Wavelength Audio Gemini monoblock power amplifier Page 3

The sound of 45s
The 45 tube may be an antique, but its sound in the context of the Wavelength Gemini was anything but old-fashioned. Apart from the limitation of output level, the sound with the Sylvania 45s was wide-ranging, with open, extended highs that minimized high-frequency nasties while allowing both detail and the overtones of treble instruments to be presented in a natural manner. Bass was deep and well-controlled, with hardly a trace of the added warmth/midbass emphasis and softness that many people think of as "tube sound." Of course, the subwoofer part of the Avantgarde Uno is driven by its own solid-state amplifier. The subwoofer amplifier, however, gets its signal from the cables connecting the speakers to the main amplifier: any midbass emphasis originating in the main amplifier would be transmitted to the subwoofer amplifier, and the subwoofer amplifier cannot compensate for a lack of low-end extension in the signal that it receives (footnote 4). The bass was not a match for the best extension, power, and control that I've heard from the Avantgarde Unos with other amplifiers, but bass tunefulness and clarity were in the very top class.

Unexpectedly good bass is certainly welcome, but people don't buy SET amplifiers for their bass performance. What SETs are renowned for is their ability to communicate musical values and capture the natural tonal quality of voices and instruments. Indeed, this was where the Wavelength Gemini really delivered. Listening to the system with the Geminis driving the Avantgarde Unos, I was continually struck by how much the sound resembled live music in its tonality and in the music's ebb and flow. The sound had an ease, a liquidity, a freedom from electronic-sounding artifacts that allowed me to relax and simply be immersed in the music. The Geminis and Avantgardes were synergistic in this respect; I can imagine people being so happy with this combination that they forget about the constant urge to upgrade and just spend their time listening to the music. In its ability to provide this sort of musical magic, the 45-equipped Gemini surpassed the Cary CAD-2A3SE, my previous SET favorite (footnote 5).

The Geminis and the Avantgardes were similar in another way: the ability to sound good with recordings of varying quality. Some recordings that I'm quite fond of that would not make it into any audiophile Top 10 list are from Newport Classic, and feature the Ohio Light Opera in live performances of operettas. The OLO is the resident professional company of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio; they specialize in performances—spirited and idiomatic, if not quite world-class—of popular and obscure operettas. (We spent a pleasant week there last summer, and I can heartily recommend the experience to those interested in the genre.) The recordings are of actual performances with audiences present, with the concomitant restrictions of microphone placement—balances among soloists, chorus, and orchestra are often less than ideal. Nevertheless, listening to Kálmán's The Bayadere (NPD 85655/2) or Victor Herbert's Eileen (NPD 85615/2), I found it easy to imagine that I was back in the Freedlander Theatre on the College of Wooster campus.

A recording that does belong on every audiophile's Top 10 list is Robert Silverman's set of Beethoven's piano sonatas (Orpheum Masters KSP 830), engineered by John Atkinson. This is just about as good-sounding a piano recording as I have in my collection, and it transcends the "audiophile" appellation through Silverman's mature and deeply felt musicianship. The combination of the Geminis and the Avantgarde Unos—plus, of course, all the other components of the system--communicated the distinctive character of the Bösendorfer Reproducing Piano and presented the small, rather live acoustic of the recording environment in a most convincing manner. Dynamics in the sense of the attack and decay of each note were superb, which made it easy to follow Silverman's phrasing. The dynamic ceiling held up to levels that were hard to credit to an amplifier rated at 2.5W—but keep in mind that 2.5W with a speaker of 100dB+ sensitivity is equivalent to 80W with a speaker of 85dB sensitivity, and that these are "tube watts," with higher headroom and more graceful clipping than your typical solid-state amplifier.

In general, I found the maximum unstrained level available satisfactory for about 98% of my listening, the remaining 2% representing those times when I felt like letting 'er rip. The Gemini's 2.5W did wonders, but it couldn't transcend the laws of physics; if you're into serious headbanging and/or you have a large listening room (mine measures just 14' by 16' by 7.5'), the Gemini is not the monoblock for you.

The sound of 2A3s
The output rating for a Gemini equipped with 2A3s is only about a watt higher than with the 45. That might seem a trivial difference—and, if we were talking about the difference between 199W and 200W, it would be. However, proportionately, it's equivalent to the difference between 250W and 350W, and most people would consider that difference to be significant. For the Gemini, that extra watt (or extra 40% of power) resulted in a noticeable increase in maximum level; with the 2A3s installed, the Geminis could drive the Avantgardes to a level that was satisfactory for 99% of my listening.

However, with the increase in power—and, of course, we're still talking about an amplifier of very low power—came some loss of subtlety and finesse. In recordings that include massed voices, like the finale of Ragtime, the choral sound was more homogenized, so that individual voices that were clearly identifiable with the 45s were harder to pick out with the 2A3s. By normal standards, the 2A3-equipped Gemini was still an exceedingly fine-sounding amplifier, but my preference overall was for the 45, lower power and all.

Footnote 4: While this is true, the main amplifier is still not being dynamically loaded in the low frequencies, meaning that readers should be cautious about extrapolating too much about how the Gemini's bass will sound when it is hooked up to a fullrange speaker.—John Atkinson

Footnote 5: Although I was able to compare the Geminis with the CAD-2A3SEs, this was before the Aurios arrived; the amplifiers were compared without the benefit of these component supports.—Robert Deutsch