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MartinLogan Neolith Build & Sound Quality Tests

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Because of the Neolith’s size, new materials, and complexity, I asked MartinLogan if building the Neolith required any adjustment in their manufacturing process.  Indeed it did.  Because MartinLogan wanted to make the Neolith in-house, some refinements to existing processes and the development of new techniques had to be developed at the company’s massive Ontario, Canada manufacturing facility. 

For example, to machine and finish the Neolith’s phenolic resin in-house required fine tuning the cutters, feed, and speed of the CNC routing machinery to accommodate the extreme density of the polymer, and to meet the extreme precision required.  The end result was a significant increase in the processing and cutting time compared to traditional speaker substrates.

Neolith Top

The Neolith's build quality and finish are exquisite.  The Neolith is custom-built completely in-house.  Refinements needed to be made to existing manufacturing processes and new ones needed to be created around the Neolith.

The finishing process also needed to be refined.  Several adjustments were needed to bring the automotive finishes in-house, as well as to accommodate the application and post-processing requirements of the Neolith’s finish.  The paint process for the Neolith is very labor intensive. There are several steps of painting, wet-sanding, and hand-buffing each surface to give each part a gloss finish before assembly can start.  According to MartinLogan, just the painting, curing process, and buffering process for a single pair of Neolith speakers takes two full weeks.

When I first set eyes upon the Neoliths I was simply in awe of their size.

Speaker assembly likewise had to be re-adjusted around the Neolith.  Normally, assembling a MartinLogan speaker will pass from one specialized work area to the next throughout the manufacturing facility until the speaker is finished.  Not so with the Neolith.  Because of its size and weight, it cannot be moved around the factory.  Instead, the sub-assembly teams have to congregate to the work area where the meticulous hand-crafting of the speaker takes place. The process to manufacture a pair of Neolith speakers is so meticulous that MartinLogan will only accommodate two pairs per week for production. Order fulfillment will take anywhere from 6 weeks to three months.  When I spoke to the MartinLogan reps, they told me that production was starting this month for orders that have already been placed.

Finally, unlike the other speakers that are traditionally shipped in corrugated cardboard cartons, the massive size and weight of the Neolith speaker required development of custom wooden crates to ship and protect the speaker.  Each custom wooden crate weighs in at 215lbs.

A Different Kind of Review for a Different Kind of Speaker

The prospect of getting a pair of MartinLogan’s new flagship speakers in for review was enticing.  I really wanted to get this pair into my setup and give it an extended audition.  However, when I spoke with MartinLogan’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Erin Phillips, she told me with deep regret that we wouldn’t be able to get a pair of Neoliths in for review.  The reason? The $80,000/pair Neolith speakers are custom made, built-to-order only.  Moreover, the crated weight for each speaker is a massive 700 pounds.

stereo exchange

MartinLogan's event took place at Stereo Exchange in New York City

Fortunately, all was not lost.  There would be an opportunity to audition the Neolith during a tour that Martin Logan has been conducting in the United States to promote the speaker. The tour, called “Truth in Sound”, was taking place across select cities.  After talking with Gene DellaSala, Audioholics President, about this option, we both agreed that it was worth it so long as we noted this to our readership.  We decided to target the New York City stop for the Neolith.  The New York City venue for the “Truth in Sound” event was Stereo Exchange located in the NOHO building in lower Manhattan.  Stereo Exchange is one of the venerable high-end audio stores in Manhattan.  It’s been a family-owned operation since its founding in 1984. Stereo Exchange has been at its current location at 627 Broadway since 1989.

MartinLogan Neolith Banner

A banner guided you down to the listening area where the Neoliths were setup

When I arrived at Stereo Exchange, a banner towards the front of the store directed me down the store’s central hallway which opened up to a dedicated listening space.  There, the Neoliths were jamming away. A team from MartinLogan traveling with the Neoliths greeted me upon arrival.  The MartinLogan team included Dennis Chern, MartinLogan’s Eastern Regional Sales Manager; Peter Soderberg, Western Regional Sales Manager; Joe Voijko, Senior Acoustic Engineer; Justin Bright, Director of Marketing & Digital Technology; and Erin Phillips, Marketing & Communications Manager. The MartinLogan team was very cordial, gave me lots of space, and provided unfettered access to anything I wanted while answering every question I posed.  I want to extend my thanks to each of them and to the folks at Stereo Exchange for their kind hospitality.

Erin and Josh with the Neolith

Martin Logan's Erin Philips and Justin Bright stand next to the Neolith.

I won’t forget coming upon the Neoliths for the first time. Past the event banner, Martin Logan had the lineup of its hybrid electrostatic speakers arranged along the left wall of the corridor—a nice visual touch.  About eight feet past that, the original MartinLogan Monolith stood guard at the entrance of a larger listening area.  While the Monolith’s visual placement near the current MartinLogan lineup provided an interesting design juxtaposition and nod to the company’s history, it really didn’t prepare me for the Neoliths.  I walked past the Monolith into a large listening space dominated by MartinLogan’s newest flagship speaker.

Neolith Setup

The Neoliths were even more massive in person than I imagined and certainly not the slimmed-down MartinLogan designs of recent years

When I first set eyes upon the Neoliths I was simply in awe of their size.  These were not the same MartinLogan speakers that I’ve been accustomed to seeing slimming down over the years.  On the contrary, the Neoliths were far more comparable to the imposing size of the loudspeaker tradition they pay homage to: the MartinLogan Monolith. The Neoliths sported a gorgeous Ferrari-style red called “Rosso Fuoco” that you would associate with only the finest automobiles.  I saw first-hand the results of the manufacturing refinements and the fruit of that painstaking labor.

Setup and Associated Equipment

At the event, the MartinLogan Neolith speakers were driven by $50,000 worth of Bel Canto Black electronics: the ASC1 asynchronous stream controller ($20,000) and a pair of MPS1 monoblocks ($15,000 each). 

BelCanto Amplifiers

The equipment driving the Neoliths.

Bel Canto claims that the MPS1s can supply 300 watts into 8 Ohms and 1200 watts into 2 Ohms with 128dB of dynamic range.  The available sources were the Sony HAP-Z1ES, which is a high-res $2,000 music server with a terabyte of storage and a $12,999 Audio Research Corporation’s Reference CD9 tube-driven CD player.  Power conditioning and cabling was all Shunyata, with a Hydra AV feeding power to everything.

Shunyata Power

Closeup of the Audio Research CD9 and Shunyata Hydra AV with Shunyata power cords

The Neoliths were set up at the front of the room with ample distance from the back wall and moderate distance from the side walls.  There were three rows of seating set up in the room with the middle sweet spot seats indicated by a different, more comfortable chair.  The StereoExchange building and the listening space were typical, old-school Manhattan. The room itself had a very tall 20’ plus ceiling with exposed duct work.  The “room” where the Neoliths were placed was obviously part of a later segmentation of the space.  The walls did not go all the way up to the ceiling and the room was large, cubical-style and it opened up into a hallway that led to other offices and display area within Stereo Exchange.  My simple point here is that the Neoliths were ultimately playing in a very large overall space that wasn’t necessarily a perfect listening room.

Sound Quality Test Results

When I do speaker reviews, I always like to see if loudspeakers sound like real musicians playing from another room.  As I first came down the hallway and came upon the Neoliths I made a conscious effort to see if the Neoliths could potentially convey that feeling and the Neoliths presented a few audible cues and dynamics that did just that.

After conversing with the MartinLogan reps for a bit, they left me alone to sit down and do an extended listening session.  I chose to do the initial listening of the first track from the right edge seat. I then moved to the front row, middle seat, and then the second row, middle seat to get a good sense of the speaker’s off-axis performance and any variation across listening positions.

The Neolith is all about knocking the two-channel musical experience out of the park.

The first track was Adele’s “Lovesong” from her hit album, 21.  Adele’s sultry vocals resonated beautifully throughout the listening space.  Instrumentation was wonderfully detailed.  The plucking of the guitar strings at the beginning of the song had a tactile, “you are there” quality to them.  Instrumentation decay—particularly evident with cymbals—was natural and I got a great feel not simply for the sound emanating from an instrument but also the texture of the instrument making the sound. As mentioned, I was sitting off to the right side for this track. Consistent with my prior experience with electrostatics and their narrower horizontal dispersion (about a 30 degree window), the off-axis imaging suffered a bit.   That’s not a knock on the speakers themselves, but in my experience an inherent characteristic of electrostatics when you sit off-axis.

James BlakeNext up was James Blake’s, “Limit To Your Love.”   For this track, I moved to the front center seat.  Any off-axis imaging issues disappeared.  This track was intense through the Neoliths, and I felt the space beautifully pressurize with tight, defined bass.  You haven’t heard this song properly unless you’ve heard it through full-range speakers with ample amplification.  The Neoliths nailed it. The Neoliths had complete command of the bass notes at all times.  At about 2:49 into the song, cymbals just snapped into the music in such beautiful, realistic way.  The cymbals and drums were crisp and once again, the instrument decay was natural and controlled with pinpoint accuracy. 

Overpowering, uncontrolled bass can distort your ability to hear nuances and detail in the music.  On this James Blake track, the Neoliths acted like an ever-vigilant musical conductor keeping all the musical notes in their logical place and balance. The song’s strong bass notes didn’t muddy the music’s detail at any point.  The Neolith’s clean bottom-end performance on this track handily outperformed and put to shame countless subwoofers.

Are you wondering about the soundstage?  Well, the soundstage for both of these songs was exceptional.  This is one of those aspects that you just cannot get with smaller-footprint speakers and one of the things that electrostatics just excel at.  If you think you’ve heard a large, lifelike soundstage before, then the Neoliths will challenge any previous notion. 

I was very curious about the volume level.  Again, this was not a small or closed space by any means and the Neoliths were playing at some serious volume.  I pulled out the SPL app on my phone and measured 92dB peaks on the first two songs.  I measured most songs during the session and without exception each song measured 92dB - 95dB peaks in that space—and the Neoliths were not even breaking a sweat.

Stevie RayNext up was “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble from the album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather.  Wow.   The song opened with this dynamic, life-like, cymbal that snapped from a three dimensional space on the left side.  Stevie Ray has been known for his favoritism of clean amps and did it ever come through on this track with the Neoliths.  I could feel each plucking of the guitar strings.   The song had beautiful detail and micro-dynamics.  The sound was so clean and spot-on that I stopped taking notes and just listened.  At around 5:09 into the song there’s the line, “I heard a pistol shoot…” which compelled me to pick up my iPad and write, “the music started and stopped on a dime and exploded like a canon with superb speed and dynamics.” 

Stevie Ray gave way to my favorite musical presentation of the night, Led Zeppelin’s, “That’s the Way.”  Let me just say it outright: this is the best presentation that I’ve ever heard of this song.  I’ll also pay perhaps the biggest compliment to the Neoliths.  I looked around the room and saw everyone’s head nodding and foot tapping to the beat of the song. Jimmy Page’s guitar notes were ethereal and beautifully haunting.  Playing a bit of Zeppelin warranted cranking up the volume just a bit.  With my SPL meter handy, I measured 95dB peaks on this track.  The tonal quality of Robert Plant’s trademark vocals were reproduced very well.  The imaging and overall soundstage were great.  The bass that comes in at the last 40 or so seconds of the song was the cleanest I have ever heard.   If you don't have an exceptional system, the last part of this song will be an uncontrolled, bloated mess.  With the Neoliths, there was no sign of bass bloom or bloat.

Led Zeppelin IIIClosing out my listening session were two classic Jazz tracks,  “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck from Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits and Miles Davis’ “So What”.  The Neoliths commanded these tracks like all the other songs.  Horns, piano, drums, bass lines, cymbals were all superb.  The soundstage was huge; instruments were well placed; and I just got lost in the music. 

For the most part, there was little to fault.  My only complaint was that I noticed hints of strain at times during the Adele and Led Zeppelin tracks and perhaps at some other points here and there.  To my ears, the sound was more like the amplifiers starting to clip than what I felt was a limitation or flaw in the speakers themselves. This wasn’t the ideal listening space and in such a context, I can only state what I perceived in such a limited session and I would be very cautious in making any definitive assertions.

However, there are a few things that I can confidently infer about the Neoliths.  First, you need ample amplification that is stable into low-impedance loads to make these speakers sing to their full potential.  I feel that a bare minimum of 250wpc into 8ohms is what you need to look for.  Personally, I’d pair the Neoliths with a 500-600W amp. Secondly, these speakers aren’t for small rooms.  They dominated this listening space, and judging from their design and physical footprint, there’s an assumption that the Neoliths will reside in a dedicated listening room or larger, open space. Finally, these are speakers for two-channel purists.  The Neoliths have been designed to be full-range heavyweights and want to spurn any association with subs.  I suppose you could put these in a home theater environment, but I really got the impression that these speakers have been meticulously designed for the audiophile.  Martin Logan isn’t coming out with a complementary Neolith subwoofer, center, or surrounds.  The Neolith is all about knocking the two-channel musical experience out of the park.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Kingnoob posts on October 14, 2019 17:47
JerryLove, post: 1300482, member: 35326
A partial list of speakers I have owned.
Ascend Acoustics CMB-170
B&W 801 Matrix III
B&W 801N1 (and the WMTMW matching center) (and surrounds)
B&W DS6
Energy Bookshelves(forget model)
Green Mountain Audio Europa
Infinity 362
Infinity 363
Infinity RSIIIb
Kef Q1
Klipsch KL-650-THX2
McIntosh 717
McIntosh XR5
Monitor Audio GLSCR
Ohm Walsh F
Paradigm Studio 60v3
Paradigm Studio 40v3 (and matching CC-470)
Paradigm Signature S2
Philharmonic 2
Pioneer (forget model)
Polk Audio (forget model)
PSB 400i
Salk SCSTs
Solid Sat(forget model)
Sony bookshelves (forget model)

Subs include but are not limited to:
B&W
KLH
Klipsch
Paradigm
Rythmik
SVS
A sub I would really have to go turn over to tell you; but sealed with this 18“ driver

There have been other things. Boom boxes and integrated stereos of days long gone, things I purcased to play with but got rid of quickly (Sanaui, A/S/L etc). Then there are the headphones and car systems.

None of which touches on ”other people's systems". I've been known to spend 10 hours in a stretch listening to other people's gear.

See. What would happen is that someone would make some claim, and I'd put it to the test to see if it was true. People started shouting about phase choerence and I picked up some GMAs. One builder got obsessed with super rigid cabinets, and I got the WMax speakers. Omnipolar was supposed to be all that: I got Walsh Ohm 2s. Line arrays are the bomb? 10 hours at the local vendor with the McIntosh XRT2ks. Bipolar is the way to go; time to hit my friend's house and listen to the Maggies.

Heck: I just picked up some high-efficiency horns.

I. Suprized could could part with any of those speakers wow , amazing ??
Did you have any preference of brand or speaker type ? for movies


Ultimate bass lover !! si ht15 dvc.
Free the reptile aliens
Epsonfan posts on October 11, 2019 13:53
The more expensive the speakers get the more drooling the reviewer gets.
JerryLove posts on February 21, 2019 22:19
Are those the only loudspeaker companies you know, own products from, or sell?
A partial list of speakers I have owned.
Ascend Acoustics CMB-170
B&W 801 Matrix III
B&W 801N1 (and the WMTMW matching center) (and surrounds)
B&W DS6
Energy Bookshelves(forget model)
Green Mountain Audio Europa
Infinity 362
Infinity 363
Infinity RSIIIb
Kef Q1
Klipsch KL-650-THX2
McIntosh 717
McIntosh XR5
Monitor Audio GLSCR
Ohm Walsh F
Paradigm Studio 60v3
Paradigm Studio 40v3 (and matching CC-470)
Paradigm Signature S2
Philharmonic 2
Pioneer (forget model)
Polk Audio (forget model)
PSB 400i
Salk SCSTs
Solid Sat(forget model)
Sony bookshelves (forget model)

Subs include but are not limited to:
B&W
KLH
Klipsch
Paradigm
Rythmik
SVS
A sub I would really have to go turn over to tell you; but sealed with this 18“ driver

There have been other things. Boom boxes and integrated stereos of days long gone, things I purcased to play with but got rid of quickly (Sanaui, A/S/L etc). Then there are the headphones and car systems.

None of which touches on ”other people's systems". I've been known to spend 10 hours in a stretch listening to other people's gear.

See. What would happen is that someone would make some claim, and I'd put it to the test to see if it was true. People started shouting about phase choerence and I picked up some GMAs. One builder got obsessed with super rigid cabinets, and I got the WMax speakers. Omnipolar was supposed to be all that: I got Walsh Ohm 2s. Line arrays are the bomb? 10 hours at the local vendor with the McIntosh XRT2ks. Bipolar is the way to go; time to hit my friend's house and listen to the Maggies.

Heck: I just picked up some high-efficiency horns.
JerryLove posts on February 21, 2019 18:22
GrimSurfer, post: 1299826, member: 87433
What I'm interested in is a discussion that resolves a complex issue through the application of rational and structured thinking… going from the general to specific, agreeing broadly on terms and concepts before resolving definitions, then testing criteria against real world examples to see where the irreconcilable inconsistencies are, modifying and retesting. Not jumping frames back and forth to achieve a predetermined outcome of any kind.
As I understand your earlier claim, and understanding that I have honestly tried to get clarity on (resulting in the “but you have to be somewhere on the ADD spectrum ”, which I presume was intended to be “autism” rather than any added clarity)…

As I understand your claim: To design and build good speakers requires that the company doing it have an anechocic chamber, a lab, either a domestic manufacture or the staffing to go overseas to maintain quality control. As I understand your claim, they must have researchers who must have a pedigree (which apparently 2 years as a hobbyist satisfies based on the Salk example). As I understand your claim, while it's not true that 100% of these criteria must be met 100% of the time; it's generally accurate.

I disagree with your claim, as I understand it. I've seen too many good speakers from hobbyists and too many bad speakers from large manufacturers to agree to any claim that designates one as good and the other as bad.

And if that's not your claim: Why haven't you said so? Why does a request for clarification have you commenting on your beliefs about the cell-to-synapse ratio in my brain.
GrimSurfer posts on February 20, 2019 09:44
When manufacturers with excellent pedigree design, produce, and Market something ludicrous, I'm left wondering about what they're trying to achieve.

Designating a product as a “statement” in today's world is as good as saying that it is another piece of hi-fi esoterica. Saying that a product is a demonstration of expensive tech and manufacturing methodologies that will eventually trickle down to other lines installs a little more confidence. Better still is when a company is specific about exactly what tech they're talking about, and why it currently costs so much.

It's hard to make such a case when there's less “tech” than “clever assembly” of other manufacturers' components (Wadia) or refaceplating (Lexicon's saga with Oppo inside).

The loudspeaker industry is an interesting one. Loudspeakers are complex and the last link in the hi-fi chain that hasn't been able to overcome single-digit noise. There are a relatively small number of driver designer/developer/manufacturers seupplying the market. Cabinet making skills are in decline. So it's unclear where things are heading… and even less clear where this will,leave consumers.

I'm certain that consumers' need for cheap products will be satisfied. Cheap is easy, expectations are low.

I'm quite confident that consumers' need for adequate products will be satisfied.

I'm moderately confident that consumers' need for excellent products will be satisfied.

I've lost confidence in the industry's ability to develop and enforce standards that help the consumer distinguish between poor, adequate and excellent performance.

Price doesn't appear to be a good discriminator of performance. Or at least that's how it seems to me when manufacturers and reviewers tip-toe around using clear and unambiguous language to describe how a loudspeaker measures AND sounds.
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