Though Danish manufacturer Gamut Audio has been making electronics for recording studios since 1982, the official establishment of its retail consumer division didn’t occur until 1995. Even so, I’ll bet those of you who’ve been around this industry for some time will have likely only become aware of the name recently, with its escalating profile over the past several years. The man responsible for driving this ever-increasing presence since 2012 is 42-year-old chief designer and CEO, Benno Baun Meldgaard.
Initially hired in 2011 as a repair technician and design consultant, he found himself inordinately troubled when the company’s then RS5 loudspeaker received a considerably less than glowing review. That prompted him to undertake a re-design initiative, resulting in the introduction of the RS5i (originally referred to as “the Superior RS5”) in 2012.
It wasn’t long after its release that the press, dealers, and customers recognized just how remarkable the RS5i version was. As a result, Meldgaard was promoted to Chief Designer, and followed up his initial achievement with the successful release of the RS7i, followed soon by the remarkable stand-mounted RS3i monitor, all of which have garnered wonderful reviews. It was while he was working on the RSi revisions that he formed the ideas for how to accomplish his definitive design, a complete reworking of the RS9, which would be so different that it would deserve a new name.
Coincident with internal business issues, he was asked to take the helm at Gamut as CEO in 2015. By late 2016, his vision of an extraordinarily accomplished flagship loudspeaker was realized, and the Zodiac, under examination here, was born.
Most recently in the news at the end of January, Meldgaard was delighted to announce yet another accomplishment; Gamut Audio had joined the Dantax group of companies, along with fellow Danish high-end audio brands Raidho and Scansonic. This partnership assures enhanced capitalization, support, and representation, all the while allowing Gamut Audio to continue to operate as a distinct marque as it continues to increase its brand recognition in the fine-audio marketplace.
Building a Mystery
Given the scope and time requirements of the manufacturing process, only 12 pairs of Zodiacs are assembled annually. As such, each bears a serial number that is based on the astrological sign that represents its creation period; my review samples bore the label Leo II. In astrology, Leo represents the period from July 23 to August 22, which I take to mean these units were the second pair of Zodiacs to be built in August, the first having been built in August 2016, with this set assembled in August 2017.
Scandinavians are known for their love of living well and simply, so it should come as no surprise that Meldgaard has guided Gamut Audio to be as green a manufacturer as possible, using almost entirely all-natural materials, sourced locally. In large part, this is due to his realizations while he was re-envisioning the Gamut product line. Meldgaard told me that he found that the more he employed natural materials like wood, paper, and oils in place of metal, composite materials, and chemicals, the less mechanical or analytical, and more natural-sounding, all his designs became. In fact, future versions of Gamut electronics will eschew metal cabinets in favor of a treated, stiffened paper material! But that is another story.
Using sustainable-forest woods chosen for their acoustic properties, sourcing drivers of Danish design and manufacture from companies such as Danisian Audio and ScanSpeak, and employing top-quality, high-grade copper and silver capacitors from Danish companies like Jantzen, Gamut does everything it can to minimize the carbon footprint of its product line.
Gamut loudspeaker bodies (they don’t call them enclosures or cabinets) are handcrafted by Kvist Industries, makers of some of the world’s most iconic luxury furniture, including the distinctive Gamut Hi-Fi Lobster Chair, and whose facility happens to be just a five-minute walk from Gamut headquarters. Fashioned more in the manner of a luthier creating a cello or violin, the loudspeaker body requires the integration of impeccable materials and obsessive craftsmanship, with the goal of producing both a stunning aesthetic object and the recreation of only beautiful, unobstructed, unconstrained sound.
Twenty-eight layers of hand-selected woods of varying thickness and variety (the outermost being ash), are formed into this distinctive, boat-shaped, tapered body using a prolonged heating and forming process that liquifies the natural wood sap in all the layers. This process facilitates more effective bonding of the multiple layers, allowing them to retain their new form after cooling. This more relaxed condition is said to significantly reduce material stresses or tensions that might otherwise give rise to distortion, contributing to an optimal resonant signature and enabling faster decay of unwanted vibrations in the finished loudspeaker. While undeniably solid, massive, and dense, the Zodiacs do not yield the same solid or dead thud to the knuckle-rap test as models that use milled or machined metals or composite layering do.