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On absolute polarity: If you feel deaf on a CD player's or preamp's polarity inversion feature, Strada and Reference 3.5 will have you smile. Flip polarity at the amplifier outputs. As Eduardo de Lima of Audiopax mathematically modeled many years ago, harmonic distortion behaviors of amplifiers and speakers interact in unpredictable ways. In one orientation, amp THD + speaker THD will add to more distortion than each produces individually. In the other, there'll be cancellation of out-of-phase THD components.

This is partial at best. On a percentile scale, it could be minuscule. However, with speakers as time-tweaked as these, even a little is audible. Anthony reports that with 70% of amplifiers he's tried, his speakers sound better wired inverted. Better—not necessarily absolute—polarity has more vitality, presence, focus, snap and more spectacular soundstaging. It's a very quick and free experiment. Anyone auditioning Stradas or Ref 3.5s should try them both ways just to be sure. What's right and how audible it'll be depends on the electronics. Chances are very good that you'll no longer feel deaf in this matter. So don't leave performance under the table which only takes a few seconds to optimize. Try both speaker cable polarities at the amplifier.

On le squish
: Anthony's new table-top/floor interface is viscoelastic. It's decoupling and as such, squishy. It's not the immutable rock. Push the speakers slightly to experience the intentional give. The wave launch inertia credo states that the only good driver baffle is one that can't move because it's been spiked, bolted or mass-loaded to your floor. Gallo's new scheme runs counter. On my massive concrete slab, the Reference 3.5 sounded best when perched on the optional—unfinished prototype—plate which itself was squished to the floor. I thus had two viscoelastic interfaces piggybacked for even greater give (not that I ever saw any movement during playback).

I tried the same material on my glass office desk by scissor cutting two ovals from a raw sheet of the stuff to fit underneath the table-top stands of the Stradas. I deliberately locked the table's height a long time ago to where it fully supports my forearms on the glass while I type. It's very comfortable and I've never had wrist issues. Until le squish however, all other cones, pucks and sundry doodads never completely prevented physical speaker vibrations from migrating through the glass. Some were disgustingly ineffective though beautiful to look at. Anthony's industrial petroleum-filled jelly finally does the business. Rollerblocks might work as well but they're a pain to install. Chalk up one more to Anthony's inquisitive nature on the acoustic properties of materials.

On bass
: Starting with my 25wpc FirstWatt transistors, bass in my space was solidly good into the low 30s. I never had the faintest subwoofer urges. My reference speakers use 3 x 8-inch front-firing woofers. Those do go a bit lower and displace more air but, they can also approach room overload. Whether it was the Gallos' smaller cone area or sidefiring orientation, I had less complications and fewer hot spots. Predictions and reality collided again. How a quarter cubic liter of internal air space behind a 10-inch woofer can work like this is a bit stupefying. SoundStage publisher Doug Schneider wrote that "...designer Anthony Gallo drove these speakers hard for us during our CES demo and I was blown away by the 3.5’s bass depth and impact. I never expected it from such a compact speaker design." Very much so.

Just as impressive was what it didn't take to get this bass. While premium class A designs, neither of my FirstWatt amps are bass chiselers in the old Krell vein. At 25 watts per, they're plainly on the lighter end of the power scale. Yet neither had any issues to make me run into the cellar and bring up Gallo's own bass amp. The new 8-ohm woofer load is clearly more responsive to 'lesser' amps than the predecessor was which Anthony routinely demoed with 500-watt Spectrons. You can still strap on the bullies—I did with the ModWright KWA-150 and big 130wpc Octave monos—but it's no longer a requirement and in a room my size and volume, arguably no advantage. The new €699 Audio Analogue Crescendo gain clone integrated for example was perfectly suitable. Ditto the Peachtree Audio iDecco. At whatever your budget, it's now down to shopping for amplifier refinement, not brute brawn. That's a potential cost savings.

More important than ultimate bass extension and output is articulation of course. Here the 3.5 seems to go farther than its predecessor which—comparatively speaking—was more one-noty instead. I love ambient 'organic techno' lounge stuff that mixes acoustic instruments recorded well with mellow grooves, low synths, big drums and plenty of fake ambience you can walk into and get lost in. Because this type of fare is audiophile on top and club only on the bottom, bass bloat telegraphs noticeably and objectionably. So does textural discontinuity when acoustic instruments are finely filigreed and the bass elephantine and murky. The only way to describe the 3.5's bass in these instances was ripped - wiry yet full, with solidity and appropriate mass but still plain quick on its feet.

During this review period, I quickly skipped to Italy for a factory tour of Absoluta Sound & Space. There I had opportunity to hear the big and small Armonia Loudspeaker hybrid panels with their folded isodynamic panels [below]. The amplifiers were 300-into-4 DC-coupled monos with 400kHz bandwidth and high slew rates. From above 400Hz where the panels were fully operational, resolution was electrostatic and highly dynamic. Below however, the spectral decay and transient power of the paralleled rear-ported dynamic woofers didn't keep up. The ear interpreted that as depressed bass response. Upper bass power at the ear was MIA. In my report I called it lightning in a sheet of Kevlar mated to a horse carriage to overdraw for emphasis. Very many film + cones hybrids suffer from combining disparate driver technologies. Gallo's film tweeter plus cone mid/bass marriage squarely does not. It speaks very highly to integration benefits of Gallo's latest refinements.

My 98dB Rethm Saadhana speakers with their isobarically horn-loaded bass systems are better balanced than the present Armonias but dynamically still quiet nonlinear. Their midrange and presence region leads in reflexes which conveys exceptional speed, clarity and energy particularly on vocals. Still, it's a—very attractively—skewed perspective that imposes itself as a signature or finger print and on large-scale orchestral lacks bottom-end grunt and air displacement.

The Reference 3.5 doesn't sound as spectacularly fast as the Italians and Indians because its dynamic response is more linear and its integration of the power region with the higher bands superior. One gets the benefits of speed but not the feverish rush. Things are more relaxed and easy, not flashy and charged.

On the presence region
: As Anthony explained, the new bevel on the midrange spheres creates a baffle step correction that fills out a previous small dip in the handover region to the tweeter. In practice this creates more fleshiness on vocals and steps away from the leaner electrostatic nature I described in my original Reference review.

On the CDTIII: Here too the designer's latest thinking and tweaks take us away from the edge of spectacle and deeper into integration. The Reference 3 had spectacular treble like a charismatic person laying it on to turn heads. The 3.5 creates the same effects of holographic staging but withdraws from attention as their maker. This tweeter also lacks the fine metallic and tizzy sheen I heard with ribbons previously (only the RAAL was completely free of them) and the pushiness of AMTs (Burmester and M&D). Lest you mistake stepping back from spectacle as a criticism, it's the opposite. This is a more finely balanced and honed design that's less obvious and more natural.

And, this tweeter won't oxidize like the previous one. "We applied a new ultra-thin coating on the Kynar film which completely eliminates the previous oxidation discolorations. Did you know that the only way to destroy this tweeter is by applying 5200 volts to it? Even then it would take a microscopic tear through the membrane to cause destructive arcing. We limited the matching transformer on the CDTIII to 1200 Volts—which would represent an input of well over 500 watts— so this really is a bullet-proof design."

: As I quoted Anthony in my Strada review, "this new technology is very simple but highly effective. It grew out of experiments prompted by personal frustration over lifting the speaker cables off my room's synthetic carpet time and again with each change of installation. But the improvement was clearly audible so I needed a solution that would allow me to leave the wires on the carpet. Long story short, we now wrap an insulated wire which is charged from the positive binding post around the signal-carrying leads inside the speaker. I use three revolutions per foot. This charges the electromagnetic fields of the signal-carrying hookup wire with identical signal from the outside. Here is the magic part. This cancels out the interference from parasitic electrostatic charges that are generated by our synthetic damping material. S2 of course is vital to the overall recipe. Not only does it extend the bandwidth of the drivers which are loaded by it, it also eliminates the single standing wave of all spheres which our diameter puts right at 3.7kHz and in the heart of the presence region. Previously the perforated steel cylinder core of the CDT tweeter—that's what we band our special Urethane rebound foam around to act as the restorative force for the Kynar diaphragm—was filled with an absorptive synthetic material. We now changed this to a diffusive copper mesh into which we embed the terminus of the counter-measure wire. This eliminates buildup of electrostatic charges inside the CDTIII and really improves its clarity."

Gallo's own speaker cable expected to sell for ca. $600/3m/pr incorporates the charged outer spiral wire which terminates in a banana-fitted free end that plugs straight into the single OPT input, thereby creating a direct but isolated connection from your amplifier all the way to the tweeter core through the synthetic filler materials of the speaker. For users of non-Gallo cabling, the company includes a short lead that connects from the + post of each speaker to the same OPT input.

To enable the feature, simply make the above red connection. To disable it, pull it out. The effect is similar to the just reviewed LessLoss Blackbodies, albeit not as pronounced when six of those devices are used. Transient fidelity improves and the rapport with music energy heightens.

On Gallo's own cable: Girthy and stiff, this wire replaced my customary ASI LiveLine. Gallo's had more mass, density and fullness. Franck Tchang's had the more informative sophisticated upper end. On my leaner, faster and more lit up FirstWatt amps, I predict more folks would favor the Gallo leads.

Value: No, it's no longer the extreme value the clearly underpriced Reference 3 was. But this remains a superlative performer at a mid-level tariff. For perspective, consider that during the same Absoluta Sound & Space visit, I auditioned the $20.800/pr Sonus Faber Elipsa in two quite different rooms. As my descriptions in that report will suggest, I consider the Gallos the better speaker. To my ears, they aren't even close. These new 3.5s are a reference speaker which again performs on a higher plateau than its current sticker predicts.

The monster value is the Strada + TR3 combo at half the price. Because it lacks stereo bass and the floorstanders' dynamic punch and fortitude in the more seamlessly integrated upper bass, it seems even more highly resolved. That's a tonal balance illusion incurred from a textural upshift in frequency which places more focus on the upper bands. Those into electrostatic sound could favor the threesome combo for that reason.

Adding up:
+ Highly resolved but relaxed rather than flashy.
+ Evenly dynamic and far more micro-endowed than the 88dB spec would suggest. One can play quietly without dissatisfaction. That's the perfect definition of real resolution.
+ Previous trade show encounters have me convinced that Anthony Gallo habitually listens far louder than I do. I'm thus in the dark as to this speaker's true macro capabilities. I can only reiterate how various CES 2010 commentary reported that on demand, Anthony pressed the redline point and made converts even with the very hard of hearing.
+ Very extended in either direction to not require a subwoofer in most reasonable applications. While I own the optional Gallo bass amp, I wasn't compelled in the least to even try it.
+ Very fast but not zippy. The sound is precisely timed yet far from metronomic. The key words again are easy and relaxed.
+ Shockingly stumpy of stature given the cavernous soundstage they throw. The 3.5 apparently stages taller than the discontinued version but never having had issues before—I always shortened the back spikes and lengthened the front ones on the 3/3.1—I didn't key into this difference.
+ The 3.5's revised woofer voice coil impedance makes it a clearly easier load than before. A good 50-watt amplifier is a perfectly rational baseline recommendation.

As someone with a penchant for tubes and many makes and models worth of experience with mostly the SET variety, I leashed up my beefy push/pull pentode 130-watt Octave monos expecting bliss. I soon returned to Nelson Pass' transistors. At my volumes which apparently barely taxed the Teutonic heavyweights, they just didn't exhibit the same fine reflexes to quite downplay this speaker's special virtues. Things got too fleshy. My 8wpc Yamamoto 300B SET had more than sufficient gain from its C3m drivers but lack of bass control and overall current again caused results that were too sluggish by comparison. The big ModWright was warmer and beefier than I fancied so the majority of listening occurred over either the J2 or F5. Of those two, I ultimately favored the F5. Expecting otherwise, I was nearly shocked just how well the iDecco did. It's perfect on the Stradas where I'd recommend it as the ultimate desktop combo. On the 3.5s, the FirstWatt amp went farther on overall control and articulation particularly on complex large-scale stuff. But the iDecco was far more than mere stop gap. That frankly surprised me. And it reiterated that the 3.5s are very friendly to amps.

The final word
... is for present Ref owners committing to upgrade. Anyone prepared to shell out 10K or more for a pair of loudspeakers should include the new Gallos. The only real question mark of such inclusion is appearance. Our household embraced it from day one but tastes do vary. The great unknown is how entrenched Gallo lovers will feel about reinvesting their original outlay. The operation involves all new drivers, new midrange spheres, upgraded filter parts and a new plinth. Save for the stem, woofer canister and fill, it's a gutting job. The bill seems more than fair as one does replace half the goods. Unpredictable is how patients will feel about this post op. Actual conversion commentaries must fill that gap.

My personal speaker journey has presently climaxed in Franck Tchang's €18.500/pr Tango R. The Gallo Reference 3.5 now turns out to be a true kinsman covering the same sonic bases. Clearly there's major overlap of what's important to their respective designers. Perhaps mostly psychological due to their smaller stature which stands less in front of the virtual stage, the Gallos seem to stage spookier. They displace less air in the bass but in my setup, actually cause no room-lock issues on very bass-heavy material. It's on secondary highest harmonics where—due to the internal resonators probably—the Tangos have the advantage of longer decay trails and more sparkly fire in cymbals, triangles and flageolet violin in the Tzigane Russe style of Oleg Ponomarev and Oleksandr Klimas [Talisman].

An essential point to make is that in all this talk of improved—or sharpened—timing, the end result is less audible sharpness. As Green Mountain Audio's Roy Johnson explained in person, misaligned speakers with 'early tweeters' deliver harmonics to the ear before the matching fundamentals. That's what causes edginess, hyper image contours and the lot. The sizzle arrives before the steak. Another byproduct of misalignment is subtle blurring. Fixing it creates greater ease of perception but also leans out the sound. That's because fine blurring and fuzziness are often synonymous with warmth. It's fake warmth to be sure but nonetheless perceived as such. Strip it away and you get something relatively leaner. Because the Ref 3.5 has a properly integrated power response in the upper bass (the most salient difference to the Strada), this 'leanness' isn't of thinness but vitality. It's about stripping excess pounds to become fitter, not going hermit haggard.

Compact, materially dense, geometrically complex, built with quality and exclusive components—the tweeter is utterly unique—the return of the Gallo Reference 3 in now point 5 iteration is another triumph of very clever engineering. The difference to the predecessor is how this engineering was applied. It's mostly invisibly this time but no less effective. These are now evolutionary refinements of a fully proven recipe. Unexpected is how far these refinements went. We must perversely thank economic torture for, on the Reference 3.1, forcing Anthony Gallo into a do-or-die corner. He probably surprised even himself by how necessity became the mother of invention and how nobly the final result responded. I surely am. The Reference 3.5 should continue to needle pricier competitors. It remains fully worthy of our Blue Moon award, in this rare instance augmented by the earlier Lunar Eclipse distinction.
Quality of packing: Pre-production and not representative of final carton.
Reusability of packing: Based on the 3/3.1's I'm familiar with, should be multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: The speaker's compactness makes it easy to cradle in the arms.
Condition of component received: Flawless. Plinths not highly polished yet as they're said to be in final production.
Completeness of delivery: No owner's manual yet.
Human interactions: Directly with the designer and very candid and informative.
Pricing: High value for performance.
Final comments & suggestions: Very responsive to polarity at the amplifier. Experiment with both possibilities. This will be different from amp to amp. No longer requires muscle amps to do excellent bass. The petroleum-impregnated viscoelastic floor interface left short-term 'wet' patches on my concrete which evaporated over a few days.

Anthony Gallo Acoustics website