Most times I am offered items for review I can approach them with no vested interest, as they are usually new to me and as such I have a neutral open mind about them, but not in the case of this particular review subject. This was a review loaded with many potential issues, not least my reluctance to find out if a land mark product (in my view and that of others) had been improved or ruined.
The vested interest aspect in this review is my ownership and love for the Reference 3.1s (loved the 3s before them and the improvement between mk1 and mk2 while subtle was marked, hence my upgrading to them). Since hearing this design originally both in a less than ideal place and then at home I was struck by just how radical Anthony Gallo had been with this particular speaker design.
New speakers come along all the time and frankly most are based on a traditional box, with the drive units fixed to the front panel; so bar electrostatic panel speakers they are all pretty much variations on the same theme. I am no doubt being a bit unfair here, but the majority are rehashes of the same old same old and the first time I saw and heard the Reference 3′s I knew I was in the presence of something both unique and special. Just how true these initial thoughts would turn out to be took a little while to sink in as I was slowly seduced by the Gallo’s way of reproducing music.
Taking these home was a bit of a risk, as frankly my main listening room can cause problems in the bass region, one of the reasons I don’t review speakers often, but much to my surprise and delight they worked well in the room, so much so I refused to return them to my place of work (I worked in an audio store at the time) and I bought them from the distributor. After living with these for a time I found listening to conventional boxed speakers a very difficult thing to do as the Anthony Gallo Reference 3s made this type of speaker sound coloured, boxy and broken.
When I heard a set of 3.1s brought in for a customer, but rejected by him due to a small cosmetic issue (more of that in a bit) I took them home and compared them to the 3′s. The relatively small changes between the two speakers, three in total: removing a tweeter level selector (which allowed a – 2Db, 0 and +2Db adjustment), changing to all-new metallized polypropylene capacitors and changing the mid-range drivers to incorporate a neodymium magnet, resulted in a marked improvement in coherence and integration. I was so impressed by these speakers that I bought them and have been using them ever since (1)
However mainly unknown at the time was the fact that Anthony Gallo acoustics were having significant issues with maintaining quality control with the Reference 3 speakers and ultimately these QC issue (mainly as I understand it regarding to cosmetics) killed the 3.1 design. The blessing and the curse re the Reference 3 designs was their incredible low price £2400 (generally thought to be way under priced for what they were) which was only made possible by having them made in China, and sadly the QC of the company making them for Gallo, at the time, was poor to non existent. The pair I ended up buying had one bass drum slightly off centre position on the mounting fin/stalk compared to the other. Purely a cosmetic issue and this being off was only in reality by a cm and as such had not in my view created any sonic issues, but the customer rejected the pair; being fully entitled to two speakers identical in fit and finish. My understanding is that this sort of thing was the least of Gallo’s QC problems with the 3 series of speakers; both 3 and 3.1.
Unable to accept the amount of rejected speakers, Anthony Gallo Acoustics decided to discontinue the Reference 3.1s and take the opportunity to re work the design and have them made in America, where they could control all aspects of production. The end result of that is the Reference 3.5s, the subject of this review. As early glimpses of the 3.5s at shows and in magazines illustrate that these speakers went through a number of design changes before the final design was settled upon. Much of the story surrounding this development work can be read in an informative industry article on Six Moons online magazine (2)
While the differences between the original 3s and 3.1s (transition between models occurred about September 2005) were not insignificant, as already mentioned above (removal of the tweeter level control switch and ) they are pretty slight in comparison to the differences between the 3.1s and the 3.5s. While the speakers look similar (there are some obvious visual differences: the look of the mid driver housings, the bass driver and the base plate not having spikes any more) the main differences are not just cosmetic in nature but are in fact of a much deeper ’under the hood level’ so to speak and are as follows:
Tweeter CDT3 Tweeter 3kHz to 20 kHz, 300 degree dispersion across full tweeter bandwidth
Optimised Pulse Technology® and OPT Level 2
Midrange Drivers Dual 4-inch, carbon fiber cone drivers optimized for crossover-less design
Bass woofer Custom long-throw 10-inch ceramic-coated aluminum cone dual voice-coil driver
Overall frequency response 34Hz – 20kHz +/- 3dB
Base plate made from Garolite, a high performance composite used extensively in the aerospace industry with a layer of Dermsol gel material under that. No spikes or cones used as a speaker to floor interface.
Average overall impedance 8ohms
The 3.1 had the following:
Tweeter CDT2 made from silver clad Kynar with a frequency range of 3khz – 50khz +/- 3Db
Midrange 4 inch carbon fibre cone drivers
Bass woofer 10 inch dual voice coil (material not specified)
Overall speaker frequency response 34 Hz – 50 khz +/- 3Db
Wood Base with 4 adjustable spike/cones.
Average overall impedance 4 ohm
The midrange drivers on the 3.5s are also covered with little mini grills unlike the 3.1s but what effect these have on the sound I can’t say as they looked like they can’t be removed so I did not try to.
That’s just a bit odd….. The Breaking of the rules re speaker to floor interfaces.
One of the most striking differences, visually and also as it turns out sonically, was the totally new base plate concept that the 3.5s now use; which goes well and truly against conventional wisdom re how to mount a speaker on the floor. The Anthony Gallo 3.5s are decoupled with a viscoelastic material called, Dermsol gel, rather than coupled with adjustable cone/spikes; as the 3s and 3.1s had been before them. This soft material is quite sticky and Gallo Acoustics supply it with a protective film material covering to prevent it sticking to the surfaces you place them on and during the review I kept this in place. What change if any to sound removing this might gain you is a mystery but if you do remove it, at a guess, I would suggest you be prepared for quite a fight to lift them up again; this stuff looks pretty sticky and it may well leave a stain on your polished wood/stone/tile floor.
This is what Anthony Gallo Acoustics has to say about the use of this material instead of spikes……
‘With the Reference 3 and 3.1 models, traditional spikes were used to couple the speaker to the floor. Anthony Gallo’s philosophy for the Reference 3.5 is that the base should decouple the speaker from the floor. To this end, the base is made of Garolite, a high performance composite used extensively in the aerospace industries. A layer of Dermsol gel material is then applied to bottom of the base, completing the decoupling process.’
I was somewhat skeptical about this arrangement as on first reading about these speakers the first prototype 3.5s used a twin curved chrome metal bar arrangement, with spikes, to act as interface between the floor and the base of the speaker (3), to my eye it looked a little crude and unfinished but followed the normal tried and tested methods of floor mounting; so the switch from the conventional to the non conventional with the full production speakers came as quite a surprise. On reflection I guess this should not have been the case as in reality there is nothing conventional about this speaker design anyway, so Gallo Acoustics once again thinking outside the box should really be a given and thus come as no surprise.
Being honest the first thing I did after first un-boxing the demo speakers was to do a comparison with a base plate swap on both the 3.1 and 3.5. I removed the plates, a fairly easy job as they are held in place by 6 large hex headed screws (luckily the holes are the same spacing on the 3.1s and 3.5s) and I swapped them round, listening to the 3.5s with the 3.1 base and then vice versa. To say this was a waste of effort is putting things mildly. While the 3.5s sounded quite good with the 3.1 bases in place the 3.1s sounded terrible with the new flat bases in place; again this should not really have been a surprise.
The 3.1s are quite fussy re set up (as were the original 3s as well) and one of the critical areas to get right is the rake back angle, something the original adjustable spikes allowed and the spikes (really more cones) that the 3s and 3.1s have on the underside of their base plate, are designed to easily facilitate this, with the front set being taller than the back set.
An owner of these original speakers would need to employ spirit levels and tape measure in order to make sure both speakers were set the same and any deviation from this would be immediately obvious. Both speakers need to be positioned carefully, to be symmetrical in the room, in relation to the back and side walls and while a little deviation due to the nature of the tweeter would be fine due to its 180 degree dispersion field the mid range, bass and focus would not be as good as they could be, if great care was not taken to ensure symmetry.
Swapping the new flat bases onto the 3.1s resulted in the soundstage being wrong, the tonal balance was off and the bass wrong as well. With the 3.1s bases on the 3.5s only the bass was off, and there was also a wee hint of a suck out in the lower midrange; other than that they sounded very good.
My big concern with the new base was lack of rigidity re the speaker floor interface, vital in my previous experiences to gain rock solid performance, not only in the treble, mid and even soundfield image creation but also in regards to the tightness and quality of bass. Even the most well laid, appearing level, contemporary wood floors will not be totally flat and the state of the concrete floor under the carpet in my listening room would make the hind leg of a donkey look flat; hence my concern. It takes a lot of spike adjusting to get speakers level in my room, and years of playing with speakers informs me that any lack of rocksolidness and being level, which are vital to the overall performance of a speaker, will be ruined if not lost if this is not right. Lets just say that placing a speaker with a soft yielding base on a less than level carpeted floor was a totally alien thing to do, but do it I did, and well ‘oh ye of little faith’ it works. I don’t want to say much more at this stage re sound as I would be getting way ahead of myself….so I won’t.
Another change re the 3’5s is the inclusion of an extra connection on the back of the speakers and a dedicated speaker cable that allows a neat way of availing of this feature; I will let Gallo Acoustics explain…..
‘Our Reference OPT Cable was created for a single purpose, to extract the best possible performance from our Reference 3.5 loudspeaker, and to do so at a lower price than that of competitive cables.
Anthony Gallo designed the original Reference 3 to be a “Real-World” reference loudspeaker, capable of delivering an enormous performance envelope in a compact, versatile speaker system priced within reach of all music-loving audiophiles. Six years of further refinement have culminated in Gallo’s new Reference 3.5: the embodiment of everything Anthony Gallo has learned about speaker design.
One of Anthony’s chief design goals has been to control every system variable, to allow the Reference 3.5 owner to experience the same level of audio performance that Anthony achieves in his design studios. Given the variables of the listening room, equipment, etc., Gallo developed proprietary “OPT” (Optimised Pulse Technology) to stabilize the electrical characteristics of the loudspeaker under the widest variety of conditions. On the back of the Reference 3.5 can be found a single “OPT Level 2″ banana jack, located just above the speaker terminals. You’ll find a corresponding banana plug on the Reference OPT Cable itself. Through precisely controlled wire winding geometry, this plug connects to the amplifier’s positive (+) binding post, enabling Reference 3.5s to sound their best with a wide range of amplifier and system configurations.’
The speakers come with a length of wire with a banana plug on the end to connect to the OPT input, if you don’t have the dedicated Gallo Acoustics speaker cable. I was sent this cable, along with the speakers for reviewing, but alas it is too short for my system set up (I require a minimum of 5m, running the cable across the floor or 7m routing it along the edge of the skirting boards) and it is not available longer than 3ms per speaker (4). This is too short for many system set up and as I personally don’t advocate putting anything between your speakers, as it ruins the imaging of that system; I would therefore ask Gallo to consider offering the cable in longer lengths. I could have moved parts of my system to allow me to use the cable, but it would have introduced way too many variables and ruin the sound of my system so I did not use the cable.
I found this really very frustrating as I really wanted to listen to these cables, but I felt ultimately that listening to the 3.5s and the SA amplifier in my regular set up was more important.
I have had these speakers in my system for quite awhile now and as they need between 150 to 200 hours of run in (no real change there over the originals which also required lots of run in), part of that period of run in coincided with some reviews I was already scheduled to do, so the 3.5s have been used instead of my 3.1s during the Calyx and Deltec PDM3 reviews and also with the last of the series of Trusoundz cables reviews. However I hasten to add that the 3.5s had already been run in before hand, to a fair degree, so no brand new speaker prone to dramatic changes in sound was used during those previous reviews.
My system has mostly remained as usual (recent usual that is) with the Chapter Audio Preface Signature pre-amplifier, Chapter Audio Couplet power-amplifier, Moon Andromeda CD player, Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1s. Signal cabling was from Atlas Mavros, Trusoundz Revelation in the main with speaker cable from Atlas Mavros, TrusoundZ Revelation and QED Silver Spiral Genesis. All equipment was housed on Clearlight Audio Aspekt racks, bar the SA amplifier which was on a Mana Reference platform and a mixture of isolation platforms were used from SSC Concepts and Ginko Audio. Mains cables used consisted in the main of TrusoundZ Revelation, Audience AU24 and Analysis Plus Power Oval 2. No mains filters were used.
Towards the end of the review period a Balanced Audio Technology VK300SE integrated amplifier and Meridian G02 pre-amplifier and G56 power-amplifier were also used.
The Anthony Gallo 3.5 speakers are less fussy than the original 3s and 3.1s in the area of having to set the rake back angle as mentioned elsewhere above, this step has been removed by the new designs floor mounting arrangement, but like the original designs they do still require care re set up in relation to the side walls and back wall (and a level floor would be good). I positioned them in the same place as my existing speakers and found that I could move them slightly further back than the older designs but keeping the bass drivers pointing outwards rather than inwards. This is how I normally have my own 3.1s and the 3’5s still sounded better in my room with the bass driver facing outwards rather than inwards. This is however very much an area worth playing around with (as in some rooms inwards may well sound much better) but unlike the older designs, these are pretty much (relatively speaking) a place and forget design. Well done Anthony for making set up easier.
My usual arsenal of familiar recordings was used plus many, many more during this review but to save space I will only list the most commonly used ones:
Thomas Dolby – Aliens Ate My Buick
The Dali Demo Disc
Nitin Sawhney – Broken Skin
Steve Khan – Public Access
Jazz Side of the Moon – The Music of Pink Floyd
Well I must confess, as I hinted at in my introduction, to approaching my first proper listen with a fair degree of trepidation (this was before removing the base of either speaker), you see in my audio life to date there have been a few major highlights and my first listen to the Gallo 3s was one of those personal audio milestones. Every other speaker I have heard before and since (not including the 3.1s) has sounded broken, slow, coloured and way too obvious in the way it has presented music. Now I have not heard every speaker on the market so I am not about to claim that the Anthony Gallo’s are the best speakers on the market, as that would be very foolish indeed but I can say that as I listened to a pair of lightly run in 3.5s for the first time, in my system, I felt relief. I smiled and I very nearly leapt up and danced around the room overcome by waves of joy as not only had Gallo Acoustics not ruined the magic of the Reference 3 speaker but they had well and truly improved on it.
It was immediately obvious how much better the 3.5 was over my 3.1s but the question that needed answering was how much better would a fully run in pair be? The Reference 3 designs have always required up to 200 hours of use to fully reveal all it can do and sadly the 3.5 is no different. Yes it will sound pretty good out of the box, but once you build the hours up on it, like a butterfly pumping blood into its wings, the Gallo’s will just get better and better.
The 3.5s made my 3.1s sound slow and closed in. There was a speed, detail, texture and nuance in the bass that the 3.1s lacked. In comparison they sounded slower, thicker and almost bloated and believe me the 3.1s are not. The midrange was open, detailed and the soundstage was wide deep and high; not overblown but natural and believable.
When recordings had a natural deep acoustic it sounded like the band/musicians where in the room with me, in full three dimensions which is quite a trick, as normally reproduction of the soundstage acoustic in my somewhat awkward room (I am restricted to a degree as to how far into the room I can pull any speakers too far and the soundfield does not integrate correctly too close to the wall and I get bass issues) is a bit restricted. Where my 3.1 Gallo’s where normally positioned was about optimal for my room and soundfield integration however I know that having a few extra feet in the room would solve this issue with the 3.1s and most other speakers I have tried but the 3.5s created this extra depth within the existing room position) For one of the few times it was like I could get up and physically walk in among the musicians. I have heard this before but not like this, the acoustic be it natural or created in a studio had a palpable presence in the room as my listening room vanished; absorbed into/replaced by that acoustic.
There have been at times, also depending on amplification choices, been a lack of soundstage depth evident in my room with the 3.1s; especially when using solid state electronics. Valve amplification over achieves at this and the lack of depth is not so obvious when using thermonic tubes but for the first time in my system solid state amplification and the 3.5 speakers had a depth of soundstage that I had not heard before except with valve amplifiers and the depth of the soundstage was truly cavernous.
The Anthony Gallo Reference 3 series of speakers have always done a vanishing act as their design gives them a zero impact upon the sound, as there are no boxy colourations to mess up or obscure the sound, plus there is no conventional cabinet to deflect the signal. While listening to any type of music one is simply not aware of the presence of speakers in the room at all; the listener is just left with the music and nothing but the music. The 3 series excelled at this and the 3.5s push the boundaries even further, music just breathed organically within my room, dynamics swung from the slightest sound to the loudest and did so, turning on a dime; rarely have I heard dynamics reproduction in such an effortless way.
I was, as I have already said not sure re the new base for the speaker. The older designs needed a lot of meticulous set up (the 3.5s still do but in other ways) re their rake back angle in order to get the sound to lock in, but the 3.5s placed where the 3.1s are normally worked and just sounded fantastic.
The 3.5s are more open and detailed and transparent than the 3.1s and as such I found that they gave me the ability to listen much further into the recordings I chose for the review (taken from my usual selection) and many others over the period of months I had these speakers in my system. They were an excellent tool for assessing other kit as well but the neat trick that Anthony Gallo Acoustics have pulled off here is a speaker that does all this without sounding soulless, cool, detached, forwards and lean. The 3.5s were always musical and had the ability to allow the listener to become immersed in the music as an emotional whole but also to take a step back, and with great ease, access the musical structure, nuance and individual elements of any recording and also the way in which individual components within a system sounded.
One other area in which the 3.1s sounded immediately better than the original 3 was the way in which the individual drive units gelled together, the coherence of the speaker and the Gallo 3.5s also sounded more coherent than the 3.1 but not in as massive away as the second version of the speaker had over the original. This improvement like the others was a very welcome one and the interesting aspect to this was that all of this is achieved with a flat no spikes, soft interface base plate.
The original speakers required a lot of set up to get the angle of the speaker right in order to fully unlock the coherence of the design and failure in this area just mean’t you did not get all the speaker could do. Amazingly the 3.5s sounded awesome just placed on my floor and yes they rocked on the uneven carpeted surface but in defiance of this bass was tight and articulate and went low. Would a flatter more stable surface under then have made a difference? Perhaps, but truthfully as hard as I could I could not detect any issues here and believe you me I tried hard to wrong foot them. With the 3.5 speakers the conventional wisdom re hard interfaces i.e spikes or cones just does not apply; so well done Anthony in thinking well and truly out of the box here.
You will have noticed so far in this section of the review that I have not mentioned specific pieces of music and that is deliberate, as frankly I think I can better convey how these speakers are without doing that, however with the next section of the review, the adding of the Reference SA bass amplifier I will.
The Reference SA Bass Amplifier £1000
As mentioned above the Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3 speakers right from ‘the get go’ had the facility to have a second set of voice coils in the side firing bass driver driven by an external second amplifier and that can either be used as a stereo or mono amplifier. This amplifier can also be driven either from pre-amplifier outputs or if the partnering system has no such facility, then from the power or integrated amplifiers speaker output terminals.
This is how Anthony Gallo describe the SA Amplifier
‘Reference 3 owners looking for an even more intense experience have the option of adding our Reference 3 SA amplifier to their system. The 2 x 240-watt Reference 3 SA amplifier is an innovative high-power amplifier, specifically designed to work in parallel with the Reference 3 to offer even greater bass extension.
It does this by ‘actively’ powering a second voice coil on the Reference 3′s bass driver. The effect of utilising this second voice coil is like adding two perfectly integrated subwoofers into the room, taking linear bass response down to a stomach-churning 22 Hz.
This ‘stereo subwoofer’ effect adds a new dimension to the already exceptional performance of the Reference 3. In stereo systems, bass is pure, musical and as deep as you could possibly want, without interfering with midrange and high frequencies.
Furthermore, the Reference 3 SA includes the ability to bridge the channels in the amplifier, boosting mono output to 600 W. This high power output, along with the added features of bass EQ control, dual mono attenuators, phase control and adjustable low pass filter control…..’ gives the SA great flexibility to perfectly tailor how it matches to your Reference 3 speakers in your particular room and on the end of the chosen system .
The Reference SA amplifier came well packed and with a comprehensive set of instructions and nice quality pre output splitting plugs just in case your pre-amplifier has only one set of outputs and you are already using it to feed a power-amplifier.
Build quality is very good with a distinctly Pro-audio look which includes grab handles on the front panel and little raised right angled metal feet on the back panel; which allows one to set this amplifier on the floor, without damaging the speaker binding posts, if one so choses to do so. This was a nice touch.
However there were a couple of things that I felt could be a bit better: Firstly the minor things of which I am probably nit picking but I feel that the screws along the top front edge of the amplifier should be recessed better (on my sample most don’t sit flush with the top of the amplifier) and I think better quality speaker outputs would be comensurate with a product at this price point.
Secondly and in my opinion a more serious issue (though by no means a deal breaker) is the absence of any easily repeatable way to set the channel volume for the left and right volume controls. If they had calibration markings round them, on the amplifiers fascia and a thin raised ridge line/pointer on the volume knob; this would aid setting the volume, a vital thing, no end. In my opinion the recessed thumb print indentation on the existing controls does not help setting the volume, as does not having a calibration scale. I found myself being just a little paranoid from time to time re whether or not both channels were set properly during the period of the review.
The sample sent for review functioned flawlessly during the review period.
Listening to the Reference 3.5s with the SA amplifier
Well this was very much, new territory for me, never having tried anything even remotely similar before. I placed the Reference SA amplifier on a String Concepts Isolation platform, on top of a Mana Reference platform and I used a TrusoundZ TSZ-0966 mainscable for power supply duties, with line level signal feed to the SA via a 1m pair of Atlas Mavros rca to rca interconnect cables. Speaker cable used was Altas Mavros to the top speaker inputs and TrusoundZ Revelation TSZ – 0683 or QED Genesis Silver Spiral speaker cable to the bottom second voice coil inputs.
I had a few problems initially deciding where to position the SA amplifier and then once having settled on using the space on my Clearlight Audio Aspekt Rack where one of my large collection of tuners normally sits another more serious problem occurred. I had up until installing the SA amplifier been using my Chapter Audio Preface Signature pre-amplifier and Chapter Audio Couplet power amplifier with the stand alone 3.5 speakers with great results and I had fully intended on conducting this part of the review with those self same components but a fairly loud buzzing sound put paid to those plans.
The Chapter Audio Preface Signature pre-amplifier has a facility whereby both the XLR outputs (the way I connect the pre to its power amplifier normally) and the RCA outputs can be active at the same time. I have run the pre like this in the past, when hooked up to a cassette deck (less than ideal as the output level is variable and not fixed) with no hum problems but everytime I hooked the SA up there was a loud humming. I tried swapping interconnect cables round but the hum persisted. I contacted Stephen at Anthony Gallo, but they drew a blank, not having come across this problem before. Sadly I was forced much earlier than I had intended to swap the Chapter Audio pairing out of the system. Initially I used my Balanced Audio Technology VK300 SE integrated amplifier instead, but settled on the Meridian G02 pre-amplifier and Meridian G56 power-amplifier pairing to do most of the rest of this part of the review.
While using the BAT or Meridian components there was no hum problem what-so-ever, and that was while still using the Atlas Mavros rca to rca cables; go figure, the problem obviously lies with the Chapter Audio pre-amplifier but where? I must be honest and say I don’t know.
I had previous to this problem occurring decided to use the Gallo Reference 3.5s and SA amplifier separately and together with other components to broaden the review but not so early on. It frustrates me that I had to complete this part of the review not knowing how the Chapter Audio components would sound with the full octane Gallo pairing…..such is audio reviewing life sometimes.
Ultimately I placed the SA amplifier on my Mana Acoustics Reference platform, with an SSC isolation platform directly under it. I did this to more easily facilitate the swapping of the Chapter Audio pre-power with the BAT VK300SE integrated amplifier and then the Meridan pre-power combination.
Words like ‘blind deaf man on a galloping horse could not fail to hear this’ came to mind as I sat down to listen to the 3.5s and SA amplifier paired together, such was the improvement in sound quality that I heard. The already magical Gallo 3.5s took a huge leap forwards with greater bass depth, weight and scale but at no time losing the speed and detail that the non SAed 3.5s possessed. Any concerns I had that the addition of the SA amplifier might slow down or bloat the sound of the 3.5 speakers were misplaced as all the properly calibrated SA did was enhance the already evident qualities inherent in the speakers.
Interestingly much as a Super Tweeter added to a conventional speaker enhances the midrange as well as the treble, the addition of the SA driving the second voice coil did more than just improve bass reproduction as I could hear distinct improvements in the overall reproduction of music, across the frequencies.
Careful set up is required and in my room and system less was definitely more, it was easy to ruin what the SA amplifier was doing by being heavy handed on the controls. I found for instance that my 3.1s required a little less bass boost than the 3.5s . This was down to the slightly less obviously fuller tonal balance between them and the extra speed inherent in the 3.5. With both speakers I left the crossover setting as per Gallo’s recommendations, i.e 40HZ, however in your room you may need to play around with both settings to achieve the best balance.
The SA Amplifier added to 3.1 Speakers
Adding the SA sub amplifier to my own 3.1 speakers (something I was doing for the very first time during this review) as it had with the 3.5′s was an amazing experience as the music gained depth, weight and scale. With the SA in circuit the soundstage expanded forwards slightly but gained height, width and greater depth with the acoustic of the track I was listening to – John Campbell – Down in a Hole, from the Dali Demo CD – being so much more palpable. Bass lines were deeper, richer, more nuanced and the whole rythm section on this track kicked more ass, but unlike with the 3.5′s, bass was still a tad slower and fatter compared to the much faster presentation of the 3.5 speakers.
The midrange and treble also benefited from adding the SA amplifier. I was surprised at this as frankly while I expected improvements in the lower midrange where a bass drivers influence on this area frequency wise still exists I did not think I would hear anything above that and certainly not in the treble but the music was more open and detailed in the mid and treble with the SA amplifier on.
I also tried listening with two different types of speaker cable used from the SA amplifier to the bottom ‘sub’ input on the 3.5 speakers and truthfully I could hear no real difference between them in this application (I know I would if connected to the main inputs) but it would have been nice to have had another 6m pair of Atlas Mavros cables to hand just to see if a full loom of the same cable made any difference.
After listening for quite awhile I had to adjust the SA amplifiers booster control downwards to suit the 3.1′s as the slight fuller, slower bass drivers edged towards being just a tad too full at times with these speakers. It never quite slid into bloat or bass boom and I must concede here that my room acoustics may have added to this but this effect just helped to confirm the greater speed and accuracy of the 3.5′s bass drivers over the 3.1′s. In saying all that though if you can’t afford to upgrade to a 3.5 from a 3.1 and you don’t have an SA amplifier, well regardless of the type of music you listen to, or even the size of room (the SA has enough adjustment flexibility to work for most sizes of rooms that the Reference 3 series speakers work well in with out it) the improvement in performance I experienced was so great to really make trying one a no brainer; so if you own a set of Gallo 3.1 speakers get to it as soon as you can.
While this will not turn a 3.1 into a 3.5 (oh how I wish it had but it didn’t) it will offer a substantial upgrade in sound quality to a pair of References 3s and 3.1s, and to think I once thought the SA amplifier was really just about getting more bass; I slap my hand to my forehead aka Homer Simpson and mutter a Doh, internally.
Adding the SA amplifier to your 3.1 will allow you to hear what your 3.1′s can do fully for the first time and as such turn already great speakers into greater ones; impressive stuff.
Conclusions Part One
The Elephant in the Room
I usually leave the issue of value for money up to the individual reader to decide on once they have heard the review product themselves but alas in the case of these speakers I can’t. I see this issue sitting in the corner of the room its huge grey hide and winking eyes glittering with a ‘I’am not going away’, so address it I must.
The fact of life is that these speakers in a previous version, a number of years ago, were considerably cheaper both down to miss pricing (something that does not happen in the retail world that often) and cheaper Chinese production but as already mentioned the failure rate re QC was so high that Anthony Gallo Acoustics had no option but to discontinue production and consider how to switch that to America, something they did successfully and came back to market a few years on with what has turned out to be a very interesting product that does in my opinion better the original by a considerable margin.
However the issue remains re the increase in price. The original series 3s sold for £2400 and the 3.1 for a little more, sadly the price of admission is now £5750. The original Gallo 3 series speakers were a bargain, in fact I would go so far as to say they were a steal and anyone who bought a pair back then possessed a great deal of foresight to give something fairly radical ago, and that purchase got them an outstanding product at a crazy price. As it stands today the 3’5s are beautifully made, the fit and finish better than the best pair of 3.1s and to get that level of quality (obviously the 3.5s incorporate more advanced technology as well, so I am not just talking about better cosmetics alone being responsible for the price increase) has cost a lot as producing specialist relatively low number items in your own country (something I applaud by the way) will always cost vastly more than doing so elsewhere. In away Gallo paid the cost of admittance for all those early speakers and I guess once one does the math the 3 series were a loss leader and probably cost Gallo Acoustics money.
The original speakers also came with speaker grills that cover the entire speaker (leaving only the back open) and if back lit the effect was stunning looking. However they sonically compromised the speakers performance, so if you need grills now they will be an extra £500. The fact that the originals came with grills is a fact alone which makes it really clear how under-priced the originals were. Not putting to fine a point on it, it was mad.
So today the 3.5s are not the financial bargain that the 3.1s were but in reality they now sell for what they probably should have sold for originally and in terms of performance……
Conclusions Part Two
The Anthony Gallo Reference 3.5s are a stunning achievement, rarely has so much been available from such a relatively small package. I defy anyone to hear a pair blindfolded, and correctly identify what size they are. They sound massive in all the right ways but work in small rooms really well; full range performance in rooms that full range speakers will sound bloated and slow is a major achievement by itself.
As a stand alone these are incredible speakers but once partnered with a Reference SA amplifier the performance takes another leap forwards of more than a significant enough nature, to more than justify the extra £1000 for that amplifier. If you own a set of 3s or 3.1s get yourself an SA amplifier, you won’t regret it (6)
I approached this review with a degree of anxiety on many levels, as mentioned at the beginning of the review, but the main fear I have kept to the last is that they would be so much better than my 3.1s that having to wave goodbye to these would be a huge upset. Well I will be shedding more than a few tears when these go I can tell you.
Mr Gallo, I take my hat of to you and your design team, and I salute you all re this achievement; these speakers are quite simply amazing and the original genius embodied in the original series 3 and 3.1 speakers has been more than redefined and in my opinion taken to a whole new level.
I don’t do 5 star review ratings etc as the final system and room will have an effect on any products performance and speakers are particularly sensitive to such issues, but get this right with these speakers (not too hard) and they will reward you with a lifetime of pleasure and will allow you to upgrade to your hearts content re front ends and amplification. Buy these and you have in my opinion a speaker for life. I have never regretted buying my 3.1s and if you are able to buy a pair of 3.5s you won’t regret doing that either.
(1) Exact differences between the 3 and 3.1
Improved Mid-Range Drivers:
Our Reference 3.1 stereo speakers feature improved mid-range drivers which incorporate a neodymium magnet and genius design for improved efficiency, mid-range detail and transient response.
Upgraded Power Capacitors:
The Reference 3.1’s all-new metallized polypropylene capacitors offer greater dynamics and lower current.
Tweeter Switch Eliminated:
The tweeter switch has been eliminated to ensure even greater signal coherency and high-frequency purity.
(2) I followed the story in full on Six Moons here
and you can read more about it in the opening paragraphs of 6 Moon’s 3.5 review here
(3) Photos of prototype 3.5s
(4) This is what Gallo Acoustics say about the speaker cable in more detail…..
‘No expense has been spared in making the Reference OPT Cable the perfect match for the Reference 3.5s. Gallo uses 6-gauge, oxygen-free copper for positive and negative conductors, while a third 18-gauge conductor handles the OPT Level 2 signal. Carefully chosen insulation materials, silver solder and the best available spade lug connectors deliver “cost-no-object” performance at a surprisingly reasonable price. More importantly, each of these materials was selected for its ability to improve the sound quality of the Reference 3.5.
To produce this special wire, Anthony Gallo hired one of high end audio’s most renowned and respected cable designers. Precision control of conductor windings and cable geometry, aerospace-grade termination techniques, and exceptional quality control, guarantee a level of manufacturing quality and performance unmatched by similarly priced cable.
While it’s true that our Reference 3.5s will perform very well with a wide variety of quality speaker cables, we believe that the Reference OPT Cable delivers a superior and more consistent performance across a wider range of systems and environments.
Reference OPT Cable is supplied in pairs, each cable being 3m in length.’
(6) While I had to say goodbye to the Anthony Gallo Acoustics 3.5 speakers, I was unwilling to part with the SA Reference amplifier so I bought the Anthony Gallo demonstration unit.
Just before the 3.5 speakers went back to the UK distributor I decided to pair the speakers and sub amplifier up with an all valve amplification set up: Balanced Audio Technology VK31Se pre-amplifier, McIntosh 725 and Music Reference RM200 mk1 (1) power-amplifiers.
I was interested in seeing how this latest version of the Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3 speakers would work in that sort of set up, as one of the changes in spec between old and new in theory relates to their ease of drive. The 3.5s are a flat 8ohm load now whereas their predecessors were really a 4ohm load. I must say during the comparisons with fairly powerful solid state amplification I was not really aware of there being much difference in volume settings between the older 3.1s and the new 3.5s during my comparing of the two.
Unusually for me for the last couple of years or so I have been using solid state amplification increasingly more which is a fairly dyiametrically opposite case to how it once was with me being a pretty much dyed in the wool valve user. Why the change? Well I found for the first time some solid state amplification that I could not only live with but actually enjoy and a few occasional issues with my BAT pre-amplifier (2) took me down another path.
Having listened to the BAT, McIntosh pairing for a few days with the 3.1s I switched to the 3.5s to find that they do indeed require a bit less power to reach realistic volume levels than the 3.1s did. Having heard the McIntosh in another system recently I had felt that its 75 watts were perhaps not particularly delivered well in regards to current. I was aware of a slight lack of drive and control of the lower registers, despite switching from the 8ohm to 4 ohm speaker output taps while it was hooked to the 3.1s. The overall sound was just lacking a little magic, a little get up and go. Substituting the older Gallo’s for the new ones has swung the get up and go barometer in just right the way to ‘lets party’!
The obvious sonic improvements between the two speakers was still evident regardless of the change in type of amplification as it had been during the solid state stage of this review, but with the easier drive the McIntosh/BAT pairing was injecting more colour, depth and tonal richness into proceedings; areas where valve amplification traditionally mostly win out over solid state, so no massive surprises or shocks there. I also felt that the way dynamics ebbed and flowed was also slightly more obvious, again an area where previous experience with valve amplification in the past shows that glass amplification is better than sand.
The Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5s were during this period of listening were once again reminding me of just how transparent to the other electronics up stream of them they are but unlike some other speakers not in a nasty way. Don’t get me wrong though, these speakers will all too quickly show you what is wrong up stream just not in the cold ruthless way some speakers can and do.
Switching to the Music Reference RM200 mk1 from the McIntosh was interesting (understatement actually) as it was immediately obvious in the context of this system (even with the RM200 from cold) that this was a substantially better amplifier. Ambient details and noise from the audience during Stimela by Hugh Masekela were more easily heard and the overall acoustic had better depth and dimensionality than with the McIntosh 725. The tonal palette of music amplified via the RM200 was greater and all the nuances and subtle details in the music ebbed and flowed with effortless ease. In fact dynamics via this amplifier were among the best I have heard during the entire review.
Listening to Hugh’s trumpet work, full of rich intonation and emotion was breathtaking, as was the way the band played behind and around him; I sat mesmerised by what I was hearing. The quality of music in my main listening room via this set up was incredible and I went onto let the entire Dali Demo CD play to the end.
With pressure on to get this review completed as Gallo Acoustics needed the speakers back I had felt a niggle that not getting to try them on the end of valve amplifiers was going to reduce the completeness of this review, so I am glad that a slight delay in sending them back has resulted in this window of listening opportunity as it does indeed show that these new speakers are more valve friendly (3) than their predecessors but with the caveat that higher power is still required to get the very best from them its just we are down to 50 watts or so from 75 which was the base line generally before with the 3.1s. (4)
I am really glad I had a further listen to the Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 speakers with the BAT VK31Se pre-amplifier and Music Reference RM200 power-amplifier because if I hadn’t I would have missed out on hearing these speakers at their very best in my listening room. This was heady stuff indeed and it makes my parting with them all the harder but go back they must.
(1) You can read about the RM 200 amplifier here in more detail but also the very interesting life of its designer Roger Modjeski
(2) An intermittent noise issue manifesting its self on the right channel every so often (which was not valve induced) made listening to the pre-amplifier a frustrating experience and thus I stopped using it. You may ask why I didn’t get it repaired? A sudden and unexpected redundancy meant that I no longer had the funds to get it fixed. It has been awhile since I used it and finding the volume control no longer working manually (upon firing it up) but only by remote, suggests to me that the noise issue was a symptom of this fault about to occur. I have however been using the pre-amplifier for the last week with no noise issue and it sounded as wonderful as it always did, hence I decided to use it for this part of the review; despite the fault.
(3) The 3.1s always sounded great with valve amplifiers but suited 75 watt to 100 watt ones better than low powered single ended ones.
(4) I have had a few good results over the years with lower powered single ended valve amplifiers but they have always been 845 types rather than 2A3, 300B or similar.
Source of review products: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Europe
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Europe
The Inox Building
|Telephone:||01555 66 68 83|
|Fax:||01555 66 33 44|
UK/Europe Website http://www.anthonygallo.co.uk/
Anthony Gallo Acoustics USA website here http://www.roundsound.com/reference.php
Specification: of Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 speakers.
Frequency Response 34Hz – 20kHz +/- 3dB
Nominal Impedance 8 Ohms
Sensitivity 88 dB/1 Watt/1 metre
Power Handling 350 Watts continuous undistorted
Drivers Dual 4″ carbon fibre midrange drivers, Custom 10″ dual voice coil bass driver
Tweeter CDT3 Tweeter 3kHz to 20 kHz, 300 degree dispersion across full tweeter bandwidth
Midrange Drivers Dual 4-inch, carbon fiber cone drivers optimized for crossover-less design
Woofer Custom long-throw 10-inch ceramic-coated aluminum cone dual voice-coil driver
Dimensions (mm): 889 (H) x 203.2 (W) x 406.4 (D)
Weight 47lb/21.3 kg each
Connections Gold plated metal binding posts for secure wire connection.
Finishes Black with stainless steel or all black.
Warranty 5 Years Parts and Labour
Retail Price: £5750
Specification: of Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference SA Amplifier
2 x 160 watts RMS @ 8 ohms
20Hz – 20kHz (stereo mode)
2 x 250 watts RMS @ 4 ohms
20Hz – 20kHz (stereo mode)
450 watts RMS @ 8 ohms
20Hz – 20kHz (mono mode)
650 watts RMS @ 4 ohms
20Hz – 20kHz (mono mode)
Distortion: 0.08% stereo, 0.1% mono
(low-pass @ 100Hz, level and xover at max, EQ at 0dB)
.01% stereo, 0.17% mono
(full-range, level at max)
Input Sensitivity: 130mV stereo, 110mV mono
Signal-to-Noise: 93dB stereo, 83dB mono
(low pass @ 100Hz, level and xover at max, EQ at 0dB)
93 dB stereo, 75dB mono
(full-range full-rated power @ 1kHz)
Load Impedance: 2 ohms or greater in stereo mode /
4 ohms or greater in mono mode
Bass EQ: 1W @ 35Hz (100Hz=0dB, level and xover at max, booster at 6dB)=6.2dB
1W @ 35Hz (100Hz=0dB, level and xover at max, booster at -3dB)=-3.2dB
Frequency Response: 15-200Hz low-pass (100Hz=0dB, level and xover at max, booster at 0dB)
<10Hz – 28kHz full-range (100Hz=0dB, level and xover at max, booster at 0dB)
Crossover: 40Hz low-pass, xover setting at minimum
200Hz low-pass, xover setting at maximum
Power Handling: 250 watts @ 4 ohms
160watts @ 8 ohms (In Stereo)
650 watts @ 4 ohms
450 watts @ 8 ohms (Bridged to mono)
12 Volt Trigger: Tip = (+) Sleeve = (-)
Auto-on Sensitivity: 5mV
Current Draw: 9A stereo, 13.5A mono
(level and xover at max, booster at 0dB)
Protection Circuitry: Short circuit, open circuit, RF burnout, over temp., speaker protection relays, Turn on/off transient protection, DC protection, and limiter circuitry
Temp. Protect: 60°C +/-5
Cooling: A low noise fan is utilized to draw cool air through the chassis using front and rear vents. Do not block the vents.
Power Requirements: 100 VAC 60Hz, 850VA
100-120 VAC 50/60Hz, 850VA
220-240 VAC 50/60Hz, 850VA
Dimensions: 19″W x 3.81″H x 15.62″D
Weight: 35 lbs
Connections: RCA inputs, 5-way binding posts
Available Finishes: Black or silver with black highlights
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor (expanded to 2 years if product is registered within 60 days of purchase)
Retail Price: £1000
© Text and Photos Copyright 2012 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio…..except for Anthony Gallo Acoustics Product product photos and album covers. Copyright belongs with their original publishers.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.