|Anthony Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Saturday, 01 April 2006|
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I began listening with Music from the Motion Picture “Magnolia” (Reprise Records, 1999) which consists predominately of songs performed by Aimee Mann. The “Magnolia” soundtrack is a moody and emotional collection of songs and is one of Mann’s best works. On every track, the Reference 3.1s articulated Mann’s vocals with great precision, never sounding throaty or thin, even at high listening levels. On her rendition of Harry Nilsson’s 1968 classic “One,” Mann’s lead vocal was centered in a wide soundstage and was delightfully complemented by a tapestry of background vocals that were never lost or washed out in the mix. The Reference 3.1s not only handled vocals accurately, but also excelled in the lower frequencies. On “Build that Wall,” the bass was extremely smooth and deep; I felt it in my chest. The opening snare drum was balanced and demonstrated how fast and accurate the loudspeaker’s midrange driver and tweeter were. When listening to this track with the lights out, there were times that Mann sounded like she was performing right before me. The acoustic guitars on “Deadly” were smooth and nicely separated in the mix, helping to create a mood and listening experience that was thoroughly enjoyable. Even the sound of Mann dragging her guitar pick across the strings was clearly audible, which left me thoroughly impressed, especially for a loudspeaker in this price range. The Reference 3.1 thoroughly piqued my interest on “Magnolia’s” mellow and moody soundtrack and I was ready to turn my attention to some classic rock.
When Eric Clapton’s performed live on MTV’s “Unplugged” (Reprise Records) in 1992, it became an instant classic and a yardstick by which all acoustic performances would forever be compared. The recording is a listener’s delight, filled with little nuances such as foot-tapping and crowd noise that breathe life into and create an intimacy within a performance. The Reference 3.1s performed exceptionally well during the album’s most delicate moments, such as on “Tears in Heaven,” where chimes were resonate and clear and the bongos were full and rich with exceptional depth. Background vocals had clear separation from Clapton’s lead vocal and guitar, which was critical to emphasizing the mood of the song. Importantly, however, throughout “Tears in Heaven,” I was pleased that the Reference 3.1s never imparted much unwanted color or character on the music or performance. During “Running on Faith,” Clapton’s slide guitar was well balanced and never harsh. On “Alberta,” it was easy to hear every string on Clapton’s 12-string acoustic guitar. Of course, no review discussing “Unplugged” can be considered complete without mention of the harmonica and kazoo solos on Jesse Fuller’s classic “San Francisco Baby Blues,” which sounded so fine on the Reference 3.1s.
It was time to play something completely different. I reached for the 24-bit remastered HDCD of King Crimson’s 1974 release Red (Virgin Records, 2000). For those unfamiliar with this album, legendary King Crimson guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp recently remixed and remastered much of the band’s catalogue to commemorate their twenty-fifth anniversary. These remixes sound so good compared to the originals that I replaced all my King Crimson CDs with those available as re-released versions. Bill Bruford’s drumming throughout Red, particularly on “One More Red Nightmare,” was dynamic and rich. I would describe the Reference 3.1 as a quick loudspeaker and this was evident listening to Bruford’s snare drum on “One More Red Nightmare,” as well as on “Red.” While the saxophone solos on “One More Red Nightmare” were clear, they conveyed some moderate harshness, which I ascribed to the age of the recording more than the limitations of the loudspeakers. The Reference 3.1s handled Bruford’s cymbals on “Starless” with precision, always smooth and clear, never sounding thin or tinny. Much of “Starless” features Fripp playing guitar and soloing over an eerie-sounding Mellotron in the background. The Mellotron creates a mood to the performance that I found fairly pleasing when listening to it on the Reference 3.1s. It was time to step up the ante with some high-resolution SACD.
I always try to include some jazz in a review and there are few better albums than Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans’ “Know What I Mean” SACD (Analogue Productions, 2002). Originally recorded in February, 1961 in New York City, “Know What I Mean” is a merger of styles of two renowned jazz legends, the bluesy Adderley and the more introspective Evans. The tone of each instrument in the quartet, and especially Adderley’s saxophone, came across as live as any recording that I own from a more modern era. Percy Heath’s up-tempo bass was fairly deep on “Who Cares?,” adding to the authentic nature of the performance. On “Troy,” Paul Motian’s high hat and rider cymbals were evenly textured and cut through the mix with ease. One of the benefits of listening to SACD is the improved instrument separation, which was certainly true of “Know What I Mean,” where even during some of Adderley’s most up-tempo solos, Evan’s rhythm piano was always highly present and never lost in the mix. Being able to easily hear the texture of artists’ breath in a horn is reminiscent to hearing a vocalist swallow during more quiet passages and the Reference 3.1s had no faults in this regard. Listening to Adderley play on “Elsa” was a treat, knowing the Reference 3.1s were bringing me as close as I would ever get to hearing one of my favorite sax players in a live setting.
I would conclude my listening and evaluation of the Reference 3.1 with The Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet” SACD (ABKCO, 2002). “Sympathy for the Devil” begins with the famous bongos, percussion and bass rhythms, all of which sounded rich on the Reference 3.1. The bass was deep enough to feel in my chest at louder listening levels, and Mick Jagger’s vocals, placed just left of off-center in the soundstage, jumped through the mix with resounding clarity. Keith Richard’s classic and distorted solo was harmonically rich, as it always is on my more expensive Revel F32s, a testament to the References’ musical nature. Again, I was impressed by the Reference 3.1s’ ability to create a soundstage that had a high degree of separation between instruments, never losing the piano and background vocals in the busy mix. On “Street Fighting Man,” the Stones’ classic rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts really shone. The Reference 3.1s produce great low bass and this was nowhere more evident than in Watts’ floor toms and kick drum, which had an impressive attack. On more quiet numbers, such as “Salt of the Earth,” I enjoyed the clarity of Richards’ acoustic guitars combined with the piano. After listening to Beggars several times on the Reference 3.1s, I am confident that all rock aficionados will enjoy having Gallo’s flagship product in their homes.