For many of us, our studio and our home are one and the same. The speakers we use to monitor mixes are the ones we use for rehearsals, improvisations, and casual listening. I first got interested in the Anthony Gallo A’Diva series speakers partly because I’ve long admired Gallo’s home speaker products, but also because the Gallos seemed to be comfortable walking this home/studio line.
Normally, engineers steer far clear of home audio equipment when it comes to monitoring. But producer Neal Pogue has been using the A’Diva speakers for just that, including five songs on the new Stevie Wonder album, and projects for Nelly Furtado, Indie Ari, Earth Wind and Fire, and Outkast. (See studioexpresso profile, or a 2004 interview in Electronic Musician for more about Pogue’s production background.) That’s pretty unusual for speakers aimed at the home market.
Having lived with a 2.1 set of the A’Diva Ti satellites for a while, I’m impressed, as well. The sound is uncolored and clear, with really gorgeous high-frequency definition. It makes these speakers sound both much larger than they are (you can fit them in your hand), and much more expensive. (They run just over US$200 a speaker, but you could easily fool someone into thinking they went for more.) That could make these ideal for complementing your existing set of monitors. I got to talk to Anthony Gallo, the speaker’s creator, about his background and, most importantly, why the speakers are spherical in the first place.
A’Divas on Test
First, if you’re like me, you’ve probably had some less-than-amazing experience with small speakers. There are plenty of small speakers that sound great at lower levels, but become harsh as you drive them. I was able to crank my A’Diva Ti setup to nearly painfully-loud levels without losing any clarity. It’s actually a little spooky: normally, “transparent” sound refers to the acoustic properties of speakers, but in the case of these two little spheres sitting on a shelf, there’s something unnerving about little tiny speakers making so much sound.
The drivers on the speakers are a combination of titanium and paper, hence the name and greater treble extension performance. There’s a 1″ voice coil for greater dynamic range, and to me, part of the reason these sound so good has to do with dynamic range and not just frequency range. I moved them around my living room studio and tried them both as traditional monitors and in a home stereo setup, and was pleased with the results for both. They’re small enough, as well, that you could easily mount them even in close quarters. Normally, that would allow you to set up a home theater, but it also happens to make them ideal as a secondary set of monitors for a studio.
The A’Diva Ti 2.1 setup I received for testing was mated with a 250-watt TR-2 subwoofer. Subwoofers are where home equipment tends to really reveal itself as a home product, but the TR-2 sounds terrific: rather than sounding boomy, it retains dynamic clarity right through the low end. (It’s good enough, in fact, that it revealed all kinds of nasty low-end mastering errors in my DVD collection, particularly with TV shows. Some disturbing up-mixing and down-mixing tends to happen when shows get tossed on DVD.) And, of course, those 250 watts are powerful in a way that’s incompatible with Manhattan living; after some brief fun in the middle of the afternoon, I decided I had to turn the level down as much as I could just to avoid getting evicted. (+6 dB boost? Uh, no, thanks, say the people on the fourth floor.) I think the 100-watt TR-1 would probably be fine if you’re in an 850 square-foot apartment. But if you want theater-sized bass and happen to live in the suburbs, you might look at the TR-2.
Just as with the satellites, the subwoofer eschews a rectangular design for a cylindrical enclosure. Unlike most subwoofers, the result feels well-crafted and looks quite lovely on its own. I was also pleased to find some decent options on the TR-2: low- and high-level I/O, plus EQ and a continuously-variable knob for phase.
Back to the original question, though: why am I bothering talking about “home theater” speakers on CDM in the first place? I can see a number of reasons why these would make sense. First, while I wouldn’t rely on them as my only studio monitors, they make a perfect second set, particularly when you want to experience what a 2.1 setup will do to your mix — but without the added coloration and, frankly, poor performance of a lot of inexpensive home speakers. Second, their size and shielding are perfect any time you need flexible placement. I’ve been looking for good speakers to use for installations, so I’m interested in them even for that. But when you’re in cramped quarters, even studio placement becomes an issue. Lastly, a lot of us have limited budgets and need speakers for our home setups. You want those to sound as good as your studio monitors, and you want them to be able to occasionally do double-duty. For me, at least, the A’Diva Ti’s fit the bill.
Now, I’m a fan of a very simple monitoring philosophy: listen in as many different ways as possible. I wish I still had my old Volvo 240 so I could try out mixes on its blown-out cassette and stereo system; if a mix worked there, it worked anywhere. “Mastering” is a pretty misleading concept because it suggests you know what people will listen on, when you don’t. So, I’m still going to hook up mixes — especially anything I’m considering for surround delivery — to some low-end setups, as well. But having the A’Diva setup to hear what’s going on across the frequency and dynamic range in more detail, and hear it the way it will sound in a 2.1 or 5.1 configuration, and have the setup for listening for enjoyment — that, to me, is the ideal.
I would never make a speaker recommendation blind (or is that deaf?); Gallo gets wide distribution so odds are you may have a set nearby you can go hear for yourself, and compare to some of the other available offerings. I will, however, stand by my feeling that you need more than one set of speakers to give your mix a good listening. And I’ll say, as well, more affordable surround setups like the Gallo could be just what we need to dip into surround, which has largely remained elusive to the home musician.
Of course, the one major downside of the A’Diva line is that they are configured as 2.1, which may rule them out as your primary monitors. Gallo is aware of this feedback, though, so perhaps we’ll see speakers geared for the studio in the future.
A’Diva Speaker Series Product Page (I evaluated the slightly higher-end Ti series with titanium drivers)
Conversation with Anthony Gallo
Anthony Gallo Acoustics really is the result of the designs of an engineer named Anthony Gallo. I always enjoy talking to the people who actually design the stuff, so I was pleased to get to talk to Anthony a bit about his background and the thinking behind his designs.
Anthony began building sound equipment early in his teenage years, designing speakers as young as 13. He told me that his early work with electrostatics had a big influence on his current designs. (He notes in the company history that he got a “shocked a zillion times.” Well, they are electrostatics, after all.) I’ve found most designers I’ve talked to got started with childhood tinkering, all the more reason to encourage Make Magazine-style experimentation in the next generation of young men and women.
A brief excerpt from our conversations:
Peter: It seems like there’s a resurgence of DIY electronics, after a long lull. Do you see more people becoming interested in DIY electronics?
Anthony: It’s harder to know if there are more DIY’ers out there today. It seems like there are because of the internet. You notice a lot more of them, but to say it’s a trend I’m really not sure. I’m glad to see there are a lot of people out there that have the same passion as I do.
Peter: Did those early experiments impact your work today?
Yes it does. However, when I was experimenting on my own over 20 years ago I didn’t have the resources to develop drivers or even enclosures that I knew in my heart would sound much better than wood. Such as utlra-rigid spherical structures and enclosures with curves. They are inherently much more rigid.
Peter: There’s a lot of confusion, it seems, about speaker wire. I know you sell your own wire for your speakers. What kinds of differences do you hear between different speaker wire; what differentiates yours?
Anthony: For every person you ask, everyone will have a different opinion on the sound of wire. I have selected a wire that is cost-effective and sounds excellent with our products. And in general, I tend to like solid core wire, rather than a lot of the stranded alternatives.
Depending on the type of wire, it could range from a grungy, bloated sound quality, to a crisp, clear transparent on the other extreme. And then there is every variation in between.
Peter: For the layperson, why spheres? And can you talk about how you personally came across spherical cabinets?
Anthony: Firstly, it is the lowest coincidence of external diffraction. External diffraction is what occurs when sound leaves the driver and wraps itself around the enclosure. If there are sharp projections, such as edges on a box speaker, it will interfere with the propagation of the driver and projects different frequencies. Also, the sphere is the most rigid enclosure and since it’s so rigid, the wall can be made very thin, which saves internal air volume and allows the speaker to be smaller than wooden/plastic boxes.
I read about it back in the 70’s, however it’s been well documented as early as the 30’s, that the sphere is the optimal shape for sound. (See attached the graph with frequency response for various enclosure shapes). Since I discovered this, I started seeking out hollow round structures that could be used.
I know some readers here build their own loudspeakers, so I’ll be curious to see your own non-commercial designs, as well — and if we now have Anthony as a CDM reader, you can share them with someone who’s well-known in the business!
We’ll keep an eye on the new designs coming from Gallo in the future, as it sounds as though they’ve become more interested in the audio/music production market as well as home theaters. In the meantime, as usual, I expect there are many of you who know more about this than I do, so we welcome comments as always.