Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference AV Speaker System

Splendiferous spheres.

Billed as Ron Carter: The Master @ 70, it was a birthday celebration of the legendary jazz bass player's career—and the music at that early summer jazz concert at Carnegie Hall was truly magical. The highlight of the night arrived when Carter played selections from Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album with Herbie Hancock on piano, Wayne Shorter on sax, and Billy Cobham on drums. I could hear the quartet's music reflecting off the stage's rear wall while it simultaneously floated above the audience in the hall. The sound was so masterfully mixed, I couldn't tell for sure how much of what I heard was the actual instruments or Carnegie Hall's discreetly amplified sound system. It stands as one of those "is it live or...." moments. The next day, I played a stack of Ron Carter CDs over Anthony Gallo Acoustics' new Reference AV speakers and TR-2 subwoofer. The sound was so sweet, I experienced that déjà vu feeling all over again.

Circular Thinking
The Reference AV and Reference AV Center (both are $1,200/each) will look familiar to Gallo fans since they are, in fact, close cousins of Gallo's acclaimed Reference 3.1 tower speakers. Like all of Gallo's speakers, the new ones utilize spherical enclosures. In this case, there's a quartet of 5-inch, stainless-steel balls with 4-inch, carbon-fiber-coned drivers flanking the tweeter. With lots of radiating area, a cylindrical shape that produces super-wide (300-degree horizontal) dispersion, and a high frequency response claimed to extend up to 35 kilohertz, it's an amazing tweeter. The two woofers, located closer to the tweeter, work without any internal crossover network, while the outside pair of woofers are rolled off above 150 hertz. All four balls are rigidly mounted to a cast-aluminum "column" with an internal air volume that's tuned to help the woofers produce more bass. Gallo claims the Reference AV speakers can reach deeper into the bass range than many similarly sized wall-mount speakers, down to 55 Hz. Based on what I'm getting in my room, I absolutely believe that specification. The speaker's beefy all-metal connectors are as good as I've seen on speakers that sell for ten times the price of the Reference AV. And it doesn't hurt that Gallo's dramatic styling looks like nothing else.

Anthony Gallo tells me that his dealers sell the AV Center with his Reference 3.1 tower speakers ($2,995/pair) and that some Reference AV buyers opt for A'Diva Ti single sphere speakers ($275/each) as surrounds—or for a stealthier installation, ceiling-mount them. As an audiophile, my review system consisted of four Reference AVs, one Reference AV Center, and a pair of Gallo TR-2 subwoofers.

Just like every Gallo I have reviewed, the Reference AV speakers' fresh-out-of-the-box sound was pretty uninspiring. These speakers really do require some break-in time. Over the first day or so, the treble sounded a tad harsh, and the overall dynamics were squashed flat; two days later, the sound blossomed into its full glory. The Reference AV speakers come with sturdy wall brackets; Gallo recommends that you mount them with their tweeters as close to the seated listeners' ear height as possible. That's also true for the AV Center; but if you use Gallo's dedicated table stand, there's more leeway with the ideal height because you can angle the speaker up or down toward the listening position. Gallo's beautifully designed table stands are available for both Reference AV speaker models (both stands retail for $200 each).

Double Your Pleasure
It was a breeze to tune the balance of the speakers and two TR-2s; the Gallos' top-to-bottom coherence and blend were as perfectly integrated as I've ever achieved with a sat/sub system. The Reference system's overall resolution is consistent through its bass, midrange, and treble ranges. The matching TR-2 subwoofer includes a front-firing 10-inch woofer and 250-watt amplifier. I started the review with one sub and was perfectly happy with the little guy's unfettered power and definition. But when I added a second TR-2, the bass response smoothed out, and the solidity of the deepest bass also improved. The sub's two-position, deep-bass boost (at 25 Hz) performed wonders on Aston Barrett's Fender bass on Bob Marley's Exodus CD; it revealed the sort of gut-wrenching throb I associate with much larger subwoofers.

Round Soundings
One of the most overused words in the audio lexicon is "transparent." The word's actual meaning in this context is pretty vague, but reviewers often use it to confer the ideal of sonic purity. I use transparent to describe any speaker whose sound dramatically changes as I listen to a wide range of movies and music. They are, after all, recorded under widely varying conditions, so the more different they sound, the better the speaker performs. The References not only effortlessly reveal those subtleties; their sound clearly reflects the quality of the DVD player, preamplifier, amp, and cables used with them. Less transparent speakers tend to blur the distinctions between decent A/V receivers and high-end separate components, but the Gallo speakers' transparency cuts to the chase.

Even with the really big explosions that rocked and rolled Denzel Washington's latest hero vehicle, Déjà Vu, the Gallos never seemed to be working all that hard, and their kinetic, knock-you-back-in-your-seat abilities exceed some of the better plasma-friendly, wall-mounted speakers I've tested. Better yet, the Reference AV speakers can utterly disappear as sound sources. Switch back to even good-quality box speakers, and you'll become hyperaware of their boxed-in sound. Ah, the advantages of being round aren't subtle.

I moved on to music with the Jim Hall & Basses CD, and the Reference AVs really shined. On the "Don't Explain" duet with bassist Charlie Haden, all of his notes—from the lowest lows to the instrument's upper register—offered a consistency of tone that's rare. Hall's rich-sounding electric guitar was so big and fat, I sometimes mistook his sound for the bass player's.

The Jim Hall disc comes from the audiophile label Telarc, and it sounds great. But standard fare like Ryan Adams' 29 CD, while astonishing in its presence, was spatially flatter than the Hall CD. Adams' voice and guitar were firmly planted on the same plane as the front Reference AVs. That tells me the speakers aren't just imparting a false sense of openness or depth; they're just reproducing the recording. I was also more aware of Adams' emotions; the man really knows how to put over a song.

In the end, it is not just the Reference AV speakers' spectacular treble detail, astonishing midrange presence, and powerful, yet nimble bass—it was the way the TR-2 sub's sound so perfectly integrates that clinched the deal for me. My as-tested system retails for $7,400, but you could enjoy nearly the same sound in a modest-sized room with one sub, and if you substitute Gallo's A'Diva Ti single sphere satellites for the Reference AV as surround speakers. Those changes would, all told, knock $2,550 off the total system price. The point is, you can build a true audiophile-grade home theater speaker system that meets most needs for an affordable price. With the Reference AV, Anthony Gallo has once again managed to create a standout design.

• The Reference AV speakers' highly transparent sound flatters movies and music
• Their beautifully sculpted shape looks like nothing else

Anthony Gallo Acoustics
(800) 459-4183