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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.

 

Design and Construction
How does Gamut do it? To start with, the speaker has a 7″ Scan-Speak, paper-fiber mid/woofer with angled radial “slices” which, according to Gamut, help dissipate unwanted resonances in the cone. Gamut also treats the cone with a special oil to help mitigate a dry, papery quality it believes is present in untreated cones. The tweeter is a Scan-Speak 1.5″ ring-radiator with a custom phase plug. The crossover point is 2150Hz, and the slopes are not a standard, linear 6-, 12-, 18-, or 24dB-per-octave types; rather, the slopes start at 6dB then get steeper, so as they approach complete roll-off, they are 24dB, says Benno Meldgaard. Meldgaard also told me that this yields the best melding of frequency and phase performance. The cabinet has a rear-firing reflex port tuned to 35Hz.

The cabinet is made from 21 layers of hand-selected, real wood sheets to provide stiffness, constrained layered resonance control, and relatively low mass. The curved sidewalls are glued and pressed under high temperature and pressure so that the resulting arc does not have any internal stresses. Gamut says this permanent curve is essential to achieving the kind of ridged, low-resonance performance it needs for the overall design to work. The cabinet is low mass because Gamut believes that high-mass cabinets—even well-damped ones—still retain unwanted resonances, and they radiate them “later” than lower-mass cabinets do. Apparently, listeners subliminally perceive this delayed resonance releasing as a phase smearing, and therefore as less realistic sounding. Gamut uses real wood layers for another reason: The company believes they help its speakers sound more like real instruments than synthetic materials or metal. I am agnostic on this materials point. I find Magico and YG Acoustics speakers, made with aluminum cabinets for example, to sound damned good. All I can say, here, is the Gamut RS3i sounds marvelous, and so do Magicos and YGs.

Gamut asserts that internal cabinet damping materials should be kept to an absolute minimum (or eliminated altogether in the case of Crystal Cable’s Arabesque speakers) because those materials also tend to dampen the overall presentation, thereby robbing music playback of immediacy and dynamic vibrancy. In fact, this approach is a key factor in the RS3i’s design—the one that probably most accounts for its dynamic liveliness. All but a few dynamic, cone ’n’ dome speakers have several sheets or patches of internal cabinet damping materials such as fiberglass, foam, wool, felt, or cotton batting inside their cabinets to help absorb the backwaves of the drivers. But Gamut’s layered, real wood, low-mass, curved cabinets enable it to use very little damping material because its design minimizes internal standing waves and dissipates resonances quickly. In fact, each RS3i pair has a designed right and left speaker not because the respective speaker’s tweeter and mid-woofer are aligned off the vertical axis, but because one sidewall has some internal damping material while the opposite side has none.


I must say, Gamut is on to something. The RS series Gamuts I’ve heard (and Arabesques, for that matter) all share a musical verve that does remind me of music’s natural dynamic presence. Some planar speakers have some of this quality as well—as they skip the cabinet altogether—but the planars I have heard don’t have as much dynamic range or palpable impact as the RS3i has. Mind you, a good planar might, arguably, also have a more refined treble presentation, but I never thought the RS3i’s upper frequencies sounded ragged, harsh, or crude.

Meldgaard has adjusted the tonal balance of the entire RS line. The RS5, for example, no longer has the midrange emphasis as Robert E. Greene noted in Issue 246. In the case of the RS3i, Meldgaard told me that he applied a shallow dip starting at about 800Hz that extends all the way up to about 9000Hz—with one speaker measured on axis at one meter. He went on to say that when he measured the combined output of two speakers playing together in a typical domestic room and at a typical listening position, he found that he needed to back off the midrange output and some of the upper frequencies to make the pair of speakers sound more natural. Now, this tonal shaping might give one the impression that the RS3i might have a recessed soundstage, a bloated midbass, and a zippy top end. Actually, it has none of those qualities. It sounds well balanced and reminiscent of live music within its range.

The included stand is not only a perfect match to the beautiful cabinet visually—some friends commented just how nice the review samples looked—but it is also integral to how the speaker is designed to work. The stand employs combinations of metal, layered wood, and what looks like a wood/resin material similar to Panzerholz. It has a cable routing slot running up the back and stainless steel outriggers with large threaded footers to allow for more than an inch of vertical travel for height adjustment, irregular floor leveling, and back and forward tilting. This ability to affect front/back tilt is key to expanding the speaker’s overall vertical soundstage zone—not just the top limit of the soundfield’s height, mind you, but the ability also to make the bottom of the soundstage descend quite a bit below the plane of speaker cabinets’ bases. The outriggers have small Delrin, rubber-tipped set-screws to lock in the spike level settings and to help dampen resonances between the floor and the stand. The substantial spikes are easily adjustable from the top with a hex wrench, a nice touch; Gamut also supplies matching spike cups to protect non-carpeted floors.

The grille, which consists of two vertical metal rods with fairly widely spaced elastic cords stretched between them, had negligible impact on sonic performance. The speaker actually looks more complete with the grille on, in my opinion. The two sets of binding posts on my review sample were Gamut’s custom variety, which were designed to work primarily with stranded bare wire, but also to accept banana connectors. However, Meldgaard told me Gamut would be switching to a more standard binding post so the speaker can also accept spade connectors—a welcome development. (By the way, Gamut also makes a complete line of very nice-sounding signal and power cables. The RS3i is wired with Gamut’s Reference line cabling.) According to the published sensitivity specifications, the RS3i should be fairly difficult to drive at 86.5dB/2.83V and 4 ohms nominal impedance. In practice, though, I found the RS3i to be easier to drive than both the YG Kipod II Signature and the Dynaudio C1 II. I did not need to crank up the volume to achieve satisfying sound levels (without any signs of speaker strain, either) or to make the speaker “wake up,” so to speak. The 75-watt Hegel H80 integrated amp was able to drive the RS3i to satisfying levels. Of course it sounds much better, and yields the sort of performance I have been describing, with Gamut’s own M250i mono amp. I ended up buying the M250i loaner samples in conjunction with my review of the D200i stereo amp from Issue 229. (See sidebar for more about the M250i.)

Market Context
At $19,990 for a pair of RS3is, there are a few other even more expensive stand-mounted speakers on the market. I don’t have experience with any of them in my own system, but I have heard the following models at audio shows (all prices including dedicated stands): Raidho C-1.1 ($18k) and D-1 ($28.5k), the TAD CE1 ($24k) and CR1 ($42k), the Magico Q1 ($26,500-$28,995), and the MBL 120 ($23,030). The two TAD models also had wide dynamic ranges, but tended to inch toward sounding a bit dry and matter-of-fact. They are both three-way designs, by the way, and cost more—$22,010 more in the case of the CR1. The Raidho models sounded very accurate and musically enjoyable, but I am not sure how much dynamic power the Raidho quasi-ribbon tweeter can handle to allow them to really rock out, as it were, like the RS3i can. I don’t believe I heard the low bass extension from either the Magico Q1 or the MBL 120 that I have been getting from the RS3i, but there are just too many variables to make much of my impressions here. I also am not at all sure how well the RS3i might stack up against the others in terms of fidelity to sources and upstream electronics. My point is that the RS3i has plenty of price company in the deluxe mini-monitor category and may, actually, be price competitive. The RS3i sounds like a musically accomplished speaker that just happens to be small.

Caveats
While I believe the RS3i renders upper frequencies quite well and is indeed quite extended and complete sounding, I suspect even greater refinement and resolution of fine details and textures may be available from other über mini-monitors such as the Raidhos and Magicos mentioned above. My speculation along these lines comes from hearing the other speakers at audio shows, as mentioned, and so it is a “hunch” and should be taken as such.

Another caveat: The RS3i stand’s outrigger set-screws, while a clever feature, could have been mounted at an angle to make for easier user access. The shipping crate is quite large because it houses both the speakers and their attached stands. Two smaller crates (one speaker and stand per crate) would be more easily maneuvered for unpacking, storage, repacking, and shipping. Most of my nit-picks are purely matters of convenience. I had to really search to come up with a few things to criticize, lest I lose some credibility.

Conclusion
From the moment I first connected the RS3i without much regard to optimizing its placement and just let music play, I heard something compelling about the speaker. It only got better with time and fine-tuning. Its liveliness never proved less than entertaining and engaging. In fact, the more I listened to the RS3i, and the more albums I threw at it, the more I admired its winning ability to dig bring out the music’s essence and do so with a beguiling joie de vivre. Its bass extension and dynamic power are up there with the best of the mini-monitor breed. The RS3i combines all the advantages of a small stand-mounted speaker—illuminating imaging and wide-open soundstaging—with stunning dynamic presence. Capable of sounding much bigger than it looks, it is a honey of a speaker and should be on anyone’s short list for a small-to-medium-sized rooms. Enthusiastically recommended.

Specs & Pricing

Driver complement: Two-way; one 1.5″ ring-radiator tweeter, one 7″ sliced, natural-oil-impregnated paper cone

Frequency response: 34Hz–60kHz
Sensitivity: 86.5dB/2.83V
Impedance: 4 ohms minimum
Crossover point: 2150Hz
Dimensions: 8.9″ x 41.7″ x 18″
Weight: 61 lbs. with stand 

Price: $19,990 (including integral Gamut stands)

GAMUT USA

(888) 252-2499

gamutaudio.com

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Analog source: Basis Debut V turntable and Vector 4 tonearm, Benz-Micro LP-S cartridge
Digital sources: Ayre C-5xeMP universal disc player, HP Envy 15t running JRiver MC-20, Hegel HD12 DAC
Phonostage: Ayre P-5xe
Linestages: Ayre K-1xe, Hegel P30
Integrated amplifiers: Hegel H80 and H360
Power amplifiers: Gamut M250i, Hegel H30
Speakers: Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature, YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2
Cables: Shunyata Anaconda ZiTron signal cables, Gamut Reference signal and power cables, Nordost Heimdall 2 USB, AudioQuest Coffee USB and Hawk Eye SPDIF, Shunyata Anaconda SPDIF, Shunyata Anaconda and Alpha ZiTron power cords
A/C Power: Two 20-amp dedicated lines, Shunyata SR-Z1 receptacles, Shunyata Triton and Typhon power conditioners
Room treatments: PrimeAcoustic Z-foam panels and DIY panels

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