As I perused the many suites of audiophile speakers at this year's CES, I was determined to find compact speakers that achieved clean design with superb sound - often a tall order at an audiophile show where form often suffers at the hands of function. Luckily, I found Gradient speakers of Finland being demonstrated at a separate Hi-Fi show in the Flamingo Casino. Once I heard the Gradient 5.0, it was clear that further listening was a must.
Technical Design: The Gradient 5.0 is a compact sealed box speaker design with coaxial speaker drivers. This means, the tweeter resides in the middle of the woofer dome creating what appears to be one circular speaker driver on the front. This point source design also permits the speakers to be placed upright or on its side.
Architectural Design: . Theses speakers trademark the classic Scandinavian design with clean lines and simple structure. The gently curved cabinet work comes in several finishes that suit most modern dwellings. To further personalize the look of the Gradient 5.0, a handful of color options are available for the speaker grill cloth.
Set up: Looking on the back, the ovular passive radiator (pictured above) helps extend the low frequency of the speaker depending on the distance from the back wall. A suitable amplifier should produce between 20-150 watts. On the rear of each speaker is a pair of binding posts that accept spades or banana type connections. After experimentation, I found the banana connector (pictured below) proved easier to use since the binding posts were placed off to one side.
Positioning the speakers was achieved by creating a equidistant listening position from the width of the speakers. Using speaker stands provided the best placement options, but these compact speakers can also be placed on a media stand shown below. It is recommended that you space the speakers at least 20 inches from a rear walI, moving it closer to the rear wall will increase the bass response. I prefer to spread the two speakers out at least 6 1/2 feet in a small room if possible. Toeing-in, or angling the speakers toward the listening position helps improve the stereo imaging, but one should do this slowly till an optimal angle is found. Luckily, this speaker sounds pretty good when you are out of the sweet spot. Even when standing left or right of the center the stereo imaging and tone was well balanced.
Listening: After initially connecting the amplifier to this Finnish design, I let them break in for a couple days. Before I even did any critical listening I was tapping my toes and truly enjoying the spacious stereo sound.
I finally sat down and gave these little speakers a workout with a full orchestral performance as well as modern electronic music. While listening to performances of the London Symphony Orchestra, strings were reproduces with an clean and airy quality that brought the sound of the music hall into the living room. Examining the double bass and Timpani section was impressive for such a small speaker. While the furthest extremes in low frequency energy were not fully reproduced, the depth of the stereo image was truly impressive. Most importantly, the sound was natural with fidelity that I consider balanced and musically satisfying for a small speaker.
Moving onto rock and electronic sounds, I used some recordings by Beck and Stereolab to further investigate the fidelity of these Finnish speakers. The myriad of stereo phasing and effects on these recordings came through with spacial imaging that made recognizing the left/right stereo image quite engaging. Beck's vocal on Sea Change came through with detail and girth while the guitars and effects rang out in a wide stereo field. likewise, Stereolab's album Dots and Loops erupted with full and engaging effects that reached wide and deep into the soundstage.
It's rare to find a thoughtfully engineered speaker with care and concern put toward the appearance too. It may be diminutive size, but the 5.0 from Gradient achieves a soulful reproduction of music that is both full of detail and true to life.
Pros: Compact with enduring modern design, even balanced Sound, Excellent stereo imaging, Good bass extension for small speaker, plenty of finish and color options.
Cons: expensive, but worthy of an audition for high fidelity style hunters.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Vahan Baladouni)