An electrostatic panel would seem to be the perfect speaker. Its design neatly sidesteps the inherent weaknesses of conventional moving coil speakers. There's no cabinet or crossover, so phase anomalies, distortion and general limitations in quality that these things impart don't exist.
Great so far, but there are solid reasons for electrostatics being so rare. They need to be big to deliver the kind of bass, dynamics and volume even a medium-sized floorstander produces for fun; despite the lack of depth – these panels are about as thick as a plasma TV – the large frontal area would be hard to accommodate in small rooms.
Also, the lack of a cabinet means the same amount of sound is fired forwards and backwards, making positioning critical. And electrostatics are expensive to make, so they'll never be a cheap buy.
Martin Logan has been making such speakers for decades, and has long decided to go the hybrid route, where an electrostatic panel is mated to a moving-coil bass driver to get round the size issue.
Highs and lows integrate beautifullyAs you can see from the Vantage's price tag, the cost issue still stands. This floorstander comes about halfway up the manufacturer's line-up, and is the most convincing argument we've heard for hybrids.
More after the break
Yet while they negate the need for large panels, they introduce the problem of integration: electrostatics and moving-coil drivers are so different in the way they produce sound that it's very hard to make them work seamlessly.
Listen hard and you'll hear a slightly different character between the lows and the rest of the range, but arguably no more than we've heard with moving coil speakers that use different materials for their drivers.
As for speed and agility, the results are impressively consistent across the frequency range. The Vantage uses an active bass section, which helps a great deal.
Getting the best from these speakers takes time. They need to be far enough away from the wall to minimise the influence of the panel's rearward sound. Some damping in the form of curtains, soft furnishings or even a book-lined shelf between the wall and the speaker help no end.
Getting the tonal balance is easier thanks to a bass control on the bass cabinet: in our room we had to cut the low-end output down by about 3dB to get even tonality.
Don't forget to optimise toe-in and listening heights, as each of these makes a big difference. Get it right and listen to something like Adele's 19 or Eric Bibb's Where the Green Grass Grows, and you'll wonder if there's anything better at the money. Breathtaking detail and subtletyWith acoustic material, the Vantages are enchanting. The panel covers mids and treble, so is seamless in combining them.
Voices are articulate, and are delivered with breathtaking detail and subtlety, while harmonically complex instruments such as cymbals shimmer in a way moving-coil designs can't match. After this, it's some measure of how good the lows are that they don't stand out.
It's not perfect, though. If you listen to pop and hip-hop or anything else that prioritises punch and timing there are better speakers at this price.
Even so, factor in everything these speakers do well, including top-class stereo imaging, and we reckon many will prefer their sound to moving-coil alternatives. High-end hi-fi should sound magical, and when on song that's what the Vantages deliver.