Gershman Acoustics Idol
List Price: $2,995
Canada has quite an enviable heritage when it comes to producing world-class loudspeakers. Names like Verity, Paradigm, PSB, Energy and Mirage have achieved notable success not just in North America but also around the world. Besides the aforementioned bigger players, there are also many smaller boutique manufacturers that craft loudspeakers that have a loyal and growing following and one of them is Toronto based Gershman Acoustics.
Eli Gershman got positive reviews for his top-of-the-line Black Swans loudspeaker system especially because of its unique design that allows the separate tweeter and midrange enclosure to site above the woofer enclosure while still allowing it to be fully coupled to the floor. However, at $30,000, the Black Swans are not exactly easy to afford for the vast majority of us. Eli Gershman took care of this with the introduction of the ‘Idol’, a speaker system for those who would love to own a Gershman but not able to lay out 30 large to do so. A few years ago Eli and his beautiful wife Ofra added to their large speaker catalogue a new speaker called the Sonogram which Stereomojo was first to review as well.
According to Eli, with the Idol, he set out to design a speaker system that would qualify as true high-end while still carrying a relatively affordable price tag. His objective was to design a floor standing speaker with a small footprint that would deliver outstanding imaging and resolution while still managing to reproduce deep bass response. Most of all, he was determined to give the Idol the ability to deliver the emotions embedded in music so that the listener could connect with the artiste at a much deeper level. Eli knew that to pull off this challenging feat would need out of the box thinking and the exploration of techniques that are not exactly conventional.
Mindful of the key role that the enclosure plays in the performance of a speaker, Eli designed one made out of ¾ inch high-density board without any internal parallel surfaces to eliminate standing waves and with enough bracing to minimize resonance and allow the driver units to perform at their optimum level. The cabinets are finished in real wood veneer, which give them a relatively handsome look.
Eli developed a technology that he calls Variable Regulation Line Technology or VRLT, which he has incorporated into the Idol speaker. The aim of this technology is to eliminate linear and non-linear distortions like frequency, phase response, harmonic and intermodulation distortion and to maintain a constant directivity across the audible frequency range to help the speaker deliver a fast, deep, smooth and tuneful bass.
While designing the Idol, Eli was very mindful of the impact that the room acoustics have on the performance of a speaker. He therefore did not cut any corners when testing, measuring and listening to his new creation. He performed all these using the state-of-the-art equipment and the anechoic chamber at the National Research Center located at Canada’s capital – Ottawa, followed by real world listening tests using all styles of music reproduced by consumer level electronics in environments that more closely mimics the acoustics of rooms in a real world home.
Great care went into selecting the right driver units for the Idol. None of the off-the-shelf woofers and tweeters met the criteria that Eli was looking for so he had driver units specially made to his specifications. For the woofer, Eli specified a six-inch poly coned driver that would be capable of delivering not just deep and powerful bass but also clear and full midrange frequencies. Eli decided that a one-inch silk domed tweeter would best serve the Idol.
To ensure that these two drivers played well together with the maximum coherence and resolution Eli hand built a crossover using point-to-point soldering techniques. This crossover has an unusually few number of components but care was taken to ensure that every component used was of very high quality.
On the technical side, the Idol has an impedance of six ohms, a frequency response of 34 Hz to 20 kHz, recommended power of 30 to 300 watts, height of 46 inches (including the footer cones), weight of 38 pounds and a footprint of 7.5 X 7.5 inches. The speaker’s four footer cones are sharp enough to couple the speakers to the floor very well. The terminals behind the speaker are unusually large. I tried to connect various spades to them but the design of the terminals did not allow me to get the kind of snug contact that I would like, so I ended up using cables with banana terminals instead.
Eli’s out of the box thinking was quite apparent in two of the design features of the Idol. The woofer is placed above the tweeter, which is not the norm. This was apparently done to ensure that the tweeter would be at ear level in a seated position. The other unusual feature is that the tweeter assembly is mounted in a way where is it is sunk a few millimeters below the front baffle surface of the speaker as opposed to the conventional way of mounting which has the tweeter assembly is flush with the surface of the baffle to minimize the adverse effects of diffraction.
When I asked Eli about this unusual configuration, he said that he did it intentionally to slow down the sound waves created by the tweeter dome as it moved across the front of the tweeter assembly and front baffle of the speaker. I found this ‘baffling’ (pardon the pun) but decided to keep an open mind during the listening tests.
For this review I delved into my library on vinyl, CDs and high rez tracks on my Sooloos, Bryston BDP-1 and iMac using Pure sic. These included various albums by Stacy Kent, Arne Domnerus, Joe Beard, Salena Jones, Al Di Meola, Mozart, Pink Floyd, CCR, Greg Brown, Anjani Thomas, Cat Stevens, Dire Straits and Rachmaninoff to mention just a few.
I was told that the Idol I received was already fully broken in so I was able to start the audition without having to burn in the speakers. What immediately struck me was the enthusiasm with which the Idol delivers music. The bass was robust and unusually deep for a speaker with a six-inch woofer. The midrange had good resolution while the highs had a lot of life and sparkle to them.
Another aspect of the Idol that was surprisingly good was in the way that they portrayed the sonic image. In this price category I have heard very few floor standing speakers that were able to sonically disappear as well as the Idol. The depth of the sound stage was also impressive but the height and width of the image was comparable to other speakers in this price class.
Vocals were rendered with a good deal of realism though this was not as palpable and full-bodied as some of the best comparably priced speakers. The Idol is particularly good with percussion instruments which were reproduced with the speed and tautness that one would expect from speakers that cost quite a bit more.
A significant difference between the best cost-no-object speakers and their more affordable counterparts like the Idol is the ability to recreate piano notes accurately. Being a piano player myself, I have a very good idea of what a piano sounds like at a live performance and the Idol is good but not exactly great in this regard.
The other hurdle that all but a handful of speakers in this price range are able to do is to create the air around the different instruments and voices in a recording. In this aspect, the Idol is pretty good but I have heard a couple of speakers in this price category that can do a bit better.
The Idol is more coherent than most of its direct competition and the woofer and tweeter do work well together without being as seamless as the very best speakers in the $3,000 category. The difference in the sound on axis vis-a-vis off axis is quite a bit more than most of the other affordable speakers that have reviewed. Perhaps this could be the result of having a tweeter assembly that is not flush with the front baffle resulting in more diffraction than usual.
A quality that I look for when I review speakers is the smoothness and ease with which the sound is reproduced and in this regard the Idol was just slightly above average in its price category. It is not so apparent in listening sessions that are 30 minutes or less but for longer listening sessions it becomes a bit more apparent, resulting in a slightly higher fatigue factor.
One objective that Eli had when designing the Idol was to ensure that this transducer would convey the emotions embedded in the music. This is not so easy to attain and I have heard some obscenely priced speakers that have failed miserably in this respect. Not so the Idol. It is one of the few speakers in its price category that does manage to connect you emotionally with the artiste. If this is important to you when looking for a speaker in the $3,000 price range, you would do well to put the Idol on your short list. Publisher’s note: You’re absolutely right, Malcolm. After all, music is all about emotion – not mechanics, measurements or academics. Just like human beings, speakers either are musical or they are not. I’ve heard and seen many professional “musicians” who either have very fine voices or play an instrument with wonderful dexterity and technique, yet they lack that primal and essential musicality that separates the greats from the others – whether they are commercially successful or not. Speakers need to “speak” to your heart and soul – not just your ears.
The Idol performed relatively well with both solid state and tube amplification but managed to deliver a smoother, more saturated midrange when used with tubes. Having said that, there was definitely better dynamics and slam when I hooked them to a solid-state amplifier.
I did a couple of comparisons to see how the Idol compared to its peers in a similar price bracket. The first head to head was with the three-way Audes Blues which in terms of street price, is in the same category as the Idol. The Blues are made in Estonia and happens to have the same oversized speaker terminals as the Idol.
The Audes, seen here, has a definite edge in terms of build quality (around double the weight of the Idol) and aesthetics, which is very European. In contrast to the Idol, the Blues is a 3-way, 3-chamber, dual step, vented full range transducer incorporating two 4.4-inch midrange drivers and a single one-inch tweeter in a D’Appolito configuration complemented with an eight-inch side firing woofer. The mirror image design of the Blues allows you to place them with the woofers facing in or out depending on the acoustical properties of your listening room.
The Audes Blues’ African mahogany panels give them a very handsome look. In terms of sonic performance, the Blues go significantly lower because of its side-firing woofer though the Idol had the more tuneful bass. The mid-range performance of the Idol was comparable to the Blues although the latter was a little more forward and had a smidgen more presence especially with voices. For high frequencies the Blues sounded slightly smoother to me while the Idol was slightly more aggressive which gave the Blues the advantage in terms of fatigue factor.
The Idol takes the honors when it comes to imaging, as it is able to disappear a bit more effectively than the Blues. The Idol was also better at communicating the emotional content of the music especially with female voices. The Idol has a deeper sound stage but the Audes creates a sonic image that is significantly wider and taller. The Idol is also less dependent on the quality of cables and interconnects, delivering good performance even with budget priced models whereas the Audes was more fussy, throwing a few tantrums when forced to work with entry level cables. The Audes sound leans towards the warmer side while the Idol is more analytical. The Audes delivered significantly better performance with tubes while the Idol is are more agnostic in this regard. Both speakers are equally musical for short-term listening sessions but the Blues edges ahead during longer sessions because of its better fatigue factor. The Blues also has more timbral accuracy and better dynamic contrast though the Idol is not that far behind in these respects.
The next comparison I did was with the sand fillable Joseph Audio RM22XL, seen on the left. These will set you back around $500 more than the Idol, but its two-way configuration is a lot closer to the Idol in terms of design as compared to the three-way Audes Blues. This comparison was very interesting because unlike the Blues, the RM22XL has distinctively difference sound to the Idol.
While the Idol delivers sound that is quite typical of dynamic box based speakers, the RM22XL takes you by surprise at how it emulates the many virtues of panel speakers. If you are a fan of dynamic speaker designs and the deep, controlled and taut bass and which they excel, the Idol will float your boat very well. On the other hand, if you often wish for the open, airy and relaxed nature of panel speakers but stayed away from them because they lacked a reasonably good bottom end, the RM22XL could be just what the doctor ordered. Having said that, the RM22XL’s bottom end is typical of speakers in this price range, reasonably deep but not as tuneful as the better speakers that carry a five-figure price.
As opposed to the poly-cone woofer of the Idol, the RM22XL employs a metal cone driver unit to generate the midrange and bass. This woofer is equipped with an extended pole piece, which acts as a phase plug to extend the usable dispersion of the woofer at the top end of its range. It also helps reduce resonances inside the cavity of the dust cap. This is complemented with a dual section dome tweeter. These two drivers are fed by an asymmetrical infinite slope crossover which does a good job at getting them to work together relatively seamlessly and also manages to minimize the annoying ringing that is usually associated with metal cone driver units.
In a head-to-head comparison, the Idol is able to deliver beefier bass but the RM22XL was more dynamic and had more focus. Both speakers are good at throwing a large sound stage. The Idol’s stage went deeper but with the RM22XL the sound stage was definitely wider and a bit taller.
The RM22XL is able to create significantly more air around the instruments and voices but is not able to match the Idol in terms of sheer slam. Both speakers were reasonably good at creating three-dimensional sound but don’t expect to hear the kind of holographic sonic image that the best speakers with five figure price tags are capable of conjuring up.
The Idol performs with a whole lot of gusto and with oodles of snap, crackle and pop. In contrast the RM22XL it is a tad more relaxed and non-fatiguing, delivering music with the ease that is surprisingly close to an electrostatic transducer. If you are looking for a speaker that will sweep you off your feet, the Idol will fit the bill. On the other hand if you are looking for music reproduction with more seduction and romance, the RM22XL could be what you are looking for.
The Gershman Idol brings an interesting option at the $3,000 price point. If I were to allocate the Idol a human personality, it would be a bubbly, eager and enthusiastic junior executive who may lack the calm, collected and mature disposition of a seasoned and experienced senior executive but makes up for it with unbounded energy, a ‘can do’ attitude, plus oodles of motivation to excel and chomping at the bit to put on a good show every time you care to fire them up. If your listening tastes lean towards traditional, acid and punk rock, pop, reggae, bhangra, heavy metal and hip-hop, the Idol should be on your short list of speakers to audition. In many aspects the Idol delivers around 70% of the performance of my reference speakers at just 25% of the price. This translates into good value for your hard earned money.
GERSHMAN IDOL SPECS:
Impedance: 6 Ohms
Freq. Response: 34Hz - 20kHz
Tweeter: 1" soft dome
Foorprint: 10" x 10"
CD Player - Bryston BCD-1 (SS)
Digital Player – Bryston BDP-1
Turntable - Technics SL-1200Mk2 (direct drive) with Goldring 1042GX cartridge
Music server - Sooloos 5 complete 3-piece system, iMac (latest) with Amarra 2.3 and Decibel media players
Preamp – Bryston BP26 with MPS2 Power Supply
Power Amp – Ayre V3
Phono Stage - Bryston BP-1.5
Speakers – Merlin Music VSM – Master with Master BAM and RCs
Speaker Cables - Cardas Clear Beyond
Power Cords - LessLoss Signature
Interconnects - Cardas Clear
Headphones – Sennheiser HD 600
Digital - Transparent Reference (digital co-axial), Cardas (USB), Analysis Plus (Toslink)
Stands and Racks
Black Diamond Racing (The Shelf for Sources and LM series)
Black Diamond Racing cones
Shelfs are placed on a bed of pure silicone sand and equipment placed on the shelf via the cones
Review Equipment is not provided with any tweaks or enhancers
DAC – Calyx Femto DAC
Power Conditioner - Isotek Sigma II
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