About 3 weeks ago I took delivery on a new pair of speakers, a set of ribbon planar hybrids from a great guy named Greg Takesh who builds his speakers under the moniker GT Audio Works. (Website at http://www.gtaudioworks.com/Products.html
) A couple of disclaimers before the actual review: First, I’m not a professional reviewer (as you’ll soon be able to discern for yourself) and will never be wealthy enough to be a real, certified “audiophile.” I’m just an end-user guy who loves all kinds of music and tries to get many, many hours of listening in every week from my 10,000+ CD’s and a couple of thousand LPs collection. My listening tastes run from classic 70’s rock (Yes, Bowie, Hendrix) to classical (20th Century British being my favorite) to modern ambient and chamber (Rachels comes to mind), jazz vocals, singer-songwriter, soul/R&B, along with a healthy dose of postrock and, increasingly, a bunch of electroacoustic material coming out of Europe and Iceland these days (Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Johann Johansson, etc.)
Second, I have no affiliation with Greg or his speakers other than having gone to Greg’s home this past summer to demo a pair and then purchasing them a few months later. I do strongly support start up audio because I think that much of the industry is simply out of control. For me (and my budget) there’s nothing better than finding good people who are in their garages, basements and workrooms putting out great equipment at reasonable prices. Greg is just such a guy and anything I can do to help spread the word is not for my benefit, but for the benefit of people out there like me who love audio, but have to watch their dollars.
Finally, the obligatory gear list: my equipment consists of a pair of Carver Cherry 180’s outfitted with the original Silver Eagle KT88’s. (I did take delivery from Grant Fidelity of a dozen Psvane KT88 Tii’s about the same time I got the planars, and have recently switched them in.)
My preamp is a Mystere CA11 with Sylvania 6SN7’s in place of the stock tubes. Phono stage is a MiniMax with Psvane 12AX7’s. My digital source is a Sony Modwright XA5400SE with full Ultimate Truth mods. Tubes on the Modwright are a pair of Black Treasure CV 181’s up top and a NOS Mullard rectifier in the power supply. Analog source is a Clearaudio Concept table with Maestro MM Cartridge. IC’s are Audio Metallurgy. My speaker cables are evolving, having given up my Analysis Plus Oval 9 Biwires when I sold my old speakers. For reasons discussed below, I am using a pair of basic Signal Cables while deciding on which cables might be the best fit (suggestions welcome – I’m thinking of Acoustic Zen Hologram II’s right now.) My listening room is 12 X 22, with a high vaulted ceiling.
The speakers the GTA’s are replacing are a pair of big, old Von Schweikert VR-6’s that I’ve had for many years. I do love the VS’s – they were a perfect fit for 60-70% of the music I was listening to for the past years – mainly string-rich classical, jazz female vocalists, world music and some singer songwriter. They delivered a warmth and fullness throughout the midrange that I can best describe as comforting. But, as we all know, this hobby is mostly about sacrifice, and I found that with the VS’s while Ella was wrapping me in a warm blanket, I was missing some of the pop and snap of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra accompanying her. When I got back into vinyl about two years ago, bought the Clearaudio and started to pull out my old Replacements, Robin Trower and Lou Reed records, the lack of quickness and clarity became more apparent, and I started to think about a faster, more dynamic speaker in a price range I could afford. I happened onto the GTAs after seeing some short online references/reviews after one of the eastern audio shows last summer and headed out to Gregs for a listen. I liked what I heard and after saving up the money decided to take the plunge.
Greg delivered my speakers and set them up for me on a Sunday evening at the end of a hectic day – not a prime time for me for an initial listening session. We placed them in the same spot as my VS’s, in the corners fairly close to the back and side walls. Having gotten rid of my AP cables, I used a pair of demo silvers that I had heard great things about that the builder was kind enough to let me try out. I keep a cd mix of music I use for speaker demos that includes a good range of my favorite music. I popped it in and (sorry Greg) was not happy. Sound was flat and two-dimensional, there was no warmth, notes were overly bright, almost brittle. I could sense the speed and articulation of the planars, but there was a lack of musicality that was not what I had in mind when I bought new speakers. My VS’s were in the other roomed packed and ready to ship on a pending sale, and I started to wonder if I should cancel the deal!
The next morning, with lots of emailing Greg, I began to make some shifts. I took out the silver speaker cables and put in the copper Signal Cables I had lying about from a second system. I moved the planars about 40 inches out from the back wall and moved them further apart. I placed the spiked feet on small wood blocks to better anchor them to the ground (before they were on metal discs I had to keep the spikes from screwing up my wood floors). I make the back block a 1/2 inch higher than the front to provide a slight tilt downwards. I moved my listening position back so my ears were 12 feet from the face of the planars. Greg’s speakers have controls on the subwoofer for both gain and frequency and I began to play with those settings. Finally, I did some additional sound treatment on the walls to the rear and side of the speakers. I made the shifts and installation of the room treatments over a 10 day period and voila! – they can come pick up my VS’s anytime they want now. I’ve gotten just what I was hoping for in my new pair of speakers.
The GTA’s are incredibly detailed and fast in the mid and upper ranges. I know its cliché, but I am hearing things that I never heard before – the movement of feet on pedals during piano pieces, the breathing between notes in opera. I played Yo Yo Ma’s rendition of Morricone’s The Mission and strings were sweeping and integrated without losing detail. The GTA’s are so articulate that I think coming from such a warm, (perhaps even slow) 20 year old cone speaker, the silver cables I initially used were simply too much articulation for me – it was a shock to my system, both audio and auditory. The coppers cables I have in now provide me the clarity and resolution that I needed, without making it overly clinical, and I think that it will only improve as I test other cables to find the right synergy. The studio guitarist Sumner McKane is one of my favorite artists and his highly dynamic, musical and well-engineered CDs make for great listening. They can really test a speaker’s coherence, particular with recordings like North and Night Blooming Cereus. Greg’s speakers delivered the full range of McKane’s music without a struggle, from the upper mid and high guitar notes and cymbals, to the intricate lower ranges on these recordings. There was great definition without a loss of integration.
Moving the speakers out from the rear wall completely opened up the soundstage and added dimensionality in a very dramatic fashion. The VS’s are noted for their soundstage, and I haven’t given up much, if anything, in that regard. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Tin Pan Alley filled the space around and between the speakers, while at the same time there was a sense of immediacy and forwardness to the sound that fit well with his bluesy delivery.
With the adjustable side firing subwoofers, I’m getting pounding bass when I want it on world music and rock. If you want to see if your speakers can handle bass, try out the second track (Moun Madinia) on Minu Cenulo’s self-tilted CD. It will give any speaker a run for its money, and the GTA subwoofers and midbass drivers delivered exceptionally well.
I ran through some additional tracks from my test cd, including Rickie Lee Jones’ Night Train, Oleta Adams’ Get Here, Renee Fleming singing Che Il Bel Sogno, and part of the opening movement of Liszt’s Christus. The GTA’s were versatile enough to handle all of it. Mott the Hoople’s Sweet Jane had great attack at all the right moments and Jeb Loy Nichols was appropriately laid back.
I’ve been on a Ryan Adams tear the past week, with both the multiple disc set of his 2012 European tour (what I wouldn’t give for the limited release vinyl!!) and with his studio recordings, including a lot of Ashes and Fire, his latest effort. The transparency and detail of the GTA’s put you right in the concert hall with the 2012 recordings, and Come Home from Ashes and Fire put s Adams sitting on a stool in front of you, performing.
I’ve always been a cone speaker person, and the GTA’s are my first foray into planars. Its been a big shift for me, and not without its early bumps. I can’t speak for other planars, but the GTAs certainly needed a bit more work than my relatively “plug & Play” VS’s. But, as in life, great results typically do take a little extra effort and I can honestly say that I am extremely pleased with where these speakers are now. For about $3500 and a little effort, I have a speaker that allows me to enjoy a much greater part of my collection than I did with the VS’s. In fact, its only been a few weeks so I haven’t gotten to everything yet, but I can safely say that the ONLY music I haven’t fully enjoyed yet on the GTA’s is a couple of real poorly recorded lo-fi discs of ambient that, given the detail and clarity of these speakers, are almost unlistenable.
This wouldn’t be a thoroughly honest review without mentioning any downsides. I do not get the same level of enveloping warmth that I had with the VSs and there are rare moments when I miss it. With each tweak, those moments become less frequent and these speakers are very responsive to changes. I can’t help but think that speaker cable synergy is hugely important. And, like I said, every component is about sacrifice, and with these GTA’s I’m sacrificing almost nothing. In fact, I’m starting to find the extra definition to be increasingly engaging – perhaps with my old cones, I was just becoming a comfortably lazy listener. And speaking of lazy, that’s the only other downside I must mention. These speakers take a little work to get just right. If you’re looking for something to plop down, throw on your amp switch and walk away, you’ll likely not be happy. But if you’re willing to do the work, you’ll be very richly rewarded with a wonderfully dynamic, engaging and versatile set of speakers. And the icing on this audio cake is you won’t have to break the bank to get there.
Anyone reading this from the Tristate area (or beyond) is welcome to come by, bring some discs (or I’m sure I have some you might like) and have a listen. I’m just about 20 minutes north of NYC in lower Westchester County. And please feel free to ask any questions.