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After I spiked and leveled the Custom Design stands, I placed the Callistos' bases on top followed by the speakers. The base attaches to the bottom of the enclosure via a pair each of adjustable spikes and stubby posts that fit into recessed housings on the cabinet bottom. The spikes should be at the rear to allow for precise vertical alignment depending on listening height. I adjusted the height by loosening the lock nuts with a wrench and slightly tilting the speaker so I could adjust the spike. I obtained proper speaker alignment by carefully picking up both the stand and speaker together. A little fiddly for sure but certainly not difficult. However, I did place four small globs of Blu-Tac between the base and the stand for a more secure connection. I was not keen on having my foot crushed by 56 lbs of Q-Stone! Your ears should measure 4.5 inches below the top of the speaker if you sit 8 to 10 away. While I used a tape measure to set up the Callistos, I suspect I could have done it by ear. When you get it right, you will know it.


The Callisto ships with a detailed, easy-to-read manual explaining proper setup. GMA recommends an equal-legged T configuration for optimal performance, which is essentially a variation on the equilateral triangle method. First, separate the outboard rear corners of the speakers by a set distance, then position your listening spot at the same distance from the mid-point of that line between the speakers. From your chair, this should create a 53° spread and with proper toe-in, roughly an inch of the enclosures' sides should be visible. In my room, I obtained truly staggering results with the front baffles measuring approximately 42" from the back wall and with 8 feet separating the outer rear cabinet corners. The listening position was 8 feet away from this line, thus creating the equal-legged T. The enclosed booklet offers further detailed instructions for proper toe in and other minor adjustments. It took me less than an hour to align the Callistos optimally. Interestingly, through trial and error I had previously arrived at a similar configuration for my Kestrel 2s and other speakers, as they all have consistently performed optimally with this arrangement.


My samples were fully broken in so critical listening could begin immediately. Unfortunately, there was something very wrong with one of the speakers. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the magnet assembly of one of the woofers had sheared off and disappeared into the damping material inside the speaker. I suspect this sample had fallen from a great height or received some powerful impact en route. Upon contacting Roy, he was prepared to replace the speakers but since this was a simple repair, we agreed I could do it. He shipped me a matched replacement woofer and several inches of solder. It took all of twenty minutes to get it up and running.


When I first fired up the Callistos, my wife walked into my room, sat down and closed her eyes. I waited patiently for her appraisal, which, unlike reviewers, is direct and to the point. While most reviewers attempt to find at least one positive attribute with even the most disappointing of gear, there are only two types of audio products in her mind: those that sound right and those that sound completely wrong. There is no middle ground. After a spell, she turned and said these were indeed the best speakers she had heard in our home, ever. When asked why, she simply offered, "I only hear the music. I can't hear the speakers at all".


Thank you dear; now go pen your own review. A few seconds later she turned, looked me directly in the eye and ordered, "You are not buying those". Moments later, she asked how much they were. When I told her, the-love-of-my-life did not wince nor burst out laughing as she did when I mentioned what the Isoclean gear I previously reviewed retailed for. Definitely a good sign for continued harmonious marital bliss. She was indeed correct in her comments on the inaudibility of the enclosures. After several weeks of living with the Callistos, it was impossible to identify any cabinet resonances - or anything else for that matter that was unnatural or unmusical. Talk about an open window on the performance. The resolution of minute musical detail was staggering. The Callistos did not just open the window; they picked me up and dropped me straight into the expensive seats at the Concertgebouw for a rousing blast of Messiaen courtesy of Ricardo Chailly [Decca 470 627-2]. Then it was off to the It Club in Los Angeles for the inscrutable Thelonius Monk [Columbia C2K 65288]. From left coast to right, I popped into Neil Young's farm for a little high-octane guitar grunge [Classic Records VAP 110]. I was hooked. "Buckle your seat Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye."


I pulled out two of my most cherished recordings: a four-disc set of Duke Ellington's Complete Columbia & RCA Victor Sessions [Definitive DRCD11170] and a three-disc set of Count Basie's complete American Decca Recordings [Definitive DRCD11173], all lovingly restored at budget prices by Spanish label Disconforme. Considering that most of these tracks date back to the 1930s, I continue to be surprised over just how real and visceral they sound. Sure, they are limited in dynamic range and bandwidth but these discs sound remarkably real. Since they were all recorded live back in the days prior to multi-tracking, mixing and overdubbing, it should not have come as a surprise. Did you know that the importance of time/phase coherence in loudspeaker design was well known back then? What happened? Paraphrasing Morpheus from The Matrix, the belief that time and phase coherence are not important and inaudible "is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth".


Next, I brought out the big guns and gave the Callistos a double-tap of Valery Gergiev, in blistering performances of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring [Philips 468 035-2] and Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony [Philips 462 905-2]. The Callistos performed admirably in recreating the scale and excitement of an orchestra in full flight without, of course, subterranean bass. However, the bass was so punchy and fluid, I hardly noticed nor did I ever feel a subwoofer was necessary to enjoy large-scale works or Rock'n'Roll. I could easily pick out the various sections of the orchestra without any confusion or congestion. Imaging was rock-solid without any drift.


I could not find any musical genre the Callistos could not handle. I was thoroughly captivated by Wilco's awesome A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch/Rhino Vinyl R1-76492], Marianne Faithfull's beautifully depressing Before The Poison [Naive 86732-2], Paco De Lucia's Flamenco classic, Cositas Buenas [Universal 0249866066], Ghazal's intriguing fusion of Persian and Indian music [ECM 1840], Barenboim's Parsifal [Teldec 9031-74448-2] and the always entertaining Back In Black [Epic 80207] by those lovable Aussies, AC/DC.


The Callistos displayed exceptional immediacy, transparency and incisiveness. Beats fell where they were supposed to. The bass did not lag and excess fat was trimmed for a squeaky clean sonic window into the recorded event. What really surprised me was the remarkable soundstage depth these speakers created. Sure, we've all heard the back wall disappear but with the Callistos, my next-door neighbor's wall vanished, too. Unfortunately, the more expensive Living Voice Auditoriums I had in for review at the same time suffered in comparison to these upstarts from the Green Mountain. After hearing the Callistos, I could not get past the boxy nature of the Auditoriums. Nor did they posses anything resembling the resolution of the Callistos. However, the Brits did offer warmer, bloomier sonics plus a more extended bass that might appeal to audiophiles who could find the Callistos a little cool. I certainly did not.


The treble was wonderfully open and clean with absolutely no trace of grain or sibilance. I cannot recall anther speaker at this price point that handles 'esses' and 'tees' as adeptly as the Callistos. They were completely devoid of hash or edge. Music sounded wide open and alive like a living, breathing entity - not unlike live music. The Callistos exhibited terrific dynamic range for such a modestly proportioned loudspeaker and displayed remarkable freedom from smearing and blurring.


As a result of their near-constant impedance and minimal phase shift, low power output amps should have little difficulty driving the Callistos. I suspect they will sound consistent with a great variety of amplifiers, which is something that cannot be said for most incoherent speakers. I observed no issues with the 200-watt Stello M200 monos, the 50-watt Manley Labs Stingray, the 40-watt Audio Zone AMP-1 or even the wee 5-watt Sonic T. I felt I was hearing all these amplifiers had to offer. I even auditioned the Callistos driven by $50,000 of Emotive Audio SET power at Toronto audio retailer Applause Audio. The Callistos impressed even heavily jaded proprietor Rob Doughty. Just keep in mind that these are 4-ohm speakers. Use the correct taps on tube amps.


Critics of 1st order speakers claim increased risk of frying tweeters since they are required to function over a far greater range than their higher-order brethren. Ah, wrong. Roy urged me to crank 'em up and I obliged. Trust me, your amps will run out of gas long before these tweeters do. Anyone who visited the Green Mountain Audio room last year at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival can attest to the same [below, show photography by Albert Porter of AudiogoN].


Compared to my Meadowlark Kestrel 2, the Callisto offered a faster, punchier, slightly drier yet more upfront presentation. I would say they were also less forgiving of poor recordings but not in an exaggerated and ultimately annoying manner as other speakers I have heard. You will certainly hear what is wrong but you won't be beaten over the head with it. The Kestrels were more laid back and displayed a slightly wetter, warmer and plumper soundscape especially in the bass. I expect the real wood and MDF enclosure was probably responsible for this plus possibly the woofer's transmission line loading. I did not find any of these characteristics to be negative in an absolute sense. They were merely the flavors of these two speakers. Both will have their fans. Me? I enjoyed both tremendously. However, the Callistos took what the Meadowlarks do so well and punched it up to a completely new level, especially in areas such as transient speed, slam, immediacy and dynamics.

The biggest compliment I can offer is that it was impossible to do anything else while the Callistos played music. In our house, the stereo is always on. Quite often, I'll read or work on my laptop with music playing in the background. Sunday mornings I like to kick back, read the weekend paper and enjoy a cup of coffee. Every time I tried to read more than a paragraph, I would put the paper down and close my eyes. Most of the time I wasn't even aware I had stopped reading. I was simply drawn into the heart of every disc I played. Sure, bass fiends might quibble over the lack of truly deep bass but one shouldn't expect tons of bottom-end grunt in such a modest enclosure. Having said that, the bass on offer was controlled, tuneful and offered tremendous impact that belied its lack of organ pedal grunt.


The thumbs get two way-up thumbs. I cannot see how any lover of music could possibly be disappointed with the Green Mountain Audio Callistos. They were truly mesmerizing loudspeakers and easily one of the most convincing and emotionally satisfying designs I have heard to date, even compared to others at two to three times the price. You owe it to yourself to give these black beauties a listen. Just follow Roy's helpful tips at the end of this review and I am sure you will be as impressed as I was. Stay tuned - you are going to hear a lot more from Roy Johnson in the near future.


During the course of my review, I had several pleasant albeit long phone conversations with Roy (and I have the phone bills to prove it) that eventually morphed into the following interview. Take it away, Roy.
Manufacturer's website
Roy Johnson comments:

Paul, I want to thank you for a thorough and well-written review. And for the probing questions. Srajan, it was very kind of you to allow me the space to take off from where Paul was headed anyway, to share my concerns about this industry and some possible solutions to its problems [next page - Ed.]. I hope we all see some feedback about all of that. I feel that I am doing my part and I see that you are both doing yours. Thank you. And I am deeply honored, Paul, that your wife enjoyed the sound..

Best,
Roy Johnson
Founder and Designer
Green Mountain Audio