Gradient Helsinki 1.5 loudspeaker Page 2

While examining the Helsinki 1.5's drivers and their baffles, and while poking around behind its connector plate, I never found a crossover. But I assume there is one.

Installation and setup
The Helsinki 1.5's installation guide, available as a .pdf document from the Gradient website, suggests starting with the Helsinkis toed-in about 45°, and with the woofer magnets facing each other. SimpliFi Audio's own installation guide, provided to me by Tim Ryan, agrees with the 45° angle and goes further, saying each speaker should be no more than a foot away from either its respective sidewall or the wall behind it.

So I began with each Helsinki positioned about 10" from its sidewall (measured, like all other such dimensions in this report, from the outermost edge of its midrange driver housing), and about 57" from the wall behind the speakers, measured from the same point. The toe-in was as close to 45° as I could make it.

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That didn't sound very good. And in the opinion of my Audio Control SA3050 spectrum analyzer, there was a severe response dip at 1.25kHz, an even more severe dip at 315Hz, and virtually no bass below 160Hz. So much for beginner's luck.

Moving the speakers another 8" closer to the wall behind them made those suckouts less severe, and added slightly more bass content at 125Hz—but there was still no audible midbass, let alone deep bass. Moving them yet another 8" closer to the wall reduced the dip at 315Hz, but only a little. And it did nothing for the dip at 1.25kHz. And there was still no bass.

Trying an altogether different approach, I moved the Helsinkis to positions approximately 25" from the sidewalls, 10" from the front wall, but still toed-in 45°. This lessened the severity of the 1.25kHz suckout, but made the 315Hz suckout much worse again. And there was still no bass.

Let me pause to assure you that, every step of the way, I checked my progress by listening to music. (My spectrum analyzer and its microphone are notorious tin ears.) I should also mention that, in this last position, the Gradients sounded very good—huge, dramatic, involving, and, most of all, spacious in a manner I'd really never heard before from a hi-fi. But they still had no bass. And I like bass.

The Helsinkis' sense of spaciousness was amazing. And it was natural in a way that I found difficult to describe. To be frank, by this point in the setup procedure, my stores of the optimism and enthusiasm that must be present at the start of any professional reviewing effort were beginning to sag, and I wondered if I would ever get great sound from the Helsinkis. So I felt amazed—and rebuked—when I paused to listen to a Brahms piano concerto, and thrilled to the strangely great way the sound in my room mimicked that of a concert hall, in a spatial sense.

There were other good qualities. Instrumental textures were fine. Trebles were naturally rolled off. Instruments had presence in a good flesh-and-blood sense, not in that awful, fussy, typical "high-end audio" manner. Those things restored my optimism, because it seemed that the Helsinki might be worth the effort. Like cooking a lobster, or learning to tie a bow tie.

More installation and setup
I did the unthinkable and went back to the instructions, and there I saw Gradient's alternative setup scheme: Put the speakers all the way against the wall behind them, scoot them away from the sidewalls, and aim them straight ahead. I tried it—and was rewarded with appreciably more bass, not to mention some relief from that 315Hz suckout. The Emerald City was surely just over the next hill.

I tried moving each Helsinki closer to its sidewall: Worse. Much worse. Less bass. And suckout 315 wasn't just back, it was baaa-aaack, Carol Anne style. Perversely, before moving them back to the center, I tried toeing-in the Helsinkis just a little. Worse again. Even more perversely, I tried arranging the Helsinkis sideways, with their multi-ply frames parallel to the wall behind them, their woofers firing straight at me. Now, at least, I knew that the woofers were very capable, and (presumably) that the size and shape of the wood frame and glass dorsal plate had been thoughtfully chosen: The bass was superb. But apart from that, the sound was weird, at best: unsurprisingly dark, although my spectrum analyzer noticed a nasty peak at 2.5kHz, which I took to be an off-axis artifact of the metal-dome tweeter.

But things are always darkest before the dawn. I threw up my hands and made yet another drastic change in course, bringing the Helsinkis back against the wall, but with each speaker toed-in about 45°—their on-axis treble response now crossed well in front of the main listening seat, in much the same manner as my reference Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers—and each placed about 30" from its respective sidewall. Each woofer faced the wall nearest it, leaving the magnets to bicker across the room. From there, the bass measured acceptably well, and sounded okay. Center fill wasn't at its best, but most instruments and voices sounded timbrally right. And every iota of the Gradients' remarkable spaciousness was back.

Listening
And now, having found the places in my room at which the Gradients worked best, and having listened—not just schlepped!—for a number of weeks, I can better describe what it is that made the Helsinkis' spaciousness so distinctive: I wasn't hearing an airy artifact, but rather the sounds of instruments and voices opening up naturally before me. Although the Helsinkis weren't temporally compromised in the least—momentum and pacing were fine and unconfused—it seemed that note envelopes were more leisurely, more relaxed, in their progression from attack through decay. Some individual sounds grew, spatially, as they opened up, yet the overall sound wasn't the least bit airy per se. Even as they decayed, the sounds of violins and clarinets had texture.

Company Info
Gradient Ltd.
US distributor: SimpliFi Audio
California Suites Apt. 1001
5415 Clairmount Mesa Blvd., San Diego, CA 92117
(724) 712-0899
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