JERN14 ES Loudspeaker and REL T/5i Subwoofer

Heavy Metal

Equipment report
REL T/5i
JERN14 ES Loudspeaker and REL T/5i Subwoofer

On the T/5i’s rear panel are controls for adjusting level and phase, as well as the crossover frequency, from 30 to 120Hz. Christensen suggests beginning with the filter set at 120Hz. At that value, low male vocals were slightly colored; a setting of around 95Hz proved to be ideal. JERN’s 23kg cast-iron damping plate (it weighs nearly twice as much as the REL itself) significantly enhances the performance of the T/5i. The iron base is secured to the T/5i with four long screws that are inserted through the undersurface of the plate and through the REL’s four aluminum feet to the subwoofer. The T/5i has a price of $749; JERN’s damping plate adds another $499 but the improvement in bass articulation and control is well worth it.

There are a surprising number of options for installing a pair of JERN14 ES’s in a domestic setting. A significant expanse of the loudspeaker’s bottom surface is flat and the 14 ES can simply sit on a piece of furniture, up close to the front edge of its top surface. This is how I first heard the speakers at RMAF 2017, and they certainly made a good impression. However, JERN now includes with each 14 ES a hard solid-rubber ring, 6" in diameter, on which the speaker is placed. This better couples the JERN to the surface it’s on, both acoustically and mechanically, and allows for minute adjustments in toe-in and front-to-back tilt. In my experience, there’s no other speaker with which such adjustments can be made so easily—think of the last time you wrestled with a heavy spiked speaker to optimize imaging or tonal balance. For this evaluation, JERN supplied 36" Pangea Audio LS300 steel speaker stands ($250/pair, though Audio Advisor is selling them for $100/pair as I’m writing this) which have a 6" top plate on which the rubber ring fits perfectly. The LS300s were spiked and two of the three hollow supports filled with sand, in audiophile-approved fashion. But Christensen doesn’t feel that’s necessary—any unwanted vibrational energy has already been dissipated into the rubber ring, long before it can make its way to the spikes and floor, he told me. The one caveat about this arrangement is that it could be unacceptable in homes with toddlers: one investigational tug on a speaker cable could bring the cannonball-like JERN hurtling downwards.

JERN also manufactures metal stands, 95 cm (37.4") or 115 cm (45.3") in height. A hollow iron tube screws into the bottom of the 14 ES and attaches at the other end to a 50-pound base. Finally, there are JERN tripods—three wooden legs connected to a cast iron plate that is secured to the bottom of the speaker. Two sizes are available. One is intended to rest on a piece of furniture and the other attaches at the floor to a wooden ring. The JERN stands and tripods are relatively costly ($239 to $599) but are safer alternatives, if there are curious children (or rambunctious pets) around.

I was interested to hear the JERN14 ES loudspeakers in both a stereo and multichannel context. Christensen (and his U.S. distributor, Steve French of Apopka, Florida) obliged with five, plus the requisite Pangea stands. Music came from digital sources only—an Oppo 103 to play discs and a Baetis Reference 2 media computer to handle files. For stereo, the DAC was a T+A DAC 8 DSD; for multichannel, my Anthem D2v processor. To provide stereo amplification, I mostly used a pair of Pass Labs XA60.8 monoblocks, though a Parasound HCA 2200II (with a cost more in line with the JERN14 ES’s $3498-per-pair price) saw some service. For surround, a third XA60.8 powered the center channel and a Pass Aleph 0s drove the back speakers. Analog cables were Transparent Audio Generation 5; digital wires included Revelation Audio Labs (AES/EBU), Apogee (coaxial), and Transparent (HDMI) models.

The primary listening position was the same for both stereo and multichannel. The front left and right JERNs were 110" from that location with the center channel 113" away. The left surround was 83" from my ears and the right surround 74". (Asymmetries were addressed electronically with the Anthem’s DSP room correction software.) The subwoofer began in a corner but integration with JERNs was sub-optimal. Moving the T/5i to immediately in front of the center channel produced consistently good results.

In tonal accuracy and balance, the JERN/REL combination performed stunningly well—after two important adjustments were made. The first, as noted above, was reducing the sub’s crossover frequency from 120Hz to about 90–95Hz and the second was carefully adjusting the tilt of the JERNs so that the woofers were aimed at my ears. “The whole system has been aligned for the woofer to point to your ears precisely,” said Christensen. He explained that the dispersion characteristics for the tweeter are excellent, and those small drivers can be aimed over the head of a seated listener. However, at the 4000Hz crossover point of the larger driver, the dispersion isn’t great—thus the recommendation. When those two requirements were met, the tonal naturalness of the JERNs was as good as I’ve heard. Thomas Quasthoff’s baritone had just the correct blend of resonance and texture that makes his voice—or the voice of any great male singer—instantly identifiable. Likewise, the JERNs passed the “Old Italian Violin Test” with flying colors: The differences between Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesù instruments were obvious.

Musical detail was superb. The opening movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 has a lot going on simultaneously and listening to Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony was like having the score open in front of me. Toto’s classic rock staple “Africa” was engrossing, the myriad percussion elements, voicing of the synthesizers, and nuances of the rich vocal harmonies registering with unforced clarity. In the 1950s and 60s, the great jazz saxophonists were often recorded quite immediately, and the JERNs facilitated parsing the different embouchure approaches of, say, Lester Young and Sonny Rollins.