The Jern11 is the least expensive model in a range that shares the same cabinet casting but differs in the choice of drive units, Ole likens it to VW’s Golf where you can have a variety of spec levels built around the same chassis which helps to keep costs down across the range. The tweeter is a 22mm Wavecor model with a textile membrane and a foam ring on the mounting plate to absorb diffracted sound and provide a smoother response (it says here). The mid/bass driver has a 146mm chassis and a woven glass fibre cone, the centre pole of the magnet structure is ventilated and the magnet system itself is described as ‘large’ albeit without any figures on coil size being given. A first order, phase linear crossover divides the incoming signal but Jern doesn’t disclose the frequency they have chosen for this split. They do say that the crossover components includes a Mundorf polypropylene capacitor and an air core coil.
Ole recommends that the Jern11 be placed close to a rear wall as they were “designed using my recording studio experience of room acoustics and studio monitors in 2Pi in-wall placement.” 2Pi means that the front baffle is in the same plane as the wall, eg the bulk of the speaker is in the wall a la soffit mounting, so the best that can be done in the home is putting the Jern as close as possible. This approach reinforces the bass that they produce as does following the recommendation to put the listening seat against a wall where possible. Jern specifies the response as “Typically 45Hz in room” which is remarkable for such a compact speaker, but the LF response of sealed boxes tends to fall off much more sharply than their more popular reflex loaded brethren.
I installed the Jern11s atop a pair of Hi-Fi Racks wooden stands which have usefully flat tops when it comes to supporting a stout rubber ring, then attempted to get them to sit straight. Initially I used the Bryston 4B3 power amplifier that was in the system to power them, which is rather a pricey choice for this speaker but it did work very nicely indeed. First impressions count for something and with this speaker that impression is: how can such a big sound come from such small speakers. It’s an impression that returns with track after track. This is allied to the remarkable ability that the Jern has to ‘disappear’ in the soundstage, close your eyes with many recordings and it’s very difficult to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. This is a trick that small speakers tend to be better at but the choice of cabinet material here means that the Jern11 does it better than most. The fact that the ‘box’ is not vibrating to the same degree as wooden examples means that it doesn’t radiate sound that blurs the image and makes the speaker more obvious. On Bobby Hutcherson’s ‘Prints Tie’ [San Francisco, Blue Note] the notes of his vibraphone appear as if by magic in mid air, and they are solid and rounded with it, not just fleeting chimera.
Vocals fare very well too, midrange is clearly where these speakers excel, I have recently discovered Michael Chapman’s first two albums of folk rock and his voice on the song ‘Aviator’ [Fully Qualified Survivor, Harvest] projects so well on these Jerns that you can’t help be enthralled by it. They get to the heart of the slightly dense recording and pull out the tone of the cello and violin used in the backing. I checked out the low end capabilities with Nils Frahm’s ‘An Aborted Beginning’ [Spaces, Erased Tapes] where there are some deep synth notes. These went down a long way given the speaker size but I don’t think they made the ‘typical’ figure that Jern quotes, still the air was clearly excited and the bass could be felt. This speaker can kick too, the punch of the electronics on many tracks comes through loud and clear, and yes, you can play at high levels if your amp is up to it.
Out of interest I tried to find out how it would perform without a great deal of power behind it and hooked up a Naim Uniti Atom with all of 40 Watts. This delivered a much more relaxed and warm balance that lacked control in the bass but had beguiling fluidity. The speed trumped the tonal issues and made for some highly enjoyable listening, especially with Joni Mitchell’s normally thin sounding ‘All I Want’ [Blue, A&M] where voice and guitar both sounded beautiful with this streamer amp and speaker combo. Even a Mozart Concerto was hard to turn off thanks to the speaker’s ability to resolve the musical charm of the performance.
Switching to the considerably more powerful Leema Tucana II proved the turning point for these speakers in my system, now their timing capabilities came right to the fore and had me hooked from the first bar. The Grateful Dead’s ‘Cumberland Blues’ [Europe ’72, Warner Bros] is not the sweetest of recordings in this set up but there’s no doubting the propulsive nature of the performance or the Jern11’s ability to project the sound in a coherent and energetic fashion. Apparently Ole looked to the work of Roy Allison (AR, Acoustic Research) rather than the folks at Kingswood Warren (the BBC research centre that gave us the LS3/5a) but the use of a compact sealed box gives these Jern’s a lot of the latter’s qualities. But I’ve not heard an LS3/5a with the solidity and speed that these heavyweights do, so maybe the thin-walled box of the BBC designs has its limits. Of course, once you get beyond the medium-sized bookshelf, the advantages of cast iron enclosure are outweighed (pun intended) by its weight.