familiar with ML and have had panel “decay” (don’t know how else to call it), I took the brave step of washing the Electrostat Panels in the shower. There are great directions on the Martin Logan Owners website. I was 100% skeptical and after determining that it wasn’t anything else in the chain I decided I had to try it. To my amazement, it was back to normal with IMPROVED microdynamics. I guess I had gotten used to less, but they are better than before.

My experience with these speakers is that they respond to everything I give them and have been able to keep up with thousands of dollars of improvements in the audio chain. In short, they are better speakers than I ever gave them credit for. I don’t need bigger speakers for my room and, while I’m sure there are better and more modern speakers, I can’t figure out what I am missing! I have shocking dynamic range, crystal clear highs, deep and well articulated bass [it does drop off in the very lowest notes (30hz?)], and sweet, delicate mids-ranges. I am continually surprised with these speakers can do.

I listen to jazz circa Dave Brubeck, Ella, etc, all sizes of classical music performances, some rock and roll.

Test records include Ejai Kitamuro Swing Sessions (RCA), Dom Un Romano Saudades (Water Lily), Cantate Domino (Proprius),Respighi Pines of Rome (UHQR), Patricia Barber Cafe Blue, and so on......

If money were no object, I would audition lots of other speakers in my home in my system, but so far in other people's systems, I have not heard anything better than my speakers for what I want in music reproduction.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
nothing else in my own system
I have owned or listened to almost every speaker Martin Logan has ever made, (I was also a Martin Logan dealer) and the SL3 remains one of my favorites. Excellent speaker.

The SL3s are wonderful speakers and a steal at what they are going for used. I have owned a pair since 98 and have had no desire to replace them. I have also owned Cary SLM100s. I upgraded to an Audio Research VT100 and now a Ref 110. I have also thought about trying an OTL tube amp Atma-Sphere MA-1 with the SL3s. The SL3s are very transparent and can benefit the better the electronics.
Thanks for posting this. It's really good to hear of your experience. I owned SL3s for almost 8 years and was never really happy with them. Some recordings sounded great, most didn't. The difference between the panel and the woofer was always detectable. I'm glad to hear that you were able to make them really sing. I always wanted to love them, but was never able to set them up and match them properly.

I had purchased them after my cat destroyed my Magnepan 3.3, and knowing I had a kid on the way, the SL3's were indestructible compared to other speakers in case my kids were careless. My dealer recommended at the time that I buy the Aerius instead and put the extra money into electronics, probably good advice.

I sold my SL3's a few years ago and now run the Acoustic Zen Adagios and couldn't be happier - I find them more forgiving, filled with more body, and yet they still posses some of the speed that the SL3's have.
I have to agree with Lostbears, they are a steal at used prices. I wouldn't say this is the best speaker ever built (that would be silly), but in my room, for my music and musical tastes, these just keep getting better the better I feed them. EVERYTHING upstream makes a difference. As for putting OTL amps in there (I love my Atma-Sphere MP1), I think the MLs love the 4 Ohm signal and seem to collapse with 8 Ohms. Make sure the OTLs can deliver.

I also love the thought of having a mostly American made system: Table, arm, preamp, amp, speakers, etc.