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gregorie Ikonoklast-3 loudspeakers
as reviewed by Steve Lefkowicz
Some years ago I was having a conversation with a close friend over a few drinks, and we were amusing ourselves by lamenting the state of our relationships. "My boyfriend would be perfect," she told me, "if only he werent violent, a coke-head, and an alcoholic." We chuckled a bit, and I came back with, "Well, my last girlfriend would have been perfect, too, if only she hadnt been a raving lunatic bitch from hell." We chuckled a little more, then the realization set in that the people we were talking about werent about to change, nor would we ever feel that they were "perfect" for us. Then it struck me that I had found my personal path to determining what might be good (or not good) for me. I call it my Rule of "If Only."
In trying to decide something (buying a car, choosing a vacation destination, stuff like that), it all boils down to a set of "if only" observations. For instance, this car would be perfect if only: (a) it wasnt green, (b) it got better gas mileage, and (c) it had more power. If those "if onlys" are things I can be okay with, then the car is probably close enough to perfection. If not (if only it didnt cost $100,000), the decision is still easy, though a little less satisfying. The rule also works with relationships, though it is a little harder to be objective with those. Shed be perfect if only she wasnt already married. Shed be perfect if only she could actually carry on a conversation. Shed be perfect if only she didnt live a thousand miles away. (That was the "if only" with my wife, remedied by convincing her to move!) If the "if onlys" are things that can be changed (usually they cant), or that I can live with, then progress can be made. If not, well thats that. What does this have to do with audio? Quite a bit actually, since we all strive for musical "perfection," and lets face it, no audio equipment is even close. When evaluating a piece of equipment, we have to see what the "if onlys" are, and whether they are things we can accept or live with, or if they will keep us from long term musical enjoyment.
The Warren Gregoire Ikonoklast-3 loudspeakers have very specific "if onlys," ones that they clearly define in their literature. Unlike most companies, who claim their speakers are "the best" or "the truth" or the "only way that really works," Gregoire states that they have made what they feel to be an excellent speaker for listeners with very specific listening requirements. These are:
Usually, though not always, if the technology behind a product is its main reason for existing, it probably isnt ready for everyday use. Its the results that are important, not the means of getting there. When was the last time you saw a refrigerator advertisement that discussed the technology of cooling? Maybe your grandparents did, but I cant remember seeing any. "How big is it?" is all I want to know. I presume it will keep the beer cold. Gregoire makes its own mid/high frequency drivers for the Ikonoklasts, and uses an unusual bass alignment. They explain how this technology is better than other technologies on their website, but in all honesty, I couldnt care less, as long as it works and sounds good. In this case, however, Ill describe a little bit about the technology. Some of you may find it interesting.
Lets start with the high frequency driver. Sitting on top of the cabinet is a little, nine-inch-tall wire-mesh cage housing what Gregoire calls their Dual Coherent Line Array Tweeter. This is based on the Walsh type of bending-wave driver, and radiates in a full 360-degree pattern. Unlike other Walsh-style drivers, such as those used by Ohm Acoustics and German Physics, these are used as tweeters only. Also, unlike other Walsh drivers, each of these uses a pair of conical radiators, aiming up and down, driven by a single piezo-electric device from the center. Imagine two aluminum ice cream cones connected at their pointy ends, inside a mini WWF cage of death. One benefit of piezo-electric devices is that they have a natural electronic rolloff as frequencies go lower, so they need no crossover. Gregoire makes a big deal out of the crossover-less design of this speaker system, and I think we can all agree that being crossover-less is a worthy design goal.
This two-way design can go crossover-less not just because of the tweeter, but also because of Gregoires loading of the small (5.25-inch) midrange driver. This driver is driven full range, which according to Gregoire allows the little driver to produce useful bass into the low-30 Hz range and even below. It does this without the weight or movement of large amounts of air associated with more conventional designs.
Enough about technology already, my head hurts. Lets listen to some music instead. I really wanted to listen to the B-52s Rock Lobster, and these speakers would have been perfect if only they could crank that up, but they couldnt. So lets listen to some classical music instead. Beethovens Ninth Symphony with Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic on an old Columbia LP would fit the bill, but no, these speakers arent really meant for that either. It seems like Mr. Gregoire is trying to tell me what music I should be listening to, instead of being ready and able to play what I want to hear. I dont think I like that. Maybe they would be perfect if only I would listen to the right type of music? Lets find out.
The great bluegrass collection Will the Circle Be Unbroken seemed like a good choice. My first impression was "Crapola!" Frequency response seemed about as flat as the Martian landscape. How to tame that? First, Gregoire supplies three sets of sound-absorbing discs (made of rubber, or something similar) that screw into small nuts epoxied to the phase plugs of the mid/low-frequency drivers. These offer small amounts of attenuation in the 2 to 4kHz range, exactly where it was needed the most. I quickly settled on the largest of the three, but continued to try the other sizes every time I made a change in the system. The largest disc always worked the best. I think an even larger one might be even better. I also paid a great deal of attention to speaker positioning and treating the wall behind the speakers. Moving the speakers far out from the wall smoothes out the mid to high frequencies, but leaves the system totally lacking in bass response. This will be okay if you are going to mate the Ikonoklasts with a subwoofer, but if you arent, you have to position them fairly close to the wall for bass reinforcement. However, the closer you move them to the wall, the more you need to absorb the rear waves from the tweeter, or the speakers sound horribly bright and tinny. Positioning them close to the wall and treating the wall to tune the upper frequencies is exactly what Gregoire recommends. I found a simple and effective approach to this, placing the seven-inch-thick cushions from my living room couch against the wall directly behind the speakers. I left a five-inch space between the cushions and the rear of the speaker, then leaned the cushions forward until they rested on the cabinets.
Now I could start to see what the Ikonoklasts could do, if only I could play this mint condition Van der Graaf import LP (The Pleasure Dome) that a friend recently gave me. There I go again. Back to more appropriate music. I decided that to be fair to these speakers, I would stop complaining about their limitations and listen to music that would fit the bill. However, I will get back to the music I want to listen to before Im through! One of the first positive things you will hear through the Ikonoklasts is detail. Tons of detail. Im talking high-class, electrostatic-type detail, even from standard-issue CDs. You hear all those subtle little things that can make music so interesting. I wont get into describing these things, but I will say that it is extremely easy to pick out individual instruments in an ensemble and clearly hear what each is doing. As a bonus, the Ikonoklasts do this without that etched, unnatural sense of detail that some speakers have. If youre thinking, "If only my current speakers had more detail and let me hear more of whats happening in the recording," then score a point for the Ikonoklasts.
Another of the Ikonoklasts strong points (one Gregoire stresses in its literature) is their ability to maintain their sound quality at low volumes. Very few speakers that Ive heard can do this. Quad 57s may be the best at it. The Ikonoklasts are great late-night-dont-disturb-the-wife-and-kids speakers. You can get a very satisfying insight into all appropriate music at reasonably low listening levels. For apartment dwellers or people with family members who dont want to be bothered with your music, these might be ideal.
Bass response has to be viewed in the context of the manufacturers claims. They do go fairly low (I measured usable output into the upper 30s in my room), but they dont move much air. Their bass output reminded me of listening through headphones. All the notes were there, but without much sense of the scale of the instrument. This worked fine late at night at low volume, with something like David Johansen and the Harry Smiths, but mid-day with an early Genesis LP, it wasnt quite so satisfying. The traditional sound-effects aspects of high end audio arent that important to me. I can appreciate soundstaging and imaging when theyre done well, but Im not going to give up anything up from a musical standpoint to achieve them. The Ikonoklasts do a superb job in providing a natural sense of instrumental size and placement. They do not have the unrealistically precise, pinpoint imaging of small mini-monitors, nor do they have the grand size and scale of large planar speakers. The Ikonoklasts simply float the music out into the room in an uncannily realistic way. This is the kind of imaging and soundstaging that I like.
It might seem that I think these speakers are pretty darn near perfect, but now I get to go through my list of "if onlys." Remember, this is my list, not yours. You will have your own criteria.
"If Only" #1. These speakers would be perfect if only they could play louder. Gregoire is pretty clear on thisthe Ikonoklasts are not designed to play loudly. My friends will laugh at this one, because I normally listen at lower levels than anyone I know, but sometimes I do have the desire to crank it up a little.
"If Only" #2. These speakers would be perfect if only they had some power and moved some air in the bass. This is another thing that is pretty much dictated by their design. The three speakers I have enjoyed most over the last year or so (the VMPS RM2neos, the Reynaud Evolution-3s, and the Neat Elites) all had really good bass characteristics.
"If Only" #3. These speakers would be perfect if only they had the dynamic capabilities to portray the scale and power of real music. Though image size was quite well portrayed, "musical" sizethe scale and drama of musicwas always lacking. This is a very intimate speaker system, which may be just fine for many of you, but I need more.
"If Only" #4. These speakers would be perfect if only they could play my type of music. As much as I like the small-scale chamber music, folk, acoustic blues, and small-ensemble jazz that these speakers do best, I still need my fix of big symphonic music and loud bang-and-crash rock. Today alone, I listened to the B-52s first LP, Oingo Boingos Only a Lad, The Whos Live at Leeds, the first Brainbox LP (Jan Akkerman and Pierre van der Linden before they were in Focus), Strauss Ein Heldenleben and Death and Transfiguration, and Genesis Nursery Cryme and Selling England by the Pound, all on LP as I was breaking in a new phono cartridge. Every one of them needed a more dynamic, full-range sound than the Ikonoklasts could muster. Its not just being loud or having powerful bass, its the ability to portray the power and scale of the music. The Ikonoklasts sound fine on simple music, but if too much is going on, they get confused.
The Gregoire Ikonoklast-3 speakers dont match my personal "if only" list. For me, they are merely a very interesting technical exercise, but think about your own "if only" list. If you live in a small apartment, prefer low-powered tube amps, and above all, listen to their type of music, the Ikonoklasts may be exactly what youve been looking for. Steve Lefkowicz © 2002
Gregoire Ikonoklast-3 loudspeakers
Warren Gregoire and Associates LLC