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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 5
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marten design

Monk loudspeakers

as reviewed by Victor Chavira

 

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VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6 (primary system) and B&W DM 302 (secondary system).

ELECTRONICS
Magnum Dynalab MD-208 (primary system) and Kora Explorer integrated (secondary system).

SOURCE
NAD T541 CD/DVD player (primary system) and Orion DVD/CD player (secondary system). LINN Axiss turntable with the K9 cartridge.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords (primary system). JPS Ultraconductor speaker cable, Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect (secondary system).

ACCESSORIES
Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, Vibrapods, Townshend 3D sink Table), and  Echo Busters (primary system). Monster Cable HTS1000 power center (secondary system).

 

Good things come from Sweden! I drive a 1985 Volvo 240 DL that has over 200,000 miles. Most of the furniture in my home comes from Ikea. Currently, Swedish bands like the Hives and Division of Laura Lee are invigorating the pop scene with their explosive energy. Add the Monk II loudspeakers from Marten Design in Gothenborg to the list. Marten Design has been building speakers in Sweden since 1998. Their flagship, the Coltrane, is a $40,000 technological tour de force with a carbon fiber cabinet, ceramic midrange and woofer drivers, and a manufactured diamond tweeter. The Monk is Marten's $3500 entry-level model, a stand-mounted two-way speaker featuring a seven-inch Accuton ceramic mid/woofer and a one-inch silk dome tweeter sourced from SEAS. The sturdy, 40-lb. cabinet is finished in a lovely cherry veneer with a beveled facade. The back contains a flared port and four heavy-duty WBT binding posts for bi-wiring. The most unusual aspect of this speaker is the fact that the bottom is cut at an angle, which slants the front panel and gives the Monks an elegant appearance. I set the Martens on heavy, sand-filled, 24-inch stands, and placed them away from room boundaries, with a slight toe-in.

Panel speaker users like myself are acutely aware of the boxy artifacts produced by dynamic speakers, particularly stand-mounted two-ways. From a panel user's point of view, all two-way monitors are closed in, and sorely lacking in foundation. They do many things well, but compromises must be made when designing such a small package. I have never been a fan of two-way monitors for serious listening—until I experienced the Marten Monks. Surprisingly, the Monks' box-like artifacts were so minor as to be inconsequential. The Monks launched music into the room with such speed and precision that this long-term panel user was awestruck. Music flashed into the air instantaneously, like lights in a darkened room. The Monks reminded me more of full-range electrostats than small box speakers. These were no typical two-ways.

The most impressive attribute of the Monks was the fact that they did not corrupt the initial harmonic event. I've been an amateur guitarist nearly all my life. Guitar is the reason I favor the Magneplanars' transient speed and low coloration. The Martens, however, made the Maggies sound slow. Listening to Adrian Legg's fleet-fingered escapades on Mrs. Crowe's Blue Waltz made me feel as if I had never heard this music before, yet it is a CD I've listened to countless times. The varied techniques the musician employ were clearly laid out. Layered strums across strings contrasted brilliantly with flurries of picked notes. The Monks consistently revealed new values in very familiar recordings.

In order to understand the Monks' incredible dynamic responsiveness, I took some time to learn more about the ceramic drivers used in all Marten speakers. Accuton claims that only diamond surpasses the stiffness-to-weight ratio of the ceramic membrane they employ. Accuton's proprietary manufacturing process produces a true ceramic membrane only 100-50 microns thick, with the hardness of sapphire. Extreme cone rigidity and hardness are needed for speed and accurate impulse response. The membrane's concave shape yields wide and uniform energy distribution. It is no wonder that the Monks' lightning-quick response reminded me of electrostats.

Unlike some electrostats, however, the Monks are capable of producing extremely powerful dynamic force, something I previously thought unattainable in a stand-mounted two-way. This discovery happened quite by accident. One evening, while my family was out, I dusted off the hard rock CDs. My usual musical fare consists of Latin Jazz and guitar, with side dishes of chamber music and pop and soundtracks for dessert. This evening, however, Government Mule, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Aerosmith ruled. I was impressed by how loudly the Monks could play. Normally, speakers of their design and price collapse when pushed hard by demanding repertoire. Distortion, compression, and beaming overwhelm the music, and listening becomes fatiguing. This was not the case with the Marten Monks. I have never heard the amazingly quick transients of bass drum so convincingly reproduced, with such power and realism, in my listening room. When guitars crunched chords and singers screeched, there was no hint of compression or glare.

Watching music and movie DVDs in my two-channel system also very enjoyable with the Monks. Calle 54 is a film by Fernando Trueba that showcases some of the finest Latin Jazz artists. The musicians are beautifully filmed, and their performances are exhilarating. The Monks accurately recreated the soundstage in which the music was filmed and recorded. Percussion was crisply rendered, and bass flowed with proper momentum. Expertly played bass and percussion are the essence of Latin Jazz, and Calle 54 is a document of masters at work. Muriel ‘s Wedding is a small but successful Australian film in which the music of ABBA is central to the plot. Dialogue was exceptionally clear and coherent, and the music was delightful!

Classical music LPs were another pleasure when I listened to the Monks. My copy of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 by Wilhelm Kemph, on DG, sounded absolutely superb. Much of the emotional content in classical music is conveyed though dynamics. One note on the piano can evoke tenderness or tempest depending on how softly or loudly the note is played. No other stand-mounted speaker in my experience communicates the emotional tension and release of dynamics like the Marten Monks. Returning to my Magneplanar 1.6s yielded a sameness to the musical tapestry. The soundspace and tonal colors were vividly rendered as only Magneplanar speakers can, but the subtle and sometimes dramatic shifts in dynamics were largely absent.

To further illustrate the Martens' exceptionality, I listened to two other speakers in the Monk class one afternoon. The first competitors were a pair of ProAc Response 2s ($3500) belonging to a fellow PF writer, and the second were the Reynaud Offrandes ($4200), on loan from the distributor for review. Both represent their class with distinction. The ProAcs are finely focused and detailed, while the Offrandes are robust and candid. The Monks, however, were an order of magnitude more refined than either. The Monks' authoritative bass, supreme transient response, and extremely low coloration were more in line with a $5000 speaker like the JM Labs Electra 936.

In spite of their brilliance, the Marten Monks were not without minor flaws. Some recordings of female vocalists, such as the late Radka Toneff from her CD Fairytales, or Natalie Merchant, sounded very lightly veiled. An experiment in bi-wiring with my standard Analysis Plus Oval Nine on bass and the budget JPS Ultraconductors from my second system on treble took several steps towards opening up the voice. More experimentation with cabling would be necessary before I could pass final judgment in this very specific area. Another area of concern was the effect of subharmonic surface noise from LPs. Certain records from my collection made the Monks' woofers pump like a beating heart. The sight of such expensive drivers pulsating can be unsettling, but it has no effect on the sound. Of course, my Maggies do not exhibit such behavior because they do not have woofers.

Hey Rudy, put this on the record. All of it.
Miles Davis

This quotation can be found on Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (Prestige 7150), featuring none other than Thelonious Monk on piano. The track is "The Man I Love (Take 1)," on which Monk stops playing for several bars in the middle of his solo, much to the chagrin of Miles. The moment is priceless, the music eternal. Put this on the record—the Marten Monks are exceptional speakers in every way. Their wide bandwidth, transparency, and electrostatic musical attributes make them worthy of their namesake. Monk would be proud. Victor Chavira

Coming in the next issue will be a follow-up review by Chip Stern!

 

 

 

Monk loudspeakers
Retail: $3500/pr.

US Importer:
E.A.R. USA/Sound Advice

TEL: 562. 422. 4747
web address: www.ear-usa.com
email address: info@ear-usa.com

Marten Design
web address: http://www.martendesign.com

 

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