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Thread: TomDac's review of the MartinLogan CLX

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    MLO owner/operator TomDac's Avatar
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    Default TomDac's review of the MartinLogan CLX

    20 years ago in 1988, I discovered MartinLogan electrostatic loudspeakers, fell in love with the ML sound and bought a pair of Sequels. I was a 25 year old kid who scrimped and saved $2,000 for the purchase. Those Sequels moved with me nearly a dozen times and gave me many years of enjoyment before I upgraded to reQuests a few years ago.

    I don’t consider myself an “audiophile” per say: I love music, not equipment. My audio system at home is pretty modest (click here to see it) and there are many others who are more knowledgeable about this stuff than I am.

    I was surprised when the folks at MartinLogan called and asked if they could fly me out to Lawrence for a few days to spend some time with their highly anticipated CLX. Of course, this invitation stemmed from the fact that I own and operate this site.

    I must preface this article by saying that I’m not a professional writer, so bear with me, as I’m trying my best to put into words what I saw, heard and learned while in Lawrence. Also I must say that I am NOT on MartinLogan’s payroll, so I’m not blowing smoke up your asses. If what I heard there sucked, I’d be the first one to say so.

    With that being said, however, I trusted that the good folks at ML wouldn’t dare put out something that wasn’t up to par with other loudspeakers at this price point, because doing so would severely damage their reputation. Based on this thinking, I was confident that I would be experiencing something truly special.

    I started thinking about what CDs I would bring with me. What a quandary! Decisions, decisions… I finally settled on these 25 discs.

    1. The Corrs - Borrowed Heaven (redbook)
    2. Yes - Magnification (DVD-A)
    3. Sheryl Crow - The Globe Sessions (SACD)
    4. John Mayer - Room For Squares (SACD)
    5. Journey - Escape (SACD)
    6. Keane - Hopes & Fears (SACD)
    7. Simple Minds - Once Upon A Time (SACD)
    8. Toy Matinee - Toy Matinee (DVD-A)
    9. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (SACD)
    10. Roxy Music - Avalon (SACD)
    11. Linda Ronstadt w/Nelson Riddle Orchestra - Round Midnight (redbook)
    12. Jon & Vangelis - Best of Jon & Vangelis (redbook)
    13. Tears For Fears - Seeds of Love (redbook)
    14. Harry Connick, Jr - Blue Light, Red Light (redbook)
    15. Days Of The New - Days Of The New 2 (redbook)
    16. The Producers - Coelacanth (redbook)
    17. Dishwalla - Opaline (redbook)
    18. Gene - Revelations (redbook)
    19. Joe Jackson - Blaze of Glory (redbook)
    20. Electric Light Orchestra - Out of The Blue (redbook)
    21. Mad Season - Above (redbook)
    22. Radiohead - OK Computer (redbook)
    23. Rush - Hemispheres (redbook)
    24: Journey - Raised on Radio (redbook)
    25. Echo & The Bunnymen – Songs to Learn and Sing (redbook)

    All of these CDs I know intimately well. I’ve listened to many of them literally HUNDREDS of times. Some of the discs, I’ll only need to hear one or two tracks, while others, like Yes’ “Magnification”, Keane’s “Hopes & Fears” and Rush’s “Hemispheres” I planned on listening to in their entirety. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to listen to ALL of them… Devin Zell, ML’s Marketing Manager assured me that I could stay as long as I wanted to and that he had already informed his Wife that he might be home VERY late on Saturday night!

    So, the plan was for me to fly to Kansas City on the morning of Friday, June 13th, drive to Lawrence and meet with the MartinLogan development team for a few hours to pick their brains and submit to them all the questions about the CLX that got posted on the MartinLogan Club website. Saturday’s plan was to spend the whole day listening to the CLXs. Unfortunately my flight from Oakland was cancelled and I didn’t make it to Lawrence until late on Friday evening, so the Q&A with the development team was scrapped and we rescheduling this session sometime in the near future over the telephone.

    MartinLogan’s CLS full range electrostatic had been discontinued many years ago and the company has really perfected the hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker in recent years. While the CLS had no crossover and the panel did all the high, mid and low frequency sound reproduction, the new CLX employs MartinLogan’s patented Curvilinear Line Source™ XStat™ (curved electrostatic driver) for midrange and upper frequencies and a newly developed flat electrostatic bass panel that utilizes two diaphragms sandwiched in between three stators to handle the low frequency reproduction.

    Devin met me Saturday morning and we walked from the Eldridge Hotel to a local café for breakfast where we were joined by David Allen, VP of design and product development for MartinLogan. We ate breakfast and talked about the CLX, how it came to be and what the response has been from their dealers all over Europe and the US.

    David said that dealers in Europe were clamoring over them in Munich and were very surprised to learn the US price point was $20K (slightly higher in Europe) and one dealer even asked if that was for each CLX. Allen said that while many CLS fans expressed disappointment with the fact that the CLX was employing a crossover and I read a comment from someone online who said, “they should’ve just given the CLS a facelift”, he said that the development team has always strived to create products that push the envelope of technology and refreshing the CLS would be a step backwards.

    When we broke the first pictures of the CLX on the MartinLogan Owners Club website on April 23rd (the day of the Munich High End show), most of the members on the site were unhappy with the aesthetics of the speaker. I rather liked the looks of them, but my main interest was as to their sound. Having met the ML team last summer at the MartinLogan Owners Club get together, I trusted that them to create something that is really special and there were bound to be reasons why they designed them this way.

    David and Devin were sure taking their time eating breakfast and I nervously “hinted” they hurry up. I think my exact words were, “Hey, let’s go.. I’m jonesin to hear the CLX”

    We got to MartinLogan’s corporate offices and David took me through the assembly area where a small crew had come in to do prep assembly work on CLX units bound for Europe. David made sure I saw that the pieces of the CLX all fit together without any visable fasteners, with channels built into the frames for wiring and such. We walked over to a CLX bass panel and I was told that the voltage needed to power the panel’s double diaphragm, triple stator construction was so great that they had to find another supplier to source the wiring. They finally found a wiring manufacturer that was able to meet the requirements of the CLX in the automotive industry; a company who supplies wires for HID headlights, of all things.

    I again subtly hinted that I was ready to get to some listening. Actually what I think I said was, “Alright already.. let’s get to it”, so we laughed and went into the design office and standing there was a set of the 25th anniversary CLXs in billet aluminum and powered by some McIntosh amps. We listened to some music, talked some more and then Devin and Dave walked me into the real listening room.

    The room was the same room where we had heard the Summits at last year’s Get-Together. I didn’t bring a tape measure, but I’d guess that it’s about 25 feet wide by 30 feet deep. The room is fully treated with sound absorbing baffles, etc.

    These CLXs were in wooden frames.. Walnut, I think. They were set up with quite modest equipment:
    Parasound Halo A21 amplifier
    Marantz 7001 CD/SACD/DVDA player
    Rotel RSP-1066 Surround processor as pre
    Speaker cables were Straightwire Virtuoso.
    Interconnects looked like AudioQuest King Cobras like I have at home.

    So this is a really good thing – uber high end loudspeakers set up with normal high end equipment. This means that people wanting to purchase a pair of the CLXs will not have to upgrade the rest of their gear! A good thing to keep in mind.

    Of course, the CLX’s were perfectly set up.. about 4 feet from the rear and side walls and toed in just a couple of inches. Listening chair is about 15 feet from the back wall.

    I whipped out my CDs in the MartinLogan CD carrier we got as schwag at last year’s event and Devin showed my how to work the remotes. Then both David and Devin left the room and told me to have fun. OK, a kid in a candy store is about how you could describe what I was feeling at that moment.
    Here’s the highlights of my listening…

    Linda Ronstadt & Nelson Riddle – Round Midnight
    Track #30 “Straighten Up and Fly Right” – the first track to play. It’s THE definitive track to play when people come over and want to hear what my system is capable of. Linda’s velvety voice, smooth jazz, coupled with some extreme crescendos, then back to smooth jazz, then more extreme crescendos, some nice jazz piano, muffled trumpet and the track ends HUGE abrupt full orchestra “in your face” passage. This track sounded SO good on the CLXs that I had to listen a couple more times. Very complex and layered orchestra sound that I just could not get enough of. I so wish they would re-issue this in SACD!

    First torture test is done and the CLX’s passed with flying colors. Imaging is SPOT ON and they’ve got these dialed in. Soundstage is very wide.

    (continued in next post)
    Last edited by TomDac; 07-18-2008 at 04:01 PM.
     
    Tom D'Acquisto
    MartinLoganOwners.com owner/operator
    ML Owner from 1988 to 2015 (Sequels, reQuests, Summits, Cinema)
    Currently MartinLoganless
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    MLO owner/operator TomDac's Avatar
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    Yes - Magnification..
    Track #1 - Title Track… a little shrill. Had to turn down the volume – not sure why… David came in and checked the speaker cables and noticed the negative connector on the right CLX had come loose and was rattling around on the back of the speaker terminal. He cinched this up and listened again.. big difference..

    Track #2 - “Spirit of Survival”: Bass is tight and THERE. Not quite the “slam” as you would get from dynamic drivers, but VERY VERY close… thumping in your chest. WOW. At 3:18 into the song, there starts a series of really dynamic passages with a loud drum beat. Crystal clear and very accurate. Brushes on the symbols are very pronounced.

    Sweeping violins on the entrance to Track #4, “Give Love Each Day”, followed by deep bass drum and bass plucking was heard.. Never heard that before!!

    Track #5 – “Can you Imagine”: opening piano is crisp and clear.. I can hear the sustains a lot more. Drums at 2:06 really pronounced and in your face like I’ve never heard before.

    Track #6 – “We Agree”: I hear fingers running across frets of guitar.. never heard that before. The very end of this track I hear what sounded like someone shuffling paper!! Was that meant to be on the recording?

    Track #8 – “Dreamtime”: opening crescendo VERY lifelike and so dramatic. Gave me chills. Xylophone passage right before 6 minute mark was AMAZING. Like someone was there playing it in front of me.

    I could listen to this over and over again.. Especially the opening sequence in “Dreamtime”. WOW. The hairs on my neck are sticking up!

    Elton John – Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding
    Simply put, the opening of this track will make or break a system at high volume levels. The best I’ve ever heard this track played was my friend Mark’s Klipschorns just CRANKED… I’m alone in the ML room with the remote in my hand and I’m thinking, “let’s see what these babies can do” and turn it up to an ear splitting volume level. As the keyboards started cranking up, the air pressure in the room changed noticeably. The lower registers of this passage didn’t strike me as hard as it did when I listened to the same track on the K-horns, but damn close. Very very nice! I wondered what these would sound like with a little better quality amp with a little more umph.. A Pass Labs X350.5 for instance. I also wondered what adding a couple of Descent I’s would do to the track.

    Sheryl Crow – Globe Sessions SACD
    Track #1 – “My Favorite Mistake” - the song opens with what sounds like a baby’s rattle. The echo of the rattle was very pronounced. Devin walked in right when the song started and remarked that he had never heard it sound like that. He’s asking about lunch and I quickly shoo’ed him away.

    Track #2 – “There Goes The Neighborhood” - Complexities that I have not heard.. multi layers of lushness. Super definition.

    Track #12 – “Sweet Child Of Mine” – wow.. amazing.. I like this version better than the original.

    Throughout this disc, I closed my eyes and I swore that Sheryl Crow was standing in front of me, singing.

    Jon & Vangelis – Best of
    “Friends of Mr. Cairo” is another track that will make or break your system at high volume levels. See my review in the Recommended Recordings section. CLX handled the bass drum sections with AUTHORITY. I was really amazed, and sorry that I don’t have the entire “Mr. Cairo” CD with me, as the title track is an extended version of what you get on the Best Of disc.

    Dishwalla – Opaline.
    Title track’s opening bongo drums crystal clear.
    Bass drum is very smooth and clear. The bass I hear is so integrated into the rest of the music..

    Rush – Hemispheres (remastered redbook CD)
    Ok.. Let’s see if these things can rock.
    Like a lot of the older Rush music, this one is chock full of really hard driving rock sections quickly followed by delicate passages of bells and then rapid fire drumming. Many people have said that electrostats “can’t do rock music well”…. The CLX will change everyone’s mind about that notion.. They do ROCK!!

    "Circumstances" – Great song on this CD. Rock away, CLX’s!! Sounded really really good.

    "The Trees" – there is unrest in the forrest. Yeah.. there will be unrest in your system if you hear these…. I am not sure I want to go home and listen to my reQuests

    Harry Connick, Jr. “Blue Light, Red Light”
    One of my favorite CDs. Very Stylish and dramatic. See my review in the Recommended Recordings section… So much more detail than what I’ve ever heard.. especially with cymbals. When the drummer is using brushes, you really notice it a lot more.

    I hear the saxophone player’s breath travelling thru the instrument!! WHAT? Let’s hear that again.

    Track 8 - “The Last Payday”: bass player standing right in front of me.. I could not only hear his fingers on the frets, but I could hear his breathing!! Wow. This is not happening… I feel like I did when I first got HDTV. So much more detail.

    Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time
    I turned the volume level down a little bit. It’s not how loud and clear they can go, but how accurate they are at LOWER volume levels, right?

    These things reveal so much more detailed that what I’m used to. I heard voices at the end of the title track that really confused me, as they seemed to be coming from behind me. My first thought was that Devin is calling me on some intercom system that I was unaware they had. I looked around behind me and then realized that it must’ve came from the CD!! Very very strange.

    Opening part of “Sanctify Yourself” I could hear Jim Kerr’s voice whispering the opening few notes of the song. I’ve listened to this SACD dozens of times and have never EVER heard that, or never paid attention!! It is so much more defined with the CLXs.

    Keane – Hopes & Fears
    I lowered the volume even more for this CD. It’s piano based, no guitars at all. This is one of those CDs in my collection that I have listened to hundreds of times. I never get tired of it. Again, the cymbals are so much more pronounced than ever before. The beginning of “This Is the Last Time” starts out with a snake-like hissing sounds. It repeats throughout the song. The CLX revealed a lot more detail in this also, and I had to do another doubletake. I’ve heard this band live at a very small venue in San Francisco and hearing this CD on this system took me right back to the night when I saw them live. AMAZING!

    Time is not my friend at this point and I realize that I’ve got probably two more CDs that I can listen to before I call it a night.

    Days Of The New - II
    Time to crank it up again and listen to all of this one. From start to finish, the CLXs reveal so much more of what I love about this disc.

    Tears For Fears – Seeds Of Love
    Great CD. Track #1 – “Woman In Chains” : delicate sounds coming from sounds like a triangle. Very crisp. Roland Orzabal’s voice sounds deep and rich. Oleta Adams’ voice fills the stage and sounds phenomenal as usual.

    Badman’s song starts out with some drumming and piano. The drum hits were very pronounced and powerful!!

    General comments.
    A couple hours into my session, David came in and we tilted the CLX’s forward using the supplied spikes, which allows for 3 degrees of forward tilt. This dramatically changed the soundstage when I stood up from my listening position, but while seated the soundstage was perfect; Something I didn’t notice until a couple hours later because I was sitting most of the time! David said that they did this because of the some CLS owners’ comments and feedback about how they wished the CLS had this ability built into the design. Normally the CLX will be tilted BACK a few degrees.

    There has been a lot of criticism of the CLX only going down to 56 Hz, and while on paper this seems like a shortcoming, I must say that I didn’t notice any lack of bass at all. It sounds more dynamic than any bass I’ve heard coming from an electrostat. David Allen explained to me that this 56 Hz is a real world measurement and that they could’ve tweaked the environment to get a lower measurement. Hearing is believing, so don’t let the specs fool you into believing that the CLX is lacking in bass, because it definitely isn’t.

    The wing on the bass panel side of the frame is there for a reason…. While providing some structural integrity, it also prevents the rear wave of the bass panel from curling around the frame and interfering with the front wave, which would effectively cancel it out.

    A lot of thought went into the design… They look MUCH better in person and of course, one listen and you’ll forget what they look like and just be mesmerized by how they perform.

    Forget the crossover (or “filter” as ML is calling it)…. You don’t know it’s there. With previous ML hybrids, you were somewhat aware of the fact that there are two kinds of drivers… dynamic woofer mated with ESL. This is also something that many audiophiles have criticized… that the panel and woofer were not seamless. The integration got better and better as ML grew as a company and they advanced. The CLX, while using a crossover has absolutely no issues with being seamless.

    This is not just about how well an ESL can recreate low frequency sounds… The CLX is the pinnacle of what the folks at ML have learned over the last 25 years. By FAR, the most accurate reproduction of recorded music I’ve ever experienced.

    When I first heard Summits, I was impressed mainly by the quality of the sound they produced in relation to their size and also how good the build quality was. After hearing them, I went home and listened to the same music on my system. Cohesion between woofer and panel was noticeably better on the Summits and overall, they sound slightly better, but not by much. The difference between the Summits and CLX is HUGE. Larger soundstage, more bass, more detail.

    Weaknesses?
    Good question. My nearly 8 hour listening session revealed absolutely NO weakness. You still will not get the bass “slam” that dynamic woofers will give you, but this is an entirely different animal. The bass from the highly advanced double diaphragm, triple stator design is very very good. In home theater applications, I’m not sure I’d want a sub woofer, but that’s definitely an option.

    Price
    $20,000 is a lot of cabbage for sure. It’s a new car, or a down payment on a house in many parts of the United States.

    Conclusion
    Remember when you first heard MartinLogans?? Remember how they took your breath away and you just knew you HAD to have them? Listening to the CLX will do that all over again. It’s a home run for MartinLogan.

    Photos I took are HERE.
    Last edited by TomDac; 06-17-2008 at 07:37 AM.
    Tom D'Acquisto
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    ML Owner from 1988 to 2015 (Sequels, reQuests, Summits, Cinema)
    Currently MartinLoganless
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    ick HERE to see my ML systems of the past.


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    MLO owner/operator TomDac's Avatar
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    Please feel free to post questions and I will try and answer them as best as I can.

    I have scheduled a phone call tomorrow morning with David Allen to go over the questions that were posted on the site prior to my trip. I will get those answers posted tomorrow night.

    Thanks!

    Tom.
    Tom D'Acquisto
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    Senior Member Cherian's Avatar
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    Tom, great job with the review. I have never listened to the CLS but have always wanted to. Now I have a new goal to listen to the CLX.

    10 years to go till I get mine. Cant wait!!!

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    Forum Moderator MiTT's Avatar
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    Again Tom - MOST excellent coverage. I am very glad you were there and you are probably the first person in North America to do a formal review of these speakers!

    Here's my only question right now. When will they be available for sale here in the States?
    MiTT
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    Senior Member JMAUSGP's Avatar
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    So was some of the material you listened to multi-channel and were Summits used for the surround channels? And BTW thanks for all the work, I know it was a 'labor of love' but it was not easy to keep on the clock like that, I know we all appreciate the time and effort, you really are a good Prez!

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    MLO owner/operator TomDac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMAUSGP View Post
    So was some of the material you listened to multi-channel and were Summits used for the surround channels? And BTW thanks for all the work, I know it was a 'labor of love' but it was not easy to keep on the clock like that, I know we all appreciate the time and effort, you really are a good Prez!
    The speakers shown in the rear of the listening room were Spires, actually. This was a 2 channel only listening session, so the DVDa's that I brought, like Yes' Magnification have the 2 channel tracks.
    Tom D'Acquisto
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    ML Owner from 1988 to 2015 (Sequels, reQuests, Summits, Cinema)
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    MLO owner/operator TomDac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MiTT View Post
    Again Tom - MOST excellent coverage. I am very glad you were there and you are probably the first person in North America to do a formal review of these speakers!

    Here's my only question right now. When will they be available for sale here in the States?
    Thanks Tim... Yeah, I have not read any reviews from the US yet, so this is pretty exciting!!

    From what I gathered from David, it seems like ML was very overwhelmed with the number of orders they got from their European dealership network, which is a good thing for them, but maybe not a good thing for Logan-ites here in the states who want to buy some of these.

    I don't know when they'll be available, but will ask David tomorrow morning.
    Tom D'Acquisto
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    ML Owner from 1988 to 2015 (Sequels, reQuests, Summits, Cinema)
    Currently MartinLoganless
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    Senior Member Kenscollick's Avatar
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    Nice coverage Tom, You must have taken a bunch of detailed notes. This really makes me want to hear them are they going to be at CES? Being from Michigan is a lot like being from Wisconsin Vegas looks real good in Janurary.

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    Thank you Tom for the very insightful review. Although it sounds like ML have a real winner here, I have to admit I was very taken aback by the seemingly unsophisticated room they used. Was this their best room?

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    Hola Tom...it is a honor to have you here!!! and we do know that you will speak only the truth!!!...thanks for such super review!...the best thing is to do it with the music that you know and love!...again, thank you so much. Regards from Costa Rica,
    Roberto.

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    Tom, thanks for the all your work on the review,though it looks like it may have been more fun than work! The review is informative and honest!

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    Almost like being there oursleves (well almost) thank you.

    I am sure you would have mentioned it if you did but I assume no discussion on the SummitX.
    Johnwa

    System: CLX, Depth, JL Audio Fathom 212 x 2, Speaker Lab S7

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    Bravo, Tom!

    Like you said, I do remember the first time I heard ML speakers. Without actually hearing them, I would imagine that listening to the CLX is akin to our first experiences with electrostatic speakers. The looks...the awesome midrange and vocals...and the detail are second to none.

    ML has no doubt infused a lot of excitement into this industry with the Vista/Vantage/Summit line and now the CLX and Spire.

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    Super User C.A.P's Avatar
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    The Europeans will eat them up ! They love the detail and do not care about the bass. As Tom said the bass is actually a true 56 hz. That being said Id bet the cls are not that solid at their respective area. I bet they are down 6 db or so ! That is why a sub at 50 hz is perfect !
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