Gershman Acoustics X-1 Loudspeakers: X-citing!
by Doug Schneider
"Its hard to make a two-way bookshelf speaker sound exciting to a buyer," conceded the salesman. "What can you say besides that it is a box with a couple drivers? People want big speakers with technology that really stands out!"
I could sense the frustration that he was feeling because it is the same frustration I experience when Im trying to turn people on to rather inconspicuous two-way bookshelf loudspeakers. Many audiophiles relegate these speakers to budget-component status, and they cant imagine them in higher-priced systems. What they also fail to realize is that many low-priced bookshelf monitors perform better within their design constraints than some more expensive speakers that try to do everything. Furthermore, there are some designs that have pushed the two-way envelope and would hardly be called "budget"take the B&W Silver Signatures, for example, which hover in five-figure territory. I could build a three-car garage for less than the cost of those little beauties, but theyre still worth every penny.
The two-way bookshelf loudspeaker can be one of the finest values in high-end audio. For a couple hundred bucks all the way up to many thousands of dollars, outstanding sound can come from these relatively unassuming boxes. By nature of their small size, bookshelf speakers are usually much cheaper to manufacture. If you can sacrifice some bass depth and are willing to forgo lifelike dynamic range, a bookshelf monitor can offer superb performance at a very reasonable price. When I see a two-way bookshelf speaker I dont close my ears to just another box with two drivers. Instead, I keep them open for the potential within. End of sermon.
When I heard that Gershman Acoustics was manufacturing a two-way bookshelf speaker, I ran to the front of the reviewer line and said, "I wanna hear it." Gershman Acoustics has a fine reputation for designing speakers that make a statementsonically and visually. They are renowned for their gorgeous loudspeakers that employ pyramid-like enclosures, elegant styling, and stunning cabinet finishes. Their top-tier models, the GAP-520X and Avante Garde RX-20, are pinnacles of the Gershman philosophy and offer sound quality commensurate with their price points.
When it came to producing the latest Gershman loudspeaker, the X-1, the goal was to produce something unique at the target price. After all, within the price range that the X-1 rests there is a lot of competition from some very reputable companies. Simply, if its going to make any mark at all it had better be good. Im happy to say that the Gershmans have done it right.
From X-1s appearance its obvious that careful attention has been paid to the design of the cabinet. The X-1 is 15" tall, 11" wide and almost 14" deep, weighing in at 27 pounds. Both the left and right cabinet walls slope toward a smaller top panel, giving the speaker the look of a truncated pyramid. The resulting design is visually enticing and has benefits such as increased strength and rigidity and diminished internal standing waves. The cabinet walls are over 1" thick, and the construction is more intricate than it appears. Each panel is actually two 1/2" MDF panels with a special damping material in between. The purpose of this is to create an improved wall structure with better performance than simply using solid MDF panels.
The tweeter is a 1" Vifa dome and the woofer is a custom-made 6" job, with porting of the speaker done out the back. Regarding the drivers, I had an interesting listening opportunity when visiting the Gershman factory in late 1997. Eli was doing final design work on the X-1 and had two identical models built except for the woofer drivers. One had a 6" Vifa woofer and the other the 6" custom-made woofer used in the standard production. He showed me the computer measurements of each woofer, which proved almost identical. However, upon listening it was obvious that the custom-made driver sounded better in this design and subjectively gave the impression of greater bass weight despite measurements that showed no difference in actual extension. Obviously, thats the driver he chose to use.
Like with all Gershman loudspeakers, first-order crossovers are used. Gershman-supplied measurements indicate a -3dB point at 40Hz, a sensitivity of 87dB, and an impedance nominally rated at 8 ohms. In general, the X-1 is an easy load that most reasonably powerful amplifiers will have no trouble with, and it will therefore fit nicely into systems that start in the budget range. The X-1 comes ready for biwiring, with its high-quality posts, although I used the speakers single-wired for the entire time.
The X-1 is a compact, elegant little unit that looks exquisite perched on appropriately high stands (depending on your seating position, 24"- to 28"-high stands are whats needed). Specially designed stands are available directly from Gershman, although you can use any stands you want. I used the excellent BBC stands that I normally have my Merlin TSMs resting on. There are other excellent stands on the market from Osiris Audionics and Target, just to name a few.
The overall fit and finish is up to the standards set by the rest of the Gershman linethat is to say, exceptional. The real mahogany veneer is applied to all sides and is one of the nicest finishes Ive seen at this price point. Black is also available for the same price, although Id certainly stick with the mahogany because it looks so darn good and doesnt cost any more. The sum total for the newest member of the Gershman family? A very reasonable $1599 per pair.
Setting up the X-1s proved remarkably easy. Most of the work came from determining how much toe-in to give the speakers so that they give a proper soundstage presentation. For the rest of my system, Theta digital components with the Camelot Dragon Pro2 jitter reducer headed up the front-end. The top-notch Blue Circle BC-3 preamp and BC-2 amplifiers were used, and the excellent Sonic Frontiers Power 1 was powered up for a time. All cabling was Nirvana S-L series.
From the get-go I could tell that the X-1 was a strong performer. The 40Hz of extension proved sufficient to give full-bodied sound in my 12' by 16' room. The bass was full and detailed, with enough impact and drive to give rock recordings good pace and Fiona Apples piano excellent weight. The midrange was clean, grain-free and portrayed vocalists with a realistic tonal balance and texture. The high frequencies were smooth, extended, with good air and no tizziness. Soundstaging and imaging took a bit of dialing-in, but once I had things just right, the stage had good depth and excellent width. I ended up with the X-1 about 2 1/2' from the side and rear walls, with 6 1/2' in between, and toe-in of about 20 degrees. During many listening periods with more than one listener in the room I was forced to sit far off-axis. The X-1s horizontal dispersion proved excellent. While any sense of pinpoint imaging was destroyed because I wasnt sitting in between the speakers, the tonal balance remained constant and the impression of the soundstage and stereo spread remained strong. In all, I immediately liked the X-1 and found it to be very relaxed, non-fatiguing, and highly musical. It seemed to be a winner at the price.
The deficiencies that I did note were common to most small-sized monitors like the X-1. The bass performance was full-enough range, but did not approach subwoofer depth or what I call "big-driver" territorybut thats expected. The dynamic ability was more than ample in my room; however, large-scale dynamics, the kind that very large speakers can handle easily, were beyond the X-1s drivers. Finally, the X-1s can play as loudly as I ever needed, but cannot necessarily play so LOUD-ly that your ears will bleedso metal-heads beware.
Price-wise the X-1 sits between the $1299 Speaker Art Clef and the $2200 Merlin TSM, two-way bookshelf monitors that I have reviewed previously and have impressed me in different ways. I own both pairs, and with them in my listening room, side-by-side comparisons with the X-1 were a snap. I found the performance in relation to these two speakers interesting since the X-1 not only sits between each in terms of price, but also in terms of sonic characteristics.
I describe the Clef as weighty in the bass range (attributable to the larger 8" bass driver), liquid through the midrange and extended in the high frequencies but lacking a smidgen of high-frequency sparkle. Its a very pleasing and musical speaker that offers exceptional performance akin to much more expensive full-range loudspeakers and is highly recommended for people who favor large-speaker sound from their monitors. For its price and the fact that it is a two-way, the Clefs ability to extend so deep into the bass range and not cloud or muddle the upper bass or midrange speaks highly for its well-thought-out design. In all, the Clef is an outstanding performer.
The TSM, on the other hand, extends to about 50Hz, which requires careful room placement for proper bass weight. As a result, it can sound tonally lighter and cannot compete against the Clef or the X-1 in terms of dynamics and bass weight. Where the TSM puts the pedal to the floor is in the area of detail and transparency. Like its big brother the VSM, the TSM can be highly revealing. As a result, the TSM excels in its ability to unravel every nuance of information in its operating range with uncanny realism. Soundstage width and depth are also outstanding. In summary, the TSM functions closer to a near-field monitor, works best in smaller rooms, and is able to dissect a recording (and flaws in upstream components) with riveting detail.
In direct comparison, the X-1 goes lower in the bass than the TSM. This adds an appreciable amount of weight and heft to the sound that will please most listeners. However, the X-1 still cannot drive the low notes home the way the Clef cannot surprising, again, given the larger bass driver in the Clef. Still, the depth to which the X-1 reaches is full-bodied in character, tight, and, in a moderately sized room, able to give full-enough range for most listeners. Both the X-1 and Clef excelled at presenting a full-bodied, rich and musical sound that lent themselves wonderfully to large varieties of music. When it came to soundstage and imaging, the Clef could cast the strongest center image of all with reach-out-and-touch palpability. However, the X-1 and the TSM were both better able to display depth and space around the images. When it came to extracting detail from recordings, the TSM emerged the subtle winner followed closely by the X-1.
All of these speakers played well with a wide variety of music, although if my diet were closer to hip-hop, dance, rap or other music that requires a subterranean bass foundation to connect with the soul, I would probably look to some subwoofer help for all of them. I was duly impressed by the X-1s ability to swing through pop/rock recordings ranging from Blue Rodeo to Radiohead to Nirvana, on through music requiring strong vocal reproduction like that of Lyle Lovett, Sarah McClahlan, Jewel and Fiona Apple. Classical music and jazz were very well served, and the little X-1 even startled the neighbors into late-night banging on my wall when I played Telarcs Carmina Burana [Telarc CD-80056] too late one evening. Great going! I thought just before I lowered the volume.
What emerged after long listening was how evenly balanced a performer the X-1 is. While each of the speakers I compared had their strong points, I found it interesting that the X-1 was the most consistent in each way. No doubt, its a speaker that will satisfy a wide variety of listeners. Still, I find it impossible, if not misleading, to say that any one loudspeaker is THE one to buy in this price range because ultimate satisfaction comes down to personal listening preferences. The best piece of information comes from the awareness of knowing whats out there and to seek out all of these fine loudspeakers.
The X-1 has landed firmly in the high-performer budget loudspeaker category with a must listen recommendationno small feat given the fierce competition that abounds in the $1500-$2000 price range. The X-1 is a splendid product with sonic performance that will appeal to audiophiles looking for exceptionally well-balanced performance suitable for a wide variety of music. And while most serious audiophiles will never talk about superficial elements like cosmetics of loudspeakers with any type of emphasis, I must add that the X-1 is one of the most elegant two-ways near its price. Its pyramid-shaped enclosure is a welcome sight compared to the black boxes that adorn most dealers shelves, and its mahogany wood veneer gains universal praise from men and women alike. Who said you cant have it all? Great sound, great price, great looks: The Gershman X-1 is something to get X-cited about.
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