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GamuT L3 Bookshelf Speaker Review

Jack Roberts & The Flight of the Mini-monitors, Part 2:

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GamuT L3 Bookshelf Speaker

This is the second installment in my “Flight of Mini-monitors”. They range in price from $2,000 to $6,000 and beyond. Thus far, two of which are brand new designs, one is on the market but still in progress, and one is very tried and true. Last month we looked at the brand new Teresonic Magus at $4,000 plus stands. This month we are looking at the GamuT L3 speakers at $6,000 plus stands, and next month we will cover the Genesis 7.1p – Petites.

Description

The GamuT L3 are the smallest speakers in GamuT’s top end line. I can imagine many people wondering if any speaker this size could be worth $6,000. Let me promise you, they in no way sound small, and they are without a doubt the most beautiful small monitors I have ever seen, and yes, that includes the Wilson speakers. My pair was simply magnificent in rosewood with eleven layers of hand applied lacquer. They are surely fine furniture and high end sound all-in-one package. They also are shipped like fine furniture. The pair comes in one medium size wooden crate fitted with extremely-thick Styrofoam and are individually bagged in microfiber.

They are relatively small two-ways at 15 by 8 by 15 inches on the bottom with the front and side panels sloping inward as they go up, to form a truncated pyramid of sorts. The two-way speakers are back ported with a rear-firing port near the top. They make very little port noise and are tuned so that when placed closer to the wall behind them, the bass sounded full but not loose or overdone. Besides the rear port, the crossover and speaker terminations are also on the back panel mounted on either side of a heavy stainless steel plate that is mounted flat on the rear speaker panel. The stainless plate is attractive enough and keeps the speaker wires from scratching the eleven layers of hand polished high-gloss lacquered finish when attaching bananas or spades. The speaker connections are viva dual euro binding posts that are encased in plastic for safety reasons, though I can’t imagine how you can hurt yourself on speaker connectors. Thus, it is easier to use banana connectors, but with some effort spades can be used.

On the other side of the stainless plate, inside the speaker that is, you find the crossover. It is built out of extremely high quality parts, like double sided OFC copper PCBs, non inductive resistors, OFC copper inductors which are oven-baked to fix all wires to eliminate micro phonic effects, non inductive metal capacitors, and other good stuff.

The Gamut L3s may be small but they are solid, heavy and just scream out quality when you look at them. They pass the knuckle test better than any speaker I have ever rapped my knuckles on. They are completely dead and they should be. They use a heavy skeleton bracing system and are damped with bitumen, which is defined as a mixture of organic liquids that are highly viscous, black, sticky, entirely soluble in carbon disulfide, and composed primarily of highly condensed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Setup

These are not the speakers for low-power SETs because of their impedance and efficiency. So I mostly used the Monarchy Audio SE-250 hybrid (tube/solid-state) monoblock power amplifiers and the Roksan Caspian, a surprisingly good integrated amp. I used them in both my reference system with vinyl and my upstairs system with a digital. I used them bi-wired, with jumpers, and with Audience and Auditorium 23 speaker wire.

The GamuT’s sounded their best with the Monarchy Audio amps, Shindo Preamp, and vinyl; but they sounded incredibly good with a Slim Devices Transporter as a source and the Roksan Caspian for amplification. At audio shows I’ve seen Dave Wilson showing the Sophia speaker with inexpensive amplification you would never dream of using with a speaker costing over $20,000 – amplifiers costing much the less the price of the Wilson speakers or the GamuT L3s. My point is that the GamuT L3 certainly deserves the best amplification you can afford, but you don’t have to have the best to get good sound. You could start with a good integrated and then, if you want at a later date, upgrade your amplification.

In the very well done Gamut setup instructions it says,

“We have designed our speakers to be listened to off-axis. There are a few good reasons for that.
• On the axis of a speaker you will find most diffraction effects of the cabinet and drivers, as most diffractions (the really bad ones) originate from symmetric structures around the drivers (cabinets, frames etc.)
• On axis the drive units will have the highest distortion numbers. The reason is that the driver is directional and that distortion is at higher frequencies, so the directivity kills most of the distortion of the drivers if you go off axis…so why not?
• The only reason for toeing the speakers towards the listening position is if you have problems with too many reflections off the side walls, then a moderate toe-in can help in this case.

In practice in both of my rooms, I found that applying no toe-in did produce the best imaging and sounded best as well. In the downstairs reference system, I found they imaged best and sounded best about four feet out from the rear wall and about thirty inches from the side walls. Upstairs I used them closer to the rear wall and about three feet from the side walls. They were very easy to find the best place to listen to them.

Sound

“… it is naive on our part as audiophiles not to admit that we value different auditory balances even at this level of equipment.”

The L3s are very transparent speakers, but not quite in the way a single driver, a crossover-less speaker, or the more expensive Audio Note speakers are. What I’m calling transparency some call immediacy. In GamuT terminology, their speakers would be every bit as transparent as any of the speakers I mentioned, but not as forward-sounding, and for those listeners this would be a plus. I mention all this because it is naive on our part as audiophiles not to admit that we value different auditory balances even at this level of equipment. So when I say a speaker is transparent, but a little more or less transparent than another, I am doing my best to let you understand what I mean in that statement. I definitely don’t want you to take it to mean the opposite.

The GamuT L3 speakers have a beautiful coherent sound, combined with a beautiful sense of tonality that results in a very engaging listening experience. The resulting sound is robust and full-bodied, though not overly warm or the least bit lacking in clarity. The L3s possess that rare combination of beauty, musicality and power all in one small package.

I listened to the L3 speakers for several months before finishing this review. During that time, I had different equipment and cables in for review. The L3s were revealing of all changes and every change came through clearly whether it was an improvement or not. Yet, while revealing, the GamuT’s are not overly analytical, never strident or dry, but very musical.

Bass

The bass extension the L3s was surprisingly satisfying for a speaker its size. The bass does not go as low as the Audio Note E’s with Alnico magnets, nor do they have incredible speed and decay of the bass of the Ikonoklast Model 3’s. What they do have is bass that is perfectly balanced to be coherent with the tweeter, and sound very musical. The bass is fast and warm without boominess. The truth is that there are lots of full-range speakers in this price range that do not have this kind of musically satisfying bass.

The bass also has exceptional scale and power, unusual for a speaker its size, and very conducive for listening to music. I find this a very important trait in speakers for me to be able to enjoy a musical performance. Positioned correctly, the bass of the L3s is quick, fast, nimble, and accurate. These qualities allow the bass transients in the lower-range to have nice detail. As good as the quality of the bass is, it can’t be overlooked that the speakers don’t move as much air as large speakers. Theses speakers are more about intimacy and accuracy. They are quick and nimble.

At first I thought the bass was a little warm, but with proper placement and break-in, they had all the speed, all the detail needed to hear the proper decay, and the naturalness of the bass. The bass has more visceral power than I would have expected from a speaker this size. Of course there are speakers that go deeper and move more air, but I found the quality and power of the bass that you get from the GamuT L3s very satisfying.

The Mids and Highs are clean, clear, beautifully detailed, and seem very naturally extended. They allow voices to sound beautifully natural. There wasn’t the least bit of a nasal tone or over emphasis of sibilance. Pianos, like most instruments, benefit from the coherency of this speaker. When listening to piano music it is easy to hear both the attack, and the decay for an appropriate time. The extended top goes way out beyond my hearing, but never sounds bright or etched. The L3 is a speaker that gets the tones of music right and that makes listening to them a very enjoyable experience.

The micro-dynamics are very good. When listening to Muddy Waters sing the blues, I found the abundance of micro-dynamics allowed the music to sound very alive. Add to this how alive his voice sounded, and you have a wonderfully musical experience. When listening to bluegrass music, I was surprised by the speed of the plucked instruments that came through because of the good micro-dynamics.

The GamuT L3s also allow strings to sound very natural. The strings come across appropriately sweet, and extended. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blues guitar, a standup bass in a jazz group, or a classical violin, they all sound very natural. You can hear the leading edge, fast, quick and dynamic with never a sense of edginess. There is a nice woody warmth to the string instruments that comes through nicely on the L3s.

The Soundstage of the L3 speakers is more than I ever dreamed. It is holographic and has that ability to make you feel like you could reach out and touch the instruments. The soundstage has a cohesive side-to-side and back-to-front soundstage, and they also have a very lifelike up-and-down soundstage. Image specificity is startlingly good. The timbre of the instruments comes through well in the midrange and this helps the images to be precise in their front-to-back and side-to-side placement as well as their on specific space.

I honestly do not think I have ever heard a speaker at any price that produced a wider or deeper stage, and at the same time had such specificity, and this includes the Crosby-modded Spica TC 50s, the Celstion 700s, the Spica Angelus, and the Wilson Watt/Puppies. The vertical soundstage is also way above average which is really something for a small monitor type speaker.

Scale is something very important to me in a system. By scale, I’m talking about the ability of a system to allow a performance to have a lifelike size as well as volume. The GamuT L3 are very good here for any speaker and truly remarkable for a speaker their size. They pretty much let you hear what is on the recording. The soundstage can sometimes seem small, other times it sounds huge, sometimes they sound distant; but what they never do is sound upfront, in your face. Depending on your taste, this may be a plus or a minus. I tell you, though, on well-recorded music the sizes of instruments come through very close to life size. Their ability to allow you to experience an adequate, vertical soundstage adds naturally to their sense of scale when it is there.

Comparisons

This is the second installment in my “Flight of Mini-monitors” as our esteemed editor has called this series. Last month, I started with Teresonic’s brand new speaker, the Magus, which uses a single Lowther driver. I am currently listening to the Genesis 7.1p – Petites. I also have on hand the newest versions of the B&W 805S. Along with these speakers I also had in the house my Ikonoklast model 3’s.

Both the Magus and Ikonoklast are crossover-less designs, but the Ikonoklast uses two drivers instead of a single driver. The GamuT L3, the Genesis, and the B&W are two ways. It should be noted though that the Genesis is a sealed box speaker, not ported like the GamuT and B&W. The GamuT really need more power to come alive than the others.

The GamuT’s have a more refined sound, and a wider and deeper soundstage compared to the Teresonic’s or the Genesis speakers. To me, the GamuT’s are what I think people mean when they say speaker is musical, and they mean it in a positive way. By contrast, the Magus are a great example of what I mean when I say a speaker can sometimes sound like real music. The Magus are better in the areas of Pace, Rhythm, and Timing. The GamuT wins hands down in imaging, soundstage, and frequency extremes. The Magus are more immediate or in-your-face, depending on your taste and vocabulary. The GamuT’s are more relaxed by comparison. You will have to wait for the review of the Genesis, but let me just say it comes close for a bargain price by comparison.

The choice between the GamuT L3 and the Teresonic Magus will be based on one’s taste in audio systems and not price, even though there is a $2,000 difference in price. I think most people would like one of the other, because they are both superb examples of achieving their different design goals. The matter of personal taste should not be overlooked, nor should we act like there is just one correct taste. For example, when telling my audiobud Steve Woolsey that a certain component was the best I had ever heard, except that it didn’t have quite the drive in the rhythm I would like, he said, “Oh, you’ve always got hung up on that and most people don’t even know what you’re talking about.” He could be right.

Conclusion

The Gamut L3s are a well engineered, beautiful speaker that allows the listener enjoy a very musical experience with a very palpable soundstage. With the right amplification, you can hear good frequency extension, a very clear and quick midrange that never sounds threadbare. And for one last time, did you hear me say the soundstaging is world-class or better? I should also remind you that they sounded good enough with the Roksan Caspian integrated amp, that you could easily use them with an amp like that forever and step up later on.

I found the L3s very musical, but they did not quite have the raw aliveness of the Teresonic Magus. We’re back to that matter of personal preference again, aren’t we? The GamuT L3s are for someone who loves music and the luxurious things of life. They are beautiful to listen to and to look at. I can easily imagine them being your last speaker.

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