“Once again, Pinnacle provides best-in-class performance...”
Pinnacle Microburst MB 5500 Speaker System
by Mark Fleischmann
Speakers needn’t be big. Smaller speakers are better
candidates for wall-mounting, they are less-visually intrusive on
stands, and they’re more-harmonious mates for flat-panel displays.
Pinnacle has topped my short list of small-speaker makers since 2002
when I raved about the
Quantum/SubSonic system. True, the company doesn’t exactly have the
subwoofer/satellite market to itself, and, at $1699, the Quantum/SubSonic
costs more than any other sub/sat system I’ve reviewed since then.
However, its satellites’ neutrality and its high-performance sub’s
compactness remain unsurpassed, at least by anything I’ve experienced in
my listening room.
With the advent of the Microburst system, also known as the
MB 5500, Pinnacle courts
comparison with a tough competitor—itself—and poses an additional
challenge by pricing the new system at $899 for five satellites plus a
sub. The MB 5000 includes the five satellites without the sub for $399
but the MB 1000 sub is not sold separately.
The sub-$1k market is a hungry one—but can the company cut the price
nearly in half while matching its previous performance benchmark? Let’s
just say it’s hard to beat the best. The question, then, becomes: How
much of the Quantum/SubSonic’s sterling performance can the Microburst
deliver at a fraction of the cost?
First thing to go is the Quantum’s liquid-cooled titanium tweeter. The
Microburst tweeter is also liquid-cooled, but made of Mylar, a nearly
indestructible plastic. The MB 2000 satellite exchanges the Quantum’s
dual carbon graphite mid-woofers for a single polymer cone unit. In the
MB 3000 center speaker, dual mid-woofers flank the tweeter. Replacing
the Quantum’s diecast and braced aluminum enclosure is a more economical
molded plastic box with a tough woven-nylon reinforcement to minimize
cabinet resonance. The back panel still includes gold-plated binding
posts, and for easy mounting, there are keyholes and threaded inserts.
Overload protection is provided although the speakers did not shut down
while I was using them.
Two-inch voice coils and 30-ounce magnets animate dual 6.5-inch
high-excursion drivers in bipole configuration in both the SubSonic and
Microburst subs. The MB 1000 sub has a smaller amp, at a rated 200 Watts
vs. 350, with anti-clipping circuitry. Its back panel is stripped down
to a single line input, crossover dial, volume control, and phase
switch—minus the higher-end model’s dual line ins, high-level ins/outs,
crossover bypass, and power switch—Pinnacle does throw in a six-foot
interconnect cable with gold-plated connectors though. The MB 1000’s
enclosure is slightly larger but it substitutes rubber feet for the SubSonic’s floor-hugging metal cones. Pinnacle claims response down to
Hitting the Keys
I connected the Pinnacles to my Rotel RSX-1065 reference receiver and
Integra DPS-8.3 universal disc player and got down to work. I’ve never
heard a molded-plastic-enclosed speaker without some degree of up-front
coloration. It always becomes obvious from the first instant. In this
case, the minor colorations were easy to tune out, whatever their
source. My brain simply added the sound of the MB 2000 and MB 3000 to
the list of things it considers natural.
Next listening adjustment: the sub. Compact sub/sat systems require a
higher crossover than larger speakers. The MB 5500’s three-inch
woofers—really mid-woofers—can’t play as low as the 6.5-inch woofers in
my reference speakers, so the sub has to take on a wider range of
frequencies. As the crossover frequency moves higher and more of the
instruments and vocal fundamentals emanate from the sub, placement of
the sub becomes even more critical as well. Usually the crossover rises
from 80 to 100 Hertz or more; and, accordingly, I expect a different
treatment of the frequencies surrounding the crossover.
One consequence is that in piano recordings, a greater proportion of the
keyboard’s left side downshifts into the sub, along with the percussive
weight of the hammers hitting the strings. This makes the system’s
performance from the crossover on down all the more critical. A
well-integrated sub/sat system can reproduce left-hand notes as
musically as higher ones while also preserving the complex percussive
sound—really, the percussive feel—of a piano.
That’s exactly how the MB 1000 sub handled The Piano Works by Chopin, a
13-CD boxed set from Brilliant Classics, the formidable
Netherlands-based budget label. Unlike a lot of small subs, which try to
compensate for their small size by substituting belligerence for
subtlety, the Microburst sub was authentically musical in its upper
reaches: it held a pitch. The satellites also excelled at delivering the
harmonic signatures of the various instruments, a combination of
antique, reproduction, and modern. The Pinnacles delivered each one like
a separate stripe in a pianistic rainbow.
Two discs featured works for piano and orchestra. Brilliant Classics
doesn’t believe in close-miking, but when I sat front-and-center, the
Pinnacle soundstage enveloped me in the highly naturalistic recordings,
giving them an authentic concert-hall feel.
A Darker Tone
Initially I’d thought the Microburst system was voiced identically to
its higher-end sister, which I regard as a paragon of neutrality.
Indeed, it’s close. But a quick run-through of my standard CD-R tracks
revealed a slightly darker midrange, with the inner-detail spotlight a
shade less bright. This made it easier to crank up the volume on my
standard metal tracks while other styles of music gave up nothing in
Still, the family resemblance was remarkable. Vocals were extremely
natural. I could hear the hand-off between center and sub on male vocals
like Bill Morrissey’s on the title track from Inside. But even when he
dropped down the scale, literally down into the sub, he didn’t start
booming. The sub handled his lower vocal range with immense detail and
Nor did it go soft on Danny Thompson’s string bass on “The May Day
Psalter,” recorded with Richard Thompson, from the Circle Dance charity
compilation (Green Linnet). With an undisciplined sub, I can almost
visualize the printed notes on a score going blobby, swelling out of
shape. The Microburst sub rendered pitches cleanly and evenly, focusing
Command and Kill
Master and Commander sounds impressive in any competent system. This
shipboard tale flings an impressive variety of stressed-wood effects in
all directions—and the Pinnacles made me aware of every dark corner of
the ship. In addition to delivering the inevitable cannon fire, the sub
also conveyed the low creak of the oceangoing vessel commanded by
Russell Crowe, and the sense of tons of pressure exerted on wooden
boards by a remorseless sea.
The first of many gunshots in Kill Bill Volume 2 is the one that
immediately follows Uma Thurman saying: “It’s your baby.” It made me
jump. I kept going until the buried-alive scene, with the sound of
hammer hitting nails, a pounding thunk combined with a metallic ding.
That seemed like a good time to bail out—I do a lot of my critical
listening during the day but staring at the inside of Tarantino’s sick
mind is something I like to save for nighttime.
Once again, Pinnacle provides best-in-class performance in a popular
category—in this case, the less-then-$1000 sub/sat system. Even
accounting for their plastic provenance, the satellites come closer to
neutrality than other products I’ve experienced of similar construction,
size, and price. Pinnacle also retains its knack for building subs that
are both small—not just in the footprint, but in all dimensions—and
So how much of the Quantum/SubSonic’s performance can Microburst deliver
at just over half the price? Not all of it, but a lot of it, especially
in the bass department. That makes the MB 5500 system an ideal mate for
mid-line receivers priced at around $500.
Build Quality: 90
Overall Rating: 91
* Mark Fleischmann’s book Practical Home Theater, now in its
fourth edition, is available through