MartinLogan MLT-2 – The Best 5.1 Speakers You Can, Usually, Buy For $200
There’s an old rule-of-thumb which states, “half of your stereo budget should be spent on speakers”. After all, that’s the part you actually listen to. Most folks with an A/V system are using some Home-Theater-in-a-Box from Sony, Samsung, Yamaha, etc, with ‘good enough’ speakers. You know, not terrible sound, but… And, largely, most people haven’t experienced really good speakers except, perhaps, in the Super-Expensive sections of Best Buy’s, Fry’s and other electronics retailers. You go in, hit the little red-button to fire up some Polk’s, Klipsch’s or Cerwin-Vega’s, and wow! Then you see a single speaker can sell for multi-hundred’s to thousands of dollars, and that usually results in outrageous sticker-shock. People, I’m here to let you know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Update – 04/02/15:
It appears the MartinLogan MLT-2 speakers are becoming rarer, as their price has increased dramatically over the last several months. They are now hard to find for less than $500. For $200, even $300, the MLT-2 are an excellent value. At $500, however, you are probably better served by moving away from a 5.1-system-in-a-box approach. Instead, piece together a nice set of fuller sized speakers. I remain a big fan of the MLT-2 5.1 Speaker set, and use them regularly. However, I have gone through a significant upgrade in my main speaker system and am very happy with the results.
Who is MartinLogan?
Founded in the late 1970’s, MartinLogan originally built their business, and reputation, making electrostatic speakers, which are very different from the traditional cones-in-a-box speakers we’re most familiar with. These types of speakers are thin and long, more like a standing mirror, containing a flat piece of plastic coated in conductive materials as the speakers diaphragm (the part that vibrates to make the sound). Electrostatic speakers are very expensive, require lots of power, and usually need the help of a sub-woofer for good bass/low-end. But sound reproduction is as perfect as technically possible because audio distortion can be one or two magnitudes lower than box speakers and, if positioned correctly, they have unmatched directionality and imaging. Being firmly entrenched on the very, very high end, in 2001, MartinLogan began designing box speakers for the home theater market, and that’s were we come in.
The decision making process:
At the time I had an entry range Yamaha A/V system, and the in-box speakers in the living room. Perfectly adequate, but I had the itch for an upgrade. Deciding I’d move the Yamaha into the bedroom, where my demands on speakers are lighter simply due to infrequence of use, I began doing research on A/V Receivers and speaker sets. While looking at lower-end Polk’s, Harmon/Kardon’s and Boston Acoustics, I stumbled upon the MartinLogan’s on sale through at deal-website, being the frugal geek that I am. Reviews for the MLT-2’s on Newegg are glowing, averaging 4 of 5 with nearly 200 reviews, many quite in-depth. On balance, the positive reviews raved about the sound, while the few negative reviews were about subwoofers that were bad out-of-the-box and needed to be returned. With a solid return policy, I decided to take a chance and picked up a set.
The MartinLogan MLT-2 5.1 Speaker Set:
The MLT-2 is a traditional 5.1 system, including 1 center channel, 2 front left/right, 2 rear left/right, and a subwoofer, with a recommended Amp power of 100 watts per channel at 8 Ohms (always pair your Ohms!). The front and rear speakers are medium to small sized, running about 8 inches tall, 5 inches wide and 6 inches deep, containing a 4.5 inch rigid poly mid and a one inch soft cone high. Just about the right size to be placed anywhere, and, whenever possible, we always recommend speaker-stands to reduce vibration. The center is a little shorter than the front/rears, but a foot wide, with the same tweeter, but two 3.5 inch mids. The sub is a 10 inch paper cone that fires down, and measures 15 inches tall, about 12 inches wide and 14 inches deep. The system is in a flat’ish black, so it’s fingerprint-resistant, and, in my opinion, looks good, but is not prominent or distracting. The look is simple and basic, as a speaker should be – heard, not seen.
Build quality is strong, and the speakers themselves are sturdy. Some Newegg reviews complain about ‘cheap Chinese quality’, but that’s not the case in my experience. The speakers are made in China, the quality is far, far from cheap.
As a brief background, during college I worked for a couple of different radio stations, both with OCD Engineers, and learned a lot about audio engineering. Keeping in mind that audio is an individual experience, what I look for in a speaker is clarity and reproduction across a range of frequencies. My own personal preference is usually for a bit less bass response than most, since, to me, that seems to come at the cost of mid-range… I’d take a nice pair of Sennheiser or AKG headphones over any pair of Beats.
With that in mind, in my experience, the MartinLogan MLT-2 speakers reproduce sound far, far exceeding the price, and they are frequently on sale at Newegg for $199.99. The sound is rich and full across the entire range. They are crisp, never flat or muddy, and any distortion is minor and only occurs at overly to ridiculously loud volumes.
Paired with an Onkyo TX-NR414, I’ve been using the MartinLogan MLT-2’s as the speakers in my living room for the last 16 months, watching dozens of movies and hundreds of hours of music and streaming audio. The experience is always more that pleasurable. For their relatively small size, the fronts and rears have a very crisp and full sound. Surround sound positioning is great, with rear-channel subtleties coming through cleanly and appropriately. As a 2.1 system just for music, the MLT-2’s are strong, beautifully reproducing everything from classical, jazz, rock, metal, hip hip, podcasts, etc. Again, it’s important to stress the clarity of these speakers, you will hear parts of recordings you had not heard before using the speakers that Sony and Samsung include in their HTiaB systems, or the earbuds that came with your iPod.
As I’ve already disclosed, I like bass, but not so much as to sacrifice the rest of the range. So, in terms of the MLT-2’s subwoofer, I had some initial concerns, since some reviews rated it as very powerful. I was quite pleased to find that the sub is very, very present, but not in an overpowering way. Oh, but it can be if you want. Frankly, this sub is a brute, and if you really wanted your neighbors to hate you, dialing this baby over to ten and, even playing the volume at half, you’ll be shaking windows and floors for a significant radius around you. That said, I keep mine dialed just a hair under 3 and find the 10 inch sub to be deep and strong, but totally clear. For example, a film scene that starts quiet but contains a sudden, loud and deep sound – like an explosion. Most pack-in-subs have issues quickly ramping up that volume and will distort at the beginning, and or top-level of the event. The MLT-2 is able to deliver that sharp, but low-level initial ‘crack’ through the deep cascading rumble without muddiness or buzzy-bass distortions. Recent Newegg negative comments mention defective subwoofers. All I can say is the one I got is loud and strong.
Are they as good as the super-high-end speakers? No, but for about 10-15% of the price, the MartinLogan MLT-2’s will get you about 85-90% there. Over the years, I’ve heard lots and lots of speaker systems, covering lots and lots of price-points, and, for under $200, the MLT-2’s are a stunningly remarkable deal. As teased in the headline, the MLT-2’s are not always $199, although Newegg generally has them on sale at that price every couple of months. Even so, to my ears, the MartinLogan MLT-2 speakers are easily the best 5.1 system you can buy for under $200, and probably the best, or in-the-top-5, in the $350-500 range.
Consider giving yourself a treat, and upgrade that Home Theater in a Box, “good enough” speaker-set for a “holy smoke, I can’t believe how good this sounds – $200, what!?!” set – life is too short for mediocre speakers.
- Excellent sound reproduction from such small speakers.
- Well built.
- The subwoofer is very, very good.
- Extremely good price-to-performance ratio.
- Small speakers can never beat a set of full-sized speakers.
Verdict = Recommended.
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