Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Sources: Exemplar/Denon DV 2900 universal player, Accustic Arts CD player; Audiomeca Mephisto II
Preamplifier: home-made passive, van den Hul A-1 [on loan]
Amplifier: Innersound DPR 500 [on loan from manufacturer]
Speakers: Combak Bravo [for review], Gradient Revolution [for review], DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8
Cables: Stealth PGS, Audience Au24, Stealth hybrid MLT, Auditorium23, van denHul Mainstream and Stealth M-7 power cords
Room Size: 18' W x 15' D x 9' H in long-wall setup, room opens to adjoining kitchen/hallway
Review component retail: US$4,995 [$7,645 active]

Gradient Revolution Loudspeaker: Honestly Good
It's been a while since I've had a solid-state based system in house. I prefer tubes and wouldn't myself own a system that required more than two output tubes per channel. My current reference amplifier checks in at a mighty 8 watts per side. Mighty 8 they are; but then again, they are still only 8 watts. My backup amps range from 35 to 40 watts - all of 'em tubes. So when I was asked if I might help out a fellow moonie who had agreed to review the Gradient Revolutions but who had to abandon the project midway through due to ill health, I was long on good intentions but short on appropriate power.

Enter the good Samaritans at Innersound. The last solid-state amplifier I owned were in fact the Innersound ESL 800 monos. I used them to drive Magneplanar 3.6R loudspeakers to great effect. It was the best match I had ever heard with the Maggies. I had previously employed the same Innersound amps to drive a pair of Innersound's own (by now discontinued) Isis hybrid electrostatic.

In the past year or so, Innersound has been retooling and reconstituting its product line and recently begun releasing its new products. Gary Leeds, head honcho at Innersound, offered to let me borrow the new DPR 500 amplifier that replaces the monoblocks I had owned. I knew well the general sound of the Innersound amplifiers and having the new one in would minimize the number of unfamiliar pieces in the review system. Accepting his generous offer would also provide me with a sneak peek at one of the company's new reference components and the direction in which they plan to go in the near term. Once the amplifier hits the market for real, Srajan will be doing the honors with a full review. I accepted the kind offer and all around good guy and Innersound National Sales Manager Wes Bender delivered one to my place in NYC in a very cool and unusual traveling suitcase.

Just a word about the Innersound amp: it is beautifully made and sounds as good as it looks. In nearly three months of use, it performed flawlessly with the Gradients - effortless, smooth, dynamic and lightning-quick. The amplifier is easily recognizable as part of the Innersound family but with its new styling and improved performance in every critical area, there is reason to think that Innersound, long known for their hybrid electrostatic speakers, may be on its way to a position of prominence as a manufacturer of fine solid-state electronics.

What about the Gradient?
If you've been in audio long enough -- and I have -- you will have owned a lot of equipment along the way - and I have. As it happens, I've owned an earlier version of the very same Gradient Revolutions that ultimately came my way for review. When I owned the Gradients, I drove them with both the quasi-vintage Rappaport and the Marsh A400, both solid-state amps but very different from one another. The Rappaport was rich and full-bodied, its tonality warm but the beast running hotter than that. Indeed, it ran just about as hot as hell and eventually blew up on me. It was not a surprising death; in a way it was not unwelcome either.

The Marsh was everything the Rappaport wasn't. It was extremely fast, a bit on the cool side and frankly a bit too present in the presence region. Though I enjoyed the Gradients during that period, I am quite sure that I never experienced them at their best. I knew them only in the most general terms. When the opportunity arose to review them in their latest incarnation, I found it awfully difficult -- indeed, one might say impossible -- to resist.

Though Gradient has been producing loudspeakers since 1984, the company is probably best known to audiophiles for its subwoofer designed for the original Quad 57. The Gradient subwoofer system, which hit the market in 1992, was the first subwoofer that Quad owners found mated well with their beloved speakers. In time, some owners found a similar success with Entecs and the so-called Crosby Mods. But no subwoofer system for the Quad has endured quite like the Gradient.

The well-reviewed 1.3 was already in production before the Quad subwoofer project was completed. A prototype of the Revolution was introduced in 1993 and the final product debuted in Las Vegas in 1994. Upgrades and variations have been introduced since then including an active
version of the Revolution that appeared in the late 1990s. In 2001, an active crossover was added to the active version [above]. Unwilling to leave their Quad roots behind, Gradient has since introduced a new subwoofer system with an active crossover for all Quad loudspeakers. The review speakers were the traditional Revolutions - passive as to both crossover and amplification.

The Revolution is at once both distinctive and familiar looking. It is three, not four-sided to reduce internal standing waves. Each speaker is a two-part system with the woofers separated from the midrange/tweeter head module. The woofer base mounts two 12" long- throw units as dipoles on an open baffle. The midrange and tweeter are a coaxial design that Gradient refers to as cardioid [heart-shaped dispersion pattern]. This driver-in-a-driver is also mounted on an open baffle. All drive units are sourced from SEAS. Crossover points are 200Hz and 2.8kHz and third and fourth order respectively. Sensitivity is modest at 86dB and frequency response is listed as 50-20K +/-2dB, down 6dB at 30Hz. The speakers are bi-wirable through binding posts accessible below the speaker.

There is not a lot of wood in the speaker. The overall aesthetic reminds one in some ways of Vandersteens - lots of cloth but not unattractive. The pair I had in for review have been around and looked a bit road-weary.

Versatility and Sound
The distinctive feature of the Gradients is their versatility especially for a nominally full-range passive loudspeaker. The head unit containing the midrange and tweeter can be connected to the base unit so that the two units are either in or out of phase with one another. This feature is relevant because the base unit rotates three ways so that the woofers can be aligned to fire in one of three directions. Standard is straight-ahead. Alternatively, one can rotate the bass so that the woofers fire towards the rear wall and towards one another, or towards the side walls and away from one another. If you choose either of the latter two options, the woofers and the midrange/tweeter pair will not be firing in the same direction and the drivers must be set up out of phase with one another.