Anthony Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference 3.1 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Ben Shyman   
Saturday, 01 April 2006

Introduction
Consumers are constantly searching for the latest and greatest products and this is especially true in the world of consumer electronics. A high quality product with a unique look, employing the latest technologies and selling at the right price, will grab the attention of most consumers. Over the past two decades, Anthony Gallo has been manufacturing a different kind of loudspeaker: a round one. In fact, the company does not manufacture any traditional rectangular, box-type speakers. Home theater and audio enthusiasts have become highly familiar with Gallo’s satellite product offering, based on a small spherical enclosure which helps minimize standing waves and cabinet distortion and thus deliver highly transparent and accurate sound. The company’s top-of-the-line floor-standing model, the Nucleus Reference 3.1 loudspeaker, was born out of years of research with this technology and targets value-oriented consumers who are shopping for unusually high performance without breaking the bank.

Set-Up
The floor-standing Gallo Reference 3.1 loudspeakers have a totally unique and striking look with their grilles off that can easily fit into the most modern of decors. On the flip side, with their grilles on, the Reference 3.1s looked great in my more traditionally decorated apartment. The outer grille cover essentially acts in lieu of a more traditional cabinet and covers the inner workings of the loudspeaker. Looking right through the outer grille cover to the inside of the Reference 3.1 is easy from just about any angle and reveals the company’s patented CDT II tweeter mounted between dual four-inch midrange drivers as well as a side-firing 10-inch bass driver. The cylindrically-shaped CDT II tweeter is technologically unique in that it offers up to 300 degrees of high-frequency horizontal dispersion. This is a big advantage for movie watchers, as not everyone is always sitting in the most ideal on-axis listening position. Think of this tweeter as capable of firing in all directions except straight back. The two stainless steel spherical midrange enclosures are a hallmark of Gallo’s well-known lineage of round enclosure design. While Gallo is by no means the first company to mount a bass driver sideways, this placement effectively limits the Reference’s footprint to only eight inches wide, making it an ideal candidate for tighter spaces, such as my 700-square-foot Manhattan apartment. Each speaker is less than 40 inches high, even when mounted on their floor spikes and spike floor protectors.

The Reference 3.1 is exceptionally well-constructed. I believe this is especially true considering the $2,995 per pair price tag. The frame of the Reference 3.1 is aluminum and the midrange drivers and bass enclosure made of brushed stainless steel giving the overall construction a solid feel. Each enclosure weighs only 47 pounds and is available in black on black or black on stainless with a black, cherry or natural maple bass. The cherry and maple are optional finishes. The pair I reviewed had the natural maple bass, which offered an elegant look. Rated at eight ohms and with a sensitivity of 88 dB, the Nucleus Reference 3.1 should feel at home with most mid- to high-power amplifiers.

The Reference 3.1 speakers come in mirror image pairs. The side-firing bass drivers can face inward toward each other or outward toward the walls of your room. I experimented with both orientations and concluded that having the woofers face outward resulted in more natural midrange and extended bass response in my room. I also concluded that placing the Reference 3.1 with the aluminum spiked feet directly on my hardwood floor without using the floor protectors resulted in more natural mid-bass and overall pleasing sound. Since there is essentially no traditional cabinet and all the drivers are sealed, I found the Reference 3.1 to be more forgiving with respect to placing them near furniture or a wall than other speakers I have auditioned, especially those with a rear-ported cabinet such as my larger, heavier and more expensive Revel Performa loudspeakers.

The Reference 3.1 that I received arrived already broken in, having come from Gallo Acoustics’ exhibit at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Anthony Gallo advised me that under normal circumstances the Reference 3.1 require a more extensive break-in period than other loudspeakers and that 100-plus hours of high-level use is not uncommon for them to reach optimal sound quality. Overall, the Reference 3.1s were easy to set up and, after I wired them using Transparent speaker cables to a Proceed AMP5 Power Amplifier and the new Lexicon RT-20 Universal Disc player, which I am currently auditioning for a future review, I was ready for some serious listening.

The Music
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.

The Downside
At $2,995, it is really difficult to find fault with the Gallo Nucleus Reference 3.1 loudspeakers, as they deliver a music listening experience that is way beyond their price. While I really dug the look of these speakers with their grilles on in my home, I could not fault anyone who was less enthused by their aesthetics. It simply comes down to a matter of taste. Some more stodgy audio enthusiasts may gripe that Gallo Acoustics should have manufactured the Reference 3.1s to be bi-wireable, but this certainly would increase their price and make them less appealing to a broader range of consumers, so I would be hesitant to agree with anyone making this criticism. Finally, I think it would be great if Gallo offered the Reference 3.1s in more dynamic colors, as they do with their satellite product lines. If Gallo is going to design and manufacture a modern-looking product, they ought to go all the way. In the right decor I can envision these speakers looking amazing in Ferrari Rosa Forte or Fly Yellow.

Conclusion
If you are in the market for speakers in the under-$5,000 price category, you would be making a serious mistake not to audition the Nucleus Reference 3.1 loudspeakers at only $2,995. I believe any discriminating home theater or audio enthusiast will be wowed by the dynamic and outstanding sound of Gallo’s flagship product. While the look of the Reference 3.1s are clearly not for everybody, their superior build quality and amazing sound alone makes them top of their class and one of the most compelling values on the market today. I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to audition Gallo’s matching Nucleus Reference AV Multimedia or AV Center Channel speakers, but I did watch some HDTV and DVD movies with the Reference 3.1s and quickly concluded that these speakers are competent enough for serious movie watchers looking to build a first-rate home theater. The tweeter and midrange driver technologies in the AV Multimedia and AV Center Channel speakers are the same as those found in the Reference 3.1s.

I really enjoyed my time with the Reference 3.1 loudspeakers and will be sad to return them to Gallo. The Reference 3.1s are an outstanding achievement for the money and, despite that it is only February, I am already confident that they are worthy of being selected to appear on AVRev.com's Top 100 Products of the Year list.
Manufacturer Anthony Gallo Acoustics
Model Nucleus Reference 3.1 Loudspeakers
Reviewer Ben Shyman





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