Modern sound. Today's best compact mid/woofers have extension which, underscored by computer-optimized port loading, puts vintage 10" equivalents to shame and in the shade. But most reviews of good 2-way monitors still include pronouncements of surprise - about how low their bass goes despite the modest size of the box. Actually, that's ancient news. It's exactly why this speaker breed has become the most ubiquitous. For 95% of all listeners, no more is needed. That includes the typical proviso of SPL stability. Nearly all speakers can be overdriven, eventually. Most simply can play happily louder than people actually do. This moves headroom advantages of big speakers into pure theoretical puffery. By the same token, the few who are unrepentant headbangers and have the requisite discretionary income to indulge upscale hifi wouldn't go after monitors in the first place. They need 15" woofers or horns. The mere fact of even considering a compact monitor in today's price range makes it near synonymous with a guarantee that it'll be sufficient for your loudness and bass needs. So yes, none of it makes modern monitors any less amazing. They are bloody marvels. Not knowing that is only an indictment of a writer's exposure level. It's not any uncommon achievement. Be it an Aerial, Mark & Daniel, Sonus faber or Totem, they and the thousands of others all suffice and surprise, possibly even shock when driven and set up properly.

Driven properly means a good amp. Most small speakers are not very sensitive. If they're of modest dimensions and tuned for good bass—most are—efficiency plummets. More amp muscle is the antidote. Set up properly also means some breathing room. That maximally exploits soundstage width and depth. It floats an enormous virtual stage which, seemingly and unreasonably, appears from nothing; certainly not in any audible ways connected to two small cabinets. That's what 2-way monitors do. It's no secret. And clearly the A3-XL was no exception. Not having a pair without resonator panels, I couldn't quantify how much those contributed. I simply ran the usual test tones to qualify what the total package did in a room of 5.5 metre width, 15 metre length with 6-metre gabled ceiling, boxes at 3m from the front wall, 1m from the sides. If those dimensions seem exorbitant for Gold Note's acoustic ammunition, that reflects another myth: on how loud we listen and what it takes to make it so. In our case, we're not sitting 10 metres from the speakers. The listening chairs are at about 4m. Behind them is a marble-top credenza as a visual break. Behind that is the open kitchen with its dining table. Some architects would have drawn up two rooms from this. Then our listening chairs would be close to the dividing wall, the listening room 5.5 x 7 metres or ~16' x 21' in US currency. The advantage of our double-sized space is that one can play very bassy music very loud without overloading the space. It's just not something we actually do. Our ears don't like it. So my boiler-plate coverage is a boring reminder. Anything beyond right tool for the job is excess. Excess is perfectly lovely if you can afford it or want it just because. It's just not necessary. With that sorted, what follows won't sound like hyperbole but normal MO when dealing with quality monitors like these.

Spatially enormous. Walk-in mapping with near holographic precision. Articulation like the superior diction of a BBC announcer. Layer by layer, separation like a peeled onion without any of the tears. In short, the usual superlatives to do with soundstaging and imaging. They all raised their arms to be counted. It's what monitors excel at. These added such good off-axis response that I could space them 4 metres apart without any collapse or dilution of centre fill. That maximized width. Sounds appeared in the room's front corners for true panorama vision. This was all in compliance with breed standards, albeit playing in its upper ranges of copasetic setup and appropriate amplification.

When single-wiring biamp terminals of a two-way, the mid/woofer feed takes precedence over the tweeter. With a three-way, the tweeter/mid terminals takes precedence over the woofer posts.

Where things went a bit beyond was on bass. That a proper 8" 2-way can hit a usable 30Hz at 3dB down wouldn't be novel. Apertura's Kalya is a good example. Accomplishing something similar with a 5er is rather more unexpected. Within the limitations of our domestic loudness requirements, the Gold Note proved capable of a good 40Hz. There was enough volume below to not really want the big Zu Submission sub standing by for just such occasions. That and good dynamics took me by surprise. It certainly wasn't the in-room air displacement of the dual 15" isobarically oriented Ripol® woofers of Ecobox's Daydream open baffles; or of the giantific 18" woofer of Martin Gateley's soundkaos LibĂ©ration. On gestalt, this was small-woofer bass just as you'd expect. On pure shove, there really is no substitute for cubic inches. On extension however, those beasts in the open baffles sacrificed both the back-loading of an enclosure and the gain of ports. Hence here they hardly had anything on the petite Italians. Precisely because those moved significantly less air, their subjective registration on the ear/brain was quick, articulate and unobtrusive. There was no bleed or overlay—of thick bass and in-room pressure zones—into the vocal range. On matters of visibility, transparency and subjective speed, small-woofer bass can be advantageous. And that's precisely the case the A3-XL made to our jury. With their unconventional resonator panels, they managed to act bigger even than the usual small monitor show does with its long-throw modern mid/woofers. In fact, bigger went beyond just low-down extension and dynamic reflexes.