I'll make this quick and painless - as our own 'Clip' Stern loves to remind those level-headed enough to not be sold on the micro-power proposition, sometimes more power is mo betta indeed. 360 watts of balanced/bridged transistor muscle on the 'sub' inputs down low and Brazilian valves for full-range duty up above quickly dominated the games chez nous to make for the ultimate Gallo experience. Assumptions proved right for a change - without any shifts in tonal balance or other indicators of cheap tricks, the added power to the second voice coils merely equated to yet more control. Things cracked harder on low-frequency transients and sustained more slammage when the material called for it. It reads a bit impossible on paper or screen but once you try it, you'll have no recourse but to admit that this type of bi-amping not only works like a charm but rewrites the usual requirements for identical amps. What's more, raw amp power these days is cheap. Plus, these woofers are conservatively rated at 350 watts continuous - not that I suggest you go nuts and participate recklessly in the horse power wars of the car audio scene. But you're not looking for refinement and tone but merely yeoman grunt. A prospective Galloist could approach this goal in stages. Worry first about the refined 'glitz' amp, then the 'back alley slugger' at a later time when finances have recovered and the greed for more kicks in.

To avoid the rare instances of hitting the PRe6's gain ceiling with certain recordings (my Japanese über-DAC only puts out 1 volt, i.e. half the industry standard; and 30 watts of amplifier juice on an 88dB-efficient speaker is borderline), I installed the MiniMax valve preamp for the time being. I thereafter never ran into a lack of power incident.

Having thus optimized my installation with the hardware choices at hand, we finally get to the meat of the listening impression: As those sensitive to the timing liberties of higher-order speakers know, minimum-phase 1st-order designs are the only ones to get the plucking of strings and hammer falls on a piano right. They remove the confusion and indecision which time-incoherent speakers betray with miniature events that live within the first milli-second envelope of sounds arising from utter silence. Put more succinctly, they don't remove these aberrations - they don't cause them in the first place.

Anything percussive like wooden sticks, triangles, xylophone and guitar strings struck with a plectrum gain a potent degree of rightness and shock value when the wave form doesn't undergo rotations in the phase/time domain. This is no mere theory but plain as day if you know what to listen for - and the Ref IIIs get it right without the merest doubt.

I've already mentioned the spooky disappearance act which these speakers pull. The minimum-diffraction principle of spherical enclosures is liably at least partially to blame - and the mounting stem is no wider than the tweeter proper to literally get out of its way. Apparently good to 50kHz and beyond, this marvel of a transducer not only properly counterbalances the prowess down low but injects cubits of air into the soundstage for a knock-out depiction of dimensionally layered space. And since image specificity is a function of high-frequency data, the Gallos also focus very well. In fact, they completely miss the term 'image drift' in their vocabulary. With 2.5dB of available cut/boost via the toggle, the amount of shimmer and sparkle can be tailored by the listener. You could find as I did that maximizing bass extension and heft via the bi-amp route makes flicking this toggle upwards a welcome option. The omni tweeter also creates a wider-than-usual sweet spot. Together with its friendly placement options of close-wall comfort and asking price, it turns the ultra high-performance Reference III into a very practical and real-world speaker for a change.

Because of the comparatively giant diaphragm surface area and concomitant displacement mojo, the tweeter's in-room power response is in a completely different class from that of conventional dynamic designs with 1-inch dome tweeters. You'll appreciate that when a coloratura soprano diva hits the high notes at full boogie or a pan flute virtuoso like Ulrick Herkenhoff climbs into his uppermost piccolo register. Another instrument that benefits from this in particular is muted trumpet. To get any noteworthy decibel output of his hamstrung horn to begin with, the damper in its bell forces the player to strain with far higher than normal air pressure. If on top of this physical challenge he climbs the scales upwards, the resultant pressure waves escaping the instrument and hitting the microphone are super deluxe whammies of the first order. Hearing them reproduced sans the usual HF compression is quite the wake-up call.

Perhaps the greatest cognitive handicap this speaker could suffer falls into the general camp of zippiness, stridency and aggressive brightness. Super-tweeter extension + uncommon output capabilities = nastiness. Right? Dead wrong - but if you tried real hard, I'm sure you could come up with a zippy and lean amp to push the Ref III off kilter. Of course there's the 2.5dB cut option. But I'll leave the door open for deliberate misdeeds. That said, my greatest surprise in this home-based Gallo encounter -- which had been preceded by diligent visits to Anthony's exhibit rooms during whatever show in the last 10 years he's participated in -- came upon realizing that this final design is extremely well-balanced top-to-bottom. If anything, it's on the slightly warm and robust rather than cool and lean side of fence neutrality.

I've always wondered what Anthony Gallo's best efforts would sound like on tubes - except that he's never shown with them. This is merely personal opinion and bias but the spatial retrieval capabilities of this speaker veritably thrive on the dimensional layering whereby the best tubes still relegate their sand-based cousins into the second-rate seats. Having the Acoustic Reality IcePower amp and Coda's Class A S5 on hand allowed experimentation with a variety of flavors. At the end of the day, my diehard thermionic allegiance put down its foot in a declaration of superiority. While everything in audio seems to dance the endless dance of give'n'take, the Audiopax amps ruled in the areas most dear to me and, important to add, were being most skillfully assisted in the nether regions by a solid-state friend.

While low-level listening with the Ref III is very good, it isn't quite as good as with the Avantgarde DUOs. Their raise-the-curtains threshold is possibly the lowest I've yet encountered. It makes you pity the fellows who have to really crank their rigs to part the waves and enter the promised land. The Gallos are also not as supernaturally dynamic, something you notice most during subdued playback sessions where their dynamic envelope flattens out a bit by comparison. They are, however, clearly more extended on top. Didn't I just talk about give'n'take? On the take side of the ledger, the lesser surface area of the single versus twin woofers means that the Gallos energize the room less flamboyantly. Possibly due to their side-firing nature, their bass is perhaps more seamlessly integrated and thus aurally more of a piece than that of the hornspeakers. Those can sound veritably disjointed if a user doesn't know how to properly set the crossover (usually too low) and the sub attenuator (usually too high) but align surprisingly well in the hands of a connoisseur - considering the two very dissimilar principles that are operational between the horn-loaded 'ease' section and the 'brute force' active subs.

The Avantgardes' sensitivity (higher by 15dB) means they can ultimately play far louder before entering break-up modes and distortion. At what size of room this would become an issue I don't know. I can only tell you that with the Gallos, I never once approached any signs of distress onset even at unhealthy party levels. Which now brings us to the conclusion. The Gallos image like the dickens. They're organic and slightly warm yet extremely articulate and precise at the same time. They sound huge but are physically small. They can look ultra hi-tech or more demure depending on use of the grill. They are truly full-range with a second amp. They are exceptionally well built. They are silly affordable for what they are though I would never dare suggest that $2,600 isn't a lot of money for most of us middle class folks.

But now riddle me this: A $2,600 speaker replaces a $20,000 speaker. After insertion of an extra $3,800 amp, it miserably fails at telegraphing let-down or compromise while being preceded by $50,000 of top drawer hardware. Is there something remiss with the usual logic of allocating the greatest funds to the speakers? Some wily Scotsman comes to mind, does he not? In an upcoming revisitation, I shall explore the Reference IIIs in a far more sane context of an Underwood HiFi/pXc-modified Jolida JD-100 tubed CD player and a stock Unison Research Unico 80wpc hybrid integrated. After all, that really is the kind of system Anthony Gallo must have had in mind when he designed this speaker in the first place - not some dumb-ass reviewer's stunt to reach for the stars by hook or crook. But because I am an unrepentant dumb-ass reviewer in the first place, I thought you'd appreciate hearing about these speakers in my personal best-case scenario.

It seems completely risk-free to predict that this speaker is destined to become a true classic in due time. While nothing in our material world is perfect safe for new love, the Anthony Gallo Acoustic Reference III is about as perfect as any under-$5,000 speaker has a bloody right to be. It also has the cheekiness to force many higher-priced entries into having a lot of fancy explaining to do.

"Don't paint yourself into a corner", I hear some of my more restrained friends whisper in warning. Indeed, I do hate the smell of drying paint from up close.

When it comes to $15,000 amplifiers and $30,000 speakers, I indeed wouldn't know where the wind was blowing from. But after having worked in the biz for a good 10 years and for two loudspeaker manufacturers, it comes easy to recognize something as truly special when it shows up in my place as a loudspeaker with an under $5,000 price tag affixed.

It's why my new award merely calls today's device The New Standard In Affordable Speakers - nothing more, nothing less. That's a corner I'm very comfortable inhabiting; preferably with my own pair of such upstarts. I'm told they're due to arrive early next month. I've threatened to hang onto this review pair until then to avoid unpacking and repacking the DUOs - a little blackmail might work in this case? Since Gallo's proprietary CDT tweeter is the piece de resistance in this design veritably pregnant with novel touches, we'll close out with a brief technical explanation on how the darn thing dares to work so magnificently without sporting any semblance of a voice coil or suspension.

Kynar® or polyvinylidene fluoride aka PVDF is the homopolymer of 1,1-di-fluoro-ethene and a tough engineering thermoplastic dubbed "one of the most stable and pure of all commercial resins". Anthony Gallo employs it as the actual tweeter diaphragm. Wrapped around a perforated steel cylinder and quite unlike electrostatic edge-fixed panels, this hi-tech sheet only attaches to itself at the back seam of the CDT tweeter. Covered with thick silver ink on both sides, our stiff piezo film contracts and expands with applied voltages to turn into a pulsating cylinder. Two strips of close-cell foam run around the edge of the film. Acoustically transparent, hi-rebound open-cell foam of identical durometer and stiffness as the edge-banding foam then applies pressure against the Kynar diaphragm from the inside out to create compliant tension in a quasi suspension. A matching transformer delivers the requisite signal voltages. Now hold your breath: The CDT's innate breakdown voltage is 5200 volts, its bandwidth in excess of 1MHz. Needless to say, the transformer restricts both peak voltages and potential bandwidth to make this radical transducer electrically fail-safe. You simply cannot overdrive it. If you tried, it would merely refuse to get louder once you crossed a ridiculous threshold of test-bench machismo.

Anthony explained that Pioneer's HPM series with an earlier and less advanced copolymer sporting applied sputtered aluminum as the conductive layer had eventually been abandoned. The surface resistance of this diaphragm was higher than the driver's HF impedance to cause premature treble roll-off. Equally counter-productive, the surface application of the aluminum proved unstable over time and flaked off or developed cracks to lead to nearly 100% eventual failure rates. With his bullet-proof CDT invention, Gallo was awarded a patent from the moment the original Nucleus and Reference launched many years ago. The Ref III implementation is a next-generation iteration said to be quite superior. Anthony also holds an international patent on his S2 technology which refers to the shredded polyethylene damping materials encased in Nylon mesh bags which make up the before-mentioned invisible socks. This bit of tech talk underlines further how some very unique ingredients and applications have been bequeathed onto Anthony Gallo's deceptively affordable masterpiece. Its hi-tech appearance does indeed go hand-in-hand with hi-tech engineering of a very unconventional but bloody ingenious bend. I'm told that HE 2004 attendees in NYC will have the opportunity to hear the Reference III in a planned 7.1 setup inside a 20' x 40' exhibit space. Stay tuned for Stereophile's coverage of this anticipated show event.
Manufacturer's website