As writers in the
consumer electronics press, we sometimes find ourselves relying too
heavily on "numbers" when describing speaker systems. After a
while, 89 dB sensitivity, dynamic range, frequency range, etc. spew
forth like so much bad gin the morning after Saint Patrick's Day. This
technospeaker may arguably be attributed to having a never-ending stream
of speaker systems flowing in and out through our testing facilities
like so many El Nino storms. Few systems are horrible enough to condemn,
yet few are worthy of gushing endorsement. But there are those
exceptions when a speaker system arrives, wrapped in plain cardboard
boxes without outrageous technical hyperbole silk-screened all over
them, that when wired to your audio processor, blows your mind to the
point where boxing them up and returning them is a gut-wrenching,
teary-eyed prospect where you pout moan and complain to the point where
even your loyal dog says (in her own way), "Enough is enough,
chief!" Such was the case with the PINNACLE®
Classic Gold Series
5-speaker array, plus their Digital Sub350 powered subwoofer ($3,035
Before I get another line into this, let me just say that these
speakers are awesome! This system is a gold nugget in a sea of iron-pyrite, delightful in
presentation and fantastic in performance. I had never heard of PINNACLE® Speakers before
and based on this system's reasonable price, I wasn't expecting such performance. The
overall visual presentation is a simulated wood black finish with black-cloth grill
covers. As they sit there in surround sound formation the look is one of quite,
unobtrusive sentries, but once you feed these babies some quality audio signals--Look out!
And in this Corner...
Being pretty handy with large-caliber firearms, as well as wiring tools,
I designed an A/B switch box to snap between two separate 5-channel
speaker systems in real-time (you know, five in 10 out). My reference
system is nothing to scoff at, and in fact, the stereo speakers (which
carry a similar driver complement to the PINNACLE®
Classic Gold Reference
units) cost almost as much as the entire PINNACLE® system and since I
paid for my speakers myself it makes this review somewhat bitter-sweet.
Rarely has a speaker system I've tested beat my reference setup, at
best they were comparable, until the
Classic Gold Series came along. Switching between the
two was like switching from Jack Daniel's to Old Bushmills Black, from a Dodge Diplomat to
a Ferrari Testarossa, or from a previously viewed VHS tape to a DVD. You get the idea, the
PINNACLEs kicked its...buttocks.
What was most noticeable right off was how clear, bright and accurate
the overall sound quality was, separation between mid-bass, low-bass and high frequencies
was amazing, subtle nuances usually smeared in modest-priced systems such as this one were
bright and distinguishable. The low-frequency attack was tight and authoritative, leaving
you with a real sense of "full range," as well as "real-time." Movies
I've watched an embarrassing number of times seemed as if they had been re-mastered, as
subtle sound events were now more evident making for a far more involving audio
presentation--not to mention enhancing the films' overall enjoyment level.
Besides running any new component, through an alarmingly long series
of movie viewing, I also always put the stereo speakers through the
patented Fordyce music test. I think this is valid as the stereo fronts
in any decent surround system should do an adequate job in stereo as
well as in 5.1-channel surround. Usually this music test part ends with
me sitting there thinking, "Yeah, whatever." But not this
time. I cranked up the Alice In Chains acoustic SAP CD, some vintage
Pistols and some Elvis and just melted back into the old, jet-black
simulation, crushed-velvet dog-hair-covered couch. What's usually a
2-hour music listening test was a 2-day affair. Suffice it to say, the
PINNACLE® Classic Gold Reference front stage stereo pair ($895/pair) laid
a handsome hand upon my favorite music, I had never heard Johnny Rotton,
Sid Vicious or Andy Gibb sound better--nor Mozart for that matter.
Oh Please, be Gentle
With a nominal 8-ohm impedance and 91 to 92 dB sensitivity, the
Classic Gold system is an exceptionally easy load for even the most
repugnant swap-meet-grade receiver to handle--but use the best processor
you can, as these speakers will do justice to the best of them.
Although it's not such a common practice today, in the early days of
home theater, an enthusiastic neophyte who already owned a decent pair
of stereo speakers would just add the center channel and surround
speakers to their existing stereo speakers (the logic being, "why
buy speakers I already own?"). The problem with this, besides the
timbre-matching issue, is that the center-channel speaker chosen was
usually substantially inferior to the stereo fronts. Depending on who
you ask, somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of all movie soundtrack
audio pipes through the center channel. So, obviously, procuring
yourself the highest-quality center channel possible should be a max.
PINNACLE® obviously understands the importance of the center channel to
home theater, as their Classic Gold Center Channel ($550) is one serious contender. What's
immediately noticeable is the speaker's 31-inch width, as well as the driver complement
(four 5 1/4-inch mids and a single 1-inch dome tweeter). The logic behind this design,
according to PINNACLE® engineer Peter Moore, "(is that) the larger a TV screen
becomes, the more important it is that the sound appears to come from the entire screen.
The small speaker on top of a big screen can create an easily discernible 'point source'
which is distinguishable as being different in scale than that of the picture."
According to PINNACLE®, 32-inch or larger TVs would benefit from the Classic Gold Center
Channel's design, and in my center channel only A/B testing I found there was some
improvement in this regard, not to mention that the driver complement makes movie dialog
more intelligible and crisp.
The rest of the array consisted of the
Classic Gold Mini-Monitors
($395/pair), which are 2-way bookshelf speakers running 5 1/4-inch woofers and 1-inch
aluminum dome tweeters. And, for the low-end rumble that makes big action pictures what
they are ('cuz it isn't usually the plot), PINNACLE's
Digital Sub350 ($1,195) was included
The Digital Sub350 warrants an article all its own, but, basically it's
a 350-watt RMS amplified system pushing two 12-inch woofers in a compound compression
(isobaric) configuration. This offers up an excellent power-output-to-size ratio, an
attribute those with limited living space can appreciate. I purposely put the 350 through
a sadistic low-frequency signal-test regiment, consisting of running low-frequency test
tones through the 350 at maximum volume. This is a truly unfriendly act to subject any
subwoofer to, but what the hey, that's why I'm here. In any event, the Digital 350 held up
surprisingly well, and appears to be an example of a speaker maker who didn't add in a sub
just to "complete the package." Sound-quality-wise it handled whatever was
thrown at it like it was a day at the beach, never once degrading into that muddy sounding
output common to many modest-priced powered subwoofer systems.
The PINNACLE® Classic Gold speakers are aptly named, as sonically they
are "gold," but at a silver price.
One Major Complaint
The only major complaint I have about the PINNACLE® Classic Gold series
speakers is that I'm going to have to give them back.