Following instructions in the exceptionally detailed user manual, I burned in the system for a little over 30 hours at about 90 dB SPL (sound-pressure level). Several tracks revealed impressive imaging, but the speakers lacked the midrange presence and detail I'm accustomed to with my less expensive reference Magnepan MMGs (also dipolar speakers), and they exhibited some harshness in the midrange and lower treble regions.
Noticing that the sound seemed to improve the longer the Montages were played, I clocked close to 150 hours before resuming my critical listening. The difference was notable: a wider, more open soundstage, smoother, more detailed highs, and none of the harshness I'd previously heard.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE For those used to the more laid-back sound of MartinLogan's electrostatics, the Montages will be a surprise. They're more than capable of the dynamic punch that rock music often demands. On the power pop of Fountains of Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers, the Montages delivered the palpable impact of the upfront drums and rhythm guitars on the opening track, "Mexican Wine," while vocals were presented without graininess or harshness.
On Kelly Joe Phelps's 1997 Roll Away the Stone, the speakers faithfully reproduced his husky baritone voice and 6- and 12-string acoustic lap guitars. On his slide-and-vocal rendition of "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," I could distinctly hear the slide's slightly discordant opening glissando before Phelps's deep voice and rich-sounding acoustic guitar took over. The midrange was clear and present, keeping the competing guitar and vocal lines clearly delineated even when they were in the same register.
For multichannel listening, I turned to the DVD-Audio version of Porcupine Tree's atmospheric album, In Abstentia. On "Sound of Musak," the upfront vocals and lead guitar were reproduced accurately and clearly, while the acoustic guitar and backing vocals in the surround channels sounded natural and detailed. The Dynamo sub kicked in with surprising impact.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE Soundtracks were where the MartinLogan system really shined. In Alien vs. Predator, it proved capable of handling both subtle and over-the-top effects to create a highly immersive home theater experience. In the scene where the building's stones begin shifting in a jigsaw motion, the speakers realistically rendered the sound of the massive stones moving against each other. The sub was particularly impressive, conveying a sense of their 2-ton weight and, later, adding impact and depth to gunshots and explosions.
In the highly stylized martial-arts movie Hero, the system superbly handled scenes with complex sounds without smearing or muddying the individual elements. When the army launches an impossible flurry of arrows, I felt like I was in the middle of the action, with arrows whizzing around the room and reverberating realistically when they found purchase. And in fight scenes, the clanging of sword against sword was rendered naturally, and subtle noises, such as rain and water effects, came across with impressive detail and clarity.
BOTTOM LINE While I didn't quite hear the magic you'll find even in MartinLogan's entry-level electrostatics, the Montage does offer impressive imaging and a taste of the detail and transparency that can be found at higher prices. Mate a pair with the Dynamo sub and the Vignette center and surround speakers, and you get a first-class home theater system that can compete with anything in its price range. As a few filmmakers have discovered, sometimes Jim will do nicely if Tom is out of your budget.
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