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Speaker Asylum: REVIEW: Gershman Acoustics Avant Garde RX-20 Speakers by audiojohn

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REVIEW: Gershman Acoustics Avant Garde RX-20 Speakers

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Model: Avant Garde RX-20
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $4000
Description: Floorstanding
Manufacturer URL: Gershman Acoustics
Model Picture: View

Review by audiojohn ( A ) on March 28, 2005 at 11:31:38
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for the Avant Garde RX-20

I'm not much in the mood to write a review, because I'd rather be listening to music right now--not to mention that I'm not a professional reviewer, just an audiophilia nervosa sufferer who's owned a lot of equipment since the 1970s.

But there HAS to a review of the AvantGarde here, after all these years. How long has this spot sat empty? I'm not sure, but I do know the price is now $5,200 for a new pair, not $4,000 as stated above. And the link no longer works. Try this: http://www.gershmanacoustics.com/avantgarde.html

This is too good a speaker to be ignored. But because Eli and Ofra Gershman run a small company without a large number of U.S. dealers, I get the sense that not many inmates have heard the Gershman line. I'm fortunate to have a dealer in an adjacent state.

A bit about how I came to own these speakers. I recently bought a pair of Gershman X-1s, a very sweet stand-mount two-way. But my room forced me to place one in a corner, and the result was a fair degree of room-induced boom. After a bit of pleading, I convinced my live-in girlfriend that it would be a GREAT idea to rearrange the living room to give the speakers better placement. (I should marry her, huh?)

So instead of being in a corner, the X-1s were suddenly on a half-height wall, six feet or more from side walls, their rear ports firing into nothing but the adjacent kitchen. And they were being asked to fill a room that's about 17X24. They filled the room just fine, but without wall reinforcement, the lack of lower registers became more apparent on orchestral music and in the weight of piano notes, kick drums, etc. There's only so much you can ask a small two-way to do.

My dealer, who deserves a medal for his patience, let me bring back the X-1s with the intention of trading them for the Cameleon floor-stander. I listened a great deal, and let me tell you, that is one amazing speaker for a two-way. But it was black, which is the one color my GF didn't want me bringing home. At 4 feet tall, not counting the bases, and with a less-than-slim front baffle, this speaker is going to put a lot of whatever finish you choose into your face.

Said dealer also had a demo pair of AvantGardes. I'd seen them in the store and lusted after them, but I'd considered them out of my budget range, even with a markdown for their age. (They'd been in the store for probably three years, sitting forlorn and unplayed for much of that time, as Dali Euphonia MS4s and 5s had worked their way into the dealer's top-end setup.)

Enough about this. We hooked them up. I was hooked and brought them home at a great price.

Placement of these was easy. They sit three to four feet from the rear walls and are about equidistant from each other and the side walls, toed in about 20 degrees to converge about six to seven feet behind my listening chair. They don't sit directly on the floor. They're supported, as they should be, by Gershman's "Tip Toes," which are thick, heavy slabs that screw into the bases. The result is an elevation of the three-foot-tall speaker by about two inches and an incredibly solid foundation, with heavy brass cones penetrating the carpet instead of spikes.

I hooked them up to my overachieving budget gear: a 100-WPC JoLida 1501RC Hybrid, with the stock tubes replaced by beautifully matched 1968 RCA 12AX7As, and a Music Hall CD25 given a huge dose of life with a Level 1+ modification by Underwood/Parts Connexion. (Want an amp for $870 [price of NOS tubes included] or a CDP for the coincidentally same $870? Those are good choices.)

After letting them play softly for about two hours, I couldn't stand it anymore and let 'em rip. Despite having been in the store for a long time, they're not broken in. I can hear them loosening up very slightly in the mids and highs still. But this is a speaker that I'm quite sure could sound very good right out of the box.

At the dealer, I heard them hooked up to probably $10,000 worth of electronics. In my living room, where it counts, they're being fed by equipment totalling only about $2,000, including cabling.

The improvement over the X-1, which happens to be my favorite $1,700 monitor, was immediate and jaw-dropping. First, in case you don't know the array, the AvantGarde uses an 8-inch woofer with a brass ring attached to the cone for added stiffness. A 3-inch Audax midrange delivers those frequencies, and a 1-inch silk dome (Vifa, perhaps?) handles the highs. Solid brass five-way binding bosts beg for bi-wiring, and a small "regulation line" port on the back adds a bit more presence to a very tight and musical bass. The AvantGarde's specs are stated at 24Hz to 24kHz, and I'm convinced that much of the bass is a result of design. The cabinets use inch-thich HDF. Yes, high-density fiber, not medium-desnity fiberboard. And the mid and tweeter are sealed off from the rest of the cabinet in a backward-sloping tetrahedron that allows time alignment and presents very little baffle for diffraction. What baffle is there is felt-padded to further clear things up. A crossover switch on the back allows you to add or subtract some high-end articulation and has already proved quite useful in taming poor-quality recordings that have too much glare. The quality of contstruction is evident not only in the gorgeous fit and piano-black finish, but in the weight: 75 pounds each without the Tip Toes attached. (Remember that they're just 36 inches high and that the top half of the cabinet is very slim, so they're shockingly heavy to pick up.)

So, you're probably saying, stop freaking yammering and tell us how they sound!

In a word, magnificent. But they'd better. At this price point, if you bring home something that doesn't sound great, you're gonna be a mighty disappointed camper.

I had read that designer Eli Gershman spends a lot of time with his speakers ensuring that they faithfully reproduce piano. So I put a Sony various-artists CD to hear Beethoven. Each note was so right. Incredible attack, gorgeous decay, the full weight and proper tone of a pianoforte, not a pair of speakers, in your living room.

Onward. I put in Diana Krall's "The Girl in the Other Room" and found myself unable to skip tracks forward or stop the CD. I had to listen to it, from the beginning to the end. The woven carbon-fiber Audax midrange is a wonderful little driver. Vocals were as gorgeous and lifelike as I'd heard in this price range or near double it, with Ms. Krall at her piano far in front of the speakers and her musicians on either side of her. Each instrument was easy to place and faithfully and gorgeously reproduced. A stand-up bass is a wonder to behold on this speaker, the notes reaching deep but retaining every bit of nuance and musicality that a live listening session would give you.

Highs are absolutely to my liking. Smooth and silky with no hint of harshness or grain on any passage. Brush drums, shimmering symbals, the ambient sounds of the vocalist's breathing and lip movement -- all are delivered faithfully.

Next up, just for giggles, a remastered copy of Pink Floyd's "The Wall." From television and voices in the background to an approaching helicopter (which gave the cat extreme anxiety, made me say "hot damn" and shook the room mightily) every effect the band mixed into this recording is so there and so much more part of the experience than I'd ever experienced. The Gershman's turned this into a live-opera experience with incredible emotion. I had to hear both discs. That's a lot of listening. I was helpless. I was stammering. My girlfriend was laughing at me.

Then some old Stones. "Exile on Main Street." The boys were in my room for the first time. Mick, please take your hands off my girlfriend. She's 31, too old for you. Keith, that's MY bourbon.

Surely these speakers could fail on something. Jimmy Eat World's "Futures" sounded loud, ugly and edgy. Wait, that's just the intended teen angst.

So far, I've found nothing that actually sounds bad on the AvantGarde, and most anything you might listen to, be it hip-hop, rock, jazz, country or classical, will sound spectacular. If I were to choose a few adjectives for them, I'd pick lush, liquid, balanced, clear and airy in the highs and mids but never analytical, relaxed but capable of concert volumes. They like high current, I'm told. The JoLida has no problem with them at all. I haven't had the volume near 12 o'clock.

I paid nowhere near $5,200 for mine because they are not new. It gets better. I spoke with Ofra Gershman, and she tells me that the new model incorporates much more expensive binding posts (hard to imagine an improvement, but OK) and a new woofer that gives an ever deeper yet tighter bass line. "They go lower, and they sound much better," she told me. Wow. So I may sell these and try the new model at some point, when I'm ready to spend that much dough.

I'm sure nobody out there has heard all the offerings in the $3,000 to $5,000 price range. I've heard a bunch, though, and this is hands-down my favorite so far. I find it a little more polite than the Thiel CS 2.4, a bit more realistic than the Totem Forest, far sweeter and more emotionally involving than B&W's 8 series, less boxy and shouty than Dalis--and those are all speakers that I really like and could easily live with.

Are they the be-all and end-all in this price range? Of course not, or at lest I assume there's something better out there that I just haven't heard. Some might find them too warm. Heck, some might find them too airy. I don't think anyone could possibly find them harsh. To each his own, of course. But I believe that if you're in the market for a versatile, well-rounded speaker that is easy to fit into your listening room, has a high WAF and does absolutely nothing wrong yet so many things gorgeously, you really should seek out a dealer and give these a listen.

Product Weakness: None discovered yet.
Product Strengths: Lush, engaging sound. Never harsh or fatiguing. Small enough to be easy to place while still delivering the performance of a large floor-stander. Capable of being delicate or foreceful.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: JoLida 1501RC Hybrid 100WPC
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Music Hall/Underwood Level 1+
Speakers: Gershman Acoustics AvantGarde RX-20
Cables/Interconnects: Straightwire Rhapsody II ICs, Jaton CE 8-gauge wire
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Rock, Jazz, Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 24.5 x 17 x 8
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Gershman Acoustics Avant Garde RX-20 Speakers - audiojohn 11:31:38 03/28/05 ( 4)