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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Raysonic Audio CD228, AMR CD-777 [on review], April Music Stello CDA-500 [on review], Aura Neo [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves), April Music Stello Ai500 [on review], Aura Groove [on review], Peachtree Audio iDecco [on review], Aaron XX [on review], Audio Analogue Crescendo [on review]
Amplifier: Octave MRE-130 monos
Speakers: era 5 SAT, Amphion Helium 510 [on review], Amphion Impact 400 [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: $1.990/pr including wall or table mounts (customer choice)

A full year had passed. Had my industry features e-mail interview with Anthony Gallo, on the Reference 3.1 to 3.5 conversion and technology updates which would also flow into the Dué replacement called Strada, turned into old news? While the wheels of offshore production involving Gallo's complex assemblies and custom drivers churned slowly—the Reference 3.5 launch remains imminent for 2010 but we're booked for one of two early review pairs—I suspected that the designer's fertile brain hadn't been exactly idle in the meantime.

In the interim then, had Anthony learned anything else beyond the OPT® changes discussed in my article that benefited the convertible Strada? This petite monitor is available in both mains and center versions with 180° and 120° tweeter dispersion respectively; includes wall or desk mounts and an optional floor stand; and comes in all black, silver/black as shown or soon in all white. "There is even newer technology in both the Strada and Ref 3.5 whose detailed topology has not been fully revealed yet. At CES 2010 and without much of a description, I made a demo of switching this technology—a kind of dielectric absorption counter measure if you will—in and out of the circuit. It aligns electrical timing cues instead of what the OPT® system corrects in the mechanical domain.

"I was excited to discover that the handful of visitors for whom I performed this demo did hear an improvement when it was switched in. Some thought it was subtle but positive; some significant; and one actually called it revelatory. You can decide for yourself by snipping a wire on the inside if you are so inclined (production Stradas don't have the facility for defeating this technology)."

"The new technology which we call Level 2 OPT® is very simple but highly effective. It grew out of experiments prompted by personal frustration over lifting the speaker cables off my room's synthetic carpet time and again with each change of installation. But the improvement was clearly audible so I needed a solution that would allow me to leave the wires on the carpet. Long story short, we now wrap an insulated wire which is charged from the positive binding post around the signal-carrying leads inside the speaker. I use three revolutions per foot. This charges the electromagnetic fields of the signal-carrying hookup wire with identical signal from the outside. Here is the magic part. This cancels out the interference from parasitic electrostatic charges that are generated by our synthetic damping material. S2 of course is vital to the overall recipe. Not only does it extend the bandwidth of the drivers which are loaded by it, it also eliminates the single standing wave of all spheres which our diameter puts right at 3.7kHz and in the heart of the presence region.

"Like our polyolefin flakes, the bevel ring from which the mid/woofer decouples via an elastomeric gasket also has a second function beyond mechanical decoupling. The bevel alters the geometry of the sphere. Obviously it is no longer perfectly round. This contour creates a baffle-step correction which accelerates the rate at which the midranges roll off. Now their rate of upper roll-off is ideally matched to the lower attenuation of the CDTIII tweeter. We mechanically arrive at the perfect mirror imaging for which competitors must rely on energy-robbing passive electrical filters.

"Previously the perforated steel cylinder core of the CDT tweeter—that's what we band our special Urethane rebound foam around to act as the restorative force for the Kynar diaphragm—was filled with an absorptive synthetic material. We now changed this to a diffusive copper mesh into which we embed the terminus of the counter-measure wire. This eliminates buildup of electrostatic charges inside the CDTIII and really improves its clarity.

"We also applied a new ultra-thin coating on the Kynar film which completely eliminates the previous oxidation discolorations. Did you know that the only way to destroy this tweeter is by applying 5200 volts to it? Even then it would take a microscopic tear through the membrane to cause destructive arcing. We limited the matching transformer on the CDTIII to 1200 Volts—which would represent an input of well over 500 watts— so this really is a bullet-proof design.

"The delayed launch of the Reference 3.5 is mostly due to me sweating hard over a new plinth. We had received mixed feedback on the proposed outrigger feet we showed at the 2009 CES. But I knew just how important it was to properly decouple our speaker from the floor. To streamline the look, I needed a new material. That's because the other improvements—a new E-core bass inductor over the previous I-core unit; a very expensive TRT Stealth bypass cap; a new black-anodized aluminum cone woofer; the OPT® mechanical and electrical alterations—had shown that the previous Maple base was no longer effective enough. I researched many materials and finally discovered a specific phenolic resin with the desired acoustic properties.

"This material is very hard, machines flawlessly and can be buffed to a piano gloss. I'd also come across a fabulous elastomeric film which is far superior to the previous brass footers we used. The ultimate floor interface now is the new resin plinth atop this thin elastomeric layer directly on the floor, even carpet. For very thick pile carpet, we'll have an optional intermediate spiked plinth from which the speaker decouples. But it'll take super plush carpet to create any instability issues and even warrant this - with the exception of curious pets and children of course."    

No question, $2.000/pr for a small monitor remains significant. To appreciate fully why the Strada is not your average miter-folded MDF box—as though you didn't know already—last year's assembly photos of Anthony's early Strada prototype articulate the material makeup in detail. Photos of course never capture R&D time. Nor sheer inventiveness. Nor 6-figure tooling costs for the various cast parts which are essential to bring in the final product at an everyman price. Companies like Magico and YG Acoustics for example pride themselves on their extravagant CNC work in aluminum. Using equivalent production methods, the original Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.0 as per Anthony would have retailed for well over $20.000/pr even with Chinese origins. He targeted $2.600/pr instead. Hence tooling was essential to create custom casts. With tooling investments come long amortization cycles particularly when the product in question is value-priced to rely on high volumes before these investments are recouped.


Pierre Sprey's Mapleshade stands for the Stradas are testament to a long-standing collaboration between Pierre and Anthony. "Pierre's Maple always did really well for us. It's why we incorporated it on the original Reference 3. With the new phenolic plinth on the Reference 3.5 and the new elastomeric film even underneath the Strada desk-top and floor stand, our stock solutions now emphasize the decoupling method."


In the designer's mind, the $3.000 package of a pair of Stradas with floor stands and his top TR3 300-watt subwoofer ($995) outperforms the previous Reference 3.0 by not a small margin. "The only possible advantage of our earlier flagship was the 100 - 200Hz band integration. If you don't spend the time to properly locate the subwoofer in a good position now and really get the crossover region perfectly dialed, I'd give the Reference 3 the nod. In all other aspects, the Strada with sub wins." The specs promise an unassisted F3 of 45Hz with boundary reinforcement of 1 foot, i.e. when wall-mounted or on a table top up against the wall. Power handling is textbook Gallo—i.e. generous; Anthony likes it loud—and 150 watts RMS.

Minimum suggested power is 10 watts. Dimensions are 5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches WxHxD and weight each is 11.4lbs. As a mensch not snob, Anthony's inventory of personal electronics includes Cambridge Audio separates and the small Melody/Onix SP3 valve integrated but also McIntosh MC500 monos and modified Airtight ATM1 monos. One of his favorite amps still is the latest-gen Spectron. Digital includes the older Resolution Audio machine. "It's important to me that my speakers sound good with 'normal' electronics. If they required costly amps to sing, I would have missed the entire rationale for doing what we do."

All told, the Strada is the forthcoming Reference 3.5 without its sidefiring 10-inch woofer. And without the ultra expensive TRT Stealth bypass cap which gets 'downgraded' to a still very expensive TRT Dynamic. These caps aren't crossover caps but simply bypass the paralleled DC-blocking capacitors which protect both the CDT's matching transformer and the electronics driven it during clipping. "With the mechanical and electrical OPT® refinements, these speaker designs became so tautly tuned that every little thing was audible to matter very much indeed. This is a tiny .47uF bypass capacitor but its quality was instrumental. Once I'd heard the TRT part, I couldn't not use it, expense be damned."

On paper, specs and ingredients—and given Gallo's prior track record—the Strada appeared to me like an ambitious refinement of proven technologies which were condensed into the most compact form factor possible. Futuristic while attractive industrial design and a number of apparently thought-out through-engineered application configurations (on-wall, desk top, floorstanding, with subwoofer, multiple finishes) added to a pervasive insistence on integration. Given this, the asking price seemed very appropriate if the speaker delivered sonically on its promises.

What impressed me most during the two-hour phone call I made to Anthony were the many anecdotes of his constant pursuit into learning about the acoustical properties of materials. I said so. "Enclosures in loudspeakers are the most important thing. Anyone can stick drivers in a box and fiddle some crossover software to make it work. To get from there to a really outstanding product requires a very refined enclosure. Once you have that, you return to the other parts—drivers, wiring, posts, capacitors, inductors, resistors and such—and shave off percentage points. But getting the enclosure right is huge." One more look at the Strada confirmed without a doubt that Anthony walks his talk.

Never shy to speak his mind, Pierre Sprey's website stated that "the Strada mounted on Mapleshade's custom-tailored upgrade stand is the best monitor-size speaker we’ve ever heard bar none. That includes the $15,000 Sonus Faber and the $30,000 Magico. In our studio, it has replaced Pierre's much-loved and tweaked Ref 3s. The Strada treble is even purer than the now-discontinued Ref. 3.1; the soundstage is more focused, huge and palpable. And the bass, though not quite as deep as the Ref. 3.1, is significantly more resolving. We now hear bass details in Mapleshade recordings never heard on any other speakers. Surprisingly efficient, the Stradas play really loud even in large rooms." If nothing else, this certainly raised expectations.

"Regarding the sub, the high-pass on the high-level outputs is 1st-order at 80Hz. Don’t be afraid to raise the crossover frequency or reverse phase. Switch frequently because at those crossover frequencies depending on sub position, you could be on the cusp of phase alignment. This phenomenon time-shifts backwards a bit when going through the 1st-order high-pass as opposed to straight through. I usually urge customers to start out direct without high-pass filtering unless they have a hard time integrating the sub. But that doesn’t guarantee perfection either. With all the effort expended to line everything up with the OPT® system, the woofer unfortunately can only be as good as someone is willing to spend time positioning it. It can be a little tricky when done manually because everything you change on the back control board except for power and level also changes the phase relationship.

"When dialing in the setup, start with the crossover at 12 o’clock. Then switch the phase toggle up and down to see which works best with the sub's current position. Keep in mind that even the +3dB bass boost will change phase relationships. I don’t fully endorse the use of boost for 2-channel operation but if the sub integrates better that way, there's a good chance it needs to be moved either farther or closer to the listener. Many customers get excellent integration when setting up with an AV receiver that offers time alignment functions (like by Audyssey or such which are on almost all of them these days). Sometimes turning the sub towards the farther speaker when the woofer is not centered alleviates some issues."