|Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Cairn Fog v2.0 as transport; Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 filter/buffer on the DAC's analog outputs
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe6 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax [on loan]; Acoustic Reality eAR Pre2 [on review]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88; Bel Canto eVo 4 GenII; Coda Technologies S5 [on review]; Acoustic Reality eAR Enigma Plus [on review];
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic DUO; nOrh SM 6.9, Gallo Acoustic Reference III [on review]
Cables: HMS Grand Finale; Analysis Plus Solo Oval and Oval 8; i2digital X-60; Stereovox HDXV; Mapleshade Ebony active digital interconnect; Furutech Digi. Reference BNC-BNC digital cable; ma recordings BNC/BNC reference digital cable [on review]; Mapleshade Planar power cord with DC bias; Audio Magic Clairvoyant power cords; Crystal Cable Reference wire set [on loan]; Z-Cable Reference cables and Hurricane and Cyclone power cords [on review]
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature; Walker Audio Velocitor for source components
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
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 and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $2,599/pr
|To this mind and attached eyes and ears, Anthony Gallo is one of the truly great innovators of American speaker design. His latest assault at the affordable state-of-the-art is the Reference III. It first debuted at HE2003 and then in final production version at CES 2004. The III heralds the return of one of the most unique speakers in history - the original Gallo Reference aka Twin Balls. By fitting the groundbreaking 330° CDT tweeter atop an aluminum sphere that housed the Dynaudio woofer, auxiliary woofer module below, it conjured up visions of stick-insect Martians with stacked cyclops eyes and a Mohawk of one lone hair-sprayed tuft sprouting on the bald head [the below right]. Though universally acclaimed for its sonics, the cosmetics of the first-generation Reference proved grounds for endless aesthetic revisions. They all were attempts to essentially hide from view what made the speaker unique in the first place; shoehorn its appearance into something more boxy, conventional and demure.
|One of my first writing features for SoundStage! described an acquaintances' system built around Gallo's ballsy Reference Is. I was so impressed with their performance that I expressed an interest to purchase a pair. With candid warning, Gallo's then-manager Gary Pelled advised that the design would soon be discontinued. That raised the question about whether said discontinuity wouldn't undermine my desire to own something current that readers could listen to at dealers to cross-reference my findings. That indeed had been my plan. I thus eventually ended up with Triangle Lyrr xs, then Ventis models before succumbing to the lure of my current Avantgarde hornspeakers.
It's now 5 years and many grey hairs later. One of my recent show report quotes called the third incarnation of Gallo's reference a masterpiece to make it into an Absolute Sound ad. And a day after receipt of present-day Gallo accomplice JD's traveling demonstrator pair, dispatched in their airline cases mauled by FedEx, I'm ready to finally place that order after all. Hurray!
You see, for quite some time now, I've wanted to acquire a second pair of reference speakers with regular sensitivity and passive bass systems to do a better job with evaluating amplifier drive - after all, my 103dB Avantgardes don't really challenge anyone in that department. My dream speaker would have to be small, reasonably full-range, affordable and not be a massive let-down each time it traded places with my world-class -- and expensive -- horns. It would live in the bedroom video system and move into the 2-channel rig each time I'd do an amplifier review. Some impossible dream, this.
I'm already convinced enough by first impressions of this fully broken-in pair to know that I've finally hit pay dirt. And since little documentation exists on this exciting new speaker yet, what follows are a few select picture montages to get you acquainted. The Reference III circumvents cosmetic challenges by offering a Shroud of Chatsworth wrap-around grill which is stretched over a super-sturdy metal cage that bolts securely to the speaker's cast aluminum chassis. The grill cover's rails are so strong that you can safely use them to lift the speaker out of its shipping box. What emerged from the crates was a surprisingly petite package measuring all of 8 inches wide, three feet tall, 14 inches deep and sporting a tweeter cut/boost rear-mounted toggle that you should watch out for when removing the grill cage after having loosened the three thick hex bolts affixing it.
Earlier prototypes like the one above experimented with twin opposing side-firing woofers but the final version only uses one, albeit with the unique feature of being able to separately drive its second voice coil from a second amplifier (whose signal should be low-pass-filtered to somewhere around 60Hz). Two non-jumpered Esoteric/TIFF-reminiscent pairs of deluxe binding posts are labeled 'speaker in' and 'sub in', the latter to be used only if you wish to bi-amp and have the facility to restrict the woofer-direct signal with an in-line crossover or via the sub-out of a receiver or preamp/processor.
At 88dB, these speakers clearly want more power than my 30wpc tube monos deliver, hence the upcoming review will strap them to Bel Canto's eVo 4. Spinning a recent acquisition in said configuration, Luciano Pavarotti's stunning crossover release Ti Adoro [Decca B00001096-02] told me all I needed to know to realize beyond a doubt that my show impressions from San Francisco and Las Vegas not only held water but, fed now from truly statement-level electronics in a system I'm intimately familiar with, had to be revised upwards.
|A heroic tenor at full boogie is a wondrous encounter to make within your own four walls. Any kind of compression, subtle break-up modes or other playback unpleasantnesses are quickly exposed. Ditto for shifts in timbre, unnatural additions or distortions we're all too sensitive about with the human voice. The Gallos instantly allowed me to relax any worries. In fact, so dynamic and clean were they, so unruffled in their composure at even enthusiastic climaxes that I felt prompted to walk up to -- grills removed for that hi-tech look -- and hold up my hand close to one tweeter. When I tell you that this latest version of Anthony's proprietary high-frequency transducer moves serious air, I'm being literal. I could sense pressure waves on my hand pushing outwards from the tweeter similar to how you usually feel vent pressure from a ported bass system. Dispersion of the CDT unit is such that one can stand beside the speaker and not suffer any reduction in tweeter output or coverage band. Now add the absence of a crossover above 150Hz - yes, the 3kHz transition between the twin hyperbolic 4-inch Carbon-fiber mids in their 5-inch spherical steel enclosures and the central omni tweeter is accomplished mechanically. Now add a true minimum-diffraction cabinet that's all of 3 inches wide, cast from aluminum and, based on the rim around the inset back plate, a solid 3/8 inch thick.
All this makes for seamless coherence, immediacy and gigantic soundstaging without phase shifts, all so tactile and obvious that the speakers disappear as apparent sound sources to an unusually accomplished degree. This uncanny openess is compounded by the tremendous capabilities of that tweeter whose unconventionally large radiating surface simply excites more air and thus doesn't give you more treble per se -- that would redress tonal balance -- but hints at the difference of sensory impact between bass waves coming at you through a room as opposed to via headphones. Though good cans like the famous Sennheiser 600s go very low, they don't interact with your skin and thus feel different from bass waves produced by free-standing speakers. Compared to the Reference IIIs, most conventional speakers deliver 'headphone treble' - not different in output quantity but displacement quality. This doesn't translate as hot, bright or forward but rather as a sense of speed, airiness, spaciousness and uncompressed high-frequency dynamics.
With these brief impromptu observations, I shall excuse myself until the review proper. I will add merely two items. One, the team around Mapleshade guru Pierre Sprey and collaborateur Ron Bauman of inSound have used different versions of Gallo's Reference efforts for years to do their design work. Two, based on performance and constructional details of a compound-angle aluminum chassis with inset stainless steel spheres and woofer canister, it seems safe to predict very faint chances indeed that Gallo can hold their current basement price of $2,599/pr for a very extended period. I for one will place my order promptly though I'd consider the speaker a bargain even at $3,500/pr. With matte black or brushed stainless steel flavors and black, Cherry or natural Maple bases, my question merely concerns itself over aesthetics. I'll likely go for the stainless/maple 'Scandinavian' look. Granted, cliffhanger reviews are notorious coitus interruptus affairs - they leave everyone dissatisfied and lusting for more. But then, Anthony's balls on this design have already shriveled to the size of raisins. Nobody should suffer medical issues over having to wait.
To be blunt, this # III secret was far too good to postpone sharing with you for another month. Reverting to my Teutonic ancestry with its adeptness for issuing military orders, get ye to a Gallo dealer pronto! Demand that he bring in a Reference III for your audition if one isn't already on the floor - or else. Yes, this is one of those instances where hesitation reflects poorly on your or his audiophile status of always being up with the latest. From all accounts, it took Anthony Gallo three years to fine-tune this latest top offering. Now that it's here, at least listen to it. While no two listeners agree on everything, I predict you'll come away deeply impressed. And regardless, a Gallo Reference III in whatever finish will henceforth make regular appearances in all future amplifier reviews by yours truly. Stay tuned.
|Postscript: Having just called Anthony to congratulate him on the finalized and now-in-production design, I learned that his custom Carbon-fiber 4-inch midrange drivers went through incarnations A through H until he finally came up with the perfectly tweaked 4-layer voice coil transducer to mechanically roll off at 3,000Hz [acoustical first-order] while offering maximal bass output to be crossed over to the woofer at a low 150Hz. The second-generation CDT tweeter is much improved over the one used in the earlier Reference, this having to do with experience gained in material science both for the piezo Kynar diaphragm [no voice coil, no surround] and the three different kinds of hi-rebound foam used behind it.
According to Anthony, the Reference III is an altogether better speaker than the legendary twin-ball affair of 5 years ago - and it's $1,000 cheaper. Also, the CDT used in the Dué is not the same. Its dispersion and low-frequency extension are far more limited. Ditto for its 3-inch midrange drivers - although the head module of the Reference III does look like a slightly larger Dué, it is mechanically, structurally, electically and sonically a very different animal altogether. Even its spheres are stainless rather than regular steel because stainless sounds better.
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