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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Hyperion Sound BEC-P25T
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308; First Watt F1 & F3
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Zu Cable Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on Definitions; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $2,995/pr
From Mena Finkel, Anthony Gallo's office and export manager with the beguiling South African accent: "Please note that all Ref3s shipped after September 1, 2005 were 3.1 versions." Was there a serial number cutoff so anxious audiophiles -- hey, I know our kind -- can know for sure whether their pair without the tweeter contour switch is oh-one or not? "There is no serial # cut off because of all the various colors and options we have going. Customers can call Gallo Acoustics to verify if his or her Ref3 is a 3.1."
Boy do I wonder whether charming Mena knows the trouble she just invited. Her phone will be ringing off the hook. Few speakers which 6moons has reviewed continue to generate as much reader feedback and questions as the Zus and Gallos. That's because in our four-year history, only two products have ever been awarded our most exclusive recognition; what we call our Lunar Eclipse Award. Following inquiries on how the Zu Druids and Gallo Ref3s compare, we get stacks of questions on how the Ref3s and Ref3.1s ... um, stack up.
Actually, Mena does know this stack. "I love talking to anxious 'philes." That's what the lady said. Verbatim. Then she told me to give you her toll-free number: 800.459.4183. I'm not making this up. But before you get the wrong idea, "everyone here has access to the details of the Ref3 progress to 3.1." If you don't have Mena on the line, you'll still get the proper intel on your goods. That's organized. The left hand knows what the right one's doing.
But the maestro knows more. "There is one surefire way to know if you have a Ref 3.1. If you bring a ferrous/steel object close to the side of the midrange sphere, you will feel some magnetic attraction from the old Ref 3's midrange. You won't on a Ref 3.1 midrange sphere. Since the driver change is the last change we made, any speaker with no magnetic attraction would be a Ref 3.1. All the spheres are stainless and don't shield the magnetism. The new neodymium-motor drivers are inherently shielded due to the different magnetic circuit topology. - Anthony." No need to call Mena then though it's well worth it just for her accent. It's the bomb.
From John Potis' feature review of the Ref3.1, we learn that "less than three years after introduction of the Ref 3, Anthony's already returned to the drawing board to further refine what many have already called a giant killer. The main and most important differences between the old and the new version are as follows: The tweeter level control of the Ref 3 is gone. This is said to have improved high frequency micro dynamics as well as reliability. Gallo also replaced the non-polar electrolytic capacitor in the 1st-order series crossover with a metalized polypropylene equivalent said to eliminate a grayish coloration in the midrange as well as to enhance low-level information. Lastly, the midrange driver motor structure now utilizes a Neodymium magnet with an under-hung design. This allowed a shorter and lighter voice coil. According to Gallo, this reduced driver inductance and improved transient response as well as the upper midrange band for better integration with the tweeter. The smaller Neodymium magnet also increased air volume within the sphere and thus added lower midrange body."
Today's follow-up is brief. No foreplay, no prolonged studly action, just afterglow confessions. Anthony Gallo's CES 2006 showing garnered unusually enthusiastic feedback including Stereophile's. Listeners who had reviewed the originals -- Chris Martens from The Absolute Sound and Mr. Bound for Sound Martin DeWulf for example -- reportedly gushed to Anthony over how much better the new version sounded to them. "Off the record, I had a really good room," confided Anthony. "Yes, the new Refs are better. But I don't think they are as much better as some of these guys thought based on our demo. It was simply one of those things. The room and the equipment we had (Arcam full metal jacket CDP, Sonic Euphoria TVC, Spectron's latest Musician switch-mode amplifier) conspired to really sing. How much of the overall performance credit should go to synergy and how much to the improvements I made to the Reference 3 - well, I simply don't know. I do know these reviewers were very impressed." I could nearly hear Anthony blush on the other end of the line as his voice got kinda sheepish. Modesty and honesty. You gotta love a designer who has achieved tremendous recognition for ultra-performance affordable speakers but refuses to let his head explode.
To Anthony, a Gallo balls-to-the-flagship speaker would have to significantly outperform the $3,000 Ref 3.1 to justify its existence. If you've read the reviews on the Ref3 and 3.1 and have a standard-size room, you'll appreciate the inherent challenge. These speakers leave nothing under the table. Their creator is keenly cognizant that if he ever were to author a CDT-equipped super speaker, it would have to kill and bury the Ref 3.1 within the first 30 seconds of play. And be audible to even the most casual listener. Even then, he remains adamant that High-End audio must remain within reach of mortals. He's sweating the tiniest details to bring in his offerings at the best price he can and is vehemently opposed to pricing schemes that treat audio as fine art, jewelry or fashion. So the improved Ref3.1 only went to $2,995/pr, $400 up from the original Ref3 sticker. Is it mo betta enough by four medium large ones?
Yes, in two areas. Both are incidentally improved transition points, between the woofer/mids and mids/tweeter. Most noticeable is the new mechanical handover between balls and CDT II. It's not only smoother but what might have been a small response depression in the transit region before has been filled in for more energy, openness and transparency in the upper presence band. That's what every listener will hear right away: the Ref 3.1s are more transparent on vocals and transcend a minor reticence of the original. What takes a bit more attention to suss out at first -- once you've got it identified, you'll also hear it right away -- is the superior integration between the bass and mid bands. That, I believe, has to do with the capacitor change. Being a series crossover part, its effects reach well past the actual crossover point. In fact, the new caps may be the primary reason for the presence-band improvements. Still, the actual upper/bass lower/mid transition is more seamless as well and now lacks the occasional tendency for thickening male vocals. The end result, again, is more transparency and apparent speed through the vocal band. That's it.
|That's it? Remember, we're not talking a complete redesign. It's about evolutionary changes. What on paper reads small is rather apparent in the listening. Most of the improvements occur in the frequency domain where human hearing is most astute - 1,000 to 4,000Hz. The smoother upper bass resides in what we call the power zone of music. Improvements here are thus readily demonstrable as well. After all, musical energy and life factor tie in directly with this region. I think it's fair to say that the Reference 3.1 operates with even higher resolution than its predecessor. That makes the Reference moniker even more fitting. After all, the foundation of high fidelity is resolution - the ability to present what's on the source software without deleting or obscuring any data.
|Put differently, any speaker with even the most minimal of electronic (or mechanical) crossovers struggles to hide its transition points to convey to the listener an unbroken expanse of sounds from the lowest to the highest. Continuousness is the name of this game. The evolutionary refinements of the Ref 3.1 address this very subject. The end result is a smoother, more coherent speaker with apparently even higher resolving power in the vocal band and a more seamless integration of the bass. $400 for those privileges are well spent indeed. So is the Ref 3.1 an audibly better speaker than the Ref 3? Hell yes. The only fly in this ointment is the ongoing need for proper break-in. Think hi-current transistors and bass-heavy diet at elevated levels. Forget SETs during this process. Once the Refs are cooked, SETs work just fine (though they may not give you all the bass the|
|speaker is capable of). But to go from rare to beyond medium rare requires current, something SETs don't deliver. So use transistors for break-in and figure on somewhere between 100 to 250 hours to hear what all the reviews are talking about. Don't do this -- i.e. hook up the Refs to an 18-watt triode amp from the get -- and you won't hear the glory 2 years from now. It's never gonna happen that way, end of story, period, grinding teeth.
And while I have your ear, one more thing. The CDT tweeter uses a silver-clad Kynar foil diaphragm. Exposed to air, silver oxidizes. Accordingly, the tweeter will discolor over time and turn brown [see above]. That doesn't mean it's broken. It means it's seasoned. It's par for the course and not audible so don't call Mena about that...
|Anthony Gallo responds:
Really well written and gets to the nitty-gritty in great detail. The Ref 3.1 and later Ref 3s have a black tweeter grill on all finishes, which makes the "seasoned" tweeter film look less objectionable. The improvements you heard are exactly what the differences are between the 3 & 3.1. Thanks, a comparison written like this should answer most questions your readers have and cut down on the confusion.