CES 2014: Marten Coltrane Supreme II – Most Interestings of Show (part five)

Marten Coltrane Supreme II speakers on Pass Labs amps and MSB digital

Yeah. Spacey room treatments.

These speakers, and the pen-ultimate Momentos, reflect a new direction for Marten. The original Coltrane Supreme speakers, and their Coltrane speakers as well [we think both the original and V2], were, as I have often described, a tabula-rasa. A blank canvas. They played whatever signal you sent them. Which was cool, because we could put umpteen billion dollar expensive extremely high-quality gear on them and actually get to hear the gear. Other speakers have their own sound, to some smaller or larger degree, and you didn’t really get to hear the gear. Not fully.

Let’s take a step back. Hearing your gear, when it is a extremely well made relatively low-power 211-tube based amp, or GM70, or 300B, or what have you, is an experience akin to the most ecstatic moments we can experience in this life. All those subtle layers and layers of inner dynamics and harmonic transitions and all riding on top of a musical carrier signal that just steals your sorry ass away from this troubled world and into something a whole lot better.

The speakers had their own unique performance characteristics, like all gear, but really very, very little sound of their own.

OK. Hearing your awesome gear. Got it?

Now what happens when someone puts a not so wonderfully awesome amp / front-end on these same speakers? Well you hear that too. And who gets the blame for the resulting not-so-pleasant sound? Is it the inferior gear? Nooooo. It is the speakers.

Look at the reviews of these speakers. Same thing. They hear their [sorry, but…] woefully sucky gear on the speakers and then report on what they hear.

Are they idiots? Maybe, but it is not like anyone but us has been writing about this [and who pays attention to little ole us? Sure, we actually do have 10s of thousands of readers – but in the end it is just the ravings of a couple of nutty audiophiles against the realities of an anti-audiophile world]. We ourselves kind of stumbled upon this by accident, years ago. We just kept putting better and better stuff on the speakers and we kept hearing deeper and deeper into the sound [No, sorry, this is rarely if ever the case. Most speakers provide diminishing returns as you put better and better gear on them. See the room review below of the Lamm ML3 on the Verity Lohengrin speakers as just one example].

Now the factory just wants to sell speakers. They do not care about Mike and Neli [and a few of you out there] and whether we are experiencing musical ecstasy or not. In fact, I am willing to bet you that none of them, except perhaps [maybe] the designer [who is one of the best speaker designers in the world, but…], even know what these original speakers do. All these people trying to sell these speakers, they put mid-fi junk on them and think they are hearing what they do. Nope. They are just hearing their mid-fi POS junk.

So what does the factory do? They make the speakers more forgiving so that people putting inferior grade gear on them do not go home unhappy. A side effect of this is that the speakers are harder to drive. Remember all those cool, ultra-high-quality single-ended tube amps that you could use with the original Supremes, with the powered bass? No longer gonna happen.

So the sound in this room at CES 2014 was hard sounding and smeared, with not enough resolution, in the upper midrange [etc. let’s call it screechy] and fundamentally unenjoyable. As one might expect. But the point here, which is hopefully more clear after all the above background information, is that it wasn’t as screechy and unenjoyable as it should have been.

You could still hear the quality of the speakers through all that mismanagement of the musical signal. But this is like a 600 watt amp we got here. These puppies require Power [minimum 50 watts. The previous version had an active (2000 watt powered) bass and was easy to drive].

For many, perhaps most, of you this will be a welcome change. It will be easier to get a listenable sound, yet completely accurate with extreme high-resolution, with these speakers using your average everyday gear out there.

But what if you, like us, are going for the ultimate sound experiences? The reason we like to use smaller tube amps is because so many of the larger amps, both tube and solid-state, have had so many music-obliterating mind-numbing headache-inducing issues [i.e. they suck] that it has been easiest to ‘just say no’.

Now, we might able to say ‘yes’. After listening and listening and from all we have heard the 1500 watt EmmLabs MTRX amp is significantly different from (read: better than) their high-powered brethren. In fact they are starting to change the whole way we look at power-hungry speakers [and they are quite a bit less expensive than the Gaku-on and slightly less than the ML3. Less expensive is good, yes it is]. People going for the gold can now just put the MTRX on the speakers and drive the poop out of them. With these speakers this would be a truly powerful, accurate, no-nonsense-allowed musical reproduction. The sound’ll no doubt be excellent [not screechy nor unlistenable at all :-)]. But otherworldly? Maybe…. [hope so!].

Because of this change of focus, the Martens are now part of a different market segment. The Supreme I was part of a rarefied and august group of easy to drive ultra-high-end speakers, some a little too forgiving, perhaps, but with not that much sound of their own: the Acapellas, the big Wilsons, perhaps the Magico Q7, and perhaps a few others [there are conflicting reports].

The Coltrane Supreme II (and Momentos but not the Coltrane II), on the other hand, are up against many more, a few dozen or so, other statement speakers that are also somewhat forgiving, a little less [some might say ruthlessly, some might say perfectly] revealing, and a little hard to drive, each with their OWN sound [read coloration] that each person must decide is a ‘good’ sound or a ‘not so good’ sound: The Kharmas, Magicos (except perhaps the Q7), YG Acoustics, Perfect8, Avalon, Focal, Genesis, Tidal, … And many others.

What the Supreme II has going for it is higher resolution [that diamond midrange thing along with all those Accuton drivers] that is more musically true, more linear and accurate than the competition [Leif does innovative things with crossovers that keeps things sounding like music and not some mad scientist’s concoction, while still keeping true to the input signal], This all contributes to the enjoyment of the music, as opposed to just artificially calling attention to itself [look at me! look at me! i.e. it goes way beyond the basic Impressiveness which is all that the vast majority of statement speakers have to offer. Impressiveness, you know, is really cool – who doesn’t love that big, BIG sound! – but sometimes a person wants more than that].

[neli: We do hope to hear the Coltrane Supreme II with different gear, gear that is more to our taste [and more suitable for $500K speakers IMHO (mike)], in early summer [if our customer, Encinitas Jim is up for it]. At that point, the speakers also should be more fully broken in, and hence we should be better able to assess their performance compared to the original Supremes, and also to their current competition.]

So, yeah, enough about the sound. The Supreme II is 2 boxes versus the Supreme I’s 5 boxes [although we never had a problem positioning the 4 towers, perhaps others did]. The look is also quite different: there are no grills over the drivers on the front of the Supreme II. The new Accuton cell technology drivers look cool [what can I say? They do]. They are also fatter, kind of like the Coltrane II in that way….

Can’t wait to hear them again…. :-)