Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Canton GLE 490 Floor-standing Speakers, GLE 455 Center Channel, GLE 430 Bookshelf Speakers, and AS 105 SC Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

Canton GLE 4x0 Speakers

Introduction

Amidst the many dividing lines in the world of audio and video is the line between those that believe speakers must be single purpose, and those that believe speakers can be multi-purpose. The purposes in question are often music and home theater (alternatively music or home theater depending on what side of the line you are on.) A more pertinent question for this review might be: "How well Canton goes from Pure Music to surround sound in one package?"

Specifications

  • GLE 490 Floor-standing
  • Design: 3-way, Ported
  • MFR: 54 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Crossover: 300 Hz, 3.2 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 90.5 dB
  • Power Handling: 150 Watts
  • Dimensions: 41.3" H x 8.3" W x 11.8" D
  • Weight: 42.2 Pounds/each.
  • MSRP: $1,399/pair USA
  • GLE 455 Center
  • Design: 2-1/2 Way, Sealed Enclosure
  • MFR: 78 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Crossover: 400 Hz, 3 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 89 dB
  • Power Handling: 80 Watts
  • Dimensions: 6.7" H x 17.9" W x 11.8" D
  • Weight: 15.4 Pounds/each
  • MSRP: $499/each USA
  • GLE 430 Bookshelf (Used for the Surround Channels)
  • Design: 2-way, Ported
  • MFR: 62 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Crossover: 3 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 89 dB
  • Power Handling: 90 Watts
  • Dimensions: 14.2" H x 7.5" W x 10.6" D
  • Weight: 14.7 Pounds/each
  • MSRP: $649/pair USA
  • AS 105 SC Subwoofer
  • Design: Ported
  • Driver: 10" Aluminum
  • MFR: 22 Hz - 200 Hz
  • Adjustable Low-Pass: 55 Hz - 200 Hz
  • Dimensions: 19.9" H x 11.6" W x 16.9" D
  • Weight: 35.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $699 USA
  • Canton

Design

The refreshed Canton GLE series was unveiled at this year's CES. Notably, Canton also announced an expanded line of reference speakers ranging from $4,000 to $17,000 a pair. While the aluminum oxide ceramic tweeters did not make their way into the GLEs, Chief Designer Frank Gobl did manage to bring a high degree of sophistication to the value line from Canton. The design approach, development tools, and modeling are shared across all of Canton's product offerings.

The GLE 4x0 series is an update to the older GLE 40x series from Canton. Not having spent time with the previous iteration, I inquired as to the major revisions in the new series. Mr. Gobl was kind enough to provide some insight into the design of the GLE series.

Canton Speakers

High on the list of improvements is a refined crossover between the mid and low-end woofers. The result is said to be a closer approximation of the Linkwitz-Riley crossover. The Linkwitz-Riley filter function has a steep 24 dB/octave rolloff at the crossover point. While the GLE uses a shallower rolloff of 12 dB/octave, the choice was made in light of the driver performance. The output of an ideal L-R crossover has zero peaking, while maintaining the drivers' radiation patterns in phase at the crossover point. The elimination of peaking (or cancellation) at the crossover, due to the summed acoustic output of drivers on-axis, maintains consistent behavior throughout the listening area for the crossover region. Even a rudimentary look at driver interaction and crossover networks shows it to be much more complex than the average listener might appreciate. The analysis extends far beyond setting the appropriate crossover frequency and applying a suitable rolloff.

A rather unique feature of the Canton line is the relative arrangement of the tweeter relative to the woofers. The majority of speaker designers opt for a straightforward tweeter, mid-woofer, woofer arrangement vertically aligned, in that order. In 3-way designs, Canton places the tweeter below the mid-woofer, and above the woofer. Canton's analysis showed a superior vertical dispersion pattern through the crossover spectrum with this arrangement. This further illustrates the extensive work Canton does to tune the crossover networks in their speaker lines.

As with many of Canton's other subwoofers, the AS 105 SC incorporates a number of design elements to improve the quality of the bass. What is referred to as SC technology is an active filter circuit intended to improve the linearity of the subwoofer. Improving the linearity and limiting the harmonics results in a cleaner and tighter bass output. More often that not, it is the upper order harmonics from grossly distorted subwoofers that is associated with boom. The other element that trickled down from the higher end units is room compensation. Two equalizer presets are available to compensate for the extent of room loading.

Cost optimization is a difficult exercise in any industry. Picking the wrong corner to cut can result in a product that might well be characterized as having more style than substance. The audio industry certainly has its fair share of offenders hiding pedestrian electronics behind thick brushed aluminum faceplates. Obviously the tradeoffs going from a $17,000 or even $4,000 speaker down below $2,000 involves certain tradeoffs. Inquiring Mr. Gobl as to what those might be, I was told cabinet construction, form factor and surface styling are the first items to be cost optimized. Give the detail to construction, and solidity of the cabinets, there certainly were no significant compromises as compared to any other product at the price point. It is apparent looking up the line that more exotic isolating feet, more extensive internal cabinet bracing, among other features, are sacrificed to meet the lower price requirement. Mr. Gobl did say that beyond a certain point some of the acoustic components are affected by cost optimizations, but was quick to also note that the magnets, cones, spiders and baskets remain substantially the same.


Setup

The GLE series is a broad family of speaker designs ranging from floor standing full range towers to low-profile wall mounted units. The test configuration was a traditional 7.1 setup, with 490 towers up front, 455 center and 430 bookshelf units as side and rear surrounds. The requested subwoofer was the AS 105 SC, a 10" bass reflex design which represents the largest subwoofer matched to the GLE line. I inquired about the absence of any dipole options in the lineup, given the rather broad array of offerings. Similar to many manufacturers, Canton's view of home theater speaker requirements has changed given the vast improvements in the source material since the early days of Dolby Pro-Logic. The high channel separation possible with discrete channels combined with the potential requirement for high fidelity output from the surrounds mean the surround speaker requirement is better served by direct radiators. This compares to dipoles whose primary purposes were to limit the ability of the listener to localize the surrounds and increase the surround soundstage size.

Canton Speakers

Canton Speakers

Canton GLE 4x0 Speakers

The common steps in setting up front speakers are to establish distances from rear and side walls, and to slightly toe-in the face to align with the primary listening position. While Canton provides recommended distances from the rear wall, they also recommend keeping the units perpendicular to the wall rather than toed-in toward the listener. Extensive work was done optimizing the dispersion patterns from the tweeters so the optimal position is straight ahead. The only stated exception would be in cases where the room is exceptionally well damped, which was not the case in my room.

Canton Speakers

Perhaps as a concession to the growing number of flat panel installations, the center channel was designed to either be placed directly against or away from the wall. The side and rear surrounds were placed slightly above head height in the typical locations.

The provided subwoofer took the spot of my existing subwoofer, which while not ideal in terms of maximizing the room loading, is a reasonable compromise. The rather irregular dimensions and extensions off the listening room do much to limit the creation or perpetuation of standing waves.

Canton Speakers

Canton Speakers


In Use

Listening Impressions

It may be a result of having used various satellite and subwoofer combinations over the years, but the most striking thing in listening to this system was the physicality of the sound. The closest approximation I could make was to the difference between an upright piano and a grand. The notes are certainly the same, but the grand is a more visceral listening experience. Even understanding the limitations of the human ear in localizing low frequencies, I think the physical sensation of low frequency sound is significant well within the range of human hearing. It commonly seems that only infrasonics are attributed to physical sensation. If space were not a issue, the physicallity delivered by these full range tower speakers would be very compelling compared to the sub/sat configuration I normally run.

The mids and highs were very natural sounding, and quite neutral to my ear. In addition, the system had very tight, and controlled bass output. Much of this can be attributed to the improvements in the woofer modules and the new crossover design. The linear output from the AS 105 SC also did little to bloat the output from the towers. I would expect, an alternative subwoofer with a less linear output would lessen the precision bass output. On the whole, the bass output from the system was well defined, and almost crisp, if that word has ever been used to describe bass.

I specifically requested a 7.1 system, as compared to a more common 5.1 arrangement. In poring through my collection of Blu-rays, however, it became quickly apparent that despite the technical ability to carry 7.1 sound, very few titles are produced with a 7.1 mix. Taking a look through my personal collection, and recent rental history, I determined that just 2 of the 43 titles had a 7.1 mix. (For the record, Hairspray and Pan's Labyrinth.) So unfortunately, the rear channels mostly provided ambient effects by way of Dolby Pro-Logic IIx processing. Personally, I enjoy the additional sense of immersion the rear channels provide. It is unfortunate that the full capabilities of the Blu-ray disc format are not being utilized. It seems with the recent advent of Dolby IIz, and Audyssey DSX that processor generated channels are making a resurgence, where it had seemed the available bandwidth for completely discrete channels obviated that need.

Surround Sound

Iron Man
One can always rely upon blockbusters of summers past to exercise a surround sound system. Iron Man features a number of scenes with the prototypical big explosions. This represented a bit of a paradoxical situation for me, in that this was the only time where I was not caught up in the sensation of the sound. The explosions, gun fire, and even flight scenes could be characterized as almost clinical. The speakers provided a clean and succinct representation without bloat. While the absolute lowest octaves were difficult for the subwoofer to reproduce, the working range of the subwoofer was well characterized.

Canton GLE 4x0 Speakers

Immortal Beloved
The list of high resolution, surround sound recordings is rather slim, certainly in comparison to the growing Blu-ray and existing CD catalogs. Immortal Beloved has a fine recording of a number of Beethoven’s more notable works. I would say the system truly excelled in reproducing the various orchestras and ensembles throughout the movie. The horns, on a number of pieces, were particularly well portrayed. The combination of the GLE and my electronics did not quite get to the point of recreating the sensation of hearing any of the instruments live, but the reproduction was uncolored, and clear. The soundstage was well defined, and as broad as I might expect from direct radiators.

Canton GLE 4x0 Speakers

Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook
It is likely too early to tell whether the growing number of live concert recordings will continue or sputter once the novelty of a new format has gone. Regardless, the recording by Jewel at two very different venues provided a listening experience. While the sound quality of the recording was very good, the mix failed to take full advantage of the medium. The mix remained anchored in the midst of the crowd, while the camera angles changed periodically to show the view from the stage, up close on the performer or from the crowd. This mismatch between the audio and the video was a bit distracting. All this to say that despite being a 5.1 recording, the surrounds were limited to ambient noise, and applause. The reproduction of Jewel's voice, and guitar were well handled by the GLE system. Jewel has a rather interesting vocal style given some of her background in yodel, and the speakers did a fine job in handling her tonality as well as her range transitions.

Canton Speakers


Conclusions

The Canton GLE system was an interesting experience for me. It had been some time since I had the opportunity to audition a full-range speaker, and as I noted it was a remarkable contrast to the innumerous sub/sat systems in my past. It is difficult to overstate how much more visceral the tower speakers are when compared to satellites. As for the question whether a single system can work equally well for both music and movies? In my estimation, the Canton GLE is thoroughly capable in either role. The only proviso would be to include a larger subwoofer for movies. While the AS 105 SC does a fantastic job in music, the lowest rumbles are only hinted at as opposed to really experienced. It seemed an odd contradiction to have such a visceral experience with music but slightly less so with movies. There is no question that moving to a larger subwoofer with greater extension would bring some of the movie rumble back, but the musical experience with the AS 105 SC seems as though it would be difficult to duplicate. Perhaps the difficulty in filling dual roles is due to the subwoofer and not the rest of the speaker system?