Review by Neil Walker
So this nice young couple dropped by one afternoon for a visit. What a life they lead. Their own company. Take your passion and your education and start building a line of exceptional speakers. Eli, an engineer, specialized in acoustics and electronics. He is, by Ofra’s admission, the acoustic brains behind every Gershman loudspeaker. Ofra handles the business and sales end of the company. However, although Eli may be the acoustic engineer, Ofra certainly understands audiophile loudspeakers and the people who listen to them.
Why the familial story? For me, it is part of what I like about writing for Enjoy the Music.com. People who follow a dream and make it work are special to me. However, as fine as dreams are, making them work is the key to success. And making the dream work is the key to the success of these loudspeakers.
You cannot allow the manufacturer's charming story make you hear a loudspeaker sound better than it is. And thus, it comes to this: these are very good loudspeakers. But then, the people who make them are fanatical about the quality of what they build. They deserve success.
The Shallow Triangle
Now for the loudspeakers themselves. First of all, these are the least unusual looking of the Gershman loudspeakers. The appearance of their loudspeakers has always fascinated me. One of their loudspeakers even looks like someone praying at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Cameleon is tall and viewed from the front, unremarkable. Then you look down at it from above and realize that the case is a shallow triangle. Its two drivers are mounted at the top, with the woofer above the tweeter. The tweeter therefore is at a good listening level, something you notice as you sit down.
The woofer is ported at the bottom of the loudspeaker cabinet at floor level. With such a shallow cabinet, Gershman rests the box on a larger triangular wooden plate with an inverted cone at each corner. Even with the cone, the loudspeaker is a little unstable on broadloom and could easily be upset by a child running into it, parental warnings notwithstanding. A word of warning - they weigh 65 pounds, so it is worth isolating it from little children or inebriated adults. Even when I tried them on a solid surface, the loudspeaker is tall while the base is small.
The quality of finish is high, although the black wood veneer is ugly (personal preference). On the other hand, the honey oak veneer is attractive. Both color schemes use a black cloth grille which extends two thirds of the way to the bottom, ending in a point which picks up the triangular motif of the cabinet.
The sound of these are remarkable, given their $1,799 price. They do not have the coherence of, say the Equation 7, but then, the Equation costs $2,990, an additional $1,200, or, if you are more arithmetically inclined, an increase of two thirds. Since every review I write is always based on what you get for your money, let me start by saying that the Gershmans hold their own, despite having their $1,800 price land them in a competitive hornet's nest.
These loudspeakers have a clean forceful bass right down to 32 Hz. Having a great midrange may be the essence of wonderful music, but sometimes you need real bass. They manage to pick up the lowest register of the piano, the bass viol, even the pipe organ (down to 32 Hz) and make it sound like something. I like to try out several organ records to test loudspeakers' bass capability or, more often, non-capability. For example, I listened to volume four of Kevin Bowyer's survey of JS Bach's organ music, or Nicolas Kynaston's playing of Liszt Organ Works [Carlton Classics, 30366 00032] on the Klais Organ of Ingolstadt Münster. The loudspeakers shook, the floor shook when I cranked up the volume a little, but above all, I could hear the music in the bass.
A musical bass is a rare phenomenon. There are lots of powered sub-woofers that will shake you, the sofa, the wine in your glass, even the household guard dog. However, they do all the shaking at what sounds like one frequency. I am still looking for the instrument which produces the one-note thump, the very same thump regardless of what the score calls for. The thump phenomenon becomes even more odious as you expand your bass investigation into records that use stringed bass instruments such as the piano, upright acoustic bass or the bass guitar. When you hear Charlie Hunter sounding like the one-note thumper, then you know you have hit a loser of a loudspeaker. (Loser, that is, unless you are installing it in your car with the express purpose of jiggling the inside mirrors of automobiles five deep around your Hi-Fi express (15-inch woofers, double batteries, extra heavy duty alternator and 400 watt amplifiers) on New York's Tri-Borough bridge. I remember the first time I experienced the automobile-power-bass-thump. I thought the bridge was being rocked by an earth tremor, but this was in New York, not San Francisco. No matter, I still like hip-hop and rap as much as I ever have.
Anyway, I stray. This is just the long way to say that this loudspeaker gives you a musical bass. Rap and hip-hop can have a hard driving bass, but it does not have to be only a continuous thump. I immediately enjoyed the Cameleon loudspeakers for the clean, well-articulated bass they produce.
Screw Into The Floor
Nonetheless, I felt no passion for these loudspeakers. At one point, I talked about it with editor Steven R. Rochlin. He said that I should just go ahead and tell our readers that that was my impression. Fortunately, I did not follow his advice. (First time ever, Steve. Honest.) Steve sez: That's cool my friend... and the check for this article is "in the mail" ;-)
What bothered me was that there should be more to this set of sound motors than they seemed to be giving. They did everything well, but there just was not the magic of which I suspected they should be capable. So, I got to work. I started with the basics. I checked position, connections, surroundings such as pictures on the wall, couch placement and so on. Then I went right to the bottom of things - the rug and the loudspeakers' bottom. These loudspeakers rest on rounded cones, not spikes. The cones rest on the broadloom in my listening room - thick broadloom over a thick underpad. Thus, they wave around in the breeze. They are front and top heavy, ready to topple with little provocation.
On a quiet afternoon, when all were gone from the house (especially the Love Goddess, protector of the household gods and broadloom), I got out the electric drill and eight Robertson-head screws. I screwed each one into one of the unit's carpet dents, through the carpet and underpad and into the subfloor. Then I rested each of the loudspeakers on these screws so that each now had a solid, level spot, stabilized by the indentation of the screw-head.
The result? Magic. The sound which makes these loudspeakers a great buy rolled into the room. The musical bass was there, but tighter and more controlled. The mids and highs sparkled with a near-translucent quality. These loudspeakers finally fulfilled their promise.
The Cameleon is totally listenable throughout the auditory range. Now, when I start a CD playing, the sound is so very right. Presence, musicality, detail - the shimmer which light transients have, the fullness of deep notes on the guitar. One example comes to mind in particular and it is the CD by Bill Frisell, Good Dog, Happy Man [Nonesuch, 79536-2]. Another time, I was playing Debussy's "Clair de Lune" as performed by the Jacques Loussier Trio [Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Debussy, Telarc CD-85511]. I left the room, returned about three minutes into track one and froze. Geez, what a gorgeous recording and so right in the cones of the Cameleon.
Now I was excited and started digging deeper through my collection. Side one of Holger Czukay's Good Morning Story was a minor revelation. First of all, Czukay's voice saying "The invisible man is all around me" was chilling in its presence because the loudspeakers resolved inner detail exceptionally well.
Then I tried something far more demanding: the full symphony orchestra. First I turned to a 1958 LP of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherade [Pierre Monteux, London Symphony Orchestra, RCA Victor LSC-2208]. This is a vivid recording, now a collector's item. Some might describe it as an example of orchestral pyrotechnics. Given the dynamic range, the stirring use of horns and the romanticism of the harp and the violin, this recording can, with the wrong loudspeakers, turn into an endurance contest. But with the Cameleons in charge, the strings were pleasing, sweet wher they should be and stirring where necessary. The balance and bravado of the horns stirred the blood (even if you don't like Scheherazade). Throughout, it was a success because the loudspeakers handled the romance and tension with ease. The Cameleons have nothing to fear from the tutti passages of the London Symphony Orchestra.
An even nastier test is the CD of Beethoven's violin concerto performed by Hilary Hahn, under the direction of David Zinman with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra [Beethoven Violin Concerto, Bernstein Serenade, Sony Classical SK 60584]. Like Scheherzade, this recording demands all of the system's ability to resolve inner detail. I know that the CD player and amp are up to it. In the case of the Cameleons, I am happy to say that they are, too. You can hear the discreet parts of the orchestra and you can enjoy a wide, deep and detailed sound stage. This is one place where these loudspeakers blow away a lot of the competition. They preserve the input and give you the detail and inner space which both the vinyl and the CD possess. They also present a better balance of instruments than I usually hear from this recording. In fact, the singing nature of Hahn's violin, forming its melodic tracery over a focused, powerful bass is enough to inspire shivers of delight. (One of the dangers of reviewing Hi-Fi gear is that you put on the record and, as the magazine says, you enjoy the music. The next thing you know, instead of a critical listening to how a particular piece of equipment works in a particular passage, you are sailing along on a wave of musical bliss.)
This loudspeaker's ability to make music magic seems to cost nothing in terms of other trade-offs. No harshness, no too-forward a sound. In both the preceding albums, the strings are not sweet, but they do not cause pain - a common enough fault of lesser designs. I tried the Strauss waltzes "Vienna Blood" and "Roses from the South" performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra [Strauss Waltzes, RCA Victor Red Seal LSC-2500]. Other loudspeakers have made the CSO's strings sound thin, even screechy. But the strings as performed by the Cameleons are smooth, detailed, and musically effortless.
Does all this mean that the Cameleon is without equal? Not exactly. I always wonder when I review a loudspeaker if I would like to live with it. In the case of the Cameleon, the answer is yes, I could live with it. If I were staying within an $1,800 limit, I would place this loudspeaker at the top of my list. However, it would have company from other companies such as Rega, Triangle, Atlantis, Spendor - companies that market fine loudspeakers in this price neighborhood.
So, do I recommend? Yes, definitely, at this price. As I said, it has a lot of good company in its range. But if you like the sound of it, then you will not regret your choice. Its signature is clear, well-defined, well-resolved musicality. It is not excessively luminous, nor is it overly warm and mellow. It just puts out what you give it with minimal fuss. Its real virtue is the fact that its sound is almost non-rescript in the best possible way - neutral, musical, faithful to the music in your head.
Unlike some other loudspeakers in this range that concentrate on making Hi-Fi sound (the cymbal's sizzle, the mid bass thump, the "ting and bang" sound of some records which audiophiles treasure) this loudspeaker gives music pride of place. Not a bad decision at all by the Gershmans. Now I know why Ofra said that it took Eli over a year to get them right. To get that kind of sound out of an $1,800 loudspeaker takes time. And the time shows up in the performance.
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