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; Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP; Accustic Arts Drive-1 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe6 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax; Acoustic Reality eAR Pre2 [on review]; Antique Sound Lab MGHead OTL 32 [on review]; Wyetech Labs Coral [on review]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88; Bel Canto eVo 4 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax amplifier
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic DUO; nOrh SM 6.9, Gallo Acoustic Reference III
Cables: HMS Grand Finale; Analysis Plus Solo Oval and Oval 8; i2digital X-60 and Stereovox HDXV S/PDIF cables; Mapleshade Ebony active S/PDIF 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 complete wire set of interconnects, speaker cables and power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner; 2 x Stealth Audio Cables Indra & Varidig S/PDIF cables [on review]; Artistic Audio Vacuum Reference S/PDIF [on review]
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier, sand-filled
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 sq.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $900

We're all jacked-in addicts and word on the Gallo Ref3s is getting around like a New Mexico brush fire. Positive Feedback's Victor Chavira got so excited over his review loaner pair that he ejaculated a sneak preview before his feature tale. It opens with the tantalizing predictions of "the $2600 Gallos sound so promising that I felt compelled to inform you about these potential giant slayers." Marty deWulf of Bound for Sound's #157 issue calls the same speaker possessed of "the potential to be a classic in the truest sense. Not since the Vandersteen 2 has a loudspeaker come on to the audio scene with such assuredness of success."

An old Editor of mine found it in bad taste and a sure sign of insecurity to paraphrase competitors. I've got enough self-assurance to disagree. Audio reviewing requires context. Readers are supposed to cross-reference various reviews and writers to gain more conclusive impressions about components whose specs, size and pricing makes them potential candidates for their needs. Writers should cross-reference too - especially when they get badly smitten with a particular design. Learn whether it performed to anywhere near your own personal enthusiasm for other experienced ears and in controlled circumstances. With now three of us subjective audio hacks in nearly unanimous agreement over the Gallos' soon-to-be legendary status, chances are good that we're actually onto something. How often does our kind agree on anything?

As I've said before, pricing a $10,000/pr beater at $2,595/pr is asking for trouble. Say you were a dealer. Would you want such an upstart to undermine sales of your pricier spreads? Hell no. Say you did put it on the floor. Wouldn't you do everything in your power to make it sound like a $2,595 speaker and thus differentiate it from those models which you sell at 5K and 10K? Say you were a mid-fi dealer who already carried Gallo's small HomeTheater spheres and subwoofers. Would you have the aptitude and ancillary equipment to make the Reference 3s hit the high C at full boogie as they're perfectly capable of? Or wold you drive them with a multi-channel receiver and a big television in-between?

It'll take writers like me and Victor and Marty deWulf and many others to repeat the same message ad nauseam: Inserted into a true High-End context and treated with proper respect regarding setup, positioning, paying attention to details like woofers in-or-out, toe-in, rake angle, path-length symmetry and component synergy, these speakers perform way in excess of their asking price. How way in or out of excess nobody yet knows - except Anthony and his compatriots and obnoxious yours truly. I'm in on all this fun-filled discovery merely because the optional Reference³ SA bass amplifier/ crossover had been dispatched to Taos months ago together with the already reviewed speakers - just in case.

Just in case of what? Just in case Gallo Acoustics decided to actually go into formal production. I was asked to hold off on reviewing the piece until I got either a thumbs up or down. This Julius Cesar gesture would be a function of beta-tester feedback in the dealer field. Or as Anthony put it, "I know it's a great product. But that doesn't mean that people actually want it. I first gotta find out whether there's a demand for it before committing to the massive production run necessary to get the price to where I want it." Build it and they'll come? Audio is full of stories to the contrary. As of today however, the project's a go and so I'm allowed to spill the beans. My colleagues at PF On-Line and Bound for Sound and The Absolute Sound will receive their units in short order to report independently on their own findings. Here's what they'll find if I'm not mistaken:

A full-width 240/650w stereo/mono solid-state amplifier with dual-mono gain and phase controls, continuously variable low-pass filter from 40-200Hz and bass EQ from -3dB to +6dB. Said controls are all front-panel mounted and except for the gain, recessed and slotted to require a screwdriver or long fingernail to defy casual knob twirlers who'd unwittingly throw off a perfect calibration that a custom installer or dealer might have profusely sweated over to dial in just so. Run in full-range mode, frequency response is 10Hz to 28kHz. Low-pass range is 15-200Hz. A thermostat-controlled rear-panel convection fan kicks in when the internal heatsinks register 60°C. Black or silver face plate with handles and removable rack ears are standard. Signal-sensing auto-on is front-panel selectable and the Reference³ SA can also be used to power passive subs from other makers via speaker-level connections. Running out of space on my Grand Prix Audio Monaco rack, I had to park the Gallo unit underneath my Audiopax monos, using Walker Audio lead-filled brass discs as spacers to create sufficient air flow

With my personal pair of silver/maple Ref3s here and broken-in and the all-black prior review loaner back in Chatsworth/ CA, I was hardly prepared for the very juicy fruits that active crossover controls would bear. Simply put, my prior experiments with the 50Hz FMod filters had vacillated between 120/360w drive from the Bel Canto eVo4. On certain material, I preferred the high-power connection, on others, the lower-power variant. Trouble was, without a separate gain control, I couldn't hit upon just the perfect level for all material. The conveniently located attenuators of the SA amp not only made the achievement of subjectively 'flat' child's play, it allowed me to goose the bass to slightly beyond true (but way-deep into party mode) on certain Trance/Ambient/Techno fare, then reset it to classical honesty in the same movement as loading a different CD into the Accustic Arts Drive-1. The bass boost EQ function allowed for 25Hz bass with my new speakers stone-cold out of the box. Slowly backing off this boost as they broke in proved educational confirmation on how break-in is a very real phenomenon and blatantly obvious in this case as initial bass shyness was gradually replaced by hairier cojones.

A truly trick feature here are the dual-mono phase controls. Why in Gollum's name would you want to mess with the phase response of a design whose 1st-order series network of one coil (mids) and one capacitor (woofer) across the +/- terminals offers the best time coherence of any loudspeaker filter to begin with? Wouldn't so much as touching those phase controls foul things up? Generally speaking, yes! But - in specific asymmetrical installations, one speaker might suffer close-boundary proximity effects in the midbass. An expert touch on that channel's phase control -- in conjunction with the appropriate low-pass filter frequency -- will result in partial frequency-specific cancellation. If calibrated just so, it would ameliorate the grossest aberrations in such unfortunate -- but often real-world induced -- setups called "geometrically challenged".

Just as the owner's manual of the Reference 3 speakers proclaims very honestly, bass response falls off around 40Hz. And just as it states as well, direct-coupling the 2nd voice coil can extend said response cleanly to 22Hz. The most accurate -- and probably also most cost-effective -- way to add just enough boost and at just the right taper below this natural roll-off frequency is with Anthony's optional bass amplifier. Perusing this goal the fixed-gain route with your own amplifier can work surprisingly well; but it's clearly second-best. You could come close - if your amp's specific gain structure turned out to create just the perfect mirror-image response curve in this particular hookup. It's far more likely though that spending $900 on the designer's own solution will net significantly more precise results. At $3,500 for the speaker/amp/ xover package, you're now looking at a truly lethal weapon. It will operate full-range and linear in pretty much any imaginable setting. It'll even allow you to pull the speakers way out into the room to accentuate their stunning soundstaging prowess while equalizing for the concomitant loss of bass weight and warmth with a few deft adjustments on the amp.

When the Fat Lady's asleep and the Skinny Guy must sing instead:
I will leave it to my esteemed colleagues to wax more poetic in full chapter and verse. What I will leave you with instead? Like so many key dealers must have, I beseeched Anthony to put this piece into production - now. I want one and just placed my order. As most audiophiles know, outside of pure aesthetic minimization, the popular appeal of sat/sub systems lies primarily in their placement flexibility. Put the monitors where they soundstage best, put the subwoofer into the corner where it loads most evenly. However, all this cleverness of job sharing neither accounts for true stereo bass nor timing discrepancies. Anthony Gallo's brilliantly unconventional solution of bi-amping the 2nd voice coils -- to allow full-range sonic dominance of your preferred amplifier via the main input -- in combination with a highly flexible and active low-pass crossover/amp really does give you the best of both worlds. Think of it as an integral 2-rather-than-3-box sat/sub system without the usual compromises but honest-to-gosh subwoofer bass. Color me vanquished like that frail old Grail knight of the last Indiana Jones flick. It's time to let the Holy Grail speak for itself whilst I make my quiet exit...
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