I started off very early in my Hi Fi and AV hobby with sub-woofers as back in the day when sub-woofers were not really main stream there was not much choice in the market at all. The only contenders were from the likes of REL Acoustics or you had to look at the Sub/Sat speaker packages which were being offered from such companies as Miller&Kriesel which were more movie orientated back then and Hi Fi enthusiasts sneered at the use of using boxes to create solely bass for Hi Fi. There were exceptions to this with specialized speaker brands like Wilson Audio offering variations of sub-woofers but at a very high cost to the average user.
In the turn of the 21st Century though this all changed and you could now find most Hi Fi speaker manufacturers making sub-woofers to sell for both AV and the Hi Fi enthusiast. The choice became endless from very low end to the extreme high end market and this is where it became a little more difficult to find the perfect sub-woofers as most claimed to have the best in there range or flagship product. This is when Martin Logan came into my list of very good speaker and sub-woofer manufacturer as they brought out a line of subs which were called the Tri-Force subs and the Depth and Descent were born. The technology was just perfect and clearly they had spent a lot of time and research in this field as the technology was just so good that even Paradigm took on this with their Sub1 and Sub2 range of high end products which still runs today as their flagship sub-woofers. I owned one of the second iterations of the ML Depth which was the Depthi and it was a stunning performer and even wrote reviews for it on main stream forums. Martin Logan were not finished their though with R&D and carried on to perfect the art of good bass and this time with a new technology called BalancedForce and this is when the BalancedForce 210 and 212 were born.
Having owned most brands of sub-woofers over the past twenty or so years I have heard and seen quite a few great sub-woofers and there is so many now but the Martin Logan brand had a lasting effect on me as it was their performance for sub-woofers in reproducing bass for the Hi Fi enthusiast which I really did enjoy and sound that was in my terms of a reference quality for matching not just to their speakers but mixing with other speaker manufacturers which worked so well. Something that a lot of brands try to do but not all are the same. This is why I have invested my own money and time in purchasing a brand new ML BalancedForce 212 to partner with my Wilson Audio Sophia 2 Speakers. It’s not that I think that my Sophia 2 speakers are lacking anything in the bass department but there are benefits in sound quality that a good sub-woofer can bring to both my Hi Fi and AV pleasures, which I will go into more detail in this review.Operating Features and Build Quality
The BalancedForce 212 is extremely well built and to a very high level with a great finish to them. The top of the 212 can be bought in a custom of variety wood finishes with high gloss finish to the rest of the subwoofer cabinet and the base is made out of a cast aluminium which is ribbed for extra rigidity.
The two sub-woofer cones are also made out of an aluminum basket with heavy coils and magnet structures which have been
designed to produce less distortion and long cone throws. These two 12” cones are placed at exactly 180degres and fire back to back in opposing positions which nullify any distortion to produce pure bass energy. There are no cabinet resonances due to how the cones fire and no movement is felt at all when the speakers are operating even at extremely high levels.
The 212 is equipped with enough inputs to make the most of anyone’s system with both balanced and normal RCA inputs and with one of each being allocated to LFE only. The amplifiers inside are both of the Class D type, one for each driver and with a very generous 850 watts per amplifier, with 1700 watts of dynamic power which equates to 3,400 watt’s total output, so some serious power to hand. The controls for the sub-woofer are on top of the unit which can be hidden by a glass plate which is tinted so as to hide the dials when not needed. They can be accessed by depressing the glass plate at one end. This was a similar system to what was found in their previous Depth and Descent subs but with some new added controls. At the very top is a nice blue illuminated Martin Logan logo which has a toggle switch which can be dimmed or turned off if you do not want it activated at all. Below this is where you find all the essential controls with level which goes up to 11, then below is a 25Hz (db) control to boost or minus the effect at this frequency. A Low-Pass Filter is below this and then you have the Phase control and then a toggle for turning the sub-woofer on or off and an Auto mode which turns on automatically if a signal is detected. I always use this mode as it is eco-friendlier. You then have three buttons which are for Tone Sweep which is great when setting up manually, then there is the Room EQ button which can be turned on or off. The final button is for a custom Low-Pass filter option.
As an option you can also purchase for a fee of £100 the Perfect Bass Kit (PBK) which gives you the facility to measure your rooms response with the ML 212 sub-woofer. I went for this option as the room correction is based around the already popular and very effective ARC system which optimizes your sub-woofer to a more or less perfect in room response and can then be loaded to your sub from your laptop. Once you have the sub-woofer in the correct position and its final resting place in which it will reside you also have the spikes to fit which are called ETC or energy transfer couplers, which helps keep any unwanted transmission of energy or bass going through to the floor.Performance and Sound Quality.
For testing I am using the subwoofer with it configured for two set ups. One is primarily music and the other for movies and Multichannel music reproduction. For music I am using the XLR outputs on the McIntosh Labs MA8000 and then for movies/multichannel music I am using a single RCA cable to my Denon AVR-4520 processor on the LFE output for 5.1 sources. Other equipment being used are my Wilson Audio Sophia 2 Speakers with Transparent Ultra Gen 5 Speaker cables. For digital I am using my Aurender N100H Music Server and a Cyrus CD Transport to my Mytek Brooklyn DAC. For analogue I am using a Clearaudio Concept turntable with the Cyrus Signature Phono stage. I am also using my Oppo BDP-93 Blu-Ray player for multichannel music and movies.
I am using a selection of music in digital format, streamed from my Aurender Music Server and one or two on Vinyl courtesy of my Clearaudio Concept Wood and its MC cartridge.
I have Alexis Cole album Dazzling Blue 24bit 192Khz which is music taken from Paul Simon’s huge collection and makes them her own. With the ML BF212 EQ’d again after its initial run in period and set to level 4 with a crossover of around 35Hz this makes for a perfect blend between the speakers and sub-woofer. Dazzling Blue the title of the album and a great song which shows how well the big Martin Logan sub can handle subtleties with bass notes sounding well defined and in time precisely with the beat of the music. Never once does it draw attention to it which is what every audiophile with a sub in their music system is trying to achieve and with the help of good positioning and the PBK kit I have managed to achieve this perfect blend. The bass has real texture to every note and digs deep when required making the harmonization of sound that much more enjoyable. The Wilson Audio Sophia 2 Speakers go deep but with the help of the BF212 that bottom octave has real presence within the music. It is a sound that I have missed and now that I have it I would find it hard to live without it, it also helps with overall dynamics for the speakers as it seems to open up the sound further by letting the upper bass, mids and treble sound even more vivid in presentation. This is something that I have heard many times and that is why a good sub-woofer can really help a system shine when done right and the ML BF212 certainly does do it right.
Something So Right track 4 on the album proves this theory even further as it has a strong low beat all the way through the song and this power makes the sound more dynamic. The same with track 5 Another Galaxy gives the music more depth and the ability to allow for greater separation in the instruments with a wider sound stage projected. The bass is so tight and feels so strong in the way it is played. I do love how the Martin Logan BF212 handles music as it among st the best in its category. The bass guitar has a more tangible feel to the way it is played on track 7 Song About the Moon. It was there when played just through the Sophia’s but with the BF212 it had even more presence.
Everything About It is a Love Song rocks out at halfway on the McIntosh so the levels are getting higher but the BF212 just keeps up and is a pleasure to listen to. This is a great album and one that makes the sub-woofer shine as at this level of Hi-Fi you want to get it more or less perfect and the sound just says it all.
Next up is a SACD, it is by McKinley Black – Beggars, Fools and Thieves which I have used on previous reviews so am familiar with this great sounding album. Once again it is perfectly balanced, no pun intended. Track 3 Beggars, Fools and Thieves is a fast paced piece of music but the BF212 keeps up and the bass adds more attack and greater dynamics to the song. About 2 minutes into the song there is a low bass note that comes in and you really do feel it from the BF212 although it is perfectly placed centre stage, which goes to show how well the sub integrates with the rest of the system. This Train, track 11 is a mellow tune which sounds sublime through my system and the sub just underpins the main speakers and reinforces the bass from the SACD but in such a delicate way, showing that good bass does not always need to be boosted like on some recordings but instead it is a much subtler effect which works really well on this album.
On to a favorite test disc, well it is one that use if I really want to hear some good bass and that is from the Blu-ray Certifiable – The Police in concert which was filmed live at their concert in Buenos Aires and straight on to a song which has some really great bass from the brilliant Stewart Copeland, the track is Wrapped around Your Finger and in this is some really punchy but also some bass that hits hard and the BF212 has no problems in portraying this song with great dynamics and ability to keep up with the fast moving track, making it all about the music and not distracting you with a bass that sounds mono tone, like some subs can. If you do not own this Blu-ray I strongly recommend picking up a copy as it really does show off your system well.
Movies are a similar affair with some fantastic bass from movies like The Expendables and War of the Worlds which has some of the best bass in any movie that I have seen and the BF212 does not disappoint with plenty of LFE action that makes it feel like the walls are cracking and the floor is moving such are the levels of sound pressure that this monster of a sub generates.Conclusions and Final Thoughts
I have heard and owned many sub-woofers over the years and know what a great sub-woofer can do for both music and movies, and the Martin Logan BalancedForce 212 is at the top of the picking ladder when it comes to great bass. With its great tuning abilities, it can be fine-tuned to any room should it reside in as the PBK kit takes it to another level. Control is the key and this sub has it in droves. It can rock to the best of music and then turn into a complete animal when it comes to movies scaring the hell out of you, with its monstrous amount of bass that it can produce.
It gets a Reference rating from The Speaker Shack as it up there with the best of Subs.
Price at time of review approx £4,195Martin Logan websiteAbsolute Sounds UK Distributor