Though dynamics are quite good for a small speaker, with exuberant choral and symphonic music, you must be careful not to push the JERNs beyond their limits, as some stridency can develop. A related metric is scale. As the volume increases, powerful instrumental combinations—for example, the brass section in a Tchaikovsky symphony—will not necessarily scale up realistically. The lesson is this: Don’t play these things louder than they are meant to be played. Believe me, at a point well before the gain setting will start to adversely effect dynamic ease and scaling, you’ll be hearing from the neighbors. That will be plenty loud to thoroughly enjoy your favorite “power music,” whether it’s the 1970s-vintage Chicago Symphony Orchestra or Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.
The same goes for bass. If your expectations are reasonable, the JERN/REL system provides satisfactory LF support for all musical styles. The terrifying descending organ pedal line in the “Le Verbe” movement of Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité won’t rearrange the china but it may still have you reconsidering your religious convictions. The T/5i provides satisfactory orchestral weight and tuneful bottom-end support for pop music, when it’s on the recording—for example, David Patton’s percolating bass part on Elton John’s “Nikita.” One should resist the temptation to turn up the bass level on the REL as, with many older non-classical recordings, “bass” is often actually midbass that can quickly become slow and undifferentiated. Above-average bass slam and extension is a lot to ask of one 8" woofer, and a possible remedy could be to use two T/5i’s, placing one in each front corner of the room. Alternatively, one can decide to accept a lighter bass presentation, consistent with the JERN’s tonal character and dynamic potential.
Spatiality is excellent. On the orchestral track I’ve used dozens of times to assess this audio parameter, Bernard Haitink’s live recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 with the Concertgebouw, the layering of orchestral sections from front to back is completely believable. Soloists—glockenspiel, bassoon, flute, trumpet, violin—are precisely localized, but not artificially so. On Todd Rundgren’s anthemic “Just One Victory,” which closes his 1973 album A Wizard, A True Star, there are easily eight or nine Todds overdubbed for the final choruses, singing in groups or individually at different depths in the soundfield. This wasn’t the greatest recording to begin with but, with the HDtracks 24/192 download played through the JERNs, Rundgren’s boundless imagination and studio legerdemain come through loud and clear.
Like many well-engineered loudspeakers, the JERN14 ES’s don’t require gold-star electronics to show their strengths but will shine their brightest with top-notch amplification. Listening with the Parasound HCA 2200II driving the JERNs was very pleasurable and with more power, mighty orchestral climaxes actually crested more gracefully. But switching back to the Pass amplifiers kicked the experience up several notches, in detail, tonal neutrality, bass control, and dimensionality.
I had high hopes for the JERN/REL multichannel setup because of the benefits of using five identical loudspeakers for the main channels, configured with a geometry that approximates the ITU standard. Additionally, amplification was provided by a single brand. A fault with this configuration was that only the front right and left speakers were functioning as full-range transducers, as signal from their respective amps also made it to the REL. This was ameliorated by designating the center and two surround speakers as “small” in the Anthem’s bass management menu, which sent low-frequency information to front left and right JERNs, and thus to the subwoofer.
I was not disappointed. With rock, pop, and world music surround mixes engineered to create a vast soundspace—Roxy Music’s Avalon, James Taylor’s Hourglass, or Mickey Hart’s Over the Edge and Back, as examples—the effect was mesmerizing, if not to a “the-walls-of-my-room-are gone” degree, as can sometimes be achieved with my reference multichannel system of six Magico S Series speakers. The unraveling of complexities in elaborately engineered mixes, such as James Guthrie’s 5.1 treatment of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, was gratifying. With large-scale classical music, a sense of a specific venue was communicated, including recordings of the symphonic ensemble and room I’m most familiar with, the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. With small groups—the Hagen Quartet playing Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 5 or Jazz at the Pawnshop—the dimensionality of the musicians’ deployment on an imagined stage went a long way towards providing a generous dollop of realism. In short, the JERN/REL system delivered on multichannel’s democratizing promise—to create a spatially compelling and dynamic presentation in a modest-sized room, with smaller loudspeakers, at lower volumes.
The JERNs are a fascinating product, but the brand may not have yet fully shown us what it’s capable of doing. The basic platform is indeed, as Ole Lund Christensen recognized when he first encountered it, “brilliant”—an enclosure that provides the kind of freedom from vibration, audible resonance, and coloration that the manufacturers of loudspeakers with aluminum or complex resin enclosures must go to considerably greater trouble to achieve. JERN sells a less expensive model, the 14 DS, which utilizes the exact same cast-iron enclosure and drivers as the 14 ES but substitutes a synthetic damping material for the real sheep wool and less exalted internal wiring. Might a deluxe version be a consideration, with custom-designed drivers to suit the one-of-a-kind cabinet, especially a more modern tweeter? What would a subwoofer made specifically to pair with the JERN14 ES be like? And could Christensen get around iron’s unfavorable strength-to-weight ratio to produce a larger, floorstanding JERN that wouldn’t be too heavy to appeal to the market? Time will tell.
In the meantime, any shortcomings in bass performance notwithstanding, the combination of two JERN14 ES’s and a single REL T/5i is as good a stereo loudspeaker system as I’ve heard for $5000. If you are interested in multichannel music, an additional three JERNs brings the total up to about $10k, an amount far lower than what you’d need to invest to realize a surround-sound loudspeaker system with Wilsons, Magicos, YGs, Rockports, or other transducers with heroically massive enclosures. The JERN/REL combination could provide long-term listening satisfaction, whether your musical tastes run to late-Romantic orchestral blockbusters, small group jazz, or—dare I say it?—heavy metal?
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way, closed box
Driver complement: One ¾" fabric dome tweeter; one 5¼" glass fiber woofer
Frequency response: 90Hz–20kHz
Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier requirements: 20–200 watts
Approximate maximum dimensions: 8" x 12" x 7"
Weight: 30.9 lbs.
Price: $1749 per speaker
Type: Closed-box, down-firing active subwoofer
Driver: 8" long-throw FibreAlloy woofer
Lower frequency response: –6dB at 32Hz
Amplifier: Class AB, 125 watts (RMS)
Dimensions: 10.5" x 12.5" x 12.7"
Weight: 26.5 lbs.
JERN damping plate for REL T/5i
Dimensions: 11.5" x 2.625" x 14.25"
Weight: 50.7 lbs. (23 kg)
AUDIO AUTOMATION (U.S. Distributor)
6022 Ardele Court
Apopka, FL 32703
REL ACOUSTICS LIMITED
North Road, Bridgend Industrial Estate
Bridgend, CF31 3TP
+44 (0)1 656 768 777