[Review] The Martin Logan Mikros 90 -- A Bridge Too Far
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VeniVidiVale

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The Martin Logan Mikros 90: A Bridge Too Far

It was a dark and stormy night. OK, not really, but I have always wanted to read a review that started this way. And now I have, and so have you.

When the Mikros 90 was conceived, it must have been a dark and stormy night indeed at Martin Logan HQ, which as a select few know is hidden in a bunker in the middle of a cornfield in Kansas.

“Guys I know a brilliant way to increase our market share. Let’s do headphones.”
 
“Oh wow, what a great idea! Electrostatic headphones, right?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“OK they will be huge, like our speakers, right?”
 
“Um, nope. They will be tiny on-ear headphones.” 
 
“All-metal construction, right?”
 
“Um, nope. But lots of plastic, and fake-looking leather. And some chrome.”
 
“OK then why are we doing headphones?” 
 
“Well, we can build these headphones cheaply, slap the ML logo on them, and mark up their price by *800%*!"
 
"Won't that erode customer confidence?"
 
"Guys we will be laughing all the way to the bank. This is the easiest way to make money since bitcoins!”
 
“But why would anyone buy these headphones?”
 
“Are you kidding? These puppies are *Martin Logans*! Every audiophile will want one of these babies!”

And thus, ladies and gentlemen, the Mikros 90 was born. OK the dialog is fiction, but it’s otherwise hard to understand from a business / marketing perspective why a venerable speaker company with a significant market share of the electrostatic audiophile speaker market would put out a $300 MSRP first-time-around-the-block on-ear headphone model.


ML Does Tiny, But Do They Do Tiny Right? First impression: they smell like new shoes


You have to admit, the Mikros 90 looks premium. It is enclosed in a luxurious black box with vague shadowy images embossed on the front that scream “luxury”, reminiscent of the Fidelio X1 box. Inside is a foam insert, and removing it reveals the carrying case, unzipping which finally delivers the Mikros 90 like an infant at the end of a complicated c-section on a Matryoshka doll.

The headphones themselves look gorgeous. The cylindrical headband is wrapped in fake-looking leather like the steering wheel of a Lexus, with shiny chrome ends that sparkle, the plastic dome of the rotating earcups are imprinted with a rich leather pattern and discreetly feature the wavy ML logo, the smooth on-ear perforated pads are comfortably supple, with springy foam that displays good memory.

The build quality is solid. The detachable cable clicks firmly to the left earcup in a reassuring way, the cable itself is slinky and almost rubbery to touch, the connectors at both ends look well built.

The cups are closed in design, and extend by a friction mechanism that takes some getting used to. The pads are detachable. The 1/8 inch connector is right-angled.


Accessories: What else do you get?


Apart from the headphones, you get a carrying case, TRRS cable with iphone controls, an 1/8 to 1/4 inch adapter, and a tiny manual written in a font so small you need an electron microscope to make the words out.


Comfort: well, or not


I was surprised by how firmly these headphones clamp. The clamping force is up there well within ATH M50 territory. It’s not enough to crush your skull, but the significant clamping force is high enough to be uncomfortable, especially if you wear glasses. And not just for extended listening sessions -- you will begin to feel the clamp within a few minutes of first use.
To be fair, clamping force got a little better after I stretched the headband out for a few days, but is still super high compared to, say, a Grado SR60i. If you wear glasses, the Mikros 90 is not going to be put-it-on-and-forget-about-it, for sure.

The flat on-ear earcups also make your ears sweat. A lot. From a comfort perspective, that’s not a good start. The earcups do swivel, though, but getting the pads to seal on-ear just right can be a little tricky at times.

And finally, the cable is 4 feet long, includes ipod controls with recessed “buttons” that have poor tactile feedback, and has significant microphonics, which can be very distracting to some folks.


Sound: the real reason you should be reading this


Some basic tests: drivers of my Mikros 90 were balanced. The bass shaker test revealed no hum or rattle. Treble extension was excellent. Sub bass was moderately compromised. Overall, the headphones sounded like they were built as solidly as they looked.

Isolation was surprisingly good for on-ears. Probably because of the immense clamping force. After all, something that clamps with the gravitational pull of Jupiter will isolate well by pressure seal alone.

After burning them in (yes, I know, I don’t know whether burn-in real or not either, but I still burn in my headphones, it is a ritual, you know, like hitting your left heel three times on home plate and spitting twice and grabbing your crotch with your left hand every time before batting).

I subjected them to my current playlist of well known, well loved songs ripped as lossless flac files on my usual “neutral” test rig setup: Foobar > Benchmark DAC1 > O2 > Mikros 90. The Benchmark and O2 do what they are supposed to do -- they get out of the way and let me concentrate on the headphones. Kick off was with New Order’s Regret - Fire Island Mix, one of my favorite “first to play” songs.

Let’s play ball :)

For on-ears, the sound is surprisingly rich. These headphones excel when it comes to the mids, saxophones, guitars and vocals are equally vivid and prominent. Voices are prominent and crisp. Instrument presence is appropriate, and midrange tonal variations are maintained. IMO the way that the Mikros 90 makes vocals shine is the most delightful feature of these headphones.

Treble is extended and modestly bright, without significant high-end rolloff. These headphones are not sibilant or harsh, and the highs are not tinny or artificial.

The bass is the Achilles heel of the Mikros 90. Lows are clear and defined but lack impact and gravitas. There is no low-end warmth, no soul, if you know what I mean. This isn’t weak bass presence like the SR60i. This is downright anemic. Don’t get me wrong, the bass isn’t missing entirely, it is on the lower end of adequate. And “lower end of adequate” is not a good choice for DnB or dubstep.

Soundstage is what you expect from closed, on-ear headphones. This is not in the same ballpark as a Q701. Probably not even in the same league. Instrument separation is adequate.


Price / performance value: Steal, from Old English Stelan, noun, informal, a bargain.


I wouldn’t pay $300 for these headphones, ML or no ML. But something curious happened to the Mikros 90. Soon after their introduction, and probably too soon into their product lifecycle, their price went into freefall. They dropped into the $150-200 range which was still probably more from a price/performance ratio than I would be willing to pay for them, but then when the discount price went dumpster diving into the sub-$150 range, I became interested in them.

But the discounting did not stop there. The price on these headphones dropped like Felix Baumgartner on a supersonic freefall run, and when they hit $100 the Mikros 90 became attractive, and then at $80 they became very attractive despite their flaws (you know, like the good looking cougar you pick up after a few drinks at 2 am when the bar closes), and when they went on sale for $60 IMO they became an absolute steal. Their value becomes pretty astronomical at this price point, and if you are looking for a stylish portable on-ear headphones for predominantly rock/ jazz/ classical musical tastes, they offer surprisingly good sound quality on a surprisingly low budget.


Final thoughts: what have we learned on the show tonight, Craig?


In sum:

Bargain basement price makes this closed on-ear offering from Martin Logan a steal
Portable, case is included
Stylish
Great mids, particularly vocals
Anemic bass
Clamps like a bitch
 
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sonike

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If you even just skim through the nearly 400 page long thread on these you'll see that the majority of comments describe the bass in a way very, very different from your description. That is not only from people who raved about these and were fully on the hype train but also from people who ultimately didn't love these. I bring this up not to suggest that I disagree with your assessment of the bass or even to call it into question, but rather because my experience with the bass was, at first, more similar to yours than to the majority of comments on the thread. I wouldn't have called it anemic, but it certainly lacked the weight that others seemed to be enjoying. After noticing a slight sub-bass channel imbalance and parasitic buzz, however, I set up a warranty replacement with ML and also at the same time ordered another new set. The 2nd set came before I was able to send back the first set and so I was able to do some direct A to B comparisons between the two and all I can say is that it was night and day in the bass. Compared to the 2nd set, the first set's bass was definitely anemic, and the 2nd set had all the bass that I was missing. A few weeks later I received the replacement set for the first set and it's identical to the 2nd set in the bass and again completely different in the bass from the first set (although I no longer had the 1st set in hand at this point so this is from memory and against the 2nd set with I did A/B against the 1st set). The point of all this is that it's possible that ML had some QC issues or even a production run of these that resulted in some sets having poor bass performance. If true, that could make it somewhat risky to buy these depending on how prevalent the issue was/is, but then again at the current price they are a steal even if you get a "weak bass" set as you said, and if you get a "good bass" set, then they defy QPR description.
 
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pataburd

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I agree with sonike.
Reviewers who suggest that the Mikros 90's bass is "anemic" are off the mark with 90+% of regular users.
The Mikros 90 do vary--sometimes significantly--from pair to pair.  So the reviewer may simply have gotten an odd, bass-lite pair.
The dedicated ML thread denotes several other reasons why the listener may not be experiencing the exceptional bass that the Mikros 90 are capable of.
Bass is subterranean, textured and articulate with 7 of my 8 pairs.
 
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JCred

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While this thread is a bit "aged," I'd like to weigh in, as I just picked a pair of these up from a pawn shop, the other day. Did I know what I was buying? No. Did I spend all of $4 on them? Yes.

If thought to myself, maybe this hybrid of gun range protection headband, meets Family Dollar earcups can finally provide a loving home for the drivers I kept from my first pair of Sennheiser cans... The value of these drivers? Purely sentimental.

Then a funny thing happened. I grabbed my auxillary cable for what is widely regarded as every head-fier's go to for a flat response, unrivaled in this world of otherwise mediocre fidelity: yes my friends, I gambled the future on faith that the cable exclusively designed for my Solo² Wireless (by beats) could survive such an impulse.

I plugged it into the extremely 'minimalistic' input of the Mirkos and only found more questions -and redemption- simultaneously.

Firstly, I really do enjoy the Solo² on their in merit. I love them, when you factor in the where and why they get their fair share of time off the shelf.

As for the Mirkos, I still can wrap my head around the aesthetics of that truly solid and attractive headband to those offensive looking cups. Additionally, they're as comfortable as a jock strap protecting long hair in a football helmet. At nearly any angle, the clamping force can randomly seal off the ears with pressure that would make a flight suit sound comfortable. Articulation? Nope. Just two doors that slam against your ears and then reopen workout purpose.

Worst of all, they sound fantastic- that first time you heard truly great headphones delivering orgasmic fidelity from a properly configured rig, with power to spare. Never have i witnessed product come so close to perfecting nothing but imperfection.

Yet, two days and 4+ commute hours later and I've really enjoyed each annoying readjustment made as my brain still tries to reconcile that damn great sound they produce.

On the subject of bass? I don't doubt the returned pair was a dud. Yet, many of the annoying adjustments I've made were to recover very enjoyable bad reproduction that fades the further they ship down your face.
 
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