One of the first electrostatic speakers was built in the 1920's. It was created from a pig intestine coated in gold leaf and stretched as large as a door. From the moment the speaker began playing its realism stunned the listeners. However, the speaker promptly disintegrated.
It wasn't until the late 1960's and 1970's that materials began to emerge that would allow an electrostatic speaker design that was not only extremely safe and reliable, but also easy to drive with a conventional amplifier.
The History of MartinLogan
The MartinLogan Story
People often assume that MartinLogan was founded by a couple of guys named Martin and Logan, which is sort of true: Gayle Martin Sanders and Ron Logan Sutherland. MartinLogan "just sounded better than SandersSutherland," Sanders explains. (Apparently they never considered GayleRon.)
The two met in the late '70s at a high-end audio store Sanders managed in Lawrence, Kansas. Despite very different backgrounds—Sanders had trained in architecture and advertising, Sutherland in electrical engineering—they shared a passion for music and, they soon discovered, electrostatic loudspeakers.
For anyone seeking the ultimate in sonic purity and clarity, electrostatics held enormous appeal. Unfortunately, designing and building one that will also produce the sound levels and bass extension most people expect from a loudspeaker is a formidable challenge, even today. Back then, only a relative handful of electrostatic speakers had ever been brought to market. Although most were failures, a few, such as the KLH Model 9 and Quad ESL, were legendary among audio enthusiasts.
The KLH probably came closer than any other full-range electrostatic speaker of its day to competing effectively with conventional speakers in bass and output capability. It was very big, however, and finicky and expensive, and it didn't fit in at all with the rest of KLH's line. Consequently, sales were modest, and eventually the Model 9 went out of production. The Quad ESL was much more successful, especially in its native England, and until MartinLogan's products came on the scene it was arguably the only commercially significant electrostatic loudspeaker in history. It suffered the classic limitations of the breed, however. Though the original Quad electrostatic was widely regarded as the world's finest reproducer of chamber music, fans of rock and even symphonic music were inclined to look elsewhere.
There Must Be a Better Way
Sanders and Sutherland convinced each other they could do better. They were sure they could build an electrostatic speaker that would produce adequate bass, output, and sound dispersion without arcing, blowing up amplifiers, or otherwise offending people not interested in a living-room science project. Sanders organized a small research and development team to transform an original design he had tinkered with for more than a decade into a practical, marketable electrostatic transducer.
The first prototype was ready in 1980. Naturally, it still had that science-project quality—a flat aluminum panel sprouting wires, struts, transformers, and power supplies, connected to an amplifier in Sanders' living room. It sounded even better than expected, but when they turned up the volume, a lightning storm erupted across the panel and music was replaced by a plume of smoke drifting toward the ceiling. Still, they knew they were close.
The team began a series of experiments with new aerospace materials that led to a design breakthrough. Constructed with state-of-the-art conductive coatings, insulation, and adhesives, their revised transducer sandwiched a clear, ultra-light Mylar diaphragm between two perforated-steel stators.
The new speaker looked elegant and could play loudly without arcing, but Sanders still struggled with how to achieve satisfactory high-frequency dispersion without compromising sound quality. (Large transducers tend to radiate high frequencies in a narrow beam rather than fanning them over a wide area.) The solution came in a midnight session when Sutherland sketched a theoretical sound wave to illustrate how sound disperses. Sanders envisioned a horizontally curved panel, the curvilinear line-source, or CLS, transducer central to the design of every MartinLogan electrostat since.
With only a mock-up and some photographs, Sanders and Sutherland exhibited their speaker concept at the 1982 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. An instant hit, the design was honored with a CES Design and Engineering Award. Excited by the response, they headed home to Kansas to translate their ideas into a working prototype.
Up to Speed
Through a network of high-technology manufacturers, Sanders and Sutherland enlisted the help of other engineers with cutting-edge expertise and interest in the project. The company that fabricated the space shuttle's filtered windows and the people who created Teflon-coated cookware joined the design team. From their combined effort emerged a patented vapor-deposition process, an optically transparent diaphragm that could support a 5,000-volt charge, and a conformal coating that uniformly insulated each perforated stator to a charge of up to 10,000 volts.
By the time of the 1983 CES, they had developed a full-range hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker they called the Monolith. A renowned high-end audio company used a prototype pair in its room at the show to demonstrate its electronics. Dealers who heard them were bowled over by the sound of the visually stunning, see-through Monoliths and, more importantly, eager to sell them. It was at this point that Sanders and Sutherland put their middle names to the venture and set about satisfying the demand they had created. MartinLogan finally took flight.
The first couple of years were touch and go. Working with just one full-time and one part-time employee, they built and shipped the first 10 pairs of Monoliths. Despite specially designed cartons, three pair were ruined in freight—a near-catastrophic loss for the young company. Undeterred, they rebuilt the speakers and pressed on, establishing in the process the guaranteed-satisfaction policy that stands behind MartinLogan quality and workmanship to this day.
Sales started to surge in 1985, and the company was finally on a firm footing. Sutherland departed to return to his first love, electronics. The next year MartinLogan moved to its current location at 2001 Delaware Street. At the same time international distribution for the Monolith took off with startling success.
Steady growth followed. By 1988 sales had increased tenfold and the plant had expanded to include a large, dedicated production space. In 1989, and again in 1990, Inc. magazine recognized MartinLogan as one of the 500 fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States.
In the early 1990's MartinLogan released the world's first electrostatic center-channel and on-wall surround-channel speakers, establishing MartinLogan as a major player in the emerging home theater market. It was during this time in the early 90's that some of MartinLogan's most beloved classic electrostatic speakers were introduced, including the Aerius, SL3, Quest, and Cinema.
MartinLogan's most ambitious product to date began to take form in 1997. The resulting 2000-pound Statement e2 loudspeaker shocked the audio world and today is still considered by many to be the apex of no-holds-barred loudspeaker design. The innovative design and engineering behind the Statement e2 fueled the next generation of MartinLogan electrostatic speakers (not to mention ML's first non-electrostatic product). Released in 1999, the Prodigy electrostatic loudspeaker incorporated much of the design and engineering knowledge gained during the Statement project. Prodigy in turn inspired an entire new generation of electrostatic products including the Odyssey, Ascent, Aeon and Theater. All the while sales and distribution continued to expand.
What followed was one the greatest challenges ever faced by MartinLogan engineers - the design of MartinLogan's first non-electrostatic product. In 2001 the legendary Descent subwoofer (featuring servo-control and BalancedForce technologies) took the market by storm establishing MartinLogan as a major player in the growing subwoofer market.
In 2003 Design Series was launched. MartinLogan's high-end pedigree and years of design know-how allowed the design and engineering team to produce this increasingly smaller and more affordable line of speakers without sacrificing the quality and performance that the MartinLogan name has come to represent.
Now firmly established as a loudspeaker 'technology' company (not just an 'electrostatic' company) MartinLogan ventured where few high-performance speaker companies dare to tread... inside of a wall. The Voyage and Passage in-wall loudspeakers (released 2004) challenged the entire audio industry by releasing in-wall speakers with true high-performance sound.
In January of 2005 MartinLogan once again raised the bar for high-performance audio with the release of the Summit electrostat. A major departure from all things that came before, Summit combines dual independently powered woofers with MartinLogan's most advanced electrostatic transducer to date - the XStat.
In October of 2005 ML was acquired by a subsidiary of ShoreView Industries. ShoreView is a financial firm that makes investments in entrepreneurial, well-run private companies. Like you, ShoreView recognizes MartinLogan's commitment to quality performance audio products. ShoreView is a passive investor that is not from the loudspeaker or audio business and is not involved in day to day operations.
Today, MartinLogan is a growing company with an internationally recognized brand, a top-notch team, superior design and technology and smart customers who value the best speakers on the planet.