I’ve just recently been introduced to the Carver Amazing loudspeaker system, with its dipole ribbon and dipole dynamic bass system. It’s been over a decade since Carver ceased manufacture of the Amazing speakers, and I’m surprised that in all that time, only one other company has ventured into this market sector with something of a Carver clone – Gilmore Audio.

To say that the Gilmore Audio is a clone of the Carver Amazing (Platinum version, to be specific), is probably something of an injustice to Mark Gilmore, owner and developer of this impressive loudspeaker system.

So my story starts in late October 2012, when an audiophile friend of mine invited me round to hear his new Carver Amazing originals. His room is less than ideal for what is a fairly large speaker, though his Krell FPB700 is more than capable of driving their low impedance and low sensitivity load.

I was quite impressed with what I heard that day, so much so that I made a point of closely watching the used/trade websites to see what was available. This speaker is most likely to show up on Craigslist and/or eBay, and quite often the seller will have a distorted view of the speaker’s true worth. In fact, in a relatively short space of time I saw Carver Amazing’s ranging in price from $450 all the way up to $2500.

You can ask whatever price you want to ask for a decade old speaker system, but from what I’ve seen, I’d rate their value loosely as follows:

Original Carver Amazing in good functional and cosmetic condition:

These seem to trade at the lower end of the scale as they’re a beast to drive, around $800 would be a fair price for a clean, functional pair.

Carver Amazing Platinum Edition

These are all over the board. The model numbers reflect a progressive evolution from MKI up to MKIV and obviously one would expect the later editions to sound the best and perhaps be in better cosmetic condition.

A good pair would be valued around $900 – $1100

Carver Amazing Silver Edition

These seem to be about as rare as rocking horse droppings, in fact I haven’t seen one used in around 2 months of looking nationwide.

There’s also an upgraded Carver Amazing Original, with 60″ ribbon units, original honeycomb bass drivers and a modified XO.

So I found a pair online and 24 hrs later I had them in my system making music. The pair I bought are the upgraded originals with a 60″ ribbon to replace the 2 x 30″ units found on the earlier models. I snagged them at a good price due largely to a slight buzz on the right side ribbon unit.

Repairs and replacements for the woofers are fairly easy to come by, for the ribbons, not so. There’s one guy in Florida offering refurbishments and the cost runs at around $1000 / pair. For this you have to send your existing units in, and he’ll restore them to “better than new condition”. If you need an email for him, drop me a line using the contact link at the top of the page.

As far as new units go, there aren’t any for the Platinum edition. The Originals have the 2 x 30″ units and there’s a B&G replacement that will fit into the Carver frame. But it’s different sonically and electrically so there’s a need to modify the XO to accommodate it’s specific properties.

How do they sound?

The Amazing’s sound quite big. They don’t suffer from the bloated image problem that I found with the Magnepan 3.6R reviewed here. With the horizontal stage, it’s difficult to get the Amazing’s to open up. Depth is good, first class in fact. The ribbon doesn’t have the forwardness of the Maggie ribbon, it’s a little more laid back and less energetic. The sound tends to be more recessed than other planars I’ve heard, it’s pushed farther back and it has a sense of being a little veiled and dark. Transients, though quick and full, don’t have the sparkle, snap and air when compared to something like an Apogee Caliper or indeed the Magnepan 3.6R.

I think much of this is probably crossover related. There’s no reason the 60″ ribbon shouldn’t perform well, I believe the limitations come from a XO designed on a fairly tight budget. Obviously one of my next steps will be to open them up and upgrade the XO with new, higher quality passive components.

Carver Amazing SpeakersThe bass on the Carver’s is a little contentious. In my buddie’s rig I heard a lot more bass from his setup. I think much of it was room induced and it got up and in the way of the lower mids with a thickness and smearing. In my system, the bass is less full, more taught, and just as extended. There’s less of it and it’s of better quality – though it’s not perfect. Incidentally, my amp is far less powerful than that used by my associate. I use a Conrad Johnson CA200 with only 300w into 4 ohms. It will be interesting to hear how a more powerful amp sounds, and I’ll report in when that happens.

Back to the bass. There’s a thuddiness in the upper bass which gets a little annoying. It’s almost like the sound of a ported bass being overdriven, not quite a chuffiness, just a chesty thump. This could be caused by any number of issues, perhaps the amp is being over-driven, a cable mismatch, room acoustics, or even an XO issue. We’ll see.

So as it stands it’s a flawed speaker, or at least a speaker which delivers a flawed sound in my room. But there’s potential for greatness from this speaker system, I’m quite sure of it. I’ve read professional reviews dating back over a decade which compare the original Carver Amazing alongside all-time greats like the Wilson Alexandria. Not that they sound remotely similar, but that they’re in the same sonic league.

I plan to update this article with more information. I’ll keep it as a running series and report as changes are made. So bookmark this page, as they say!

As for the Gilmore Audio speakers, they’re one of life’s mysteries to me. I remember reviews coming from either Stereophile or The Absolute Sound from a few years back. The reviews were full of superlatives but ultimately the reviewer was left frustrated with some aspect of their sound. Always the bass was considered exemplary, but some aspect of the ribbon / bass integration caused frustration.

So I don’t see much discussion on the Gilmore Audio Model 2’s and Model 3’s in online forums and I’ve never seen one pop up via the usual used channels. I’ve emailed the owner, Mark Gilmore and he was helpful and responsive to some basic questions regarding spare ribbons. I’ve emailed the Gilmore Audio distributors, Glacier Audio, and they were unresponsive. I’ve been back and forth with one of the three listed home-dealers, Paul Speltz out in MN. Paul owns both the Model 2 and Model 3 and kindly invited me out for a demo, which I plan to do in the new year. Between the 3 sources, I get the impression that not many of these speaker systems are being sold. That’s a shame if indeed it is the case. Everything I’ve read about them says that they build on the sonics of the Carver Amazing, so they must be great sounding speakers, even if they have some flaws. What speaker isn’t flawed in some way?

I’LL BE BACK – with some updates as they occur.

Rzr

UPDATE Feb 2013 –

Well, things have changed on the equipment front, for the better. Before the Holidays I picked up a Supratek Chenin Preamp and a pair of Spread Spectrum Technologies Ampzilla 2000 monoblocks.

The Chenin is a wonderful preamp with a nice warm midrange, extended highs, though is just a tad soft in the bass. It provides a nice layered sound with a slightly recessed stage.

The Ampzilla 2000 monos are amazing. I’d had a set of Odyssey Audio Mono Extremes upgraded to Glass Ceiling status, and to put it mildly, the Ampzilla amps pretty much smoked them. The Odyssey amps and warm and lush and tube-like in many ways, but the Ampzilla’s are much more neutral. But neutral in a good, natural sense, not the etchy solid state neutral that many of the bigger power amps seem to have (Krell, for example).

Also, I snagged a new ribbon on eBay to replace the right channel in the Carver Amazing, which has had an annoying buzz since I bought the speakers. It’s on its way to me as I type this, so I’ll post another update at some point soon.

But all in all these are remarkable speakers, particularly when driven with good quality gear. There’s absolutely nothing ‘vintage’ or ‘dated’ about the way they perform. Feed them with the right signal and enough power and they’ll open up into a tremendously agile performer.

I’ve also spent a little more time playing with positioning the Carvers, and they do respond to very small changes in position. They respond well to being placed well off the front wall, I have them around 75″ and it really helps with stage depth, layering and transparency. Though the midbass suffers a little when you drop the boundary reinforcement from closer-to-wall placement.

If you can snag a pair of Carver Amazing on the cheap, as I did, then provided you have the room and the gear you’ll probably never look back. These smoke the Magnepan 3.6R‘s in every way. How they stack against the bigger 20.1’s I can’t say, since I haven’t heard them.

Rooze