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Anthony Gallo on aluminum, steel and stainless
: "All our initial prototypes are CNC'd from standard aluminum stock because machining steel is financially too prohibitive. As is, the original prototype stem for the Ref 1.3 cost me more than $10.000. Once the molds are ready for casting, the aluminum alloy stems undergo a hardening heat treatment. The upshot? The production cast alloy structure sounds significantly better than the prototype machined aluminum stalk. To begin with, aluminum is softer. Then the CNC cutter head creates highly localized heat exposure that destroys the even grain pattern of the aluminum stock. Casting creates a more uniform grain structure and results in a far better damped assembly. I can use pure aluminum only below 200Hz where its particular resonant behavior is out of band. That's why we use stainless steel sub enclosures for the drivers. Before final assembly to the main stalk, we use some basic vibration isolation techniques between the stainless modules and the hardened aluminum alloy. Stainless steel's acoustical properties are far superior to aluminum. You can't use aluminum for the midrange and get the results we're getting."

On Strada/TR3 vs. Reference 3.5
: "Remember that at 120Hz, the series crossover creates a low-pass for the woofer and a high-pass for the midranges. I tried to supplement wide open mids with a low-pass woofer like the Strada/TR3 system does it. This did not give me the midbass slam and impact I needed for this speaker. Fixing the exact crossover point—the woofer here is down 3dB at 200Hz—was a function of matching its turnover frequency to a precise fraction of the wavelength that is represented by the physical distance of woofer center to composite midrange center. I could never lock in proper timing with a parallel crossover type nor with a forward-facing woofer."

On Ref 3/3.1 vs. Ref 3.5
: "The new woofer now has two 8-ohm voice coils. You won't believe how little power now makes those 10-inchers boogie compared to the previous 4-ohm version."

On the 2nd voice coil input: "Because of the new woofer impedance, we recommend the unfiltered lower inputs primarily for the LFE or .1 output of a home theater receiver*."

On the OPT®2 input
: "For regular speaker cables, we include a small link that connects from the positive upper terminal to the OPT® banana socket. This is what the external spiral wire of our own cable connects to directly. Disconnecting the OPT® banana allows you to test the efficacy of our static interference suppression."

On the optional bases
: "Besides greater stability for plush pile carpets, the secondary composite laminate bases are also useful for certain types of suspended flooring which is so resonant as to benefit from additional damping over the standard elastomeric film of the new plinths. I sent you a pair of bases to experiment with. Also try them as component stands. You will be very surprised. If I was in the accessory audio furniture business, this would be the ideal material."

On small drivers in general: "If I had the right 3-inch driver, I would use nothing else. I'd simply parallel as many as necessary to make a given F3. For example, the composite surface area of our 5LS's twelve 4-inch woofers falls between a conventional 12" and 15" woofer. But it's impossible to capture the instantaneous rise time of a gun shot, rim shot or slap bass with such big woofers.


* Gallo continues to sell the Reference SA subwoofer amp which on the Reference 3.5 is primarily useful for low-power main amps of 20wpc or less.

"It simply can't be done. That's why drum kits never sound real with beastly woofers. I personally can't use anything bigger than a 10-incher and the Reference 3.5 does very well. But it cannot compete with my big line-source micro woofer array. That's due to speed, minimal excursions and low cone mass. Those 4-inch woofer cones of the line source model weigh 2 gram each. Compare that to the hundreds of grams of conventional 15-inch woofers. It's simple math."

On measurements
: "My OPT®-based work now renders sinusoidal measurements meaningless. Those measurements do not penetrate into these areas. It's a bit peculiar that the improvements of the current Strada and Reference 3.5 over the predecessors didn't rely on any measurement-driven research. I used to be heavily into measurements. They were in fact mandatory for all my previous generations of product. But what's required to achieve this current level of transient fidelity so far can't be satisfactorily objectified with any measurements I'm aware of."

On soundstage height
: "Even though I did not change the basic geometry—and in fact the absence of adjustable footers no longer allows for rake adjustments—the OPT® changes have raised up the soundstage. I'm frankly not sure how but it's plain to hear."

On Ref 3/3.1 to 3.5 conversion, owner Barry Cohen shares some background: "I guess being one of the first to purchase a set of speakers from an unknown manufacturer, keeping in touch and becoming friends with the head of the company over time has its dividends. I got to be a beta tester for the 3.x to 3.5 upgrade process. Better still, I was able to be involved for part of it. Anthony and I started the process mid morning on a Sunday but were unable to complete it though working well into the evening. I had no idea how complex these speakers are.

"There are a lot of parts that need to be assembled just so and the interior of these speakers is far more confined than a typical box. While Anthony and I nearly completed the upgrade of one speaker that Sunday, he had his assistant complete the second during the week and I was able to pick up both my upgraded speakers the following weekend. This upgrade is very labor intensive. I'd say probably 8 to 10 man hours per speaker."

Gallo's Chatsworth facilities will only be able to do two conversion pairs per week but the commitment is to upgrade any existing Reference owners who desire it to full 3.5 status. This is of course contingent on scheduling and sufficient replacement parts in inventory. The conversion fee will be the retail difference between old and new models.

6moons on Strada/TR3 vs. Ref 3.5
: It's somewhat of an insult to purists who condemn crossovers on principle. It's disappointing also if you'd quietly hoped that three to four grand (one or two TR3s) could duplicate $6000 worth of performance. My admittedly unusual setup suggests that Reference 3.5 performance should always eclipse the Strada combo in the midbass and most the time also in the bass.

That's because the Ref 3.5 high-passes its spheres for perfectly mirror-imaged and considerable overlap with the 10-inch woofer. The overlap extends well into the fourth octave. Not only is the impact area between 100 and 200Hz jointly covered by three drivers, the woofer is still noticeably active to 400Hz.

Even if the Stradas were hot-rodded with two subwoofers placed in very close proximity, their spheres will always run wide open. With your subwoofer filters set to 180Hz—the max for the TR3—and subwoofer attenuators appropriate for the low bass balance, you'd end up with obviously overemphasized thick upper bass because the Strada spheres reach too low. With the subwoofer filter properly set (lower), the upper bass lacks the impact the 10-inch woofers adds to the 3.5. And with just one subwoofer on the Stradas, you'd not extend the speaker's amazing image specificity into the bass. You'd also lack foundation weight. No matter what, you'll not get the same fleshiness and impact in the power region.

At the expense of timing errors, two TR3s with bass boost engaged will probably go lower and louder than the Ref 3.5 in the first octave. But the continuous dynamics and punch in the lower mid/upper bass transition of the 3.5 will remain elusive. Strada midbass will always be lighter and leaner by design.

While you could loop the Stradas—to filter them in/out through the TR3's crossover—it'd be a steeper filter of inferior quality to screw up treble finesse. What does this mean? The Strada/TR3 combo has the speed and coherence of electrostats. Its relative leanness in the 100 to 200Hz band highlights the ultra resolution and visual elements of the performance.

The Ref 3.5's tonal balance is significantly fuller and warmer. It beefs up the third and fourth octaves and extends stereo effects into the low bass. Subjectively, this steps down the focus on ultra resolution and replaces it with greater gut-level impact. Slap bass pops, rim shots crack and anything percussive with low fundamentals kicks. They do not with the Strada. Human hearing centers perceived resolution on the presence region. That's the Strada. Human hearing centers vitality and emotional involvement on the power region. That's the Ref 3.5. Think of this shifted perspective as 'electrostatic sound with general cone-driver dynamics' versus 'dynamic driver impact with electrostatic speed'. As conceptually simple as it is, Anthony's 1st-order series filter on the Ref 3.5 outperforms not having a high-pass on the Strada spheres. That's the blow to purists. It creates a significant and, in my book at least, very desirable advance.

Its wider and more gradual blend between woofer and midranges is more seamless. As a result, it injects greater warmth and wallop. The only thing that remains electrostatic about the Reference 3.5 sound is coherence. On fleshiness and dynamics, it's squarely super-tweaked cone drivers. On foundation weight in a room my size, it's twin active subwoofer territory. But normal 1-inch tweeters don't do what the CDTIII does. And normal powered subwoofers, even Gallo's own, can't mesh as invisibly but potently as his own series filter.

The steeper Reference 3.5 sticker (blame the stalk) doesn't just buy more as it usually would moving up within a speaker line - more bass, more loudness, more refinement. There is more (stereo bass, bass weight, midbass impact). The vital difference however is that their combined effects alter the playback gestalt.

On superior ECM-type recordings for example, bass textures are more accurate, bass localization and sizing a lot more specific. Some of this does operate on simple 'more' math. The greater midbass density and greater visceral displacement in that band meanwhile trigger the 'difference' factor. This moves from observer to participant. The price difference of the sub/sat trio vs. floorstanders is significant. So is this shift. It's quite undeniable.

Sadly for less padded wallets—and good for Anthony Gallo who incidentally doesn't expect to sell nearly as many 3.5s as he has 3.0/3.1s—the Strada/TR3 big-rig proposition at half the price does not really compete with the Reference 3.5. These are actually two different sonic flavors. Panel speaker aficionados could potentially prefer the Stradas for exactly the reasons already stated - the lit-up speed with its focus on details. Those for whom most panel speakers lack punch and vitality should nearly invariably favor the 3.5. Despite the obviously same parts and equivalent soundstaging, the Reference 3.5 is tonally fuller, dynamically more linear and in the vital upper bass range, considerably gutsier. That these changes would impact the feel of the presentation won't surprise those who are familiar with how even small adjustments to a system's upper bass balance can cause rather greater shifts in listener involvement.