|The rotating base allows the speaker to be placed in a variety of different locations. Set up traditionally with both top and bottom units firing forward, the Revolution, like other traditional speakers, ought to be placed out into the room several feet and no less than one meter. With the woofers firing towards the back wall -- either inward or outward -- the speaker can instead be located very close to the wall. With the woofer firing towards the rear wall and away from one another, optimal performance requires that the distance from one speaker to the sidewall versus the other speaker to the sidewall should be in a 1:2 ratio - e.g. if one speaker is 4 feet from a sidewall, the other speaker should be at either 2 or 8 feet.
Placement versatility is only one part of the Gradient approach; the other and most important one is directionality. Gradient strongly believes that the speaker/room interface is the greatest detriment to securing good sound from dynamic loudspeakers. Rather than adopting the view that the problem lies with the room, Gradient has adopted the view that the fault lies in a speaker that allows the room to enter too much into its performance. The way to limit room interaction is to increase directionality. This is typically harder to do for dynamic speakers than it is for horns and electrostatics, which are very directional, sometimes to the point of beaming.
Of course, the problem Gradient identifies is familiar. Very little can impact the music reproduction in the home environment more than speaker/room interaction can. Neither the room nor the speaker is at fault. The only real question is which can be most easily controlled and by whom. Gradient cannot control the rooms in which their speakers ultimately will be housed; so they quite rightly adopt the view that if they can control the speaker's vulnerability to room/speaker interactions, that is the path they should pursue.
Speaker placement, crossover design and driver compliment and configuration can all impact a speaker's presentation. Gradient takes advantage of all of these factors to create a speaker that is nearly as directional as the Innersound Isis that I had experience with while being at least as directional as all the hornspeakers I have had in house in the past half a dozen years. That list would include, among others, the Hørnings (not directional at all), the Oris 200 (moderately directional), the Jericho horn (moderately directional) and the Medallion II (pretty directional).
I was able to set up the Gradients in every possible configuration and to compare their performance. In my apartment, I preferred the standard setup with both units firing towards, the sweet spot some ten feet away and all drivers in phase with one another. In this setup, the speakers were placed 3½ feet from the back wall and eight feet from one another (tweeter to tweeter).
Sound and Soundscape
Set up in this conventional manner, I was struck by several features of the presentation that I am not normally nearly so attentive to. The first of these was the soundstage. Aspects of the Quad presentation must have been very influential on the Gradient design team. There was virtually no imaging beyond the outside boundaries of the speakers. This is a byproduct of the speaker's directionality. Indeed, some commentators -- perhaps none more vocal than Robert E. Greene of The Absolute Sound -- have insisted that imaging beyond a speaker's outermost boundary is an artifact created by room interactions. Unsurprisingly, Greene is very fond of both Gradient and Quad speakers; all are directional in just this way and none more so than the Revolution.
On the other hand, because the Revolution sports a coaxial midrange/tweeter acting as a point source, the soundstage is remarkably deep and largely unaffected by placement near the back wall. Close-to-the-wall placement primarily affects the lower octaves, and that impact can itself be minimized as noted above by the ability to rotate the speaker's base unit. Because of their directionality, there is no sense of the sound filling the room. Rather, there is an identifiable stage set off from the remainder of the room by definitive left and right boundaries. In a way, such a well-defined soundstage framework ups the soundstaging ante. A diffuse soundstage with larger but somewhat unfocused images may work in the bigger room-filling picture but will render the presentation completely inappropriate in the context of one with very well defined boundaries. In order for the presentation to succeed, the players on the stage have to be well focused and sculpted, their place on the stage stable and their presence palpable.
Like the Quads, the Gradient succeeds marvelously in this regard. Stable, sculpted -- but not unnaturally etched -- images populate a very well defined stage. The dimensionality and palpability of the images, I suspect, will be a function of the amplification controlling the speakers. For ultimate dimensionality and tangibility of images, I would suggest powerful tube amplifiers of 150-200 watts. The Innersound made for an excellent alternative, however. Images were dense and palpable and the players were stably located (indeed, locked) in space.
On the other hand, the presentation is slightly laid back, some might say a tad reticent. This is true even when the Revolution is fed all the power the mighty Innersound amp was able to deliver. Being both high current and wattage, the Innersound amp grabbed the Gradient and put a vice grip around it. While it could get the Gradient up and dancing, there was very little of a hip-hop nature at the speaker's core just waiting to cut loose. The Gradient really liked being treated with the powerful hands of the Innersound, but it never lost its largely laid-back and unobtrusive way with the music.
I was quite taken with the Gradient's way with small-scale classical music and jazz. The Gradient gets the timbre of the relevant instruments just right and in this context, the soundstaging was a real bonus in appreciating the performance. The speaker was less convincing on large-scale classical pieces where the fact that the soundstage was restricted to the distance between the speakers was a slight detriment to the credibility of the overall experience. The shortcoming here was largely comparative. It's just that the scale of performance seemed so believable on small-scale jazz but was less relevant for large-scale performances.
This is not a speaker designed to favor one part of the spectrum over others. While the midrange is detailed and very open, it does not favor female over male vocals, or vocals in general over instruments. Those looking to play favorites will have to look elsewhere.
It was not hard to come up with an overall characterization of the Gradient Revolution. It is a very honest, well-balanced and dead-solid neutral speaker that has a very easy-going way with music. It requires a fair bit of power and current to come alive. It is flexible and fair. It has no tricks up its sleeve. It reports in a very straightforward way the information that comes to it. It glosses over nothing, but then again, it is neither ruthlessly revealing of the information nor does it get too personal with it.