POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 30
as reviewed by Larry Cox
To begin at the beginning, the GamuT L5 speakers are in the middle of GamuT's top end line. They are not inexpensive, retailing for $11,000 but taking a little sting out of the price tag, is the fact that they are quite beautiful. That is, they are easily the nicest piece of furniture in our house, and they are the nicest looking speaker I have seen …and I have seen a lot. Even so, I am not a fan of bird's eye maple - its sometimes light-dark contrast can be visually disturbing. GamuT, however, has found beautiful batches of bird's eye maple that are a warm brown and yellow forming a seductive mix of colors under eleven, count ‘em, eleven layers of hand applied lacquer.
They are relatively tall at forty-five inches, with a narrow face of eight inches that taper to about five inches at their rear, and fairly deep at seventeen inches. And yet, the lute-like sweep of its sidewalls makes them seem smaller. It is the one component in eleven years of reviewing that has yielded universal oohs and ahhs from everyone who has been in our house. If you are not taken by the L5's looks on the Internet or in a magazine, it is because it is hard to do them justice with a camera.
The speaker sits on top of a stainless steel outrigger system that is secured using 11 small wood screws. The front and rear sets of spikes can each be raised or lowered about 1 inch providing generous adjustability. Achieving the desired speaker rake makes a substantial difference and is easy to do. The supplied spikes sit firmly in the supplied stainless steel cups for people like me with hardwood floors. Given the nearly ninety pounds of each speaker, they are fairly stable, though my two-year-old son has given me a scare or two by leaning against the speakers.
The back of the speaker holds two rear-firing ports. The ports did not make a noticeable chuffing sound and are tuned such that placement closer to the front wall, than is optimal, did not result in obvious bass bloat. The crossover and speaker terminations are nestled inside a heavy plate of stainless steel flush mounted on the back of the speaker. The steel plate was a nice addition; it kept bananas and spades from scratching the beautiful finish. It is nice to have an investment that will not be destroyed in the expected normal wear and tear. Good thinking on GamuT's part.
The L5 is a product from Lars Goller's drawing board. Lars has a long and impressive resume in audio, more than fifteen years at Scan-Speak and Scan-Speaks' current partners, with time as the head of research and development. There are a few people with more illustrious credentials, but not many. As to the invisible but important guts of the L5s, Lars sent this description to me:
The L5s sport dual euro binding posts for bi-wiring with no jumpers being supplied. The "euro binding posts" are clad in that horrible "plastic safety condom" that ensures no one is electrocuted and so favor bananas, but it will tolerate spades. I tried both bi-wiring and a single run with jumpers. Bi-wiring was clearly preferable in my listening sessions, but my second pair of speaker cables (Ixos, $30/30 feet) was a distinct and audible drop below the performance of my Ensemble Megaflux speaker cables ($1600/3 meters).
For several months I had Tommy Hills' Audiopath 16 Silver cable. I had a very satisfying combination with the Audiopath on the treble and the Ensemble on the bottom end. When I returned Tommy's cables, I settled on the Ensemble cables alone on the top end with jumpers going to the bottom end of the cross-over. This was clearly a step down in sound, but still quite satisfying. Contrary to what some readers think, not every reviewer has or can afford a quiver of expensive speaker cables - I don't use loaners.
On the "details" front, the Gamuts are two and a half-way speakers featuring two 7 inch Scan-speak drivers and a Revelator radiator ring tweeter with treble extension claimed to go to 60 kHz. Despite the supertweeter extension, the GamuT's are not tipped up. That is, if you toe them in or aim the tweeter right at your ear, you'll get a lot of treble energy, but the timbrel balance doesn't change to bright. The woofers are Scan-sneak's cut paper cones, sized to fit the cabinets. No modifications were made to the drivers - this is the sort of thing that happens when you helped design the cones. Internal wiring is all van den Hul.
The L5s impedance curve is not ruler-flat as it drops to below 3 ohms. That should put you on notice that the L5s want power, the more the better. Throughout my listening sessions, except for one day, I don't think I had the power that the L5s want. I estimate they prefer to see 200 - 300 watts a side. But more on this later.
I had the L5 speakers for over fifteen months before I finally committed to finishing this review. Over the course of that year I matched the L5s with a lot of different types and quality of components. The L5s readily reflected the system changes from tubed amplification (E.A.R. 509 Mk II monoblocks) to solid state (GamuT D-200, Bel Canto M100s, Nuforce 9.02 and B&K ST140s), from digital (E.A.R. Acute, CEC TL51XR, PS Audio Digital Link III DAC, Stello DA/100 DAC, CEC 3300R and Sony NS70 DVD player) to analog (Koetsu Rosewood, Ortofon Jubilee, Rondo Bronze and Rohman) and expensive speaker cables (Ensemble Megaflux $1600 for 3 meters) to cheap speaker cables (Ixos braided ~ $30 for 3 meters). The L5s let each and every change shine through, whether such shining was desired or not. Also, for what it's worth, all of these products were in my system for at least a month (excepting the E.A.R. Acute and GamuT D200 amplifier), so only my comments are in passing - I had lots of experience with all of the different components in my system.
The L5s are transparent speakers. By transparent, I don't mean that with the "wrong" system matching they become grey, threadbare, and awful sounding. That sort of sound is often wrongfully trumpeted as transparent. You know …the type of component that starts a wildfire in print or online and is referred to as "ruthlessly revealing". I think that when it is claimed that the component is revealing other system flaws, it is really the fundamental incompatibility of a component rather than gross flaws in other components. It's the lean, threadbare sound of that "revealing" component that simply exacerbates any other potential problems in the system. That is, till that component's entrance, the system sounded fine or at least acceptable. This sort of pooping on the equipment around you is not an exercise the L5 undertakes.
The L5 does reveal other components' capacities to provide musically relevant information and beauty—all making for engaging listening experiences. Overall the sound is full, though not bloated or soft. Bass extension in a large room, say 5500 cubic feet, was satisfying. As a non-audio friend remarked, "Wow, you can feel the bass". I have no doubt that the L5 reaches up to 60 kHz, not because I hear like a dog, but because there was "space" for every sound to open up. Midrange beauty was present and available, without being forward or recessed. While there are speakers, and more likely whole systems that exceed the L5s and my modest system, I can't imagine any listener not finding the sound satisfying, even if it didn't meet a particular listener's quirky requirements.
Rather than run you and me through the grinder called "here's how each and every recording sounded", I'm going to share anecdotes which sum up the excellence of the L5s.
With an all E.A.R. lineup—509 amplifiers, 864 preamp and Acute CD player—I had bottled magic …just bleeping bottled magic in my system. The top-end was open with excellent retrieval of detail while retaining a relaxed and effortless presentation. I was easily able to follow any instrument in virtually all of my recordings. Okay, really complex passages didn't allow that, but most everything else did. Bass with the tubed monos was fabulous, being full, fast and textured, though they did not reach as deep when mated with the GamuT D200s.
Image specificity was startlingly good, this from a listener who doesn't particularly care for imaging. For me, timbre is the starting place and if timbre is off, my interest stops. Timbre was so easily well-handled, that it was a cinch to notice how images were precise in their front to back and side to side placement. As with the imaging, there was little or no bleed through of one sonic component into another, thus making the detail retrieval all the easier. To get this imaging, I had to pull the speakers out into the room approximately five feet from the front wall to the front plane of the speaker, and about eight to nine feet apart. GamuT recommends listening at the end of an equilateral triangle, but to do so would make my seat nearly seventeen feet from the speakers.
Naturally, you'd expect the L5s to shine with GamuT amplification so I borrowed GamuT's D200 Mk II amplifier (the current iteration are Mk IIIs) for a day. That certainly grabbed the bottom end of the speakers in a way that my 509s could not; one day, however, was too short to do much more than form questions about the amp/speaker match. With the D200s powering the L5s, there is an even better and more prodigious deeper bottom end than with my reference system. And, the GamuT amplifiers will do detail amazingly well without getting within a stone's throw of harshness.
But with the D200s bass bloom increased to a point that required me pulling the speakers further out into the room. The D200 and L5 are a great match and probably the right one for the L5s. I didn't snap up the D200 because I was supposed to get one of GamuT's newer D150 integrated amplifier, but that didn't materialize due to model changes.
Surprisingly, B&K's modest 70 watts delivered the music quite well. This ancient (15 years old) beauty was sweet, warm, and very nice. Bass performance was full and satisfying, perhaps 15% below that of the E.A.R. and GamuT units. Even with the lower power reserves, the ST 140 sounded better at higher volumes, though lacking a degree of oomph at lower volume levels. Imaging was very good for solid-state, though not up to the GamuT's exalted levels. Unfortunately, the B&K's "nice" quality resulted in a pleasant sound without the micro detail and macrodymanics that make a home listening session seem like a live event. After a year of listening to the L5s, I'd suggest you get as much good quality power as you can afford.
I find myself cool to the ICE modules; Bel Canto in particular. They do some amazing things, even out doing tubes in some regards; etched, pinpoint imaging for instance, but they don't wear as well. I wrote favorably of the H2O 250 amplifier last year, but listening for another two months after the review was complete, I found myself bored and wishing for new music. When I switched back to my 509s, I found my listening sessions resuming with gusto. Something similar happened with the Bel Canto M100s—there was nothing overtly wrong except that I was less interested in music. The BC 100s did a good job on the bottom end, as did the Nuforce 9.02. Between the two, I preferred the 9.02 to the BC pair, but neither will make you forget tubes.
For me, I found the best sound to be obtained with the Super Revelator tweeter pointing slightly above my ear height sitting approximately 15 feet from the speakers. Gamut does not recommend toeing the speakers in and I did not. They're only a little more detailed toed in, but become a bit unrelenting …not bright mind you, just a tad unrelenting.
The Gamut L5s aren't a happy accident. They are a well engineered/researched product that offers the listener a steadily musical, warm and rich transducer. Changes in components results in varying levels of detail, frequency extension, soundstaging, and/or levels of emotional/musical engagement. Yes, I mostly preferred the expensive products over the less expensive products, and generally tubes to solid-state, but the inexpensive stuff never cleared the room with an awfulness, unlike some of the aforementioned "transparent" products.
I found the L5s very satisfying from the standpoint of emotional engagement and the ability to hear as much detail as I want in any fit of audiophile foolishness. I was amply rewarded with the joy of a musical experience without having to strap myself down into the one magic seat in the house. Off-axis performance, horizontally and vertically, were quite good. You could stand and enjoy music!
The GamuT L5s strike me as a lover's musical tool. It is for someone who loves music, good food, well-made clothing, and the like. People who appreciate things done well, things that are beautiful to look at, and equipment that does what you hope it will. If you are that sort of "lover", you'll like and maybe love the L5s. They're a sight to behold; they're warm like live music is, with a relaxed presentation that doesn't lose detail to sound nice. And finally, they simply conjure up an experience of luxury and luxuriating in music. Highly recommended. Oh, did I mention, I bought them! Larry Cox