POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 17
Miles II loudspeakers
as reviewed by Victor Chavira
"That was my gift—having the ability to put certain guys together that would create a chemistry and then letting them go, letting them play what they knew, and above it." Miles Davis
This quote perfectly illustrates what Marten Design of Gothenburg, Sweden has done in their line of loudspeakers. Marten takes excellent elements and creates a chemistry that produces extraordinary music. The company has been making speakers since 1998. Their flagship, the Coltrane, is a technologically advanced product, with exotic ceramic drivers and a carbon graphite cabinet. I have been fortunate to hear this wonder from the north, and can verify that it is one of the finest dynamic speakers currently available, at any price. Its ceramic drivers notwithstanding, the Miles II is a rather conventional two-and-a-half way ported speaker in a wooden box, but its sound is far form conventional.
"My future starts when I wake up every morning…. Every day I find something creative to do with my life." MD
If travelers from the future visited our time and offered advanced speaker technology in exchange for original master tapes of Kind of Blue, they would probably share their secrets for creating ceramic drivers. Presently, Accuton, a subsidiary of Thiel and Partners in Germany, is the only company with the technology to fabricate true ceramic diaphragms for use in drivers. The ceramic material, called corundum, has the hardness of sapphire. The membrane of an Accuton driver is so thin that a cross section, when viewed on edge, would be invisible to the unaided eye. The result is an inverted dome with a stiffness-to-weight ratio ideally suited for the transmission of sound. The Miles II employs two 7-inch mid/woofers and a 1.25-inch tweeter in a heavily braced, double walled, cherry veneered cabinet with sound-damping glue. The first-order crossover points are 300 and 2200Hz. The rear of the speaker holds two flared ports and two sets of WBT binding posts. Per Marten’s trademark, the bottoms are cut at an angle, giving the speakers a Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa effect.
"I'll play it first and tell you what it is later." MD
The Miles IIs have a low frequency response of 31Hz, so I had to take much care to prevent them from overpowering my medium-sized (13 x 20 foot) living room. Using a combination of music and test CDs, I got the smoothest integration of low bass with the speakers about four feet from the front wall and pointed toward the listening position.
My assumption about the Miles IIs was that they would be a more refined, full-range version of my stand-mounted Marten Monks, but I was quite mistaken. The Miles IIs belong to a class of überspeakers, as opposed to the domesticated PA systems that often pass for top tier. First of all, the bass response of the Miles IIs was phenomenal. Every CD and LP I played contained low-frequency information and ambience that was previously unknown to me. The mark of a great full-range speaker is not the amount of bass it bombards you with, but the magical manner in which the room is transformed into the space of the recording venue. For example, in 2001, Stockholm’s own Bebo Valdés recorded a CD with legendary Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" López entitled El Arte del Sabor. The rich, organic overtones of acoustic bass and grand piano were rendered with uncommon clarity and realism. My bass torture track is not what you would expect: "Strawberry Tango, Parts 1 and 2" from the All the Pretty Horses soundtrack. On this track, a fat tuba fills in the bass line. Then, at the conclusion of the dance, the sound of what must be an immense bass drum ripples through the room like a giant steel ball dropped into the center of a placid lake. My first reaction was to look outside for the source, but when I saw that no truck was passing by, I realized that the subterranean thumps came from the modest-looking Miles speakers. "Operator," from the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty LP, features a bass drum that is tighter than the lug nuts on a Volvo V70 R Sportswagon. The Miles IIs created the illusion of a bass drum on the floor between the speakers, compressing the air in the room. Their bass pitch, definition, and impact are outstanding.
Their mid- and high-frequency performance is even more remarkable. The best thing about the Marten Miles IIs is that they don’t sound like 2.5-way towers, by which I mean that the drivers do not have clearly discernible roles. Rather, they sound more like electrostatic speakers, as they cast a large and seamless musical image. More than with any speakers I’ve had in my home, music simply appears before the listener, completely independent of its source. The Miles IIs do not sound cool and dark, like their namesake on Kind of Blue. Rather, they sound warm and vibrant like the Miles Davis of Sketches of Spain. My version of "Blues for Pablo," from The Best of Miles Davis and Gil Evans CD, sounded absolutely riveting. The dynamic shifts in this music are challenging, but the Miles IIs swung hard when horn blasts answered MD’s blue musings. Each perfectly placed element of Evans’ illustrious arrangements was rendered with detail and elegance.
The Miles’ first-class placement of instruments within a palpable soundspace was demonstrated with a recording such as Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances with Rafael Kubelik and the Bayerisch Symphony on DG. Sometimes I think I’m part Slav because I enjoy this music so much. I’m particularly fond of Dance No. 2 in E minor and No. 8 in A-flat major. With the Miles IIs, the recording’s top end was sweeter than lingonberries in summer. The speakers effortlessly reproduced the depth and scale of the orchestra, as I followed the melodies and countermelodies handed from first violins to the cellos, and finally to a lone clarinet toward the back of the hall. Exquisite!
Switching gears, I listened to the quartet of Andersson, Ulvaeus, Fältskog, and Lyngstad. This quartet produced a memorable string of hits in the seventies and early eighties. Pop music from this period sometimes crumbles under the critical eye of high-resolution loudspeakers, but this was not the case with AUFL, who clearly had lasting musical value on their minds when they recorded radio confections like "Chiquitita" and "Fernando," with their richly layered vocal harmonies. You haven’t heard AUFL until you’ve heard them on Marten speakers.
The Miles IIs were also a grand success as home theater speakers. Watching Spiderman 2 with my family was an electrifying experience. Every sound effect was produced with startling realism. For example, the scene where Doc Oc creates the power of the sun in the palm of his hands was absolutely riveting, as a power surge caused all hell to break loose. A rumble was felt throughout the house just before Doc’s uncontrollable ball of energy expanded, collapsed, and vanished in a fiery flash. The Martens’ ability to evoke emotions was illustrated during the operating room scene, with its menacing metallic sounds. All of this realism was achieved without the aid of surround, center, or subwoofer channels.
"Happiness consumes itself like a flame. It cannot burn forever, it must go out, and the presentiment of its end destroys it at its very peak." August Strindberg
I was quite happy with my Marten Monks, but I often thought that if I had ten thousand dollars to spend on speakers, my first choice would have been the Magnepan 20.1s.
I would have had to sell off my beloved Magnum Dynalab integrated to make the first payment on an expensive pair of killer-watt monoblocks. Later, I would have had to blow out a wall in my living room to give the Maggies room to breathe, and I would still not posses the most refined speakers in their class. That distinction goes to the Marten Design Miles IIs. To paraphrase The Man with a Horn, the Marten Miles IIs are motherf@#kers! Perhaps in the future, Marten will offer a Miles II Special Edition in the deepest darkest black finish. Until then, this pair is staying right here. Victor Chavira