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MartinLogan is a globally recognised
company with a respected brand who have continued to explore, create
and develop. MartinLogan have a ‘world of sound’ on
offer to those who appreciate and expect the best…
The Joy & pain of owning
Scenario electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers
Value for money is probably the last thing on your
mind when trying to achieve the best in home hi-fi and sound quality.
Of course you have a budget to work with. You have spent much time
and effort researching and listening. Finally, you believe you have
found what you have been looking for. You sit back in your listening
chair and the music sounds oh so sweet, but how long will you be
enjoying sweet music before the first repair and how much will the
How many years do you expect to be able to listen
to sweet music, trouble and maintenance free?
First purchased September 2003 from KJ West One
in London for £1596, my beloved MartinLogan Scenario’s
provided many years of musical fulfilment. These speakers allowed
me to truly appreciate my love of ‘real’ music. Aesthetically
Transparent and musical transparency are words commonly used to
describe both physical attributes, as well as the musical experience
with these speakers. I fell in love with their truly uncoloured
‘non-speaker box like’ attributes. They just worked
in my ‘difficult to manage’ listening space.
Back in 2003, very little online information was
available regarding the lifespan of MartinLogan electrostatic speakers
(the coated mylar panels to be precise). There were whisperings
of possible degradation ‘over time’ caused by high humidity,
dust, smoke as well as the high electrical charge required to energise
the panels (particularly with earlier models). However, I was far
too engrossed by what I could now hear and feel within the four
walls of my listening room to be concerned about whisperings outside.
I also always took great pride in ensuring the panels were cleaned
(as per MartinLogan instructions) and being a non-smoker, I felt
extra confident of trouble free ownership. Today the internet is
awash with various professional and home customer threads describing
both ‘joy and pain’ using MartinLogan electrostatics.
If I had known then what I know now, would I have I travelled down
the electrostatic route?
MartinLogan electrostatic owners who have fallen
foul of the MartinLogan replacement panel price hike. In 2012, MartinLogan
confirmed they were tripling the price of panel replacement. I was
advised by one of their distributors that price hike was due to
the high failure rate during production of the panels. In 2010,
MartinLogan announced they were going to discontinue supporting
older, out of production so called ‘legacy’ products,
however, this was a brief (and obvious ridiculous own American football
goal) to which they quickly corrected. Still, visit the MartinLogan
website and you will notice the absence of part replacement information.
After virtually hours of web surfing, I did note one owner in the
US paying over $700 for panel replacement!
The start of the pain
2015, hints of degradation began with a confusing
uneven response from the speakers. Music began to sound left sided
(which obviously varied depending on the recording) however, generally
this was more noticeable with time. The balance variation made me
question many recordings (and many a sound engineer’s state
of mind). I also questioned other components in the chain such as
amplifier, pre-amplifier, phono stage… during the long degradation
period. The MartinLogan Scenario speaker breakdown finale happened
towards the end of October 2018. This time it was clear (or perhaps
not). A complete loss of three-dimensionality, dynamics and high
Over several months of deliberation, I considered
my options would be…
A. Organise panel replacement via Martin Logan’s UK distributor
B. Purchase a new, completely different type of speaker?
While continuing to explore panel replacement options
with MartinLogan in the US, Absolute Sounds’ (as well as other
online companies offering Scenario panels) I considered the possibility
of living with a different brand of electrostatic speaker, such
as the Quad ESL range, or Magnepan, as well as the possibility of
different type of speaker altogether?
My exploration led me towards a pair of MBL 120 Radialstrahler
Loudspeakers (£15,500). (Supplied by AudioEmotion). Expectations
were high after a brief foray with the bigger £180,000 MBL
101 E’s at the 2008 Audio & AV show.
My initial thoughts after a careful (but brisk) set
up of a pair of MBL 120 speakers (supplied by Audio Emotion) was
“oh dear”. Not what I was expecting in any shape or
form. They offered an inviting wall of sound when playing back the
likes of the Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular bells,’
or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon,” but spin
a disc with subtle variations in emotion such as Herbie Hancock’s
“Maiden Voyage, or Wayne Shorter’s “Adam’s
Apple) and you will wonder if Hancock (piano) or Shorter (saxophone)
were emotionally distracted during these sessions. There was also
a distinct lack of musician placement, instrument textures, or any
distinct soundstage whatsoever. After hours of repositioning attempts
later… I soon decided the MBL 120’s just did not suit
the limited space and close wall positioning I had on offer.
As with all components, individual taste,
component matching, room set-up become part of the mix!
All roads lead back to my
MartinLogan Scenario electrostatics!
April 2018, the replacement
panels for my MartinLogan Scenario electrostatic loudspeakers finally
arrived (a full 10 weeks after placing the order with Absolute Sounds).
The cost of a new pair of Scenario panels? £1098! After such
an excruciatingly painful wait, I collected the panels from Absolute
Sounds in South London and with the invaluable assistance from an
experienced friend, we carefully fitted them within two hours!
With speakers back into their marked positions,
we eagerly sat down to listen. The advisory run-in period for these
new panels is around 48 hours. Hence our initial ‘hand over
ears’ experience. The harshness and brittle presentation left
my cat’s ears retreating flat to the back of her head. After
a few days of continuous Tellurium Q System Disc CD playback, I
was in electrostatic heaven once again.
Fast forward to early February
2019 - groundhog day!
After less than eleven months of near audio bliss,
my ‘new’ Scenario loudspeaker panels suffered the same
fate as the original pair. I Know face another gruelling 10 -12
week wait for replacements.
14 March 2019, the following email communication
as sent to MartinLogan.
At this point I am disappointed, shocked & horrified at the
failure of my electrostatic panels…
It is unfortunate (understatement) that the Scenario electrostatic
replacement panels sent to me (April 2018) for my Scenario speakers
have failed. It is also even more unfortunate this failure has occurred
in less than one year of receiving them!
Your UK distributor (Pedro from Absolute Sounds) has suggested the
failure could be due to the panels living in a ‘smokers environment’,
or their particular placement could be near a wood burning or coal
burning fire. He came to this conclusion because he claims he has
found some sort of ‘debris’ within the mylar panel.
Let me be absolutely clear… We do have many music lover listening
sessions here (in my home). However, being a fitness fanatic and
gym freak for 40 years (I am 54 years old) smoking is completely
alien to me. I have lived at my address for 20 years (the time I
have owned these speakers) and nobody would be brave enough to light
a match (further more cigarette) anywhere near my home. I am also
allergic to ‘dust mite debris’, so my home is cleaned
at least once a week. I have attached a photograph of the set-up
for your perusal!
We are in the process of testing new components to add to our system,
so this failure could not have come at a worse time. As we are unsure
how long it will take for replacements to arrive. Our previous wait
(just last year) was ten weeks, so we are considering returning
all components we are currently testing as they are on loan!
We would appreciate and respect a response from you regarding our
experience. We would also respectfully request a time-scale on when
you expect to be able to supply Absolute Sounds with a ‘reliable’
pair of panels?’
17 April 2019
I finally took delivery of my repaired Scenario
ESL’s today. After sending various emails, leaving a message
on the MartinLogan Service Department answering service, various
emails to Absolute Sounds, firstly requesting repair and delivery
dates, then advising I would prefer a refund after no, or inconsistent
responses. In February, my Scenario’s were delivered to Absolute
Sounds in Wimbledon in near mint condition, completely scratch free.
Unfortunately they have been returned to me with a few marks and
one deep scratch to one speaker cabinet. I also never did receive
a response from MartinLogan either by email or telephone call. What
a superb high end service by both main company and UK distributor.
Absolute Sounds…Absolutely Scandalous!
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.
April 2018 - April 2019