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Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1

[Italian version]

Reviewer: Arvind Kohli - TNT USA
Reviewed: June 2008

MANUFACTURER'S SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer's Website Anthony Gallo Acoustics
Driver Compliment Three way floor standing
Tweeter CDT Tweeter with 300 dispersion; 3kHz - 35kHz
Mid range driver Dual 4" carbon fiber midrange drivers
Bass range driver 10" carbon fiber bass driver
Crossover Frequency None on tweeter or mid-range units. Low pass filter on woofer set at 125hz.
Frequency Response 34Hz to 35kHz +/- 3dB; (+/- 3dB @ 22hz with optional bass amplifier).
Sensitivity 88dB/W/M
Impedance 4 to 8ohms top terminal; 4ohms lower terminal
Power Handling 350 watts RMS
Dimensions H x W x D 36.25" x 8" x 14"
Weight 47 lbs each
MSRP $3,295 (YMMV)
Warranty and Return policy Five years limited warranty.

[Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1]

INTRODUCTION

If I had to generalize my current quest for what I think may pan out to be the ideal loudspeakers, it would be this "full-range, point source, box less, crossover less". Of course, a small bag of recreational pharmaceuticals would also be requisite to realize that pipe dream. The physics of realizing that is not even conceivable at this point of human knowledge. However, even if we will never reach perfect we can make like an asymptote and get just that bit more closer to ideal. But...

"Ah, but a man's reach must exceed his grasp,
or what's a heaven for?"
   - Robert Browning

LISTENING

I have to say, that even before I got my hands on these speakers, I was very impressed by its design - especially the crossover-less drivers, time-aligned MTM profile, bass response down into the 30s and cabinet free driver mounting. Add to that some very impressed raves by counterparts at other publications, and my curiosity was piqued. Actually, I am ashamed to say that even before I received the samples I was starting to wonder that these might be the speakers I had been looking for all these years. Upon receiving the samples, I duly started to break them in, since I had heard of a mandatory long break-in period for this model. The owner's manual and the folks at their office had conflicting details around how long and what benefits break-in would yield. I tried to get them to clarify that point several times - but never received a response. I hope their Customer Service is not as poorly run as their Media Relations.

Well, during the break-in period I could not but help myself to several slices of Gallo pie. Sweeeeeet, sweet indeed - nearly full range, luscious, detailed, dynamic and spacious like nobody's business. I couldn't contain myself from anticipating the inevitable conclusion I was going to arrive at after more serious listening - these were probably going to be my new references. I even began to feel out the notion with my wife, that I might purchase a pair for myself. But wait! The guy sitting on my other shoulder admonished me to be diligent and reach a conclusion after the experiments were actually conducted - with a reluctant heart I proceeded to complete a more than required amount of break-in and then carry out the drudgery of comparative listening.

As always, the tests detailed below are representative of what was generally experienced over many listening sessions. Comparisons were done by repeatedly listening to a very short passage and switching between candidates. Volumes levels were level-matched as best I could without the benefit of laboratory grade equipment and facilities (donations of such would be greatly appreciated). Word to those interested...the spikes do make a small but significant difference in treble performance. I suspect the vertical dispersion of the tweeter is very limited, and the spikes help to aim them at the ear.

I hate to give away the conclusion in the middle of the novel, but this is important. At the end of my listening tests with the first sample, I had a chance to discuss them with Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade Acoustics, since he is a big fan of these speakers and I have a great deal of respect for his opinions, even if I do not always agree with them. Well, he convinced me that there could be something wrong with the transformer on the tweeter and hence the less than relatively stellar performance of the first sample. I contacted the folks at Gallo and they suggested canceling the review.
Sorry, no dice - I always print what I find even if contrary findings are later added, I don't see that as egg on my face. But I do resent manufacturers trying to ply me to work things their way. The samples were shipped back for Anthony Gallo to check them out himself. Many, many, many weeks and promises and emails later I was told that the fist sample was not broken in properly - huh, I have never spent so much time and effort breaking in anything; if they really require that much break-in then caveat emptor. Well, they finally shipped me a second sample that they had broken in to their own satisfaction - by this time I only had the Dynaudios on had to do a comparison with, so where noted the comparison results to the second pair are also mentioned.

Anthony Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1 vs. Reference 3A Dulcet

"Summertime" (Lesley Olsher; Stereophile Test CD1; Stereophile; STPH002-2 )
As I had noted when I reviewed the Dulcet, it has a tendency to sound a bit strained at certain frequencies when played at higher volume levels. That flaw was evident with this track, especially when compared to a much smoother and effortless presentation by the Gallo's. However, at low to moderate levels the Dulcet did sound a bit more natural and unencumbered than the Gallo's.

"Rag Hemant" (Ali Akbar Khan, Indian Architexture; Water Lily Acoustics; WLA-ES-20-SACD)
The treble response by the Gallo tweeter was superlative for resolution, yet smooth. Imaging via the Gallo's was also superlative. It is not that the Dulcet's are poor in treble resolution, but that their spectral balance maybe a bit tipped down in the higher frequencies.

"Raag Shivaranjani" (Alif Laila and Ustad Tari Khan; Sangam; Mapleshade; 11782)
"Raga Bageshree" (Ustad Shahid Parvez; Live in Toronto; Sitar school of Toronto)
I used the aalap (introduction) movement of these two pieces to dissect the treble response of the speakers on hand. The microtones and resonances in these segments are an acid test for treble performance, and the Gallo's were in an obviously superior league when compared to the Dulcets. This was likely due to better transient response and no crossover to pollute the signal into the tweeters. The Gallo's were also better at separating each strand of complexity whereas the Dulcet was not as able to maintain it's composure in the thick of things.

"Afro - freestyle skit" (Eryka Badu; Baduism; Universal; UD53027)
The Dulcet was a bit livelier sounding and faster on transients. In direct comparison the Dulcet was also a bit thin - which I would attribute to the spectral frequency likely being a bit shelved down in the lower frequencies. The Gallo's were relatively quite a bit fuller and richer on female vocals. The Dulcets were a bit shouty at high volume levels.

Anthony Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1 vs. Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII

"Summertime" (Lesley Olsher; Stereophile Test CD1;Stereophile; STPH002-2 )
The Dynaudios were significantly better at delivering the dynamics of the female vocals on this track. However, with the second sample the differences between the two speakers were next to none.

"Rag Hemant" (Ali Akbar Khan, Indian Architexture; Water Lily Acoustics; WLA-ES-20-SACD)
"Raag Shivaranjani" (Alif Laila and Ustad Tari Khan; Sangam; Mapleshade; 11782)
"Raga Bageshree" (Ustad Shahid Parvez; Live in Toronto; Sitar school of Toronto)
The Gallos did something that I have never experience to this degree before. The best that I can describe it is to coin a term "palpable treble". We've all heard of bass being that way - as you approach 20hz and lower you feel the sound waves as much or more than you hear them. But with the Gallos, I had a similar experience in the treble region - I could almost feel the impact of the sitar strings, as each was plucked. Sure enough, as I switched back to the Dynaudios I can definitely say that the experience did not disappear...but it was at a whole different degree with the Gallos, to the extent that I was convinced I had never experienced such impact in the treble region before. Unfortunately, given its performance in almost all other aspects (see further) I am thoroughly confused as to how the Gallos could perform so tremendously well in one aspect and relatively poorly in many others.

There were no ifs, ands or buts about it; the Dynaudios delivered a cleaner sounding presentation. By cleaner I mean the bits and pieces were more easily distinguishable, instead of sounding congealed. This was especially true in the mid frequencies. The Dynaudios also played a bit louder for the same setting on the volume control (contrary to specs). And finally, the Dynaudios also seemed to muster a bit more detail in the treble region, but that is likely a by-product of the cleaner presentation. Now keep in mind, in absolute terms the Gallos are no slouch in these aspects, but these findings are simply relative to the Dynaudios. Herein is where the value of direct comparisons lie, back when the Gallos were breaking in I was very impressed by them and would not have ever guessed they would take second place to the Dynaudios in any aspect.

With the second sample, I still did prefer the Dynaudios - but cannot say if to the same degree as with the first sample, since I did not have them on hand to compare. But judging from my notes and the poor excuse I have for a memory, I believe it was much easier and quicker for me to have picked the Dynaudios as the preferred transducer when comparing to the first sample of the Gallos.

"You gonna need my help" (Muddy Waters; Folk Singer; MCA Chess; 088 11 940-2)
They Dynaudios were again the preferred speakers here. In terms of cleaner vocals and better transient response. With the second sample the result was about the same as with the track above. The differences were still there, but they may have been smaller than with the first sample - echoic memory simply does not go back that far.

"Afro - freestyle skit" (Eryka Badu; Baduism; Universal; UD53027)
The Dynaudios were either a bit sharper sounding or they just plain had better dynamics, whereas the Gallos were obviously somewhat flatter sounding. It is sometimes difficult to discern when a component actually has better dynamics and sharper sounding. For some reason I was able to resolve the mystery when doing the same test at lower levels; and was convinced that the Dynaudios were simply better at dynamics. Specs be damned, the Dynaudios had better extension, albeit at the expense of port turbulence at very high levels. The Gallos are supposed to have deeper extension, but these in-room measurements backed up what my ears heard nicely; above 70hz the Gallos were 5db louder, but below 60hz the Dynaudios were upto 12 db louder and had a much flatter roll off.

"Between the devil and the deep blue sea" (Thelonius Monk; Straight No Chaser; Columbia; CK64886 )
The Dynaudios had a lot more slam and impact in mid-low frequencies. The Dynaudios also seemed to have more detail and a quieter background. As noted earlier, the Gallos delivered something I can only describe as palpable treble - truly a worthwhile and memorable experience. However, in general the Dynaudios were more involving and real sounding. The same findings were with the second sample; except that "palpable treble" did not seem to jump out at me.

I was very surprised to see that the Dynaudios were better on virtually all counts. I was expecting the crossover less drivers, cabinet less design and 10" woofer of the Gallos to shame the Dynaudios. Perhaps, I had also expected a lot of the Gallos due to the many raves by writers from other publications...my lapse for allowing that to influence me.

CONCLUSION

My hopes for a new reference have been dashed - the Gallo's will be returning to the factory. For now the Dynaudios will continue to serve as reference; even though I have experienced better sound from others in various aspects. For example, the Reference 3A Dulcet and Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202 had a much more transparent mid-range and better transient response from the mid to as low as they went. Also, the Dynaudio's treble was trumped by the inexpensive and astounding Silver Flute ribbon job featured in the Jupiter Audio Europa
. But still, the Dynaudios serve as reference because it is the best all-around performer I have found so far...but, the search continues.

Don't get me wrong, these are great speakers and this is definitely high-end sound. But if the Dynaudios can do almost everything better or the same for less money then the Gallos are not about to get my vote for a reference speaker.

Further more, the Gallo organization needs to get their act together in the PR and responsiveness areas - I only hope their customer service is not as atrocious as their media relations.

REFERENCE GEAR
Gear Manufacturer and Model
Digital Disc Players Denon DVD-3910 with Underwood mods (level2 + masterclock)
Pioneer 414
Sony DVP-NS755V
Phono Cartridge Goldring Elite(MC)
Audio Technica OC9 MLII(MC)

Turntable Technics/KAB SL1200 MkII, with tonearm damper
Phono stage Cambridge Audio 640P Azur
Integrated Amplifiers Cayin 265Ai
NAD 317
Speakers Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII
Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202
NHT Superzero

Subwoofers

ACI Force
Velodyne F1500R
Headphone Amplifier Practical Devices XM3
Headphone Sennheiser HD497
Connectors Various

© Copyright 2008 Arvind Kohli - www.tnt-audio.com

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