SET Asylum: REVIEW: Wavelength Audio Gemini Amplifier (Tube) by JeffR
Single Ended Triodes (SETs), the ultimate tube lovers dream.
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Simply beautiful. Two words to describe the appearance and sound quality of Wavelength Audio’s Gemini series amplifiers. The construction of these monoblock tube amplifiers is impeccable. Gordon Rankin is a perfectionist and it shows in his attention to detail and aesthetics. The amps I purchased are the new Parafeed version of the Gemini’s finished in gleaming stainless steel with a cherry wood top.
These are the second Wavelength product I have owned. Several years ago, I purchased a Wavelength Junior – the former “baby” of the Wavelength line. This was an EL-84 based integrated which has long been discontinued. I have regretted selling this piece and always wanted to purchase another of Wavelength’s products. Along come the Gemini’s ….
The first time I saw pictures of the “Low Watt” series of amplifiers from Wavelength, I knew I wanted a pair. I had been reading in the SET Asylum of the virtues of single-ended triodes for a long time. Most intriguing to me were the comments on the flea sized power amps featuring tubes such as the 2A3’s or 45’s. Low and behold, the Gemini was configurable to use either tube … I was in love!
My experience with tube amps, while not extensive, has been a mixed bag. Most of the tube amps I have owned have sounded great, BUT there have been operational problems. One ate power tubes on a quarterly basis, another featured noisy input tubes that constantly had to be replaced. One, in the words of the manufacturer, “totaled itself” for unknown reasons. My trust in tube amp manufacturers was a little jaded, except for Wavelength. In the three years I owned the Junior, there was not a single operational problem. Confidence in the company allowed me to plunk down the green with out ever hearing the amps. Now I know some (or even most) of you probably think this is a BAD idea, but I had the speakers to match with an amp of this type. So for me, it was a “no brainer”, Wavelength was my brand.
I placed my order for the amps the first week of March. I waited with MUCH anticipation until their arrival last Friday (3.16.2001). Wavelength’s packaging protects the amps even from the evil UPS / FedEx drivers and their assaults. Set-up is VERY simple and straight forward. The owners manual is detailed regarding tube placement, adjustment for tube type and amplifier placement. Within 30 minutes, I was up and running. With the rest of my equipment connected, I was finally ready to sit down and listen.
I guess this would be a good point to list my associated equipment:
·Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player
·Plinius Passive linestage (Alp’s pot and Siltech silver wiring)
·Or a Morrison ELAD active linestage
·Wavelength Geminis w/ Cunningham 345 output tubes (I also purchased Sovtek 2A3’s but have not tried them as of yet)
·ReTHM loudspeakers featuring the Lowther DX3 drivers
·REL Strata II subwoofer
·47 Labs Storatos cables throughout (speaker and IC’s)
Most noticeable on powering up the amplifiers is how incredibly quiet they are (they do exhibit a 60hz hum for the first 20 seconds or so which disappears completely – this is normal and is also covered in the owners manual). Even with my 102db efficient ReTHM loudspeakers, no noise can be heard from less than 1 ft from the driver. They are even quieter than my other amplifier, the solid state 47 Labs Gaincard.
The first CD I chose to listen to was Luka Bloom’s excellent Turf disc. The acoustic guitar was beautifully rendered. There is a natural fullness and roundness to the notes that draws you into the music. The vocals hang in space, perfectly centered between the speakers. Lowther speakers are known for their forward (some would say aggressive) perspective. The Gemini’s seem to complement this trait by being a touch laid back. The result is a more relaxed presentation than with the Gaincard but still exquisitely detailed.
Cassandra Wilson’s Blue Light Til Dawn CD sounded fantasic. The piano was reproduced realistically and showed the dynamic capabilities of the Lowther drivers. Even my wife, who teaches piano was greatly impressed. The sounds of the brass and bells blended superbly with the vocals. Cassandra’s voice was deep and soulful with more body than I have heard. On certain songs you could hear her drawing breath between lines – something I had not previously noted.
The Gemni’s could also play more complex music. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was easily handled by the system. Even during the most dynamic passages, the amplifiers never showed any sign of stress.
Solo violin was the best I have heard in my home. The playing of Itzak Perlman on the soundtrack to Schindler’s List was haunting. I have a CD of solo piano and cello titled The River by Keitel Bjornstad and David Darling. This has been one of my favorites since the day I purchased it. With the Gemini’s in the system, the music could nearly bring me to tears – the sadness and melancholy of the cello was incredibly rendered.
Soundstaging/Imaging with the Gemini’s slightly exceeded that of the Gaincard. Some of this is probably attributable to the monoblock design. The less forward presentation also lended recordings an enhanced sense of depth (especially with vocals) and space.
Possibly the most noticeable characteristic of the Gemini’s is their ability to completely involve you in the music even at low volumes. Normally to get full enjoyment from my discs I play them at a realistic volume. With the Gemini’s, even low volume settings draw you in and captivate you. It is almost impossible to concentrate on other things while listening to music. Normally I sit in my listening room and read while playing music, but now I find it VERY difficult to “tune out” the music and concentrate on what I am reading. If I want to read and have music, I have to go into another room.
They also exhibit a remarkable top to bottom coherence. The high end is very extended, easily matching the Gaincard in this respect (albeit Lowther speakers are not the most extended speakers on the market). In the bass, the Gemini’s tend to be a little fuller than the Gaincard but without the same tightness and definition. This actually helps the ReTHM speakers, which are by nature lean, to blend more easily with the REL subwoofer. In fact, with the Gemini’s the crossover on the subwoofer could be set at a lower level.
In conclusion, the Wavelength’s are the best amplifiers I have owned. They even best the outstanding 47 Labs Gaincard in my set-up. They are small, and because of the monoblock configuration, can be placed close to your main speakers. The build quality is state of the art and appearance is beautiful without being “overdone”. Wavelength Audio and Gordon Rankin have an excellent reputation for their products and their level of service. If you have speakers of high enough efficiency to complement the Gemini’s, I would highly recommend them.
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Topic - REVIEW: Wavelength Audio Gemini Amplifier (Tube) Review by JeffR at Audio Asylum - JeffR 16:16:33 03/22/01 ( 5)
- Enjoyed your review - Will probably only get better! <nt> - mobile homeless 09:58:24 03/25/01 ( 0)
Sounds great - low hum and noise are becoming grails for me. - Dave VH 19:22:25 03/22/01 ( 0)
Good choice in amps! - Kurt Strain 17:16:26 03/22/01 ( 0)
Wavelength Audio Gemini Amplifier (Tube) - Gordon Rankin 17:08:09 03/22/01 ( 0)
Excellent review - Jack G 16:32:15 03/22/01 ( 0)