MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A Electrostatic Loudspeaker Review

Manufacturer & Model
MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A
MSRP
$27,499.98 per pair
Link
https://www.martinlogan.com/en/product/renaissance-esl-15a
Highlights
Effortless presentation, sharp imaging, vast soundstage, and smooth extended bass, optionally smoothed using Anthem Room Correction (ARC).
Summary
The MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A is MartinLogan’s top speaker, except for their flagship Neolith model. They generate a huge soundstage with superb detail. The extended low frequency response is simply awesome.
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We gathered together back over the 4th of July weekend for some extra-special holiday festivities, featuring fine music delivered by way of some of the planet's finest audio equipment. “We,” in this case, refers to AV NIRVANA's Sonnie Parker, Dennis Young, and Wayne Myers. The gathering place was Sonnie’s Cedar Creek Cinema in warm, beautiful southern Alabama. If you want to read more about the get-together, you can check it out here.


The MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A Electrostatic Loudspeaker features a 46-inch x 15-inch Curvilinear Line Source electrostatic panel with its controlled dispersion radiation pattern above the 300Hz crossover frequency, and two 12-inch woofers, each powered by a 500 watt (1000 watt peak) class-D amplifier, and the frequency range below crossover is ARC Ready (having Dirac Live on hand, we never used it). The woofers are situated at the front and rear ends of the base of the 15A's, sealed in separate enclosure compartments. The length of the base, along with special crossover phase tuning for the two drivers, helps eliminate low-frequency response anomalies by reducing the effects of reflections from the front wall, a real problem for most full range speakers. Looking at one of our measured frequency response curves, taken without ARC or Dirac room correction, and without subs in play, I cannot remember seeing a bass response curve so flat from any loudspeaker we have evaluated, clear down to 20Hz.


Sounds Like Home
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The Renaissance ESL 15A pair has been in place in Sonnie’s room for many months. His listening position (LP) has changed, too, moved forward by a foot or so, and he has spent a lot of time refining the positions of the LP chair and speakers for ideal soundstage and imaging (SS&I).

When we arrived at Cedar Creek Cinema, our first task was to make sure they were ideally placed. It took us only a few minutes to determine that they were in the best placement we were likely to come up with. And there was no need to check for sloppy setup symmetry, Sonnie being about as fanatical as one can get about such matters.

One of the first things that I noticed was that he had arrived at a toe-in angle that looked the same as what I had arrived at for my pair of MartinLogan Classic ESL 9's back home, a somewhat shallower toe-in angle than we have tended to use in the past. A setup with zero toe-in angle, aimed straight at the listener, will deliver the flattest frequency response, but the soundstage and imaging (SS&I) - depending on the loudspeaker type and design - will generally be flat and lifeless, if not downright horrible. MartinLogan’s curvilinear electrostatic panels give the listener a range of possible listening angles for good SS&I before the high frequencies roll-off too steeply to be usable.

Another similarity between Sonnie's set up and mine back home was the use of absorption for the entire front wall, minus the area of the projection screen in Sonnie's case. So I had high expectations for success as I sat down to listen for the first time to the Renaissance 15A.

I was not disappointed in the least, and had the same reaction that I have experienced many times sitting down to a new pair of MartinLogan electrostatics to listen at a trade show or after returning home from one. There is a comfortable sense of being home, electrostatics being so easy to love with their completely effortless delivery. It is as though the air is simply enticed to vibrate with music somehow, with no involvement of any electro-mechanical device.

This is almost true. The large surface area of super lightweight material that makes up an electrostatic panel barely needs to move at all to do its job, so even at higher volumes there is never any sense of strain in the sound coming from those panels. This has been the case over the range of MartinLogan electrostatics that we have evaluated, from the littlest brother EM ESL to the second to the top of their current lineup, the Renaissance 15A. You can turn them up until your ears cry uncle, and the music will always arrive with a sense of effortless ease.

Another feat of engineering that the MartinLogan engineers have mastered is that of integrating an electrostatic panel with a cone type woofer. I have yet to hear a model that failed to accomplish this seamlessly.

As Sonnie has written about in some detail elsewhere, we had decided to run Dirac Live calibrations for each speaker type, one with correction clear to 20kHz and the other with correction only up around 600Hz, several times the room’s transition frequency. We also ran a calibration including subwoofers, usually with a 20kHz calibration, and of course could listen without Dirac Live or subwoofers if we chose to.

Long ago we decided to trust our own ears and logic and to ignore advice saying never to run room correction above the transition frequency of a room. While there may be some truth to that advice in a horrible listening room, in our fairly- to very-well treated listening rooms there is plenty of upside with no downside from time-adjusting room correction, especially with our favorite tool, Dirac Live.

When it came time to sit for a serious listen, I started with no subwoofers and no room correction to get the pure MartinLogan reference point. I have listened like this with my Classic 9's for months at a time when other parts of my system were in flux and a Dirac Live calibration was not convenient. As one would expect, the Renaissance 15A's have a much flatter uncorrected frequency response than my Classic 9's. The 15A's are voiced with a slight rise between 1-2kHz, and from there the HF response drops only slightly to 10kHz and beyond. The flatness of the uncorrected LF response down to 20Hz was simply mind-boggling.


Listening Tests
Without subwoofers and without room correction, although room correction could be selected for comparison (described below):
Désolé, Gorillaz: The strummed electric guitar, panned half right, seems super-enhanced. We have measured left/right speaker response matching at the LP and it is superb. Imaging is excellent, highs are smooth and balanced, and the soundstage has the beginnings of depth acuity, or precise depth perception, an elusive quality. The horns and strings later in this piece stand forward with a similar enhanced quality.

Supermassive Black Hole, Muse: This is a fairly flat mix, but the lead guitar panning back and forth gives one a chance to listen for obvious holes or discontinuities in the soundstage. There are none that I can hear. Even at higher volumes I do not miss subwoofers at all with this song.

Compassion, Todd Rundgren: The soundstage depth is so distinct and clear, and seems overall a bit deeper than with Dirac Live. I love how the shimmering glockenspiel sparkles and stands out.

The 15A's completely disappear in this setup, with and without Dirac Live. Some speakers need a little extra help from room correction for that to occur.

With Dirac Live room correction, 2 settings, one corrected full bandwidth to 20kHz, the other corrected to 600Hz. Optional subwoofers were rarely engaged:
With Dirac Live engaged, image clarity and precision were improved by a notch, as predicted, and that elusive sense of depth acuity, which might go hand-in-hand with the unruly exuberance of the raw 15A soundstage, was definitely toned down. One experiences a soundstage that fills the end of the room, extending well past the speakers horizontally, filling the room vertically and with depth from the plane halfway between the LP and the electrostatic panels to the front wall of the room.

Perfect World, Broken Bells: The opening notes are like the conductor tapping the music stand with the baton and calling the orchestra to order, exuberance contained, precision delivered, mission accomplished. The kick drum is now a tightly focused entity front and center, low in the soundstage.

Ain't It A Shame, The B-52’s: There is a vocal echo that appears high and to the right that, for all its delicacy, is so distinct that it might have a heavy outline around it. The 12kHz sheen on Cindy's voice always grabs me.

Vision Of A Kiss, The B-52’s: The focused kick drum owning its space, a pair of notes strummed on an acoustic guitar declaring, “I want to be a real guitar,” then a solid bassline underscoring all of the above with authority. Details like this from familiar test tracks confirm sonic truths about a loud speaker. Lest they become boring with repetition, we are reminded once in a while of being tickled to laughter when we first discovered them years ago. What fun.

Another Nail In My Heart, Squeeze: Drums, bass, and guitar are pulsing and then tumble down towards the chorus with a sense of urgency. When your loudspeakers get out of the way of the music like these Renaissance 15A's do, it is as though the inner intentions of the songwriter and performers can find a way to speak to you directly.

China Girl, David Bowie: Bowie’s vocal tone and expressiveness have an etched quality about them insisting they be committed to memory.

I Love You. Climax Blues Band: Faithful reproduction of cymbal tones like those recorded in this track is a task often overlooked. The extended highs from the 15A's make every little ping and ting a beautiful thing.

Beyond The Blue, Beth Nielsen Chapman: The room is filled with gently pulsing drums, which are accented by the strums of an acoustic guitar, then Chapman’s beautiful vocal quality sews it all together like a silver thread.

Don't Panic, Coldplay: This first track from Coldplay's first album has a raw quality that sounds like they're just warming up. The guitar panned hard left, then second guitar panned hard right, then Chris's unapologetic first vocals dead center underscored by an almost thunderous bassline, then it all melts together into the dreamily reverberant chorus, “We live in a beautiful world.” The Renaissance 15A's are capable, like few speakers, of reminding us through music that we do live in a beautiful world, “yeah we do yeah we do.”

Float On, Modest Mouse: The analog console saturation uniting the vocal parts on the chorus is the kind of detail a lot of speakers would leave buried behind imperfections. The 15A's cleanly deliver the inner details of recordings.

Trouble With Dreams, Eels: High bells dominate the chorus of this Eels song, caressing from left and right Everett’s scratchy voice that seems always in pain yet always on pitch, then the bells complete the filling in of the soundstage behind him. An expansive soundstage full of tiny bells is a thing to behold.

Session 2:
After a break I approached the 15A's with fresh ears for a final listen. Through the previous session, I had switched back and forth often between the two Dirac Live filter presets that corrected full bandwidth and to just beyond room transition frequency. As one can see in the frequency response plots, there is not a big difference between the two. Listening to both, in this room with these speakers, there is no right or wrong, better or worse about it, simply a personal preference. At times I enjoyed the natural voicing of the 15A's with mids and highs unfettered by the room correction, at others the precision of the Dirac Live correction all the way to 20kHz, and it was fun being able to easily switch back and forth between the two. Given a few more preset spaces in my NAD T758 v3 AVR back home, I might just add that option for the fun of it.

For this final short session, I focused on that difference more closely with these tracks. I had rarely in the previous session turned on the subwoofers, finding no benefit from them for my own taste and tracks and I did not turn them on at all thru this last listening session with the 15A's.

Time Heals, Todd Rundgren: I can hear the mids held back by the Dirac Live full bandwidth room correction relative to the more lively natural delivery of the 15A with partial correction. No preference here, both were enjoyable to my ear.

Compassion, Todd Rundgren: The sampled glockenspiel got me thinking that while the soundstage difference between partially corrected and full bandwidth corrected is small, I had found the soundstage difference between uncorrected and partially corrected fairly significant. Since returning home, I have found the same to be true with my own system, but I am far from attempting any conclusions and claim no in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. It's a mystery, something to be looked into later on. I enjoyed this particular track more with the partial Dirac Live correction in place, allowing a little bit more shimmer and liveliness in the glockenspiel sounds, all up in the higher frequencies.

Love Science, Todd Rundgren: I had no preference with this track.

Still Island, DJ Crush: Mixed in a way that almost seems unruly in places, I like the way the full band correction seemed to regulate this track.

4Ware, Deadmau5: I definitely preferred the full band Dirac Live correction for this track. With synth notes appearing in almost every available position of the sonic space, that brought about a sense of order to the track.

Late In The Evening, Paul Simon: Another toss-up, I enjoyed listening to it with either correction option.


Conclusions
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The MartinLogan Renaissance 15A electrostatic loudspeakers pushed all the right buttons for me. I would personally never find the need to buy a subwoofer to go along with these speakers in a two channel application. The low frequency energy from the Renaissance 15A is monstrous, impeccably clean, and accurate. You might have to start telling yourself bigger lies to justify that next subwoofer, the 15A’s will not help you.

I also found the Renaissance 15A to be a superbly enjoyable speaker without any kind of room correction, delivering sharp, accurate imaging, a soundstage that will steal your heart, and clean, effortless delivery full of inner detail. Of course the beauty of adding Dirac Live is that it takes all that good stuff and makes it even better.

Now we just have to nudge Sonnie into moving up to a pair of Neoliths for our next GTG.


Sonnie's Biased Take
Ascent i, Spire, Prodigy, Montis, ElectroMotion ESL, Expression 13A, Classic ESL 9, and finally after 14 years, the Renaissance ESL 15A. How can I not be at least a LOT biased? Simply put... I've never heard a speaker that can immerse me into the music with superb imaging, image layering, depth acuity, and a huge soundstage like the 15A's provide in my room, all at anywhere from low listening to insane levels without any stress on the speakers. It has literally been the perfect pair of speakers for me, leaving me wanting for nothing else. Sure... other speakers are interesting, but the 15A's are my magic. I listen to more music than I have ever listened to, constantly searching for new stuff to test, and they continue to amaze me over and over... never tiring me in the least bit. I'm really not sure what else I can say. I'll echo all of Wayne's comments, as I've listened to everything he has listened to, and our thoughts are very similar, if not exact in most cases. I suppose I'll add that unfortunately I think I'm at the top with MartinLogan, as the Neoliths are a bit out of reach financially, although it sure would be fun hearing them in my room.



Dennis's Impressions:
I am extremely familiar with the Martin Logan sound, having heard many systems featuring the brand, having heard almost all of their electrostatic speakers. The Renaissance ESL 15A is one that I do not recall experiencing. They are out of reach for me, financially, but if I had the means, there would be no hesitation. I am planning to get myself something different that fits my budget and the smaller second listening room I have. That something different will most likely be the more affordable and best fit for my room, the EM-ESL panels. I do like directivity designs, after all. I've said this to Sonnie and Wayne many times and now I'll say it to you. Dipoles share a lot of sonic attributes with the horn speakers I gravitate to. It's counter-intuitive, but absolutely true.

Don Felder "Heavy Metal" had a mellow, laid back nature and requires a "heavy" hand on the level control to get the track up to listening "speed", with any system I've played it on, the track lacking kick. The 15A accommodated my request, the SS&I was top-notch and much appreciated.

"I Will Always Love You", Dolly's voice in present and accounted for, front of stage, slightly muted in character. The ML's put an ever-so-slight haze over the presentation, much akin to the even-order harmonic distortion that makes tube amps sound so pleasing. It also throws up a huge soundstage with lots of air between the images, it's biggest strength. Life-sized sound, that is Martin Logan's signature.

Bass is aplenty. I tried subs in and out and I was almost always completely satisfied with the low frequency reproduction, with the exception of but a couple songs. Even so, I could happily do without subs for 100% of listening, if I had too, no problem. We didn't have to, though, so the extra little bit of heft was noted, appreciated and registered as a welcome addition, but not an absolutely necessary one.

I can see why Sonnie loves these speakers so much and I do, too. I spent a lot of time with them, listening late into the night after our critical evaluations on two occasions, at least 80% of that was sans subwoofer augmentation. I actually miss these speakers, something that rarely happens to me anymore, having assembled a couple of decent systems at home. The ML are as impressive to look at as they are to listen to. Tall line-source coupled with dipole radiation, a true controlled-directivity design that ignores room ceiling, floor and side wall reflection, in a single panel that mates concisely with a matching front/back dipole subwoofer system that can be DSP-tuned to deal with the modal issues that are the biggest problem most (all?) audiophiles face in domestic situations.





MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A Electrostatic Loudspeaker Specifications
  • Enclosure type: Non-resonant asymmetrical dual chamber format
  • Frequency Response: 22Hz - 21kHz +/-3 dB
  • Impedance: 4 ohm, 0.5 ohm at 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 2.83V @ 1 m = 92dB
  • Dimensions: 69.8" H x 15.75" W x 28.9" D
  • Weight: 140 lb
Retail Price: $27,499.98 per pair


Measurements

All measurements were taken at the Listening Position (LP).

Left and Right Uncorrected Frequency Response (FR)
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Left Speaker FR: Uncorrected, Partial Dirac Correction, Full Range Dirac Correction; Full Range Dirac Correction plus subs
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Impedance and Phase. It is because the bass drivers are internally powered that the impedance is so high at low frequencies, essentially the input impedance of the internal power amp.
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Comments

Sonnie

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Could you share the graph of distortion v. FR?
Wayne should have that... I may have it... I'll check when I get a chance.

Phenomenal response...was there any smoothing applied?
I believe it is 1/6 octave smoothing. It is indeed one of the few that have been in my room and sound really good without any help from EQ, but can also sound good with EQ as well.
 

Sonnie

Senior Admin
Staff member
Joined
Apr 2, 2017
Messages
4,398
Location
Alabama
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
Monolith HTP-1 Processor (Movies and Surround)
Main Amp
Sanders Sound System Magtech (Dual Amps)
Additional Amp
Emotiva XPA-Eleven
Computer Audio
Intel NUC w/ Roon ROCK
DAC
miniDSP SHD (Two-Channel Music Only)
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
Panasonic UB9000 4K UHD Player (for media discs)
Front Speakers
MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A
Center Channel Speaker
MartinLogan Focus C-18
Surround Speakers
MartinLogan EFX Surrounds
Surround Back Speakers
MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL
Front Height Speakers
MartinLogan EM-IC
Rear Height Speakers
MartinLogan EM-IC
Subwoofers
SVS SB16-Ultra x4 (music) + PB16-Ultra x2 (movies)
Other Speakers or Equipment
VTI Amp Stands for the Magtechs
Video Display Device
JVC DLA-NX9
Screen
Elite 128" Screen
Remote Control
Universal MX-890
Streaming Equipment
Roku Ultra
Streaming Subscriptions
Lifetime Roon Subscription
Tidal
qobuz
Netflix
Amazon Prime
Satellite System
Dish Joey 4K
Other Equipment
Salamander Synergy Equipment Stand
Excellent job on the review Wayne... thank you for your efforts. This session was a blast of fun for sure!

Love these speakers.
 

tesseract

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Added my impressions from the Cedar Creek Cinema gtg.
 
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