I’ve taken my own sweet time in discussing this, in part due to getting three magazines in quick succession out of the door. For suppressing this information – and several European news items that will follow over the next few days… I apologize.
The Gramophone from Swedish start-up Aesthesis is an ambitious loudspeaker project. It’s a horn-loaded design built around a SEAS dual concentric drive unit (one inch dome tweeter, in the acoustic center of a six and a half inch mid-bass unit), set into a large flared horn. The design brief was to replicate the organic shape of the human ear, in simplified form. The horn itself is made from racecar-grade carbon-fiber (the fabricators involved in the process are better-known for making the bodies of Koenigsegg and Porsche) finished to a very high quality, rising out of a stainless steel circular base. The carbon-fiber process means although first samples are finished in black, the loudspeaker itself can be finished in any of the myriad NCS (Natural Color System) shades.
The tapered tube behind the horn is designed to guide rear radiation from the driver to the end of the tube, reducing its output significantly in the process. This would mean the loudspeakers should be easy to position in the room, but their design would suggest the Gramophones would be on show in the room rather than hidden against the wall. The end of the tube also acts as a bass reflex. Each aspect of the design (dual concentric driver, horn loading, tapered tube, bass reflex) was chosen because of its parallels with human aural – and oral – mechanics.
In electrical terms, the 1.2m tall Gramophone is said to be an easy eight-ohm load with a sensitivity of 97dB/W/m and a frequency response 37Hz-20kHz ±3dB. Aesthesis is working on a subwoofer to extend the low frequency response, but also retain the characteristics of the main loudspeakers.
Based in Falun, Sweden (some 120 miles North-West of Stockholm), Aesthesis is the brain-child of one Björn Gunnarsson. He came up with the organic design and assembled a team of engineers and fabricators to realize that original design brief. Having heard the loudspeakers, there’s a lot to commend about them. Possibly more even than Gunnarsson at first suspected; he recommends using the speakers with solid-state amplifiers of 80W and beyond, where they possibly cry out for small single-ended triode and gainclone amp designs.
I had a short, but entertaining, listening session in a nearby - and surprisingly well-stocked - hi-fi shop in Falun itself. The loudspeakers manage to combine the room-loading abilities of a good horn speaker with the clarity and detail of a good box. This means they project sound well into the room, but have none of the typical shouty sound commonly attributed to horn loudspeakers. Bass is less clearly defined of course, but they have a powerful appeal distinct and distinguished from other loudspeaker designs. That alone makes them worth investigating and the fact that the Gunnarsson is a generation younger than most people in high-end audio today is a refreshing change and something we should be shouting about.
Of course, with a price tag roughly equivalent to almost $84,000 per pair and not much energy in the below 50Hz point without a subwoofer, the Gramophone is very much in the ‘minority interest’ part of audio. But, with a sub in place, the early versions of the Gramophone I heard this year showed great promise. I’m convinced there’s more to follow.