GMA Callisto VS. Merlin TSM

As the title says, only if you have had listened both!
What are ups and downs? And the winner for you is?
I am a Callisto owner, and a big fan of the speaker. However, I am contributing this thread not to compare the two and pick a "winner", but to point out that when comparing two (or more) well designed components of reasonably similar quality, there really can't be a clear winner, as it ALWAYS boils down to system synergy.

So, for example, I recently auditioned four different, well-regarded CD players (RA Opus 21, AR CD3, AA Prima MkII, and EMC-1UP) in my system. I ended up preferring (and keeping) the EMC-1, but it would be silly of me to claim that it is superior to the others, as it had only "won" in my system. I'm quite certain that if I listened to the same four players in other systems, my order of preference would change repeatedly.

I'm not suggesting that it isn't fun, or even useful to compare the qualities of individual components, but picking winners can do a disservice to those who are either new to high-end audio, or don't recognize the importance of auditioning a component in their own system before making a judgement.

Tony C.
I understand it is very subjective and that is why my question specifies "FOR YOU". That means it is subjective to your system and preferences. The winner will not mean it is absolutely superior.
I won neither but have heard both at CES- The Callistos in 2005 and the Merlins in 2006. Both are winners. I'd go with the Merlins myself. IMMV.
in a nearfield setting, the merlin mm....otherwise its a toss up
Thanks for the inputs!
I wanted to know if they are categorized as same kind in ways of presentation or not.
i have not heard the merlin, but I do have the Calliso in a nearfield listening position. I love it: the dynamics, the clarity and liquidity of the vocals and wide and deep soundstage. also, there is far more clean and deep bass than i expected from a rather small speaker ( i have them on 24" skylan stands,mass loaded with sand). sorry that i can't do a direct comparison.
I personally don't see how these two speakers can be similar in presentation. GMA uses a 1st order, time and phase aligned crossover network. Merlin uses a 2nd order, non time and phase aligned crossover. Merlin doesn't devulge it's design secrets, but in a thread on Audio Asylum, Bobby from Merlin did say the drivers were wired in phase. If thats true, (and designers feel free to chime in here if i'm wrong), you will have a 3db "suck out" at the x-over point requiring additional crossover parts to "smooth out" Most 2nd order designers choose to wire one driver out of phase to avoid this suck out. Without taking sides on one or the other, I would think these two designs probably would not have the same presentation. They both use good drivers, proper internal bracing, etc. Big difference here is in the crossover used. Hope that helps.
i responded to this comment earlier today but for some reason it did not get posted.
minbean is asking for first hand knowledge by those that have heard both speakers and you supply something that sounds a lot like mauimusic's assumptions on audio asylum. if you go by convention, then i would agree with you but the tsm does not exhibit a 3db hole at the crossover point in test or music reproduction. the gmas are very fine speakers imho. but they are one of many fine brands on the market today and perhaps if you were not as fixated on points of design, you might actually enjoy this hobby more. it is true that you may not like our product if you heard it but at least that would be fairer to all reading this.
bobby at merlin
Bobby, it is my understanding that the mathematics involved in a second order filter dictate that, at the crossover point, you have one leg that has gone 90 degrees inductive and the other leg has gone 90 degrees capacitive. The two legs are 180 degrees out of phase; one is leading and one is lagging. If you wire the drivers in the same phase on both sides of that crossover, what you end up with is a null at the crossover frequency. You say you have no null and wire the drivers in phase.
until you hear the speakers and have first hand knowledge of their sound and performance and can make a qualitative assessment of the entirety of these designs, i guess you'll just have to keep making assumptions and have me call you on them. "without taking sides on one or the other" quotes you from a message above and it is obvious that you have. enjoy your gmas, they are fine speakers. but, if you heard the tsms or vsms behind a black sheer and didn't know what they were, you would probably really like them. ;-)
there are more ways than one to get the job done.
The VSM was reviewed in stereophile at the link below, in the measurements section the VSM is seen to have one of the flatest frequency responses I've ever seen. Also, it can be seen that the drivers are connected in positive polarity.

thank you for your post.
if you look at figure 9 and 11 and find the assocaited portions of the graph that relate to a -5 degree and 10 degrees off axis (approximate listing position/musical center) of the speaker then these are indeed very flat response curves. if you use the alignment tool to set them up you can move many feet from the right to left and have a stable image and only a substantial vertical move would cause a loss of hf and only to a degree.
I have a difficulty to understand songwriter72's theory because there are so many nice speakers operating with simple crossover networks without so called phase correction.
If frequency is 50Hz, 180 degrees of phase difference means 0.01 second and according to his theory, the movement of of the transducer is advanced or delayed by 0.01 seconds from the amplifier's siganl. Is that true and happen really such way???
Then how is the gap of 0.009 (0.01-0.001) senconds is filled if freqency changes suddenly to say 500Hz???
Bobby, it seems you have found a way to avoid that customary 3db suckout at the crossover that other in phase 12db/octave speakers exhibit. Congratulations! I understand why you would be reluctant to discuss this further. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
you are welcome songwriter.
Songwriter's problem is a problem that many people have when they approach a subject that they know a little about but don't understand the subject thoroughly.

I will give you an example. During medical oral boards, a mix of prominent academically oriented young and old physicians are called on to test the unboarded physicians by giving them theoretical cases to solve. The unboarded physician is then judged on their methodology used in solving the case as well as the solution obtained. The younger physicians that are placed in a position of judging another's methodology often do a poor job of actually judging, due to their limited worldview. These physicians have tunnel vision and are only able to see their approach as correct. These docs are often unable to see that there are usually many approaches to solving a problem. Because of this, before the unboarded physician is failed, the case must be reviewed by another physician to make sure that judging was fair. These young physicians often have low pass rates initially, but given enough time, knowledge, and experience these young physicians actually become more tolerable as they age, and often end up making good judges.

This narrow-minded view is kind of like how your preference for women changes as you age. When I was young, I judged a woman more how she looked and put a high priority on an attractive face and a slim body. Of course these are poor criteria to use when picking a mate. I would say that as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the opposite sex in many other ways as well.

Is a Merlin VSM-Mx a better speaker than a Thiel 2.4? Maybe not in terms of time coherence but in several ways it may be better for me depending on my own preferences, knowledge, and which qualities I judge as most valuable. Is a Patek a better watch than a Rolex? Well yes in some areas but perhaps not in terms of durability. Is a Vacheron better than a Timex? Not in terms of timekeeping, price, or durability, but I'd bet you'd pick the Vacheron over the Timex if given a choice. But if I were to just consider the qualities of timekeeping and durability, the Timex is the better watch. If I look at value, craftsmanship, artistry, etc. I may arrive at a different choice. If I don’t know anything about watches, and don’t appreciate the craftsmanship, then I may think it obscene to pay $50K for a watch when I can get one that keeps better time at Walmart for $20. My choice depends on my preference, my knowledge, and upon what qualities I judge as most valuable.

The problem Songwriter has is that either a speaker is 1st order or it is wrong. To him the issue is black or white, and to many time and phase coherence is often a religion. Given enough time he will realize that there are often several approaches that are valid. Like SET’s, tubes, or feedback, time and phase coherence may be important, but there are many other things that are important to think about when designing a speaker.

Like anything in life, a good speaker is balanced, i.e. the summation of several compromises. Things like drivers, damping, power response, impulse response, distortion, crossover slopes, power dissipation, alignment, cabinet design, etc. Focus on only one thing and you will have a poor sounding speaker.

Nice post, Troy. We could all benefit by seeing the possibilities from another viewpoint.
I am afraid there were not many people who have auditioned both of them enoughly!
Troy, I never said that a non time/phase coherent speaker can't sound good. They can and do sound good. Some sound VERY good. I simply happen to think the speaker in my audio system should be able to faithfully reproduce the original waveform that is recorded on my cd's/vinyl, etc, keeping true to frequency response, time and phase coherency (as those are key's to making music sound like music)without adding audable distortions of any kind. When the output from a speaker bears no resemblance to the input from the amplifier, how can that speaker be said to be faithfully reproducing the signal on the recordings? This alone pretty much eliminates the vast majority of loudspeakers from my list. I cannot live with one half to one full cycle of phase shift from my speakers. If this represents a "valid" design in your mind, buy it. If you think my idea of what a speaker should/should not do is narrow minded, so be it. I tend to think people who can't see the obvious advantages time/phase coherency represent are close minded. So we agree to dissagree. Ok?
i have listened to both products but your question or at least the way you posed it, makes this difficult to discuss in a logical or realistic manner. a wise man at the beginning of this thread made mention of the fact that the sound of a given thing, is dependant on the other parts of the system. these two speakers would sound better with different amps, wires, cdps and set ups. what can be learned from an individual using an item with an improper interface and more importantly, how are you to know that it is improper.
that is why you should have suggested what your plans were for assocaited gear so these gentlemen had a place to start.
bobby at merlin
I once bought a brand new pair of B&W CM2's. Those did have a major "suckout" or frequency response gap. They were awful on male voices. I noticed it and returned them within one week. This problem is easily noticed, even by neophytes who can't put their fingers on it. It's not something a manufacturer can hide.

My Merlin TSM-MX's have no such problem. In fact, they are known for their uniformity. I love listening to them precisely because they reproduce all my music but the lowest bass. Hours on end. And they're beautiful to look at, too. Others agree, even those who prefer something else. Nobody but songwriter/mauimusicman clings to this abstract dogma. How silly would this position be if he were discussing sunsets:

"Let me tell you about sunsets, although I've never seen one. I've heard all about them, so you should listen to me. I hear they're orange. I don't care for orange. How can orange be nice to look at? It's such an angry color. Sunsets can't be pretty, because they're orange and because I don't like orange. You say you've seen the sun set, but if you liked it, you're wrong because it conflicts with my preconceived notions. Math and science say orange is pychologically disturbing. All the reviews of sunsets must be by lesser mortals who have defective retinas, or uneducated taste. I'll be happy to advise you further on sunsets."

I don't know about you, but if I heard somebody do that, I'd run as fast as I could to see a sunset for myself.
Thank you all for the honest and considerate answers!!!
OK. I hate getting into these things too much. I have auditioned both in some degree of detail. The GMA room was set up by Roy ( I watched him do some of it myself). I have no idea who set up the Merlin room at CES but I have no doubt that it was done competently and with some semblance of complimentary gear. The rooms arent great and the power quality is likely questionable. I sat infront of both of these speakers for quite awhile- gievn the usual velocity at CES.

The reason I did is because both speakers are wonderfully involving Hi Fidelity offerings. Tbere is no bad choice here and I would like to have a pair of either of them. Both are better speakers than my current reference offerings in my home ( Soliloquy 5.3i- still very enjoyable to me).

I favor the Merlins overall becuase of their unbeleievable clarity, transparency and accuracy. When set up properly, they can be seen, but only the music can be heard. It is really that way. The GMA Callistos are awesome as well. You know you are listening to something special when in front of them and you dont want to get up and leave. But the speaker is audibly there-- thats the difference. The Merlins had perfect coherence of frequency range over what it was reproducing. The Callistos had a slight thinning or softening in the midrange. But I am being SUPER picky here. Both are truely awesome and would be very welcome additons in my home compared to so many pretenders floating all around these days.

OP- Hope that helps.
hi rysa4,
to be honest with you, the speaker you heard in the merlin suite this year was the vsm mx and super bam. it retails for $10,500.00, about 4 times the callisto's list. i still appreciate your comments and it was rich and myself who set this room up. the system you heard was all joule otl tube gear on critical mass stands, a vpi tnt 6 hotrod with cardas heart cartridge, an audio aero capitole cdp and all cardas golden reference cable. i was also using the 160 and 2q equitechs on the line level and power gear. this is my design and reference system. i have not had the tsm at the show for at least 3 years. i am going to have to bring them again because so many ask to hear them. imho, the tsm mm and mx sound more right and more continuous than even the vsm millennium did.
bobby at merlin
for the second time in this string a comment i made was not posted. is this a glitch with the site or an over zealous moderator?
since rysa4 made mention of the fact that he heard the tsm in our suite at this years ces, i thought it only fair/honest to inform him and minbean that we actually used the vsm mx which is worth 4 times the callisto's list. i thanked him for his kind comments of the sound. he also made mention of the set up of the room, the ac quality and the associated gear and i described all of this for him. so if rysa4 wants to know any of this in more depth, he should e-mail me personally.
Thanks for the correction. I got my TSM and VSM mixed up!
hi rysa4,
the tsm is a pedestal mount speaker and the vsm is a floor stander. these two are all we manufacture and only two versions of each model, the mm or mx version.
thanks again!
I don't think I can ever get listenings for both of them in Vancouver, Canada!
Thanks for all the honest inputs!
hi minbean,
we have a number of individuals that own the merlin tsms in vancouver so why not request a listening session on this forum and audioasylum.
just an idea.
bobby at merlin
That is a good idea!
Thanks Bobby!
Do yourself a favor and hear both the TSM and the Callisto. There are significant differences on build, cabinet construction, porting, crossover, ect. Your room, equipment and what you like is what matters. I personally am overwhelmed by the Callisto and Roy Johnson, the designer. I have owned mine for over a year now and I still cannot believe the music these make. The Merlins did not give me this passion, but you should make up your own mind. Check out Green Mountain's new website. A wealth of information is available.

Good luck in your search!
You say you don't understand my viewpoint. Allow me to try to explain. Relative phase is a circular function and cycles through the same start point like the hands of a clock — 360° of phase equals one full rotation or cycle. Because phase describes the relative time difference between two signals, it can be expressed in degrees or radians, which measure the completed portion of a circular period or wavelength. For example, 90° of phase delay is a quarter of a period (wavelength) at any frequency. The amount of time delay it takes to move apart 90°, however, is frequency-dependent. Thus, a given time delay will produce different amounts of phase shift at different frequencies. In other words, what you have with higher order speakers (12db/octave or higher) is essentially a time delay circuit that adds a different amount of delay to each and every frequency. Therefore, what you have is not your 0.01 second delay across the entire frequency spectrum as in your sample, but a delay that varies with frequency, something quite un-natural. Putting it another way, that 0.01 delay at 50hz is magnitudes higher at 1khz or 16khz. It is heard on complex music. Live sound direct from an instrument to our ears does not have delay that changes with frequency superimposed on its original response. It is an artifact of speaker physics. Does that help? Taking nothing away from the Merlins, I agree with elsneb.... audition the Callisto's also.
Thanks songwriter72 for your time to make me understand!
I think I will spend some time with my old textbooks. I have not dealt with LC filters for a longtime.

I know nothing can beat actual experiences and conviction although opportunity to listen and compare those two in my area of living seems very scarce.
Minbean, I would not rule out the opportunity to hear both in your area...

I thought I would never get a chance to hear Merlins, but Bobby set me up with a local Merlin owner and I got to hear his Merlins in his system. I already had a chance to hear the GMAs last year at a show, but I am sure you can find a local owner to let you audition the GMAs as well. You may want to call GMA, as I am sure they can help you out.

As for me, while I decided to go a different direction, I absolutely loved the Merlin sound and personally prefer it to GMA. That said, listening is very subjective, and as such, the recommendations to personally audition them both are good advice, IMO.

Call Roy Johnson at GMA. If no dealer is remotely close to you, maybe he can arrange an in home demo. I don't know GMA's policy, but they used to sell factory direct with a return policy. With no dealer near you, call the company. You would be out shipping costs, but if you hear what I hear, you won't be sending them back. Roy is one of the best in the Audio Industry and has a true passion for his product. It's all about the music. All the BS in the world doesn't mean a thing when you listen to music and swear the band is playing just for you. The Callisto's do that for me. I don't hear the speakers, I hear the band.
I appreciate all the members here for their kind hearts tring to help me out and wishing me the best sound!
hi minbean,
i also suggest that you listen to both because they both sound very different. then you can decide for yourself. imho, each would sound better with very different systems (wire, source and amplification) and set up/listened to in a different manner.
thank you
bobby at merlin
I will look for chances of listening to both of them.
Finally, I managed to get a pair of TSM-MM over Audiogon!

Well, I must say I love the workmanship and the sound.

They are extremely transparent, revealing, seamless, tonally right and, most importantly of all, musical.

What a pleasure when you can breathe every detail of the music and feel it to your bone!

They are also very sensitive for recording, equipment and positioning, and I will have to do many experiments to dig out every potential of them.

Thanks so much for all your opinions, suggestions and helps! Also special thanks to Bobby of Merlin for his pro-willingness to answer all my quetions and give a hand!

I have yet to get a chance to listen to GMA Callisto however I am so much hooked by Merlin TSM now.

Minbean, what are you driving them with?
he is an amp desiner jim.
his own gear.
Perhaps Minbean can give us some details regarding the specs of the amp he is using? Tube/SS, power, feedback, etc...
Hi, sorry for a delayed response.

The system I am driving merlin is described as follows from the front end;

CARTRIDGE : Ortofon SPU AE with tuned original brass stabilizer and spacer mounted on SME 3009 on Thorens TD-124, SME stock cable

PRE-PRE AMP : BB OPA27 base gain amplifier, 18 times voltage gain , 100 ohms and 600pF input loading

CABLE : low capacitance teflon silver cable

PHONO AMP : passive RC RIAA filters between 12AT7 cathode ground resistor load gain and cathode follower buffer amplifiers

LINE AMP : FET-bypolar solid state with cascode differential front end, full symmetric over positive and negative rail

POWER AMP : bypolar differential front end with J-FET base constant current source, MOS-FET (2SJ50/2SK135)rear end, full symmetric, full thermal conjuction of positive and negative rail active devices, 136000MF and 600W class transformer in the power supplier

SPEAKER CABLE : 12GA silver plated copper strands in teflon insulation single pole wire used in random spacing between the wires

ROOM : 166" X 94" X 280", medium level damping with carpet and furnitures

OTHER : zobel network, jumper cable and speaker positioning instruction from Merlin was carefully applied - worked really well!

REMARKS : It is extremely transparent/sensitive and very picky for recording. I am going to try different phono stages and cables to make it more forgiving for some situations I have to play lower-fi recordings.

Only the tube phono amp has no feedback. I use TEAC MTZ-3 alignment mirror disc for the turn table alignment. The power amplifier is 75 watt RMS per channel at less 1% distortion at 4 ohm resistive load and it has internal zobel networks.
try a fine stranded copper like audience au24s.
you'll love them.
This post might be too late for Minbean now but I thought that I'd post it anyway - I visited the Green Mountain Audio factory in CO & heard the Callistos mounted on Skylan 24" sand-filled stands. The source was a Sony CDR (forget the model #), the DAC+pre was a modified Birdland Odeon-Lite, the power amp was a $2500 stereo Edge & all cabling was Virtual Dynamics Master series.

I can tell you that the Callisto stands up to all the hype that I have read about that speaker! The sound thru this system (modest by many of us' means) was simply superb! The factory listening room was nothing to to write home about but it was treated in the critical areas (ASC tube trap between the speakers + along the 1st reflection points, absorbers behind the speaker) but still the sound was extremely dynamic, transparent, clear & most of all the music had soul to it. Such good sound in such modest settings - to me, it felt that the speaker had removed the speaker-room equation. Common sense prevailed in setting up the speaker (proper separation, correct height, not too close to the back+ side walls & 100 hrs of burn-in) & not much more.
We played a variety of music & the speaker's characteristics did not change, the image remained locked at ear-eye level.
One of the most fascinating things was how much bass that little 6.5" woofer put out! On several notes I could hear it resonate in my chest! Totally unprepared for that! There is a dual down-firing port that is partially responsible for this bass + of course, the speaker engineering. The bass was distinctly ported (vs. sealed) but I'm happy to report that there was no overhang (something I was very antsy about before I heard the speaker).
Even if it is for grins, Minbean, do listen to the Callistos. They just sound right all the way & with any music. A speaker for all seasons!
"Such good sound in such modest settings - to me, it felt that the speaker had removed the speaker-room equation"
It has been minimized via physics. One of the great things about GMA speakers is that they sound good with most any amplifier. I agree with Bombaywalla, at least LISTEN to the Callisto in your room. It will take a few days to get used to the time/phase coherence of the product (after all, you've spent a lifetime hearing non time/phase aligned speakers) but once you do, you'll likely never go back to high order speakers again. I never dreamed that the crossover was screwing up so much in speakers I had previously owned and listened to. Minbean you should read the design concepts pages on the GMA website. VERY informative even if your NOT buying GMA speakers, you'll learn plenty about design. Might help you in your future purchases. Good luck.
"REMARKS : It is extremely transparent/sensitive and very picky for recording. I am going to try different phono stages and cables to make it more forgiving for some situations I have to play lower-fi recordings"
Minbeam, those words you wrote struck a nerve. The ability to play and enjoy ANY recording is one of the primary advantages of time/phase aligned speakers. I no longer have un-listenable or un-enjoyable recordings in my collection since purchasing the GMA speakers.
The ability to play and enjoy ANY recording is one of the primary advantages of time/phase aligned speakers. I no longer have un-listenable or un-enjoyable recordings in my collection since purchasing the GMA speakers.

"The ability to play and enjoy ANY recording"
Some of my speakers have that talent and I somewhat enjoy their ability like that however I indeed need speakers to "show as is". As a developer and maker of amplifiers, I have longed speakers like TSM that can tell every difference and change of elements without veiling.
I do not have to enjoy every recording only because it is music and music shoul be enjoyable any how. I do critically enjoy recordings with real musicianship and engineering excellence.
Please don't get me wrong. "FORGIVING" way of an operation may be needed when faults of recording have to be masked and not to trigger my critical senses while I choose to be in a nostalgia or I am with guests wanting some particulr music off my standards.
Most of my favorite recordings are the ones with both real musicianship and engineering excellence, and therefore I am really benefitted by TSM-MM to show every genuine quality of the art and engineering. The more I dig out those recordings the more I learn and enjoy - TSM-MM enables me that! I would not swap my top 10 favorite records for 10000 ordinary records!
I believe that GMA's are also excellent speakers and will do try them sometime but it will not be from the belief that they can make every music enjoyable.