Subwoofer Comparison (2018)
Like most great American audio companies, MartinLogan was formed way back in the late 70s’ when Gayle Martin Sanders and Ron Logan Sutherland (yes, the same Sutherland who now makes fantastic phono preamps) met in Lawrence Kansas. Their electrostatic designs took the audio world by storm and to this day they still produce more electrostatic speakers than any company around.
We recently had the good fortune of setting up a pair of their top of the line Neoliths for one of our local customers in the area. When you purchase a pair of $80,000+ speakers, MartinLogan rolls out the red carpet and sends in their best set up team from the factory. We had a great time setting up these incredible speakers and learned a lot more about what makes them special.
One thing that really stood out is the fact that the new Neolith has a woofer design which MartinLogan has been trying to perfect for over 25 years. Dennis and Russell from the factory talked about how the designer, Alan, is driven by his passion to keep pushing for something better. That spirit is embodied by the whole design team at MartinLogan and really shines through on their completely revamped line of subwoofers.
We have been playing around with these new subwoofers for a few weeks now, and it almost feels like we are going back 40 years to MartinLogan’s beginnings when they rocked the audio world with their very first speaker. These new subs have so much technology built into them and at such a reasonable price. It’s really quite amazing!
They kept the Dynamo name for their new line, as well as the ability to choose whether the subs are downward-firing or front-firing.
The new Dynamo line includes:
- MartinLogan Dynamo 400 Subwoofer
- MartinLogan Dynamo 600X Subwoofer
- MartinLogan Dynamo 800X Subwoofer
- MartinLogan Dynamo 1100X Subwoofer
- MartinLogan Dynamo 1600X Subwoofer
With the exception of the 400, all of the Dynamo series comes with MartinLogan’s amazing MartinLogan Subwoofer Control app, which provides a myriad of control options, as well as the ability to actually EQ the sub to match the acoustics of your room.
We feel so strongly about the benefits of this that, unless you are on a very tight budget and $399 is the absolute maximum that you can spend, we urge you to save the extra $200 and move up to the 600X.
The difference in performance due to the bigger woofer, the amp, plus the room correction makes a noticeable difference. For this reason, we’re going to leave the Dynamo 400 out of this write-up and start with the Dynamo 600X.
MartinLogan Subwoofer Control App
But before we dive in and discuss the benefits as you move up the line, let’s start by circling back and diving in a bit deeper into the MartinLogan Subwoofer Control app, because it’s truly a game changer. It’s available for both iOs and Android. Download it, open it, and you will be able to quickly discover any Dynamo subs you have connected to the system.
Anthem Room Correction (ARC)
If you were to measure any room, no matter how perfect its dimensions might be, there are going to be some frequencies that are very loud in certain parts of the room, yet almost inaudible in other parts. To experience this in your room, simply trying playing some music with continuous bass. Walk around the room, and bend down from time to time. You will notice that in certain spots, the bass notes are very loud, yet in an area only a few feet away, the same tone is hard to distinguish. This is the nature of physics and how frequencies act -- affected by the dimensions and shape of your room.
MartinLogan, Paradigm, and Anthem are all owned by the same company, which means that they benefit from sharing learnings and technology. Anthem, in conjunction with the Canadian National Research Center, developed a great system known as Anthem Room Correction (ARC) to help smooth out the response of your room.
What ARC does is play a series of test tones while you take measurements using your phone or a professional microphone kit you can purchase separately. You’ll measure a few spots in your room where you and your family or friends sit when listening. ARC then looks at these measurements and automatically corrects for your room issues.
The result is just staggering! Your bass gets much tighter and more accurate which in turn really opens up the critical midrange. If the bass is boomy, it can mask middle frequencies. By taking out big bass peaks, you not only improve the bottom end, but voices get much clearer and more open. The app even gives you the ability to switch ARC in and out quickly so that you can clearly hear the difference it makes.
Next, let’s talk about the Phase/Polarity feature. If you really want to blend your sub well with your main speakers, you want the bass tones from each of them arriving at your ears at exactly the same time. If your main speakers and subwoofer are on the same plane in front of you, this happens by default. However, we all know most homes don’t allow for this configuration and the sub may wind up behind the main speakers or even on the opposite side of the room. This is where phase comes in.
You can adjust it to try and match the position of your main speakers. Most good subwoofers have this control on the back, but having to jump up from your chair, turn the knob, and running back to your chair until you get the setting right is obviously not ideal for fine-tuning. With the MartinLogan app, you simply play something with a tight bass line and adjust the phase until the blend sounds perfect in your listening position!
Another cool audiophile feature is the low-pass adjustment. This determines how fast the bass rolls off at your crossover point and exactly where that point is. This is where your main speakers fade away in the bass and the subwoofer takes over. Getting this right makes a world of difference in how well your main speakers blend into your subwoofer. MartinLogan gives you a ton of flexibility here which makes things interesting. The 800X, 1100X, and 1600X give you separate LFE and low pass inputs. This means that if your home theater receiver has preamp outputs for the front channels, you can run a set over to the stereo inputs and also take the single subwoofer out of your receiver and run it to the LFE input.
The LFE crossover for movies will be set by your surround sound receiver or processor. Then you can totally fine-tune the crossover for listening to music using the low pass inputs. You can even switch between a Third Order filter, which rolls the bass off at 18 dB per octave, or a Fourth Order at 24 dB per octave. We prefer the 3rd order in most cases.
If you are playing an old movie that seems to be lacking in deep bass or maybe a hip-hop song where the deep bass is overwhelming, the MartinLogan app can come to your rescue with its 20-30hz section. Here you can adjust the volume of just the very deep bass plus or minus 10db for a quick fix.
Once you have all of this stuff fine-tuned, you certainly don’t want it to get messed up, and MartinLogan was very clever to give you the option of setting up a password for the app! If you are lucky enough to have 2, 3, or even 4 subs in your room, you can name and control each one individually in the app.
More App Features
But the features of the app do not stop there! Let’s take a look at them. The main screen lets you adjust the volume of the sub right from your chair. This is great for fine tuning the blend between the woofer and your main speakers.
At the top of the page are three icons: Movie, Music, and Night. Music mode is basically flat, while Movie mode increases the deep bass output a bit. Night mode is a useful feature if you have small children or close neighbors as it will reduce the deep bass while you are enjoying an action movie or concert video.
Another great feature on the main screen is the sweep button. When you put a good subwoofer in a room, there is probably going to be an HVAC vent, cabinet door, or something in the room that will rattle at a certain frequency. This is one of our pet peeves and drives us nuts when a certain bass line hits and the HVAC vent starts buzzing! Using the sweep, you will be able to easily find if you have any rattles in the room and fix them. Usually just moving the vent setting on an HVAC vent will fix things if it is the cause of your rattle.
After reading this over, you probably now understand why we suggest you save up $200 to move from the Dynamo 400 to the 600X to get all of these great audio enhancements!
Now let’s look at each sub to see what you get as you move up the line.
MartinLogan Dynamo 600X Subwoofer
The 600X gives you a 10” subwoofer driver coupled to a 120-watt power amp. The driver itself uses an inverted surround with what MartinLogan calls a poly cone. The amp can put out up to 240 watts of peak power and it uses one of our favorite types of transistors -- MOSFETs. The box itself weighs in at 35 lbs. and the physical dimensions of the sub are roughly a 15” cube. You’ll see the low turbulence port on the 600X which allows you to get a lot of bass energy out of a pretty small box.
On the rear of the sub, you’ll find an input for MartinLogan’s wireless receiver, the SWT-X. This is an optional accessory that can send the LFE signal over to your sub with no wires! If you have a room where hiding the subwoofer cable might be a problem, this is a great option.
We feel the Dynamo 600X sets a new standard for its price point. When you set it up with ARC, the performance level you get is just astounding. It is fast and tight. For a modestly sized home theater room, one of these will provide great bass and you will be amazed at home much better you can make it sound when you engage ARC and fine tune it with the app
MartinLogan Dynamo 800X Subwoofer
Like the Dynamo 600X, the Dynamo 800X uses a 10” inverted surround poly cone woofer. However, with the 800X and up, all of the models have a sealed non-resonant cabinet. The cabinet features a ton of internal bracing and vies you a nice dead sound when you rap your knuckles on it. The cabinet for the 800X is roughly a 13” cube -- slightly smaller than the 600X. A sealed box normally gives us much faster and tighter bass, but it does require a bit more power, so MartinLogan ups the power to 300 watts with the capability of hitting 600 watts on peak output.
One thing we love about MartinLogan subs is the ability (on the upper-end models) to change the configuration from downward-firing to front-firing. This allows for a lot of flexibility in placement. We have had some situations where we had to bury a subwoofer inside a cabinet and were only able to vent it through a vent on the toe kick of the cabinet. In that set up we flip the sub to downward firing so that we are not firing right into a cabinet door.
Another benefit of moving up to the 800X (or higher models) is the addition of spiked feet. These are hidden under the standard rubber feet. They are adjustable and let you get your sub level, with a solid coupling to the floor. We have found that in most listening tests, anchoring the sub so it does not rock produces cleaner bass with better tonal quality.
If you really care about your music sounding accurate, step up to the 800X over the 600X. While it really does not produce any more deep bass, what you do hear is much tighter.
MartinLogan Dynamo 1100X & Dynamo 1600X Subwoofers
We grouped these two models together as they share all of the same feature sets. The Dynamo 1100X has everything the 800X has, but with a 12” woofer in a 46-pound cabinet that is roughly a 17” cube. The amp for the 1100X is rated at 650 watts continuous and 1300 peak.
Moving up to the Dynamo 1600X, you get a huge 15” driver in a sealed cabinet that is roughly an 18” cube and weighs in at a whopping 57 pounds. It’s amp can put out 900 watts continuous power and 1800 peak!=
In addition to the standard RCA inputs, both the 1100X and 1600X have balanced audio inputs for both the LFE as well as the Left and Right inputs. On long cable runs, balanced cables have an advantage of canceling out any noise that the cable may pick up. You’ll see that touring bands exclusively use balanced cables in their setups for just this reason. With more and more of the better receivers and processors now having balanced outputs, we applaud MartinLogan splurging to give us balanced inputs on these subs.
Of course, both the 1100X and 1600X share all of the other features of the models below, but we have to tell you, these are serious subwoofers and a simply incredible value! To get a 12” powerful sealed sub with all of the features MartinLogan has included for under $1,100 is just amazing. It sounds great on music and can easily blend with even the fastest small bookshelf speakers. As a matter of fact, for pure music reproduction, we like the 12” model over the 15”, as the driver is just faster.
When you want earth shattering bass, yet the ability to hear the tonal quality of an upright bass when you are listening to music, consider the 1600X. This thing really digs down deep. If you are putting together a really serious home theater, consider adding a second 1600X. With the ability to adjust each of them separately using the app, you will literally blow the socks off your friends when they come to listen!
As you can see, MartinLogan has raised the bar with this new series of subwoofers. We feel that no matter how good your subwoofer is if you can not fine tune it to the room to eliminate room problems, you will never hear it at its full potential.
There are a few other sub manufacturers out there with some kind of EQ, but none have the engineering and power of using the Canadian National Research Center to develop their software. ARC has been proven to be amazing, and outside of Dirac from Datasat or Arcos from JBL (both only implemented well in ultra expensive processors), nothing works better.
Think about your room size and what is important to you when making your choice, but you will be simply smiling ear to ear once you set one of these up and fine-tune it!
All of these subwoofers are available for purchase below. If you still can’t decide, simply click the chat icon in the bottom right of the page and we will be happy to help you choose the right subwoofer for your system.