Marten Duke 2 Standmount Speakers Review
Sporting exotic ceramic mid/bass and treble drivers, this premium priced Swedish standmount speaker promises something special. Jay Garrett listens in…
Many will think there are better ways to spend £6,495 than on a pair of small standmounting loudspeakers, and those who don’t are already spoiled for choice. For this reason, Marten’s Duke 2 has a lot of persuading to do. It’s not exactly most people’s idea of affordable audio – so recognising this, the company has created a new Oscar range for cash-strapped audiophiles.
Meanwhile, the Duke 2 has been reshuffled to the Heritage range, along with the Miles 5, Getz 2 and Bird 2 floorstanders. Like its stablemates, it enjoys a quality of build and finish that’s frankly hard to beat. Our review pair came finished in a lovely walnut wood veneer, polished to a fine gloss. This gives a classy look, but frankly the star of this show isn’t the 23mm veneered MDF cabinet, but the drivers. Set into the front baffle is a 180mm Accuton mid/bass unit set behind a purposeful looking black mesh screen, and above this is a 25mm ceramic tweeter.
Modern loudspeakers use all sorts of weird and wonderful cone materials, but Marten has selected ceramic for its combination of lightness and natural damping, due to what it calls a “refined electrochemical process”. This makes for low distortion and thus excellent clarity. The mid/bass Cell driver is said to have a long excursion, too.
The shape of the highly braced 220x400x330mm (WxHxD) cabinet is a little unusual, tapering steeply down from front to rear; this is claimed to get the best out of the drive units, minimising internal reflections from them. At the rear is a substantial bass reflex port, alongside an equally hefty pair of WBT binding posts.
The manufacturer quotes a frequency response of 38Hz-40kHz (+/-3dB), a maximum rated power of 150 W and a sensitivity figure of 88dB/w/m. It says the nominal impedance is 4 ohms, with a dip down to a relatively benign 3.7 ohms minimum. As such, it requires a reasonably powerful solid-state amplifier or an unusually muscular tube design. I drove it with a variety of amplification, ranging from Arcam's SA10 and SA20 to a Musical Fidelity M6si and YBA Genesis IA3A, up to YBA's Passion IA350. Even a Naim Uniti Atom got a brief chance to tickle its transducers.
As with any rear-ported loudspeaker, the Duke 2 works best with some free space behind it. After some experimentation, it appeared to most enjoy being a couple of feet away from the boundary wall, with a slight-toe in. Naturally, depending on acoustic treatment, wall construction and room size, your findings may be different, so as ever it’s worth spending some time getting the positioning right for your own domestic circumstances.
I was kindly loaned some Jorma Designs Trinity loudspeaker cable which proved to work well with this speaker – perhaps because Jorma internal wiring is fitted as standard. Gekko and Chord loudspeaker cables were tried too, with good results. For the purposes of the review, matching plinths were supplied by Solid Tech, but I also tried Solidsteel stands too.
The outstanding quality of the Duke 2 is its exceptionally open and natural midband. This combines with an incredibly able tweeter to impart a wealth of musical detail that becomes quite transfixing. I actually found myself leaning forward while listening – not to attempt to discern more detail, but because I was so enthralled by the Marten’s musical presentation.
One of the joys of this little loudspeaker is the way that it seamlessly blends its lovely midrange with that super-sweet high-frequency unit. Its Mundorf-enhanced second-order crossover does a great job of divvying up the drivers at 3kHz – it’s seriously smooth. Perhaps this is – in part at least – down to the fancy copper foil air-core coils, silver/gold in oil capacitors and Supreme resistors?
Then there’s the bass. Considering its size, the Duke 2 does a great job of thumping out large tracts of low-frequency information, in a timely manner that integrates beautifully with the agile mids and treble. The entire package produces an immersive and inviting listening experience.
I was intrigued by the fact that the Marten was largely unfazed by my choice of source component. Naturally, the higher up the ladder I went in quality, the more involved with the music I became, but it turned in a sterling job with relatively affordable front ends too. Accuton's ceramic drivers are renowned for being fast and detailed, and those qualities were there regardless of what equipment was being used – or indeed the type of music.
Whether it was Grapelli and Reinhardt, Getz and Gilberto or Vai and Sheehan ripping things up, the attack was instantaneous. With acoustic instruments, you get even more detail thanks to the life-like leading edge and harmonics that shine through.
Treble and upper midband proved surprisingly smooth, when it could so easily have been voiced forward – or clinically – in the hunt for definition and clarity. However, Marten has the upper-end tuned with the tweeter a little backed off. This makes the Duke 2 great for extended listening sessions with violins, for instance, and will tame those amplifiers with a bit of a bitey treble, such as the Musical Fidelity M6si.
Vocals are also well-handled thanks to that impressive midrange. The likes of Kate Bush and Tori Amos present with fantastic clarity and sweetness, whereas PJ Harvey, Florence Welch, and Patti Smith have plenty of body and life-like resonance. The realism of the presentation has much to do with the Duke 2's low noise floor, with a hat tip to the aforementioned crossover. This also allows the speaker to be pushed without any nasty artefacts creeping into the silence. It does seem to like to go loud…
The crossover also aids the impressive separation. I have been on quite a Tool-fest since the latest release and, even in complex passages, there is a clear delineation of instruments. This is also evident in challenging orchestral pieces too. The latter showed how good this speaker is at soundstaging. Indeed this was little short of remarkable – after moving the speakers away from the walls and more centrally into my room, the stereo pair of Dukes projected with notable height, width and depth – despite their diminutive dimensions. It is well worth pointing out that singers, in particular, were rendered at an appropriate height. So often the voice appears either just above or at the height of the speakers, but not here.
One track that covered all the areas just touched on was Queensryche's Eyes of a Stranger. Geoff Tate's vocals were central and sat in enough space to breathe, and the instruments were all placed around the vocals as befits a live metal band. Guitars sounded clear, and stepped up nicely for solos – but it was Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield on bass and drums respectively that had me transfixed. This speaker rumbles away musically, adding depth and weight to the bass guitar and slam of the kick drum, but also served up some sharp clarity when Scott hit the cymbal bell.
Serious sound from a small speaker is what you get from the Marten Duke 2. It’s perfectly sized for compact listening rooms – as per my London home – yet doesn’t compromise on dynamics, clarity or imaging. Likewise, its transient speed is really something, and the tonality is as refined as you’d expect from a product of this price. Factor in its relative tolerance for a wide range of amplifiers and sources, and it’s a seriously versatile thing of beauty. Expensive yes, but great value nonetheless.
For more information, head to Marten.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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