Audio occupies an unusually important place in the economy of Denmark. Not only are there major consumer audio brands located there, but Denmark is also the source of a remarkable fraction of the world’s speaker drivers, being the home of Scan-Speak, Vifa, Peerless, and Dynaudio. Not surprisingly, the national engineering school of Denmark, DTU (Technical University of Denmark), has a very active program of audio engineering within its Electrical Engineering division. And there have been and are many research projects going on in Denmark , both academically and commercially, on audio matters. One learns to expect a lot of Danish speaker designers.
Lars Goeller, the designer of GamuT speakers, is no exception. He brings to his work a wealth of training and experience, coming from the famous DTU program and having worked with DALI for some years, where he participated in the research effort that led to, among other distinguished speakers, the DALI Grands reviewed in Issue 114 (review reprinted here: http://www.regonaudio.com/Tact%20and%20Dali.html). The GamuT M5 reviewed here, a 2½-way floorstanding speaker employing two 7″ woofers and a Scan-Speak Super Revelator tweeter in a reflex enclosure, definitely has a lot of thought behind it, especially, according to Goeller, in the direction of optimizing time-domain behavior, soundstage presentation, and resolution. And this is not just theory: GamuT speakers are optimized by extensive listening tests.
In many respects, the $13,500 M5 is an engineering triumph, a most impressive realization of the goals just described. For a start, the speaker has a remarkable level of detail and transparency. One hears far, indeed, into the texture of the music. The micro-structure of piano notes, for example, is extremely well portrayed (piano notes have a complex decay pattern involving the interactions among the strings sounding the notes as their vibrations fade away). One has the sensation of hearing everything that there is to hear.
Moreover, the speaker has an extremely low level of perceived grain and background noise. All speakers, being physical objects, generate a certain amount of chaotic noise when they are producing sound, in the technical sense of the word chaotic. But the M5s give the impression that this background grain and noise have been held down to a remarkably low level. These speakers sound really clean and pure at all levels. This makes for a most gratifying sense of listening through a completely clean window as it were.
Associated to this is that the speaker sounds remarkably un-speaker-like, with few if any hints appear of the speaker-like distortions that tip one off consciously or subconsciously that one is listening to artificial sound.
Another aspect of this not-sounding-like-a-speaker is the off-axis behavior. Moving around in front of the speaker even at close range causes very little change in the tonal color of the midrange, though there is naturally some roll-off of the high frequencies off-axis. The speaker integrates well into the room and disappears gracefully as an apparent sound source.
And the M5s really do deliver the soundstage. GamuT’s Web site describes it as “being invisible in a huge soundstage,” which is accurate as a sonic description. The M5s have a narrow curved-side enclosure that is presumably designed to optimize the radiation in terms of presenting soundstage, and this indeed does what is described. Invisible, I am not sure, but very impressive is certain. As one of my professional musician friends described it: “The whole orchestra is just laid out in front of you.”
And one understands, listening to the Delos recording of Dvorák’s New World Symphony [Delos 3260], engineered by John Eargle, why Delos entitled its 1989 Eargle sampler The Symphonic Soundstage. For here, as with so many Eargle recordings, the soundstage really is recorded, not generated by artifacts of playback, but revealed by the M5s spectacularly as recorded. This recording played on the M5s gives a most convincing impression of the orchestra laid out in front of you. If soundstaging is a goal, this speaker will be a top contender, regardless of price.
Speaking of orchestral music, the M5 has surprising dynamic life for a relatively small floorstander. Not only is it lively, but it will also play loudly and without changing its character. Orchestras can be reproduced at their natural dynamic level without strain. The speaker is quite sensitive—90dB (2.83V, 1W/1m). The M5 is a nominal 4-ohm speaker (3-ohm minimum), however, so it is probably not an ideal candidate for the SET school. Naturally, the Sanders Magtech was completely unruffled, as it is unruffled by anything. But low-power tube amps might struggle and also have erratic frequency response in many cases.
But give the M5s their head in amplification, as with the Sanders, and one is really flying high in unconstrained dynamics. I let the Water Lily Philadelphia recording of Dvorák’s Carnival (of which I was associate producer) really rip at the level one would expect of a large orchestra playing a vigorous piece with the listener in, say, Row 7. The M5s were unperturbed by the big moments, simply making them as big as they should be with no apparent compression, distortion, or alteration of tonal character at all. Considering that the M5s are relatively small speakers, this was impressive indeed.
Continuing to think about dynamic behavior, on piano music the M5s remind me that a great many speakers change their character somewhat as the music gets louder. The piano played softly can sound quite different in character, much more so in real life than the piano played loudly. The M5s just go with the flow of the music, swelling when the music gets louder but not hardening up or otherwise altering their behavior. This is gratifying to say the least. Nowadays lots of speakers can play loudly, but few maintain their composure and consistency as well as the M5s. Frank Levy’s musically marvelous recording of late Brahms solo piano works [Palexa CD0534] sounded as relaxed and dynamically consistent as a Steinway concert grand ought to sound.
If the things that I am describing—dynamic linearity from very low to quite high levels, perceived resolution, soundstage, and the speakers vanishing as sources and sounding un-speaker-like—are crucial aspects of speaker behavior for you, the GamuT M5 may be ideal. It is really impressive in all these categories and in these regards it is quite entrancing. Indeed, in these categories it strikes me as approaching the performance of the remarkable Sony AR1s, which are twice the price. But there is a small caveat to add: The M5s have a tonal balance that deviates from absolute neutrality. They are low in resonant colorations of a narrow-band sort. But in broadband terms, they have a substantial dip between 3 and 6kHz. This is a quite deep broad-band dip and it is audible although it may be flattering to certain types of over-recorded material. A similar balance choice was made in the Sony AR1s, though the dip there was not quite as large as here. Above 6kHz, the Scan-Speak Revelator tweeter takes off as far as on-axis response is concerned, though not too far off-axis it flattens out. This rise is mostly too high up to affect tonal character in the usual sense, but it makes its presence heard in terms of a bit of extra “air” and detail. Again, one might like the effect, and the tweeter is well behaved otherwise.
Below the big 3-6kHz dip, the whole region between 600Hz and 2kHz sounds somewhat up in level, perhaps because of the dip above and a certain loss of energy below. (This was all verified by measurement, following the formation of listening impressions. And verify it the measurements did.) This combination of slightly leaned-out low mids, a little forwardness in the upper mids, and dip in the presence-range has become popular in speaker designs today, to judge not only from my own experience but from looking at the measurements of speakers that one sees round and about. The M5s are far from unique in this regard. But still you have to consider whether this sound is what you want, as opposed to more rigorously flat designs, e.g., as from PSB. Frequency-response deviations of this broad-band nature, even if they are matters of only a few dB, definitely alter the tonal character of what is heard, and you have to consider carefully whether these alterations are to the good or at least not harmful from your viewpoint. How you feel about this overall balance may well depend also on what kind of music you listen to. Orchestral music is the most sensitive to such deviations from flatness. (This is true on the level of practical experience, and it was shown to be true systematically by research of Olive and Toole.) If you listen not to orchestras but to other types of music, the balance of the M5s may be not disconcerting at all and may indeed be ideal.
The response below 500Hz is influenced a lot by room placement, and careful placement will make the tendency of the M5s to droop in the low mids/upper bass minimal. But even with a lot of experimentation with placement, I could never quite get this region filled in. To some extent, this latter problem tends to be frequent in floorstanders. But it does not have to be. The Sonys did not have this difficulty, and neither, comes to that, did the very moderately priced PSB T6s, which were rigorously flat overall.
Interestingly, this overall sense of midrange projection expresses itself not just in tonal character as such but also in imaging. Indeed, my very first impression of the M5s, even before I had begun to react to the tonal character of familiar recordings, was to wonder why images were pushing themselves so far out in front of the speakers. This is in a way impressive and gives one a strong feeling of being in the actual, even exaggerated, presence of real performers. But it is really not quite correct. Still, again, this sense of immediacy may be pleasing.
Because the M5s are so low in distortion, so high in intrinsic resolution, so unconstrained dynamically, and so well-behaved in radiation pattern, they are ideal candidates for DSP correction. And in fact, when DSP’d to flat response in listening terms, they presented a quite magical experience. It was quite striking to play my own (smaller) Steinway grand along with Levy’s Brahms recording mentioned above. Most speakers are somewhat humiliated by such a comparison, lacking the required ability to portray the true piano attack in dynamic terms. The M5s could produce both the absolute volume of the live piano and the dynamic character of its attack. (Unfortunately, I, a violinist with only the minimal pianism required to get through music school, was very far from producing Levy’s keyboard artistry—but I could hit enough of the notes to get some comparative sonic impressions.) Without the EQ, the dynamics were still there but the M5’s tonal character was a little too midrange-oriented for an ideal match with a real piano.
This is an imprecise test of course, though it has its points compared to just plopping on some recording of an unknown instrument and relying on memory of “what music sounds like.” But, imprecise though it is, it is suggestive even so, and the things that it suggests were consistent over many recordings: superb dynamic behavior and clarity, and a somewhat midrange-y tonal character (without DSP correction).
Thus the GamuT M5s present an intriguing but somewhat divided picture. On the one hand, they are a remarkable success at attaining what I gather were their primary design goals, of expansively realistic soundstage behavior and of the real dynamics and resolution of live music. In these categories, they are in the top echelon of modern speaker design. But the M5s are not absolutely spot-on in neutral tonal character in the broadband sense. The M5s price put them right in the middle of a very impressive group of speakers. For around the same price, one can get Harbeth M40.1s, the large Quads (the 2905s), the Magneplanar 20.1s, and many other speakers of intriguing natures, though not all of these are truly flat and neutral, either, comes to that. And of course you can buy the truly flat top-of-the-line PSBs (the Synchrony 1s) for less than half the price. But there are directions in which the M5s will equal any contender. For purity, resolution, and dynamics combined, they are top picks, in spite of the heavy competition. All you have to do is listen to decide whether the tonal balance is to your liking. The M5s definitely deserve a careful listen if your budget extends to their realm.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: 2 1/2-way floorstanding speaker with bass-reflex enclosure
Driver complement: Two Scan-Speak 7″ woofer and mid/woofer drivers, one Scan-Speak Revelator double ring-radiator tweeter
Frequency response: 34Hz–50kHz
Sensitivity: 90.5dB, 2.83V/1m
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal, 3 ohms minimum
Crossover points: 530Hz, 2.15kHz
Dimensions: 9″ x 48″ x 23″
Weight: 75 lbs.
K. T. Audio Imports
839 S. Parkglen Place
Anaheim, CA 92808
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