Walk into any British audio retail emporium and ask the people running it what they don’t need any more of, and I’ll wager that at least 8 out of 10 will say “Another loudspeaker brand”. You can see their point. I bet that almost everyone reading this could count into double figures the number of British made loudspeakers without pausing for thought. Add to that the British brands who choose to manufacture overseas and you realise what a daunting task any salesman faces trying to get shop space for yet another brand here. This is not a criticism of retailers – in these challenging times for retail in general taking a punt on an outsider is either very brave or a bit rash.
Just occasionally a product passes through my system that I genuinely think deserves a wider audience than it will get, and the Marten Duke 2 standmount loudspeakers that were here for a couple of weeks are a case in point. Marten is a Swedish manufacturer, based in Gothenburg, who make an extensive range of loudspeakers, including some high end models which retail for more than the value of my house. The Duke 2 is the entry point of the Heritage series and is therefore rather less eye-wateringly expensive, but is still, at just under £7,000 (without stands) in the gloss black finish, not at the budget end of the price spectrum. I actually prefer a matte veneer finish because we use our loudspeakers as the sound source for our TV as well as our music (via one of the DACs in the system) and these all-the-rage gloss finishes are just too reflective. They also show every finger mark, making white cotton gloves a handy accessory if like me you move speakers a fair bit.
As I say, the review pair were finished in a high gloss black finish but they are also available in high gloss walnut and in a matte walnut finish. The cabinetry is very high quality. There are no grilles. The white ceramic woofer and tweeter (made by Accuton) are protected by a rigid but discrete black mesh screen. On the back there is a substantial bass port and a pair of WBT binding posts. Beauty is of course subjective but to me these are good looking loudspeakers with their sides angled back so that the back panel is about half the width of the front baffle. A friend of mine, Richard Trussell of Kingscote Audio in Torquay, was kind enough to lend me a pair of Solidsteel stands and the Duke 2s looked really good on them. I tried them on the oak HiFi Racks stands which I use with my smaller loudspeakers but visually and acoustically they were not well matched. The metal tripod stands looked great and brought out the very best in the Duke 2s.
And that best is absolutely magnificent. The mid/bass driver and tweeter are quoted as delivering 38Hz-40kHz (+/-3dB) and I have no reason to doubt it. The crossover contains high grade Mundorf components and gives a totally seamless sound presentation. Bass is plentiful and tuneful. The midrange is the most open and musically communicative that I have come across, combining huge amounts of detail without sacrificing the listener’s emotional connection with the music. The treble really sparkles, but not in exaggerated, fatiguing way. These are not voiced to amaze at a short audition. They deserve a long listen.
Source and musical genre made no difference to the wonderful listening experience. I played everything from Mozart Piano Concertos 20 and 21 (Uchida/Tate on Philips) ripped from CD to my Naim UnitiServe and replayed through the Naim NDX, to jazz on vinyl (Ray Brown ‘Soular Energy’), to 60s and 70s rock (too much to list here!) and the Duke 2s served up a feast of music. I played double bass music and organ music (Gary Karr and Harmon Lewis) and the sound was just right. I have had my current loudspeakers for 5 years and this is the first time I have heard a loudspeaker with which I could very happily live in their stead.
As with any bass ported loudspeaker the Duke 2s worked best with some free space behind them. The optimal distance in my room was 75cm (30 inches), but it is worth taking time to experiment. I also had them toed-in towards my listening chair. The stereo imaging was simply excellent and the soundstage thrown much wider than the loudspeakers. This was a genuinely immersive musical experience.
I always try to get others to listen to things I am reviewing, to get an alternative perspective, because we all hear things differently. I also like to get Mrs Kelly’s opinion because she has ‘good ears’ and is totally not a gear head. She loved the sound from the Duke 2s and also really liked the look of them, not withstanding the distracting reflections from the TV when we were watching that of an evening. My audio friends, who listened on different days, were also totally smitten with the sound coming from these relatively compact stand mounts. Both commented on the weight of sound from the smaller enclosures, to the amount of detail and the sheer musicality.
The Duke 2s are rated at 4 Ohms impedance (with a minimum of 3.7 ohms). I played them using my own Yamaha A-S3000 integrated amplifier and with the Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier/ DAC that was also here for review. Both partnered well with the Martens. These are loudspeakers which deserve the best possible ancillaries but will work well with most solid state amplifiers, given their 88dB efficiency. I connected them using Tellurium Q Ultra Black II cables, which are the best I have to hand. Again, the better the cables the more these loudspeakers will give you.
Which brings us back to where we started this review. How do you get to hear these wonderful music makers? Because if you have the budget these deserve your attention. I guess in the first instance you should contact the UK distributors Harmony HiFi, and go from there. Or ask your favourite retailer to get a pair in for you to audition. You will be doing both you and your dealer a big favour.