Second, be aware that the Strada’s wide-dispersion CDT 3 tweeter can be something of a double-edged sword. Wide dispersion of upper midrange and treble frequencies can be—and often is—a beautiful thing, but it can also mean that the Stradas sometimes pick up unwanted sonic reflections from nearby pieces of furniture or from the sidewalls of the listening room. The solution to this problem, should it occur, is to angle the Stradas inward toward the listening area.
Finally, note that the speaker’s highly revealing nature can, in a sense, be a mixed blessing. Unlike earlier Reference-series Gallos, which tended on the whole to be pretty forgiving speakers, the Reference Stradas are sufficiently revealing that they can and do expose the sonic effects of almost any change you make in your system—often for the better, but sometimes not. The Stradas, for instance, can easily delineate differences between competing receivers, EQ systems, DACs, source components, audio cables, and power conditioners, and they will let you hear the effects of even quite subtle variations in system setup technique. My point is that while it is easy to get the Strada system up to a “very good” level of performance, it can take a fair amount of additional fine-tuning and experimentation to help the system realize its full potential.
I found this particularly true in the areas of imaging and soundstaging (potentially two of the Stradas most compelling strengths). At first, I just could not seem to get the Stradas to deliver the stunningly three-dimensional sound I had come to expect from Gallo models I’ve reviewed in the past. But, after consulting with Anthony Gallo and trying several setup experiments he suggested, I eventually got the Strada system tweaked to a point where its imaging not only equaled but in fact surpassed that of the earlier models. Patience is key.
Some prospective customers are bound to ask if the Strada system benefits from automated room EQ systems. My answer is that that the Strada system is quite well balanced to begin with, so help from a good auto EQ system (such as the Audyssey MultEQ system or Pioneer’s Advanced MCACC system) is not so much a necessity, but rather a matter of sonically “gilding the lily.” But, that said, the gilding can potentially be worthwhile. I got good results when using an Audyssey system with the Strada and even more impressive results with Pioneer’s Advanced MCACC system, which pushed the transparency and focus of the Stradas a notch or two higher up the performance ladder.
The beauty of a system as good as the Reference Strada rig is that it can make even familiar soundtracks seem fresh and new all over again, or at least that was what I found when watching the film U-571 with the Gallo system in play. Two scenes—one subtle and the other rather more bombastic—showed off the Reference Stradas’ broad spectrum of strengths.
As the “Trojan horse” U.S. submarine S-33 cruises toward its targeted rendezvous with the crippled German U-boat, U-571, we see the officers of the S-33 at dinner as they near their objective. Seas are rough and, to conserve electrical power, the S-33 is cruising on the surface. The camera turns to give us a view of the officer’s mess table as the boat rolls and pitches in the waves. We see dinnerware and utensils slide from one side of the table to the other as the boat rolls, with—at one point—the sound of some silverware sliding off the table and clattering to the floor. Through the Reference Strada system, the soundtrack for this scene sounds eerily vivid, focused, and intensely three-dimensional so that listeners become aware of the smallest of details: the closeness of the curved inner walls of the sub’s hull, the nervous sounds of non-mariners at the table trying to cope with their gliding soup bowls, the sounds of crewmen passing in the corridor outside the mess room, and soft whoosh of dishes sliding on the table surface. It’s one of those rare cinematic moments where, if your sound system is equal to the task, it’s easy to be drawn out of your chair and to feel really present in setting of the scene onscreen. This is why owning a first-rate surround system can be so rewarding.
Much later, after the Allied crew has taken U-571 by force, the rag-tag crew finds itself in a desperate underwater duel with a second German sub that has appeared on the scene. Torpedo shots are exchanged and the encounter concludes with the one of the Allie’s torpedoes striking the enemy U-boat and detonating underwater. The Gallo system not only handled but seemed to thrive on the multi-faceted concussive force of that explosion—an explosion that, for the Allied crew, not only represents survival but a measure of retribution for Allied lives lost earlier on when the intruding U-boat first attacked. Two things struck me about the Reference Strada system’s performance. First, I was moved—both in a literal and figurative sense—by the system’s unexpected dynamic clout. It was a good thing that I conducted this listening test after normal office hours, since if I attempted the test during the daytime other office members would surely have thought some catastrophe had just befallen our building! Second, I was impressed by the system’s surefootedness and composure as it reproduced the complex medley of sounds that together represented to torpedo’s detonation. Though the sequence was very loud and forceful, there were no signs of distress, compression, or distortion. Talk about maintaining, “grace under fire.”