Goldenear BRX loudspeakers
It’s a bit of a novelty to have the Goldenear BRXs in my system, I can’t recall having had any of their loudspeakers through my hands before, although I’ve heard plenty and talked about Sandy Gross’ designs at various audio shows. Before establishing this label in 2010, he’s founded Polk back in 1972 and Definitive Technology in 1990. The man clearly knows a thing or two about building a speaker brand.
The compact two-way Goldenear BRX (Bookshelf Reference X) reviewed here was his last creation before the brand was sold to The Quest Group, the Californian-based company owned by Bill Low and best known for the Audioquest range of cables. So began a new chapter for the loudspeaker marque begun by Sandy, Don Givogue and Bob Johnston which ran for a decade under their control until Don announced his retirement. Low was seen as an obvious choice to take over the company since he and Sandy had known each other for decades.
There is an incredible amount of technology squeezed into the compact Bookshelf Reference X loudspeakers, not least four drive units per cabinet. Yes, four: active bass/mid cone and an interesting HF unit as well as a pair of passive radiators to improve the LF response down to a quoted 40Hz which is decent for a box of this size.
The 150mm cast-basket polypropylene bass/midrange driver is virtually the same unit as that in the mighty Triton Reference full-range tower models, while the tweeter is the company’s Reference high-gauss, high-velocity folded ribbon boasting an upper extension of 25kHz. Then, to each side of the sculptured cabinet is a 165mm planar infrasonic radiator intended to produce a tight, quick, powerful bass response. This is seen as a superior way of reflexing-loading compared to a conventional port tube. The cabinet eschews veneer or solid timber in favour of a rather beautifully-styled box, luxuriously finished in hand-rubbed piano black lacquer.
Snap-on black metal grilles are supplied and will ensure that those precious drive units are protected. To the rear is a single set of binding posts cleverly housed to provide flush cabling and allow a close-to-wall setting, albeit with the consequent effect on the frequency response from the boundary loading. Indeed, Goldenear recommends a minimum distance of 200mm from the rear wall and “as much as possible either side” due to the placement of those auxiliary bass radiators. Toe-in is suggested (although it narrows the soundstage) and placement so as to bring the tweeters to ear-level.
Before the review proper had even begun, alarm bells started to ring as I noted the quoted nominal impedance of a low 4-ohms and a 90dB sensitivity. The combination caused my beloved Hegel H190 to shut down, flashing “Hot!!!” on the front panel display, during material which clearly included a lot of energy around 170-320Hz, where the speaker’s impedance drops to around 3 Ohms. It goes down to sub 2 Ohms at 140Hz, and clearly needs plenty of power. I was able to conduct the review using the Hegel as a streamer/DAC feeding my Trigon Dwarf II monoblocks which are clearly not so troubled by a stiff impedance.
BRX sound quality
Goldenear make it clear on their website that they are not trying to create a studio monitor, instead, they talk of a speaker “with as little overt character as possible”; so not unlike a monitor then. Except that clearly the Goldenear BRX is not without its own character, and one which appears to be about excitement, listener involvement, thrills and a wonderful sense of pace, rhythm and timing. Things which kept cropping up in the listening panel’s remarks.
From the off it was apparent that the Goldenear BRX excels on electronic music with the panel members all enjoying the speaker more than I ever did because it wasn’t so happy with classical material. With this music the soundstage was confined pretty much to the cabinet boundaries; there was some midrange congestion and a sense that the music was trying to escape from the loudspeakers but somehow being slightly restrained. With time, I have to admit, that my ears became accustomed to the sound and less troubled by its foibles.
I put this down to my personal preference for studio monitors, a type of loudspeaker I have been using for four decades now, and one gets used to a certain type of sound – conditioned to it, almost. There was not the warmth, the lighter touch that I am used to. I probably found the BRX balance too dark for my personal taste and prefer a more analytical sound.
That said, the little Goldenear BRX scored remarkably well across a wide range of material which even included some classical pieces, with panel members talking of the speakers filling the room with Górecki’s Third Symphony (London Sinfonietta/David Zinman) bringing a lump to the throat from the sorrowful songs which were portrayed with a sense of realism and a feeling of ‘being there’ at the performance. Those solo sopranos, with text inspired by war and separation, were transcendental as they towered over the orchestra. Not an easy feat to achieve but the BRXs did it, and with aplomb.
Where these little boxes really scored was in their ability to create driving rhythm with a bass presence far beyond that expected from something of this size and price. The Goldenear BRXs excelled on rock and pop tracks as the panel revelled in track after track. I noticed it with Bach’s In dulci jubilio BWV751 (Bernard Foccroulle) where there was a noticeably deeper and more-engaging bass response than I had expected. These credentials were cemented in some of my favourite organ works as well, notably Bach’s Great Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 which caused me to shudder in sheer exhilaration at the rendition. That low-end power from a small enclosure is just astonishing.
Much of my daily listen is to spoken word and here the BRX was fairly well neutrally balanced across the key frequency range of the human voice. There was a decent degree of naturalism to voices which I know well across recordings, TV and radio. There is a lovely texture to the presentation and a sound that brings the listener to the action in an engaging manner lacking in so many loudspeakers.
The Air Motion Transformer unit is worthy of special mention because it creates a sublime treble response, clean, airy, detailed and well-integrated with the rest of the spectrum. The thin conductive membrane manages to produce larger air volume movement than a standard ribbon tweeter. True to type, compared to a dome, transients weren’t noted as being particularly rapid, rather sufficiently fast, and fast enough to maintain listener attention in percussive material, for example in Bartok’s Music for Strings (CSO under Reiner on RCA) where the CSO’s punch and power shone through but not in a modern-sounding aggressive way. No, we have the critical sibilance range very well-articulated, creating a clear, smooth and open treble capable of translating timbral modulation well. If anything, vocals can be recessed slightly in the mix although this appeared to be recording-dependent. It was also mentioned that on-axis listening led to the most favourable treble quality, due to the directionality of that AMT tweeter.
Imaging was noted consistently as “above average”, none more so than on Kraftwek’s Autobahn where although the initial stereo effect was slightly muted in width, it was made up for in sheer excitement and involvement. James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful showed how well solo vocals were handled by the design, with excellent timing credentials from the Goldenear BRX where several panellists remarked on involuntary foot tapping. This extended to Neil Diamond’s I’m a Believer where the loudspeaker scored highly for ‘pace’ as it did with the hectic lines in When I Grow Up by the Beach Boys, where imperfections in this historic analogue recording were completely masked by the way that the listener was drawn into the performance.
A lot of technology competently packaged into a small box means that the Goldenear BRX achieves a great deal for its price-tag. Its balance it is bound to find favour among a wide range of audiophiles, it is ideal for those who cannot, for whatever reason, accommodate anything larger but want that big speaker sound. In fact, I wish the BRX had been around when I left home and moved into a bijou flat where classic Tannoys proved too large for the environment. I am tempted to mount a pair on the wall of my breakfast room, either side of a large-screen where I am sure they would enhance the rather meagre TV sound.
I have no hesitation in recommending the Goldenear BRX miniature for its engineering and sound quality. It will not fail to entertain with its lively, engaging balance which puts involvement to the fore.