GoldenEar Supercinema 50 5.1 Sub/Sat System Review
A lightweight, with a heavyweight punch!
IntroductionWith a history that stretches through Definitive Technology back to Polk Audio, anything that comes from the stable of Sandy Gross, warrants being taken seriously. Golden Ear is his latest company and although certain trademark technologies illustrate their shared heritage, this is an entirely new company. In this instance, we’re looking at the Supercinema 50, which is a 5.1 surround sound package, that is the bigger brother to the Supercinema 3 system. Indeed the rear channels are the Supersat 3s from that package, but employed up front are the Supersat 50s and the larger Forcefield 4 Subwoofer. If the capabilities of the smaller system are a yard stick, then this should be a very enjoyable package.
Whilst this is a package, the individual components ship separately and there is nothing to stop you adding or replacing different speakers to suit your needs. Gawd knows, at the rate Dolby, DTS, THX, et al are adding channels, you’ll soon need more speakers than wallpaper. The RRP of the Supercinema 50 is £2,750 whilst the individual speakers break down thus; Supersat 50 at £500, Supersat 3 at £250 and the Forcefield 4 at £750.
The main front three channels are covered by the Supersat 50s, but the centre is specific to that channel, as the tweeter has been orientated correctly. The centre speaker also has a couple of neat, screw adjustable feet that allow it to be angled correctly, whereas the left and right have a fixed stand with a glass foot. Otherwise, they are identical. All are provided with a pair of keyhole mounts, for wall fixing via screw heads.
The cabinets are gloss black aluminimum, with the curved, crackle black front baffle being slightly recessed. This recess accomodates a curved fabric over plastic mesh grill, that simply clamps around the face of the speaker. Very neat it is too and offers excellent protection from probing fingers. On the down side, I found the Golden Ears to sound much clearer with the grill off, as it seems to suppress a touch of their natural sparkle, even if they're still clear enough. Fortunately, the Supersats look superb au naturel, because their driver line up is far from ordinary, plus their fixings are hidden.
Starting at the centre, we have what Golden Ear call a High-Velocity, Folded Ribbon Tweeter (HVFR) and the rest of the world calls a Heil Air Motion Transformer. Several versions of this tweeter type can be found used by the likes of Adam Audio and Elac, up to the lofty heights of Lyngdorf Steinway. Patented in the 1930s by Dr. Oskar Heil (who also invented the microwave generator), the AMT is a remarkable device. Current is passed along a pleated diaphagm, the movement of which is much like an accordian. This causes the air to squeezed from between the pleats but the volume of air moved is far in excess of the swept volume of the ribbon. Much like squeezing a bar of soap between your hands is a minimal amount of movement, that results in the soap travelling very far and fast. Essentially, it multiplies (transforms) it's motion into a much larger movement of air, in exactly the way a ribbon, or dome tweeter doesn't. Because of it's folded structure, it has a very large effective radiating area, the square inch of the HVFR being equivalent to an eight inch diametre driver so it could, in theory, be used well down into the midrange. However, that creates issues in absorbing the radiation from the rear of the diaphagm at lower frequencies, so you only tend to see AMTs used in treble applications. Its inherent lower frequency capabilities give it very low distortion at the bottom of it's pass band and the compact dimensions mean it has better vertical dispersion characteristics than a traditional ribbon. I genuinely wonder why you don't see more AMTs in the Hi-Fi/AV world.
Sandwiching the tweeter, are a pair of comparatively traditional dynamic 110mm mid/bass drivers, albeit that Mr. Gross has impressed his twist on the phase plugs. The Multi-Vaned Phase Plug is claimed to allow more even dispersion of mid/bass frequencies, although a phase plug is typically used to deal with destructive reflections across the throat of the cone, which is where higher frequecies tend to radiate from. No matter, phase plugs work and have the side benefit of sidestepping the compression of the volume of air under a dust cap, whilst providing better heat dispersion from the pole piece. The driver baskets are cast aluminium, which tend to be a finer structure than pressed steel, thus creating less area to reflect sounds from behind and out through the cone.
Whilst Golden Ear have stuck with relatively traditional drivers and the depth of mounting space they require, the Supersat 50s are still a shallow 65mm or so deep. The space efficient way to augment the bottom end frequencies of the speaker, without increasing it's depth to fit in a port, comes in the form of a pair of 'Quadratic Planar Low Frequency Radiators' - that's square flat passive radiators to you and me! Passive radiators are essentially dummy speakers, tuned with a weight, to resonate at a certain frequency. This is a technique that has been used for decades, but is enjoying a resurgence in recent years, as it's efficient use of space suits the slim lifestyle speakers popularised by the growth of surround sound. It's other advantage is that a passive radiator doesn't leak midrange sound like a port, nor suffer resonances outside of it's own pass band. The down sides are that the passive radiators are obviously more expensive than a tube full of air and that below their effective point of operation, their output rolls off even more steeply than the port they replaced. That said, I found Golden Ear's claimed bass extension of 60Hz (without quoted parametres) to be a comfortably realistic -3dB point in room. Finally a passive radiator should really have double the radiating area of the mid/bass driver it is partnered with. Golden Ear have elongated the passive radiators to make up in length, what the narrow enclosure prevents them from gaining in width. The result is, I think, a seriously attractive speaker either clothed, or in the altogether.
The Supersat 3 rear channels are very close relatives of the larger front SS50s, save for a handfull of differences. The obvious one is that the driver compliment deletes the passive radiators, the claimed response now only reaching a still adequate 80Hz. I will confess to not even having noticed the other difference until fellow reviewer Ed Selley pointed it out. The smaller speaker changes the 'military grade aluminium' enclosure for a 'marble powder infused polymer' material. To maintain the levels of stiffness in the larger model, the polymer variant is slightly thicker, gaining an extra 6mm or so of depth to make up the lost volume. Subjected to the unscientific knuckle test, the enclosure is every bit as reassuringly inert as the metal item. Finally, the glass foot is deleted in favour of a simpler rubber nippled plastic afair that screws into the rear of the cabinet. It is no less secure, nor less effective though.
Of course, no satellite package is complete without it's subwoofer and whilst the Forcefield 4 is undeniably compact, Golden Ear have resisted trying to make a slim form factor subwoofer. This, heavily rounded, trapezium prism, is actually pretty unobtrusive on your carpet, the textured black finish failing to attract finger prints and dust in equal measure. Whilst the finish is tidy, there's little consent to styling the bits you can't see. The rebates for drivers are very square edged for instance. The corrollary is that the cabinet has been made from 25mm thick MDF, so the money has been spent where it's needed.
Likewise the plate amp enjoys speaker level inputs with a 40-150Hz continuously variable high passed output, but only offers a mono/LFE unfiltered line level input. There is no phase control of any sort, not even a 0/180deg toggle switch. Nor is there an On/Off switch, Auto On being the only option, which seems a little parlous in my view. Actually, the input selection is perfectly adequate for 99.9% of users and a phase control not entirely necessary as setting the distance/delay in your AVR correctly, will more than likely ensure an even crossover region response. I certainly had no problems.
No, like I said the money has been directed very effectively in terms of performance. The plate amp is quoted (again without parametres) as possessing 1200W which, and whether that's peak or RMS it's a lot. The main front mounted 250mm driver settles for a perfectly adequate pressed steel frame. Audible relfections in a sub-bass driver are essentially a non issue and there's still plenty of room for air flow. The cone sports a massive and I do mean massive roll surround and this is required to control the output of the similarly meaty double-stacked magnet motor. Indeed the driver with the power available, would result in fairly significant output, but there is another huge 275x330mm 'Quadratic Planar Infra Bass Radiator' taking up the entire bottom face of the subwoofer. As you can see from the pictures, it could scarcly be any larger, without leaving room for the substantial rubber feet. These pliable lumps of rubber, serve to deliver sufficient ground clearance to accomodate even the most excessive shag pile and equally, stop the subwoofer rattling on, or moving around on hard wooden floors. There is a lot of subwoofer crammed into this compact box.
The front stereo pair measured best in my room, about a foot out from the wall. They worked well up against the wall too, but imaging just breathed a bit better with the extra space sacrificing little bass in the process, gentle toe in cementing the stereo illusion. The centre sat on the front edge of my wooden top rack shelf, angled up toward the listening position. The rears sat on shelves behind and out wide of the listening position. These were above ear level and broadly pointing forward, with a hint of toe in. The crossover was set at 110Hz all round. The Forecefield 4 had no issues crossing over this high and it takes extra bass duty off the satellites, which aids dynamic headroom. It also provided a better overlap between the sub and satellites, to prevent the natural roll off of the speaker cascading with the processor crossover and producing too steep a roll off. Levels matched, sub EQ'd and we were off.
ListeningLuck always seems to conspire against review speakers arriving prior to a family free environment being available. So as per usual, the Supercinema 50 cut it's teeth on moderate level, day to day fayre, such as TV and radio. Even off TV, the ultra clean nature of the HVFR tweeter was immediately obvious, controlling sibilance from less than perfect broadcasts, whilst eking out loads of ambience and detail from the background, where it existed.
Dialogue had a slight hint of extra warmth through the lower mid range, something that seems unavoidable in shallow cabinets, that lack the room to absorb the rearward radiation fully. It's not unpleasant and was only really notable, against the much larger speakers that preceeded them. It certainly didn't impact the intelligibility of speech, which was always open and clear, at all volumes, even late at night.
In terms of bass, the output from the Supersats is nicely judged, simply extending down to the subwoofer, without undue emphasis. It's nimble and clean and delivers a surprising amount of upper bass punch, no doubt helped by the sheer driver area available. Overall the Supersats present themselves in a clear, clean and punchy manner that is very pleasant indeed.
By comparison the Forcefield 4 is a malevolent thug, that needs a bit of skill to keep it tamed. It took a bit of effort in terms of positioning to get it to sit unobtrusively with the deft touch of the Supersats. Initially it seemed somewhat dominant and obvious and never quite matched their subjective speed, with lower volumes tending to expose it further.
However, with the family out, the Supercinema 50 was allowed some head room and thoroughly entertaining it was too. It has, considering the compact nature of it's constituent parts, prodigeous output in all respects. The clean and open nature of the satellites remains, even at very high listening levels, refusing to harden up and get nasty. Using the higher crossover, prevents too much bass from over taxing the bottom end of the Supersats, whilst the passive radiators in turn, prevent the mid/bass drivers from acheiving high bass excursions. The nett result is that there is plenty of driver area to deliver the upper bass hit and mid range stays very open and refined. Partnered with a tweeter that has found a home in much, much larger speakers, the result is a refusal to start muddying the presentation of high octane movie soundtracks. Effects whizz around, gunshots have a real crack to them and even shouted dialogue stays clear in the midst of it all.
If the Supersats are comfortable at high levels, then the Forcefield 4 subwoofer positively revells in the task. Ye gods, this tiddler has some output and I'm including it's ability to play low at the same time. One or two of my most testing, in-movie basso drops were played, to see where the huge passive radiator drops off in output. As previously mentioned, PRs tend to roll off pretty quick once their moment is passed and so these tests were purely to trip up the Forcefield and find it's limits. Well, it's got limits, but they're near as dammit at 20Hz in room which is monsterous output for such a small sub. Upping the volume to push it out of it's comfort zone, reveals that there is some clever and well judged internal DSP protection going on, to tailor the output before the PR reaches it's limits. It never gets to the point of making any nasty noises and I turned off the poweramps during a couple of passages just to hear what the sub was doing. It turned out to be just oodles of loud, deep bass.
Unsurprisingly, the tonal match around the room is very consistent, the Supersat 3s matching the 50s very well. They are slightly lighter in balance, but this is almost entirely diguised by the fact that they're behind you, which would result in them sounding different, even if they were identical, if you follow. A DTS demo disk I have, has a sound that sweeps faster and faster around the room with increasing volume and it slid seamlessly around me in avery convincing manner. I also checked that the centre speaker maintained it's integration off axis. Symmetrical arrays of drivers, have a very even off axis response that is quite focused
horizontally. Lie them on their side (as the Supersat 50c is) and it's the opposite of what you want, if you're sitting wide left or right of the central listening position. The sound is focused forward, but now has it's best dispersion in the up/down plane. Fortunately, the compact tweeter allows the mid/bass drivers to be positioned both close to it and therefore to each other. As a result any obvious comb filtering interference in it's off axis response, seems to have been broadly side-stepped and it's clarity and tonal balance remain consistent, until you're sitting at inconveniently wide angles. The wife, remaining blissfully ignorant of the technicalities, is never exactly shy about commenting on "unclear" speakers, her mass normally being positioned somewhere sub-optimal, in order to discover such issues. On this topic, she was blissfully silent confirming what I thought.
Music, pretty much mirrored the movie experience, that being that the subwoofer integrated best, when the system was playing at reasonable volume. In some respects, certain aspects of the system as a whole were truly exceptional, mainly the upper mid through treble region which could hold it's head high in almost any company. The HVFR tweeter is a real peach, with a total freedom from sibilance and splash, it's innate refinement in painting gently brushed cymbals with total polish and allowing female vocal just the right amount of breath - very beguiling. It sits well with the midrange, that achives similar levels of natural, unforced detail expressing intonation accurately and informatively. As mentioned, there is a hint of extra warmth a touch lower down, which whilst not strictly accurate, isn't exactly unpleasant either. It contributes to making for an informative, relaxing listen, that never strays into uncomfortable territory, unless that's what's on the disk.
The Forcefield 4, does drag it's feet very slightly interms of propelling rythmic timing compared to the best, but it is at least tonally adept and at no point sounds anything like a one note drone. Further more, it's extension lends the right music, a scale that is scarcely believeable when you look at the lack of speaker in front of you. This coupled with the holographic levels of imaging delivered by the satellites, presents a stereo soundstage that is at once, expansively deep and layered, with all of the players positioned solidly in their own discrete space within. Whether you want to pick insturmental sections out of an orchestra, or follow individual parts of a heavily layered studio mix, the Supesat 50s make it an easy job, requiring little concentration.
- Slimline speakers
- Compact subwoofer
- Huge output for it's size
- Class leading mid and treble
- Highly engaging presentation
- Mix 'n' match upgrade possibilities
- Black only
- Cable binding posts fiddly
GoldenEar Supercinema 50 5.1 Sub/Sat System Review
Dealing with the caveats first, my only concerns and they are limited, concern the subwoofer. I need to make it clear that this is this subwoofer in my room and as the two are inseparable in terms of the subjective performance, it's entirely possible that your room may throw up a completely different result. This is the nature of subwoofers and I can think of an eight and twelve inch variant of the same subwoofer from another manufacturer, where the twelve was superb, but the theoretically easier proposition of the eight incher, proved alogether more tricky to get right. Your mileage can and probably will vary.
That just about mops up the negatives, as the Supercinema 50 hits, or excedes just about every other performance mark you want from a speaker package. That it manages to do so in such a compact form, is all the more impressive and further demonstrates how, this particular market segment, is coming on in leaps and bounds as manufacturers start to work around it's physical limitations, or simply shine in areas where the limitations matter less.
To encapsulate the Supercinema 50 in a phrase - it offers scale and refinement, in a measure equal to excitement. It polishes less than perfect source material and has a natural transparency, that lets reference material shine. That's about all you can ask of any loudspeaker. If the Supercinema 50 fits your space and budget, then I'd suggest an audition is mandatory. It's prodigeous output, means that it can do all of the above in a space that might be larger than you would imagine too. Top stuff and an easy highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,750.00
Value For Money8
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