Looks may be deceiving, but weight will always set things straight. This is what was running through my mind when I picked up one of two modest-sized cardboard boxes containing the latest speakers to arrive at my house for evaluation. Normally, the delivery person brings the packages right up to my door, but this time for some reason, the FedEx guy dropped the boxes on the sidewalk and left a cloud of dust as he fled. Oh yeah, it was raining too. Carrying the boxes up my stairs felt like doing lunges at the gym. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t feel like walking them to my door. Still, what a lazy schmuck!
The contents of the boxes? A pair of Gemme Audio Tanto loudspeakers, priced at $6000. If you haven’t heard of Gemme Audio yet, that’s because the company is a relative newcomer to the speaker business. Founded by two music lovers in late 2005, Gemme Audio takes pride in designing and building its speakers in Montreal, Quebec. If you’d like to get some insight about Gemme Audio’s approach to speaker design, I suggest that you read an enjoyable article on their website, www.gemmeaudio.com, under the Technology menu selection.
Removing each speaker from its large cardboard box revealed the smaller posture of the speakers. Measuring 36 inches tall, 10 inches wide and 16 inches deep, these speakers are about waist high, with the width and depth closer to a monitor speaker rather than a large floorstander, which the 80 pound (each) weight suggested.
Visually, the Tanto speakers look attractive and neat. The front baffles are matte black and contain a matte black paper cone 6.5-inch mid-bass driver combined with a 0.75-inch Ring Radiator tweeter. The tops are finished in a glossy black lacquer and the side panels in a beautiful cherry charcoal. You might be tempted to think that the Tanto speakers have a two-way design, but they actually have a one-point-five-way design. The mid-bass driver does not have a crossover, while the tweeter uses only a single capacitor. These 4 ohm speakers have a sensitivity of 91.5 dB and a claimed frequency response of 18 Hz to 30 kHz. The Tanto speakers use Gemme Audio’s exclusive VFlex Acoustic Loading technology in the construction of their cabinets. The company claims this technology defies the laws of physics by extending low frequency reproduction of small driver loudspeakers, allowing the Tanto speakers to play all the way down to 18 Hz. Hmm, that sounds impressive. But does it really work?
Instead of the typical floor spikes, my review pair arrived with sorbothane bases, although the speakers are normally supplied with large steel floor spikes. As expected, the rear houses a pair of gold-plated binding posts to accommodate spade or banana plugs. Surprisingly, these binding posts look and feel much cheaper than I’ve come to expect from speakers in this price range. Still, audiophile jewelry means nothing without the sound.
As is custom with all speaker reviews, I assured that the speakers had enough time to burn in. After two weeks, I moved the speakers into my main listening room. Power for this setup was provided by the NAD Masters Series M3 integrated amplifier as well as the Classe Audio CA-2100 power amplifier. Disc playback was courtesy of the NAD Masters Series M55 universal disc player.
I started my audition with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon SACD. I must confess that I was a little under-whelmed when I first started listening to the Tanto speakers. They appeared to produce a coloured sound, which I can only describe as filtered. There was no indication of the VFlex system either, which was supposed to drive the bass down to 18 Hz. I certainly wasn’t expecting this kind of performance from a $6000 pair of speakers. How could this be? Was I doing something wrong? I experienced a moment of reviewer self doubt that left me scratching my head. But first impressions don’t always last.
Perhaps playing with the placement of the speakers would produce more desirable results. I initially placed the Tanto speakers exactly where my much larger, reference JBL speakers normally stand, about a foot away from the wall. I pulled the Tanto speakers another foot away from the wall, slightly toed in, and sat down again to listen. Suddenly, the sound was completely different! The difference was like day and night. The bass frequencies dropped substantially lower. These relatively small enclosures were actually capable of some respectably deep and accurate bass. I was glad to discover that the filtered sound that I initially observed had been lifted. It’s a marvel just how much the sound of speakers can be affected by their placement.
Now that I found satisfactory placement, I began my formal audition. With well recorded material, the Tanto speakers managed to produce a lot of air around the instruments. The imaging extended far beyond these speaker’s physical dimensions, much like with a pair of really great monitor speakers. Listening to the opening track from Air’s Moon Safari disc, I enjoyed a sound stage that was truly vast. But this observation held no comparison to the Mendelssohn Concerto in E minor SACD (Living Stereo) because the orchestra extended well beyond the boundaries of my room. The Tantos handled musical dynamics very well.
I found the Tantos to be capable of producing a natural sound, which made symphonic music flow effortlessly and with finesse. The comparison between CDs and SACDs illustrated this very well. While listening to SACDs, the electronic haze was almost completely lifted, resulting in truly live sound performances.
Moving on to the Beatles Love DVD-Audio disc was a very special treat. Thanks to the NAD Masters Series components, this album sounded more like the original analogue tape of the recordings. The Tantos didn’t produce the in-your-face kind of resolution that some speakers tend to. Instead, they offered what I would call a natural amount of detail.
Before the speakers were sent to me, the manufacturer hinted that they would benefit greatly by being paired up with a powerful solid state amplifier. My reference Classe Audio CA-2100 was the ideal candidate for the task. With the CA-2100 in the mix, the sound became more focused, and the harmonics were noticeably richer. The slight sibilance that I noticed earlier almost completely disappeared. This allowed me to get a better sense of presence with Sade’s Stronger Than Pride CD. There was a noticeable improvement in the overall dynamic range. The entire bass range became tighter and more submersing, with a slightly better sense of timing in a musical and natural manner. Without the Classe Audio amplifier, the bass sounded perhaps like it was coming from good monitor speakers paired with a subwoofer, but now it had the authority of which only a full range speaker is capable. The bass integration was certainly more seamless this time. Was the bass response flat down to 18 Hz? Well, not quite. If the much hyped VFlex technology was capable of actually defying the laws of physics, all speaker manufacturers would be jumping all over it. The truth is that the Tanto speakers managed to go impressively low for their size of cabinets, without producing boomy or sluggish bass. The bass was slightly laid back and not as pronounced as speakers with larger cabinets can usually deliver.
To say that I enjoyed the sound of the Tanto speakers would be an understatement. Each time I listened to them, I was glued to my chair for longer periods of time, instead of doing other constructive things. During extended listening sessions – even at louder volume levels – my ears never felt fatigued.
There are many loudspeakers to choose from at the $6000 mark, with no single perfect design. The Gemme Audio Tanto speakers managed to satisfy me musically and produce deeper than expected bass from their smaller enclosures, compared to most speakers in this price range. As with any speakers, I recommend that you listen to several different models at the same price point and choose the speakers that appeal to your particular taste. Every speaker exhibits its own unique characteristics and perhaps the Tantos have what it takes to satisfy your ears.
Gemme Audio TANTO Loudspeaker Highlights
Price: $6000 CAD
• Sensitivity: 91.5 dB (1W/1m)
• Impedance: 4 ohms
• Recommended power: 20 to 300 watts
• Frequency response: 18 Hz to 30 kHz
• Dimensions (WxHxD): 10” x 36” x 16”
• Weight: 80 lbs (36 kg)