Killer Values: High-Performance Speaker Systems Seen at CEDIA, Part 3

Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL,
Monitor Audio Bronze BX System,
Paradigm MilleniaOne,
Wharfedale Diamond10-series
Killer Values: High-Performance Speaker Systems Seen at CEDIA, Part 3

This is part three of a three-part article. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

MartinLogan Electro Motion ESL

As is the case with many loudspeaker manufacturers, MartinLogan divides its product line into segments targeted toward various sales/distribution channels. In practice this means the firm’s famous high-end electrostatic loudspeakers (e.g., the roughly $20,000/pair CLX models and the like) are collectively know as the Reference-series models and are sold through specialty retailers. Less expensive, though still decidedly performance-oriented models are offered as separate product lines sold through more mass-market oriented retail chains (e.g., Best Buy/Magnolia stores, etc.).

But at CEDIA, MartinLogan threw us all a delightful “curve ball” in the form of a new, $1995/pair hybrid electrostatic speaker called the Electro Motion ESL.  The ESL features trickle-down technology from its more costly brethren, including an XStat MicroPerf electrostatic panel married to an 8-inch piston-type woofer housed in an enclosure located at the bottom of the speaker. The ESL is slated to ship in March 2011.

Not only is the ESL the least expensive XStat model MartinLogan has ever produced, but it is also more than a little reminiscent of one of the best loved (and most affordable) MartinLogan models from the past; namely the late, lamented MartinLogan Aerius i. I had a chance to do a brief listening session with the ESL (and to compare it to the also new—but more than twice as expensive—MartinLogan Theos), and came away very impressed. I think the ESL will, in due course, earn a reputation as both a “giant killer” of sorts and as one of the very best values in the entire MartinLogan line up.



Monitor Audio Bronze BX Series Speakers

On paper, the Bronze series speakers have traditionally represent the “entry-level” offerings for Monitor Audio, but somehow that descriptor doesn’t quite do the speakers justice—especially in light of the fact that the entire range was revamped and rolled out at CEDIA as the new Bronze BX series.

Last year, Monitor Audio Technical Director Dean Hartley and his team surprised us all with a new series of Silver RX speakers that—in very many ways—took their design cues from the firm’s higher-tier Gold-series speakers. This year Hartley and team have repeated the process while moving it one step further down the range, by developing the Bronze BX line after the pattern established by the now critically acclaimed Silver RX models. There is real value in this approach and customers are the big winners because, over time, they get to enjoy previously quite exotic technologies at progressively more affordable price points.

If you take a casual glance at the new Bronze BX models (there are seven in all, ranging from small bookshelf monitors to floorstanders), you could easily mistake them for Silver RX models: the proportions and general layout of the models are quite similar, so that it’s only in relatively small detail areas that differences become apparent. Similarities include “dedicated driver chambers, rigid (cabinet) bracing, bolt-through drivers and hard-wired connections.” And the Bronze BX models now get treated to all-new C-CAM (ceramic-coated aluminum magnesium) tweeters. midrange drivers, and bass drivers that are similar—though not precisely identical—to their Silver RX counterparts.  

I briefly heard the Bronze BX flagships, the BX 6 floorstanders ($989/pair), but noise spilling over into the Monitor booth prevented me from forming more than rough-cut initial impressions. Further listening is indicated. If Monitor’s Bronze BX range runs true to form, though, this should be a product line that will delight those seeking maximum "bang" for their hard-earned bucks.

Paradigm Millenia One System

Paradigm has practically made an art form of leveraging trickle-down technologies from its flagship lines of award-winning speakers to create new, and often more affordable, product families that appeal to new groups of customers. This is precisely what happened in the creation of the firm’s new MilleniaOne sat/sub system.

The core of the system is the stylish new MilleniaOne satellite speaker (priced at $249/each), which borrows driver technologies and other know-how from Paradigm’s Reference-series speakers. The result is a very small, stylish, minimalist-chic two-way loudspeaker that looks like a “lifestyle” product, but is in fact quite a bit more than that. Each MilleniaOne sat features a gently oval-shaped enclosure made of die-cast aluminum (finished either in white or black) and sporting full-on Reference-series Paradigm drivers (a 1-inch S-PAL aluminum dome and a 4.5-inch aluminum cone mid-bass driver). The sats come with small stands and can, by design, be used for L/R main, center, or surround-channel applications. To simplify ordering, MilleniaOne satellites will come bundled either in 2-packs (for stereo applications) or 5-packs (for surround sound/home theater applications).

Completing the picture is Paradigm’s very cool-looking Millenia sub, which can be used either on a small pedestal-type stand or—get this—simply hung on the wall. The sub uses dual oblong 4-inch x 14-inch woofers powered by a 300-watt amplifier, and is configured so that it can be used with Paradigm’s familiar, optional PBK-1 “Perfect Bass Kit” EQ system. Having seen the system at CEDIA, my guess is that an awful lot of customers may be drawn to the wall-mount option, which really does seem to eliminate most problems with perceived “subwoofer clutter.” To that end, the Millenia Sub will soon be offered with an optional wireless kit that gets rid of RCA-type “subwoofer signal cables” altogether. Pricing for the Millenia Sub will be $1399.

The Millenia One/Millenia Sub system will begin shipping in November.

Wharfedale Diamond-Series Speakers

CEDIA 2010 marked the official return of the storied British speaker brand Wharfedale to the U.S. market, and for many enthusiasts the very epicenter of all things that are good and right about Wharfedale can be found in the firm’s Diamond-series speaker—now upgraded to become the Diamond 10 series.

Over the years, Wharfedale’s Diamond-series have earned a reputation as sonic (and, for that matter, cosmetic) overachievers—speakers that looked and especially sounded better than they had any right to for the money. While it will take some in-depth review listening to know for sure, my educated guess is that the Diamond 10 will take that reputation further than ever before.

Highlights of the Diamond 10 range, which comprises thirteen models in all (three bookshelf monitors, five floorstanders, three center channel speakers, one surround speaker, and one powered subwoofer), include:

·      Multi-layered curved wall cabinets said to be much stronger than in previous diamond models.
·      Composite front baffles.
·      Improved mid-bass and bass drivers with Kevlar diaphragms and distinctive diamond pattern surround rings said to damp standing waves and to promote smoother high-frequency rolloff.
·      Rear-firing reflex ports.
·      Fabric dome tweeters with a special diffuser grid said to help smooth out extreme high frequencies.
·      Simple crossovers said to provide “phase perfect integration” for the tweeter throughout the crossover region.

The flagship model in the range is the three-way Diamond 10.7 floorstander ($1299/pair), but if history is indicator—and it often is—the most popular model in the range is apt to be the lovely little Diamond 10.1 bookshelf monitor ($349/pair), an acknowledged “sweet spot” in the line. Diamond 10-series 5.1-channel system bundles start at around $1500.

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