Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde Loudspeaker

Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde

But to achieve these results, you are going to have to be prepared to use the volume control. It’s not that the GAGs need to be played loud, but in common with many moderately efficient speakers, you’ll find that each album has a precisely preferred volume level. Too quiet and they sound overly warm and shut in, too loud and they (or the system) start(s) to flatten and congeal. But get it right and the sound blossoms, growing away from the speakers to spread beyond them and fill the end of the room and, if the recording supports it, pushing out the back wall. Voices breathe, instruments fall into place and the sense of the song and the sense of performance lock in. Get the system and the set-up right and these Gershmans bring living, breathing performers to your room, with body, presence and a natural ability to engage and entertain. It’s only when you really start to analyse the sound that you realise just how uncannily natural it is. Playing the Sayaka Shoji/Gianluca Cascioli recording of the Complete Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano [UHQCD/DGG UCCG 90824/7]the relative scale of the instruments is beautifully captured, the weight and body of the piano, as its phrases flit from playful to authoritarian, the body and intensity of Shoji’s Strad. And that’s when it dawns on you; it really is Shoji’s Strad – from its concentrated tonality to her powerful technique, this is an instrument and its voice that are remarkably reminiscent of her live performance. Not just that, the Gershmans get the height just right. Shoji’s seriously petite. The first time I saw her I assumed that she was playing barefoot – only to discover that she was perched on five-inch heels. And she still looked like a schoolgirl – which made that massive musical power and the sheer authority in her playing all the more arresting. Listening with the GAGs, the speakers project all of that power and musical intensity and do it from an instrument placed just where it should be – left of the piano and lower than you’d expect. Getting those voices at the right height was clearly no accident…

This sense of natural perspective, combined with the weight, body and presence that come with extension into the low 20s and 200 watts doing the driving is the essence of Gershman DNA. It also defines the speakers overall balance and presentation. That feeling of warmth and substance translates to what has euphemistically become known as a ‘mid-hall’ balance and that too is reflected in the perspective. The GAGs display none of the shut-in character that bedevils some other traditional soft-dome ‘hold outs’, but they do lack a bit of top-end bite, texture and ultimate transparency. So listening to the Shoji Beethoven Sonatas, you are not doing it from the front row, but several rows back. Likewise, familiar recordings like Natalie Merchant’s Tiger Lily [Mo-Fi MFSL 2-45008] present a holistic and slightly distant performance, lacking some of the separation and stark immediacy that comes with higher-end pretensions. Is that a bad thing? In no way: in fact, in many cases it’s the complete opposite, bringing a welcome sense of coherence and musical integrity to proceedings. Barbirolli’s legendary Enigma… with the Philharmonia [UHQCD/EMI UCCG 28019] presents an impressively coherent soundstage and sense of acoustic space, to go with its natural string tone and lively orchestration, the different instruments all bound into a single purposeful whole by their almost physical relationship. It’s an object lesson in the importance of bandwidth – at both ends of the spectrum. If the GAGs really want to get every last musical ounce out of their bottom end then they’ll need to add extension at the opposite extreme. The Vifa tweeter is certainly sweet enough, but with a stated -3dB point at 22kHz, there’s no escaping the fact that a little more extension would help with focus and transparency. I can absolutely understand Gershman’s reluctance to trade in the tweeter’s considerable virtues in search of sonic (as opposed to musical) gains, but as a purchaser, you need to appreciate that it’s a decision that you also are buying into.

By now it should be pretty obvious that the Grande Avant Gardes do big, do bass and do imaging. They also do natural and naturally expressive. It’s a particularly impressive overall performance and balance of virtues. It ain’t hard to get big bass out of modest boxes – if you are prepared to accept a crippling electrical load, low efficiency and the sort of constipated dynamics that result in a total failure to emote. The fact that the modestly proportioned GAGs achieve the scale and bandwidth that they do, while neatly side-stepping the practical and musical pitfalls that so often result is testimony to the efficacy of their chosen solution(s). The explanation offered for the operation of the separate bass enclosure is either disarmingly or disingenuously simple – but there’s no ignoring the speakers’ low frequency performance. Likewise, the small, non-parallel and heavily braced cabinet panels suggest a low-storage enclosure, its reluctance to contribute to the sound or interfere with the music ample recompense for the cost and complexity of construction. Building a two-part cabinet this shape is never going to be cheap or easy, but in the end the results justify the means, results that certainly stand out from the crowd. Just listen to a pianist shape a phrase, accelerating through it or pausing for affect and the absence of slurring, lag or hesitation in the notes tells its own story. This is one speaker system where the music doesn’t have to drag the cabinet with it. Instead, performances proceed at their player’s pace, fast or, just as importantly, slow. Unlike a speaker or amp that leans on the leading edge to add pace to proceedings, the Gershmans allow notes freedom of passage, without editing, cropping or giving them a push. This lightness of touch is especially apparent in slow movements, with poise, grace, delicacy and pathos all equally part of the GAGs musical vocabulary. They deliver the full emotional range, whether its expressed reflectively or explosively – and they transition from one to the other with an enthusiastic fluidity that makes most other speakers at this price level sound stilted and constricted. It’s a sure indication that as a design, they are sorted, both electrically and acoustically/mechanically.

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