Several months ago, with our facility nearing completion, the team here at Manifold Recording embarked on a search for the perfect monitors for our Annex control room. We needed an absolutely “no compromise” monitoring solution for both current and future surround formats in addition to good oldfashioned stereo.
We also wanted a system that was a good fit with the design of the room, the dimensions of our Harrison Trion console, and a center channel able to accommodate a large video monitor/screen at the front of the room for sound-for-picture mixing. Even though we were ultimately going to purchase a surround system, we decided to evaluate all the contenders in a stereo configuration to simplify the audition process (and maintain my sanity). And for brevity’s sake, I’ll limit this review to the performance of a stereo pair for the same reasons.
The auditioning and shootout process was an epic journey not easily encapsulated here; to make a very long story very short, I’ll jump to the happy ending: We chose the Guzauski-Swist GS-3a monitor system.
“Never heard of ‘em,” you say? Well, until eight months ago, neither had I. Before I go into describing the how and why these monitors perform so well, a little back-story on the company is in order.
You may be familiar with the names Mick Guzauski and Lawrence P. Swist individually (and if not, look them up ), but what you may not know is that Mick and Larry have been friends since their teens, living in upstate New York. Each became successful in the pro audio world following independent paths, but remained in touch and close throughout the years, despite changes in the industry and from the different coasts where they sometimes resided.
Then, about 10 years ago, Mick moved back to the same state as his longtime friend. He reinitiated a long-standing conversation with Larry regarding his frustration with finding near/mid-field monitors that performed up to his expectations. At that point, the serious work of designing and building a “dream monitor” began in earnest. Drawing on Larry’s knowledge and skills in acoustics and design and Mick’s ability with crossovers, DSP and his vast mixing experience, the GS3a was conceived and built.
Initially, the monitor was created just for Mick’s use, in his own studio. It was only after many other visiting engineers, producers and artists begged Mick and Larry to build a pair for them that the intrepid duo considered this as a serious business opportunity and quite possibly the next chapter in their respective careers. It’s the quintessential American business story: two longtime friends build a better mousetrap in their garage, and the rest is history.
The GS-3a is a sealed enclosure, three-way active monitor configurable for horizontal or vertical operation with a frequency response of 29 Hz to 18 kHz (+/- 2dB). Each pair is powered by the GS-A3 Class-D stereo amplifier unit, which produces 1,950 watts per channel (1,550w for low frequencies, 400w for mids and 400w for highs). If you’re counting, that’s nearly four kilowatts of power for a stereo set! The GS-XD4080 crossover is a rackmounted, 96 kHz, 40-bit, floating-point DSP processor unit (with user-definable room compensation equalization and delay) with both analog and digital (AES) inputs.
GS-3a monitors atop the Harrison Trion console in Manifold’s Annex control room.
While I believe they would improve the end results of any studio that uses them, at $17,500 list for a stereo system (approximately $50,000 for 5.1), they’re aimed squarely at the world-class end-user who requires a rugged ultra-high performance monitoring system, but one in cabinets small enough to offer flexibility when configuring a room.
Personally speaking, it’s difficult for me to break the habit of describing monitor performance in general, broad and sweeping adjectives of quality, but I’m going to try. If you’re thinking I’ll describe these monitors as “transparent, rich, accurate, silky, detailed, or punchy,” I won’t. Instead, I’ll attempt a very brief synopsis of some key areas where I believe these monitors really excel.
Let’s start at the bottom end, my favorite! The GS-3a utilizes a two-cubic-foot sealed enclosure and a Dayton 12-inch aluminum cone subwoofer driver. This results in accurate low-end response at volume with none of the “chuffing” or pumping effects associated with ported cabinets. A sealed cabinet design simulates the “infinite baffle” ideal in speaker design and also dampens extraneous cone movement. When paired with a light rigid cone and a very powerful amp with fast slew rate, a very detailed articulation of the low frequencies is possible; when working with material containing lots of bottom (which this monitor handles with ease), this equals the minimization of unwanted or excessive resonance of the speaker at low frequencies. In other words, that perfect bass/kick relationship you got in the control room is more likely to translate well in the real world.
The midrange is handled by a threeinch ATC dome driver; I’ve heard this driver argued by many to be the best device of its kind available, and I’m inclined to agree. It has a very wide frequency range, excellent power handling, and a broad, smooth dispersion pattern. In practical terms, the wide frequency range of the ATC driver allows Mick and Larry’s monitor to send the vast bulk of the oh-so-critical mid/vocal range to a single driver. This keeps those potentially problematic crossover point phase issues out of the most important part of the mix.
In application, it’s hard to overstate how big a difference this makes. The wide dispersion of the dome aids in the broad (and even sweet) spot these monitors produce. A one-inch Morel soft dome tweeter handles the sparkly bits with an RMS power handling of 125W.
Far more critical to discuss, however, is this: A few paragraphs ago, I commented on the GS-3a’s sealed enclosure design and the huge power to drive it. That design is not necessarily all rainbows and unicorns, which may be why it’s not used more often on high-power studio monitors; all that energy has to go somewhere, and other than a tiny bit converted to heat, it shows up as enclosure vibration.
All that vibration can seriously affect the performance of any other driver connected to the cabinet. For example, visualize singing a steady pitch while sitting on a seriously unbalanced washing machine; imagine what that would do to mix and the stereo image perception! Thus, these clever guys have a solution — an effective way to isolate the mid- and high drivers from the vibration generated by the woofer. Because they are seeking a patent for the new technology, I can’t say more than that right now, other than it works beautifully. [Ed. Maybe the gap and appearance of separate low and mid-high cabinets provides a clue?]
The results of these design achievements (and possibly hundreds more that I have no clue about) plus a high level of build quality and materials used is, in a word, astonishing. I know I promised to avoid broad sweeping generalizations, but this is one I’m comfortable with. The GS-3a is among the finest speakers I’ve ever heard, period. I’m not kidding, nor am I a paid spokesperson. But if they asked …
Price: $17,500 per pair
Contact: Guzauski-Swist Audio Systems, LLC | guzauski-swist.com
Ian Schreier is chief engineer/producer for Manifold Recording, a music production facility in North Carolina.