Canton GLE 403 Speaker System

Fussy in the front; pragmatic in the back.

Three identical stand-mounted speakers in front, two on-wall speakers in back—that's the unusual configuration I used in this review of the Canton GLE Series. Now I've got some explaining to do.

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Can't Walls and Speakers Just Get Along?
Hanging a speaker on the wall is a major temptation. Drive in one nail or screw, hang the speaker on its keyhole, and you're done, as long as you don't live in earthquake territory. It's a lot less invasive than carving out big holes for in-walls. Changing your mind about placement is no big deal, and almost any kind of wall-mounted speaker takes up less space in the room than a floorstanding or stand-mounted one.

But walls and speakers designed to be freestanding don't get along so well. And the closer they are to one another, the worse they get along. One problem is diffraction: Sound emitted from the speaker bounces off the wall, creating slightly delayed reflections that compete with the speaker's direct output, producing muddy, time-smeared sound. This happens with any kind of speaker in any normal kind of room. But the closer the speaker is to the wall, the more objectionable the smearing becomes. Another problem is one of tonal balance. When you place a speaker designed to be freestanding against a wall, the midbass/ bass will be elevated unless you compensate for the placement. So, here's the big question: Is there a place in a good surround system for on-wall speakers?

With this review, I'm going to suggest one possible answer: yes, in the back of the room, if the speakers are designed for it. Why compromise by putting them in the back? Aren't surround effects a significant part of the home theater experience? Of course they are. But they're not as crucial as the voices that come out of the center channel and the side-to-side panning effects that directly reflect the action on the screen.

Enter the Canton GLE 401 on-wall speakers. With a fashionable 3.5-inch depth, they serve as the surrounds in this review system. In the front is a matched trio of GLE 403 monitors. Their 11-inch depth—and placement well away from the wall—gives the system a tad more depth and the means to create a strong front soundstage.

Front and Center
This is the first time I've tried this configuration, and I like it a lot. While it adds a sonic compromise in the back, it also eliminates one in the front. I'm talking about the usual, conventional horizontal center speaker. In this review, there isn't one. Hallelujah.

The traditional horizontal center is a bad habit that speaker designers (and marketers) picked up in the bad old days of big CRT-based rear-projection displays. It has no place in the new era of flat panels. Designed to sit atop butt-ugly RPTVs, the center channel usually ends up higher than the front left and right speakers, sending what should be straight panning effects on a curvy detour. And it almost always adds an unnecessary extra woofer, creating cancellation effects in all but the most sophisticated designs.

If you want your system to sound good, it's best to use identical speakers in the front, keep them at the same height and standing upright, place them a few feet away from the wall, and arrange them in an arc with each speaker equidistant from the prime listening position. This is how my reference system is set up—and all too few review systems are designed for such a configuration. This system is a happy exception. I'd like more of those.

The Canton GLE Series does include a horizontal center, the GLE 405 CM. Its 8-inch woofers don't match the 7-inchers in the review system's GLE 403 monitor, but they do match the two woofers in the floorstanding GLE 409, which has a 7-inch midrange, as well. Also in the series is the slightly smaller GLE 402 monitor (with a 6-inch woofer) and another floorstander, the GLE 407 (two 7-inch woofers).

And what about the GLE 403 and GLE 401? They're both two-way designs with the same fabric dome tweeter that all of the GLE Series speakers use. The GLE 401 is a few inches smaller in all dimensions and has a smaller woofer (6 inches) than the GLE 403 (7 inches). Its 3.5-inch depth includes both a curved metal grille and recessed binding posts.

Handling bass is Canton's AS 85 SC subwoofer, with a 9-inch woofer powered by an amplifier that's rated at 100 watts RMS or 150 watts peak. With 6-to-7-inch woofers all around, I used an 80-hertz crossover. My reference system continues to feature the Rotel RSX-1065 A/V receiver and an Integra DPS-10.5 disc player.

Elephant Talk
Can a martial-arts movie be organic and all natural? That is the premise of The Protector, where Tony Jaa delivers the goods without wires, stunt men, or digital magic. The DTS soundtrack was the first I recall to prominently feature elephant vocals. Its overall balance sounded aggressive in the surrounds and a bit in your face, especially when the cheesy action music fired up, giving the GLE 401s and GLE 403s a chance to show off their timbre matching. Pounding drums, a staple of martial-arts soundtracks, illustrated the smooth crossover between the sub and speakers. I used slightly more than half of the sub's gain, a little more than average.

The Night Listener casts Robin Williams as a broadcaster. His voiceover was recorded in a warm, slightly gauzy way that evokes the timbre of talk radio. To their credit, the GLE 403s did nothing to sharpen the tone. But I knew the tweeters had some zing when a ringing telephone startled me with its metallic realism. The speakers also did well with the subtle microdynamics of a brief shot on a quiet Manhattan brownstone block, combining the low hum of distant traffic with tiny specks of street noise.

I saw Little Miss Sunshine the day before its three Oscar nominations were announced. In a scene that features "Super Freak" by Rick James, the classic bass line that emerged from the sub could have had more slam, but it was reasonably proportionate. I resisted the impulse to get up and boogie, but only just.

Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With
Any SACD that begins by redefining "Get Happy" as a doom-laden dirge has my vote. On the Other Side by the Tierney Sutton Band proceeds through the likes of "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Glad to Be Unhappy," "Sometimes I'm Happy"—got the idea? I never knew what Sutton would dish out next—just like real life.

Telarc's 5.1-channel recording places the piano, string bass, drums, and Sutton's vocal mood shifts in a huge, dramatic, velvet-black soundfield. The center channel was underused—the singer had only a trace of presence there, leaving her sounding slightly disembodied. But the four other speakers took up the slack, the on-walls in back meshing beautifully with the stand-mounts in front. That kept the supple jazz-inflected voice in one piece. The hand-off from the 7-inch aluminum woofers in the front channels to the 9-incher in the sub was also seamless. It reinforced the dark piano sound and didn't blow a note of the melodic bass lines.

Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti is a feast of metal textures. My first-generation CD blurs them—the vinyl is more vivid—but the Cantons asserted themselves by mining the inferior mastering job for all it was worth. The mids sounded slightly acerbic, like a salad dressing with a tad too much vinegar, but the extra bite benefited the twangy bass tone that John Paul Jones adopted for "Houses of the Holy."

I then replayed the magisterial "Kashmir" using just the GLE 401 on-walls in stereo. They had less bass weight than the GLE 403 monitors, which were a bit lean in the first place, but delivered about the same midrange, including the wobbly phase-shifted drum texture. Be warned, though, that I used the GLE 401s on stands, minimizing interaction with the wall.

Canton's slightly forward midrange occasionally took me by surprise, for good or ill. It was at its best with a historic piano recital, Richter in Paris. The fabric tweeters did not conceal the flawed recording's audible breakup of higher notes when the right hand hit hard. But they did somehow focus the piano sound, bringing out the singing of the sounding board.

My brush with the Canton GLE Series was a success. I got what I wanted: a solid front soundstage, a precisely delineated soundfield, and great performance with movies and multichannel music. Canton products have an elegant and distinctive look, and I've finally come to terms with on-walls. That's progress.

* Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (www.quietriverpress.com).

Highlights
• The stand-mount speakers provide a solid front soundstage
• The on-walls, used as surrounds, minimize clutter in seating area
• Good-looking system in a new and sensible configuration

COMPANY INFO
Canton
(612) 706-9250
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