The mother of all (my equipment) battles: MartinLogan Scenarios vs. HD-580 / ER-4S
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fjhuerta

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It had to happen.

I mean, how could it not? On one side, a pair of electrostatic speakers willing to chew on some headphones and spit out their tiny magnets. On the other side, a pair of the most trusty audio components I've ever owned: the venerable Sennheiser HD-580s and the terrific Etymotic Research ER-4S.

I've owned the 580's for 4 years, the Etys for 2 years and the MartinLogans for 3 months.

Time for a shoot-out, huh? May the best transducer win!

Associated equipment

Big Rig:
MartinLogan Scenarios
Adcom GFA-5400 amp
Luxman D-375 CD player

'phone Rig:
HD-580 / ER-4S headphones
X-Can V2 headphone amp
Pioneer DV-525 DVD / CD player.

The music :
Fantasia / 2000
The Cure / Acoustic Hits
Eric Clapton / Unplugged
Queen / The Game (Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc II)
Marcus Miller / M2 (Telarc)

The results:
3rd place: HD-580 / X-Can V2 combo.
Hey, this is a tough-as-nails test. The mighty had to fall sometime. This combo, which is very praised for its sinergy, simply couldn't keep up with the rest of the gang, even though it wasn't a slouch by any means. It had the warmest sound of the trio (Marcus Miller's "M2" sounded awesome with them), with a nicely defined bass line and good soundstaging (for a headphone, that is).

It simply got outclassed in the details. That's all.

Whereas the ER-4S is as fast and light in transients as a hummingbird, the HD-580 felt a bit slow, smearing a bit some fast instruments such as cymbals. And it was completely outclassed in the transparency department, where the incredible MartinLogans simply presented sounds as they were - particularly, during "Lullaby" the HD-580s were a bit artificial during the "plucking strings passages", while the MartinLogans were the real thing.

It was, ironically enough, the headphone of choice for headbanging rock due to their added bass slam. Queen's "The Game" never sounded so good. Not a bad transducer, but outclassed when compared to the rest.

2nd place: Etymotic ER-4S / X-Can V2 combo.
This is a misleading place for the Etys to be. Sure, they were beaten by the MartinLogan system, but the real question is, how much would you be willing to pay for:
  1. Soundstaging
  2. Bass presence

Not much? Well, you might as well know the MartinLogans were the closest experience to the real thing I've ever had, BUT I'm getting ahead of this review. Simply put, the Etymotics are one step above and beyond everything else in this review in terms of price alone. By list prices, the MartinLogan rig should cost around $3,200 USD. The Etymotic rig was around $700.

Pricewise, this is the real deal, the best system I've ever had the pleasure of owning.

It has an almost dizzy sense of speed. Transients go by at incredible speeds; all the detail you could ever hope to hear in a recording is there. Bass is what you'd expect from a small, taut subwoofer: clean, tight, and perfectly defined. The extra bonus of isolation means your brain is practically wired to the transducer, which enhances the magical feeling. The tonal balance is simply perfect: not too warm, not lean.

It only lost because the opponent had a couple of characteristics not inherent in any headhone available. Fantasia / 2000, for example, had no sense of ambiance because of lack of crosstalk.

1st place: MatinLogan Scenarios / Adcom GFA-5400
If you had any doubts speakers could beat the best of headphones out there, MartinLogan might want to have a chat with you.

Their speakers use their famous ESL transducer: a curved piece of plasticlike film sandwiched between two stators. It's mass is incredibly light, it can handle tremendous amounts of power, and they are coupled to a pair of sealed-box 8" woofers for tight, fast bass.

Their sound? If you have never heard a pair, you are missing something special. It's incredible to watch a pair of speakers and having your brain thinking someone is in the room with you, because no speaker can reproduce so faithfully the human voice. Clapton's "Unplugged" was almost real; The Cure's "Acoustic" *was* real.

While we are at it, I must say these guys must have invented what "soundstaging" means. The dipolar nature of the things, coupled with their curved shape, means you will hear imaging the way you never thought you would. Forget "pin-point" accuracy - this is more like the real thing. A trumpet, for example, is defined by a specific sound in space, while "air" all around it is heard (even if it's outside the confines of the speaker). It's so good it's eerie.

They also have some mean slam in the upper range. Since they are so light, details can come in fast and clear, and sudden transients are child's play for them. Unfortunately, their 8" woofers are lacking, so bass extension is the least of the trio.

I'll be coupling them to a Velodyne SPL-800 sub to remedy this deficiency. Which will put the system's list price $1,000 above of what it currently is.

It's incredible that a $250 headphone can come so close (and sometimes even beat, as in transient response) a $2,000 USD speaker. Etymotic Research is to be commended for having created such an outstanding transducer.
 
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flashbak

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fjhuerta,
Very nice comparison, and I totally agree with your assessment of ER-4S's! They are simply an amazing product! I've personally never heard the MartinLogan Scenarios, but I certainly want to now! Thanks for the review!
 
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bifcake

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Your comparisons are skewed. You should have used the same source for your speaker and headphone comparisons. You can't compare a Luxman CD player to a second generation Pioneer DVD player. You don't know if the differences you were hearing were due to the source.

BTW, if you like bipole speakers, you should check out Revel Salons. Oh my!!! They'll set you back $18k, but you'll think they're a bargain.
 
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setmenu

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Fjhuerta
Have you listened to electrostatic headphones?

It,s the speed and delicasy I like about those too.
Though I would expect the ETYs tiny transducer to perform
in a similar way there,not heard them myself though.

Setmenu

Team Planar
 
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fjhuerta

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Quote:

Originally posted by setmenu
Fjhuerta
Have you listened to electrostatic headphones?

It,s the speed and delicasy I like about those too.
Though I would expect the ETYs tiny transducer to perform
in a similar way there,not heard them myself though.

Setmenu

Team Planar


I have listened to the Stax Classics (II?) and the Earphones. Although I feel the Earphones are inferior (especially in the bass) to the ER-4S, the Classics were magnificent. They sounded a lot like the MartinLogans, except the fabulous soundstaging, which sadly, is always lost with headphones.

Bifcake, you could say I actually shortchanged the MartinLogans, since the CD player is 5 or 6 years old and surely the DAC has been superceded by that of newer equipment. Besides, detail-wise, I said the Etys met or exceeded the Logans, so the Pioneer player must be doing something very right. As for why I prefer the Logans, it might simply be a bias toward the electrostatic sound, which I find to be leaps and bounds ahead of what any dynamic driver is able to provide.
 
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bifcake

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Fjhuerta,

You may be right, but I would still run the tests using the same source. The fewer variables you have in your set up, the more accurate your results will be.
 
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2 channel

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Quote:

Originally posted by fjhuerta

As for why I prefer the Logans, it might simply be a bias toward the electrostatic sound, which I find to be leaps and bounds ahead of what any dynamic driver is able to provide.


Or, It could just be how cool they look sitting in the room...at least I think I might be swayed by the unequaled coolness factor of the MLs


Congrats on your ML purchase!

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fjhuerta

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Quote:

Originally posted by 2 channel


Or, It could just be how cool they look sitting in the room...at least I think I might be swayed by the unequaled coolness factor of the MLs


Congrats on your ML purchase!

2


Yep. They are striking to look at. They always draw stares and unsolicited comments (especially from women, which never, ever, look twice at a speaker).

"Wow... what are those?"
 
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Calanctus

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fjhuerta, do you listen to any symphonic classical music? I'd be interested to hear your impressions of the MLs and how well they can portray the 'big sound' of a symphony during a fortissimo passage (very loud climaxes). I've briefly auditioned the MLs for voice and agree that they have an eerie presence, but I'm not so sure how well they can convince me that I have an orchestra in my room!
 
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