While looking for inspiration for my review of the Atohm GT-3 speakers from France, I watched the latest installment of The Grand Tour: Carnage A Trois. It got me thinking. Though the trio of self-proclaimed car guys were using tongue-in-cheek humor to discuss French cars, the show spoke to French ingenuity.
France is a country of passion, and passion is at the root of excellence. Fine wine and fine art immediately come to mind, and Paris is considered “The City of Lovers.” So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people of France are capable of creating objects of great passion and merit.
France doesn’t necessarily solicit feelings of technological acumen, however, but perhaps it should. With great passion comes an openness to the creative process and the ability to shatter paradigms and approach design from a fresh perspective, all while honoring some of the “old ways.” It would seem a paradox, but after listening to the Atohm GT-3 I can appreciate the French perspective a bit more.
I contacted Emilios of Audio Excellent, the US distributor for Atoll, so that I could review the new PR400 Signature preamplifier. When he offered me a package deal with Atohm speakers, I was a bit reluctant. I had never heard of Atohm before and neither had any of the folks at Part-Time Audiophile. As a reviewer there is always the fear of getting a product that you really don’t like, or worse, that you believe has serious flaws. But Emilios’ enthusiasm won me over and I took a risk–boy am I glad that I did!
Inside the Atohm GT-3
The Atohm GT-3 is the floorstanding flagship of Atohm’s GT Series. The lineup includes a bookshelf (GT-1), medium-size floorstander (GT-2), a subwoofer (GT-SW2), and a GT-CENTER for home theater applications. The GT here, by the way, stands for “Grand Thrill.”
Emilios sent along a user manual and technical book. The manual had setup recommendations and after playing with my standard setups I defaulted to the user manual’s recommendations. It gave the best imaging and there was plenty of bass. The Atohm GT-3 was one of the easiest and most forgiving speakers in terms of set-up I’ve ever had in my room.
The technical book detailed Atohm’s philosophy, technology, and design insights of the GT Series. Atohm designs their own drivers, called the Absolute Series, for the GT Series loudspeakers. The technical book is part brochure and part white paper. It’s impressive if you want to dig deeper without needing a math degree and harkens to that passion I mentioned above while delivering some innovative tech.
Standing at 43 inches tall, the Atohm GT-3 is what I would call a medium-sized speaker–for a flagship model, that is. The footprint is fairly compact and the speakers fit comfortably, both physically and aesthetically, in my 15′ by 20′ listening room.
The GT-3 comes with two styles of grills, a fabric speaker cloth held on by magnets or individual driver metal covers with a cloth overlay. I went to install the metal driver covers, but they were a tight fit between the frame and surround and I didn’t want to take any risks with damaging the drivers so I immediately abandoned installing these. I did install the cloth covers but there was a very slight misalignment of the magnets–I needed to apply a bit of pressure for the grilles to fit flush. Personally, I love looking at drivers so I did the majority of my listening au naturel.
The driver compliment includes a 28mm silk dome tweeter, a 6-inch midrange with a phase plug instead of a dust cap, and two 7-inch woofers. There’s also a bass port in the bottom plinth that can have a foam plug installed for additional bass tuning. It’s a quirky and inconvenient location, but it’s a set it once and done location. My review sample was an attractive rosewood veneer with piano lacquer finish. They are also available in black and white lacquer finishes as well. The construction of the cabinet and drivers and sense of quality is high. The price is $12,995/pair.
The GT Series use 1st Order crossovers, but instead of using stepped or steeply sloped baffles to achieve time and phase alignment they use custom designed filters. The GT-3 is packed full of all sorts of proprietary features and technology as well giving this speaker a 92 db efficiency capable of handling 300W of power. The treble and midrange can be adjusted independently via rear adjustment knobs on the back. Midrange and treble can be adjusted either +3 or -2 db to tailor the sonics to your tastes. I did most of my listening in the flat setting, but I did play with the adjustments a bit to see how they worked.
The Atohm GT-3 is available in an optional bi-wire configuration but the review pair used a single speaker binding post connector that accepted bananas, bare wire, or spades. The testing, design, and attention to detail is evident in the document and you can see it in the speaker. Much like their unusual car designs, leave it to the French to find a complex and unique solution to achieve their design objectives.
Associated equipment used during the review included the aforementioned Atoll PR400 Signature preamplifier, a Schiit Ragnarok 2 integrated (also used as a preamp only), an Atoll A400 power amplifier, First Watt SIT-1 mono blocks, an LSA Warp 1 amplifier, a DarkVoice headphone amp used as a preamp, a Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, a LampizatOr Golden Atlantic TRP DAC, a Shinola turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, and assorted cables and power strips from AudioQuest, Cardas, and Purist Audio.
My initial setup of the Atohm GT-3 was with the Atoll gear, the PR400 and A400. Let’s just say that the bass levels were crazy. The GT-3 specifications say these play down into the low 35Hz range, but the amount of bass developed by the dual 7-inch woofers is impressive. Bass is tighter and more authoritative than I was expecting. It was honestly too much and I can’t believe I am admitting that as I’m a bass head.
Maybe if I I pulled the speakers a little farther from the wall? It would have tamed it a bit., I’m sure But when I switched to the First Watt SIT-1 the bass levels were more appropriate and the imaging improved. The final amp that I did most of my listening with was the LSA Warp 1. Bass levels were somewhere between the A400 and the SIT-1 with imaging that was closer to the SIT-1 than the A400. All these amps rocked! I wished I had a nice tube amp on hand to play with on the GT-3. The SIT-1 was 10W, the Warp 1 and A400 are both 160W and both played the GT-3 as loud as I ever wanted. The SIT-1 definitely gave up something in the bass, but it was still plenty loud.
The bass definitely impressed me the most, but the midrange and tweeter are nearly as impressive. Bass was really easy to tune. Just moving the speaker a few inches from back wall into the room allowed for easy bass adjustments without much impact to imaging. Imaging was solid side to side and front to back. The speakers did a great job of disappearing into the background and just let the music fill the space.
Atohm GT-3 Sound
The Atohm GT-3 wasn’t the most neutral speaker I’ve heard. I’d have to give that honor to the Acoras I heard at Grover’s house. But there’s a very subtle warmth to the GT-3 in how it delivers the music. The midrange and tweeter are accurate and image great, but there’s an absence of any harshness. It’s like comparing a Camry and a BMW M5. Both will reach speeds in excess of 100 mph, but one of those vehicles is going to be comfortable and relaxed at 120 mph and the other is going to be a less than pleasant experience. So if you can call an M5 warm and relaxed, the GT-3 is like that.
I had both the DeVore Gibbon X and the Living Voice OBX-R3 in the system before the Atohm GT-3. All of these speakers are in the very competitive $10,000 to $15,000 price point. At this price point there’s certain expectations of a dynamic driver floor-stander. Bass has to be solid, midrange has to be amazing, and the tweeter is just as important as the rest. You should be able to build a seriously good hi-fi system around a speaker in this price point.
There’s also something about time and phase aligned 1st order crossover dynamic cone speakers that I find appealing. I’m unapologetic in saying that they are my favorite. It’s why the Vandersteen Model 3 is my reference. The Atohm GT-3 doesn’t play as deep as the Model 3, but the bass that it does deliver is far more dynamic and visceral. The midrange is as good as the Gibbon X and Living Voice, and that is very high praise. The Gibbon X tweeter was definitely hotter and all three imaged at very high levels. But there was this thing that the GT-3 did that made me keep putting it back into my system. It resonated in my soul.
And therein lies some of the inner truth of the Atohm GT-3. My reference Vandersteen Model 3 is a chameleon of a speaker. As the electronics change the character of the speaker can change, sometimes dramatically. It’s as if it almost has multiple personalities. The Atohm GT-3 seemed to be far more rooted in its sonic identity. Sure, changes in electronics still created changes in the sonics, but less than I was used to with other speakers.
Changes in bass were probably the most noticeable, but the midrange and tweeter hardly changed at all with changes in amps, preamps, or DACs compared to other speakers I’ve lived with. As a reviewer or tweaker this makes it challenging to hear the subtle differences between products, but as an audio enthusiast it makes system matching so much easier.
I can see many electronics working well with the Atohm GT-3. The GT-3 makes music sound great, even if there’s some hiccups in the recording. It’s not a smeary overly warm gooey type of speaker, not at all. It’s accurate without being harsh, dynamic without being forward and in your face, and neutral without being boring. It has this pinch of, oh it’s not warmth, but sense of ease and relaxedness that makes it really special.
Listening to Gods of Jazz’s Killer Bees, the bass has vibrate the floor slam and impact, fantastic left to right imaging and instrumental placement, and a believable t-ssht to the high hats and cymbals. Piano is rendered cleanly throughout the frequency band. Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It was rockin’ with that sweet Motown vibe. Joe Hisaishi’s Spirited Away had an ethereal and spooky quality that was congruent with the movie including great dynamics, attack and decay on the instruments. Trio Globo’s Steering by the Stars had terrific instrument placement and stringed instruments had a very tactile feeling to them.
On Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad Thing” the pain in his voice belts out of the soundstage coming forward when he shouts into the microphone. Rebecca Pigeon’s “Spanish Harlem” has a midrange suck out on many speakers due to Rebecca’s voice accompanied by string bass in a large reverberating church that reveals any midrange and low bass crossover issues. With the Atohm GT-3, it sounded good with no suck out or midrange smear. It passed the Prince Funk n Roll bass torture test admirably pressurizing the room and vibrating the floor. Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That” on Color Blind was slap-your-face rockin’.
Atohm GT-3 Conclusion
I think therein lies the soul of the Atohm GT-3. This is a music lover’s speaker. It is absolutely an audiophile’s speaker as well, but at times audiophiles can diverge into ruthless accuracy or tonal gooeyness. The GT-3 doesn’t follow either of these routes and focuses more on the heart of the music and less on the electronics. I will say that the Atohm GT-3 is one of my favorite speakers that I’ve ever had in my system.
One of the appealing aspects of certain gear is the ability to actually own it. Folks love to read reviews of the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini, but for most folks these are cars that they could never buy or afford to own. However, a Corvette review might not get as much attention, but the price point of a Corvette is much closer, with that appeal that perhaps some day I could own a Corvette. The Atohm GT-3 is not like a Corvette at all; it’s far more refined. I’d say more like an M5 or a swanky 6-series BMW, but again it’s just at or a step just beyond the threshold of ownership for a man of my means, which makes it all the more relevant and appealing to me.
I have two minds on the Atohm GT-3. If I quit my review gig for Part-Time Audiophile and just built a system for musical pleasure the Atohm GT-3 is a solid foundation to build a system around. My other mind is as an audio reviewer where I need to hear and compare subtle differences in gear, and the GT-3 waves a magic fairy wand and just makes stuff sound good, so it’s not great as a reviewing tool as you find yourself wrapped up in the music. However, that should not dissuade you from running out right now to find a local dealer so that you can audition this amazing speaker.