This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
|The Concerti 108 stands at 33" and is 8" wide and 16" deep. Weight is approximately 80lbs per. The enclosure includes eight 1"-thick acrylic-coated MDF panels vertically stacked and bonded. My review loaners featured Gemme's standard black gloss piano finish. Stated in-room frequency response is 42-23,000Hz at -6dB. Sensitivity is a SET-friendly 93dB at 1W/1m. As mentioned above, the Concerti utilizes Fostex's FE108E Sigma driver with hyper-paraboloid shell diaphragm and cone made from banana fiber. Speaker cable connections are Cardas copper binding posts. Silver solder is used throughout for superior conductivity. For a new company, the build and finish quality of the Concerti 108 were superb.
Gemme's "True Horn" topology offers a continuously expanding path with no bumps or square bends. CNC tolerances are extremely tight (< 1/1000"). Four coats of lacquer seal the interior enclosure and harden the MDF. Two coats of high-gloss polyester lacquer follow one layer of primer. A final polish to the entire enclosure completes this four-day process with a 90% high gloss piano finish.
A rubber-like compound called Effecta Gomma coats the birch mounting plate to minimize diffraction. A carved rounded groove and a matte finish differentiate this plate from the rest of the enclosure.
The Concerti sits on a trio of chromed metal cones. While all three cones are height-adjustable, there wasn't enough thread to properly align the Concerti's low 33" height optimally with my listening height unless I slouched. I accordingly removed the rear cone to allow the back portion to rest directly on my carpet. Only then was the sound image spot on. Perhaps future models will ship with a shorter rear cone or taller front ones to offer greater flexibility of rake adjustments.
The Concertis were rather sensitive to room positioning. In my room, they sounded best about four feet from the wall while I moved my couch further back so the Concerti were ten feet from my ears. I toed the speakers in sharply with the drivers pointed directly at me as per the enclosed setup instructions.
|For amplification, I predominately used my Manley|
|Shrimp/Mahi combo, with the Mahi set in triode/minimal feedback mode. My Audio Zone AMP-1 also saw action as did Audio Zone's recently updated PRE-T1 and AMP-2 monos I have in for a follow-up review. Now here was one sweet combo. The jump and dynamic agility of the AZ separates was a perfect match with the Concerti 108. You want speed, transient fidelity and dynamics up the proverbial ying-yang? This combo had it in spades. Another fine match was the JAS Array 2.1 300B/805 SET which offered a smoother, richer presentation than my Manley gear. Late in the review, Audio Space's tiny Audio Space Mini Galaxy-1 integrated [above] showed up to floor me with how well it performed with the Concerti. This 12wpc EL84-based pipsqueak actually beat my Manley Labs separates with this horny Canadian. Just goes to show that synergy is everything - throwing more money at your system isn't always the correct approach. The Mini Galaxy also includes a headphone output and even an onboard USB DAC featuring Burr-Brown's PCM2702 chip! I'll have more to say about this diminutive hottie (CDN$1,199) in the near future. Right now, it's having its way with me.
|The Concerti didn't seem to favor one musical genre over another - with the exception of electronica. There just wasn't the requisite bass extension to do justice to the likes of Thievery Corporation or Kruder & Dorfmeister. During my review period, I listened to as much diverse music as possible, including a lovely packaged box set of Clemens Krauss' 1953 Bayreuth Ring cycle [Opera D'Oro OPD 1500]; Count Basie's Atomic Basie [Classic/Roulette R-52003]; Sonny Rollins' Plus Four [Prestige PRCD-7038-2]; the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow [Sub Pop SP 625 - I really don't want to know what inspired that title]; Wilco side project Loose Fur's Born Again in the USA [Drag City 039]; Willie Nelson's Cindy Walker tribute You Don't Know Me [Lost Highway 607902]; and a pair of terrific Rimsky Korsakov recordings [BIS CD-1387 & CD-1577] courtesy of the Malaysian Philharmonic conducted by Kees Bakels on BIS. Don't let this relatively unknown orchestra and conductor stop you from trying these discs. They play with a wild abandon and passion that will disarm the snobbiest of classical music critics - even Gramophone Magazine (sorry, couldn't resist). If you're like me and the prospect of yet another bland recording of standard repertoire by the likes of Simon Rattle -- or even worse, Christian Thielemann and the Berlin Philharmonic -- induces your gag reflex, this Far Eastern formation will positively dump your glass of Sherry all over your silken housecoat.
The Concerti 108 was a gutsy performer that played music with plenty of bravado. There was a thrilling sure-footed approach to pitch and rhythm plus a directness of communication that were captivating. The subtle textures and nuances of instruments and vocals were completely believable. Transient attacks were lightening fast, particularly noticeable on percussion and drum kits. The impact of these little guys smacked me right in the chest. That little 4-inch Fostex is one fast mean mutha. Forget flat frequency response graphs. Bask instead in the immediacy of direct connection to your amplifier sans phase-distorting, energy-robbing corrective circuits. The Concerti were exciting speakers that offered up much of the feel of a live performance.
The Concerti were impressive in portraying dynamic contrasts, i.e. going from soft to loud and back again without signs of compression. Bass was certainly on the lean side but was quick and light on its feet, with terrific stop/start ability minus any ponderous bloat or overhang. Instead of bottom end weight and extension, think pitch definition and rhythmic acuity. Those are attributes most modern dynamic loudspeakers miss the boat on to my ears.
My wife -- who rarely comments on my ongoing audio journey, unless of course it costs us money -- opined that she quite liked the Concerti. I asked her to be more specific. She replied that while they sounded very different from other speakers, they were easy to listen to and had a beguiling way with portraying ambience. "I can hear the walls in the recording" were her exact words along with, "instruments such as pianos sound more resonant as they do in real life". Up until now, I'd confused my wife's dislike of piano recordings with the instrument itself. "Not so", she replied. To her ears, most piano recordings sound plain wrong. My Green Mountain Audio Callistos were the first speakers on which piano sounded right to her. The Concerti were the first that felt right. Go figure. Perhaps she should be penning this review. Indeed, I can't recall hearing a recorded piano feel so real in my room. While terrific performers, the Callistos could not approach the Concertis in conveying the resonant nature of pianos. An industry acquaintance of mine was also duly impressed during a recent visit when we listened to Alain Planes' recording of Debussy [Harmonia Mundi HMC 901893] played on a 1902 Bluthner. It truly was stunning how immediate and palpable this piano was.
While impressive, there were a few areas that caused concern. The high treble was definitely rolled off, though most modern speakers sound way too bright for my tastes. The bottom end was also MIA. However, the manner in which these horns loaded my room gave the illusion of greater weight and depth than there really was. I tried using my REL sub but could not obtain a seamless match. After a spell, I gave up. Personally, I'd miss the low end grunt over the long term, especially with orchestral music. I'd want a copasetic sub to fill in the bottom. One of REL's larger subs or perhaps Gemme's forthcoming Basso bass cabinet might be ideal. Nevertheless, the sheer midrange presence compensated considerably. Occasionally, bass notes sounded a little too resonant or boomy as did the lower vocal range on certain recordings. I noticed some degree of boxy cupped-hands effect as well. I suspect this was mostly room-related and indeed I ameliorated much of this by moving the speakers and my listening position. Still, I couldn't quite eliminate said effects completely. On the other hand, I have noticed this on most horn-based speakers. It's one of those caveats I mentioned earlier that may prevent some listeners from appreciating the breed.
During a phone conversation with Srajan, he suggested stuffing a little poly fiber used for pillows into the horn mouth. Indeed it worked to some extent but also somewhat muffled the horn's output. I preferred the 108s without. However, I suspect that some of the modifications proposed by Robert in the v2 and v3 iterations of the Concerti -- i.e. strengthening the mouth with composites, applying leather etc. -- would probably help in that regard.
|Comparing the horn-loaded Concerti108 to a dynamic speaker is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Both differ considerably in presentation to make any meaningful comparisons difficult if not impossible. However, my first-order phase/time coherent Green Mountain Callistos come closer to bridging the gap between the single-driver brigade and traditional multi-driver speakers than any other similarly priced speaker I've heard to date. With the Callistos, I reap much of the 108's transient fidelity and jump factor but get greater frequency domain linearity, image specificity and micro detail retrieval. Still, the 108 was the livelier and more immediate of the two, with more of a meatpacker tone approach as opposed to the Callisto's aerated precision.
I admit that $3,700 seems a bit steep for a small floorstander with a 4-inch driver of limited bass extension. In fact, that's my only major concern in recommending this speaker. Sure, I can appreciate the complexity of the cabinet and the man hours required to assemble it. It's just that crossover-less speakers such as Zu's Druid retail for $2,800 and offer greater bandwidth as does Louis Chochos Superhemp at $1,995. Then again, Terry Cain's double horn IM-BEN features the same Fostex driver and retails for $4,500. There is real artisanship at work here with the Concerti and obviously there's a cost associated with that. If that's important to you, the asking price becomes more reasonable in that context. While most of the industry is following a lowest common denominator approach by outsourcing everything including the kitchen sink offshore, I must admit that I'm attracted by Gemme's home-style hand-crafted vibe.
|I should also point out Gemme Audio has a budget-minded offshoot firm - Atelier Audio with its -- cosmetically and parts-wise -- stripped down First Horn which retails for $699 factory direct. How it compares to the Concerti I cannot say. The driver isn't quite in the same league and the horn enclosure is nowhere near as sophisticated. Still, if the First Horn offers up 75% of the performance of its more expensive cousin, one might expect it would undermine sales of the Concerti.
Srajan ruminated on this very issue in an industry piece back in May. However, both products focus on completely different markets and should complement each other rather than compete. The sort of person who purchases the Concerti expects optimum performance as well as the full service treatment -- choice of finishes and other custom options -- and is willing to pay for it. The folks attracted to the First Horn are willing to sacrifice certain cosmetic and performance features for a price break. Ever hear of a yuppie trade in his or her Beamer for a Hyundai? Or vice versa? Me neither. Unless there's a vast change in income, I doubt one will move from one to the other. I think the same holds true here. The difference with Gemme/Atelier is one of timing. Usually a firm establishes itself first in the market place -- i.e. with dealers, reviews and tradeshows -- before spawning off a bargain-priced factory-direct sub-brand such as Cary Audio has done with their Audio Electronic Supply brand. Robert and Jean-Pierre chose to travel both paths simultaneously. How successful that will be is anyone's guess. I hope they succeed since I believe these gentlemen have much to offer.
|In conclusion, the Concerti 108s are not for everyone. They won't plumb the depths to rave levels nor scale the heights with sparkling airy highs. They don't posses that smooth flat frequency response most folks are accustomed to and like all horn-loaded designs, they will exhibit some unique colorations. However, they|
|compensate with directness of expression, immediacy, dynamic scaling, excitement and the effortless way in which they deliver music. Once the crossover is either removed completely or at least simplified to preserve the original waveform, the ear/brain spends far less time and effort to reconstitute the musical information that most speakers scramble like broken eggs. It's just so much easier to connect with music over speakers such as the Concerti 108. This little speaker impressed me both on an emotional and physical level.
Or let me put it this way. I absolutely hated the first rear horn-loaded speaker which I heard. At first. Yet it strangely grew on me in a hurry. Since then, my audiophile journey has delivered me to a place which resembles what the Concerti squarely aims at - coherence, speed, transient precision and dynamics. I've arrived there with the Green Mountain Audio Callisto, a minimum network 1st-order 2-way. Meeting the Gemme Audio mini tower now these many years after my first horn bout, I suffered far less of an initial disconnect. I instantly recognized the flavor and even could appreciate where it went farther than my chosen reference speaker. Yes, the Concerti 108 is far from perfect. Yes, it's expensive for what it is. Yet what it does well, it does exceptionally well. In areas where it doesn't outright excel, it remains plenty competent to avoid suggesting any serious issues. Some people won't overlook what by necessity are certain compromises. Others will be dumbfounded by these speakers' particular brand of excellence. Such listeners will look no farther. You could thus call the Gemme Audio Concerti 108 a special application product. It's meant for smaller rooms and very particular tastes which, besides focused on the already mentioned qualities, include audible hall ambience and very good decay resolution. When those variables of listener bias and room size come together just so, the Concerti makes true and profound magic. The custom finish and hookup wiring options are then mere icing on the cake.
|Gemme Audio comments:
I would like to thank you for your review and very informative, to-the-point comments about our Concerti loudspeakers. You (and your wife) really got a grasp on the essence of such a specialty design with is many strong points and (few) limitations.
If I may, I would highlights aspects of the design and how I feel about it from a user (with a "little" bias) point of view.
As a user of this design since the early prototypes, I would say this is a loudspeaker system that has great soul. It involves you emotionally, much like you are when attending a live concert. Listening to a jazz concert at night while lights are low is a gripping experience, and I need my "shot" everyday or else I feel amiss. This is a speaker that grows on you.
As you clearly described, it is the very "physical" aspect of the Concerti sound. It lets you "really" feel in your chest the guitar strings vibration, the saxophone rush, the hit of piano keys or the drum beats, just like you would in a live event when sitting close to the stage. While Robert could describe it with more detail, I think this is a consequence of using our smooth horn contour (True Horn) to accelerate the air motion, matched to a front horn mouth to project it with real physical impact. This combined with the details of a snare drum vibrating to the kick of bass and the vibration of double-bass strings as fingers grasp them, creates a very satifying sense of "being there".
As was said in the review, the Concerti can be seen as a modular system, where high and low frequencies can be extended by the addition of different modules. Bass is not very deep but it has great definition and impact. To get similar bass to a lower reach is not easy and a horn bass module could be what we will finally offer. Good super tweeters, with matched crossover, can also be offered.
I can report that the addition of leather in the horn mouth has had good effects on the sound as expected, and the next step of adding more rigidity to the horn mouth walls will definitely cure the problem of resonance heard when listening to some material.
Thanks again for your great review and be sure that you'll hear quite a lot more about us in the near future. Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time for more information or if you have any question. Robert and I will be pleased to discuss things with you at any time.
Vice President Operation and Sales
The only thing I'd like to add is a big thank you to Srajan for giving us the opportunity to let your readers know about the Concerti, and to you for taking time to listen and depict very acurately the essence of the product. I also liked very much your wife's comment about hearing walls! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one...
On the technical side, the resonance you heard on some music material was due to cabinet vibrations near the mouth. This is fixed in v3 by using new composite side walls and strengtening plates. The pebble leather inside the horn last segment also helps by "lubricating" the air flow.
The hardest thing to do in loudspeaker design is getting the mids right. We chose to achieve this by acoustic means only (design, materials, construction). Adding HF extension is pretty straightforward and is accomplished by adding a horn-loaded supertweeter with a high-pass filter at 20kHz (single cap), so output gradually falls off below that frequency. A machined pod is in preparation to hold a T90A tweeter (user-installed option) and the factory option will have the HF wiring routed inside the main enclosure for a tidier appearance.
Getting LF extension is more tricky because a perfect match is achieved only by using very large (8 cu.ft) enclosures - one per side. Two modules are in preparation, one is a double bass horn similar in construction to the JBL Paragon and the other is a more conventional reflex enclosure loaded with 2226 15" drivers. Of course the Basso works very well in smaller rooms, but with limited dynamics.
As such, the Concerti 108 is the main module of a system and users can grow to the full Symphonia system. Naturally, the whole package sports a very respectable 25Hz to 30kHz that would be well suited to large listening spaces and full scale orchestral works.
Again, thank you so much for your review.