SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published July 1, 2001


Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage Loudspeakers

When I first saw the Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage loudspeakers, I flashed on Judge Reinhold's stereo salesman character from Ruthless People, "And when you die, you can be buried in them!" But I've got a sick mind -- to me, it looked like a sarcophagus. According to Eli Gershman, the speaker's designer, I'm grabbing for the wrong visual metaphor, even if his earlier designs were based on the pyramids.

"The pyramid is one of the strongest manmade structures," he explained. "But for the Opera Sauvage, I took my inspiration from one of the strongest organic shapes: the egg." Ahhh! Now that he mentions it, when viewed from the front, the O.S.'s ovoid cross section is more obvious. It also looks ship-like. Graceful by any measure, but it hardly looks all that substantial.

Big plans

But like they say, don't let the posy fool ya! The Opera Sauvage is built out of 18 sheets of 1" MDF laminated together. The interior of the assembled speaker not only reveals four separate compartments -- "ribs" running from curved-side-to-curved-side subdivide the interior space into rigid compartments when the speaker's skin is laminated together -- but also an egg-crate-like series of dimples constructed into the inner "skin." The "ribs" vary in thickness from 2.5" to 3".

The speaker's face has two 10" woofers mounted in the middle and largest compartment (the crossover is in the bottom-most), which is ported. The drivers are specially constructed to Eli Gershman's specifications. Next up is the 1" soft-dome tweeter, sourced from Dynaudio and mounted into a sealed compartment. The 6" midrange, another specially spec'd driver, occupies a ported enclosure in the "prow" of the ship.

The crossover is a compound affair -- the woofers cross over at 150Hz, utilizing an 18dB filter. The midrange operates to around 1.8kHz and crosses over with a 6dB slope. Custom-made brass five-way binding posts (with hex-nut heads for easy tightening) are mounted on a small black plate on the speaker's rear. The speaker utilizes four threaded spikes for leveling and anchoring the speaker to the floor.

Fit'n'finish is superb. No make that superlative. One of Eli Gershman's design parameters was to design a loudspeaker that wouldn't look out of place in a wide range of living room decors. Now you may or may not find the proud curves of the Opera Sauvage to your liking, but in its construction details -- and in its wide choice of finishes from lacquer to a choice of fine veneers -- it is an elegant piece of work. And that's something Eli designed in.

Each Opera Sauvage loudspeaker is made from 18 sheets of 1" MDF laminated together.

"I wanted to build a speaker that its owner could take a lot of pride in," Eli admitted. "We tried to build an affordable loudspeaker -- well, $15,000 is an expensive loudspeaker in reality, but there are speakers that cost so much more. I wanted the person who spent $15,000 on an Opera Sauvage to be able to take as much pride in it as someone who spent $90,000."

"I also wanted the Opera Sauvage to compete with $90,000 loudspeakers in terms of sound quality. I wanted it do everything from top to bottom with no compromise, whatsoever. I wanted a big speaker, with a big speaker's low-end extension, but I wanted it to have punch and speed and accuracy, so it could really play the notes. And I wanted it to disappear." 

Which it does, about as well as a 210-pound loudspeaker can. I was never totally unaware of the Opera Sauvage squatting in my listening room, but when I listened to music, they really did get out of the way and let the music speak for itself.

Big fun

When it comes to low-end dynamics and taut, realistic bass, the Gershman speakers are in a class of their own. Carla Bley's "Blues In Twelve Bars/Blues in Twelve Other Bars" (4 X 4 [ECM 159 547]) burbles along amiably, setting up a call and response between Steve Swallow's bass and the four brass soloists. The O.S. had no trouble portraying the heft and impact of Swallow's taut, propulsive bass line as he kicked the song along, nor did it flinch at placing drummer Victor Lewis well back in the soundstage, a foot or two on the other side of my front wall. And when the trombone, trumpet, and the two saxophones answer Swallow's insistent call, they are placed precisely into the stage as well.

This is all fine -- although I have heard lots of speakers that can handle this challenging material well. However, the Gershman's handled the dynamic shadings of Swallow's borborygmic bass line with unusual delicacy, capturing the subtle differences in touch and emphasis with remarkable ease. And when Gary Valente enters on trombone, his raspy blast is about as close to a square wave as music is ever going to get -- the man has been known to shred microphone diaphragms like tissue -- but it doesn't faze the Opera Sauvage a bit. The man's in the room with you. And if that doesn't make you jump -- well, you're beyond startlement.

And the crossover from Swallow's deep groove musings to his signature satin-smooth excursions into his instrument's stratosphere? Seamless -- his bass maintains its specific personality even as it soars into electric guitar territory. It doesn't change voicing, size, or emphasis as the speaker hands it off from one driver to the next. This is deep- to mid-bass integration worth writing home about.

But what I absolutely loved about the Opera Sauvage was the way it sounded when there was no deep bass component in the recording. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded "big speaker sound," or in the case of the Gershmans, their lack thereof. You know what I'm talking about -- the way some big speakers always sound, well, big.

These guys aren't like that. Listen to a chamber music recording, such as Schulhoff's solo violin sonata (Duet [Stereophile STPH012-2]) and all you hear is the violin, floating in space. And, because of the Opera Sauvage's ability to negotiate the low-level dynamics of a large acoustic, you hear that violin in a very specific space, the reverberant and remarkably supportive Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, NM.

In a situation such as this recording, the Opera Sauvage's 20Hz capabilities operate a lot like faith. You know they can do it, even though nothing in the program is asking them to -- but smaller, less capable speakers simply can't make the acoustic so tellingly specific. (Wait! Is that faith or good works? Either way, these speakers made a believer out of me.)

The Schulhoff also testifies to the purity of the Opera Sauvage's midrange in the way it captured the warm, ever so-slight huskiness of Ida Levin's string tone -- and, once again, to the crossover from driver to driver. This time, of course, the midrange to tweeter hand-off, which is smooth and seamless. You also get a pretty good idea of the extension and precision of that Dynaudio tweeter, in the way that the string overtones simply linger in the air before slowly decaying into inaudibility.

No way around it. The Opera Sauvage is one helluva good loudspeaker.

But it ain't perfect. Not yet.

Big deal

On some recordings, at certain frequencies -- mostly within the male vocal range -- the sound undeniably emanates from the loudspeaker itself. Now I need to explain this very carefully because of the way the Opera Sauvage soundstages.

Some loudspeakers present a soundstage that clearly extends from the outside corner of one speaker to the outside corner of another. They have good spread usually, but not that much depth. And that's fine -- you can get a sense of exciting immediacy from them that comes from sitting in the front rows. And that's cool.

Some loudspeakers don't project from the speakers themselves as much as recreate a smaller-than-life-size image between the speakers. This stage can have great depth, but the overall sensation is one of looking down at the musical presentation, as though from a balcony seat. This is another enjoyable perspective -- one that matches my preferred seats at Carnegie Hall, to tell the truth. But a lot of people don't want to look down on the music.

Associated Equipment:

Sources: Sony SCD-333ES, Sony CDP-CX400, Slink-e

Preamplifiers: Ayre K1x, Conrad-Johnson Premier 17LS

Power amplifiers: Musical Fidelity A3CR, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, VTL TT-25

Cables: AudioTruth Midnight, DiMarzio M-Path interconnect, AudioQuest Dragon, DiMarzio M-Path, DiMarzio Super M-Path speaker cable, Illuminations Orchid digital cable, Transparent Audio Reference

Accessories: Osar Selway Audio Racks, AudioQuest Big Feet and Little Feet, Vibrapods, Audio Power Industries Power Wedge Ultra 116

Room treatment: ASC Tube Traps, Slim Jims, Bass Traps

What they want -- and what the Opera Sauvage does, for the most part -- is a life-size presentation that doesn't come from the speakers at all, but simply floats the musician into a huge soundstage that can have tremendous depth. This is goose-bump territory -- at least it is for me. And that 's what the Opera Sauvage loudspeakers do most of the time.

However, certain notes, mostly tenor saxophone or male voices come straight from the speaker itself, which compromises the illusion they otherwise create so perfectly, of their not being there at all.

It never happens on the beautifully recorded 4 X 4, for instance, but on the not-that-well-recorded Roomful of Blues [Island 9474], certain R & B-tinged honks clearly wandered from the artfully rendered soundstage to leap out of the speaker itself. What a distraction.

However, while I couldn't find a consistent thread to this anomaly, other than a general range, it didn't happen all the time or with all recordings. It simply happened enough to remind me that nothing is perfect.

So, how serious a problem is this? For me, it's not such a big deal. It didn't happen a lot and what the speaker did do and do well far outweighed this relatively minor quibble. And, of course, I can't positively assert that it wasn't a room-related phenomenon -- in your room, with your gear, you might never be able to repeat my experiences.

Big time

The real question is would I buy the Opera Sauvage? And the answer is a qualified yes. The speakers are a little big for my current listening room -- even if they do disappear sonically, they still occupy a fair amount of real estate (although only a modest 15" by 18" footprint). So I'd have to do some major begging with SWMBO to shoehorn 'em into our crowded living room.

But I love their easy presentation of deep bass, which in no way overwhelms my room, and I love their balanced tonal presentation. And the way they sonically disappear when playing well-recorded chamber music. And, well, pretty much everything about them.

But $15,000 is a lot of moolah. For somewhat more you can buy Wilson WATT/Puppy 6es. Or for a wee bit less the Thiel CS7.2s. You should definitely listen to them all before deciding. The Wilsons probably have the edge in terms of dynamic shading, but the Gershmans have a less analytic personality, which will appeal more to certain listeners. The Thiels, as much as I like them, don't have the same deep bass heft as the Gershmans and they require a heftier amp for maximum performance, to boot. The clear winner will be the one that pleases you the most in your listening room with your gear. But the big news is that, with the Opera Sauvage, Gershman Acoustics is ready to run with the big dogs.

And, sometimes, beat 'em at their own game.

...Wes Phillips

Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage Loudspeakers
List Price: $15,000 USD
Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Gershman Acoustics
P.O. Box 81593
North York, ON
M3R 3X1 Canada
Phone: (905) 669-5994
Fax: (905) 669-1941


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