Gamut Superior RS3i

A Premium Compact from Denmark

Equipment report
Categories:
Stand-mount
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Products:
GamuT Superior RS3i
Gamut Superior RS3i

My first encounter with a top-model Gamut two-way stand-mounted speaker, the L3, was at a friend’s house about eight years ago. It performed well in my friend’s system and also in my own system, as my friend was kind enough to let me borrow the pair for a few days. The current RS3i’s predecessor, the S3, sounded gorgeous when I heard it at the Gamut headquarters in Årre, Denmark, in 2012. However, the new RS3i is a complete redesign of the S3. Only the general cabinet shape and size are similar to the S3.

Gamut’s Benno Meldgaard has taken over the design work—both for speakers and electronics—from Lars Gollar. I admire and respect Gollar’s contributions to Gamut over the years, but I will say that whatever Meldgaard is now doing to take those designs further is well worth a fresh listen. If the demos of the RS3i, RS5, and RS7 at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest are indicative of Gamut’s new efforts, I am impressed. After living with the RS3i for several months now, I am doubly impressed.

The RS3i has remarkable bass extension and dynamic range for its size. Even so, it will not outplay most multi-way floorstanders in ultimate bass extension and full-throated dynamic output. I presume, though, that anyone who is considering a loudspeaker like the RS3i is also likely to be fully aware of the limitations of the mini-monitor genre and is specifically seeking one because it is more likely to integrate well in a small- or medium-sized room. If you are on such a quest, and you especially like small speakers that “sound big,” and your budget can accommodate its $19,990 asking price (including integral stands), the RS3i should be on your audition list. I will discuss its design and market context later, but allow me to address its sound first.

Listening
Right from the beginning, the RS3i sounded remarkably expressive and immediate—that is to say, free-flowing, unprocessed, and open rather than reserved, forced, and restrained. Its overall sound improved after about 200 more hours of music signal had been played through the speaker, but its appealing “liveliness” never waned. Normally, when I encounter a lively speaker, I also hear a fatiguing “hyperactive” aspect to its presentation, as if the speaker were forcing the signal through a musical turbocharger of some kind. To Gamut’s credit, the RS3i never veered into sounding irritating or exaggerated. On the contrary, the more I listened to the RS3i, the more I loved its form of “musical enthusiasm.” Playback seemed to more closely approximate live music’s dynamic presence than I have ever heard from a speaker of the RS3i’s size—and from a good many larger ones, for that matter. I found myself simply getting lost in the thrill of listening to music, sometimes for hours, occasionally waving my arms around enthusiastically because the music sounded so compelling.

Even though the RS3i is quite revealing—capable of fleshing out subtle details like guitarists’ fingers on strings or the faint, shimmering quivers of lightly struck gongs, it is also well behaved. Mike Garson’s lightning-fast piano runs on “Count Your Blessings” from The Oxnard Sessions, Volume Two [RR], for example, did not have zones of notes that unnaturally jumped out of the mix. Singers such as Alison Krauss, Alanis Morissette, and Björk retained their rather penetrating timbres, but their voices did not veer into shrillness, as can be the case through some other speakers. Instead, the appeal of these singers—perhaps partly derived expressly because of their high vocal ranges—came through alternately with soaring power and touching vulnerability. (By the way, I am pretty sure the LP track of that Mike Garson piano solo of “Count Your Blessings” is a different take or version than that on the CD track of the same title. Has anybody else noticed this, or can anyone confirm it?)

Bass extension was remarkably good in my setup. Gamut publishes a 34Hz low-end limit (without the usual -3dB tolerance). The RS3i reproduced a 30Hz test tone, the lowest tone available on my test LP Check and Double Check [Westminster], with strong amplitude, not just a faint rumble. Some of this response is probably due to some room-induced reinforcement, but it’s still pretty impressive. (Keep in mind, the speakers were placed with their tweeters 62" from the backwall, so it is not as if I deployed the speakers specifically to increase their bass response.) In my 12.5' x 17' room, most large-scale orchestral music was well served. A bigger, more bass-extended speaker can bring more heft to the presentation, but the RS3i still delivered enough in the low octaves to give a solid foundation to large orchestral music. As far as I could tell, only organ music would require a sub-woofer. I brought out some of my big-sounding pop LPs such as Jeff Beck’s Emotion and Commotion, Peter Gabriel’s Up [Real World], and Alison Krauss’ and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand [Rounder] just to hear what the RS3i would make of them. Listening delivered satisfying levels of rhythmic drive and remarkable bass power for a speaker of this size. The lowest synthesizer notes on the Aphex Twin Syro 24/44 WAV file [Warp] were missing, but we’re talking about very low bass notes there. Also, the almost menacing quality of power rock like that of Tool’s Lateralus [Volcano] was muted compared how it sounds on more full-range, multi-way speakers like the YG Acoustics Kipod Signature II, Ariel 7T, and YG Sonja 1.2. Still, the RS3i turned in a respectable showing.

Gamut M250i Monoblock Power Amplifier
When I reviewed the Gamut D200i 200W stereo amplifier in Issue 229, Gamut also sent along its 250W mono amp model for me to listen to. I have been using it off and on since mid-2012 and have come to love its sound even more than when I first wrote a sidebar to accompany that D200i review. I liked it so well that I bought the loan samples as my own reference amplifiers. What follows is an edited reworking of my original M250i sidebar.

The M250i has several important improvements to make it perform at a significantly higher level than its smaller sibling. At $26,000 per pair, the jump in price is also considerable. More than double the price to go from 200 watts to 250 watts? All other things being equal and when driving typical speaker loads, this is not an appreciable power increase. Even so, there is much more going on, sonically and technologically, than a bit more power and two chassis instead of one.

In a nutshell, what you get from the M250i is considerably more of the positive performance characteristics of a D200i and fewer of that amp’s forgivable weaknesses. The M250i casts a much larger and more open soundstage and exhibits a lower noise floor. Please keep in mind, the D200i stereo amp does not suffer from undue noise levels at all; my point is merely that the M250i’s ability to enlarge the soundstage and reveal more details—as well as to sound more relaxed and natural in the upper frequencies—yields significant sonic benefits. The M250i expands the whole presentation and invites you to discern the musical constituents more easily and become more involved. On an intellectual level, you can more readily follow various parts in the mix, hear venue space and reverberation cues in addition to recording quirks. On an emotional level, you can more readily follow the subtle differences in dynamic intensities (which musicians use to impart meaning), more easily forget about system playback, and simply become more immersed in the artistic world conjured by the musicians.

The 250i also promotes a greater sense of physical presence through larger, snappier dynamic swings and more power in the bass. Here is where I speculate that the particular way the 250i uses its output power invests everything with greater solidity and dramatic life. (Its output increases to 480 watts into 4 ohms, 900 into 2, and 1700 [peak] into 1.) Marshaling increased current behind the watts, separating each channel with its own chassis, and a few other improvements really do seem to work together to elevate the M250i’s overall performance.

The Gamut M250i strikes me as a solid contender in its price category. It is revealing, well balanced, dynamically alive, and remarkably expressive of music’s natural appeal. It’s not inexpensive, but its level of refinement and musical realism are addictive—at least they have me hooked.

The RS3i’s wide macro-dynamic scale also goes a long way to making it sound much larger than it looks. In fact, I have never heard a more dynamically powerful stand-mounted, two-way speaker, period. The kick-drum and bass lines on Alanis Morissette’s “One” from her Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie LP [Maverick] were viscerally impactful, imparting considerable weight and solidity. The full orchestra forte tutti “slams” at the opening of the “Infernal Dance of King Kastchei” movement from Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, 1919 Version [RR] were stunning in their explosive, thundering impact. The speed of the transient leading edges followed by the notable control over the resulting huge dynamic “body” of those blasts were much more in keeping with a larger speaker than those of a typical mini-monitor. Of course, the partnering electronics and general speaker setup also impact any transducer’s performance, but just the fact that I could bring out such truly responsive and forceful dynamics from this small speaker proved what it could do.

My Dynaudio C1 II mini-monitor sounds more bass-heavy, but the C1 does not have nearly the same definition and resolution in its low end as the RS3i has. The RS3i is, in fact, more resolving across the board. Of course, it costs about two-and-a-half times more than the C1, so one should expect better performance. The RS3i’s bass and midrange blend seamlessly with its upper frequencies into a coherent whole so that nothing stands out as a misstep. Its entire range sounds agile, with no part of it lagging or seemingly stumbling ahead. Some of this may have to do with the crossover’s graduated slopes; I will cover these in more detail later.

Precise imaging, wide-open soundstaging, and the cabinet’s disappearing as sound sources are indeed part of the RS3i’s repertoire, just as you would expect from a deluxe standmount. Soundstage width and depth were fantastic, extending well beyond the outer edges of the cabinets and about five feet behind them. The real treat here is that soundstage height was much closer to that of a multi-way floorstander than many people would expect. Some folks (including at least one reviewer for this magazine, I believe) have criticized small, stand-mounted speakers specifically for their limited soundstage height, presumably because such mini-monitors don’t have enough drivers in a vertical array to project much height. Well, I can assure you, when properly set up, the RS3i is fully capable of matching some multi-way floorstanders in this regard. On some playback material, the RS3i had a soundstage height range from about 14" from the floor up to about 5.5' high—in other words, floorstander-like performance.