Which brings us now to the vexed question of bass. Like I said – see all those drivers, expect to be battered into submission – only it never really happens like that. Of course, reach for something like the "Drum Dance" from House of Flying Daggers and you’ll have bass power, volume and impact aplenty. But even then this is a fast, transparent, textured bass rather than the room shaking, rib-rumbling thunder that people think is bass. You see, it’s that un-learning curve again – gets you every time.
Now, I can only talk about what I hear in my room, where the bass is both well behaved and on the lighter side of normal. Other rooms might well provoke the Martens to more flatulent effect, but in mine their bottom end was never less than agile, tactile and tuneful. They never managed to match the natural weighted tonality of the Isis, and for that reason, their definition of soundstage dimensions and boundaries was never as clearly defined, but I’m being real picky here. Playing upright bass from ‘50’s and ‘60’s jazz recordings, the attack, weighting and shape of notes is ghostly in its natural pace and presence, Ray Brown’s dexterity running full rein on This One’s For Blanton, where so many other speakers plod and labour. His bass lines and intricate working of rhythm and melody, accent and phrasing are negotiated with effortless articulation and unfettered poise.
In fact, this more than anything else sums up the character of the Martens. They might seem, conceptually speaking, like a downsized Wilson WAMM or Nola Exotica Grand Reference, but actually they are more like a beefed up WATT/ Puppy. They don’t have the awesome power and massive stage delivered by the true monsters of the hi-fi-world. Instead they offer a more modest and in many ways more physically realistic perspective on the musical event, combined with the microscopic levels of instrumental analysis and insight that go with the best mini-monitors. These speakers tell you exactly who is doing what, where and when. They take you inside the performance, into the studio, onto the stage. Their musical power comes from their speed and immediacy, rather than the ability to move massive amounts of air. If you want to be lifted out of your seat by sheer musical wallop, then there’s no denying the power and majesty of a speaker like Nola’s EGR, or the impressive expanse of its walk in and stroll around soundstage. But that speaker doesn’t match the tonal and dynamic continuity of the Martens, the evenness of their resolution or their freedom from intrusive excess.