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Let's have the cat right outta the bag. The Reference AV is a Ref 3.1 (i.e. the latest version of the Ref 3 with some minor revisions involving elimination of the tweeter contour switch; different magnets on the midranges; different caps -- same values -- in the network; and a slightly different mounting scheme of the spheres to the upright spine). That is, the AV Reference is a Ref 3.1 without the low bass. Anyone who's already heard the Ref3 and lovin' it will realize that in no time. The AV is not truly complete without a subwoofer. Hey, no surprise there. To get 34Hz extension like the unassisted Ref 3 -- and its current Ref 3.1 incarnation -- from the on-wall version would have clearly required some monstrous line array. Think another 4 spheres each perhaps, on either side of the central CDT with its two present balls. It'd turn the "just right" AV into a "who wants that on the wall" weirdness when a small outboard sub does the same trick just fine.

So unless your reference were a good 5.25" 2-way mostly for background music, the AV needs a sub or else it won't sound as meaty and full as it should and can. Needless to say, Gallo Acoustics makes a variety of subs to have you covered. Curiously enough, the included TR2 initially seemed a bit light in the loafers. It acted as though it lacked amplitude at any attenuator setting that seemed reasonable (you know, well below full tilt). Then Anthony recommended in an e-mail that I run it 180° out of phase on its phase control. That had never occurred to me. I'd deliberately situated the speakers and sub in the same plane, i.e. more or less equidistant from the listener to synchronize the wave launches of the three-piece system. The phase inversal did the trick just as the designer suggested.

I set up the trio exactly as I expect most flat-panel owners would - adjacent to a central screen very close to (or better yet, on) the front wall. In my case, that wall is solid glass so I couldn't exactly wall-mount the speakers. Think southerly exposure passive solar in the high desert. This is our second small television system for evenings. That's when the window glare gets muted with the curtains. Running the AVs off our modest NAD 5.1 receiver; having the speakers far closer together than my floorstanding Ref 3.1s in the main video system... all these relative compromises of setup and hardware sophistication could not undermine hearing a very goodly portion of the expected Gallo magic. First and foremost, that magic is wide-open directness and that infamous and truly spooky "where'd the damn speakers go" imaging that transcends even the famous tricks small monitors play with disappearance voodoo.

As a listener who fancies the-less-crossover-the-better designs for their coherence, jump factor and soundstage precision, I naturally felt right at home with the AVs. There's no crossover above 100Hz. None. Below that, a simple 1st-order affair in parallel to the two wide-open zero filter inner spheres gently brings in the outer spheres for lower mid/upper bass reinforcement. Below that, a sub kicks in around 50-60Hz with a steep filter depending on setup and preferences. Even our modest grey NAD didn't manage to screw up the telltale virtues deriving from the immediacy inherent in the minimum network choice. But just as holds true for the big Ref 3.1s, you'll only hear the AVs at their best when you partner them with serious kit. Don't shortchange 'em with run-of-the-mill stale popcorn crappola - you know, home-theater-in-a-box stuff due to the few coins left over once you've spent big on that monster DLP screen. Don't. Then you might as well buy plasticky speakers to go with it. Or turn the AVs into plastic caricatures of their true selves.

Yeah, it's true in general that better ancillaries equate to better speaker performance. But, it's truer even for these CDT-enabled Gallo designs. It's not overstating matters - their small, spherically loaded, amp-direct-driven midranges combined with the mechanically coupled planar tweeter sound rather electrostatic in effect and gestalt. This means wide open, ultra transparent, fast and precise. Especially listeners coming from more conventional warm & fuzzy speakers will reflexively wish to add some body into this mix. That'll happen automatically when you pick quality electronics. On the value side of that equation, I'm thinking overachievers like the Prima Luna amps for example. From what I had on hand, I went a few notches above that even. I installed the AVs in the main video rig, on the brilliant Genesis M60s, KT-88-powered valve amps of the low output-impedance, push-pull persuasion with mondo bass muscle and tone.

Owning the Ref 3.1s, I already knew that the NAD -- as good as it is in its price range -- was playing rather deeply in the shadows of the AVs' true potential (I usually run the big Refs off Bel Canto electronics or quality tube amps). M60s to the rescue. And, promise delivered. More drive, far more tonal color, even more spectacular soundstaging and richer textures, much better bass [below with the Ref 3.1s set up for comparison].

Raw detail retrieval even with the homely NAD was already far beyond what you'd usually expect from AV speakers. A wonderful DualDisc to explore this with is Andreas Vollenweider's new CD/DVD Vox [KIN 17562]. It marries way-out-there production values, super sophisticated arrangements with exotic instruments, the quicksilvery syncopated finger work of the Swiss harpist extending deep down into the bass and fetching vocals on every track, with video on the DVD side to add to the experience.

Comparing the Ref 3.1s to the AVs + TR2 sub in the small rig, I only had to make concessions for soundstage width as imposed by placement. The AVs were much closer together at the end of the SouthWest-style low boy (in the big rig, they sat on plant stands right behind where the Ref 3.1s sit above, close up to the solid Adobe wall). They thus cast a narrower stage in the small upstairs setup. Still, their eerie off-axis response remained fully evident. This allowed me to sit slightly outside the left speaker and still hear stereo. For serious sessions, I naturally moved my chair in the middle. But that was nearly more by reflex -- acting like a good audiophile -- than necessity. When the absolute massive one million voices of London's Peace March from February 15, 2003 kick in on "Wake Up and Dance!" to become the song's jubilant rocking anthemic foundation, the nearly spiritual sense of lift-off achieved only lacked the ultimate sense of scale I get on my Definitions. Remember, those employ eight rear-firing 10-inch woofers that are room-EQ'd to be up 2dB at 20Hz and actively bi-amped.

Adding another TR2 not so much for SPLs but full stereo separation into the abyss would likely have added extra gravitas and majesty. But I already knew from personal experience about the benefits of stereo infrasonics. I could extrapolate reasonably well on theory alone without having a second TR2. The smart money of course wants to know how the AVs compare to the Ref 3.1s. These new 'uns are actually even a bit more transparent in the critical vocal range. In trade for that minor increase of ultra-fine detail, they sacrifice some sock and oomph in the heavy-impact zone of the upper bass, what audiophiles refer to as music's power band.

Thinking it over, that makes sense, too. Hindsight is always so clever. With the Ref 3.1s, the big woofer kicks in at 100Hz. With the AVs, the external woofer (the same driver as is in the Ref 3.1 but there's only one of those inside the TR2) comes on one full octave lower. That means the AVs extend the coverage of their small drivers appreciably lower than the Ref 3.1s. That translates as just a touch more finesse but -- only comparatively speaking -- is also just a bit leaner in that band than the floorstander. Another factor is proximity to the wall. These speakers were designed to be on the wall. They've been deliberately voiced to benefit from its specific reinforcement. Moving them away leans things out and beyond a certain limit, even a subwoofer can't fill the holes that'll occur higher up than where it kicks in. In the below setup, the speakers were within a foot from the glass - close but no cigar if on-wall is the ultimate.

In the end, those who've hankered after Ref 3.1s but couldn't materialize their dream because toddlers or poodles rule the carpet ... the AVs with one sub get you 90% there. With two subs? Depending on the subs, your physical layout and your voicing skill to set the subs up just so, the nod could actually go to the AVs. Mind you, that's assumptive. I haven't tried it. But it's a pretty good hunch. Those who complain about the floorstanders' limited image height (I dramatize their rake and never find anything to complain) can dial in whatever stage height they fancy by how they mount the AVs on the wall. In stage depth, the 3.1s will win unless you park them right up against the wall. Don't surmise from that that the AVs are two-dimensional. They're very holographic just like the big 'uns and still layer - just not as endlessly deep as the 3.1s when those have adequate room behind 'em. When it comes to partnering amp muscle, the AVs relegate bass duty to an offboard subwoofer. This allows the use of smaller-chested amps than the Ref 3.1s to deliver the sonic goods.

I've already covered reams worth of virtual ciphers on the original Ref 3s. Refer to that review here for the nitty gritty. Instead of repeating myself, simply take everything that's been said there and apply it to the AVs. Then make minor alterations to that sound as indicated above, on how the two models diverge. Cosmetically, the Ref 3.1s look far better integrated as a floorstander than the Reference AV perched high on the optional stand. That stand looks fine if used in low-boy mode, i.e. with the speaker hovering a mere few inches above its pedestal. Once you raise the speaker to the second (higher) position on that stand, however, it no longer looks truly designer.

That's because the Reference AV is a purpose-designed model, not a competitor to the Ref 3.1 that's single-mindedly dedicated to rule on the floor. The surprising thing about the AV model? It does compete with the floorstander on sonic grounds once you add at least one subwoofer (preferably two TR1s if you can swing that over one TR2). As such, I have to call it mission accomplished for the Reference AV. I'm simply suspicious that a lot of retailers will be tempted to hook these speakers up to barely-there receivers that make plenty of noise but lack the kind of finesse the Gallos thrive on. That would be like leashing the Ref 3.1s to a Denon receiver. Nothing wrong with one of those, mind you. It's just that the Gallos deserve a lot better. It's something John Potis confirms in his review of the mighty Canary Audio CA-160 monos. That amp review will shortly lead to his feature review of the Ref 3.1s with the optional SA amplifier.

The Reference Series Gallos are true high-end speakers that perform well in excess of price if not fed a merely mediocre diet. Kudos to Anthony Gallo for adapting his proven Ref 3.1 recipe to on-wall applications. For those who can't justify discrete music and movie systems but wish to optimize one system to do it all, the Reference AV could prove to be the silver bullet. It won't aggravate the usual marital dispute over floor space. Instead, it allows indoor trees or furniture to occupy the space that is ordinarily taken up by floorstanders (especially those much-hated-by-the-ladies ones that only sound their best when far away from the wall). While the four stock finish options cover a lot of ground, those who simply must go full-on designer should be able to roll some fancy lacquer on those removable perf grilles for some wild customization. Long live the on-wall Ref 3.1. It's an idea whose time has come. Even the 'philers have finally caught on to the Gallo magic. Wrote Wes Phillips for his CES 2006 show report: "My big disappointment was the paucity of affordable ambitious high-end products, although that might be more indicative of the cost of doing business at CES than a lack of merchandise. I did see some extremely promising gear, such as Arcam's $1500 Solo, Amphion's $1350/pair Ion, Dussun's Original electronics, Zu's $2900/pair Druid Mk.4 and Anthony Gallo's $2995/pair Reference 3.1, so I'm hopeful that they are just the tip of the iceberg." Added Jon Iverson: "Gallo cued Reference Recording's performance of Rutter's O Magnum Mysterium as we entered the room and its depth and majesty were overwhelming. The sopranos sounded natural and ravishing. We did not want to leave, so we invited the Ref 3.1s over to Wes' house for a longer assignation."

If Stereophile's findings continue their enthusiastic first impressions, all the majors and minors in the US press -- 'phile, TAS, 6moons, PFO and Bound for Sound -- will have gone ape over the Reference 3s. The only reason I bring that up? The Ref 3 or 3.1 is a very close stand-in for the Reference AV + TR2. As a new model, the on-wall speaker will take some time to work its way through the various review schedules of the different publications. Until then, simply refer to all the Ref 3 reviews to decide whether the Reference AV might just have your name -- and that of your better feminine half -- written all over it. I'm running out of rooms so I'm out. But buy me that villa on Lake Como and I'd have a few of the all-white AVs tucked on the wall to wash visitors in premium sound while unable to point at its source. If they did spot 'em to ask whether those were the new Bose, I'd ask them to leave on the spot but keep their Bentley (or whatever other wheels they arrived in) on my cobblestone lot. Ah, dream on. Meanwhile, the AVs have gone from concept to execution and availability. Another kind of dream has now become true: AVs in a humble abode but still for killer Lake Como manse sound. Put more succinctly, the Reference AV makes Reference 3 sound like that described in all those rave reviews - on the wall. That's pretty off the wall when you think about it. Better yet, it's balls to the wall. Literally...
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