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Positive Feedback ISSUE43
the Bird loudspeakers
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
The Bird loudspeakers from Marten, named in honor of jazz legend Charlie Parker, are the very latest addition to the Marten lineage and a trickle down creation from the $60K Coltrane and $250K Coltrane Supreme loudspeakers. But unlike their cousins, Marten has made not only a more flexible and efficient design; they have managed to open that ellusive window into the musical event in the process.
Featuring the biggest diamond tweeter in the business, one inch in diameter and larger than the one used in both of the aforementioned Marten mega-designs, the Birds also use newly designed Accuton ceramic drivers including a massive 7 inch midrange beauty I've never seen before. This new midrange driver "has resonance damping and laser-drilled holes in the ceramic cone which simplifies the crossover and gives even lower distortion in the important midrange frequency area." The two newly developed 9-inch Accuton ceramic bass drivers have "increased air flow baskets that make the sonic performance more dynamic and offer lower distortion." The woofers are vented out the bottom via dual ports for maximum dispersion and impact at 30Hz.
"The crossover components used in the Bird include copper foil coils and silver foil/oil capacitors of the highest quality and most advanced technology. The cabinet of the Bird is optimized, both in appearance and acoustic design. Non-parallel sides, heavy bracing, and specially selected 26mm MDF make it extremely resonance-free." The review sample was made of spectacular cherry veneer in mirrored panels for each speaker and multiple layers of richly finished lacquer. They are even more beautiful than my Avalons which is amazing in and of itself.
I bi-wired the Birds with my reference Kubala-Sosna Emotion Speaker cable which was an outstanding combination with the Martens. Otherwise, I merely dropped them into the same E.A.R. system so aptly powering my Eidolons. I changed the Rel Stadium III crossover from 23Hz to 22Hz, and left it engaged. Positioned 7 feet apart, I set the Bird's toe-in at about an inch and a half. The room is 13' by 25' with a 12' ceiling… all sheet rock construction. The listening position is about 15' from the speaker midpoint.
Where did they go?
The very first music I listened to was the Yarlung Records CD of Dialogui featuring a Steinway piano on the left and a vintage cello on the right… it was recorded with a single classic tube stereo microphone. If I hadn't been looking at the Birds in front of me, I could easily have imagined the piano and cello in all their realistic glory right in my listening space. Though I've gotten tantalizingly close to this level of realism on occasion, I've never, ever actually achieved it before! I wrote in my listening notes both the time and date of this event as if it were a moment in history; important to both mankind and audiophiles alike.
In order to be truly transparent and realistically alive, your speakers must accomplish three important criterion I call 'ADT'. 'A' stands for ambience, which also includes height, depth, and right to left. If the ambience retrieval is absolutely right, your musical image will be stable. 'D' stands for definition which is undistorted and plentiful to the max. 'T' stands for timbre, meaning that it must sound like live unamplified music. I hear high-end speakers all the time that get the 'A' and 'D' extremely well, but miss the 'T' by a country mile. On the other hand there are a few speakers like Maggies that are great with timbre, but mess up the 'A' and 'D'. So where am I going with this?
The Birds are the first loudspeakers I have ever heard that maximizes the 'ADT' of musical reproduction in a normal size listening environment, thereby realistically and dependably recreating the musical event in the room… with my sources (the E.A.R. Acute CD player and the E.A.R. Disc Master/Helius OmegaTonearm/Grado Statement Reference/ZYX Airy 3 carts with an E.A.R. 324 phono-stage). Unfortunately, my ModWright Sony 9100 and Benchmark/Alesis Transport do not quite yield the startling verisimilitude of the E.A.R. sources. The Marantz 10B was closer than you'd imagine from a piece of gear over 40 years old!
Why is this happening?
I think the outstanding drivers used in the Bird are a big part of the story. The wondrous solidity of the images, no matter where you sit in front of the speakers, attests to the speed and dispersion of these cutting edge designs. The one inch diamond tweeters have no audible coloration or etch… or anything untidy and are blended peerlessly into the output of those big ceramic midrange drivers. The closely spaced midrange and woofer drivers, all made and cut from the same cloth so to speak, work together as a single driver.
The speaker is made of 100% wood. So is a great violin. It is supported by a steel brace and cones, all tightly and solidly designed. When you sit in the center of the listening position, you cannot see any of the sides of the Bird… only the front panel with the 4 drivers! There is no pretend grill cloth, just metal mesh over each driver. At 89dB efficiency and a nominal 6 ohm load, it's pretty easy to drive versus many of its even more expensive siblings and competitors. Or, could this be one of those happy accidents like Velcro or the Edison phonograph? Probably not, as the Bird is obviously a result of R&D which has achieved much more than the sum of its great parts.
The end of the beginning?
After 45 years of searching for a system that recreates a lifelike musical event in the room, I am now enjoying that experience for the first time.
It's sort of like a formula you know. You just note all of the pieces and bits I am using to achieve this marvelous and exciting musical aliveness and put it together in your listening room. Put together all the pieces of any invention correctly and it should work for you. Change a few or leave off a couple and it's a train wreck. If I replace even one meter of my Kubala-Sosna interconnect or one tube in the preamp, all will change, probably for the worse. You could get lucky, but luck does not appear to have anything to do with this. It's really taste driven by the designer and cutting edge technology combining here.
I have owned 11 different cutting edge speakers over the years. I have been to countless Hi-Fi shows with my trusty reference discs. I have recently focused on the best designs from Wilson, Karma, YG, Hansen, Marten, Focal, Magico, and many more looking for that elusive design that simultaneously disappears and recreates the performance in one's room. I am pleased to report that the Marten Birds make this happen and do it with diverse musical material. It isn't accidental or coincidental. The Birds produce musical reality by logical design and brilliant execution by Marten's engineers and craftsmen.
I am not surprised that Europeans are the first to accomplish this musical feat. They have access to vastly more live acoustic music than we do and they take advantage of it! They have the most advanced moving coil driver technology on the planet. The E.U. makes manufacturers produce products with consistent voltage and safety standards that encourage export.
The Birds fly fast!
I am very excited by the speed of these speakers. I don't believe even electrostatics are this fast and neutral. The mass of the drivers is measured in microns and you don't even see them move much at all when powered. But you will feel lots of air coming off the drivers, even the diamond tweeter! Listening to a Reference Recordings release I found that the sense of 'ambience' took up to 30 seconds to trail off the various Testament CD selections. Massed choruses filled the room from wall to wall and room resonances appeared to be quite reduced in sound. Marten claims the speakers actually use room boundaries to their benefit and the speakers do not need to be isolated at all. They sound like the Marten designers accomplished this in spades, but I can't say how this is done. Macro dynamics are exciting. Micro dynamics are truly astounding.
No bumps or lumps!
In my room and to my ears, the Birds are the flattest speakers yet designed from about 25Hz to beyond my human hearing. All of my audiophile friends who have heard them here agree with me, that there is no perceptual sonic emphasis at any volume with any instrument. Quite an achievement! Driver blend is perfect. End of story.
The Birds do wet and wild, too.
Yes the Birds will sound warm and luscious with warm and luscious sources. Analogue is absolutely analogue. Digital can be cool, but great modern digital from the E.A.R. Acute is warmer and more delicious than any other digital player I have heard. You will hear this clearly. Sources take on a life that is both recognizable and fulfilling. Want big bold opera from LPs by Decca or EMI made in Europe… get ready for a lush and ambient sound. Want modern Telarc balls to the wall power? Go for it and enjoy the 105dB peaks I have experienced here. WOW.
Are the Birds the best?
This is the hardest concept for a reviewer to tackle. The Birds are the most realistic transducers I've ever heard producing the most convincing disappearing act around. They can be pretty much electronically and acoustically maximized in the here and now, and though cost a lot, they are less expensive than many contenders that don't even come close to what the Birds can do sonically. They are size-wise a good fit in most listening rooms from small to very large. They are even beautiful and tasteful to gaze upon. A fabulous 70 watt-er will make them sing, but for me the E.A.R. 890 is the ticket. I have heard them with Jorma cables and they sounded superb though I still have the Jones for Kubala-Sosna interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords. And while I have certainly not heard every loudspeaker, as far as I know they are truly unique in their ability to come alive in a real world environment. If that makes the Birds the best, so be it.
I have a pair of Marten Birds singing full out in my primary reference listening room and they are sonically invisible! Only the musical images or performers exist… make that reside in my room. I have two sources that give me this amazing musical pleasure [illusion] so I'm not locked into just one media or type of software. I have never heard the likes of this legerdemain in any listening environment at any price… ever. The Birds are as fast as any electrostatic, flat from top to bottom, dynamic, neutral, harmonious, and currently unmatched at their $30k price point, by anyone, anywhere. You could pay more, but I can't imagine why one would. Plus, the Birds make real music come alive. All that's missing is the sticky floor and expensive tickets.
Though the Birds are the first of their species to sound like the real thing and recreate the musical event, they won't be the last. Within days of publishing this review, manufacturers will be inspecting these beauties to see how they fly. Audiophiles will be trying to maximize them with their favorite gear. What fun! It's the end of the beginning of the previously ellusive goal of recreating the recorded musical experience in your listening room. The Marten Birds have finally arrived. Enjoy my friends.
Oh yes, I will be buying the review pair and they will replace my Avalon Eidolons as my main speaker reference. Now I think I'll listen to the Firebird Suite on the Birds. Much more to come! Robert H. Levi