MartinLogan Dynamo 800X Subwoofer Review

MartinLogan Dynamo 800X 10 inch subwoofer Top Choice AVS

MartinLogan Dynamo 800X 10″ Sealed DSP Subwoofer

“What do you look for in a subwoofer?” It’s a question that generates a broad array of valid responses. But for many, getting some combination of “tight bass you can feel” and compact size, without requiring a second mortgage, fits the bill. The MartinLogan Dynamo 800X is a sealed 10″ DSP subwoofer that promises to deliver exactly that, with features like ARC room correction and Bluetooth app-based control. Let’s see if this sub if the one for you.


Features and Specifications

The Dynamo 800X ($800) is a surprisingly small and light sub that’s jam packed with cool features. For one, you can choose whether you use it in a front-firing or down-firing configuration. Plus, it’s got powerful built-in DSP than includes Anthem Room Correction, to ensure the sub blends in with your room and your system. It is one of a series of five Dynamo subs, four of which have the X designation and feature app control and room correction.

The other models in the series are the Dynamo 400 (8″, 30-200 Hz, $400), Dynamo 600X (10″, 27-200 Hz, $600), Dynamo 1100X (12″, 22-200 Hz, $1100) and Dynamo 1600X (15″, 20-200 Hz, $1700). What’s notable is the Dynamo 800X uses the same size enclosure as the 600X, but has a larger driver and more power and considerably deeper bass extension thanks to its more sophisticated DSP. Here’s the five subwoofers lined up:


Here are the five MartinLogan Dynamo subwoofer models. Image from martinlogan.com

MartinLogan specifies the frequency response of the Dynamo 800X at 24 Hz to 200 Hz, +/-3 dB (anechoic), which comes from a 10″ driver powered by a 300-watt amp (600 peak). This sub has RCA line-level inputs as well as speaker-level inputs (banana-plug connections only). The option also exists to add a receiver (SWT-X) that converts the Dynamo 800X into a wireless sub.

When using the Bluetooth app users have control over level (-40 to +12dB), low-pass filter (35–120Hz), low-pass filter (order: bypass, third, fourth),  phase: 0–180° (1° increments), phase (normal, inverted), preset listening modes (music, night, movie), 20–30Hz level: ±10dB, Anthem Room Correction (on, off), and tone sweep (20–120Hz: on, off, pause ).

Because of the selectable driver alignment, there are two specs for dimensions. Front-firing, it measures 14.6″ (H) x 12.4″ (W) x 12.7″ (D) while when used down-firing dimensions are 13.7″ (H) x 12.4 ” (W) x 13.1 ” (D). This sub is surprisingly lightweight at 30 pounds. The notable benefit is it’s easy to move but it’s notable for being the lightest standalone subwoofer I have reviewed. There’s one available finish: Satin Black.


A close look at the 10″ driver used by the MartinLogan Dynamo 800X.

The qualities that are desirable in a subwoofer that’s perfect for a high-rise condo include being able to play deep within the audible spectrum, at modest volume levels, while mitigating the effects of the room on bass response. And it needs to do all that in a form factor that you can fit almost anywhere. The Dynamo 800X happens to check off all those boxes; it’s not going to get loud down deep, but it will cover a lot of range and render it well.


An Xbox controller offers a sense of scale. The Dynamo 800X is a very compact sub.


Setup and Performance

Before going further, I want to qualify what performance means in the context of this subwoofer. I’m not going to perform CEA 2010 measurements on any subs, primarily because I live in a city. But then again, it is the urban dweller that I see is the primary target for a compact yet capable sub like this. That means you don’t go chasing after infrasonic frequencies, and within the audible spectrum you don’t unreasonably expect to achieve reference-level output. Instead, performance comes from offering tight bass with deep extension at modest levels from a small package.

Since this is a DSP sub with built-in auto-EQ, setup takes a few extra steps beyond just plugging it in. namely, with the app and some quick measurements, you can use the included Anthem Room Correction to smooth out its in-room response. The advantage here is it’s likely that you can get a better acoustic result, with more flexible placement options, than a subwoofer that doesn’t have this functionality

As for the extra setup, mainly you need to download an app, connect your mobile device to the sub using Bluetooth, and follow the instructions for running ARC. The whole process takes minutes, not hours… and produces a measurably better result in terms of in-room response in less time than crawling around the room on your hands and knees looking for a favorable spot to place it (the old-school approach).

Since I don’t have a dedicated calibration mic for ARC, I used the built-in mic in my iPad Pro to tune the sub. The process took a couple minutes and required installing the ARC Mobile app, in addition to the subwoofer control app.

You measure the test tones by holding the mobile device at ear height at each of the positions. Once completed, I saw that ARC offered a fairly smooth response that expended all the way down to 20 Hz, thanks to room gain. That’s fantastic for such a small sub. What’s more, after running Dirac Live on the NAD T777, I achieved an amazingly flat response from the system, with bass extension all the way down to 18 hz! Of course output is limited so deep, but the 10″ driver on this sub is capable of moving a fair bit of air, without making much fuss (i.e. audible distortion), and there’s enough power backing it up to keep things shaking through complex bass passages.


ARC on its own did a good job, keeping the average to under +/-3 dB from 20 Hz to 80 Hz. ARC plus Dirac Live tightened things up some more.

So, how does it sound? It sounds as good as the effort you put into it, as long as its playing within the bounds of its (seemingly accurately specified) capabilities. What I mean by that is the sub plays tight and clean, and with the help of Anthem Room Correction, it integrates with speaker systems (MartinLogan and others) quite well.

For most music, at normal listening levels, in a residential room, this might very well be the perfect subwoofer. The quality of the bass it produces matters more here than quantity. Indeed, MartinLogan sent me this sub as part of a 5.1 system featuring its Motion bookshelf speakers—a review of that complete system is coming soon.

But even in music land, there’s genres (especially electronic music) that demand more displacement than one Dynamo 800X can deliver. Mind you, the extension is there (it does 24 Hz +/-3 dB anechoic) so you certainly could opt to go the multiple-sub route that offers the benefit of smoother response over a larger area. Or, you could step up to a larger and more powerful sub. But with the small size of the Dynamo 800X, finding spots for multiples should not be so tough.

Regarding bass extension, since much recorded music (especially acoustical instruments) stays above 30 Hz (most of the time), this sub has what it takes to give you a very satisfying listening experience. While it’s not going to render “Disc Wars” from the Tron Legacy soundtrack with the same forceful deep impact as a high-performance 15″ sub, this 10-incher stays well behaved while taking care of everything but the deepest notes with aplomb.

In movie land, this sub is great for a 5.1 sub/sat application. The vast majority of action sound effects in movies are within this sub’s playback range, so you get lots of gritty crunching and eye-opening explosions. When the inevitable fistfight scenes occur, the punches have impact.

These qualities have little to do with the peak output of a sub and much to do with the quality of the design. So again, if you don’t expect miracles from a 10″ sealed sub in terms of the physics, the Dynamo 800X is very attractive. One Dynamo 800X won’t get you “reference level” bass, but the bass it does deliver will approach reference quality, playing clean down deep. For a premium sub with a small footprint, that’s crucial because a lot of lesser subs (like compact ported models) don’t have much to offer when they get near 20 Hz.

Same goes for games, this subwoofer adds a lot to the modern console and PC gaming experience because the bass is tight and balanced. And just as with home theater and music, one solution to getting even more performance is to use multiple subs. There’s nothing a 15″ or 18″ sub can do that multiple smaller subs can’t also do (and vice versa).

You’ll read more about this subwoofer, including observations of how it performs with specific tracks, when I publish the 5.1 system review featuring MartinLogan Motion 4i/8i speakers. For now, know that this is very good sub that gets a lot out of its 10″ driver thanks to the power of Anthem Room Correction and its ability to take advantage of room gain and render bass across the audible spectrum.


Conclusion

A subwoofer’s “beauty” is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. In this case, if you have a fondness for compact subs that deliver tight plus accurate bass and look good doing it, you’ll find this MartinLogan Dynamo 800X subwoofer to be excellent. If you want maximum extension and SPL for your money, are willing to put up with huge cabinets, and have no need for built-in DSP EQ, then this is precisely the wrong subwoofer for you.

Paired up with some nice speakers like the MartinLogan Motion 4i bookshelf/satellites I used in this system this sub shows how far technology—especially amplification and DSP—has come in terms of making such a small yet capable performer possible. Within the specific parameters where someone would find a compact subwoofer like this appealing, thanks to its features and overall performance, the MartinLogan Dynamo 800X is a Top Choice for 2018.

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