Gershman Acoustics Sonogram Loudspeaker

Equipment report
Gershman Acoustics Sonogram
Gershman Acoustics Sonogram Loudspeaker

Gershman Acoustics has cultivated a reputation as the Canadian loudspeaker company whose distinctive pyramidal designs are as appealing to the eye as their sonics are to the ear. For avid Gershmanwatchers, the new Sonogram might represent a curious departure. Utilitarian in appearance, it stands in stark contrast to the geometrically outrageous Gershman flagship, the Black Swan. However, by going the traditional boxy-cabinet route Gershman is pursuing a laudable goal—offering the range and kick of its best offerings while hewing to the Gershman ethos, and all at what amounts to be the cost of a good upscale compact.

The Sonogram is a 41" tall, mid-size floorstander in a bass-reflex enclosure. A three-way design, it uses a 1" Peerless soft dome and a Morel 2 1/8" soft dome midrange. The fiberglass woofer is designed by Gershman and manufactured here in the States. The transducers are arrayed in a tight formation and positioned as near to the top of the baffle as possible. Crossover points are specified at 300Hz and 2kHz and there’s point-to-point soldering throughout. A narrow, slot-type port is located near the base of the rear panel just above a stabilizing plinth. True to the Gershman philosophy that mandates extreme cabinet rigidity, the Sonogram’s sturdy visage and broad waistline is due to the 1.5"-thick veneered MDF on the side, top, and bottom panels, and the 1" MDF front and back panel. Enclosure reinforcement is similarly heavy duty with four braces bridging the cabinet’s interior panels. In a nod to its own pyramid designs Gershman has incorporated a pair of intersecting sections along the back panel of the cabinet’s interior thus creating a non-parallel surface to break up standing waves, an issue that Gershman always pays much attention to. Hence the clever word play on the term sonogram—defined variously as “using sound waves to create images within a body or structure.” In this instance it implies the quelling of internal resonances and standing waves to improve “imaging” outside the enclosure.

As the Sonogram took up residence in my listening room responses to its looks ranged from “refreshingly retro” to “as sexy as a burlap sack.” However, cue up a little music and there’s no doubt that this baby has charisma. The Sonogram conveys a balanced personality that is both lively, viscerally compelling, and not without a little finesse. It’s clearly been charged with the mission of providing nothing less than an old-school E-ticket ride, and it delivers, often on a thrilling scale. It offers the kind of speed and energy that I’ve generally noted when larger dome drivers are tasked with the middle frequencies. Not that it doesn’t have a couple of rough edges, but they are relatively well disguised in the overall fabric of the Sonogram’s performance.

Tonally, the Sonogram’s character is slightly forward of neutral with a pleasant warmth in the lower mids and midbass. It’s not ruler flat in the treble but the additional light it throws in this region is easy to get used to. This makes it less forgiving of the nasties in a strident recording, but also make it fast and detailed with reference material.

When you listen to as many slim-waisted compacts as I have, you develop a sensitivity to cabinet colorations. Happily, the Sonogram doesn’t impose a weighty character. Like any good selfrespecting floorstander it can play big, but more importantly it must play small, and in so doing emulate the detail and coherence of a good stand-mount compact. In this regard it has the transparency and transient ability to convincingly reproduce a solo singersongwriter, a chamber group, or a close-miked soloist. Yet it stands at the ready with near inextinguishable dynamic reserves. And it produces serious bass—at serious levels. Bass that stirs and churns your gut rather then just eliciting polite approval. In my room the Sonogram performed to stated spec, plummeting into the upper-20Hz range. Even though I only had an el cheapo SPL meter on hand, warble test tones suggested remarkably linear response down to 30Hz and perceivably lower—within shouting distance of the best I’ve had in my room. For example, during Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s “Closer and Closer Apart” [The Calling, Rounder] the density of bass images was thrilling—when the keyboard player releases the piano’s sustain pedal there’s this marvelous whoosh of energy, as if the soundboard itself is exhaling like some black-lacquered beast. However, unlike some considerably pricier competitors—the Revel Performa F52 comes to mind—the Sonogram doesn’t have quite the bottom octave control when the taps are thrown wide open. It did betray a bit of port-tuning during The Police’s “Tea in the Sahara” [Synchronicity, A&M]. Sting’s bass line tended to ripen and lose its rhythmic focus just a bit as greater and greater output demands were heaped on the speaker.

Perhaps most illustrative of the Sonogram’s balance of the delicate and the deep was Jennifer Warnes’ “If It Be Your Will,” from the 20th Anniversary remastering of her classic Famous Blue Raincoat [Shout]. It’s a track that juxtaposes a pair of guitars dueting in their upper registers, while an electric bass drops slowly-decaying low-frequency depth charges. The Sonogram firmly commanded these competing demands while tenaciously holding onto the sustains of each rumbling bass note. The vocal was articulate yet true to this recording’s occasionally peaky misbehavior. As I was finishing this review I received the 45 rpm test pressings of Cisco’s soon-to-be-released LP box-set version of FBR. Like a good studio monitor the Sonogram permitted an easy head-to-head comparison of these formats. It became a contrast of the more macro-detail oriented CD with the more fluent and fluid micro-detail of the LP. Especially off-putting was the sensation that on the CD the vocal image often sounded as if it were outside the fabric of the backing instrumentation, whereas on the LP Warnes’ voice seemed to originate organically from within the mix.

The Sonogram excels at dynamic nuance. For me this was best exemplified in how a vocalist uses breath control to modulate increments of volume, wraps his or her voice around notes, pushes air over vowels, and warms or cools intonation. I liked the way the Sonogram captured the air of the mic “pop” when Elton John sang the line “…upon a painted tepee” from “Indian Sunset” [Madman Across the Water, MCA]. Unlike a typical twoway (Magicos likely excluded), the Gershman makes it more of a happy challenge for the listener to dial in the dynamic comfort zone of a recording. Familiar tracks, where the volume settings might have been long ago established by trial and error, suddenly explode out of the grooves. For example when Bryn Terfel hits a crescendo during “Danny Boy” [Sings Favourites, DG], the Gershman constantly reminded me of the wider dynamic envelope that was being reproduced—a turn-of-events that sometimes had me fumbling for the volume control.

These subtle and not so subtle changes add perspective and enrich orchestral and vocal images. They also impart a better sense of venue scale and dimensionality. The attenuation of dynamic contrasts is a subtle, pernicious thing. It gets factored in over time and forgotten until you come across a “big stick” three-way like the Sonogram.

Overall there’s good inter-driver coherence between the mid and woofer, but I sometimes felt that there was also an energy lift in the upper-mid “presence” region that allowed vocals to be reproduced with terrific precision but also masked some of the round chestiness, the deep power that emanates from the diaphragm—the platform that launches the sound. During the intro to Jane Monheit’s charming version of “Over the Rainbow,” I could hear a lower-treble “push” that put a bit of zip into transients but also dried out the leading edge of the phrase “and wake up were the clouds are far behind me” [Come Dream With Me, N-Coded]. I think there was also an added emphasis in the sibilance range, an issue that arose whenever an acoustic string instrument was either plucked, picked, or bowed. For the Gershman, there was a fairly consistent emphasis on speed and liveliness off that initial transient. But with Anne Sophie-Mutter’s violin I could hear a bit more of the rosin on the bow and a bit less of the fundamental and body of the violin [Tchaikovsky, Concerto in D major, DG SACD].

These issues are by no means deal-breakers. They only suggest that hard choices are always made at various price points. Or why else would the rest of the Gershman line exist? Pay more, and Gershman will gladly provide that extra dollop of civility and resolution. The remarkable aspect about the Sonogram is how well these tradeoffs have been balanced.

There are so many areas where the Gershman Sonogram sings out with musical energy. It’s a remarkable effort made all the more so at a price point that should cause many a two- and three-way to blanch. The Gershman Sonogram exemplifies that special kind of sonic excellence that makes you excited to be an audiophile. TA S