What am I doing reviewing two GoldenEar subwoofers, the $900 ForceField 30 and the $1,750 SuperSub X? I’ve never been known as a subwoofer audiophile, even though I may be known as a two-way monitor audiophile and some two-way monitor audiophiles use subwoofers with those two-way monitors. Much of this scarcity of subwoofers in my life may be entwined with my life in apartments, and the unbridled annoyance I felt whenever someone told me I need to turn my music down–parents, landlords, spouses and all types of neighbors with terrible taste in music.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
I also hesitate at the thought of making speaker placement even more complicated than it has to be. I’ve heard plenty of satellite/subwoofer combos that lack cohesion from top to bottom–a common complaint. Having a single pair of stereo loudspeakers, ones that delve deep enough into the low frequencies to make me happy, seems to be a chosen pathway for my audio journey. That still doesn’t answer the question of why I decided to review two GoldenEar subwoofers.
It has a lot to do with those GoldenEar BRX monitors I’ve had around my house for the last year or two. I reviewed them once, and it took a long time because it was difficult to pin down the sound. The BRXs, as I concluded, were chameleons that would change their fundamental character according to the surrounding system.
Just when I finished the review of the GoldenEar BRXs, I heard them once again at a high-end audio show–AXPONA 2022. Once again, I was perplexed by what I heard. An A/B comparison was being conducted in the exhibit room, with the flagship GoldenEar Triton Reference tower speakers, at $12,500/pr, swapping places with a pair of GoldenEar BRXs and a choice of two GoldenEar subwoofers, with the MSRP floating somewhere a little above $5K for the entire speaker system.
Strangely enough, I preferred the BRX/subwoofer combination to the Triton Reference monoliths. The Tritons sounded bigger, and the bass went much deeper, but the BRX/sub combos sounded more realistic and focused–especially in terms of the size of the images and the soundstaging. I mentioned this in the show report, and before you know it Stephen Mejias sent me an email asking me if I wanted to hold onto the BRXs a bit longer (it turned out to be a lot longer) in order to try them out with two GoldenEar subwoofers. I said yes, of course, but then I ran into one problem after another getting the review completed.
My first obstacle was mentioned in my review of the Audio Note UK AN-J/D Hemp loudspeakers. When I placed the AN-Js in the room corners, closer to the side walls as Peter Qvortrup advises, they sound much larger and go much deeper than before. These are bigger-than-average two-way monitors with just an 8″ woofer and a silk dome tweeter, but they’ll reach down to 23 Hz when positioned correctly. That’s when I got my first noise complaint note from the property management tacked to my front door.
A second note arrived soon afterward when I tried to get my review of the two GoldenEar subwoofers underway. Stephen Mejias asked if everything was going okay, and I sent him an image of the note. Fortunately, I had a solution. I moved from that oppressive and unfair environment and into a big house in the middle of nowhere. Now it’s time to crank these puppies up and not worry about nasty notes from otherwise neglectful property management or the sound of a broomstick hitting the floor beneath my feet.
Inside the Two GoldenEar Subwoofers
When I first unboxed the SuperSub X and the ForceField 30, I immediately wondered how they differed. They’re both roughly the same size, and they both reach down to about 25 or 26Hz. The control panels look roughly the same, with a single pair of RCA inputs, and controls for the lowpass crossover and the subwoofer level.
Cosmetically, the SuperSub X is a perfect match for the BRX monitors, which might be a major selling point for potential customers despite the differences in price between the two GoldenEar subwoofers. But the SuperSub X, as you might imagine, also has a little more going on underneath the proverbial hood.
If you compare them side by side, you’ll first notice a difference between the class D amplification inside–the ForceField 30 amp has 1000 watts, and the SuperSub X has a beefy 1400 watts. The ForceField 30 uses an 8” ultra-long-throw high-output bass driver and one 9” x 11” downward-firing passive radiator, while the SuperSub X features two horizontally-opposed 8˝ ultra-long-throw active drivers and two vertically-opposed 10-1/2˝ x 9-1/2˝ planar back-wave-driven radiators. The latter configuration seems more aligned with the BRX monitors, which also feature passive bass radiators on two sides.
After those fundamental differences in the two designs, the two GoldenEar subwoofers are very similar in set up and operation. You get two knobs on the back–a lowpass crossover control that ranges from 40-150 Hz, and a simple subwoofer level control. Don’t ask me what my final settings were, since I was constantly experimenting and I also found that I was adjusting those two knobs on almost every recording. I always believe that every recording–every track, really–has a magic spot when it comes to volume. With the two subwoofer knobs, I found that I also loved to twiddle around and try to find a second and third magic spot.
Finally, there’s a switch on the control panel of the two GoldenEar subwoofers marked Left/Right In/LFE in. This, of course, corresponds to whether you’re connecting the subwoofer to the preamp via two pre outs or one subwoofer out. Overall, the SuperSub X and the ForceField 30 are both easy to hook up and dial into your system.
GoldenEar Subwoofers Set-Up
So I finally had these two GoldenEar subwoofers unboxed, set up and ready for their long-awaited time in the sun. Alas, I had one more obstacle in my way–having a preamp that offered either a sub out or a pre out. (This is where my preference for minimalist amplification always comes back and bites me in the backside.) The last time I reviewed a subwoofer, the MartinLogan Dynamo 800X that came with the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi monitors, I had a couple of amplifiers on hand that had subwoofers in mind when they were designed. It was easy to complete that subwoofer review.
Before that, in my importer/distributor days, I had to test out the new Axisvoicebox FLS powered three-way towers. Those were incredibly easy to integrate with just about any preamp or integrated because you just had to connect the subwoofers to any spare RCA inputs–something I always seem to have. The two GoldenEar subwoofers, however, need to be hooked up in one of those two ways that I mentioned. It’s entirely possible that I’ve never used a subwoofer output in my life, and the preamp out maybe just two or three times.
Once again the planets had not lined up for me. The last four or five amps I’ve tested have not featured a subwoofer out nor a pre out. Poor AudioQuest, who owns GoldenEar–it seems like every time I review their products there’s a painful waiting period to have everything prepared–and once I again, I apologize to those fine people in Irvine.
I thought about scouting out some appropriate review gear that I could pair with the two GoldenEar subwoofers, which is my usual procedure, but then I realized that I did have a preamp with both a subwoofer out and a preamp out–the Theta Casablanca. That’s right–I’ve had both the Theta and the Ayre V-3 power amplifier on hand for quite a while. They belonged to the owner of this lake house, someone quite famous in the industry who just didn’t want to move them again and asked me if I wanted to play around with them. The Ayre V-3 power amplifier, which is stupendously good, has found its way into my reference system on a number of occasions. The Theta, however, was so daunting in its complexity that I haven’t played with it yet. But thanks to the two GoldenEar subwoofers, and the Theta’s provisions for hooking up several subs via RCA or XLR, it’s now ready for its close-up.
You’ll probably notice one strange item in this configuration–while I have a number of AudioQuest power cords on hand, which were then plugged into the AudioQuest Niagara 3000 power conditioner, I didn’t have a single AQ interconnect with RCA terminations. (If you’ve read my survey of AudioQuest XLRs, you’ll know I have plenty of those.) So please don’t chastise me for using both ArgentPur and Furutech RCA interconnects in this review–I used AQ wherever I could, including my workhorse pair of AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables.
Once I had the two GoldenEar subwoofers hooked up and working, I had to place them correctly in the room. I know some of the basics for subwoofer placement in the room, but the owners’ manuals were also very helpful–stick them along the back wall, away from the room corners. Since my new listening room doesn’t have side boundaries that are well defined–just one big, long back wall–I found that placing them anywhere behind the BRX monitors, and off to the side, yielded strong and focused deep bass. (You can see from the photos where I eventually settled on placement.)
Sound with the BRX
The two GoldenEar subwoofers were both tested with the GoldenEar BRX monitors, although I did try them briefly with a couple of the two-way monitors I’ve had in-house over the last few months. The SuperSub X and the ForceField 30 had very similar effects on the performance of the BRXs–it’s that old story of a subwoofer helping out the satellites when it comes to the burden of handling the frequency range. And this is what I heard back at AXPONA–the BRXs suddenly opened up, especially in the highs. I actually heard a clear difference in the BRXs simply after turning on the subwoofers. (This, of course, is just a casual observation, but I heard it nonetheless.)
What I noticed about the two GoldenEar subwoofers was how precisely I could adjust them to blend at the low end with the BRXs. The first time I played with a subwoofer, it was a big Paradigm that I could barely scoot across the floor unassisted. I remember working with such a narrow band of optimization. One small notch in the knob, and suddenly the whole place was shaking. (I can remember my next-door neighbors running over to see if I was okay.)
With the two GoldenEar subwoofers, I was able to move slowly back and forth, adding and subtracting the contributions from the SuperSub X and ForceField 30 precisely and evenly. It was kind of fun to do this–I’d find myself on my hands and knees, hovering over each enclosure, and I could feel how each setting energized the room. Both subs reacted the same way–as I mentioned, both of the control panels for the SuperSub X and the ForceField 30 are nearly identical. Set-up of each of the two GoldenEar subwoofers was also nearly identical, despite the side-mounted passive radiators on the SuperSub X.
That, of course, brings up those differences between the two GoldenEar subwoofers. As I already mentioned, it’s hard to go by specs alone–especially when the two subs both reach down to around the same frequency. (I’m not going to pretend that I noticed a big difference between 25 Hz and 26 Hz.) But the SuperSub X, at almost twice the price, had deep bass that simply sounded more refined, and perhaps a little tighter. And, not surprisingly, the BRX reacted a bit differently to each sub. But I also have to mention that while the SuperSub X sounded tight and quick through the lowest frequencies, the humble ForceField 30 was almost as quick, with lots of layered low-frequency information and distinct transient edges.
The GoldenEar BRXs, on their own, offer plenty of low-frequency impact thanks to those side-mounted passive bass radiators. With the SuperSub X in operation, I felt the BRXs opened up considerably, with a larger soundstage and more space between instruments, while the ForceField 30 sounded slightly less three-dimensional in the same system.
I promised you Chocolate Chip Trip. I’m giving you Chocolate Chip Trip.
Between the two GoldenEar subwoofers, the SuperSub X provided a more accurate depiction of Tool drummer Danny Carey and his long, strong arms. I’ve said this before, but “Chocolate Chip Trip” is obviously a meticulously crafted recording that is full of sonic fireworks–it’s tremendously dynamic, and it’s one of those “headphone” tracks that swings effortlessly between both channels. But here’s the thing about Danny Carey–just when you think he’s been tinkering endlessly in the studio in order to achieve those dazzling effects, you watch him perform something live and it sounds just like it did on the album.
Between the two GoldenEar subwoofers, the SuperSub X injected a bit more excitement into the track, which meant the goosebumps were far more intense. The SuperSub X was also more adept and recreating that dizzying, ping-pong effect between the two channels–Carey’s arms may have seemed a bit longer and the recording became a bit more convincing as an actual live performance than technical wizardry at the mixing board. The ForceField 30, however, wasn’t disappointing in the least–if I didn’t have the SuperSub X in the rotation, I’d still be quite happy with the punch and the power of The Trip through the more affordable sub.
It’s easy to judge the two GoldenEar subwoofers by Chocolate Chip Trip alone, or perhaps with a dash of the Yulunga Test, but I was also thrilled by what was accomplished with a brilliant classical LP–Hilary Hahn’s Eclipse. I was surprised at the refinement and control of the two GoldenEar subwoofers and how they both added a subtle foundation to the sound that made it seem more anchored in the big room. I used a more judicious application of the subwoofer level in this instance, and it was a delight to find that sweet spot where the cellos and the basses remained real and natural.
Perhaps the most surprising result in this test of the SuperSub X and the ForceField 30 was their effect on the GoldenEar BRX monitors. As I’ve mentioned, I spent a long time being perplexed at these little $1,900/pr monitors because they seemed to adapt to almost every system configuration, and in every room. The addition of the two GoldenEar subwoofers added a something new to the BRX repertoire–a sense that you weren’t listening to two small inexpensive monitors and a subwoofer, but a larger close-to-full-range speaker with a much larger price tag. In other words, that illuminating experience at AXPONA was replicated in my own living room with an eerie sense of consistency.
GoldenEar Subwoofers Conclusions
My experience with the two GoldenEar subwoofers taught me an important lesson–things have changed with subwoofers over the last few years, despite my outdated attitudes. When people have asked me in the past about subwoofers, I tend to kindly dismiss them–“it’s not really my thing.” At the same time, those monster systems in the monster rooms at the high-end audio shows often employ monster subwoofers and you don’t see me complaining one bit. It’s sort of like string theory as applied to transducers–the two extremes can’t be adhering to two completely exclusive and incompatible set of physics laws.
My experience with the two GoldenEar subwoofers, however, reflects on the unique excellence of the BRX monitors. Each time I use them in a new system configuration, I gain new respect for them. With the SuperSub X, I’m hearing an open, impressive sound that fills the room with tight, fast bass performances mated to highs that are truly extended–especially in comparison to the first time I plopped the BRXs into the system and gave them a listen. And yes, you can save close to a grand on the ForceField 30 and still enjoy about 90% of that magic.
With a deep breath of relief, I conclude my time with the BRXs and the two GoldenEar subwoofers. I’m relieved, because I felt guilty for keeping these fine transducers for so long. But I also feel grateful that I’ve had another chance, in 2023, to explore the world of subwoofers and learn a few things about audio along the way.