The GoldenEar BRX loudspeakers, much to my chagrin, are chameleonic. That made me wonder whether or not transducers should be chameleonic. And then I wondered if chameleonic was a real word, so I looked it up.
It is. But the GoldenEar BRX monitors reminded me that every once in a while I go off in the wrong direction, and I miss the point entirely. It’s hard for me to admit I’d been tripped up by a $1,598 pair of bookshelf monitors, and it took me several months to figure out their sound and their capabilities. They are chameleonic speakers, and I made the mistake of listening to them with just one system configuration before launching into a write-up. I always try to review equipment with several system configurations, with all types of gear, because that’s what a reviewer is supposed to do. But I had quite a stellar system put together that I’d been using with the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Editions. I thought I was truly spoiling the BRXs by letting them into the clubhouse.
What follows is my reaction to the first round with the GoldenEar BRX loudspeakers. This was the guts of the first draft of my review:
“My first experience with the GoldenEar BRX in my system was satisfactory, the kind of session where you tell yourself ‘these babies need time to open up a little more.’ I’m trying to eliminate all talk of break-in during my reviews because it’s a given, but this was more of a stubborn character that didn’t want to leave the party yet. At best, the BRXs sounded smooth and balanced, but I felt they still needed to open up considerably to really impress me.
“I had them hooked up to the Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 125 power amplifier, a tiny but gorgeous Class D amp that has finally convinced me that D is a more-than-viable option for great sound. It’s a clean and smooth amp as well, but the Model 125 and the BRXs were perhaps too similar in personality. I needed a more spacious and natural sound than this, which I found surprising since the Model 125, in turn, was so spectacular with the Qln Prestige One monitors.”
From there I put the GoldenEar BRX monitors into that killer system I mentioned–the beautiful Allnic Audio T-2000 Anniversary integrated amplifier was swapped in, and the BRXs got a second chance to shine while holding hands with a $16K amp. Speaker cables were Furutech Speakerflux, which cost twice as much as the BRXs for a single 8’ terminated pair. To tip the scales even further, the BRXs were placed upon the $5,000 Acora Acoustics SRS granite stands.
“They did shine, surrendering to the Allnic’s ability to remain linear and detailed while still being very much a tube amp, especially when in tetrode mode. In triode mode, I started to hear those traces of magic where everything you hear suddenly develops layers of meaning.”
I sent that draft to Bill Low and Stephen Mejias of AudioQuest. Why those two? Well, I didn’t know it prior to the review, but AudioQuest bought GoldenEar a few years ago. Bill Low stepped in when I saw him at the LAOCAS Gala last December. In fact, he didn’t really say anything specific. But he did give me a look, combined with an almost imperceptible nod and a wink, that hinted there was far more to the BRXs. After doing a little more research, and talking with others who were familiar with GoldenEar, I gave the BRX monitors a second chance with an entirely different system configuration, and whaddya know. Yes, they sounded like a completely different speaker.
Inside the GoldenEar BRX
The GoldenEar BRX monitors are small and light with gently curved surfaces finished in a nice hand-rubbed piano black lacquer. Close your eyes and you’ll believe you’re holding a speaker at this price, open them and you’ll see a nice fit and finish and unique details that feel a bit more opulent than you’d expect. The visual impact is far more streamlined with the curved metal grilles in place, but as you might imagine they sound a lot better with the grilles off, which gives the impression of a noticeably jutting lower lip. But the most notable feature of these speakers is the placement of passive radiators on both sides, which looks intriguing and ambitious on a cabinet this small.
This is GoldenEar’s quick summary of the design of BRX as well as the more affordable Aon 2 and 3 models in the same line:
“The BRX incorporates a 6” cast-basket bass/midrange driver, basically the same driver used in the Triton Reference. The tweeter is the Reference High-Gauss High-Velocity Folded Ribbon. The two drivers are perfectly blended with a unique “balanced crossover.” A pair of inertially balanced 6.5” planar infrasonic radiators are located on either side of the cabinet for tight, quick, powerful bass response.”
That folded ribbon is very intriguing to me because it looks a little like the Heil Air Transformer tweeters I once had in my classic Concept ESS speakers back in the late ‘70s. But with the HVFR folded tweeter design, the diaphragm is made from a high-temperature film, with powerful neodymium magnets that “squeeze” the air instead of merely pushing it. This design offers low distortion, but it’s also notable for its superb dispersion characteristics.
Combined with those passive radiators, it’s no surprise that the BRX is already building a reputation as a small two-way that delivers truly impressive imaging and soundstaging, not to mention a punchy bottom end, which GoldenEar says goes down to 40 Hz.
I had only one minor comment about the GoldenEar’s binding posts—they’re recessed into the back of the speakers but the space is a little too tight for my fingers and I don’t have big, stubby fingers so this is a rare problem to have. Seems like an easy change to make in the future. If you prefer banana terminations, never mind. That also seems more likely with a pair of speakers at this price.
Round Two with the GoldenEar BRX
Aside from Bill Low’s very subtle hints about the GoldenEar BRX, I had two more clues that I initially headed off in the wrong direction during Round One. First, the BRXs had immediately replaced the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition monitors, and I fell hard for that sound. It actually took some effort to put the MoFis out of my mind, and I probably won’t be speaking out of turn if I say the GoldenEars and the Falcons do not have similar tonal balances and I should have taken a breather in between those two reviews.
On the plus side, the GoldenEar BRX monitors go much louder and deeper than the LS3/5a. As a result, I think that the BRXs would likely make a better first impression with audiophiles who aren’t particularly fond of the shortcomings of BBC monitors. The MoFis only went down to 70 Hz, which had to be ameliorated through near-field listening. As I said, the BRXs can reach 40Hz. That’s going to be an obvious difference to even the greenest audiophiles. But there’s something about the tone of the Falcons that sounded so real, so breathtaking in its honesty.
Second, Eric Franklin Shook made a casual comment about the GoldenEar BRX monitors during Round Two, something about being a favorite monitor for people with desktop systems and gamers. Gamers? What does that have to do with high-end audio? As Eric told me, the BRXs were considered THE speakers for one-person shooters because they do a very audiophile thing–they are superb imagers. Gamers on online forums have heralded the BRX’s ability to portray direction and distance during game play, which obviously provides an advantage.
That’s when I first considered the the chameleon-like qualities of the GoldenEar BRXs. With Round Two I started playing around with different system configurations. I built another second system in my office and the GoldenEars sounded fantastic in such as small space–about 11′ by 13′ with an 8′ ceiling. Bass was pounding, imaging was stunning and I said, “oh, now I get it!”
And then I happened upon a modest system that really showed what the GoldenEar BRX monitors could do.
Round Three with the GoldenEar BRX
This is the point where we jump the rails off the original review. That review included a summary that was just a little too wishy-washy, something like “The GoldenEar BRX are really good for the money, they punch above their weight, and they’re a superb value. Did I mention they’re just $1600/pair?” And then, one more cowboy showed up to the rodeo–the LSA VT-70 integrated amplifier. At $1,199, it’s an amp that would be ideally matched to a $1,600 pair of monitors.
I did go back and listen to the GoldenEar BRX monitors with the LSA VT-70 integrated amplifier and a pair of AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables, with various source components. We’re talking just over $3K, territory I don’t get to visit much these days.
The epiphany occurred when I realized that I found the LSA VT-70 and the BRX monitors to have the same perceived weakness, an initial lack of openness compared to expensive gear, when used separately. But these two together? Wow. This combo was unexpectedly magical, a tight and focused musical presentation that sounded so immediately right that I shifted my perspective from “good value” to “I could totally be happy with this for a long time.”
Overall, the BRXs retained that slightly soft and polite feeling in the high frequencies that I noticed with the Rowland and Allnic amplifiers, and occasionally I felt I wasn’t getting the same level of sweat and grit in the making of the music, and maybe it was a tad too smooth. But with the LSA, a simple EL-34 integrated with 35 watts per channel, I realized that I didn’t care as much.
Why? The character of the GoldenEar BRX is adaptive, that the speaker’s strengths compensate when there’s another issue present. In the case of the slightly miniaturized soundstage I heard in the first two rounds, the side-firing passive radiators added an increased sense of three dimensions within that slightly smaller space. My reservations about that lack of openness in the higher frequencies was alleviated by the sweet, patient sound of the EL-34s in the LSA.
This is the essence of the GoldenEar BRX, that it is so tough to review because it so adaptable, the kind of transducer where you say “Hey, let’s see what the BRXs can do with this amp!” This approach seems anathemic to high-end audio, where everything needs to be controlled to produce optimal results and performance, but the BRX introduces excitement into the mix. It might let you down in certain circumstances, but it also might thrill the pants off you, and for just $1,600/pair.
Here are a handful of additional listening notes on the GoldenEar/LSA combo:
I finally received my LP copy of Analogue Productions’ 45rpm 2-LP set of Nat King Cole’s The Very Thought of You, a glorious title that’s back in stock, and the GoldenEar BRX was there for the debut. This is a Cole “audiophile pressing” that doesn’t sound like the vocals and the orchestra were recorded at different times, at different venues, in galaxies that were millions of light years apart. The singer, for once, is more integrated into the workings of the orchestra, sharing the same inspirations, and the BRXs captured that precious balance by presenting it as a whole that made perfect sense.
The BRXs also had a sultry, romantic evening with another lush orchestral Henry Mancini-Martin Denny-retrospective touring the South Pacific type of album, Chris Standring’s Wonderful World, which jumps between a wildly talented trio and a shimmering string orchestra that conjures up such arcane words as “trade winds” and “wayfaring” and “Bali Hai.” The BRXs caught those dynamic swings in all their dramatic glory and created a big enough space to highlight nearly every single performer on the stage.
Okay, there was a Round Four with the GoldenEar BRX, but it happened at AXPONA 2022, and I wrote about it here. I walked into the GoldenEar/AudioQuest/Parasound room where Saturday Afternoon sound was comparing the big GoldenEar Triton References with a pair of GoldenEar BRXs–this time with matching subwoofers. This was my chance to hear a pair of BRXs that were presumably set-up by professionals who were familiar with the design.
Again, the GoldenEar BRXs sounded quite different in that room. With the subwoofers, the BRXs really let go of the music. They sounded big, powerful and decidedly full-range. Compared with the Triton References, the BRXs sound a bit more laid back, not nearly as forward, and dang it, I preferred them to the big $11K/pair towers.
So what were the lessons learned while listening to the GoldenEar BRX monitors with several different systems over long periods of time? This opens up a Pandora’s Box for high-end audio reviewers, because my findings suggest that you’ll never quite know the true nature of an audio component unless you listen to it with everything under the sun. That’s it, time to pack it up and go home. We reviewers sit on a throne of lies.
It’s funny, because we just received a comment from a reader who dismissed one of our amplifier reviews because any sonic differences are due to the loudspeakers used, or something like that. Both Grover Neville and I responded with nearly the identical opinion that we can always hear what the amplifier is doing–through the speakers, not because of them. In my days as an exhibitor, we used to call that “hearing through.”
It’s also funny that a mere $1,600 pair of loudspeakers like the GoldenEar BRX can trip me up like this. I threw them into a very lofty system and felt like they were holding back some of the music. In more modest systems, however, I heard the BRXs take on a new set of strengths, recovering more information and increasing the domain of the soundstage. When mated with the LSA VT-70 integrated, the GoldenEar BRX proved that you can still have a completely enjoyable system for a reasonable amount of money–which may just bring more people into our hobby.
That’s why the GoldenEar BRX speakers are so intriguing, and why you should hear them before you choose another two-way monitor for under $2K (with or without the magnificent and essential Acora Acoustics SRS-G stands, of course). They are definitely not LS3/5as, nor are they KEF LS-50s. Each member of this trio stands at the corners of an equilateral triangle sound-wise, and you’ll need to decide which corner makes you happiest. But if you’re drawn toward a powerful and gutsy performance from an affordable two-way monitor, the BRXs are ready to take you on an adventure.