In our sister publication The Absolute Sound, I recently wrote a favorable review of Gallo’s new Classico CL-3 floorstanding loudspeakers ($1595/pair)<font size="3"></font>, which are among the first of a series of Gallo speakers that—for the first time in the company’s history—feature conventional wood-box enclosures (gasp!) rather than the exotic-looking and unorthodox metal enclosures previous Gallo speakers have used. At the time, I wondered if the CL-3 would sound like a “real” Gallo, but I needn’t have worried as I discovered early on that the new Classico model not only equals the performance of the firm’s critically acclaimed Reference speakers in many respects, but arguably surpasses them in some critical areas.
But having concluded that the smallish Classico CL-3 floorstanders were the real deal in terms of sound quality for high-end stereo applications, the next question that came to mind was this: How would a full-on Classico surround system sound? To help me answer this question, the good folks at Anthony Gallo Acoustics loaned The Perfect Vision/Playback a set of Classico CL-2 bookshelf monitors ($795/pair) to use as surrounds, a Classico CL-C center channel speaker ($599), and a Classic CLS-12 powered subwoofer ($999)—components that complemented the CL-3 floorstanders to form a complete 5.surround system (total system price, $3988).
The goal of this review will be to give you a useful description of the performance capabilities of the Classico surround system. In so doing, though, I will first need to spend some of time explaining the many subtle, inventive, and in some cases downright exotic technologies that are embodied in these deceptively conventional-looking speakers. There’s more going on in the design of the Classico’s than first meets the eye, as you’ll see in a moment. But after we summarize technology highlights, we’ll get right down to business and talk about the system’s sound.
Classico CL-3 floorstander
- Enclosure: The CL-3 is an unusually small 31-inch tall tower-type speaker that features strikingly angled panel surfaces intended to minimize problems with unwanted internal reflections. Classico models are offered with either genuine cherry or ash veneers and come with curved, magnetically attached mesh grills. The CL-3 enclosure is made from 3/4-inch internally braced MDF and is configured, says Gallo, as a “modified transmission line” that vents through a rear-firing slot. The transmission line, in turn, is loaded with Gallo’s patented S2 damping material, which we will discuss further below.
- Special Enclosure Damping: Like previous Gallo speakers, the CL-3 uses the firm’s proprietary S2 damping material within its cabinet. S2 is a finely shredded polyethylene film material that not only provides excellent general damping properties, but also improves the volumetric efficiency of the air within the speaker. As Gallo puts it, “our patented S2 technology tricks the Classico's precision woofers into performing as though they're in significantly larger enclosures.” Previous Gallo designs have always used S2 material in sealed enclosures, but in the Classico CL-3 the S2 material is, for the first time being applied in a vented, transmission line-type enclosure. For the CL-3 application, Gallo has strategically placed air-permeable bags containing carefully chosen quantities of S2 material at specific locations within the transmission line. The claimed result is a speaker that “sounds much larger than its actual size and delivers real-life impact without ever sounding muddy.” Gallo has given this distinctive transmission line loading methodology the acronym BLAST, which stands for ackwave inearization nd ynchronization echnology. According to Gallo, BLAST affords “an improved acoustic impedance match between the woofer/midrange driver and the air within the enclosure,” which “allows the speaker to play louder, deliver exceptional bass, and perform overall like a speaker many times its size.”
- Gel Discs: In lieu of traditional floor spikes, each CL-3 is supplied with a set of four large, thick vibration-damping gel discs that are placed on the floor beneath the speaker enclosures. The discs do a great job of decoupling the speaker from the floor, though it can be downright eerie to touch the enclosure when it is resting on the discs, because the enclosure seems almost to “float” on the discs.
- Drivers: The CL-3 driver complement consists of a pair of 5.25-inch mid/bass drivers with carbon fiber diaphragms, plus one of Gallo’s CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeters. Interestingly, a brief spin through the Gallo specifications table reveals this telling phrase: “Internal Crossover: None required.” Like many of Gallo’s Reference-series designs, the Classico CL-3 is essentially a crossover-free loudspeaker, which as you might expect yields audible benefits in terms of openness, transparency, and freedom from crossover-induced sonic artifacts.
- About the CDT Tweeter: Gallo’s signature CDT tweeter provides a whopping 180 degrees of horizontal dispersion and 30 degrees of vertical dispersion. Gallo notes that the CDT tweeter provides “consistent high-frequency response … both on and off-axis,” meaning that both “soundstaging and imaging are enhanced.” The tweeter features a semi-cylindrical diaphragm formed from sheets of a piezoelectric material called Kynar. As current flows back and forth, the material expands and contracts, with acoustic output closely approximating that of a theoretical pulsating cylinder. Significantly, the CDT tweeter naturally acts as a roughly 6dB/octave high-pass filter that rolls in at about 5kHz, so that the tweeter literally serves as its own crossover. Apart from terrific horizontal dispersion, the CDT tweeter also offers good linearity, high resolution, and extremely fast transient response.
- Optimized Pulse Technology: Finally, the Classico CL-3 employs what Gallo terms Optimized Pulse Technology (OPT) Level 2. OPT “applies a dielectric absorption countermeasure to eliminate sonic degradation from state charges that typically build up on speaker wires and within the speaker itself.”
- Claimed Performance: Despite its compact size, the CL-3 claims frequency response of 32 Hz – 22 KHz ± 3dB in room, but with the caveat that the speaker must be placed at least at least four inches and no more than 24 inches from the wall behind the speaker (in our experience moving the speaker more than 24 inches from the back wall causes bass response to fall off precipitously).
Classico CL-2 stand-mount monitor
- Enclosure: Unlike the CL-3 floorstander the CL-2 uses a much more conventional looking rectangular cabinet, but in all other respects shares core technologies with CL-3. Though relatively compact, the CL-2 enclosure incorporates a rear-vented “modified transmission line.”
- Drivers: The CL-2 uses a single 5.25-inch carbon fiber mid/bass driver with a semi-cylindrical CDT 3 tweeter.Note: The CL-2’s CDT 3 tweeter can be rotated 90 degrees, enabling the speaker to be positioned on its side and used as a horizontally mounted center channel.
- Claimed Performance: Frequency response of 39 Hz – 22 KHz ± 3dB in room (an astounding claim for such a small monitor).
Classico CL-C center channel
- Enclosure: Much like the CL-2, the CL-C center uses a fairly conventional looking rectangular cabinet, but again shares core technologies with CL-3 and CL-2. One significant difference, however, is that enclosure’s “modified transmission line” is vented through two forward-facing ports.
- Drivers: The CL-C uses dual 5.25-inch carbon fiber mid/bass drivers with a semi-cylindrical CDT 3 tweeter. Since the CL-C, like most center-channel speakers, should be placed on its side, the CL-C’s CDT 3 tweeter is deliberated rotated 90 degrees to allow proper horizontal dispersion.
- Claimed Performance: Frequency response of 38 Hz – 22 KHz ± 3dB in room.
Classico CLS-12 subwoofer
- Enclosure: Visually the CLS-12 subwoofer borrows styling cues from the angular CL-3 and in most other respects shares core technologies with other Classico-series speakers. Like the other Classico models, the CLS-12 uses a modified transmission line enclosure—one that is rear vented via a large rectangular port positioned at floor level.
- Driver: The CLS-12 uses a long-throw, 12-inch bass driver whose diaphragm is made of a light, stiff, responsive ceramic/aluminum/ceramic “sandwich.”
- Onboard Power Amp: The CLS-12 features a 1000-watt amp with extensive user controls including: high level 100 Hz bypass filter, line in and out, LFE/bypass crossover switch, crossover control with setting variable from 50 Hz to 200 Hz, and a three-way off/on/auto one power switch.
- Claimed Performance: Frequency response of 16 Hz – 200 Hz.
Let me begin by mentioning a handful of key sonic characteristics that define the sound of the Gallo Classico system, while also mentioning a few small sonic caveats prospective buyers might want to know about.
The Gallo system offers excellent treble extension, with light, airy, open and articulate highs that provide plenty of inner detail. More importantly, the Classico main, center, and surround speakers share these qualities, probably because they also share the excellent CDT 3 tweeter. The only point I would mention, not as a flaw, but as a performance characteristic you won’t find in many other non-Gallo speakers, is that the tweeter offers incredibly broad horizontal dispersion, which can take some acclimatization.
Most tweeters have a “sweet spot” directly on axis (or nearly on axis), which typically extends several degrees to the sides, but with high-frequency response gradually tapering off as listeners move further off axis. But the CDT 3 tweeter does not behave like this at all. It maintains perfectly even response up to a whopping 90 degrees off axis relative to the centerline of the speakers. The good news is that this characteristic tends to make surround sound imaging unusually spacious, seamless, and convincing, which is very good news. The tricky part, however, is that the Classico models put out a considerable amount of treble energy off-axis (much more so that conventional speakers do). In practice, this means you’ll need to take care in positioning the Classicos in order to avoid unwanted reflections—reflections that can potentially make the system seem overly bright or edgy (which I am convinced it is not). Once you get the reflections tamed, though, all should be well.
One hint, and a point that is not covered in any of the Gallo manuals to my knowledge, is that users can have some control over treble output levels for the Classico models. The CDT 3 tweeter needs to be driven at higher voltage levels and therefore is, by design, transformer coupled. Gallo has thoughtfully designed its coupling transformer with multiple output taps that allow the tweeter to be driven to higher or lower output levels for a given level of input signal. The default output tap settings give well-balanced results in many environments, but if you wish, you can remove the tweeter to access the coupling transformer (it’s mounted just behind the tweeter) to experiment with other output taps/output levels. For our listening tests we used the standard Gallo settings.
Midrange frequencies sound very clean, pure, and transparent—almost like those produced by high quality electrostatic or planar magnetic speakers. I attribute these qualities to the fact that Gallo’s carbon fiber mid/bass drivers are light, stiff, and very responsive, and to the fact that there is no crossover network to potentially cloud the transition region between the mid-bass drivers and the CDT 3 tweeter. Even though the piston-type mid/bass drivers and the semi-cylindrical CDT 3 tweeter have somewhat different dispersion patterns, I found the transition region between the two was artfully managed and essentially seamless.
One distinctive quality about the Classico speakers involves their nuanced and highly expressive dynamics. Where other speaker systems tend to sound ever so slightly compressed or a little “too tightly wound,” the Classico’s sing with palpable gusto—never sounding “squeezed” or “throttled,” as some competing systems do. On the contract, the Classico system has a nuanced and decidedly full-throated quality that frees dynamic details from unwanted constraint. In my view, dynamic expressiveness is one are where the Classico’s equal or even surpass Gallo’s more costly Reference-series models.
What gives the Classicos so much dynamic agility? I think one key part of the answer involves the fact that Classicos use proprietary S2 damping material in vented, transmission line-type enclosure (where previous Gallo models have always used S2 in sealed-box enclosures). Based on conversations with Anthony Gallo, I think one discovery that came with creation of the Classico models is that S2 material may offer different advantages when applied in a vented enclosure, thus giving the speakers an exceptional degree of dynamic fluidity.
When first you see the CL-3, CL-2, or CL-C speakers, your first thought might be that both their enclosures and their mid/bass drivers are too small for there to be any realistic hope of the speakers producing deep, meaningful bass. As I noted in my CL-3 review for The Absolute Sound, though, the Classico's are actually capable of producing surprisingly powerful, extended bass—provided you play by Gallo’s rules. Specifically this means placing the speakers between four and 24 inches from wall surfaces that will help provide necessary low-end reinforcement. I found this “near-to-the-wall” placement was fairly easy to arrange in stereo systems (where there’s no screen to contend with), but not so easy for home theater/surround applications.
I raise this point for two reasons. First, most home theater enthusiasts prefer to position their front speakers in an arc whose focal point is the main listening position for the room—an arc that can leave the left and right main speakers pulled out more than two feet from the wall. Second, given the wide dispersion of the CDT 3 tweeters, it is advisable to place the main Classico speakers well in front of the viewing screen (to avoid treble reflections bouncing off of screen surfaces). Again, leads to placing the main speaker more than two feet from the wall.
All of this is a roundabout way of say that, even though Classico’s can produce great bass on their own, you should still think in terms of using a Classico subwoofer in home theater applications. The sub not only adds bass depth and punch, but just as importantly buys you the freedom to place the main, center channel, and surround speakers wherever you wish (within reason).
The CLS-12 sub is a very good one, with plenty of depth, articulacy, and power to spare. You can wade right in to bombastic low frequency effects without any fears that the sub will wilt (unless you like to listen at well and truly cuckoo volume levels). Indeed, if I were writing this review purely about the subwoofer, I’d be tempted to describe it in pretty glowing terms. But with this said, let me acknowledge that the CLS-12 is almost but not quite perfectly matched with the rest of the system in terms of bass textures, details, and transient speed.
The reason why this is so is that the Classico models in general, and the CL-3 in particular, exhibit rare clarity, speed, and coherency in the lower midrange, upper bass, and mid bass regions. Though the CLS-12 is a ballsy and full-blooded woofer, it does sound like a woofer, meaning that in subtle ways it sounds a hair slower to respond than the CL-3s do (the woofer’s sonic “reflexes” aren’t quite as cat-quick as those of the main speakers). This isn’t something most listeners would even notice, but is something sonic perfectionists might note if they paid close attention.
In talks with Anthony Gallo, Gallo acknowledged that in certain respects the 10-inch version of the Classico sub (the CLS-10, $699) might offer superior voice matching with the rest of the Classico system, but with the tradeoff that it is less powerful (600-watt amp vs. 1000-watt amp) and does not go quite as low. Fans of big, full-bodied LFE moments in action films will probably be best served with the 12-incher, while perfectionist, music-first listeners might consider the 10-inch model instead.
The film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo builds suspense through an unfolding series of mysteries within mysteries that journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and research assistant/hacker/girlfriend Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) seem almost but not quite able to solve. Tension ratchets up as the investigation proceeds, where the harder Blomkvist and Salander press for answers, the more the truths they seek seem to slip just beyond their grasp. To signal the mysterious, foreboding quality of their search, the sound designer uses a recurrent motif where we hear an eerie, gamelan-like theme with chime/gong-like sounds that fall primarily in the midrange, but occasionally plunge much lower down. Whenever the mysterious theme appears, it is as if the soundtrack is acknowledging, “things have are about to take a turn for the weird.” I was impressed by the clarity, subtlety, and realism with which the Classico system reproduced this theme, and was particularly impressed by the way the system continued to reproduced conventional sound effects (for example, the sound of fingertips on computer keyboards, or notebook pages being turned) while still allowing the mystery theme to hover ominously (and three-dimensionally) above the entire soundstage.
While The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo rarely resorts to outright dynamic bombast in the way that some action films do, it definitely has its share of big dramatic moments. One such moment involves the chase scene where the just-discovered serial killer Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgård) flees from his home in a big SUV while Lisbeth Salander follows in hot pursuit on her motorcycle. The sound designer let’s us hear the passing SUV and then motorcycle from without (as if from about 75 – 100 feet away) and then—to add dramatic punch—gives us a first-person taste of the sound of the bike as if from Salander’s point of view. Speaking as a motorcyclist, I found the first-person sound of the bike at speed to be astonishingly realistic and believable. It wasn’t simply a case of the sound becoming louder as heard from the seat of the bike (although loudness did increase considerably), but that the whole tonality of the engine sounds changed, becoming much more urgent and aggressive-sounding. The little details were accurate, too, such as the way the exhaust note changed as it reflected off the steel framework of a bridge Salander was crossing over, or the way wind noise mixed with engine noises to convey the heat of the chase. Details like these are precisely what I have in mind when I say that this system is “dynamically expressive.”
As a check on both surround sound imaging quality and on tonal purity and timbral accuracy, I put on an old favorite: the track “Country Roads” from Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes, and Dave Holland’s Like Minds [Concord Jazz, multichannel SACD]. What is, to me at least, endlessly fascinating about this recording is that it captures an intimate and free wheeling jazz performance, not from the point of view of the audience (as in most recordings), but from the point of view of the band—as if you have been privileged to stand among the players onstage as they perform. As you might expect, this recording perspective places unusual demands on surround sound systems in that there are moments in the track where systems are called upon to produce focused, vivid sonic images that appear directly to theside of the listener! Happily, the Classico system passed this test with flying colors—performance I attribute in part to clarity, transient speed, and ultra-wide dispersion of the Gallo CDT 3 tweeters. Even though the TPV/Playback listening room is relatively deep and narrow, the Classico rig had not trouble at all in showing performers in action directly to the left or right of the main listening chair. The effect is really quite impressive in its seamlessness.
I was also pleased with the purity with which the Classico system reproduced the full-bodied, 3D voices of each instrument. In particular, the crisp attack and slow, ringing decay of notes from Burton’s vibraphones was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was impressed with the low, powerful, and yet well-focused and tautly controlled sound of Holland’s acoustic bass. But in terms of timbral purity, one real centerpiece of the song is the unmistakable voice of Metheny’s jazz guitar. On first listen the tone of the guitar sounds much like honey tastes and feels on the tongue—warm, rich, and full of flavors and sub-flavors. But in spite of this honey-like tonality, Metheny’s guitar never sounds “thick” or “viscous”, but rather has a fleet, quicksilver-like quality where multi-note phrases seem to burst forth at will, exhibiting in equal parts both articulacy and sweetness. That combination (articulacy + sweetness) is a tough one for many speaker systems to manage: more often than not, they get one element or the other right, but fail to deliver both at once. Not so, the Classico rig; it captures all the textures and timbres of Metheny’s guitar with real grace and ease.
One point I did note during my listening tests, though, was that the ultra-wide dispersion of the CDT 3 tweeter could—and sometimes did—cause reflection problems that made the system sound a bit bright. To address this I could potentially have tried using different sets of transformer output taps to trim back the tweeters’ output levels. But instead, I took a different approach and spent some extra time carefully tweaking and tuning the speakers’ positions within the room, and working specifically on toe-in angles, until I found a sort of “happy medium” sweet spot where the inherent clarity of the speakers remained, but where bright-sounding reflections were for the most part tamed. Once I found this “sweet spot,” the overall presentation sound became at once clearer and yet more relaxed on musical selections of all kinds. I mention this point by way of letting readers know that the Classico system is probably not one of those “plunk and play” systems that will work well no matter where you position the components. If my experience is any indicator, the Classico system is one that requires—but then richly rewards—careful trial and error placement adjustments.
Consider this surround speaker system if:
- You’ve always liked the idea of Gallo speakers, but wished for something more conventional-looking than Gallo’s somewhat unorthodox-looking Reference-series models.
- You favor a system that sounds much bigger than it looks.
- You want a system that combines the transparency and cohesiveness of planar speakers with the punch and authority of dynamic speakers.
- You want a system that’s long on detail, subtlety and 3D imaging, and that offers really impressive levels of dynamic expressiveness.
Look further if:
- You find the angular lines of some Classico models still seem too futuristic for your tastes (or room décor).
- You have concerns about image height given that the CL-3 is a very short floorstanders (consider a move up to the taller CL-4 floorstanders).
- You find that Gallo’s ultra-wide dispersion tweeter tends to cause unworkable reflection problems in your room.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)
Transparency and Focus: 9
Imaging and Soundstaging: 9.5
Tonal Balance: 9.5
Bass Extension: 9.5
Bass Pitch Definition: 9
Bass Dynamics: 8.5
We like the Gallo Classico CL-3 floorstander when we reviewed for The Absolute Sound as a stereo speaker, but we think it works out even better as the centerpiece of a complete Classic surround system. The beauty of this system is that it represents a “best of two worlds” solution, neatly combining many of the virtues of both planar and dynamic driver-type speaker systems. For the sound quality on offer, the Classico system turns out to be very well priced.
SPECS & PRICING
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-3 floorstander
Type: two-way, three-driver floorstanding loudspeakers with “modified transmission line” enclosure loading.
Drivers: Two 5.25-inch mid/bass drivers with woven carbon fiber diaphragms, one CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeter.
Frequency response: 32 Hz – 22kHz ± 3dB in-room
In-room sensitivity: 88dB
Nominal impedance: 4 Ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 20 – 200W
Dimensions (H x W X D): 31” x 7” x 12.5”
Weight: 27.7 lbs. each
Warranty: 1 year, extendable to<font color="black">5 years</font>if the product is properly registered with Gallo.
Price: $1595/pair (from the Gallo Direct online store)
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-2 stand-mount monitor/surround speaker
Type: two-way, two-driver stand-mount monitor with “modified transmission line” enclosure loading.
Drivers: One 5.25-inch mid/bass driver with woven carbon fiber diaphragm, one CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeter.
Frequency response: 39 Hz – 22kHz ± 3dB in-room
In-room sensitivity: 90dB
Nominal impedance: 4 Ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 15 – 100W
Dimensions (H x W X D): 13.4” x 7” x 9”
Weight: 12.5 lbs. each
Warranty: 1 year, extendable to 5 years if the product is properly registered with Gallo.
Price: $795/pair (from the Gallo Direct online store)
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-C center channel speaker
Type: two-way, three-driver center channel speaker with “modified transmission line” enclosure loading.
Drivers: Two 5.25-inch mid/bass drivers with woven carbon fiber diaphragms, one CDT 3 (cylindrical diaphragm transducer) tweeter.
Frequency response: 38 Hz – 22kHz ± 3dB in-room
In-room sensitivity: 92 dB
Nominal impedance: 4 Ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 15 – 200W
Dimensions (H x W X D): 7” x 26” x 6”
Weight: 17 lbs. each
Warranty: 1 year, extendable to 5 years if the product is properly registered with Gallo.
Price: $599/each (from the Gallo Direct online store)
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CLS-12 powered subwoofer
Driver complement: One long-throw 12-inch ceramic-coated aluminum bass driver.
Frequency response: 16Hz – 200Hz
Built-in amplifier power: 1000-watt amplifier.
Dimensions (H x W x D): 20” x 14” x 16.75”
Weight: 53 lbs. each.
Warranty: 1 year, extendable to 2 years if the product is properly registered with Gallo.
Total system price: $3988
Anthony Gallo Acoustics
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<font size="3"><font size="3"></font></font> When I wrote my review for The Absolute Sound, the Classico CL-3 was priced at $2395/pair and geared for sale through the Gallo dealer network. Subsequently, Gallo decided to sell Classico models only through its online “Gallo Direct” store, where the now re-priced CL-3 is offered at $1595/pair.