After many months of studying and listening to speakers, I finally "got off the pot" and made the decision to purchase a pair of 3.5s and a Strada for CC to bring my HT 5.1 speaker setup to an all-Gallo configuration (with the exception of the .1, which is a Paradigm Reference Servo 15).
I previously had a pair of 3.0s as the mains and a mix of brands for CC and surrounds. I thought it sounded OK..even good, since 75% of my use of the system is for 2.1 channel audio. I'll get to the difference in sound in a moment -- first, a list of speakers I considered or listened to in arriving at this decision, with some observations:
- Maggie 3.7s - really liked the sound and value. Negatives were size/space in room, inefficiency, and beaming of HF (narrow sweet spot, though not bad)
- Legacy Focus SE - Almost got these. To be honest I probably liked them a little better than the 3.5s but 200 lbs/speaker up & down 2 flights of stairs was the deciding factor.
- Legacy Whisper XD - Also really liked these, same issue as with Focus SEs.
- Linkwitz Orion 4 - great sound but do not have the imaging the 3.5s do, plus I didn't like the thought of a potentially unsupportable system. Also they're better for 2CH than 5.1.
- Gallo Ref 5LS - Seriously considered them but could never arrange to hear them. Also concerned about comb filtering as with any line source.
- Aerial Acoustics 7T - beautiful sounding speaker, but was concerned about when matching CC and surround speakers would be available (and no, I'm not spending 10k on surrounds)
- Von Schweikert VR33 - never heard, not sure if there are compatible CC surrounds
Others that I heard recently for comparison's sake but didn't consider mainly due to cost:
- MBL101E MK II - I'm spoiled for life after hearing these. Actually considered selling one of my cars to raise the capital. I will say that in terms of sound stage and disappearing, the 3.5s are the closest thing I've heard to them...but still in another league.
- YG Acoustics Anat and Carmel - Another holy sh*t moment when I first heard the Anats. 120k just isn't in the cards. The Carmels sounded great too and I could have afforded them but what to do for surrounds?
- Carver Amazing Line Source (still in prototype) - I'd take the Whispers any day at the same price. Sound was too diffuse for my taste due to side firing mids/woofers.
- KEF Blades - They were really good but for a system designed around the concept of point source and minimizing diffraction I didn't think they imaged as well as they should.
- Scaena line sources - stunning in both sound and price.
What sealed the deal on the 3.5s and Strada CC was several factors: familiarity; size/weight; lack of need to buy new surrounds;and the clincher - Gallo has been offering a sizeable discount on 3.5s through dealers.
So I ordered the 3.5s and Strada never having heard them. Got them this AM, spent a few hours with setup and can honestly say this is way better than I expected. Some observations:
I hooked up the 3.5s 1st and listened to them with the old surrounds and CC still hooked up. 1st impression - wall of sound. I thought the music was more detached from the speakers than with my 3.0s, which is saying something. 2nd impression - cleaner midrange. One of my critiques of the 3.0s was they tended to get congested in the mid range at high volumes. I thought this might have been a PA issue but apparently not, the 3.5s being driven by the same amp just sounded cleaner, especially on lower female vocals. 3rd impression - better bass. Here's the kicker with that...Audyssey set the x-over for the 3.5s at 60 Hz, whereas it had been consistently setting it at 40 for the 3.0s. I'm sure this is due to break-in. But even given that, the bass down to 40 Hz (this was before I ran Audyssey) was definitely more punchy and weighty.
After hooking up the Strada and moving my 3.0s to surrounds, I ran Audyssey, tweaked the locations and settled in for some quality listening. 1st disc to spin - Reference Recording's Britten's Orchestra by the Kansas City Symphony in SA-CD. I haven't had this disc very long but it quickly moved to the top 5% of my library in terms of audio quality. I think the biggest thing I noticed was that I didn't notice the CC. The Strada blended perfectly with the 3.5s, as we would expect. The only way I could tell it was playing was to put my ear up to it. Otherwise it just filled in the sound stage across the front. The 3.0s were a big upgrade in the back, as the speakers I had been running were 25 year old dbx Soundfields without their active x-over...pretty lame. The Britten recording had sounded spectacular on the old set-up; with the 5 speakers all speaking the same voice now, it took it to another level. It was almost impossible to identify any sound as coming directly from any of the speakers.
I can't imagine how to substantially improve on the sound, though being an addict I'm sure I'll be considering that soon.
Maybe a TR-3 to fill in below 100 Hz for the Strada, and there's no question I could use some more headroom with a high quality external PA...driving it all with a 4311 right now.
I'll post some pics of the setup later if anyone's interested. You can call me one happy ass camper.