Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage loudspeaker Page 2

I have always liked the Esotec tweeter for its clean, grain-free presentation. (The last speaker I reviewed that used a version of this tweeter was the Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk.II, in August 2000.) The Esotec's subdued top octave in the Opera Sauvage is not due to equalization, but to the 1" dome's dispersion being modified both by the wide baffle and by the fact that the baffle's edges are not chamfered. It seems topsy-turvy thinking on the part of the Opera Sauvage's designer to arrange for this speaker to have a gracefully tapered frontal profile but to not then position the tweeter at the apex of that profile, where its top-octave dispersion will be maximized. And if the deleterious effects of sharp baffle edges on a speaker's dispersion were familiar a half-century ago—see Keith Howard's article on diffraction elsewhere in this issue—it seems perverse for a designer to offer a flagship speaker that doesn't address that problem.

The speaker's low bass was almost too good to be true: at the key change at 6:30 in the Mahler movement, when the basses plunge to a low C natural—fundamental frequency 32Hz—the Opera Sauvages made the most of this moment. The downside to these extended low frequencies was that I became too aware of LF spuriae that had escaped the notice of the recording engineers. I hadn't realized before that there are some scary thumps on our September 2003 "Recording of the Month," the Franck Violin Sonata performed live by Renaud Capuçon with Alexander Gurning on piano (CD, EMI Classics 5 57505 2). And on one of my favorite recordings of Brahms chamber music—a live performance of the second String Sextet with the three surviving members of the Amadeus Ensemble supplemented by the Alban Berg Quartet (CD, EMI CDC 7 49747 2)—I became annoyingly aware of the Paris subway's contribution to that special evening in October 1987.

Even so, the Gershman's powerful low frequencies didn't make rock recordings sound overcooked in the bass. Yes, Ringo's kick drum on "For You Blue," on the Beatles' Let It Be...Naked (Apple/Capitol CDP 95713-2), was full, but this wasn't accompanied by boom. And while by this time in my auditioning I was aware of the rather peaky nature of the midrange unit's reflex tuning—see the "Measurements" Sidebar—I couldn't hear any midbass muddiness that might be ascribed to this behavior.

In fact, any coloration seemed to be a little higher in frequency. While the sidewalls seemed to be very dead—that heroic cabinet construction has a lot to be said for it—the front baffle and the rear panel did have some resonances that were very occasionally apparent as additional warmth. When I paused the 200Hz, 1/3-octave warble tone from Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) and listened close to the speaker, the overhang of the tone could be heard to shift up in pitch as it decayed. Applying a stethoscope to the baffle while I played the half-step toneburst scale from this CD, I could clearly hear three distinct resonances excited between 160Hz and 240Hz.

Once I could get past the fact that I kept wanting to turn up the volume with the Opera Sauvage, the speaker actually had terrific dynamics. Transients punched forward from black backgrounds without apparent compression, which translated into spinal shivers. The stabbing chords that punctuate the end of the fugue in Liszt's B-minor Sonata, for example—Robert Silverman's 1993 Albuquerque performance (Stereophile STPH008-2), which I prefer to his 2003 live Vancouver concert (OrpheumMasters KSP880, footnote 3)—were reproduced with about as lifelike an impact as I have experienced in my listening room. In fact, the Gershmans loved classical piano. The rather exaggerated low bass added weight without boom to left-hand notes, while the somewhat recessed lower mids maximized clarity of line.

Stereo imaging was well-defined, the dual-mono Fender bass track on Editor's Choice producing a stable, narrow image exactly midway beneath the speakers. However, the sibilants on Richard Lehnert's voice, which introduces the bass, splash to the sides—a sign, perhaps, that there is some mid-treble coloration that is not correlated between the two speakers. In fact, at very high levels there was some shoutiness in the mid-treble that might have been due to the midrange unit cone misbehaving. Whatever it was due to, it put a cap on ultimate loudness with some kinds of music—solo violin, for example, where certain notes jumped forward in the soundstage.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the Opera Sauvages. Immediately prior to my turning in this review text, after years of patiently waiting, I picked up a copy of Joni Mitchell's 1979 Shadows and Light concert, finally out on DVD-V (Shout! Factory DVD 30161) with a 16-bit/48kHz LPCM soundtrack in addition to Dolby Digital. I fed the Technics' S/PDIF output to Lavry's impressive DA2002 DAC, fed its S-Video output to a 15" Apple LCD computer monitor placed at center stage, turned up the volume (as before, a little higher than I was expecting to have to), and settled back in the warm bath of music I have grown to love over the years.

The Opera Sauvage's smooth, mellow highs presented Mitchell's open-tuning strumming and Pat Metheny's chimingly chorused guitar at their best. That uncolored upper midrange allowed her vocals and Michael Brecker's tenor sax to communicate without strain, and the excellent dynamics worked wonders for Don Alias' drums. Most important, the speaker's powerfully extended lows allowed the late Jaco Pastorius' fretless Fender Jazz Bass to rock mightily. "Coyote" followed "Edith and the Kingpin" and was followed in turn by "Free Man in Paris" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Which led to Jaco's solo: chorused harmonics on "The High and Mighty," seguing into "Third Stone from the Sun," arranged for virtuoso bass and repeat echo. The Gershmans usefully fleshed out the bottom octave of the Fender's midrange-dominant tonal balance, the result being pure musical ecstasy courtesy of the hardware. Ain't that just what audio's about!

Summing up
Gershman Acoustics' Opera Sauvage has many good things going for it. Its mellow, rather polite balance will tame the tonal excesses of many modern recordings, even when played very loud. The tweeter, in particular, is smooth-sounding and grain-free, and the superbly extended low bass and excellent dynamic range are to be commended. The Gershmans' imaging is well-defined, and the speakers throw a big, mostly stable soundstage.

However, at its current price of $23,000 the Canadian speaker runs up against powerful competition. First you have the Aerial Model 20T (starting at $23,500/pair, reviewed by Michael Fremer in April 2004), the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 ($22,400/pair, reviewed by MF in September 2003), and the EgglestonWorks Andra II ($18,900/pair, reviewed by Paul Bolin in November 2002). Then, at a slightly lower price, you have the Dynaudio Confidence C4 ($16,000/pair, reviewed by me in March 2003). And for half the Gershman's price you can buy a pair of Revel Ultima Studios ($10,995/pair, reviewed by Kal Rubinson in January 2001).

These are all superb- if different-sounding loudspeakers that have impressed me in my own auditioning. And while the sound is supposed to be what matters most, all five are finished to a standard that, even taking its prototype status into consideration, makes the Gershman look rather plain. Putting to one side the question of its reticent lower midrange, the Opera Sauvage offers sound quality that is not to be sniffed at and may well be preferred by many listeners. It is definitely a contender, but whether it offers enough in the way of overall excellence to compete with the thoroughbreds listed above will depend on individual taste.

Footnote 3: Both CDs are available from this website's secure "Recordings" page.—John Atkinson
Gershman Acoustics
151 Spinnaker Way #3
Concord, Ontario L4K 4C3, Canada
(416) 561-2399