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|This review first appeared in the 3rd issue of Inner World Audio where it can be read in its original Finnish version. The writer translated it personally and we feature it here for the benefit of our English-speaking audience. Kari Nevalainen also contributes to 6moons directly and it gives us great pleasure to return the favor and offer samples of his Finnish work to a broader readership - Ed.
Reviewer: Kari Nevalainen
Analogue source: La Nouvelle Verdier with Ortofon RMG-309), EMT 930 with RF-297; Ortofon SPUs, Denon DL-103 and other cartridges
Digital Source: Audiomeca Kreature transport, Sentec DiAna DAC with various midfi digital cables
Preamp: Shindo Aurieges, heavily modified Dynaco PAS
Power Amp: Shindo Montille, custom 6V6 amp, Sony integrated
Speakers: PHY/Fostex based widebanders
Cables: PHY, Kimber, Belden, Supra
Power Cords: Generic stock
Accessories: Sound Organisations rack, Gregitek equipment platforms, Final, SID etc. isolator pads
Mains treatment: None
Room Size: 4,5m wide by 5m long by 2,8m high, one side wall partly open
Review component retail: €4,300/pr in Canadian maple
|Consider this the second chapter to Paul Candy's comprehensive review of Gemme Audio's Concerti 108, the now discontinued precursor to the Vivace which, certain small birds whistle, may reincarnate in some form in the near future.
With an Fs of 77Hz and a Qts of 0.3, the Fostex FE108E Sigma -- just like the other Fostex 4" widebanders -- begs to be hornloaded and so it has been, in myriad ways from fully exponential to spiral. While the Concerti 108 featured a more conventional folded horn (hybrid horn/TL), the novelty for Gemme's new models Vivace and Tanto is what the manufacturer calls VFlex Acoustic Loading.
What VFlex loading means exactly isn't disclosed. The manufacturer opens its coffer of secrets just this much: "This revolutionary acoustic loading technology operates by accurately controlling cone movements and accelerating air motion, much like a turbo charger in a car engine." Am I the only one to perceive deliberately cryptic descriptions here?
Regardless, the manufacturer insists there's some kind of a horn inside the Vivace. Paul Messenger measured Vivace's impedance response for his HIFI+ review and concluded that the speaker indeed seems to behave like a horn speaker so a horn speaker it shall be even though the rear port unmistakably suggests some sort of reflex loading.
Here's the manufacturer again: "This loudspeaker construction technology defies the very laws of physics by extending low frequency reproduction below the human hearing threshold of 20Hz... using a single 4" driver." Big words but well-founded. This speaker really went down! I was flabbergasted. I do have heard quite a number of FE103/FE108 speakers in my life but never one with such extended bass. I didn't measure it but I wouldn't preclude that, in room, this speaker is capable of hitting bass notes as low as 20Hz with reasonable amplitude, amazing as that must sound.
I don't know about defying modern Physics but the Vivace surely bucks the rule that a speaker with a horn-loaded Fostex 4" driver is unable to correctly handle the area between lower mids and mid bass and therefore has a tendency to sound bass shy or more accurately, with bass that is more virtual than real. The Vivace is able to produce bass fundamentals rather than their first harmonic. Gemme Audio recommends that the speaker should not be placed near corners or side walls and that, I think, tells about its ability to excite LF room resonances. I had the Vivaces around one meter from the front wall and more from the side walls and did not experience any sonic boom.
|Convincing as the Vivace's bass performance was in terms of extension (e.g. unheard of kettledrum from this type of speaker), it wasn't flawless. I don't mean that it suffered from the problems typical of a poorly integrated subwoofer - far from that. But there was an element that sent messages to the brain that the lowest bass notes seemed spliced to the remainder of the bass and emanated from the speaker as though on a second wave rather than as a continuous downward extension of the midrange. While the bass appears full range, it's not the kind of powerful bass of a bigger speaker descending slowly and smoothly into the basement.
From above the lower midrange up to 7 - 8kHz, it was business as usual with a 4" Fostex, be it the FE103 or FE108. The sound was smooth, clear, coherent and of reasonably correct timbres. This unproblematic nature of the midrange's three octaves is what always makes it so much fun to listen to 4" Fostex drivers and the Vivace proved no exception. Or rather, not quite business as usual since when a 4-incher is asked to produce frequencies down to 20 - 30Hz, it becomes all the more difficult to remain distortion-free in the vocal band unless certain precautions are in place.
In the Vivace's case, that applies to the numerous ways in which the manufacturer has tried to assure cabinet inertia. That includes the thick CNC-sculpted front baffle with slanted sides and resonance-breaking V grooves on the curved surface. The multi-layered side panels are made of elaborate MDF/elastomer/solid maple layers. Inside the Vivace, says Gemme Audio, non-parallel baffle walls are machined with diffusing channels of different shape, width and thickness. Add to this heavy bracing, proprietary damping and a special tripod footer system and it's clear that the cabinet construction of the Vivace is not merely a flashy luxury but a prerequisite for creating ideal operation conditions for the tiny driver.
Although the midrange was generally uncolored, there was a certain forwardness in a narrow band that affected vocals in particular. As a consequence, female singers, on some recordings at least, betrayed a slightly smaller voice than they should have. This property is not specific to the Vivace but characteristic to varying degrees of all 4" Fostex-based speakers I've heard (the FE108E Sigma in fact is one of the best in this regard). Here the truth, I think, is that other things being equal, the bigger the widebander unit, the more open, airy and better breathing it behaves. Other aspects aren't always equal of course and that's why occasionally, widebanders of smaller diameters can beat the bigger ones.
|Inherited again from its driver, the Vivace's HF response was slightly rolled off. I should personally consider this a defect only if the reference was a typical dome tweeter in a typical HiFi speaker. Some like the brightness and brilliance of the latter and that's fine. Others deem it unnatural.
One of the Vivace's strengths must be its well-developed soundstage. Center fill is relatively strong and stable and all the sound sources have their x, y and z coordinates on the plane between the speakers. Interestingly, the Vivace isn't a speaker with a so-called big sound despite its impressive bass. That has to do with the fact that the speaker presents the sound as a horizontal cross section of the area between floor and ceiling rather than filling it up and out with sound.
Gemme Audio's Vivace is a beautifully crafted, slender speaker with a healthy coherent sound and the kind of all-inclusiveness that follows deep bass. Unlike some other Fostex FE108 speakers I've heard, the Vivace is fit for more than ambient music and sentimental moods. It can absorb and release the big waves of heavy metal and massive orchestral music, notwithstanding the fact the dynamic realism of larger widebanders is beyond it which limits its capacity to fill bigger rooms with sufficient pressure and energy.
The Vivace is also a speaker for those who want to enjoy the virtues of a wide-bandwidth single driver without the possible -- albeit not always given -- colorations of conventional horn loading. The price to pay is that the sound won't be quite as unrestrained and effortless as it can be with horns whose "mouths are fully opened". The sound world the Vivace inhabits is closer to that of a quality hifi speaker, which I gather has been the goal of the manufacturer all along.
Like other single-driver widebanders, the Vivace reacts to amplification choices more than average without being hyper fussy. Ideal amplification is needed for digging out the best bass performance of course but this remains true also for best transparency and richest harmonics.
Thanks to the fairly strong magnet of the FE108E Sigma, the Vivace's sensitivity is a decent 92dB/1W/1m. The manufacturer believes that 3.5 watts should do but when all aspects of the sound are considered and not merely SPLs, I'd go for a 10 to 15wpc push-pull tube/transistor amp with not too low a damping factor (the nominal load is 8 ohms).
For more than 4000 euros, the Gemme Audio Vivace isn't cheap. There are cheaper options available to enter the world of Fostex 4" wide-bandwidth drivers. Yet knowing what's gone into the Vivace's cabinet design and construction and taking into account its general level of performance, I think the price correlates quite nicely with the overall quality. And ten points to Gemme Audio for taking environmental matters into consideration during selection of building materials for this speakers (their website itemizes this detail).
|Gemme Audio responds:
I just read your excellent review of the Vivace on 6moons (I also got a look at your beautiful Inner World Magazine - very artistic design). I wanted to thank you very much for reviewing our speaker and releasing the review in both Finnish and English so rapidly. I also want to thank Srajan for posting this positive and very informative review on 6moons.
As you noticed, this speaker, while not "really" breaking the laws of Physics, has certainly met its objectives of offering real low bass from a single driver in a well integrated speaker design. The Fostex FE108E Sigma has in fact a usable cone diameter of less than 3 inches... We also wanted to get a coherent sound from highs to lows, and the single driver combined to the special enclosure integrates quite well in the final product. As you said, this makes the loudspeaker apt to play more music genres than usual for the small Fostex. All of our speakers have been built to present a vast soundstage (In fact, the Tanto may have a still better soundstage!). The very elaborate VFlex cabinet plays a big part in this. Your informative description of the enclosure construction is excellent and it helps to understand many things, such as excellent soundstage presentation, workmanship and quality of the final product.
Regarding the mention that the original Concerti 108 may revive in another form, I'll just say that we are working on a 100dB/1W/1m design that will be the first in a range of very high efficiency models. Watch for this in 2008.
I want again to thank you very much and you can count on us to carry on shaking the loudspeaker industry with innovative products. In 2008, you will see more of these,and we'll be proud to have you review these new products. The next one to appear is internally called the Ultimate VFlex and sports the highly praised Thiele/Accuton ceramic drivers that can be seen in quite expensive Kharma, Marten and Avalon designs, among others. We will demonstrate what VFlex can do with ceramics. Soon to be seen on Finland shores and everywhere.
Quality of packing: Standard.
Reusability of packing: Excellent.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Preferably needs two to unpack.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Excellent.
Website: Reasonably informative.
Human interactions: The communication took place via the importer, all questions were quickly answered and in general the service was good.
Final comments & suggestions: If wide-bandwidth speakers are not at all familiar to you, it may take some time to get acquainted with their type of performance.
Gemme Audio website