Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 Subwoofer Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 Subwoofer Review

Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 Subwoofer

By Jim Wilson (theJman)



Introduction
The subject of this review is... take a deep breath, because this is a long one... the Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 subwoofer. While the name is pretty large the subwoofer itself isn't, measuring 20"x14"x16" (HWD) at its largest points without the grill. Because it's not the typical box shape it actually looks rather unobtrusive when viewed in person. According to the Anthony Gallo Acoustics (AGA) website A CL-S12 weighs 53 pounds, while the manual says it's 63. The review unit came in at 61.

The CL-S12 utilizes a single 12" driver, but instead of a typical bass reflex port the enclosure employs what AGA calls "a modified transmission line". The port opening exits to the rear of the enclosure and measures a generous 2"x12" (HW). The class D amp is rated at 500 watts RMS, 1000 watts peak. The quoted frequency response is 16Hz-200Hz +/-3dB.


Ordering
The Classico CL-S12 subwoofer retails for $999 and is available directly from Anthony Gallo Acoustics. Most of what AGA sells is available directly now, but that wasn't always the case. I recall a time -- not too long ago actually -- when they sold most (all?) of their products through dealers. They still appear to employ a dealer network, but it's no longer mandatory that you purchase from one of them it seems.

There is a 1 year parts and labor warranty included with the CL-S12, but that can be extended to 2 years if you register within the first 60 days. Speaking of 60 days, that's how long AGA gives for an in-home trial. By current standards that's considerable. Where they also go above and beyond is with their shipping policy; it's free, both ways. If you decide not to keep any AGA product they pay for return shipping, so you have absolutely nothing to lose if you want to experience anything they make in your own home.


Unboxing
The Classico CL-S12 came single boxed, but thankfully it was at least a thick one. We all know how shipping companies seem to be handling packages these days, so in my mind there's never enough protection for something this heavy. The subwoofer itself was wrapped in a cloth sheet and placed inside a plastic bag. The CL-S12 was shipped on its side, cradled by molded hard styrofoam blocks that covered the entire top and bottom of the box. Both were broken from impacts though, furthering my comment about package handling (and reinforcing why I really dislike hard styrofoam so much; it's far too fragile).

Included accessories consist of the owners manual, a 3 prong power cord and four soft gel discs with no designated purpose - there wasn't any mention of them in the manual, nor on AGA's website, so I simply left them in the box. [UPDATE: After going to press the VP Of Operations for AGA contacted me to clarify the purpose of the discs. His statement was "The 4 gel pads were to be placed under each corner of the sub. Anthony really feels that they help the sound on both floor surfaces and carpet."]


Impressions
By now pretty much everyone knows I really enjoy evaluating products from companies who think outside the box, those that aren't afraid to buck convention and try something different. Anthony Gallo Acoustics definitely fits the mold; a quick browse of their website clearly shows that Anthony himself has no problem attacking things from a completely different angle. The Classico line of speakers and subwoofers are no exception, even though they're his most "conventional" series. It seems Mr. Gallo and I are kindred spirits in that regard.

AGA has created a very stout cabinet for the CL-S12, one that easily passes the proverbial 'knuckle rap test'. It's made from 1" MDF and elicits words like "solid" and "substantial". The deep black wood veneer on the test unit was applied flawlessly, no small feat considering all the angles there are. Construction quality was first-rate, with the exception of the screw tightness. Every single screw on the driver took 1-2 full turns in order to snug down. Oddly the amp was the exact opposite; there wasn't a single screw even the slightest bit loose.

At the risk of sounding overly blunt, the grill needs a complete reboot. It starts with my own proclivity; I don't like protruding metal grills at all. Personally I think they look totally out of place (SVS does it as well, and I don't like theirs either). The CL-S12's is held on by magnets -- meaning no holes in the cabinet face for pins, which is a good thing -- but it wasn't easy to align or attach. It seemed no matter what I did it always landed askew and needed to be adjusted. Furthermore, during movies with deep bass content it would walk around. That meant your carefully aligned grill would end up looking like someone hit it with a right cross. After putting it back where it was supposed to be about half a dozen times I decided that leaving it off for the duration of the review was the best course of action. Because of my personal situation having no grill is not really an issue, but for those with kids and/or pets you might not get off so easily.

And while I'm complaining... the auto on/standby feature needs some attention; the CL-S12 went into standby mode far too easily and quickly. On occasion it also seemed to get "confused" about what it wanted to do and would turn on and off in quick succession, several times in a single minute even. That happened often while watching sports, which I do on a regular basis. There were even times I was listening to music at -30dB and the amp would go into standby. It became so frustrating after a while that I just left the power on, completely forgoing the standby function.

Thumbing through the owner's revealed this to be a curious piece of documentation. On the one hand it contains a tremendous amount of useful information and should enable virtually anyone to hook up the CL-S12 and get the most out of it. The paper stock is high quality and the font is very legible. However, the pagination and layout are way off, leading one to believe it went to press before anyone really had the opportunity to proof it. There are several instances where it will start to explain something then say that particular item is "detailed further in the manual" or "please see XXXX below", yet it's never discussed again. On a few occasions I noticed references to web links, as though you can click on them in a paper manual. I suspect the original version was in PDF format and wasn't "fixed" prior to being sent to the typesetter for printing.

While reading deeper into the manual I uncovered a very odd passage that stated the amp would "run warmer at idle than at full output". Curious about what seemed to be a contradiction I dug even further and found a claim that stated "air passing through the BLAST port (BLAST is discussed in further detail below) will cool the amplifiers heat sinks". With a chuckle I added it to my review notes, fully intending to delve into the concept at a later date. Which I did, and it turns out to be a true statement; since I was never able to use standby mode the amp was on 100% of the time. Feeling the back plate, even at idle, made it apparent a small amount of heat was being perpetually generated. However, after pushing the CL-S12 during the movie tests I found that the amp did indeed run cooler when the subwoofer was pounding out bass. It seems the CL-S12 enjoys being pushed, so I guess you needn't worry about turning up the volume for extended periods of time.

The Class D amp includes most of the typical connections and controls that a subwoofer in this price class should have, so there's really nothing to confound the majority of people. One unique feature though is the Bass Equalization switch, which has 0dB, +3dB and +6dB settings. This will boost the Classico CL-S12's 25dB output to match the respective setting, enabling you to adjust the amount of deep bass. I wasn't able to find any information about the "width" of the boost, so I don't know how much of the surrounding frequencies are affected by this setting. The crossover dial only indicates the extremes available -- in this case 50Hz and 200Hz -- so for people such as myself, who like to adjust the low pass filter, it can be a bit challenging. I would prefer the dial at least indicate the THX standard 80Hz setting.

The 12" driver is very impressive looking, with a beefy feel to it. There's no dustcap so the entire cone is one continuous piece. It's constructed from a ceramic and aluminum "sandwich" that, according to AGA, is 'created at a molecular level by a unique anodizing process'. That's obviously not something I'll be able to verify, but I can say it feels very rigid (which is a huge bonus for a subwoofer driver). The large half-roll rubber surround easily matches the strength of the driver's cone. All of this is motivated by a huge pair of magnets jutting out from the back of the frame. There's abundant venting for both the voice coil and the spider. Everything is wrapped in a very stout powdercoated frame. This driver appears to be made for the long haul.

The damping material used is proprietary to Anthony Gallo Acoustics. Called S2, it's a composite made from polyolefin plastic flakes and packed into polypropylene "stockings". There were four of these stockings inside the review unit, each about the size of your forearm. AGA claims that S2 "mechanically couples with the rear pressure waves within the enclosure at low frequencies. The result is that it not only tricks the driver into behaving as if it were in a larger enclosure, it actually lowers the resonant frequency of the driver/enclosure combination. This enables it to produce deeper and more powerful bass than it ordinarily would". Two of these stockings were partially stuffed into the slot port, creating an aperiodic-like system. During my tests I observed that even when pushed hard comparatively little air was exiting the port. Anthony Gallo Acoustics calls the combination of S2 and the custom port BLAST (Backwave Linerarization and Synchronization Technology).

The manual states that 50-100 hours are needed for the driver to break in and to allow the S2 enough time to settle. It goes on to say the Classico CL-S12 will play "significantly louder" once fully broken in. I don't know that it got significantly louder for me, but there were definite improvements after it had run for a few dozen hours. At the very beginning of the testing some S2 flakes were spit out of the port, but nothing all that concerning. I attributed it to strays from the manufacturing process, because after that first batch there was nothing else observed.


Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 ft^3), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 50 hours.

The Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 is no wall flower; regardless of what you're listening to it lets you know it's there and ready for action. Although initially I found it a bit temperamental to get tuned properly -- the gain seems to be rather sensitive, so it's not difficult to get into a 'too much or too little' scenario -- the vast majority of the time I had the CL-S12 it was an absolute pleasure. Generally speaking the bass has a deep and rich sound. My notes are replete with words like "crisp", "precise", "dynamic", "sharp" and "agile". The sound is both full-bodied and pitch perfect at the same time, not an easy feat to accomplish. Port noise interrupted the serenity during some deep bass passages while playing blu-rays at spirited volumes, but until that occurred the overall sound of the CL-S12 was very enjoyable.


Movies
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level, which is slightly above what I would normally use on a day-to-day basis.

At first I set the Bass Equalization switch to +3db in order to add a bit of punch in the low bass region. That did increase the depth and impact slightly, but also introduced additional port noise. Ultimately I turned it off and watched all the movies without any boost.

Overall I found the CL-S12 just a touch short of guttural and wished for more depth on a few occasions. Mind you it was never weak, but there were a couple of times I would have liked a little more punch. What I never found lacking were the dynamics; this subwoofer is very precise and articulate, effortlessly producing complex or heavily textured bass passages. One of the CL-S12's greatest strengths is when not needed it simply gets out of the way and loafs along without forcing itself on the soundtrack. When called upon the CL-S12 quickly swings back to life and makes its presence known again. I was so impressed by that trait I actually tested it with two completely different sets of speakers, and in each instance it blended seamlessly.

Cloverfield (blu-ray)
When the initial explosion occurs -- as the invading creature first starts attacking NYC -- the Classico responded with extraordinary definition, but could only muster a slight tactile sensation. The second explosion, the one that precedes the Statue Of Liberty's head being tossed onto the street, was more of the same; excellent precision, but accompanied by only a little ground trembling.

The remainder of the movie chronicles the travails of 4 people trying to navigate the carnage that ensues as the creature terrorizes Manhattan. The hapless quartet is bent on reaching a friend who was seriously injured during the initial rampage. They proceed irrespective of how much they jeopardize their own safety. It doesn't take very long before they come face-to-face with the beast, and get caught between it and the military. During that exchange the soldiers unleash a barrage of artillery and small arms fire, all of which the CL-S12 rendered beautifully. I would have liked a touch more impact during the explosions, but the scene was realistic and believable nonetheless.

Underworld: Awakening (blu-ray)
Toward the beginning of scene 9 -- where the half-breed child Eve is repeatedly cutting her arm because she's fascinated that it instantly heals -- there's a deep pounding sound that heralds the Lycans arrival. The CL-S12 rendered that with a solid thud and very good clarity. The soundtrack as the Vampires prepare for battle with the Lycans is supposed to create an ominous sensation, which this subwoofer achieved with ease. As the battle rages on the various elements -- impacts from the beasts, gunfire, explosions -- were all very clear and distinct. Regardless of how frantic the action was the CL-S12 was up to the task.

Without question my favorite part is when the huge Lycan appears for the first time. As Selene is surveying the Rotunda you hear the massive thuds created by the footsteps of the approaching Lycan, each of which is supposed to cause the ground to shake. The CL-S12 wasn't quite up to the task of creating subterranean ripples, but it did shine when it came to clearly defining the individual sounds that make up the cacophony of noise associated to the lumbering beast. In particular I found his growl very satisfying, which the CL-S12 produced with a level of definition that few other subwoofers I've heard have been able to achieve.

War Of The Worlds (blu-ray)
I thought it was time to go back to one of my old standbys, and WOTW's certainly qualifies. As is my custom I queued up The Machine Emerges and cranked the volume. The sound of buckling pavement as the Tripod fights its way to the surface was realistic and precise, and ultimately proved to be one of the better renditions I've heard in a while. The Heat Ray had a fantastic "pop" to it, with every subtle variation in its tone very evident. The Tripod's bellow just before it descends upon the crowd gathered at the Hudson Ferry was awesome, as was the rumble from the creature that emerges from the river and capsizes the ferry as the ship is trying to escape all the havoc.

10,000 BC (DVD)
I only use this movie for the two scenes associated to the mammoths. In the first one they're simply milling around, grazing in the grasslands unaware of what's about to transpire. As they plod about their massive feet produce ground-shaking ripples. The CL-S12 imparted a fairly solid amount of impact, but I never felt compelled to look over my shoulder to see if anything was gaining on me. During the subsequent scene -- when the mammoth herd is running away from the warriors bent on taking one of them down -- this little subwoofer did remarkably well. During both scenes the tone and definition were never in question; even at the height of the stampede I was able to clearly identify individual footsteps of the mammoths. There was no smearing whatsoever, meaning the turmoil never became one indecipherable rumble as lesser subs often do with this scene.


After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten, but there was little in the way of heat. True to what I had mentioned earlier, the amp actually does seem to run cooler when you drive it hard. That's a very interesting behavior, and is not something I recall encountering before.


Music
While I tend to push every subwoofer during the music tests I've also begun to run those that exhibit excellent dynamics and strong transient response at a decreased volume in order to gauge their low-level resolution. I still crank them up for some of the songs, but on others I drop the volume and listen closely to see if the sound quality suffers. Turns out the Classico CL-S12 couldn't care less; it had no problem with high or low volume, maintaining composure either way.

Bad Company - Movin' on (CD)
Speaking of low volume listening I give you the first such track, Movin' On. Unlike some people from my generation I never really thought Bad Company was an 'A' list band. Sure, they had some good songs, but there were just too many simple/cheap ones in their catalog for my liking.

Movin' On was included on perhaps my favorite Bad Company album, the onymous first one they released. Simon Kirke's drumming is pretty generic on this track, so the CL-S12 didn't have to expend much effort there. Boz Burrell's bass lick was what I primarily focused on, and it's here that I was most impressed with AGA's subwoofer. The notes came across sharp and focused with excellent pitch definition, helping to carry the funky groove of the song from beginning to end.

Tony McAlpine - Serpens Cauda (CD)
From Tony's eponymous CD, which is also his 11th studio offering. Tony wrote, composed and produced all the material, which is fairly typical for him. What's also standard fare is the fact that most of the instruments were played by Tony himself; all the guitar work -- using 6, 7 and yes, 8 string guitars! -- the keyboards and the bass.

Serpens Cauda loosely translates into 'the serpents tail', which seems to be a reference to one of the 88 constellations. While most of what Tony does is simply hard for me to fathom, it was Virgil Donati's drumming that I wanted to hear on the CL-S12. Virgil lays down an almost constant barrage of triplets, often times in quick succession, which should give fits to a subwoofer that doesn't handle attack and decay properly. Not a problem here though, for they were all spot on; fast, solid and precise. Increasing the volume didn't seem to make any difference; the CL-S12 exhibited no breakup, all I heard was pure clean sound.

Motley Crue - Kick Start My Heart (CD)
Based upon my past history some of you probably saw this one coming. Yes, Kick Start My Heart is somewhat pretentious, but it's still a good tune to exercise a subwoofer with. And you can bet I gave the CL-S12 a workout; this one didn't get played with any restraint, not even for a second. I cranked it up to 11 and let the excesses of a hair band at their zenith wash over me. Every time Tommy Lee stomped down on that kick drum the sub let out a "thud", just like it would at a live Crue show. This one turned out to be a lot of fun. Think I'll play it again...

Soundgarden - Outshined (CD)
After the previous two driving, high energy songs it seemed time for a switch. Outshined is one of my all-time favorites from Soundgarden. It has a deep, brooding sound with an almost sinister feel to it, similar to an early Black Sabbath song. Perfect for a subwoofer test, as far as I'm concerned. The slow, almost lazy rhythm, allowed me to concentrate on nuance this time. Ben Shepard detuned his bass and added a bit of fuzz on this one, which together creates a bottom-heavy feel that the Cl-S12 ate up. Both veracious and detailed, everything about this song just seemed right.


Conclusion
The Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 presents an interesting dichotomy; very good for HT, but excellent for music. Whether you're merely listening to a CD -- or even just watching TV -- you'll want for little, but slip in a blu-ray and the results aren't quite as clear cut. Few subwoofers have this level of fidelity or poise, save for the occasional port chuffing when pushed, but a little more depth would have been nice. AGA does things in a manner like no one else, which I certainly applaud, but a few quirks kept me from falling in love with it. Built like a tank, and possessing magnificent sound quality, the Classico CL-S12 is a solid option for the person in need of a compact subwoofer.


Please use the Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-S12 Subwoofer Discussion Thread for questions and comments



Classico CL-S12 Pictures




Classico CL-S12 Measurements

These measurements were taken using XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro. The unit was indoors, physically positioned in the center of my listening room with no other speakers running.

This represents the individual performance of the driver (green trace) and port (blue trace)


This represents the Spectrograph of the driver by itself


This represents the Spectrograph of the port by itself

-Jim

If you take yourself too seriously, expect me to do the exact opposite

Last edited by theJman; 09-25-13 at 11:52 AM. Reason: Clarified AGA's position regarding the gel discs
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