GamuT L-3 Mini-Monitor

Equipment report
Categories:
Stand-mount
|
Products:
GamuT L-3 Mini-Monitor
GamuT L-3 Mini-Monitor

You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of two-way loudspeakers lately—the stand-mounted Focal JMlab Electra 1007Be (Issue 176), the floorstanding planar-magnetic Magnepan MG12 and MMG (Issue 177), and, now, the stand-mounted GamuT L-3, with the MAGICO Mini II standing (or stand-mounting) in the wings (Issue 179). Why so many? Well, I have my reasons.

To begin with, I just plain like two-ways. As I’ve said before, they tend to disappear more completely as sound sources than multiways, and by “disappear” I don’t just mean that they sound less boxy because of their smaller enclosures (although they do). Thanks to their inherent simplicity (two little drivers, one crossover), they also tend to sound more of a piece than multiways—lower in driver and crossover colorations and, hence, more coherent top-to-bottom.1

That said, two-ways also have inherent limitations. Precisely because of their diminutive enclosures and smallish drivers, most (though not all) have trouble with large-scale dynamics, imaging, power-handling, and low bass, all of which tend to get “cut down to size,” as it were, scaled to less than lifelike dimensions. These are trade-offs I can generally live with, although they are tradeoffs and I understand where many listeners—particularly fans of larger-scale music—prefer a different set of compromises. (Often, I do, too.)

The other reason I’ve been sampling a variety of two-ways has to do with the question of value. When I raved about the then-$22k two-way MAGICO Mini I back in Issue 163, I set off a veritable storm of support and protest at our Web site (AVguide.com). Some folks were as wild about the Minis as I am; others were downright incensed that anyone would have the temerity to charge more than twenty-thousand dollars for a speaker that starts rolling off around 50Hz—or that any reviewer would recommend same. As wrong-headed as I thought these complaints were (most of the folks who denigrated the Minis had never heard them), they got me thinking.

Let’s face it: In almost every issue of TAS, someone on our staff raves about a stand- or floor-mounted two-way that costs a fraction of what the MAGICOs do. Could it be that life in my gilded ultra-high-end cage had blinded me to less-expensive options that really were competitive with the Minis? My review in Issue 176 of the excellent $4500 Focal/JMlab’s Electra 1007Be was a first step toward answering that question. This review of the $6700 GamuT L-3 is another.

What makes the GamuT speaker particularly intriguing is that it uses the selfsame tweeter as the MAGICO Mini—the ScanSpeak Revelator ring-radiator, making for even more of an apples-toapples comparison. Furthermore, GamuT’s current owner, Lars Goller, was formerly chief engineer at ScanSpeak and had a hand in designing the Revelator and many other ScanSpeak drivers! One would think that a man with these credentials would make a very fine loudspeaker. And one would be right.

While the L-3’s tweeter is the same as the Mini’s, it is only fair to note that everything else about the speaker is substantially different. Where the Mini I uses an exotic 7" titanium/Rohacell sandwich mid/woofer and the Mini II a proprietary and even more exotic 7" carbon-fiber/Rohacell one, the L-3’s mid/woof is a somewhat more conventional 7" ScanSpeak Revelator sliced-paper cone, fitted with ScanSpeak’s patented SD-1 magnetic engine and an “aerodynamic aluminum” chassis mounted on spikes inside the cabinet. That cabinet itself isn’t as sophisticated as the Mini’s (but then what cabinet is?). A small (15" high), surprisingly hefty (34 pounds), vaguely tear-drop-shaped box beautifully finished in real wood veneer and eleven coats of hand-polished, high-gloss lacquer (piano-black in the set that I received), the enclosure is constructed from high-density fiberboard (HDF) with internal skeleton braces and bitumen and acoustic damping. At its back are the woofer’s port, set (somewhat unusually) near the top of the rear facet,2 and two pairs of WBT binding posts mounted on an aluminum plate toward the enclosure’s bottom—one binding post for the tweeter and one for the woofer. Both posts have to be used, meaning you can either jumper them, bi-wire them, or bi-amp them.

GamuT also supplied me with a pair of its $1k (!) speaker stands, about which the less said the better.3

Unlike the stands, the GamuT instruction manual is quite professionally done. In it you will find useful tips on breaking the speakers in and setting them up. For instance, GamuT does not recommend listening to the L-3s directly on-axis, which is sound advice. I knew from experience with the MAGICOs that the Revelator tweeter is designed to be listened to slightly offaxis, where its response is flattest. (On-axis it has a slight rise in the top octaves.) Initially, the Gamut L-3 sounded a little dark in balance but very beautiful, less like the MAGICO Mini and more like the ultra-expensive Kharma Mini Exquisite. As I said in my review of the excellent Focal/JMlab Electra 1007Be’s, one of the keys to two-way success is striking a proper balance between the bass and the treble. The Focal leaned a bit toward the treble (as did the Mini I); the Gamut seemed, at first, to lean a bit toward the bass, although this bias was somewhat less noticeable as the speaker broke in. It took a good 20 hours of hard run-in before the L-3 began to sound its best, and another 60-80 hours of play before the drivers fully settled down. Throughout the process, the L-3s never stopped sounding lovely.

A quasi-anechoic frequency plot (shown below) will give you an idea of how the GamuT measured after 40 or so hours of play. (The plot incorporates port response.)4 From the upper bass through the midrange and into the lower treble, the L-3 is exceptionally flat—flatter, in fact, than the MAGICO Mini II. As is the case with the MAGICO Mini’s Revelator tweeter, there is an on-axis rise above 4kHz; however, as the speaker is designed to be listened to off-axis, where the treble measures (and, more importantly, sounds) nearly as flat as it does in the midband, this is more of a measurement anomaly than a real-world issue. While the bass may look a bit choppy and elevated, it is fairly flat down to about 45Hz and sounds much fuller, more extended, and more powerful than it may appear to be, with useable output into the high 30s.

As you can see, the L-3 is quite impressively linear in the midband and treble, and it sounds that way. The Revelator is a marvelous tweeter—not as fast or hard-hitting, perhaps, as the superb beryllium tweeter in the Focal/JMlab 1007Be, but not as etched or aggressive or vaguely metallic, either, and every bit as detailed and extended. The Revelator is really the star of the L-3, reproducing everything from sparkling top-octave piano to silken top-octave strings to shimmering cymbals with gorgeous color, persuasively lifelike transient response, exceptional low-level resolution of dynamic/harmonic detail, and a simply wonderful sense of ease and airiness that makes acoustic instruments sound as if they’ve were recorded in large atmospheric venues rather than cramped, airless sound booths.

A highly engineered (and pricey) driver, the 7" Revelator sliced-paper mid/woofer (the membrane is “sliced” to reduce breakup modes) has excellent linearity to above 5kHz, which makes it a good choice for a two-way. The only other time that I’ve heard this driver in my home was in the original Krell LAT floorstander (no longer in production), where it was also paired with a ScanSpeak tweeter. In the Krell speaker the combo was extraordinarily quick and hard-hitting, but also a bit arid and analytical. Happily, that is not the case here.

Once broken in the two Revelators are not only seamlessly matched and highly detailed but warm, surprisingly big and dynamic, unstintingly lovely, and quite persuasively realistic, especially on voice and strings. Take Joan Baez singing the ballad “Matty Groves” from Joan Baez in Concert [Vanguard]. For such a tiny woman, Baez had a huge supple voice and she could make any hall “ring” when she had a mind to. Here, in this live recording from 1963, the GamuTs gives you a true-to-life sense of just how fully she could command a stage and hold an audience in thrall. The L-3s not only capture the big sonic events, like the way Baez’s voice and guitar change in volume, color, and presence with changes in her delivery—shrinking to an intimate, erotic coo when Lord Arlen’s wife seduces Matty Groves and growing as huge, dark, and menacing as Lord Arlen himself when he finally confronts his unfaithful wife and her lover—but they also capture the littler ones. We hear Baez’s fingers sliding on the neck and strings of the guitar, the lovely chiming colors of the instrument when it is lightly strummed, its sudden fierceness and tremendous size when Baez strums it fiercely, the tremolo she adds to her hall-filling fortissimos, the clear, whispery sweetness of her pianissimos, along with the sense of a large venue and of an audience holding its breath as she makes this old, familiar tale of illicit love and bloody vengeance a piece of living musical theater. And for all this resolution, we hear these things without a hint of the analytical. They are simply woven into the fabric of the performance, as they would be in life.

As I said earlier, for a tiny two-way the L-3 is surprisingly big and dynamic, even in the bass, where it reproduces the crashing sustained chords that end the ostinato-like Appassionata of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Studies for Piano [Argo] with something close to the fireworks-against-a-night-sky power and color of a reallife grand piano’s bottom octaves (and with precise definition of pitch, to boot). In the upper midrange and lower treble the L-3’s touch is almost, though not quite, as deft as the MAGICO’s with a little more upper-mid/treble brilliance than the Mini but without any thinning of timbre. Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg’s spiccato bowing in the Allegro brusco (and, brother, does she make it brusco) of the Prokofiev First Violin Sonata is reproduced with remarkable clarity, and the gorgeous tone color that makes this recording so ravishing. As you might expect, the L-3 is also a world-class soundstager, throwing a soundfield that is very nearly as wide and deep, though not as tall, as the best I’ve heard and consistently imaging “outside the box”—well beyond the far sides of either enclosure.

So where does the L-3 stand in the pantheon of great two-ways? Pretty high, I’d say. It doesn’t really sound like a Mini II—it doesn’t reach that level of “fool-ya” realism and transparency to sources. When all is said and done, I suppose the way its ported enclosure loads the mid/woof and the room may account for the slight but persistent darkness of its balance, although it may also be adding to its overall warmth and loveliness. The enclosure could probably be improved on and, without question, so could the stands.
 

Featured Articles

Lists