Anthony Gallo Acoustics has been known for many years to make very unique, high performance loudspeakers that can deliver world-class performance at reasonable prices and in everyday rooms. I was so impressed with their Reference 3.1 speakers when I reviewed them in 2007 that I bought the review pair. In the past several months, Gallo has significantly upgraded their reference line. The Reference 3.1 has just been replaced with the much more expensive Reference 3.5, but a new speaker system has taken up a new position in the Gallo line at a price point very close to the old Reference 3.1. The Reference Stradas are small, monitor speakers that can be stand mounted, or used with “bookshelf” stands or wall mounts. When combined with the new, 300W TR-3 subwoofer, the system seems to match the specifications of the old Reference 3.1 at a similar price, but in a sub-satellite package. The question is, how do they compare to the excellent Reference 3.1s?
- Strada Speakers
- Design: Two-Way, Sealed Enclosure
- Drivers: One Cylindrical Diaphragm Tweeter, Two 4″ Woofers
- MFR (In-Room): 45 Hz – 20 kHz ± 3dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 87 dB/W/M
- Power Handling: 10 – 150 Watts RMS
- Connections: Five-way Gold-plated Binding Posts
- Dimensions: 13.5″ H x 5″ W x 7.5″ D
- Weight: 11.4 Pounds/each
- MSRP: $999/each USA; Floor Stands $450/pair USA
- TR3 Subwoofer
- Design: Sealed Steel Enclosure
- Driver: 10″ Aluminum
- MFR: 22 Hz – 180 Hz
- Power Amplifier: 300 Watts RMS, Class AB
- Phase: Two-position Toggle Switch – 00 or 1800
- Low Pass : 50 to 180 Hz, Continuously Variable
- High Pass: 80 Hz Fixed, Only on High-level Output
- Bass EQ: 0, +3 dB, +6 dB
- Power On/Off: Three-way Toggle
- Connections: Line-level RCA, Speaker-level Binding Posts
- Dimensions: 12″ H x 10.75″ W x 13.5″ D
- Weight: 36 Pounds
- Available Finishes: Black or Platinum
- MSRP: $984.50 USA
- Total System MSRP: $3432.50 USA
The Strada design will be familiar to fans of Gallo speakers. The Strada looks similar to the midrange/treble module of the reference 3.1, or the Reference AV speakers. While they look similar, they are completely redesigned speakers. While they still use spherical woofer enclosures and a custom cylindrical ribbon tweeter, both components have been completely redesigned, with new enclosures and drivers. Both the carbon fiber woofers and the bespoke tweeter require no crossovers. The woofers are acoustically crossed over using the enclosure design. The spherical enclosure has fewer and more widely spaced resonant modes than a box type enclosure, allowing Gallo to provide a sealed enclosure suspension while avoiding resonant modes that might require a crossover.
The tweeter is also designed to avoid the need of a crossover as well. These are the same mid-treble modules used for the new Reference 3.5 speaker (which has a MSRP of $5,995). Unlike the Reference 3.1, both the woofers and the tweeter are covered with permanently mounted mesh grilles, which are very attractive and integrated with the design. The speakers are equipped with well made gold plated 5-way binding posts that are rather small in size to fit on the back of the Stradas. They easily accepted the large spades on my Wireworld Eclipse speaker cable, but you’d have problems cramming in banana plugs with the speakers installed on the floor stands. I later learned at the suggestion of Gallo that I could have just turned the speakers upside down when attaching them to the stands to gain more access to the binding posts.
The review units were delivered with black painted aluminum floor stands that integrate very well with the Strada speakers. The floor stands are rather tall, putting the tweeter about 40″ above floor level. The stands are cast and extruded aluminum. They’re very slim and match the styling of the speakers. The speakers bolt onto the pillars from behind, making the interface between the speakers and stands rigid and completely hidden. The pillars are hollow, allowing you to route speaker cables inside, but only for relatively small and flexible speaker wire, not big, stiff audiophile cable. Each stand has three floor spikes on the base. They initially seemed a little tippy, but even my two big German Shorthaired Pointers playing with each other in the room never threatened to knock them over. I think they’re even more attractive and stylish than the Reference 3.1’s, which I also like very much. They fit into my modern house very nicely!
The frequency response of the Stradas is specified down to 45 Hz when used near a wall, but is higher when placed out in the room. While I’m sure they would sound fantastic on their own, most enthusiasts will want to combine the Strada with a subwoofer. The new TR-3 is a cylinder sub similar to Gallo’s TR-1 subwoofer and replaces the older TR-2 subwoofer. The older TR-2 had a 250W amplifier and used the same 10″ woofer used in the Reference 3.1. The new TR-3 has an uprated 300W class AB amplifier, with a new ceramic coated aluminum cone woofer from the Reference 3.5. The cylindrical enclosure is the same as the lower power TR-1, but offers response down to 22 Hz, with plenty of power and the agility that a smaller 10″ woofer can deliver.
While one TR-3 should do the job for most, stereo bass or more output for large rooms could be accommodated with two TR-3s. The controls on the TR-3 are similar to the stand-alone Gallo Reference SA sub amplifier. Crossover frequency, phase (0 or 180 degrees), volume plus a bass EQ switch (0 dB, +3 dB and +6 dB below 32 Hz) are available. In addition, a high pass output is there for use with satellites that need a high pass crossover. The power can be switched on or off, or set to signal sensing. A pair of RCA inputs are present, along with binding posts for speaker level inputs. The speaker level inputs are high impedance and do not consume any amplifier power. I drove the TR-3 using the RCA inputs from the second output of my preamp. I did not use the high pass crossovers. I ended up crossing over the TR-3 at about 60 Hz, and set the gain first with bass test tones and a level meter, and then tuned the crossover and level by ear.
I set up the Stradas on their floor stand in approximately the same location as the Reference 3.1s they were replacing, facing straight ahead. I’ve found that I get the widest soundstage with no penalty in image focus with this setup using the 3.1s, so I figured it would work with the similar Stradas. I placed the TR-3 in the middle of the two Stradas in the same plane. After adjusting the subwoofer level using the SPL meter, I let the system play for a couple of weeks on TV listening duty until I had time to sit down to some real listening. Once I did get to listen carefully, it did not take long to conclude that the Stradas were clearly superior to the Reference 3.1s in almost every aspect. I was hoping I would get something that sounded similar to the 3.1s, only better, and that’s exactly what Gallo has delivered.
Two specific areas of the Strada’s performance were strikingly better. First was the soundstage. The Stradas consistently offered a soundstage that was wider, taller and deeper than the Reference 3.1s. I’m sure some of the “taller” is thanks to the tall floorstands, but in any case the soundstage seemed to lie about 1 foot above the top of the Stradas on most all material. On albums with very tall soundstages (like Orbital’s “Sad but New” from their 1996 EP Times Fly), the soundstage easily reached towards the ceiling.
On Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue SACD, the soundstage width was a good 2 feet past each speaker left and right, another foot past the Reference 3.1s in the same room. The 3.1s always seemed to have limited soundstage depth in my new listening room (I’ve moved since reviewing the 3.1s), but the Stradas took care of that issue. The same Miles Davis album, along with Jon Faddis’ Remembrances and other simply recorded audiophile grade material had depth that went several feet behind the loudspeaker plane.
The second area of strikingly better performance was the clarity and retrieval of detail the Stradas offered. The Reference 3.1s are very good speakers in this regard, competing with planar speakers in their speed and clarity thanks to their crossoverless design. The Stradas push that quality up another notch. This was not an area that revealed itself on just a few recordings. On everything I listened to, I was able to hear deeper into the recording, like some obscuring background noise was gone. Where I had to strain to hear detail with the 3.1’s the Stradas presented the detail clear as day. A prime example of this is the now defunct record label EM:T’s 1994 album 2294 by British ambient group Qubism. This album’s sound is characterized by layers of subtle sampled and synthesized sounds that can be easily smeared together or lost. The detail and clarity of the Stradas was only bested by my Denon AH-D7000 headphones.
The Stradas also clearly excelled in their ability to produce accurate timbre, offer a wide stereo sweet spot, and offer fatigue free frequency extension from 22 Hz up past 20 kHz, but were not as obviously superior to the Reference 3.1s than the first two qualities I discussed. There is only one area where the Reference 3.1s might be a bit better than the Stradas, at least in my system, and that is bass performance. The Stradas can play every bit as deep as the 3.1s in my room, and offer excellent tonal quality and plenty of volume for even the most bass heavy music (like Daft Punk’s Human After All). They give up something in bass slam, impact and perceived speed. I think this is because my He-man Emotiva XPA-1s are not able to exert their iron fisted control over the bass drivers.
In the Strada system, only the subwoofer amp is driving the subwoofer. In the Reference 3.1s, the 500W into 8 ohm XPA-1s are driving the speaker full range, and have the assistance of the Gallo Reference SA subwoofer amplifier to drive the second voice coil. Given this level of firepower running the 3.1s woofers, its no wonder the 3.1s can offer a ridiculous level of bass slam, speed and agility. The fact that a single TR-3 was able to do so well with the Strada system is actually very surprising to me. This outcome is dependent on the fact that I have XPA-1s as my amps. With an amp with a more typical level of power, I would bet the Strada/TR-3 combo would come out on top. With the TR-3 in the middle of the Stradas, I didn’t miss the lack of stereo bass, but a second TR-3 located with each Strada would provide stereo bass and additional bass output which might be welcome in a larger room.
I measured the impedance of the Gallo Stradas using a Smith and Larson woofer tester. Presented as impedance vs. frequency and phase angle vs. frequency plots, we can see wide variation in the real part of the impedance from about 3.3 ohms at about 140 Hz to as high as 34 ohms at 4.2 kHz. Phase angle is typically moderately inductive, but has excursions to very capacitive at around 100 Hz and above about 5 kHz. Viewed on the Smith chart, the Stradas clearly deviate from an easy to drive 8 ohm load. This is the penalty for their crossoverless design. There’s no circuitry there to moderate the load presented by the drivers, and they go nuts a bit around their resonant frequencies. Amps that have trouble driving capacitive loads won’t like the Stradas, but fortunately this is not an issue with pretty much all modern amps.
I measured distortion and frequency response of the speakers using a calibrated Earthworks M30BX microphone, a Roland Edirol UA-101 24-bit 192 kHz USB sound interface and a PC running PHS SpectraPlus FFT analysis software. Absolute level was set to 100 dB (A weighted) at 1m and at 1 kHz using the ubiquitous Radio Shack battery powered SPL meter. Note this process only calibrates the y-axis of the plots, and does not effect the measured frequency response or distortion measurements in any way.
Distortion was measured on the tweeter axis at a distance of 1m from the loudspeaker. The THD performance of the Stradas is excellent, besting the Reference 3.1 (even in the bass) by about 50%. While not as stupendously low as the Legend Tikandis or the Thiel 3.7s I have tested in the past, the sub-1% THD at 1 kHz and 10 kHz is still very respectable. At 1 kHz, the second and third harmonics are about equal in level and dominate the THD measurement, as you would hope. The TR-3 delivers only 1.5% THD with a 50 Hz tone, again with low order harmonics dominating the measured value.
The in-room frequency response again shows very good performance, with no non-room related problems. The first plot below was measured at 1m from the speaker with the microphone on axis and at tweeter level. The suckout at about 120 Hz is a room related feature. Bass response is good down to close to 20 Hz. The tweeter level is a bit tipped up above 7 kHz, but this is an effect of measuring on the tweeter axis. The next plot shows the frequency response at the listening position. Tweeter response is smoother and bass response flatter down low. The treble is still a little high, but only by 3 dB or so. The suckouts at 180 Hz and 40 Hz and the peak at 60 Hz are room effects.
As I have said in previous reviews, I only upgrade when I’m presented with equipment that is clearly superior to what I have AND is affordable, at least to me. The Strada/TR-3 system meets every one of these requirements. The only reason I have not already bought them is that I want to hear the new Reference 3.5 first. Given that speaker has an MSRP of $5995 a pair, I might still end up with the Stradas. They are truly excellent loudspeakers, and clearly better than my Reference 3.1s, clearly making them an excellent bargain at their $3400 system price. If you have a lower power amplifier, I would just get the Stradas now. Their powered bass is likely to make them a better (and less expensive) bet than the full range Reference 3.5s. And if the 3.5s are out of your price range, also, go directly to your local Gallo dealer and listen to the Stradas immediately. I have a feeling that you’ll agree that they clearly outperform speakers costing several times more. Like the Reference 3.1s, the Gallo Stradas can offer world-class reference level performance to most every audiophile, and do it in a normal person’s room. They only do it better than the Reference 3.1.