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…. 🙂

Heart and Mind Ratings of Common High-end Audio Gear

[UPDATE Sept. 07, 2017]

[Most of the scores for major gear remain untouched 4 years later. I removed many items which are no longer being made or whose companies have gone out of business :-(. I also updated some of the values as I have become to appreciate that the level of detail offered by some of the better tube gear comes a lot closer to that offered by solid-state these days and it is often those subtle details that help entertain the Mind – ergo higher mind scores. 

Going through these numbers again – and yes, I have many more items to add, but – it seems apparent that for long term enjoyment one might consider choosing well-balanced vis-a-vis mind vs. heart components or at least design well-balanced systems from a mix of less-balanced components.

Realize also that Boy Toys, whose only claim to fame is that they do BIG, and GeeWiz Wonders whose only claim to fame is cool gadgetry, are not  represented well by the Heart vs. Mind scores, since their appeal does not have to do with how they sound… BUT it still might be useful to rate them on a similar table, or in this table, so people can figure out just why someone is raving about X and whether it has any relevancy to what you, personally, are looking for at all]

In order to help describe what we think are the key differences between the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On and Lamm ML3 amplifiers we came up with semi-subjective rating that has to do with how much the characteristic sound of the amp appeals to one’s mind versus how much it appeals to one’s heart.

We will now try our hardest to apply this same approach to all sorts of other gear. However, it seems like perhaps a change might be useful here. Instead of just rating things based on a simple HEART < —– > MIND scale we will instead try and rate Heart and Mind separately, on a scale from 0 to 10.

One reason why these kind of ratings may be really useful is that people who like the quality of the sound to affect their Heart really hate sound directed at their mind. And visa-versa. Really hate. Spending lots of time to let everyone know how much they hate a particular component or system when what they are really saying is that they do not like the fact it is Mind-centric (or visa-versa).

Mind-centric sound is often called ‘sophisticated’, or ‘high resolution’ or having ‘lots of inner detail’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘cold’.

Heart-centric sound is often called ’emotional’ or ‘involving’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘warm’.

[NOTE: real world values are very fuzzy and depend heavily upon the music played and system the component / cable is in, and, for Audio Note components, the tubes used]

Name Heart Mind
———– amps ———–
Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On amp 10.0 7
Lamm ML3 amp 7 10.0
EMM Labs MTRX amp 6 9
Audio Note U.K. Kageki 2A3 amp 9 6
Audio Note U.K. Kegon Balanced amp 8 7.5
Audio Note U.K. Kegon amp 9 6
Lamm ML2.2 amp 7 7
Acapella LaMusika [top-of-the-line smooth, tonally correct solid state w/ micro-dynamics] amps 5 8
———– speakers ———–
Acapella Apollon speakers 8 8
Acapella Triolon Excalibur speakers 8.5 7
Marten Coltrane Supreme I speakers 4 10.0
Kharma Mini Exquisite speaker 8 6.5
Wilson Alexandria II, XLF speakers 6 8
Wilson MAXX III speakers 5 7
Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers 6 4
Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers 8 5
Audio Note AN/E SEC Signature speakers 7 7
Sonus Faber Stradivarius speakers 7 4
Sonus Faber Extrema speakers 7.5 4
———– cd players ———–
Emm Labs XDS1 CD player 7 8
Esoteric K-01 CD player 4 8
Audio Note Level 5 digital 11 8
Audio Note Level 4 digital separates 8 7
———– cables ———–
Nordost ODIN interconnects 7 9
Nordost ODIN speaker cables 7 8
Tara Labs the Zero GOLD 7 7
Nordost ODIN power cords 8 9
Nordost Valhalla interconnects 6 6
Audio Note Sogon cables 8 4
Audio Note brown PALLAS interconnect 7 9
Audio Note black PALLAS interconnect 7.5 4
Stealth INDRA 4 7.5
ELROD classic (average) 6.5 4
ELROD new (average) 7.5 6
Pranawire (average) 9 4
———– preamps ———–
Audio Note M10 preamp 9 7
Audio Note M9 preamp 8 6
LAMM LL1 preamp 5 7
LAMM L2 preamp 5 6
———– phono preamps ———–
Audio Note M9 phonostage with S9 step-up transformer 10 8
Lamm LP2 phono preamp 6 6
———– turntables (neutral cartridge) —-
Walker Proscenium Gold turntable 7 11
Brinkmann Balance turntable 6 7
Audio Note TT2 turntable 8.5 6
Clearaudio Statement turntable 6 9
Spiral Groove SP1 turntable 8 8
TECHDAS Air Force One turntable 7.5 9.5

UPDATE: 1/1/2018 Turntables. I have heard many tables many times [though the Clearaudio just 2 or 3 times – but it made an impression]. The tables listed above are rated based on their CONSISTENT sound – they almost ALWAYS have the above sonic characteristics. If the vast majority of tables sound more or less the same [a strong statement, I know], the vast majority of their sound ultimately coming from the tonearm and cartridge used, more or less like the Brinkmann, say, then one should choose the table based on ease-of-use and ease of setup and overall engineering quality. Again, why we liked the Brinkmann, but there are now a ton of tables at a variety of price points that do these things well [or well-enough for most people]. Anyway, Mea Culpa, I find it hard to hear uniquely distinguishing characteristics of this broad swath of ‘pretty good’ tables, especially at shows.


Rated 0 to 10 and we are assuming they are in a system that really shows off their capability. There are a lot more components and things we can rate, but this is hopefully a decent start.

OK. You all know this is just my Wild Eyed Opinion. But I think most people would agree that the relative values here are close and in proportion to what we experience when we listen to these things.

There are, you know, components with a value of 0,0 and we won’t point fingers but it is an interesting state of affairs for those that own them. The more educated we are about the REAL comparative performance of our gear the less chance end up with stuff that is not what we are looking for.

From this table, one can see why the Gaku-On amps on the Coltrane Supreme speakers was such a significant system. Even though the ML3 on the Supremes was awesomely intense and deeply subtle, the Gaku-On on the Supremes whacks ya, you poor defenseless listener you, over BOTH sides of the head. A roller-coaster ride to wheresoever the music takes you.

This kind of pairing of opposites works well for the most listeners, I think. Like the Edge NL10 amps driven by the Audio Aero Capitole player – it entertains both sides of the brain. On the other hand, there is something kind of special about well-balanced components, components who heart-centric rating is close to the mind-centric rating.

It seems, looking at things here, that some gear uses either some warmth and/or dynamics and/or well-integrated micro-dynamics to appeal to the Heart.

ZSHifi: Marten Coltrane Supreme / Bladelius

And here is another entry in our continual pursuit of cool Sightings, in the wild, as it were. People often point us to extreme high-end systems they run across. And here is another written up by a dealer in Taiwan [thanks to Florian for finding this].

ZS HiFi: The world’s first pair of users Marten Coltrane Supreme

Apparently the this Taiwan dealer was one of the first, if not the first, to sell a pair [or is that quad?] of Coltrane Supreme speakers.

Their customer’s system, that we see here, is running a Bladelius CD player and amp. Bladelius makes the subwoofer amp that the Supremes use and is another Swedish company.

I note how that have a video screen mounted in the ceiling behind/between the speakers. We have been wanting to do this for forever but for some husband/wife arguing about precise positioning and size issues [take that however you want :-)].

They also have a little Marten Duke monitor speaker on their equipment rack. And B&O speakers in the ceiling corners.

I love the look of the highly polished floor [wood or bamboo] and the speaker’s reflection but wonder at the sonic consequences.

I used the Google Chrome browser to translate the page, and I have to tell you, even translated it is not easy to understand much of what is being said. They run Karaoke through the Marten Dukes… OK…. but movies too? Seems like such a waste… 🙂