The Black Diamonds are jewels.
by Mark Fleischmann, Home Theater 2003
When I first got to know Pinnacle, I was a consumer, not a reviewer. I wanted to invest in a small, good-sounding subwoofer that I could easily shove out of the way when borrowed gear displaced it. Like any consumer, I asked around, narrowing down the search to a pair of possible picks, including the Pinnacle Baby Boomer. That ferocious little 8-inch/600-Watt sucker has been keeping me entertained ever since.
The second chapter in my relationship with Pinnacle began when my editor asked me to review the Quantum/SubSonic. Guests would ask me about the speakers, unprompted, remarking on how small they were and how good they sounded. The eyebrow-raising review I handed in concluded that this sub/sat set was the best compact 5.1-channel speaker system I’d ever heard. At $1,699 the Quantum/SubSonic remains a prodigious achievement as well as one of the sub/sat sets I recommend when I correspond with readers.
Pinnacle has stepped up to the plate again with the Black Diamond Series. My review rig included the floorstanding BD1000 ($1000/pair), bookshelf-sized BD500 ($450/pair), BD300 center speaker ($400), and SuperSonic Sub ($1500). The dual 12-inch SuperSonic is actually a new version of the Digital Sub 600. Pinnacle also offers the bipole 8-inch Baby Boomer Plus ($1050). Both subs’ amps have been upgraded from 600 to 800 Watts peak (not RMS) power.
All of the speakers in the Black Diamond Series come in a black-lacquer finish, and the BD500 is also available in white lacquer for $500/pair. The finish, which takes a week to produce, is the product of nine stages of coating and polishing. A piano-lacquer finish isn’t exactly an original touch, but I’ve rarely seen it so well executed, with sensuously rounded edges and corners.
Let’s cut to the chase. Pinnacle has once again delivered a sub that kills. The rest of the system images like a champion and delivers an incredible amount of detail. These were my first impressions, and they never wavered. The plot thickened in the midrange, which evolved from having a somewhat forward presentation in the first hours to having a spatially enriched and well-layered complexity that made me pillage the Latin corner of my music library. While I had the Pinnacles I established diplomatic relations with Scarlatti and my love for the Argentinean composers Ginastera and Piazzolla deepened. Oh, and they rocked, too.
The specs? You’ll probably want to know that the BD1000 is 40.75 inches tall with a slim 6.5 by 10.5 inch footprint. It swings three ways with four elements, including a one-inch liquid-cooled silk dome tweeter, a 5.25-inch polycone midrange, and two woofers of the same size and material. Each of the drivers has a rubber surround. The midrange driver sits at the top of the baffle, mounted in its own concealed sub-enclosure, surrounding a bullet-like phase plug that’s die-cast from silver-plated zinc-magnesium. Every driver has its own resonance (or breakup) mode: Every fundamental tone triggers false vibrations at a higher frequency. The phase plug suppresses the midrange driver’s upper harmonic modes, so whatever upper mid-harmonics you hear come from the signal source, not from the driver.
The same drivers reappear in the smaller two-way BD500 (with phase plug) and BD300 center (without phase plug), a 16.5-inch-wide horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer design. Pinnacle squeezes two 12-inch polycone woofers, one directly behind the other, into the SuperSonic sub’s sealed enclosure – which measures just 14.5 inches wide by 15 tall and deep. Each driver has a 2-inch voice coil, a 40-ounce magnet, and rubber surround.
With a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms and a fairly average sensitivity rating of 88 decibels (87 dB for the center), these speakers performed fine with my Rotel RSX-1065, which musters 100 high-current Watts times five. I wouldn’t mate these speakers with any receiver that delivers less rated power, has a stingy power supply, or sells for less than $700 on the street. I found myself reaching for slightly higher-than-average volume settings with some program material. My speaker cable was Monster 1.2s and my main signal source was an Integra DPS-8.3 combi player connected with six Silver Serpents from www.bettercables.com.
I got a big surprise when I setup the sub. As I do with most sat/sub sets, I set an 80 Hz crossover in the Rotel receiver. I was happy to find a crossover bypass switch on the sub’s back panel, so the LFE signal didn’t have to pass through two crossovers. What surprised me was the sub’s sheer volume output. When I dialed in the surround processor and sub volume controls to the default settings I usually start with, a hormone-infused roar pinned my ears back. I began with the surround processor’s sub-out volume at the usual -4 dB mark (my room has a bit of a midbass hump) and the sub volume one-third up. Using the Infinity R.A.B.O.S. test CD and a volume meter as a reference, I cut the processor level to -10 dB, the lowest setting that the Rotel receiver allows, and sub’s volume to 25 percent of its potential. I also ran the main speakers small – at least for awhile – which seemed to be a waste of four perfectly good woofers.
Has someone at Pinnacle developed a sudden interest in reggae or rap? Is it a midlife crisis? That cheap Viagra on the Internet? Whatever meds they’re on, I want to try some. By the way, if you need to fill a bass-starved room with action-movie-worthy sound-pressure levels, I do believe we may have a winner.
Having just made a $73 contribution to the Survival of Tower Records Fund, I had a lot of new CDs to audition. The store’s paltry selection of SACDs and DVD-Audios didn’t attract me. Besides, I was on a mission: I wanted to explore a handful of new composers (new to me) and wanted to keep the per-disc cost to $8 or less.
Mikhail Pletnev’s piano performances of Domenico Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonatas – originally written for harpsichord, an instrument I loathe – brought a healthy respect for the composer’s distinctive melodic sparkle, Pletnev’s skillful navigation of his octave-leaping style, and Virgin Classics’ vivid recording. The piano’s lower registers rumbled tunefully, and its harmonic signature, which the phase plug presumably controlled, was penned with a flourish.
I was also happy to add Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 to my collection. The recording by pianist Dora De Marinis, Julio Malaval, and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra did full justice to Ginastera’s turbulent rhythms and ominous harmonies. The Pinnacles had no trouble delivering some extreme dynamic contrasts, the piano’s percussive virtuosity, and the orchestra’s haunting sonorities. Low-level resolution was palpable enough to lend menace to Ginastera’s quiet moments and drama to his sudden outbursts. When the piano and orchestra blasted off together the Pinnacles shone with a versatile, snappy, powerful presentation.
Astor Piazzolla has done for the tango what Bach did for the fugue. His Complete Music for Flute and Guitar, recorded at the Martin Luther Church in Detmold, Germany, is more chamber than dance music. The speakers captured the subtle stone-wall and wooden-fixture reverb of Irmgard Toepper’s flute as well as the delicate touch and texture of Hugo Germàn Gaido’s guitar.
Woodwinds figure prominently in Vivaldi’s Complete Recorder Concertos with László Kecskeméti and the Nicolaus Esterhàzy Sinfonia. It surprised me that the first three of the six works featured the peeping sopranino recorder. Kecskeméti ennobled the potentially annoying instrument by lovingly shaping each phrase, and the tweeters caught the nuances of his intonation, so much like a tiny human voice.
These last three discs came from Naxos. The audiophile press love Naxos for its high-quality recordings, musical smarts, and modest pricing. It’s the thinking person’s budget label. I love Naxos for its packaging. The shrink-wrap is easy to remove; and, beneath it, you won’t find any of those blasted sticky labels that come off in slivers.
The oddest of my acquisitions was Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. No less than three separate releases of the same 1962 Karajan/Berlin recording confronted me at Tower/NYC. I picked the most recent one which was processed in Ambient Surround Imaging (AMSI). According to Emil Berliner Studios’ Website, AMSI adds “a surround feel to stereo material. During a proprietary surround remastering process, stereo material is enhanced with additional ambience information and converted to a surround-decoder-compatible signal.” Played back in Dolby Pro Logic II’s music mode, the one in which I play most stereo recordings nowadays, the AMSI-enhanced CD conjured a floodlit soundstage with glowing instrumental textures. I was surprised that a CD could depict space so vibrantly (within DPLII’s pattern limits), and the Pinnacles deserved their share of the credit.
It had been a long time since I’d rocked and rolled, but a spot check of Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature (DVD-Audio) and a full audition of Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP gave me full confidence in the sub’s ability to handle a rhythm section. I wanted to hear more of John Paul Jones’ Fender bass, so I gave the towers a full-range signal. Jimmy Page’s spooky church-bell mandolins and Sandy Denny’s co-wailing on “The Battle of Evermore” also spoke well of the midrange. Robert Plant seemed more adenoidal than usual, and I thought I detected a slight bustle in my hedgerow, but it was just a spring clean for the May Queen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track of Spike Lee’s 25 Hours hit the speakers with a lush orchestral score, and they delivered it like a bouquet of roses. There were some distinct ping-pong surround effects in the socioeconomic denunciation scene (don’t ask) and the nightclub-seduction scene. I loved the way the sub delivered the low growl of the club’s dance music when characters retreated behind closed doors. But the dramatic highlight was the beating that Edward Norton’s drug-dealing protagonist took from a buddy. Shouts, barks, and blows suddenly cut out of the mix leaving only the park setting’s twitter of birds and a quiet breeze. Pinnacle’s textile tweeter’s low-level definition helped make the scene traumatic and indelible.
The Eminem vehicle 8 Mile traced the path of another downwardly mobile character in a scenario laced with rap interludes ranging from playful to confrontational. The DTS track’s dynamic contrasts stayed within a limited range, which I attributed to the movie’s mainstream pop ethos and noisy Detroit milieu. Even so there were several moments when the music burst out like an avenging fury.
Eventually, I revised my initial judgment of the initially forward midrange. Once they were broken in, the speakers moved back several rows in the concert hall, albeit still a few rows ahead of center. The Black Diamonds are revealing but not ruthless. They don’t allow a one-size-fits-all volume adjustment, yet they manage to make a large percentage of recordings (at least the sort I buy) sound acceptable. A small percentage sound brilliant, reflecting reality just about perfectly.
Before I conclude, let’s run few a variations. The 5.1-channel system that I reviewed costs $3,350. Replace the floorstanding BD1000 with two more of the smaller BD500 (an easy choice given the sub’s almost anarchic power), and you’re suddenly down to $2,800. Continue with the small satellites and get the Baby Boomer Plus in lieu of the SuperSonic sub, a viable option in a small or bass-heavy room, and the price is an affordable $2,350. A 6.1-channel system with six BD500s, bringing in the benefit of a fully matched center, is $2,400 with the Baby Boomer Plus or $2,850 with the SuperSonic. Want to go 7.1? Add the BD300 center with your sub of choice, and the range is $2,800 to $3,250. No matter how you juggle them, these numbers add up to a highly desirable value rating, especially considering the agreeable cosmetics and sterling sound.
I remain an undaunted Pinnacle fan. The Black Diamond Series left no tone unturned and performed well in every way imaginable. Not that there isn’t room for future growth. As a purveyor of wildly powerful subs, Pinnacle should consider going the Infinity route and get into low-frequency EQ. That one-item wish list aside, I warmly recommend these speakers to anyone who wants to get inside music and movies.
* Unbelievably powerful 800-Watt sub
* The silk/neodymium tweeter provides strong detail and imaging
* Lustrous, black piano-gloss finish and small footprint
Build Quality: 95
* Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, available through www.practicalhometheater.com (or 800/839-8640).