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September 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Superior Audio Equipment Review
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Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde Loudspeakers
Love at first sound.
Review By Rick Jensen

 

Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde Loudspeakers

  I first heard the new Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeakers at the 2014 New York HiFi show. I was immediately and immensely impressed. Yes, I know that we are not supposed to make discriminating judgments in the variable and often-challenging show environment, yet let's also agree that such shows have become the major means of marketing for many manufacturers. And a cornerstone of the publishing schedule and content of review magazines (this one included) is the show reports. So we have a widely practiced sport of assessing fine components in that artificial environment.

Some manufacturers manage to get great sound almost every time regardless of the room they are assigned. That may be a function of care and the ability to tweak the room, so to speak. But it also may be due to something inherent in the product(s) they offer. In my own experience I have always heard "real" music in the Gershman rooms, which for me are free of the bombast and hype so often found next door. It doesn't hurt that Ofra and Eli Gershman, two of the most likeable people I have met in the business, have a modest and straightforward manner in presenting their speakers.

In any event, the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Gardes loudspeakers 'had me at hello' and I was fortunate enough to be able to get a pair to audition. They were delivered in person by the Gershmans, who were visiting the New York area from up in Toronto, and we set them up with minimal fuss (though with Eli doing the lifting, as I was laid up with a knee injury). I should add here that they are not that heavy to lift which is one of their many charms.

 

Construction And Technical Details
The Grandes are not imposing, especially for a speaker in this price range, and one that, as we shall see, has both excellent bass extension and good dynamic range. I would add that they are very attractive (an opinion shared by others), extraordinarily well-finished, and will fit into a wide range of home environments.

They have an elegant grill with vertical bands that look not unlike those of Sonus Faber that is said to be virtually acoustically transparent. That said, both the Gershmans and I lightly preferred listening without the grills, and that is how all the listening was done. The Grandes look good without the grills, too, though non-geeks might prefer them avec. As noted, the Grande Avant Gardes were very easy to set up. Eli Gershman advises that they can be positioned fairly close to a rear wall, even if three feet or more might be recommended. I quickly had them in a position close to where many other speakers have worked well in my apartment about four feet off the rear wall, seven feet apart and slightly toed in. My listening position was about 9' from each speaker. A little wider or without the toe-in left one desiring more center fill, and any closer didn't enhance the sound or the soundstaging.

Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeakers

The overall "look" of the Grandes will be very easily recognized by those who know the Avant Gardes (now the Avant Garde R1). The two speakers do look very much alike. And the external dimensions, but for the bass traps, are identical. Compared to the original Avant Gardes, this is a totally new speaker. The drivers are the same models but with modifications. The tweeter is sourced from Peerless, the midrange a carbon-fiber driver from {France}. The woofer is a custom design, Canadian-made and manufactured exclusively for Gershman.

The Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Gardes are constructed of HDF, which is very solid and both feels and sounds very quiet. I should add that the HDF is then beautifully painted -- custom colors are available -- and then finished in several coats of fine Italian lacquer. (The Gershmans have worked with the same master painter to finish the cabinets for years and he does all the finishing on their products). The overall impression is elegant, compact, and beautiful. And in spite of the non-traditional design, I did not have anyone in my home who did not find the Grandes very attractive.

The original Avant Gardes, which were introduced in 1995, were 36" high and !2" square on the bottom, narrowing in a pyramidal fashion toward the top. The pyramidal structure, common to all the higher-end speakers made by Gershman, functions to minimize any possibility of refraction from the front baffle. And so it is with the Grandes, except that they are literally seated into a platform of sorts, a rectangle that comprises the 12" square dimension of the base, and then extends another 10" or thereabouts behind the speaker. This platform is the "bass trap" which makes use of a Gershman proprietary technology they call BCT (Backwave Control Technology). The platform raises the Grandes another 3.5" but does not allow them to dominate a room.

The goal of the BCT structure, which is essentially an external chamber coupled to the Grandes, is to attenuate the rear wave in the woofer. Of course there are many methods of attacking this problem such as a transmission line being among the best known, along with its variants that seek to fold, bend, or otherwise break up the backwave so as to diminish its effect on the woofer. The Gershmans are tireless experimenters, and found that a port-like opening on the bottom of the cabinet, integrated into the channels in the bass trap (called a "regulation line") gave startlingly good results. There is a mass loading on the woofer and the regulation line is added to that. According to the Gershmans, the regulation line is not as long as the transmission line, but makes it a bit faster along with allowing the woofer to go deeper, other things held equal. The goal of the BCT topology, so to speak, is very simply more control with better definition in the deep bass -- in other words, motherhood and apple pie.

The ancillary benefit of being able to achieve such control is less masking of the midrange and highs. Thus, the midrange and tweeter drivers were tweaked to blend as close to optimally as possible with the bass. The Gershmans contend that the mids and highs are "sweeter and more detailed", an observation that I can heartily endorse. The Grandes are specified at 22 Hz to 20 kHz. I will comment more on the sound below, but they do go surprisingly deep and the highs are quite extended. As a final comment on the construction and appearance: these are fairly compact speakers that are designed to work in even a modest city apartment, all while being able to fill a good-sized room with ease. More about the sound below, but I will confirm that they would fit well into a one-bedroom apartment in New York, and look very good to boot.

 

Listening Observations
I listened first to the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Gardeson their own, and then later compared them in some detail, with my reference Ars Aures Midi Sensorials. I know that the latter are not familiar to most American audiophiles, as they have had inconsistent to nil distribution over here, but they are remarkably similar in overall character, albeit almost twice as expensive. (Another reason why the Grandes may have appealed to me from the get-go.) On the superb reissue of Ben Webster's Soulville [Vinyl Me Please 2015], the Grandes provided an intimate perspective, that of a club or small concert hall, with lots of texture in the saxophone. One could hear each bit of breath passing through the sax. The perspective was that of a small room, as though you were 10 to 12 feet away from the band. I noted that I heard "all the highs of the real world but nothing extra". The GAG top end is consistently detailed and finely textured, with a hint of sweetness. Imaging is satisfying wide and deep, and maintains the small-hall feel.

That impression was representative of all my time with the Grandes. They are terrific at conveying a real and intimate space, with the attendant emotional connection or "feel" of that space, but are not at all aggressive or clinical. I cannot say how others experience live music versus recorded music at home, but my consistent observation is that live music may have all the detail and nuance that one can possibly hear without ever assaulting the ears in a way that even very fine home systems do. Perhaps that is due to the real space most listening rooms are very small even compared to small clubs, and tiny compared to concert halls, but it's a constant for me. The systems that draw me in are those that can replicate what I hear live. Are they as "flat" or accurate? I don't know. But they give me the music, and pull me into its orbit, and that's what keeps me coming back.

I can't remember what brought me to put Jethro Tull's Benefit on the turntable for the first time in eons. It's a record I know down into my bones and have played a few hundred times, most of that being way back in the early 70s. The recording perspective is somewhat distant but the transparency and immediacy of the Grandes seemed to bring it closer. I felt as though I was thrown back to 1970, listening to Tull via my Dyna SCA-35, KLH-22s and Garrard Lab-80 (with Shure M-95E)... only better, with all the manic energy but less muddy. I can only chalk that up to the Grandes' ability to convey the emotional content of the music, because today's system is far better than that of my college days. Yes, "emotional content" is a vague and fuzzy term, and certainly not replicable via testing, but I suspect it may have to do with a combination of speed, timbral accuracy, good microdynamics, and an utter lack of noticeable flaws. In any case, it is a virtue that the Grandes share with my own speakers, even if neither of them has quite the stunning transparency of, say, Magicos.

While I have started by commenting on the overall presentation of the Grandes, it is important to note the character of the bass. As noted above, the bass traps are an innovative solution to the challenge of deep, accurate bass in an enclosure of limited size. And they work. Yes, they have the ability to go deep on Virgil Fox organ cuts, though perhaps not to subsonic frequencies, and the woofers never seem to lose control. I wouldn't characterize the bass as particularly "big" or "tight" it is somewhere in the middle, full, with a natural weight and consistent timbre on acoustic bass or organ. That character is a relative constant, varying only in respect of the music itself. The bass is quite satisfying on electronic music as well, giving an energizing amount of thump to EDM like Super 8 & Tab/Julie Thompson's "Your Secret's Safe" (yup, I like that stuff, too). If Eli Gershman's goal with the BCT was, in essence, to extend and enhance a transmission line, it seems to have worked very well. And let me repeat that the Grandes just don't take up very much space I cannot stress enough how much these are apartment-friendly speakers.

Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeakers

So, with the speakers' capacity to deliver a lot of good bass, it is worth remarking that on Art Pepper's Smack Up [Analogue Productions reissue], the piano and acoustic bass lines both impressed with just the right amount of weight and speed. I have had other speakers in my home that bleached out those lines to a small degree. There is not a hint of that here; if anything, the rhythm and the sax pieces are just a smidgen on the rich side (a 51 on the 0 100 scale, if you will). As I have never heard any "bleached" coloration in live unamplified music, the balance of the Grandes seems about right to me.

I will offer a quick comment about the efficiency of the Grandes, rated at 89dB. The recommended power is 40 to 200 watts, which seems just fine. I rarely had to turn up my Music Reference amplifier (125 wpc) very high to get satisfying volume. I did not hear any strain at any volume level short of what would get me thrown out of my building, if not all of Brooklyn. I would wager that a well-made 40 wpc amplifier would work very nicely in all but the largest rooms. While most of my listening was to vinyl, I did listen to digital in order to see how it was rendered. On the Shins' "Phantom Limb" from Wincing the Night Away, via 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, the overall sound was nicely balanced yet with less immediacy than the vinyl. It did still sound rich enough to listen to and sing along with. This likely reflects personal preference, but as long as standard CD is not whitewashed or thinned out, I am very happy. I had no reason to expect that from the Grandes and they did not disappoint.

 

Overall Impressions
It is difficult to cite any one thing about the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeakers that makes them stand out from other speakers at or above their price range, a range where many fine choices are available. They do everything very, very well and are consistently pleasing to listen to. They go deep, they have sweet and extended highs, they image well, and they communicate the essence of the music in the midrange with no noticeable additions or omissions. Most important, music is just more fun with the Grande Avant Grandes than with most speakers, even most very fine ones in my experience. Some of that may have to do with the delight of hearing so much beautiful sound emanate from speakers that are not more than waist-high. And a part of the pleasure derives from their consistency and reliability the Grandes sound good from the very start and do not disappoint over time.

I am fortunate to have a nice-sized apartment by New York standards, one where my large Ars Aures speakers can fit without much trouble. If I were in a smaller place, I would get the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Gardes in a heartbeat. As it was, I was very sorry to see them go. For all the above reasons, the Grande Avant Gardes deserve a serious audition by anyone seeking great sound in this price category.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Large floorstanding loudspeaker
Frequency Response: 22 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m
Recommended Power: 40 to 200 watts
Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
Weight: 87 lbs. each
Dimensions: 39.5" x 12" x 12" (HxWxD) plus a 10" bass trap
Price: $12,500 per pair

 

Company Information
Gershman Acoustics
8707 Dufferin St. #331
Thornhill, Ont L4J 0A6
Canada

Voice: 416-561-2399
E-mail: gershmanacoustics@yahoo.com 
Website: www.GershmanAcoustics.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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