MartinLogan Crescendo Wireless Speaker System

MartinLogan Crescendo Wireless Speaker System
MartinLogan Crescendo Wireless Speaker System Review
23rd March
Digital is everywhere. Like it or not, it’s shaping the audio landscape. The original iPod introduced digital audio to
the masses and marked the advent of a full-blown digital lifestyle. As technology has advanced, we’ve seen the
development of an entirely new breed of products: wireless speaker systems.
The first generation of such products were all about what the technology could do, not necessarily about audio
quality. Thankfully, recent iterations have focused more on fidelity. We have the legendary stalwarts of audio’s
high end to thank for this trend. Those companies have been able to take their expertise and translate it to the
new audiophile, the one centered around a digital lifestyle.
MartinLogan, long known for their high end electrostatic speakers and subwoofers, is a key part of this
movement. The Crescendo is the venerable audio company’s first foray into wireless speaker systems. Did their
attempt succeed in delivering audiophile sound in a wireless speaker system succeed or fall short? Let’s take a
Features Overview
With the Crescendo ($899.95 MSRP), MartinLogan certainly didn’t hold back any punches. If you’re going to
make a lifestyle statement, then the Crescendo is the way to do it. As I wrote in my initial unboxing preview
article, the MartinLogan Crescendo is one of the sleekest and sexiest pieces of audio I’ve ever had in my system.
The Crescendo's aesthetics were a huge home run with women of all ages.
I’ve never before received universal compliments for a piece of audio equipment before from so many women
across multiple generations. That’s right guys, women. From millennials to the greatest generation, the
aesthetics of the Crescendo are a huge home run. Gentlemen, the Crescendo just may be your secret weapon
to winning the WAF factor war for audiophile gear. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Crescendo isn’t just
another pretty face. This baby is built for performance.
Not all streaming technologies are created equal. MartinLogan does an excellent job of showing you what features are available for each of
the Crescendo's supported interfaces and protocols. AirPlay was my preferred choice—so much so that I never needed to use the included
remote control
Connectivity options abound. The Crescendo features just about every wireless and physical connection option
you can think of including WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), Ethernet, USB, and a 3.5mm mini Toslink optical/analog input.
Protocols supported include Apple AirPlay, DLNA, and Bluetooth v. 4.0 (with apt-x). There’s even a subwoofer
output. Connectivity options have been thoroughly thought out. If you wanted to really nitpick, then the only
inputs arguably missing are HDMI and coax digital.
The Crescendo has just about every kind of input connectivity option you would want and the included subwoofer output is a huge bonus.
Users can switch between streaming protocols by depressing the input button on the front of the unit or on the
gorgeously designed remote. The Crescendo’s status light changes to a different color to reflect the input you
selected. You therefore always have a visual cue as to what input or protocol you’re using—even across the
room. It’s a great touch.
The Crescendo's user manual does an excellent job explaining the behavior of each input. By using AirPlay and Bluetooth, I never had to
pickup the included remote for any functionality.
The Crescendo is fully Apple AirPlay compliant and its integration with Apple devices is simply brilliant. The
Crescendo lacks any on-screen display. However, if you’re an Apple mobile user, there’s an ingeniously easy
way for you to join the Crescendo to your WiFi network using a feature called WiFi copy.
With Apple's WiFi copy feature, you can share your WiFi settings from your iPhone or iPad directly to the Crescendo. Simply plug in your
iPhone or iPad to the Crescendo, hit "Allow" and you're done.
To use WiFi copy, simply plug your Apple iPhone or iPad into the Crescendo’s USB port and you’ll be prompted
to copy your WiFi configuration from your iPhone/iPad to the Crescendo. The process takes about 10 seconds.
It’s flawless.
I wish all wireless devices were this simple to setup. WiFi copy, in case you’re wondering, is Apple-specific. If
you’re a non-Apple user, you can still use your laptop or Android mobile device to log into the Crescendo’s built in
web server and configure the unit manually. Though not as elegant, it still works.
Under the hood, there is a 24-bit 48kHz DSP-based preamplifier section that mates with a Class D closed loop
100 watt amplifier. The Crescendo’s amplification is divided among the different drivers. 25W goes to each of the
.94” x 1” Folded Motion tweeters for a total of 50W. The remaining 50W goes to the 5” x 7” fiber cone with
extended throw drive assembly.
Detail of the Crescendo without its magnetic grille. The dual Folded Motion tweeters are angled to improve stereo separation and provide a
160 degree listening window.
The drivers are covered by a magnetic front grille. Pressing on the upper two sides of the grille will cause it to
instantly pop off. To put it back on, just hold the grille close to the unit and its strong magnets will instantly snap it
seamlessly back into place. I always applaud manufacturers that provide magnetic grilles as an option.
MartinLogan’s implementation is especially well-done with wonderfully strong magnets.
There are two color options for the Crescendo: natural walnut veneer and high gloss piano black. My review
sample was finished in natural walnut veneer. The veneer is good quality. It’s polished to a matte finish without
any visible seams and will fit into any decor nicely.
Design and Aesthetics
Ordinarily, I’d gloss over a product’s aesthetics. Let’s face it, you don’t normally think of speakers as prime
examples of aesthetics. However, in the case of the Crescendo, it deserves special attention.
Given the positive reaction of so many women to the Crescendo, I asked the team at MartinLogan about the
unit’s design. They told me that they focused on the physical design after the acoustic platform had been
completed. In other words, they wrapped the design around the size restraints the engineers provided.
According to MartinLogan, they wanted something that would stand out from typical square box designs and was
as iconic as the their electrostatic speakers. To accomplish this, they took a lot of design cues from other
products to make the Crescendo feel like a natural extension of the MartinLogan brand. For example, the
arching based is a reminder of the curve found in an electrostatic panel. The real-wood veneers, polished
aluminum, and a dense MDF enclosure all can be found on many of MartinLogan’s other loudspeakers.
The folks at MartinLogan were quick to emphasize that the Crescendo’s premium materials are not typically
found on wireless streaming systems. MartinLogan told me that they labored for months over the final details
such as the variation of walnut that would be most acceptable to their customers down to where to put the
buttons to control Crescendo. Based on the real-world feedback I got, MartinLogan’s design is a winner.
The relatively compact form-factor of the Crescendo posed some engineering challenges that needed creative
solutions. For example, MartinLogan wanted to make the widest sound stage possible. However, without the
tweeters having good physical separation, the illusion of stereo sound falters. MartinLogan’s engineers tested
many different configurations, and ended up angling the Folded Motion tweeters out to further enhance stereo
separation for an expansive image from the single speaker design. The Crescendo’s soundstage is supposed to
give you a roughly 160 degree listening arc.
The Crescendo is a dual-ported design. The dual-ports on the underside of the unit are a combination of both
form and function. The MartinLogan team told me that placing ports on the underside allowed for a more
consistent environment for the ports to interact with since the Crescendo will always be placed on a table or shelf
of some sort. Second, they just needed the space on the back for electronics and connections.
The Crescendo is a dual-ported design. The speaker's ports are inconspicuous and hidden on the underside of the unit.
The Crescendo and Home Theater
As I was surveying the connectivity options on the Crescendo, something struck me as odd. The Crescendo had
a subwoofer output port. A subwoofer output port isn’t typical on stand-alone speaker systems.
On the one hand, this made sense. The Crescendo only goes down to 50Hz. Some competitors’ all-in-one
streaming models go deeper; but their bass isn’t necessarily accurate. Thus, if you really wanted the full impact
of your music, then a complimentary sub could fill things out perfectly. But something else also struck me. The
Crescendo could also serve as a high end sound bar for home theater.
By feeding the Toslink digital output from your TV or Blu-ray player to the Crescendo you could potentially have
killer sound in a slick looking package. In fact, if you paired the Crescendo with a MartinLogan’s own Dynamo
700w or Dynamo 1000w wireless subwoofers, you could then place the subwoofer any place in the room. (Note:
you can also use the Dayton Audio XR wireless subwoofer transmitter to make any subwoofer wireless). You’d
then have the best of both worlds: a wife-friendly, svelte-looking Crescendo with a sub’s deep bass slam that you
could put into an unassuming corner of the room.
The Crescendo is designed to work seamlessly with an external sub like MartinLogan's own Dynamo models. Adding a sub gives you
superb home theater performance.
This thought then got me thinking about audio decoding and what would happen with multichannel tracks.
MartinLogan confirmed that the Crescendo was indeed designed with this in mind. However, there’s no
multichannel decoder built into the preamp section. If you wanted to use the Crescendo for this home theater
style application, you’d need to down-mix a multichannel signal to stereo, which is easily done within your Bluray player.
In case you’re wondering, the Crescendo takes care of all the subwoofer crossover settings. It has a fixed,
internal crossover of 70Hz. Mating a subwoofer with speakers can get overly complicated. Thankfully,
MartinLogan makes it easy. In the manual, they give you the volume settings to use for their own Dynamo
subwoofer models. If you’re using a non-MartinLogan sub, all you need to do is set your sub’s high pass and low
pass filter to their highest settings. Then, adjust the volume to what sounds natural. If you’re sub has a phase
adjustment, turn it to the setting that sounds best. Bingo, you’re done.
Thinking about all these potential options got me really excited about the Crescendo’s potential us in a variety of
Setting up the Crescendo was straightforward. I plugged in my iPhone and in a matter of seconds, a prompt
appeared on my iPhone to copy my WiFi settings. I pressed OK and voila I was done. I’ve never ever had a
simpler way to setup a unit—brilliant.
The Crescendo immediately appeared on my network. I could stream to it via Apple AirPlay without any problem
from my iPhone or computer.
The MartinLogan Crescendo appears as an AirPlay speaker from within iTunes. You can adjust the Crescendo's output volume
independently of other speakers.
Next, I turned to Bluetooth. In case you’re wondering, I asked MartinLogan if there’s a limit to the number of
Bluetooth devices you can pair. Their response was that there’s no limit.
I went to the Bluetooth settings option on my iPhone to pair the unit. The Crescendo appeared in my Bluetooth
device list and I paired to it without issue—at least at first. What I found out the hard way is that Bluetooth has a
particular quirk that I don’t like. It can be very frustrating if you’re not aware of it. Let me explain.
Let’s say you pair two or more devices to the Crescendo. Let’s call them Device 1 and Device 2. If Device 1
connects to the Crescendo, it will play audio just fine. If Device 2 tries to play audio to the Crescendo, it won’t be
able to until you manually disconnect Device 1. Here’s the scenario where Bluetooth gets really problematic.
If you have Device 1 paired and playing and then you stop playing or even leave the house and then a user with
Device 2 tries to play audio to the Crescendo, they won’t be able to. In fact, even though Device 1 is no longer in
range, Device 1 hogs the primary pairing and you cannot play audio from another device unless you disconnect
the first device.
To further complicate this, you don’t get a clear error message telling you that this is the problem. I related this
scenario to the MartinLogan team and they replied that this is a limitation of the Bluetooth protocol’s
implementation. So, if you have multiple devices connected to the Crescendo via Bluetooth, you need to be
aware of this issue. It can be a real pain and hopefully this explanation will save someone a lot of troubleshooting
and frustration. In case you’re wondering, AirPlay doesn't have the same silly limitation.
Another issue crept up during my initial setup: speaker hiss. When I first turned on the Crescendo it was dead
silent. However, after connecting a source—it didn’t matter what kind—the Crescendo would emanate a hissing
during silent passages and even during standby mode. I was able to replicate this pattern. Unplugging the unit
and re-plugging it back in would fix the hissing issue until I started playing audio and then it would start again.
I could hear the hiss clearly. However, not everyone could. My brother-in-law, for example, could not. I queried
the folks at MartinLogan and after some back and forth we determined that it was indeed a bug with the
Crescendo. Working with the MartinLogan team was great and they were extremely responsive and
accommodating. This has been my consistent experience with them over the years as a consumer and not
simply as a reviewer.
According to the folks at MartinLogan, they were previously unaware of this issue and no one had complained
about it. I was the first to report it. As of this writing, they are looking into this issue with the hope of being able to
issue some sort of fix.
Listening Tests
As you can glean from above, I spent an extensive amount of time getting to know the Crescendo inside and out.
In fact, with all the back and forth with MartinLogan, I had the unit for almost four months—including the
Christmas and New Year holidays. For perspective, that’s at least four times longer than the average reviewer
would have with a review unit.
During that time, I used the Crescendo in at least four different venues: my office, my living room, my bedroom,
and my parent’s house. I also positioned the Crescendo against a wall, in the middle of a room, and on a bureau
about 10 inches from the wall. I mention all this because the sound was incredibly consistent regardless of
where I placed the unit. In particular, the Crescendo’s bass didn’t change based on it’s proximity to a boundary,
such as a wall. That down-firing, dual-ported design worked nicely.
Throughout my listening period, I found the Crescendo to be an solid, able, and stable performer. I used AirPlay
and Bluetooth almost exclusively throughout the review period with AirPlay comprising about 90% of my usage.
There were no lags, drops or other anomalies with my wireless streaming experience and the audio quality was
excellent. Let me highlight a few examples.
One evening, my brother-in-law asked if he could play Lucinda Williams’ classic
album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road on the Crescendo. Lucinda Williams has one
of those distinctive voices. You’ll know right away if you’ve nailed her vocals or
missed the mark. My audiophile brother-in-law was taken aback when he heard
this album streamed via Bluetooth. “Wow. Her vocals are pretty much spot-on,” he
remarked. I agreed. Instruments had a nice, natural timbre without any
exaggeration. The sound was spacious—even off-axis and enough to fill a large
room for ambient music or an intimate evening.
We spent the better part of the next 45 minutes flipping through songs of one
genre or another trying to trip up the Crescendo. We couldn’t. Rock, jazz, and
classical all sounded very natural. In fact, it dawned on me that we went from trying to analyze the music to
simply enjoying it.
During another session, I played select tracks from Diana Krall’s latest album.
Wallflower features covers of some classic tunes. I fell in love with the way the
Crescendo presented Diana’s cover of the Eagles’ "Desperado" and Elton John’s
"Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word." There was good separation between
Diana’s vocals and supporting instruments. They didn’t become a muddy mess as
with other all-in-one box solutions.
The Crescendo’s only real downside was its lack of deep bass notes. However, I
really grew to appreciate what MartinLogan did with the Crescendo. Instead of
trying to make a small box do everything and ultimately falling short with
performance, MartinLogan focused on having the Crescendo do certain things
Speaking of deep bass, I connected one of my SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofers (reviewed here) to test out that
feature. All I can say is WOW. Top to bottom, the sound was beautiful. Adding a subwoofer addressed any
shortcomings of the Crescendo as a stand-alone system. Can the Crescendo kick-butt for home theater duty?
You bet. It was a knockout combo.
The Crescendo is the most wife-friendly audiophile product I've ever seen and fits beautifully into any decor.
The Crescendo sure is one superb performing, sexy audio system. You’ll be hard-pressed to get better
performance in such a sleek-looking package. For those whose spouses have blocked the purchase of
audiophile gear on aesthetic grounds, the MartinLogan Crescendo is your answer. Guys, listen up: this is the
visually appealing, spouse-friendly, killer-sounding music system that you’ve been waiting for.
The Crescendo is solidly built for streaming and digital music. Setup is a breeze and it’s tightly integrated in with
Apple’s ecosystem. It has input and integration options galore that you simply won’t find in other solutions. Add a
wired or wireless subwoofer to the Crescendo and you have an unbelievable full range setup for music and home
theater. In fact, when paired with a quality sub, like MartinLogan’s own Dynamo models, you’ll be hard-pressed
to find any better sounding all-in-one system.
For me, the Crescendo would be a no-brainer top pick for best wireless music system. However, the hissing
problem I uncovered is the only thing that gives me any pause. If and when MartinLogan addresses that issue,
then the Crescendo goes to the top of my list. Either way, the Crescendo is a superb effort by MartinLogan and
deserves an audition if you’re in the market for a wireless speaker system.
MartinLogan Crescendo
MSRP: $899.95
Frequency response: 50–23kHz ±3dB
Inputs: 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz) Bluetooth v4.0 (supports AAC, aptX®, MP3, SBC), USB (iPhone, iPad, iPod digital
connection) Auxiliary analog/optical digital (3.5mm mini jack) RJ45 Ethernet
Weight: 15 lbs. (6.8kg)
Dimensions: (H x W x D) 8.1" × 25.7" × 6.9" (20.53cm × 65.3cm × 17.5cm)
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