Gradient is a company which may not have the widest offer and isn't trying to fight for the title of the largest speaker manufacturer in the world, but offers some of the most interesting models on the market. Moreover, there are no exceptions to this rule - each set from Finnish factory is something special, unique, and sometimes even a little odd. In the entire history of the brand there wasn't a single moment when someone decided to design just an ordinary speaker with ported MDF enclosure, several dynamic drivers, all without any frills. Gradient is always a guarantee of original, interesting vision. In the current offer we have Evidence floorstanding speakers, entirely covered with a grille, Revolution dipole sets with a triangular mid-high module and Helsinki 1.5, which are totally crazy. At a glance you know that these are not standard speakers. However, a person who thinks that Finnish designers create these sets under the influence of strong drugs, and their sole purpose is to draw attention at the exhibitions, is completely wrong. All these inventions have a strong theoretical and practical background, and the fact that the company has existed since 1984 confirms the effectiveness of their actions.
The company was founded by Jorma Salmi - engineer and audiophile then working in the laboratories of Lohja Corporation Electronics. When he had the idea to construct his own speakers, he quickly came to two important conclusions. The first was that the speakers measured in anechoic chambers very often don't offer good sound at home. Jorma decided that the first point of the whole process is the simulation of the conditions of a typical living room, and designing the speakers in to receive a good, natural sound in such a space. The second conclusion was that traditional techniques of speakers construction suck and haven't changed basically since the fifties. Young builder decided to do things in his own way. He quickly got some help from Jouko Alanko, reviewer of the highest quality audio equipment and Anders Wecktström, a friend specializing in laboratory work. The first sets bearing the Gradient logo - 1.0 - already were quite unearthly. They looked like small tables with eight-inch, downfiring woofers, where twelve-inch midrange drivers were set unattached, and the top was decorated with special panels equipped with four dome tweeters. Later it was even better...
Design and functionality
At this point some people want to break this short history lesson and say - well, but can such unusual constructions play really well? It turns out that they can - sometimes a little different than the typical speakers to which we are accustomed, but certainly most of them have their undeniable charm. I had a chance to listen to most of them, and I do not recall any of Gradient's models that sounded clearly wrong. The fact that Finnish engineers are trying to eliminate distortion resulting from interactions between the speakers and the room, doesn't mean that you don't need to sweat out of their setting. But you can surely get some rewards if you try. The only problem is quite obvious - an unusual and often spectacular speakers produced by hand in Scandinavia with layered plywood, glass and some quite uncommon materials - it just has to cost a pretty penny. Helsinki 1.5 cost about €6,000 per pair, and I think it is quite an achievement, bearing in mind that in Finland a plain hamburger at the station bar can be something like €8. That's why we became interested in the latest Gradient design - 6.0, floorstanding speakers priced at €1,990 per pair. Moreover, as for this brand, these boxes look pretty usual… Until you look under the hood. It turns out that in a simple, modern cabinets we find coaxial mid-woofer (used in Prelude and Bravo monitor speakers), assisted by a passive radiator. And all this is presented in an elegant, easy-to-use package - without the necessity of setting them for hours. And best of all, they are available at a reasonable price. The conclusion is obvious - from the very beginning they have a chance to become a sales hit.
The first contact with these speakers actually confirms the high class of Gradient's workmanship, and packaging. Due to well-considered details and overall lightness of the whole constructuon, the Finnish boxes can be unpacked and set up in the listening romm in five minutes. Designers probably felt that most people will put them on a hard floor, so the factory equiped them with a set of transparent silicone feet. Aesthetes and interior designers are going to like them too because of speakers terminals positioned very low, which makes it easy to hide the cables. The other thing is that 6.0 wasn't designed to expose in the middle of the room - recommended distance to the rear wall is 20 cm. In my case, setting the distance of 35-45 cm from the wall was the best solution in the 18 square-meter room. However, the basic rule remains true - 6.0 like to be supported by the acoustics, but it doesn't mean that they cannot cope with open space. Maybe putting them in the middle of the 40-meter lounge isn't the best idea, but setting them in a quite regular living room - great.
From the outside, two things attract attention. The first is external frame made of birch wood - it looks great and creates lightly hi-end style. I have to admit that the combination of light wood with front and rear panels covered with a black, satin material called Fenix NTM, takes a liking to me. The second interesting fact are the drivers. Coaxial bass-midrange system built with glass fibre woofer with a diameter of 17.6 cm and 25-mm aluminium dome is protected by a metal mesh. 14 x 20 cm passive membrane of elongated oval shape was applied on the rear panel, just above terminals. Both units look very original and they forecast as interesting sound performance. The height is 90 cm, and weight is 12 kg. Small, slim speakers, equipped with interesting technical solutions, taken straight from the high-end models.
Cons? When you sit perfectly in front of the coaxial driver, you can notice a small gap between the metal grille and the black front plane. This space hasn't been covered with black material, and because of this it catches the eye. The second issue are the silicone feet, mentioned at the beginning. For me it's great, because I have a wooden floor in the living room, but it can be a problem with a thick carpet. In this case, purchase of spikes and gluing them to the base of each speaker is probably the best option. Apart from these details, I think that 6.0 are fantastic, user-friendly and extremely graceful speakers, which seem to be ideal for small and medium-sized spaces. After five minutes I began to think that if I didn't review speakers, amps, cables and DACs, I would consider buying 6.0, combined with Cyrus Lyric 09 or Naim SuperUniti... But everything would depend on whether these lightweight boxes can really play well.
I'm not sure if completely new pair of Gradient speakers came to our review. But I guess so because none of the reviewers I know would go to great lengths to repack the speakers this way. My suspicions were confirmed when I connected the Finnish boxes - at the first moment I felt powerful, even overloaded bass, and it could mean only one thing - I had to set a few days of burning in. On one hand it's bad, because in such a situation it behooves me to run some of the power through the speakers before I start the critical listening. But after a while I realized the positive aspect of this phenomenon. Hmm... Powerful, almost subwoofer-like bass from boxes of this size and from one driver? So I sat down on the couch again, and decided to explore the scale of the bass capabilities, taking into account the fact that the voice coils have probably seen the electricity for the second or third time in their lives. My initial observations were completely confirmed. In proper conditions these modest, graceful speakers from frosty Finland are able to produce bass of which large, three-way boxes would be proud of. Even if I'm exaggerating at the moment, it's just a little bit. I was prepared for a slightly different kind of sound, based mainly on mids and highs, spiced with a great soundstage and tangible vocals. But I didn't expect to observe such a bass, even bearing in the mind the size of the passive radiator on the back. I always thought that this solution has its advantages, but it's not able to replace the woofer with its own power, or its own amplifier. Several times in my life I've heard amazing things being the work of passive radiators, that were masterfully used. After a few minutes of listening, 6.0's could be signed to this short, prestigious list. If you are looking for small, slender speakers, that are able to bring out a sound which - without false modesty - can be called full-range, you have a strong candidate here. Of course, setting speakers in the room and selecting a nice amplifier is a very important issue, but if I managed to get a full, healthy, and even a bit too showy tone in the first approach, there's nothing to fear. The contact with Gradient speakers won't be an ordeal. It can rather be a pleasure, growing with time. After three or four hours the Finnish speakers practically reached their maximum performance. Low frequencies retained their original depth, but they also clearly accelerated and melted with the higher ranges. From that moment it was clear that the same pleasant moments with them are waiting for us.
Gradient 6.0 belong to a small group of loudspeakers that manage to combine two sound worlds, two visions of presenting music, which usually are mutually exclusive. The first is broadly defined neutrality. Burned in and correctly set up, the Gradient 6.0's don't contrive with the bandwidth, they don't disturb the natural tonal balance or timbre. Everything is in perfect order here and there is no possibility that the next album might completely surprise us. The 6.0's show music with all proper shapes and right proportions. The other world, which is somehow "mounted into" in the first, is much more interesting - a unique space, aura and purity of coaxial driver. For me the most important thing is the soundstage which combines sharp locations of foreground sources and spectacularly wide, three-dimensional range of sounds accompanying them, including any information relating to the acoustics of the recording. Staring at the base line we can literally cut out the singers with a razor blade. The soundstage as a whole usually extends far beyond the physical boundaries of Finnish boxes - especially in terms of width. I must admit that this is a unique advantage of coaxial drivers. Their second natural advantage lies in the lack of noticeable barriers between medium and high frequencies. In this regard the 6.0 are very similar for me to the Audium Comp 5, based on a fullrange driver. Both models have the same strengths, although their nature is completely different - German floorstanders are warmer, softer with more powerful bass. Gradients present more studio-like objectivity in the sense of sound temperature, and are generally closer to the concept of high fidelity to the musical material. After all, they have less of their own character, and they give themselves over to sound engineers and electronics.
The question posed at the end of the previous paragraph can therefore be answered simply - yes, these very light and inconspicuous loudspeakers can really deliver good sound. Not only that - they go beyond the average level of this price range. 6.0 not only have a high neutrality, but also very interesting bass, great soundstage, coherence and precision. These elements can really give us the flavour of what truly hi-end speakers can do. My only concern is how would these speakers cope with bigger rooms, say thirty square meters. During a brief test, I had no way to check this. Fifteen or twenty meters will be just perfect for them, but what will happen in bigger spaces - I do not know, so I can only recommend you check it personally of you are interested in these speakers. I also advise you to treat 6.0's with serious electronics, adequate to their price. Coaxial speaker can sing beautifully, but I have no illusions about the fact that with a poor amplifier they will show how bad the amp is, not how well they can really play. And that's probably the only two conditions that must be met in order to enjoy Gradients - the appropriate room size and good electronics. If you take care of both, there will be just more and more musical pleasure waiting for you.
Build quality and technical parameters
Gradient 6.0 is a compact floorstanding speaker in a closed enclosure with passive radiator. The boxes are really miniature - they are just 90 cm high and close to a square cross-section with the width of 20.2 cm and 17.3 cm in depth. Instead of the popular MDF, manufacturer decided to use glued plywood, so that the speakers don't have a typical veneer - all that can be seen from the outside is in fact wood. Front and rear walls are covered with a material called Fenix NTM, which is a kind of highly durable, scratch-resistant plastic, used for example in kitchen countertops. At the front there is only one speaker - coaxial system with 17.6-cm glass fibre cone and a 25-mm metal dome. The crossover frequency between them is set at 2800 Hz. Low frequencies are supported by a passive radiator located on the rear panel. It also looks intriguing - the membrane is flat, black, oval and and has dimensions of 14 x 20 cm. Probably that was the only way to fit a correspondingly large vibration surface into the narrow back wall. At the back you can also find a single set of binding posts and a nameplate. After removing the passive radiator we will see a crossover or at least some part of it - the individual elements are assembled with cables and glued to the casing from the inside. Coaxial speaker can be dismantled only after you remove the metal grille, which is quite simple - you only need to use force. But after receiving instructions from the manufacturer, we did it easily.
Gradients were tested in our core editorial system consisting of Naim CD5 XS player, Marantz HD-DAC1 converter and T + A E-Serie Power Plant Balanced amplifier. Finnish sets clearly liked this configuration, but if they could stay with us for another week or two, we would certainly try them with a tube amp. This could be a very interesting experience, but because the package was already waiting for other reviewers, we did not experiment too much and proceeded to warming-up and listening. As for the cables, we used Equilibrium Tune 33 Light speaker cables, Cardas Clear Light interconnects and AudioQuest Cinnamon USB cable. Power was supplied by Enerr devices - AC Point One conditioner and a set of Symbol Hybrid cables, with one Cardas Clear Beyond powering the conditioner itself. The entire system was placed on Ostoja T1 rack.
The ideal speaker for small and mid-sized living rooms? To a large extent, yes, and certainly some of the best that you can get for this price. 6.0 is not only a successful, competitive product, but also something that happens very rarely - modest equipment, which under appropriate conditions can reveal some features associated with high-end loudspeakers. Soundstage, consistency, realism and a certain finesse of handling the music. Even apart from the properties, the Finnish floorstanders are a very cool "thing" that you will enjoy having home. Simple as that.
Speakers type: floorstanding, two-way
Sensitivity: 86 dB
Impedance: 8 Ω
Frequency response: 35 Hz - 25 kHz
Crossover frequency: 2800 Hz
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 W
Dimensions (H/W/D): 90/20,2/17,3 cm
Weight: 12 kg