Leif Mårten Olofsson's Mingus III [the designer is shown below with his flagship Coltrane] revels in the immediacy and low-level precision which is a domain traditionally ruled by the better hornspeakers. Contributing to the speed of his accurate transducers is a minimalist network that treads carefully in the phase/time domain. It avoids insertion of a high number of energy-absorptive crossover parts that would overlay the original signal with time-delayed echoes. Minimal ringing, minimal spectral distortion, minimal phase shift - these speakers are capable of surgical precision and thus rather intolerant of anything but high-quality upstream partners. Mingus is not a forgiving effort and should thus be approached with respect and care. Be responsive to its needs, and you'll be amply rewarded.

The first thing you'll notice is what Mapleshade guru Pierre Sprey calls transient fidelity. One way you can think of that is top-to-bottom brightness, not as a tonal aberration isolated in the treble, but as a lit-up presence that engulfs the whole reproduced range. Because the single woofer lacks the weight of the twin-woofer'd $7,500/pr 2.5-way Miles II, therein lies a potential liability. This broad-spectrum brightness and speed which lays bare the initial impulse of each note doesn't quite place equal emphasis on the subsequent bloom which, if not provided by the partnering amp, can create a sensation of leanness or lack of warmth.

Adding this body with the Eastern Electric MiniMax preamplifier -- outfitted for the occasion with more romantic NOS tubes -- allowed for the transfer of amplifier speed and power by way of the bridged Bel Canto eVo 200.4, without incurring leanness that was evident when using my solid-state PRe6 preamp. While certain listeners may disagree, there is such a thing as too much resolution, too much speed. Musical satisfaction comes from a balance of qualities. Using my Audiopax monos, de Lima's TimbreLock function allowed their tuning into higher bias to become a bit more voluptuous than I normally use. Changing the impedance control on the HMS Gran Finale interconnects by 3 clicks and downscaling the rise time of the matching speaker cable gave me just the balance I was looking for.

Despite the low output voltage of my Zanden DAC and the low gain structure of the Brazilian amps, my customary 30 watts proved completely adequate to play louder than I could stand, in what basically equates to one large open space of 60' length, 18' depth and 10' sloped ceiling height. However, the additional power of the Bel Canto Tripath amp accorded more impact and subjective heft from the lower midbass on down, creating my earlier strong recommendation to partner these speakers with the requisite brawn. You'll then have evenly distributed weightiness across the audible spectrum, just not the ultimate LF scale and intrinsic warmth which I described about the Odyssey Audio Lorelei's genre defiance.

Once these system-interface demands are properly addressed, you'll be exposed to a very powerful communicativeness of nearfield live sound and begin to understand why Leif chose Jazz musicians to name his speakers after. They're propulsive beat machines like the British Naim and French Cairn electronics. There's zero ringing, hashiness or unpleasantness in these drivers, just exacting quickness which extends as truly excellent pitch definition way down into the upright bass domain where solid-state [or push-pull valve] muscle comes in handy. The Mingus III has no issues casting a gigantic stage to accord large-scale orchestral music its due and, in fact, does an outstanding job at remaining unruffled in the midst of complexity. Like any two-way, it's ultimately and obviously not the ideal choice should your aural diet consist predominantly of high-cholesterol, fat-dripping power numbers.

For that, you'd want the Coltrane, Miles II or one of the larger trickle-down Carbon fiber-based Mårten models debuting at CES 2004. However, the Mingus is absolutely perfect for the kind of complex and energetic world music I fancy and only occasionally had me wishing for a subwoofer on dub-heavy ambient fare with electronically generated infrasonic beats and atmospheric pedal tones. But make no mistake, for all but electronica, Mingus is full-range even in a good-sized space. While Dan Meinwald was still present, we experimented with toe-in and speaker distance and moved them together a bit closer than my Avantgardes, to obtain a skoch more midrange warmth and solid center fill lock. Toe-in was moderate, still revealing the insides of the cabinets in the listening seat, albeit foreshortened by at least 50%. With these preliminaries handled, let's talk specific sonics.

Turkish pop star Tarkan is surprisingly capable of breaking into bona fide classical Anatolian Sufi repertoire and slyly mixes one such Saz-accompanied track into Dudu [Hitt Muzik 8693953 000665]. The Mårtens pulled off a pretty rare trick with stunning expertise.

The hard-panned strings were placed significantly above and outside the speakers' outer edges, testament to their time coherence which is a prerequisite for such soundstaging precision. Of even higher practical value? I could sit at my off-axis computer station, faced 270 degrees away, and still enjoy a rock-solid stereo image.

In the upper picture, envision me placed approximately sideways, with my back in line with the left speaker's outside, well beyond even the most optimistic definition of an extra-wide sweet spot. Unlike my more directional Avantgardes, the Mingus III is endowed with excellent off-axis dispersion. Because of its supreme focus that doesn't turn blurry sitting even in such extreme lateral 'shadow', the Mingus allowed the unthinkable - to listen to god-honest stereo and simultaneously write at my desk [below, shot from right behind the left speaker].

Can you say spooky? Another very obvious characteristic of living with the Mårtens is their extremely well-damped, taut and punchy mien that suggests sound waves launched as from a tightly stretched vertical trampoline firing each note at the listener. It instills fabulous bounce and pep in any tune endowed with even the least bit of rhythm and reminded me very much of my DUOs. The nOrh SM6.9 has similar feistiness but nowhere near the precision. The Mingus is a tennis training machine spitting out fast balls at illegal speeds. It turns the listener's ear into a tennis pro, reacting to each salvo like an ace who doesn't miss a beat - which brings this off-kilter simile back on track: The Mingus simply doesn't miss beats.

This fixation transforms rhythm into an edge-of-your-seat rather than slumping-back-in-a-half-daze affair. It retains music's innate timing, hence the excitement. And that's why I earlier called this speaker a non-horn-loaded horn speaker. It's doing that horny thang. In terms of body fat and muscle tone, the Mingus isn't Steven Seagal but Jet Li - a finely honed weapon with lightning reflexes. What was absolutely amazing coming off the twin 10-inch, actively driven subwoofers of the Avantgardes? How low and articulate these Mårtens operate, missing only certain subharmonics and, during such tracks, the full concomitant ambient size that's a function of low-level, very low frequency cues. I have every suspicion that the 2.5-way Miles II would fill that small occasional 'hole' to, for $2,500 more, obviate the need for last-octave fill support by giving you a quasi 'onboard subwoofer function'. To be clear, this is not a function of extension. Mingus plumbs the depth with uncommon articulation. It's simply a matter of more surface cone area and air displacement.

Before the notion of 7-inch bass reeks of wishful thinking or exaggeration, remember that the days are long gone -- or so they better should be -- when 15-inch woofers were considered prerequisites. The hi-tech Accuton mid/bass driver used in the Mingus is first-in-class proof to the contrary. Ditto for the 1.25" ceramic tweeter if you were thinking hard or spitty. It's very extended but clearly pushes its first breakup mode far into ultrasonic territory. As is true for the entire sonic picture, think crystalline clarity. It captures minutiae which would remain obscured by even modest opacity, such as lesser drivers and less inert, well-damped cabinets incur as cabinet talk, insufficiently powerful motors that don't start and stop with precision, internal rear wave reflections that penetrate the diaphragm from behind. The heavily poly-fill packed chassis of the Mingus transforms the complete package into a highly resolved transducer that had me quickly forget about the speaker to then enjoy a hard time - at recognizing any specific sonic contributions outside the obvious ones already mentioned.

Likely because of the shallow network transition that operates the tweeter well into the 500-1000Hz band, I couldn't detect the actual hand-over from driver to driver, making for a truly seamless coherence which, admittedly, is one of the prime attractions of better 2-ways. 1st-order designs are often accused of inferior power handling because of the wide bandwidth their drivers must cover. Perhaps Vlad the Impaler could overdrive these speakers but I couldn't - not that I tried. I simply pushed things slightly beyond my customary comfort zone, noted zero signs of duress or stress and backed down again satisfied that for all sane intents and purposes, Mingus covers the dB gamut. Though it must be said that at pretty low levels -- lower than serious sit-down listening -- the upper-mid/treble band begins to lead, suggesting that this high-bred design is not the best for folks who, due to circumstance, are forced to do most or all of their listening at background levels.

This, seriously subdued output levels, is one area where hornloading reigns supreme and leaves 87dB sensitivities in the dust. But take challenging albums like Kadim Al Sahir' Qusat Habebain [EMI 07243 540492 24] or Ustad Imrat Khan's meditation on surbahar glory [Lalita, WaterLily, ES-26] and the differences evaporate. Kadim's densely symphonic style doesn't cause congestion and projects the singer's intense emotional force undiminished. Imrat Khan's glorious bass sitar, from plucked attack to serpentinely modulated decays in an ambient-rich environ, leaves nothing to be filled in by the imagination.

Here's the concluding punch line, for those readers who felt secretly miffed by the repeat comparisons to my $18,000/pr Avant-garde DUOs. At $5,000/pr, the Mårten Design Mingus III comes very close in all the important arenas that had me pick these German spherical hornspeakers over all other contenders to my heart's throne: Low-level resolution; speed; dynamics. So now you'll understand the reason for my apparent madness. I couldn't think of a higher compliment to make. I'm putting Dan Meinwald's E.A.R./Marten room at the upcoming CES high on my must-visit list and will bug Dan for an eventual review pair, of whatever the new Miles II-derivative model in Carbon-fiber livery will be called.

In the meantime, readers who fancy the type of sound I've described but don't have the scratch, room or esthetic sensibilities to accommodate superior hornspeakers, should earmark this Swedish loudspeaker line. It offers tremendous value not in the quantity games -- after all, a 7-inch 2-way tower for five long ones doesn't telegraph that unto those who demand multiple side-firing woofers and d'Appolito mids -- but in the super-sophisticated quality leagues. And playing in those leagues [take a quick peek at the price sheets of other speaker makers who incorporate Accuton drivers] tends to mandate considerably deeper pockets than Leif Mårten Olofsson and his comrades in crime are aiming at.

Though I'm not hip as to what type of clever advertising slogan Mårten Design subscribes to, Swedes, like Dynaudio's Danes, apparently don't lie either - especially if they were to tout their designs as affordable Ultra-Fi that even dyed-in-the-wool horn lovers could love. Stay tuned to my upcoming CES show report, to learn with what additional models Mårten will outfit its present four-square lineup for 2004. Mark my words, this is one important company to keep under close scrutiny...

Distributor Dan Meinwald or E.A.R. USA replies:

I didn't note any glaring omissions in your review. Possibly mentioning that the Coltranes use the diamond tweeters? Or slightly more emphasis (though it comes across without being overtly stated) that the amplification should not only have grunt, but be of very high quality? These are mere quibbles - the review is everything it should be, covering every point that needed to be made. You discuss all the salient issues, correctly noting the limitations of the speakers, yet placing them in the proper context by noting their obvious strengths. I was particularly pleased by the comparisons you made to the Avant- gardes. In short, the review is everything I could have asked for. Thank you.

The speakers that we will have at CES, by the way, will not be carbon fiber equivalents of the Miles, nor will they be carbon fiber equivalents of the Mingus, either. All of the new carbon fiber cabinet designs below the Coltranes will be three-ways with downward-firing woofers. The cabinet of each will be the same shape and size except for height. In other words, there will be a short model, a mid-sized and a tall one, with stands of decreasing height to keep the speakers off the ground and let the woofers do their thing. The CES 2004 demonstrators will be the mid-sized Altos.

Dan Meinwald
Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website