I have been following the evolution of Anthony Gallo’s loudspeakers for quite a while and over time have grown accustomed to, and even fond of, their futuristic styling. But Gallo speakers, as I have pointed out in past reviews, always look different for solid engineering-related reasons, not just for the sake of making a high-impact design statement. Where other designers have used traditional rectangular MDF speaker enclosures with wood veneers, Gallo has taken a much different path—often designing irregularly shaped die-cast aluminum or spun-stainless-steel enclosures, all in the name of structural rigidity, resonance control, and resistance to internal standing waves. And Gallo’s willingness to (pardon the pun) think outside the box extends beyond the realm of speaker enclosures to include fresh thinking about drivers and crossover networks, too.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I first set eyes and ears upon Gallo’s new Classico CL-3 floorstander ($2395/pair), which is the first Gallo speaker ever to feature a conventional wood-box enclosure. (Gasp!) I could well imagine the commercial considerations that might have prompted a move to wood-box enclosures, but wondered if this meant Gallo was setting aside the design objectives that had led the firm to use unorthodox metal enclosures in the first place. In short, I wondered if the CL-3 would sound like a “real” Gallo. As it turns out, however, I needn’t have worried, as I discovered very early on that the new Classico model not only equals the performance of Gallo’s critically acclaimed Reference speakers in many respects, but arguably surpasses them in some critical areas. To learn how Gallo pulled off this feat, read on.
The CL-3 is an unusually small 31"-tall tower-type speaker that features strikingly-angled panel surfaces intended to minimize problems with internal reflections. Classico models are offered with either genuine cherry or ash veneers and come with curved, magnetically attached mesh grilles that compliment the angular shape of the speaker cabinets. The CL-3 drivers comprise a pair of 5.2" mid/bass units with carbon-fiber diaphragms, plus one of Gallo’s signature CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeters. The CL-3 enclosure is made from ¾" internally braced MDF and is configured, says Gallo, as a “modified transmission line,” which vents through a rear-firing slot. The transmission line, in turn, is loaded with Gallo’s patented S2 damping material, which I will discuss further below. Interestingly, a brief spin through the Gallo specifications table reveals this telling phrase: “Internal Crossover: None required.” Like many of Gallo’s Reference Series designs, the Classico CL-3 is essentially a crossover-free loudspeaker, which as you might expect yields audible benefits in openness, transparency, and freedom from crossover-induced sonic artifacts.
Let’s take a moment to review some of the technical highlights of the CL-3. First, as mentioned above, the CL-3 uses a CDT tweeter that has 180 degrees of horizontal dispersion and 30 degrees of vertical dispersion. Gallo notes that the CDT tweeter provides “consistent high-frequency response both on- and off-axis,” meaning that both “soundstaging and imaging are enhanced.” The tweeter features a semi-cylindrical diaphragm formed from sheets of a piezoelectric material called Kynar. As current flows back and forth, the material expands and contracts, with acoustic output closely approximating that of a theoretical pulsating cylinder. Significantly, the CDT tweeter naturally acts as a roughly 6dB/octave high-pass filter that rolls in at about 3kHz, so that the tweeter is able to serve as its own crossover. Apart from terrific horizontal dispersion, the CDT tweeter also offers good linearity, high resolution, and extremely fast transient response.
Like previous Gallo speakers, the CL-3 uses the firm’s proprietary S2 damping material within its cabinet. S2 is a finely shredded polyethylene film material that not only provides excellent general damping properties, but also improves the volumetric efficiency of the air within the speaker. As Gallo puts it, “Our patented S2 technology tricks the Classico’s precision woofers into performing as though they’re in significantly larger enclosures.” Previous Gallo designs have always used S2 material in relatively small sealed enclosures, but in the Classico CL-3 the S2 material is, for the first time ever, being applied in a larger, vented, transmission-line enclosure. For the CL-3 application, Gallo has strategically placed air-permeable bags containing carefully chosen quantities of S2 material at specific locations within the transmission line. The claimed result is a speaker that “sounds much larger than its actual size and delivers real-life impact without ever sounding muddy.” Gallo has given this distinctive transmission-line-loading methodology the acronym BLAST, which stands for Backwave Linearization And Synchronization Technology. According to Gallo, BLAST affords “an improved acoustic impedance match between the woofer/midrange driver and the air within the enclosure,” which “allows the speaker to play louder, deliver exceptional bass, and perform overall like a speaker many times its size.” And as you’ll learn in a moment, these aren’t hollow marketing claims.
Finally, the Classico CL-3 employs what Gallo terms Optimized Pulse Technology (OPT) Level 2. OPT “applies a dielectric absorption countermeasure to eliminate sonic degradation from static charges that typically build up on speaker wires and within the speaker itself.”
All of these technical features sound promising in principle, but how do they work out in actual practice? The simple answer is that they work better than I ever imagined possible.
Let me acknowledge from the outset that CL-3, which is quite attractive in its way, simply looks too compact, too short, and too conventional to be capable of producing deep bass and powerful and expressive dynamics, or of delivering a big, transparent, and highly refined sound. But once the speaker is broken in (about 50 hours’ worth of run-in time should do the trick) and properly positioned, the fact is that it does all of the above and more.
Gallo specifies the CL-3’s frequency response as 32Hz–22kHz +/-3dB in room, and when you look at that 32Hz bass extension figure and then look at the CL-3 with its two 5.2" mid/bass drivers, your first thought might well be, “No way!” But put on a track with really solid low-frequency content, such as the very low-pitched drum heard near the beginning of the track “Temple Caves” from Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum [Rykodisc], and you’ll soon be singing a different tune. Implausible though it may seem, the little CL-3s go amazingly low and they do so with a remarkable combination of authority, finesse, and pitch definition. For example, you can easily pick out subtle drumhead “skin sounds” even on very low-pitched concert bass drums and the like—precisely the sort of thing many moderately-priced speakers either fail to reproduce altogether or else capture with an overlay of thick, ill-defined low-frequency noise. With the Gallo, on the other hand, it’s hard to say which is more impressive: its ability to go low, or its ability to maintain a very high level of textural finesse when doing so. Is there a trick to achieving this level of bass performance? Well, there is one: You must heed Gallo’s positioning guidelines, which recommend placing the CL-3 at least four inches and no more than two feet from the wall behind the speakers. I tried several positioning options during my listening tests and discovered that once the speakers were pulled out more than two feet from the wall, bass performance (that is, perceived weight, depth, and balance) fell off precipitously. But, within the two-foot zone, bass performance was exemplary.
Next, let me focus on the CL-3’s midrange performance and dynamic capabilities. It is in these two related performance areas that I felt the CL-3 actually managed to outperform some of the Gallo Reference models I’ve heard in the past. Specifically, the CL-3 exhibits a wide-open, highly transparent midrange that is terrifically responsive to shifts in dynamics. Although the CL-3 is nowhere near as sensitive as today’s best horn-loaded loudspeakers, it does somehow convey their traditional sonic qualities of effortlessness and powerful (indeed, at times explosive) dynamics-on-demand. By comparison, the midrange response of Gallo’s Reference models, though very good in its own right, can at times sound ever-so-slightly over-damped, so that one sometimes has the sense that a very powerful amplifier is needed in order to help “push” the notes out of the speaker. But, within reasonable volume limits, the CL-3s have no such restraints or caveats; with the Classicos in play, the music just flows freely—even at moments when dynamic demands become pretty extreme.
To appreciate what I mean, try listening to Movement 3 of David Chesky’s Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra [Chesky] and note the ferocious interplay between Bryan Baker’s electric guitar and the orchestra at full voice. Trying to get either the sound of the guitar or the orchestra right would be tough enough for most moderately priced loudspeakers, but in this movement the Classico handles both challenges with equal parts grace and savage energy. Note, as you play this movement at reasonable volume levels, how beautifully the CL-3 captures both the aggressiveness and intricate articulation of the guitar, while simultaneously handling the opposing demands of very high-frequency and very low-frequency percussion instruments played with gusto. If you have any lingering doubts about the CL-3’s ability to handle loud, abrupt, low-frequency transients, this track will quickly put them to rest.
The only caveat I would mention is that, because the midrange of the CL-3 is so expressive and revealing, the speaker is not very tolerant (or forgiving) of the overly hot midrange sounds captured on some modern pop records. I put on the track “You Were Always There” from Lyle Lovett’s My Baby Don’t Tolerate [Lost Highway] and noted that the Classicos pointedly exposed the fact that Lovett’s vocals were somewhat too closely mic’d and therefore exhibited an unnatural glassy sheen and a strident sound on sibilants and other vocal transients. For better or worse, the CL-3’s will consistent expose flaws of this sort, though I feel this is a small price to pay for the levels of openness and transparency the speaker offers on good recordings.
Finally, let me say a bit about the speaker’s ability to produce an unexpectedly big, spacious sound. When you first see the 31"-tall CL-3s, it is perhaps inevitable to worry that they might image, oh, at about knee level (which would obviously not be good). But this isn’t the case at all. Instead, I found that the speaker produced wide, deep, spacious images that were centered about a foot-and-a-half above the tops of the speaker enclosures. I frankly have no idea how Gallo pulled this off, but I suspect two design choices may have helped. First, the CL-3 positions its CDT tweeter at the top of its driver array, whereas most other Gallo designs place the CDT tweeter in the center of a classic MTM (midrange-tweeter-midrange) array. Second, the front baffle of the CL-3 is deliberately sloped backward to a noticeable extent, so that the tweeter’s output is angled upward. I suspect that positioning the tweeter as the uppermost driver in the array and giving it a bit of upward tilt helps with perceived image height.
In any event, the CL-3 sounds like a much larger speaker than it actually is, and it offers highs that are at once smooth and yet very finely focused, detailed, and extended. Where some tweeters seem to shout, “I’ve got definition to burn,” the Gallo CDT 3 tweeter manages to sound relaxed without ever sacrificing critical details or sounding recessed and soft. On the contrary, the CDT 3 does a great job of capturing high-frequency overtones, textural details, and subtle reverberant cues that help define the size and acoustics of recording spaces. Horizontal dispersion, as advertised, is extremely broad, so that it is not uncommon to experience soundstages whose width extends well beyond the outer edges of the loudspeakers.
A good example can be drawn from the middle movement of Robert Paterson’s Freya’s Tears from Paterson’s The Book of Goddesses [American Modern Recording], which is performed by the Clockwise duet featuring violinist Marc Uys and harpist Jacqueline Kerrod. The recording is rich in delicate, fleeting treble transient sounds, textural details, and ambient cues, and—through the Classicos—yields a sound where the voices of the harp and violin seem to hover in the air, replete with lush, evanescent beauty. In particular, I was enthralled to hear the Gallos vividly reproduce subtle performance details, such as the delicate, airy sound of Uys’ deft bowing. The only minor caveat I would note is that, because the tweeter’s treble dispersion pattern is so broad, you’ll want to be careful about positioning the speakers directly beside or behind nearby objects that could cause unwanted reflections. Most of the time, however, the Gallo tweeter helps foster greater levels of listener involvement.
Put all these factors together and it becomes clear that Gallo’s Classico CL-3 is one of the most capable and appealing loudspeakers in its price class, though it is not without stiff competition from models such the GoldenEar Triton 3, the Magnepan 1.7, and the MartinLogan Electromotion ESL (three excellent performers in this class). I had a pair of Magnepan’s 1.7s on hand for comparison purposes and found the Maggies enjoyed a narrow edge in top-to-bottom cohesiveness and overall image scale. The Classicos, however, offered equally taut but more powerful and deeply extended bass, equivalent levels of resolution, a somewhat greater sense of midrange fluidity, and more explosive dynamics. Significantly, the Gallos are somewhat easier to drive than the Maggies, though both speakers may require top-shelf (or at least near-top-shelf) amplification and source components to give of their best.
I would encourage anyone shopping for loudspeakers in the near $2k/pair class to give the Classico CL-3 very careful consideration. The only hard part, really, will be figuring out how Gallo is able to pull such a big, expansive, and refined sound from such small, unassuming loudspeakers.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Two-way, three-driver floorstanding loudspeakers with “modified transmission line” enclosure loading
Drivers: Two 5.2" mid/bass drivers with woven carbonfiber diaphragms, one CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeter
Frequency response: 32Hz–22kHz +/-3dB in-room
In-room sensitivity: 88dB
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 20–200W
Dimensions: 7" x 31" x 12.5"
Weight: 27.7 lbs. each
Price: $2395 per pair
Anthony Gallo Acoustics
20841 Prairie Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Digital sources: Musical Fidelity kW SACD player, Rega Isis CD Player/DAC
Amplification: Rega Osiris integrated amplifier
Speakers: Magnepan 1.7 loudspeakers
Interconnects: Furutech Lineflux and
Speaker cables: Furutech Speakerflux cables
Power products: Furutech Daytona 303 multi-mode AC power filter/distributor, Furutech Powerflux power cables
Room treatments/racks: Solid Tech Rack of Silence equipment racks, Auralex Studiofoam and RPB Binary Acoustic Diffsorber acoustic treatments