This is the second year in a row that I’ve agreed to transport a pair of review speakers from the Pacific Audio Fest back to the house, and it’s the second time my Mazda CX-5 turned out to be far too small for the job. Last year, it was the Sonner Audio Legato Duos, a floorstanding speaker that seems petite at first, but the backward rake of the enclosures and the fixed bases required a shipping carton much larger than the actual speaker. I could only fit one box in the CX-5. This year, I agreed to take the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB two-way monitors after the show. I thought that compared to the Sonners, this was going to be a breeze.
So I’m looking at the Studios, and they’re slightly bigger than average than most monitors, but I still know I won’t have the same problem as I did with the Sonners. Oh, the dedicated stands are coming as well? That shouldn’t be a huge problem, either. Then I saw the boxes for the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers and thought uh oh. Those are big boxes. Really big for two-way bookshelf speakers. Will they both fit in the Mazda?
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Why do the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdBs need such big boxes? Well, those speaker stands aren’t just dedicated, they’re affixed to the speakers and shipped together. At least they will be easy to unpack, I thought, if I can just squeeze them into my l’il SUV. They did fit–barely. You bet I’ll bring a measuring tape to Seattle in 2024.
There’s a reason, however, why the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB speakers need those stands in order to perform. They’re an essential part of the design. Back at the 2023 PAF, I sat in while Greg Weaver interviewed Eli and Ofra Gershman about their 3oth Anniversary Grand Avant Garde speakers, which were also playing in the room, and Eli (pronounced “Ellie,” if you were wondering) discussed how he was able to coax so much low frequency information from fairly small enclosures. One of the secrets, as it turns out, is those stands. With the Grand Avant Gardes, the substantial bases open into the rest of the enclosure, increasing the internal volume. With the Studio XdBs, it’s those stands that cause these speakers to reach so deeply into the bottom octaves.
I am surprised, however, that it’s taken me this long to have seat time with a Gershman Acoustics loudspeaker. I’ve known about them for so long–I told Ofra Gershman that I remember their ads in Stereophile back when the magazine was stapled together. For the last few audio shows I’ve made it a point to spend time in the Gershman room, steadily refamiliarizing myself with this Canadian brand. In each exhibit room, across a number of different models, I’ve noticed their exceptional talent for filling a big room with huge sound despite their somewhat compact dimensions. What makes them distinctive from other potent speaker designs is the tonal balance, however, which is absolutely lovely and musical.
Inside the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB
The first thing you’ll notice about the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers isn’t those dedicated, integral stands underneath. It’s that big disc on top of the speakers. It looks like a big flat French macaron, perhaps licorice-flavored, and every time I got close I was tempted to take a bite. At first I thought it was some sort of upward-firing driver, but when you get close enough to poke and prod at it you’ll find out it’s a very solid disc. If you knock on the enclosure of the XdBs, you’ll get sound. When you knock on the disc, however, you’ll hear nothing but your knuckles.
I asked Eli Gershman about this mysterious damping device, and here’s his reply:
“A carefully engineered resonance control device is situated atop the XdB’s speaker enclosure. This device serves a critical purpose, particularly due to the XdB’s remarkable ability to reproduce incredibly low frequencies. While low frequencies are captivating and immersive, they can also trigger resonances that hinder clarity and precision in audio reproduction.
“The resonance control device is strategically designed to counteract these potential issues. By bolting this substantial device onto the top of the speaker, we have managed to achieve a two-fold effect:
Elimination of Vibration: The resonance control device effectively absorbs and dissipates vibrations that may arise due to the speaker’s powerful low-frequency reproduction. These vibrations, if left unchecked, could otherwise lead to audible distortions and a loss of clarity in the sound output.
Sound Enhancement: The added mass and specific tuning of the resonance control device interact with the speaker’s structure in a way that counterbalances and neutralizes unwanted resonances. This results in improved sound clarity and imaging accuracy, creating a more immersive and faithful representation of the original audio content. “
Ofra Gershman also gave me the scoop on how the integrated stand is able to extend those low frequencies through a Bass Trap, or as it’s technically known, Back-wave Control Technology (BCT):
“This groundbreaking invention has been seamlessly integrated into the stand of our XdB model, following its initial introduction in the Grand Avant Garde design. The BCT system, short for Back-wave Control Technology, represents a proprietary invention by Eli Gershman, and it is a key component within both the Grand Avant Garde and XdB speaker models. The concept behind BCT is to effectively manage and optimize the behavior of bass frequencies within the speaker enclosure, resulting in a heightened audio experience.
“In the Grand Avant Garde model, the BCT system combines with a resistive line within the main bass enclosure. The purpose here is to ingeniously ‘trick’ the bass units into perceiving a larger internal volume than actually exists. This clever manipulation helps improve bass response and control, creating a more accurate and dynamic low-frequency performance.
“Now, within the XdB model, we have taken this technology a step further by integrating it into the stand, which is securely bolted to the bottom of the XdB enclosure. This innovation works in tandem with the stand’s design, leveraging the principles of BCT to optimize audio precision.
“The combination of the tuned venting and the interior matrix constructed within the oblong base of the XdB stand results in a pressure differential between the main cabinet and the base. This differential effectively directs the energy of the back-wave produced by the bass units into the acoustically and mechanically isolated base element. Here, the back-wave energy is carefully dissipated, significantly reducing intermodulation distortion and minimizing re-radiation through the cone. In essence, the Bass Trap technology serves as a formidable guardian against unwanted distortions and resonances that can negatively impact sound quality.”
The 8″ aluminum woofer features a double-magnet structure which is known for its “excellent bass response and transient accuracy,” mated to a modified 1” Peerless silk dome tweeter from Denmark. The crossovers are hand-built, with point-to-point wiring and high-quality parts.
In addition to that very impressive frequency response from 23Hz-24 KHz, the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers also have a sensitivity of 87 dB, with an impedance of 6 Ohms. The recommended power is 70w-500w.
The Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers were installed in what I now term my inaugural Lake House system, meaning this was the first system I assembled right after we moved into our new home. This includes the Audio-gd Master 10 Mk. 2 integrated amplifier, linked to the XdBs with ArgentPur speaker cables, and both the Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard and the Music Hall Stealth turntables. Digital was supplied by an all-star cast: Innuos Pulsar streamer, Antipodes Oladra music server and the Merason DAC-1 Mk. II converter. This has been a gem of a system, very welcoming in tone, placed in a room that already fosters great low frequency performance.
I did have one issue with setting up the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers, and it had a lot to do with the stands, but more to do with the thick, cushy carpet in my new listening room. (Yes, hardwood floors has been designated as a future project.) The XdBs are top-heavy since the actual base of the speaker is surprisingly light. A clumsy person–and there are currently two living in this house–would have no problem knocking one of these speakers over.
Gershman Acoustics did provide me with a set of IsoAcoustics Gaia isolation feet for the XdBs, which are included in the $11,995/pr price. They’re nicely finished, and they have grippy rubber on the bottom which would be ideal for bare floors. I paired the Gaias with Carbide Bases from Carbide Audio, which stabilized the stands–although the tweeters of the Gershman Studio XdBs were raised a few inches. The tweeters were still just below my ear level, and I heard a small improvement in imaging and a large improvement in earthquake preparedness. Over time, however, the Gaias were able to settle into the carpet and I went back to reviewing the XdBs in stock form.
When I mentioned this to Ofra Gershman she replied, “We offer special IsoAcoustics devices, which are placed under the Gaia feet to enhance and stabilize speakers on thicker carpets.” As I said, this wasn’t the fault of the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB. It’s just something you need to consider when purchasing these speakers.
Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB Sound
When I first installed the Studio XdBs in my system and played the first album–the Analogue Productions remaster of Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’, a huge smile crept across my mug. These are warm, rich speakers, the kind of speakers that sound like they’re being driven by a low-powered tube SET. (The Audio-gd Master 10 Mk. 2 integrated operates mostly in a complicated type of class A, so for a high-powered solid-state amp it sounds slightly warm on its own.)
Soft? Rolled-off? Not at all. While the overall balance of the XdBs was lush and seductive, all of the pertinent detail was still right there, where it was supposed to be. I worried that they might be too warm at first, but I let them play for a few days. (This pair had been already broken-in–in the PAF room at the very least.) While I could have easily loved that viscous tinge that soaked through the music, I was somewhat relieved that the speakers opened up after about 48 hours and started delivering the type of sound commensurate with a $12K pair of two-way monitors–even if the stands are included.
Where the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdBs diverge from the distinctive sound of SET/full-range single-driver territory is that truly incredible low frequency performance. Yes, the Studio XdBs have a frequency response of 23Hz-24kHz, and yes, they’re still a bookshelf monitor–albeit one that weighs 68 pounds per side. With “Just a Little Lovin’,” I heard more textures and layers in that memorable electric bass, and I heard and felt an extra push of air when the music hit me square in the torso. I’ve been listening to quite a few remarkable stand-mounts since I moved to the Oregon Coast, but I’ll dare to say that the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers are the winner when it comes to dancing the acoustical limbo. They went low.
On “Paper Tiger” from the MoFi remaster of Beck’s Sea Change, the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB speakers did an outstanding job of separating the singer and his core band from the larger string orchestra surrounding the rear of the stage without doing two things many speakers get wrong. First, I’ve heard speakers fail to find a balance between Beck and the strings, with one or the other becoming too dominant. The second thing, related to the first, is making sure the two components of this performance blend to the point where you can imagine them in the room together, recording it all in a single take.
The Gershmans passed both tests with flying colors. This was, indeed, a very coherent presentation.
One particularly memorable listening session occurred with the Rhymoi Records’ LP of The Dancing Girl from Izu. This is one of Rhymoi’s latest, impeccably recorded and pressed, and it features a variety of Japanese and Chinese artists performing popular songs from their homelands, everything from “Love Me Tender” to “Snow Flakes” and “Red Bean.” I was worried that this lush, hypnotic album would be too lush when played through the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB loudspeakers, but after the first few notes I felt a rush of emotion well up inside of me, a profound feeling of intimacy between the listener and the performers. I’m trying to pick the right word here, but seduction comes to mind again, especially in the way I just dropped all pretenses of being a thinking person and succumbed to the music.
That may not even be the best part–I was playing this LP on the Music Hall Stealth direct-drive turntable which comes fitted with an Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge for $1,695 complete. This inexpensive analog rig was incredibly musical and solidly in space, and while I’m going to have fun trying the Stealth with a variety of upscale MC cartridges I am simply a fan of the 2M Blue and I don’t think my experience with the Stealth will change that one bit.
I’ve gone off the tracks a bit, but the point is that the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB speakers have that gorgeous tonality that used to be the only thing I wanted from a pair of speakers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gorgeous tonality, of course, but my time with the XdBs was shared with the Piega Coax 411 monitors, which are three-way bookshelves with very heavy aluminum enclosures, I’m extremely happy with either speaker in this current reference system, and they’re priced about the same, but I’m gonna be frank–they don’t sound anything like each other, or at least their differences are far more numerous than their similarities. The Gershmans are rich and warm and lovable, and the Piegas are precise and powerful and exquisite in their focus on inner detail and spatial cues (i.e. imaging and soundstaging).
Am I being wishy-washy? Of course not. That’s why people have turntables with two or more arms. Some music sounds better one way, and some music better another way. But with all of the fine speakers I’ve been reviewing in the last few months, the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB was my easy preference for vinyl–especially with that modest but excellent Music Hall rig. And that seems perfectly reasonable to me, based upon my entire audio journey.
Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB Conclusions
Have you ever read a high-end audio review where the writer concludes that this product wasn’t necessarily for them, but others might like it? Yeah yeah, there’s a bunch of those out there. This is a review where I really enjoyed the product, but want to stress that some people might find the balance of the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB a little warm. If you’re like me and you need a little warmth in order to feel sane in this otherwise white-knuckled world, then listen up. This is the loudspeaker for you.
The Studio XdBs are not too warm. Not by a mile. Inner detail was preserved in a fastidious manner. Nothing was tossed into the roadside ditch–the music was delivered as intended. But I had this distinct impression that I was being embraced by the sound, and that I was somehow being rewarded for being a decent person. That’s how your hi-fi system should make you feel, as if you deserve this level of performance.
But hold on a moment. You want deep low frequencies? You want to energize a large room? Or maybe you’re the type of person who thinks two-way bookshelves don’t pack enough suds, and that a transducer won’t rock unless you’re looking at 12″ woofers, minimum? This is the two-way stand-mount speaker that will probably shut you up. The very fact that the Gershman Acoustics Studio XdB offers both of these skills in equal measure makes them quite unique in high-end audio. I enjoyed every minute with them.