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Product Review
 

GR Research AV1 Mini-Monitor Speakers

May, 2003

Arvind Kohli

 

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

Specifications:


Drivers: 1”soft dome tweeter, 5.25” Composite
    Paper woofer
Impedance: 8 Ohms Nominal, 7 Ohms Minimum.
Crossover point: 3.3 kHz with 1st Order, Series
    Network
Efficiency: 88dB/W/M
Power Handling: 8 to 100 watts RMS
Dimensions: 12"H x 8"W x 11.75"D
Weight: 18 Pounds Each;
MSRP: $229 (kit) to $789 Per Pair, Depending on
    Options

GR Research

http://www.gr-research.com

Introduction

There are many ways to skin a cat, or so the old saying goes. For those seeking their audio Shangri-la, this is certainly true. There are hundreds of manufacturers, a myriad technologies, and various schools of thought to help you achieve your audio dreams. The good news is that this gives the hobbyist a lot to choose from, but the bad news is also the same. The choices can be bewildering and even distracting from the end goal. We can easily get sucked into obsessing about tweaks, upgrades, and setup instead of enjoying the music.

One of the ways to skin the audio cat is to build your own components. I am referring to the do-it-yourself market (DIY). This option has traditionally appealed to those who are brave/knowledgable enough, or just plain control-freaks who must have every last detail their way. Whatever your bent, DIY has evolved into a market with a great variety of options and choices of product.

Enter GR Research. They started out with a traditional retail distribution model and switched to factory-direct. They also offer fully assembled and finished products for a nominal extra charge, so customers can limit or extend their level of involvement as desired.

The Manufacturer

GR Research was established in 1995, by Danny Richie and Jeff Glowacki (hence the GR). They went into full production in 1998. Jeff has since moved on, and currently owns and runs SonicCraft.

The impetus to starting GR Research was their conviction that they could offer a product at retail for a better value than the peers of its time. Both were hobbyists; Jeff had a background in Engineering and Danny in Business Administration.

Initially, they offered their products through retail channels, and for a lot less than comparable models. While I have not done these comparisons myself, here is one by Danny: The Paradox3 which was one of their first models, retailed for $2000, was sonically comparable to the $7500 Wilson Cub which featured the same tweeter and similar woofers. Later when they moved their business model to DIY and factory-direct, the consumer could buy the kit with enclosures for $1100 and fully assembly for an additional $190. Of course, similar, or even identical drivers, do not a similar loudspeaker make, necessarily. Crossover and enclosure parameters play a huge, if not dominant role in the sound of a loudspeaker.

According to Danny, the low prices offered at retail were great for the consumer but was not well received by the retail establishment. They preferred carrying brands that yielded high margins instead, and understandably so from their perspective, it just happens to not work out so well for the consumer. This drove GR Research to the DIY and factory-direct distribution model. Danny contends that bypassing the retail route saves the consumer half or more of what they would have paid at retail, and that would also be my estimate of the economics of this industry.

I asked Danny to name his favorite audio products other than GR Research. His favorite speakers other than his own are Joseph Audio, Usher, and Focus. The best amps he has ever heard are by Edge Audio for solid state and Dodd Audio for tubes, and he has a fancy for Goertz Flatwire cables.

GR Research offers five models of speakers with various options, levels of assembly, and finish. This includes the AV1, which is the most inexpensive of their lineup. The AV1 has two larger siblings, the AV1+ which is an MTM configuration of the AV1, and the AV3 which is a floor-standing version of the AV1+. They range in price from about $700 to $900 for fully assembled models, depending on finish and options. They also offer a line source model called the Alpha LS, assembled for $5000. They sell a stand-mounted Criterion for $1400, which features a ribbon tweeter, and an MTM version of the Criterion is being introduced now.

Setup

The speaker is suggested to be placed at least 8” and optimally 4’ to 5’ from the rear wall. The further out you place them, you can expect to gain a deeper image and tradeoff for less bass reinforcement. Danny does insist that these speakers were intended to be mated with a subwoofer, and during my listening I did indeed miss that bit of the lower octave on some tracks, but was fairly satisfied for the most part without one. Personally, I liked the balance at about 3’ from the rear wall, and did not use a subwoofer for most of my listening. I placed the tweeters 80” apart and 100” from my ears.

Danny also recommends the speakers be aimed at your head or less than 200 away from your head. This setup could potentially shrink the width of the soundstage and narrow the sweet spot, but it makes the images more solid since the reflections from the side walls become less of a factor. I found the ideal balance to be with the speakers aimed a little behind my head, and did not find any compromise in the size of the soundstage with that setup.

Tweeter height is recommended to be at ear height or slightly lower.

The Outside

"Less is more", said Robert Browning. Had he seen the finish on these review samples he would have nodded approvingly. The cabinet itself has simple and clean lines, and the finish is nothing more than tung oil and wiped-on polyurethane. Only the grille took away from the otherwise elegant appearance of this speaker. The grille attaches with magnets, and thus there no holes in the front baffle. This makes for a very attractive appearance without a grille.

The rear of the speaker is outfitted with just one pair of binding posts. He is the third designer, I have talked to, that feels strongly against bi-wiring, unless active crossovers were involved. Passive bi-wiring has never appealed to me either, although I have never really spent time splitting that hair to be able to offer a conclusive opinion. I simply have taken the word of several people who have looked into it and whose opinions I trust and respect. Moreover, it appeals to me on several other levels, since I am cheap, lazy, and abhor complexity. Once again, ‘less is more’.


Technicals

The GR-T1 tweeter is a 1” soft-dome model sourced from Taiwan to GR Research’s specification. The rear chamber is damped with two densities of wool. This is done in order to absorb the entire range of the driver’s frequencies, and not allow them to reflect off the inside and otherwise pass through the transparent dome to reach your ears out of step with the original signal. If the tweeter’s backwaves are not controlled, they could have the effect of smearing the image and distorting tonality. The tweeters are matched to within 0.5 dB, and a copy of the measurements (for assembled units) are kept on file for future reference. If you were to buy five or six units at the same time for a HT setup, the tweeters in all the units would be matched. This is an extraordinary level of attention to detail, especially at this price point. The thing I have noticed with small speaker brands, is that there tends to be a high level of pride in their work, and that is very evident with GR Research.

Do not be put off by the fact that the tweeters are made in Taiwan, or assume that they are of a compromised quality. They were originally custom made and exclusive to GR Research, but since then they are being supplied to other companies as well. During the design phase Danny also considered the Dynaudio D28-2 and preferred the GR-T1. He does admit that he did slightly prefer the Dynaudio Esotar tweeter, which he considers to be the best dome model he has heard, but that would have increased the price to the consumer by $500 to $600.

The M-130 mid/bass driver is a 5.25” treated paper unit sourced from India, made exclusively for GR Research and to their specifications. The same goes here for making any assumptions on the quality of the driver, just because they are made in India (my native land, I must proudly add). The basket is not made of metal like most woofers, but instead of a polymer material, which is said to not transfer as much energy as a metal basket would. The geometry of the cone is curvilinear and not straight, i.e., the wall of the woofer is rounded like that of a bowl instead of straight like an ice cream cone. This is said to help with the HF extension of the driver without breakup. To wit, the mid/bass driver is said to be able to play out to an incredible 10 kHz.

<Curvature of the cone is a very common thing, and is implemented in order to produce a controlled flexure of the cone. If the cone is damped well, this can allow a smoother frequency response at the upper limit of the driver, and if it's done well, high-frequency movement will occur primarily in the center, essentially making the radiating area smaller, such as if it were a smaller driver, and allowing wider dispersion at higher frequencies that would otherwise beam. - CM>

The drivers are not matched, because Danny claims they are inherently that good right from the factory, and tolerances are better than the tweeter, obviating the need to spend time matching. <However, it's not uncommon for even very reputable driver manufacturers to turn out a run with wide variations, particularly when trying to keep the price down.  The deceptively complex nature of a driver (not in terms of a system, but a system prone to multiply the effects of variables) makes it very easy to have individual units not only with different frequency responses and efficiencies, but much more importantly in a passive crossover scenario, variations in impedance that will change how the crossover works. In any case, the bottom line is whether or not the speakers sound good, and the GR AV1s do sound good. - CM>

Both drivers can be ordered as shielded, to allow for placement near a video display.

The crossover point is 3.3 kHz and implemented by a series network, i.e., the drivers share the same network. A parallel network, in contrast, would use a separate network for each driver. Danny feels the shallow series network (low order and shallow slope) allows him to minimize phase shift in contrast to a higher ordered parallel design.

Impedance is 8 ohms nominal and 7 ohms minimal, so I would suspect that it is a fairly easy load for an amplifier. However, I estimated the sensitivity at just under 86 dB/w/m, compared to the stated 87 to 88 dB/w/m. I came to this conclusion rather simplistically; as I had to turn the volume control up a hair to achieve the same loudness as the Dynaudio 1.3 mkII (86 db/w/m). Danny has measured his speakers with much better equipment and in a more controlled environment, and is likely to have a more accurate measure of the speaker’s sensitivity. But in my room, at a distance of about 8’ and using a RadioShack analog SPL meter, I found that I had to turn the volume a little higher than compared to the 1.3 mkII. With the recommended maximum amplification of 100wpc RMS, I would not recommend this speaker for extremely large rooms or people bent on achieving permanent hearing loss. However, I did not have those concerns with in my 2700 cubic foot listening room, which also lacks a rear wall. Moreover, expectations of those high SPLs would be ridiculous of any mini-monitor. Danny also pointed out that the 1.3 mkII is a 4 ohm model, and would draw about twice the current at the same volume level as the AV1, making the AV1 a much easier to drive speaker.

The frequency response is rated at -3 dB at 55 Hz, and I would estimate that this is as measured at 4’ to 5’ away from the back wall. Placed within 12” of the rear wall, I was able to get a useful (albeit shelved down) response with a 40 Hz tone.

The cabinet has rounded sides to minimize edge diffraction, and seems to be braced quite well. Indeed, of all the speakers I have ever tested, only the Dynaudio seems to be more inert than the AV1. All assembled speakers come with the Frequency Response and Impedance Response (with Phase angle) measurements of the pair you buy, included. Warranty for assembled units is 5 years parts and labor. Incidentally, in its six year history, there have only been six woofer units returned, of which four were due to abuse, and no returns of the tweeter. That is quite a feat.

The Sound

Ah, this is where the rubber meets the road. As usual, all critical listening tests were done at two listening levels, as measured at my seat, using a pink noise track recorded at -20 dB. The first level measured at 60 dB and represents my normal listening level, allowing me to read or have a conversation at the same time. The second level measured at 80 dB (subjectively 4 times as loud as the first level), and is about as loud as I ever venture, it is reserved for the occasional track and when I want to do nothing but immerse myself in that piece of music. While calibrating the listening levels, I found the AV1 to be slightly less efficient than the Dynaudio 1.3 MkII, as mentioned above. However, my SPL meter and room are not totally conducive to accurate testing. My goal with these tests is to calibrate relative listening levels so my evaluations are based on a fair basis of comparison, not to substantiate the manufacturer’s claims of sensitivity or frequency response.

For comparison I had the Triangle Titus 202 ($495) and Dynaudio 1.3 MkII ($2399) on hand, and here is what I found.

"This is my story, this is my song" (Thelonius Monk, Straight No Chaser, Columbia, CK64886) is one of those tracks that justifies remasters on the SACD format. At the 80 dB level the AV1 threw an amazing soundstage, just as wide and deep as the Dynaudio or Triangle. The detail was excellent and only seemed a little lacking when repeatedly compared to the Dynaudio, and the pedal stop and the resonances of the notes on the piano were some of the artifacts in the recording that brought out this distinguishing feature. The Dynaudio simply could bring out the smallest iota of detail that the AV1 could not. Without a direct comparison in a critical listening mode, that level of detail would perhaps not be missed. The Triangles seemed most detailed in the midrange and highs, hiss from the master tape was slightly audible, but this apparent increase in detail could be due to the absence of the lower bass that would have balanced out the sound. The addition of my subwoofer brought its performance more in line with the Dynaudio. Otherwise, the Triangles were perhaps the most natural sounding in terms of attack and decay of Mr. Monk's jabs on the ivories.

The AV1 subjectively had enough low-end weight and extension to make the grand piano seem convincing. However, only a direct comparison to the Dynaudio did again make me realize there was that extra ounce of bass that the AV1 was lacking. Again, Danny plainly states that the AV1 was designed to be used with a subwoofer, although I did not feel that need for most of my listening.

At the 60 dB level, both the Dynaudio and the AV1 had an equally shrunken soundstage and offered less detail as well. The differences between the two speakers were nearly not noticeable at the lower listening level, but were still there in terms of detail and bass extension. At this level, the Triangles came shining through in terms of detail and resolution, and I found it to be more enjoyable to listen to than the other two once the lack of bass response was forgiven. And indeed, this is the strong suit of the Triangles. The only other speaker that has even come close to its low level performance was the venerable Totem Model 1 Signature. On this track all three had an equally wide soundstage, and the image generated by the AV1 was just a hair less solid than the other two.

One of my favorite flamenco tracks is "Zapateados" (Pepe Romero, Flamenco, Phillips, 422069-2), for its excellent guitar-work, palmas, and live footwork, on what sounds like a proper wooden stage. At the 60 dB setting, the AV1s had a small but well defined stage. The guitar and palmas sounded very natural, but the footwork lacked convincing tonality, and expectedly so, you can only get so much reality if the volume level is not the same as the original event. At the 80 dB level, the sound of the bailaor’s footwork on the wooden floor came to life. However, I found my subwoofer really added that extra fraction of an octave on the bottom to deliver a convincing performance. In comparison, the Dynaudios did not need that extra help, because it achieved a very realistic and convincing recreation of that wooden stage in my listening room.

"Acoustic drum solo" ( Russ Henry, Test CD 2, Stereophile, STPH 004-2) is an excellent minimalist stereo recording and a great test of tonality. At the 80 dB setting the AV1 yielded the perfect image size with the speakers aimed just behind my head. The tonality (of all components of the drum kit) and imaging of the AV1 were impeccable. In comparison, the Triangles could deliver the transients a bit faster (actually, I have never heard any other speaker better them in this regard), and in that respect increased the naturalness of the sound, but it lacked in LF extension and that is where it lost out. Once again the Triangles needed a subwoofer to make the sound seem complete and balanced. The Dynaudios pushed the drum kit a little farther back on the stage, but I would not call the AV1s forward-sounding either, the preference between the two is strictly a matter of taste. The Dynaudios did have more LF weight, and that gave the largest toms in the drumkit a sound that was more realistic, but again I would not have realized that without the direct comparison.

On various other tracks, The AV1 continued to impress me and was fairly equal to the other two in terms of naturalness of vocals, and dynamics at the volumes I listened to. All in all, I had no reservations about the sound of this speaker. It equaled the Dynaudio in most aspects, slightly bettered it in low level listening, and was not as accomplished at LF extension or solidity of image and detail at higher volume levels. That said, consider the spread in prices and it becomes evident that Danny has delivered something extraordinary. The AV1 bettered the Triangle in terms of LF extension and dynamic capability, but did not do as well with the speed of transients or solidity of image.

Conclusions

For the price, this speaker is an absolute gem. Not considering the price, this speaker is still a gem. It does not completely trump the others it was compared to, and neither was it shamed. Unlike some speakers that get a lot of attention by the press, the AV1s did not jump out to be noticed in any one aspect, and perform poorly in others. It performed well in all aspects, and poorly in none. As a result, I have not gone on and on about one or two of its attributes, but what I hope I have communicated is what an excellent, balanced and all-rounded performer this speaker is.

It is not a fussy speaker and could be accommodated in most applications. It does need a subwoofer if you must have the full picture of a grand piano or kettle drum. It also needs to be played at a moderate to high volume level to realize its full abilities. GR Research certainly has given credence to the factory-direct model of distribution.

 

- Arvind Kohli -

Associated Equipment
Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk II; Triangle Titus 202
Amplifiers: NAD 317, Musical Fidelity A3.2, Creek 5350 SE
Digital Source: Sony DVPNS755V
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Subwoofer: Velodyne F1500R
Cables: Homemade

 

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

 

 

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