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GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array Soundbar Review

GoldenEar's SuperCinema 3D Array 'supersizes' the soundbar

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GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array Soundbar Review
SRP: £995.00

Introduction

Whilst GoldenEar Technologies are marketing the SuperCinema 3D Array (SC3DA) as a soundbar, that isn't strictly true. Our definition of a soundbar is something that has built-in amplification, connections that ideally include HDMI and usually a subwoofer. The SC3DA has none of these things, so it isn't a one-stop solution to your TV's poor sound. First of all you're going to need at least three channels of amplification to run the SC3DA and to get the best from it you're going to need to buy a subwoofer if you don't already own one. However the logic behind the SC3DA is to provide an alternative to the standard left, right and centre speaker configurations, without compromising on the sound quality. At a cost of £995 the SC3DA certainly isn't cheap but the beautiful piano-gloss-black cabinet constructed from aerospace-grade aluminium goes a long way towards explaining the hefty price tag. The SC3DA also includes GoldenEar's High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) high frequency radiators and 3D image optimising technology. So perhaps the SC3DA is the ideal solution if your partner isn't too keen on you installing speakers all around the lounge. Let's find out...

Design

There's no mistaking the SC3DA for anything other than a GoldenEar speaker, it has all the elegance and build quality that we have come to expect. Whilst it initially looks like a soundbar, as we mentioned in the introduction it is really a three-channel speaker. So there is no built-in amplification and at the rear you will find three sets of binding posts - one for the left channel, one for the right channel and one for the centre channel. It's also quite big, at 49 inches wide, 2.7 inches deep and 4.7 inches high. This means you will need a reasonably wide area to position it on and sufficient clearance beneath your TV; in fact the SC3DA was actually too high for our Pioneer Kuro. It is also not light at 20lbs, so that's worth considering in you plan on wall mounting the SC3DA, which considering its size might be the best option. Assuming you have a flat surface wide enough, the SC3DA comes with screw adjustable feet that allow it to be positioned and angled correctly. The cabinet is gloss black aerospace-grade aluminium, with a marble-powder-infused baffle and end-caps.

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array

The curved, black front baffle is slightly recessed, which accommodates a curved fabric over plastic mesh grille, that simply clamps around the face of the cabinet. Overall the SC3DA looks very attractive and the tightly fitting grille offers excellent protection from accidental damage. The SC3DA incorporates six of GoldenEar Technology’s spider-leg cast basket 4.5" bass-midrange drivers with their unique Multi-Vaned Phase Plugs (MVPP). This is claimed to allow for a 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 frequencies tend to radiate from. However, phase plugs do work and have the additional benefit of not compressing the volume of air under a dust cap, whilst providing better heat dispersion. 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.

In addition, there are also three of GoldenEar’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeters (HVFR), which to everyone else are Heil Air Motion Transformers (AMT). 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 diaphragm, the movement of which is much like an accordion. This causes the air to be squeezed from between the pleats but the volume of air moved is far in excess of the swept volume of the ribbon.

Essentially, it multiplies (transforms) its motion into a much larger movement of air, in exactly the way a ribbon, or dome tweeter doesn't. Because of its folded structure, it has a very large effective radiating area, the square inch of the HVFR being equivalent to an eight inch diameter driver so it could, in theory, be used well down into the midrange. Its inherent lower frequency capabilities give it very low distortion at the bottom of its pass band and the compact dimensions mean it has better vertical dispersion characteristics than a traditional ribbon.

Setup

Setup should be fairly obvious; you just position the SC3DA beneath your TV or possibly projection screen and add amplification. The first point worth noting is that, as previously mentioned, given the SC3DA's size you will need a minimum of 5 inches clearance between the bottom of the TV screen and the surface it's mounted on. Assuming you have sufficient room, there are a couple of neat, screw adjustable feet that allow for the correct positioning and angling of the SC3DA. If your TV is wall mounted or if you are using the SC3DA with a projection screen, then there is the option to wall mount as well. The second point is that you obviously need at least three channels of amplification, so you're going to need a receiver to provide this, not to mention everything else like connections and processing.

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array

The lack of any low frequency drivers means that to get the best from the SC3DA you will need to add a subwoofer. GoldenEar obviously recommends their ForceField subwoofers as being engineered to provide the perfect high-performance match. However you can always use another manufacturer's subwoofer but GoldenEar's ForceField subwoofers do make a good match. There are three models, the ForceField 5 which costs around £1,000, the ForceField 4 which was reviewed here and will set you back £750 and the ForceField 3 which was reviewed here and can be picked up for £550. We were provided with a ForceField 4 for the purposes of this review. The SC3DA is designed to create a sense of envelopment without resorting to surround speakers but since you'll probably have two spare channels of amplification on your receiver, you could add those as well. Once again GoldenEar recommend their SuperSat 3 speakers which we reviewed here and will set you back £500 for a pair. That means that to put together the SC3DA/FF4/SS3 combination we were provided with for this review would cost a fairly hefty £2,245.

Sound Quality

GoldenEar's logic in developing the SC3DA is that whilst there is an undeniably compelling visual appeal to the aesthetics of a soundbar, they fail to achieve a truly convincing surround-sound experience when compared to a high-quality, fully discrete 5.1-channel surround system. As a result, GoldenEar has developed a unique new approach that incorporates special 3D image optimization technology to achieve a wider, deeper reproduction, with a greater sense of realism and virtually no acoustic coloration. This technology, pioneered by Sandy Gross, effectively addresses certain problems that have been brought up in 3D audio research conducted by Dr. Edgar Choueiri at Princeton University. Dr. Choueiri points out that the crosstalk that exists between the left and right loudspeakers and our contralateral ears, especially when the left and right channels are minimally separated (as we normally encounter in soundbar systems), is deleterious to our brain's ability to fully experience and process the imaging cues so necessary for 3D imaging perception. These imaging cues are present in the recordings but dramatically corrupted in typical soundbar playback.

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array

GoldenEar's SuperCinema 3D Array incorporates left, centre and right channel speakers, plus a second set of drivers that utilize 3D Array Technology to effectively cancel out this interaural crosstalk distortion between the left and right channel. When looking at the SC3DA we realised that the driver/tweeter configuration wasn't quite as regular as we thought and the outer most drivers on the left and right channels are actually slightly closer to the tweeters of that channel. The reason for this is that the outer drivers aren't there to enhance the width of their respective channels, instead they are there to cancel sound from the opposite channel. As a result, whilst the SC3DA doesn't employ any active technology to create a surround presence, it does use the passive positioning of the drivers to cancel out the interaural crosstalk. The SC3DA thus outputs a crossed-over out-of-phase signal from one driver that is designed to cancel out the sound from the other side that is crossing over to the other. The result should be a wider more spatially integrated soundfield.

The intended result is a wider front soundstage and a greater sense of height, width and depth that effectively envelops the listener in a more immersive soundfield. The idea behind the 3D Array Technology is to deliver a greater feeling of surround sound without the need for rear speakers. However should you so wish, you can add rear speakers as well to create a genuine surround field. Of course once you've added five channels of amplification, two rear speakers and a subwoofer, the aesthetic benefits of a soundbar begin to get diluted. However in the interests of completeness we tested the SC3DA in three different combinations, first we just wired up the SC3DA itself and then we added the ForceField 4 subwoofer before finally adding the SuperSat 3 rear speakers for a more traditional 5.1 style setup. We actually found that the sound of the SC3DA was a shade better with the front grille removed but the sight of six drivers and three tweeters beneath your TV might be a difficult aesthetic choice for many people.

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array

Starting off with the basic configuration of placing the SC3DA beneath the TV, we began by listening to various two-channel music. The first thing we noticed was how wide the soundstage was, the music transcended the confines of the SC3DA's chassis to fill the entire front of the room and even began to spill along the sides towards the rear. Whilst the SC3DA is relatively large for a soundbar it is capable of creating a sense of width that is more akin to a proper left, right and centre combination. The clarity and imaging was exceptional for what is effectively a soundbar and in terms of music reproduction it is easily the best we have heard. There was plenty of detail and an uncanny ability to localise sounds present in the original recordings. Whilst the SC3DA obviously couldn't actually place sounds behind you, it did manage to create the illusion of a greater surround field. The only area the SC3DA was noticeably lacking was in terms of the lower frequencies and as with just about any soundbar, the inclusion of a subwoofer is definitely recommended.

Once we added the ForceField 4 subwoofer the SC3DA really came into its own, with a full-bodied sound and tight supportive bass. The added low frequencies resulted in a front soundstage that delivered depth but never at the expense of clarity and detail. A track like Mazzy Star's Fade into You had an openness that brought out both the vocals and acoustic guitar. However the SC3DA could also deliver a rockier track like Suede's Barriers with equal confidence. When it came to orchestral recordings like Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, the expansive front soundstage really delivered, with the music just filling the entire room. The same was true with film soundtracks, where the combination of the SC3DA and a subwoofer resulted in an immersive and exciting audio experience. A complex and dynamic soundtrack like Zero Dark Thirty was superbly reproduced, with deep bass, fantastic imaging of effects and clear dialogue. There was also a sense of sounds coming from behind, even though we knew there were no speakers there. Of course once we added the SuperSat 3s to the rear the result was a cohesive and tonally matched 360 degree soundstage that placed you in the centre of the action.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Great sound quality
  • Attractive design
  • Excellent finish
  • Flexible mounting options

Cons

  • Not a real soundbar
  • Only comes in black
  • Expensive

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array Soundbar Review

As we have come to expect from GoldenEar, the SuperCinema 3D Array (SC3DA) incorporates the kind of attractive design and solid build quality that helps justify the cost. However, it's not all looks and there is also a great deal of technology packed away inside that fetching chassis. Not only does the SC3DA utilise six of GoldenEar's 4.5" midrange drivers but it also incorporates three of their folded ribbon tweeters to deliver the left, right and centre channels. Perhaps more significantly, the SC3DA uses two of those 4.5" drivers to cancel interaural crosstalk between the left and right channels and it's this 3D array that gives the soundbar its name. The SC3DA is actually quite large for a soundbar, so you'll need a wide enough area in which to position it and you'll need to ensure you have sufficient space beneath your TV screen.

Of course, unlike a traditional active soundbar, the SC3DA doesn't come with any built-in amplification or signal processing, nor are there any connections or a subwoofer. You will need to provide three channels of amplification for the SC3DA and ideally add a subwoofer too. GoldenEar obviously recommend one of their ForceField subwoofers but you could use another manufacturer's model. Of course once you have to start adding amplification and a subwoofer it not only increases the cost of what is already quite an expensive product but does rather diminish the aesthetic simplicity of the soundbar concept. Whilst the use of the 3D array is designed to create a more immersive soundfield, you can also use rear speakers for a genuine surround presence; although doing so will require more amplification and add further cost.

We reviewed the SC3DA in three different configurations - firstly on its own, then with a ForceField 4 subwoofer, before finally adding SuperSat 3 speakers to the rear. We were immediately impressed with the SC3DA and even on its own were amazed at the width of the front soundstage, its clarity, detail and precise imaging. Once we added the subwoofer to fill out the overall sound, the results were even better with an immersive soundstage, that had plenty of stereo separation despite the proximity of the drivers. The sound reproduced by the SC3DA was free of the crosstalk between the left and right channels that often plagues regular soundbars. We found that the SC3DA worked well with both music and movies, delivering audio that was well reproduced and expansive. However, whilst the SC3DA could be immersive at times and even create the illusion of greater envelopment, the use of rear speakers helped to augment this and create a complete surround soundstage.

The GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array certainly offers a level of performance that far exceeds that of any soundbar that we have heard to date and for that alone it deserves a recommendation. However at £995 it certainly isn't cheap and the fact that on top of that you need to add amplification and a subwoofer means that it doesn't offer a one-stop solution to poor TV sound and thus won't be suitable for everyone.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
2

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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