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post #1 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 06:26 AM - Thread Starter
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GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer Official AVSForum Review



Mark Henninger found so much to like in the ForceField 5 subwoofer that he decided to make it a permanent part of his system.


When the GoldenEar ForceField 5 subwoofer first arrived at my home studio as part of the 5.1 system that GoldenEar sent me for review, I figured it was just another 12-inch sub, no big deal. After all, my system had four ported, low-tuned 12-inch subs of my own design, and for the last two years, I've been perfectly pleased with them. Even though I audition world-class subwoofer systems on a regular basis, I never suffered from bass envy. That was before I integrated the ForceField 5.

I bought my first subs back in 1991, a pair of passive B&W Acoustitune subs that featured a hybrid ported/bandpass design. Since then, I've owned at least 40 subwoofers. I'd buy between two and four of the same model, typically 12-inchers.

A few years ago, I happened upon the DIY Speaker and Subs section of AVS Forum and began assembling my subs, which ultimately led to the ported Sumpsub design that I posted in the DIY section. I used four Sumpsubs in my system, which provided flat, clean, evenly distributed bass from 16 Hz up to my chosen crossover of 80 Hz. There was only one catch—they took up a lot of space.

When I first heard the ForceField 5, I had it connected to the rest of the GoldenEar 5.1 system, which consisted of a 3D Array XL Speakerbar and a pair of SuperSat 3 2-way speakers. I heard that rig for the first time at CES 2014, and the demo rivaled the fidelity of a high-quality 5.1 speaker system, which is why I asked for a review sample. I'll discuss how the sub performed paired with that system's components in an upcoming review.

It didn't take long for me to understand that the ForceField 5 is special. I started to use it instead of my Sumpsubs, at first somewhat hesitantly. I underestimated its capabilities based on its size; it's a 12-incher mounted in a relatively compact cabinet. The trapezoidal enclosure conceals the ForceField 5's secret weapon: a downward-firing passive radiator. It's the first time I've used a sub with a passive radiator in my home, and I liked it. In the past, I've used sealed, ported, horn-loaded, bandpass, and dipole subwoofers, but never one with a passive radiator.


I flipped the sub upside down to get a good shot of the passive radiator

One of the reasons I took a DIY approach to subwoofers was a desire to use four subs in my listening room. Using several subs smoothed out the bass response and provided ample headroom to play movies at reference level.

The first thing I noticed when I set up the ForceField 5 was how well it filled my room with bass, even though it is only one subwoofer. Once I got it dialed in, its sound quality captivated me. Now, it's taken the place of the four Sumpsubs. Let's take a closer look at the sub that replaced my DIY rig.

Features

The ForceField 5 is a compact, 1500-watt, 12-inch subwoofer featuring a downfiring, passive, infrasonic radiator. It provides a 2-channel speaker-level input (with a variable crossover) and a mono RCA LFE input as well as a variable phase control and a volume (gain) control. The sub has a matte-black finish and a removable black-cloth grille. There are no lights on the front, and with its all-black finish, it is ready for use behind an acoustically transparent screen.

According to GoldenEar, the ForceField 5 uses a long-throw, low-distortion, 12-inch driver featuring an oversized magnet. It does not have a power switch, relying instead on a signal-sensing auto-on/off function. The sub's rubber feet serve the dual purpose of isolating the sub from the floor and providing optimum spacing for the passive radiator to do its job.

Ergonomics

The ForceField 5's enclosure is relatively compact for 12-inch subwoofer—15" wide, 15" tall, and 18" deep. Despite its small size, it weighs a hefty 46 pounds. Connections and controls are all located the back of the unit, which keeps them out of sight. On the other hand, depending on where you position the sub, accessing those controls can be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, the minimalist controls are of the set-it-and-forget-it variety.


All connections and controls are found on the back panel on the ForceField 5.

Setup

For this review, I used the ForceField 5 as part of my primary system. The sub arrived in perfect condition and required minimal setup to get up and running.

I followed GoldenEar's advice from the instruction manual and started by placing it against the wall between my front L/R speakers. I connected my Pioneer Elite SC-55 receiver's subwoofer output to the LFE input, making sure the crossover was set to 80 Hz and all my speakers were designated as "small." I used Pioneer's MCACC auto-setup function to calculate the speaker distances, after which I used a miniDSP Umik-1 calibrated microphone along with REW (Room EQ Wizard) to measure and adjust the subwoofer output.

Finding precisely the best location for the subwoofer took about an hour's worth of trial and error. My SC-55 doesn't offer any subwoofer EQ, but fortunately, the ForceField 5 behaved well in my modest-sized listening room, which measures 12' wide, 20' long, and 10' high. The sub ended up 10 inches from the front wall and five feet from the left wall, between the front-left speaker and the center channel. Combined with REW, I achieved a relatively flat frequency response from 20 Hz on up with no significant peaks or nulls in my seating area.

Performance

Ultimately, subwoofer reviews are all about performance, and that's where the ForceField 5 stood out. I simply did not expect a single 12-inch sub to perform at such a high level. My recent experience reviewing an SVS PB-2000 offered a glimpse of what a good 12-incher can do, but I never considered swapping out my DIY subs for that sub. With the ForceField 5, I knew early on that I was going to have a hard time giving it up when the review period ended.

Performance exceeded my expectations for both bass quantity and quality. I had no idea what to expect from a subwoofer that uses a passive radiator; now that I've tried one, I prefer it to ported designs. The ForceField 5's bass output was clean and tight, with enough output to rattle the room when content called for it. Both my music and movie collections contain many bass-heavy entries, and I've already listened to the sub for several hundred hours. It never faltered, even when belting out an intense bass sweep like the one at the beginning of the movie Edge of Tomorrow.

I ran some sine waves to test the sub's in-room performance. The first thing that stood out is how clean the bass is; a 20 Hz tone was all sensation, without the audible distortion that usually accompanies it. I've rarely heard a 12-inch subwoofer that plays so low, so clean, and with so much output.

The sub's output starts to roll off below 20 Hz 24 Hz, which is a good thing when working with a 12-incher, unless you want to risk damaging the driver when watching a movie with aggressive LFE content, like the aforementioned Edge of Tomorrow bass sweep. Every time I watched a blockbuster film with the ForceField 5 connected, it delivered an experience equal or superior to my four Sumpsubs—despite not digging as deep. A single ForceField 5's bass output turned out to be more than I need, and a noticeable sonic upgrade versus my DIY system.


Close mic'd measurements of the driver and the passive radiator.

I use my system for multi-channel music listening as well as movie watching, and I prize subs that possess so-called musicality, which I define as textures derived from precisely reproduced micro-dynamics. In other words, I want to feel the music, not just hear it. I found the ForceField 5 to be a willing partner in that endeavor. It breathed new life into many of my favorite albums, and it aced a number of tracks I use for demo/review purposes.

My go-to track for bass texture is "Her Friends The Wolves" by Coil. I've listened to that track since its release in 1992; it marked the first time I heard—and saw—infrasonic bass coming out of a home stereo. There's a particular rumble that fades in around the three-minute mark—deep, dry, and spacious—that I've heard play through every subwoofer I've ever owned. Furthermore, I've played the same track at AV dealers, numerous friends' houses, through various high-end headphones, etc.

The ForceField 5 handled the track with aplomb. However, a number of newer tracks feature superior production and more intense bass, which is why I often use Tron: Legacy Reconfigured as my modern reference. The album is full of dance-friendly remixes of Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack; one of my favorite tracks is "Adagio for Tron" remixed by Teddybears. At 1:17, the track introduces a deep bass tone that—when reproduced properly—makes your whole body and the whole room resonate for a second. The trick is to feel the effect without having to turn up the subwoofer, which requires a sub that is both tight and powerful at the same time. My four Sumpsubs could reproduce that segment with confidence; even so, the ForceField 5 does it better thanks to its notably clean and distortion-free output.

Another significant musical test of subwoofer's prowess is Dawn of Midi's 2013 album, Dysnomia. Pick a track, any track—the recording is pure stripped-down acoustical minimalism. There's no audio processing, no dynamic compression—just a bassist, pianist, and drummer playing their respective instruments. The hook is the use of unusual playing techniques and modern rhythms inspired by MIDI arrangements. Even if the music is not your style, the quality of the recording is hard to deny. When properly reproduced, there's a palpable sense that the instruments are in the room with you, and that effect is most pronounced with the upright bass. It takes an agile subwoofer that can still dig deep to reproduce the trio's sound correctly, and the ForceField 5 nails it. I recommend listening to the whole album as one extended track.

Although I hate to push a piece of gear to the point of failure, poise under pressure is an important consideration for a subwoofer. There are no rules when it comes to bass, and without some protective measure, most subwoofers would self-destruct in short order. You can find a list of movies with bass that'll put any sub to the test right here on AVS. To its credit, the ForceField 5 handled reference level with no issues. When I finally pushed it too far—using a 20 Hz test tone at unreasonable volume levels—the sub simply shut off with zero drama.

Conclusion

Over the past couple of years, I've heard many subwoofers. The best I've ever heard come from the AVS DIY community, which inspired me to build my own DIY subs. In the process, I learned a lot about bass, and I auditioned far more subs than I care to count. Even so, I was unprepared for the sublime performance of the ForceField 5. The price seemed too low and the enclosure seemed too small for it to hang with the big boys. Yet here I am, writing this review, listening to the ForceField 5, and loving it. My Sumpsubs subs now sit in my basement, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.

Thanks to the ForceField 5, the Crown XTi-2002 that used to drive my Sumpsubs has a new job—powering my front left/right speakers. When I use my system in pure-direct stereo (2.1) mode, it performs at a level that I used to associate with systems that cost many times more. After spending some time with the ForceField 5, the value of the upgrade was clear; dedicating the Crown amp to my front L/R speakers was an unexpected bonus.

I could go on and on describing how the ForceField 5 performed with different albums and movies. One thing would remain the same—it never called attention to itself. Instead, the sub called attention to the music or the sound effects in the movie. It never faltered, never distorted, never sounded slow or boomy or weak. Instead, it performed—and continues to perform—better than any sub I've owned in the past. In my opinion, it sets a very high bar for performance in a 12-inch sub at the $1000 price point. If a no-nonsense bass machine that offers unflappable performance in a relatively small footprint piques your interest, the GoldenEar ForceField 5 subwoofer deserves a spot on your "must audition" list.

Equipment

Pioneer SC-55 AVR
Crown XTi-2002 amplifier with DSP
Sony BDP-S5100 Blu-ray player
DIY Windows 8.1 gaming PC with Room EQ Wizard and iTunes
Samsung PN64F8500 HDTV
Behringer B215 XL (front L/R)
Pioneer SP-FS52 tower speakers (side and rear surround)
Pioneer SP-C22 center-channel speaker


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Mark Henninger, Senior Editor at AVS Forum

Last edited by imagic; 10-28-2014 at 09:46 PM.
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post #2 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 07:45 AM
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Wow... talk about high praise. I'm also surprised at how small the sub is. I wish I had known about this before I purchased my SB2000; I may have gone this route instead.
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Wow. I'm quite surprised, as it sounds like you were. How about posting some measurements of both the new sub and the system it replaced? It'd be interesting to see how differences in measurements relate to your ultimate preference.
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post #4 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 08:06 AM
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For what it is worth, when I listened to the forcefield 5 in comparison to the PSA XV15se, the FF5 sounded several db short on output. So, given the lower price, I'd take the PSA. But the enclosure is much bigger on the PSA - so for someone looking for a small sub with decent output for HT - perhaps it's worth a look. For music they sounded similar but, to be honest, neither was great. I found that I preferred to just turn them off on music, unless I was playing techno or rap.
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post #5 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 08:30 AM
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Well you've certainly gave it a glowing recommendation Mark! I'm curious about it's measurements though. On the goldenear site it says it has a 1500 watt amp .. is that RMS or peak? Also it says it's FR is 12hz to 250hz, but 12 hz at what, -20db? You've said it rolls off under 20hz, so that's kind of a dubious claim (Goldenear's not yours)... though it would be quite impressive if it can reach that low with any kind of authority (even 16 hz) for that price. I searched for measurements but couldn't find any. Anyone else have any luck?
http://www.goldenear.com/products/fo...oofers?gktab=2
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post #6 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 08:59 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Spamilton View Post
Well you've certainly gave it a glowing recommendation Mark! I'm curious about it's measurements though. On the goldenear site it says it has a 1500 watt amp .. is that RMS or peak? Also it says it's FR is 12hz to 250hz, but 12 hz at what, -20db? You've said it rolls off under 20hz, so that's kind of a dubious claim (Goldenear's not yours)... though it would be quite impressive if it can reach that low with any kind of authority (even 16 hz) for that price. I searched for measurements but couldn't find any. Anyone else have any luck?
http://www.goldenear.com/products/fo...oofers?gktab=2
Getting some feel at 16 Hz requires an EQ boost. My DIYs were quite a bit more capable at that frequency. 12 Hz on the ForceField 5 is as you describe—signal is present, but it's not a real spec. 20 Hz is clean and strong. It's the low distortion sound that hooked me.

I can only take in-room measurements with my current setup, that's not an accurate reflection of a subwoofer's performance in any space other than my own, so I didn't want to publish it.

I am not promising anything, but if I have a chance to take it outside and run some sweeps, I will. Not anytime soon though...

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Here are some limited measurements.
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post #8 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 09:05 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by djgoldb View Post
For what it is worth, when I listened to the forcefield 5 in comparison to the PSA XV15se, the FF5 sounded several db short on output. So, given the lower price, I'd take the PSA. But the enclosure is much bigger on the PSA - so for someone looking for a small sub with decent output for HT - perhaps it's worth a look. For music they sounded similar but, to be honest, neither was great. I found that I preferred to just turn them off on music, unless I was playing techno or rap.
Considering the PSA is a ported 15-incher with a similar price point, coming up a few dB short is not a complete surprise. I'm not using the sub to its full capacity anyhow.

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Originally Posted by pitviper33 View Post
Wow. I'm quite surprised, as it sounds like you were. How about posting some measurements of both the new sub and the system it replaced? It'd be interesting to see how differences in measurements relate to your ultimate preference.
The chart would show that my four DIY subs outperform the ForceField at the lowest frequencies. It would show that one sub does not have as even a frequency response as four subs. I used the built-in DSP on the Crown XTi-2002 to get as flat an amazingly flat response from the Sumpsubs, aided and abetted by the smoothing effect of using four of them.

The main difference is that I give up (truly) flat response from 16-24 Hz. However, the ForceField 5 produces cleaner bass (less distortion), which sounds deeper.

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Last edited by imagic; 10-28-2014 at 09:16 AM.
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this reminds me of the decade old sunfire trusubwoofer by bob carver. Good to see they are going this route again.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SyntheticShrimp View Post
Here are some limited measurements.
Thanks... It says –3-dB at 24 Hz and –6-dB at 21 Hz - meh. It sounds like it has fantastic mid-bass though, and it being so compact should make it a consideration for those with space limitations. For $300 less the SB2000 looks like something I'd give more consideration to with a linear response to 19hz. I can only assume the ForceField 5 has LOADS more output in it's upper bass to make it worth the loss of low frequency extension and extra cost?
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Thank you for the thorough review Mark!

I have a Force Field 4 in my HT along with a different brand 10" sub that also has a passive radiator. The FF4 is just thunderous in my small theater room. I had been considering buying a FF5 to swap out my other sub and run two of the GoldenEar subs. But after reading up on the ID subs on this forum I had been convinced that I needed a Hsu, SVS, or PSA sub (becasue they are so much better - right?). Reading your review is going to make me reconsider that decision and make me seriously think about going with my original plan of getting a FF5 to use with my FF4.

Packing a lot of sound into a small room.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Spamilton View Post
Thanks... It says –3-dB at 24 Hz and –6-dB at 21 Hz - meh. It sounds like it has fantastic mid-bass though, and it being so compact should make it a consideration for those with space limitations. For $300 less the SB2000 looks like something I'd give more consideration to with a linear response to 19hz. I can only assume the ForceField 5 has LOADS more output in it's upper bass to make it worth the loss of low frequency extension and extra cost?
It doesn't really tell us much about what the overall output capability is at 21Hz, just that it's 6 db less than the basic response.

Since the SVS is sealed they can use the included DSP to apply a lot of boost to the low end at nominal volume levels. In a CEA-2010 I'd put my money on the Goldenear at 20hz.
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post #14 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 09:38 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SyntheticShrimp View Post
It doesn't really tell us much about what the overall output capability is at 21Hz, just that it's 6 db less than the basic response.

Since the SVS is sealed they can use the included DSP to apply a lot of boost to the low end at nominal volume levels. In a CEA-2010 I'd put my money on the Goldenear at 20hz.
Close mic'd (12 inches) in its current location. This chart comes with a free grain of salt.

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I don't know what it is. But I'm just not convinced. On how great this sub is. I've heard it in person. Set up in the room properly for listening. But i still ask myself. At this price point. There is so much better out there.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SyntheticShrimp View Post
It doesn't really tell us much about what the overall output capability is at 21Hz, just that it's 6 db less than the basic response.

Since the SVS is sealed they can use the included DSP to apply a lot of boost to the low end at nominal volume levels. In a CEA-2010 I'd put my money on the Goldenear at 20hz.
I'd bet that you'd lose that bet

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post #17 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 09:57 AM - Thread Starter
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I've thought it over. I'll measure at the MLP and post a chart of that, as well as the close-mic measurement, in the review.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Spamilton View Post
On the goldenear site it says it has a 1500 watt amp .. is that RMS or peak?
I saw the same thing on their site. I went into the manual, and it states that is peak power. It seems misleading they market it at 1500 watts, and not what RMS is.They don't state that anywhere. I assume RMS is 500 or less.
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post #19 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 10:02 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by its phillip View Post
I'd bet that you'd lose that bet
The difference in output between those two subs isn't going to be all that significant. SVS makes good subs, and if the SB200 sounds tighter than the PB2000 then it probably shares a lot of qualities with the ForceField 5. That reminds me to get a SB2000 in for review.
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post
Close mic'd (12 inches) in its current location. This chart comes with a free grain of salt.

You might want to close mic the PR and combine the graphs. I'd pull that volume down too.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
The difference in output between those two subs isn't going to be all that significant. SVS makes good subs, and if the SB200 sounds tighter than the PB2000 then it probably shares a lot of qualities with the ForceField 5. That reminds me to get a SB2000 in for review.
This is one review I would very much look forward to reading i.e. your impressions of the SB2000 in comparison to the FF5.
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post #22 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:16 AM - Thread Starter
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You might want to close mic the PR and combine the graphs. I'd pull that volume down too.
Wow, yeah good call. Like I said, my first time with a sub that features a PR. The active and passive drivers interact a lot, close mic measurements are not easy!

Here's my result...


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post #23 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
Wow, yeah good call. Like I said, my first time with a sub that features a PR. The active and passive drivers interact a lot, close mic measurements are not easy!

Here's my result...
Yeah, at 12 inches you're still getting some of the "room" in there, but that's probably a bit more representative.
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post #24 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:32 AM
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Cute little sub.

Though a downfiring passive radiator makes me
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post #25 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Scott Simonian View Post
Cute little sub.

Though a downfiring passive radiator makes me
Yeah it's nothing compared to the hardcore DIY stuff. One of these days I'm going to borrow a dual 18" from Gorilla83 and put it through the paces.

The choice to go with a down-firing PR has to do with slot-loading the output (according to GoldenEar). I can understand the concern about the effects of gravity. I'll keep an eye on that over time.

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post #26 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:44 AM
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The shape of it may help in the sag department. Or not. Good way to maximize the surface area to the shape of the box though.
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post #27 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post
Yeah it's nothing compared to the hardcore DIY stuff. One of these days I'm going to borrow a dual 18" from Gorilla83 and put it through the paces.
Bite your head off man.


Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
The choice to go with a down-firing PR has to do with slot-loading the output (according to GoldenEar). I can understand the concern about the effects of gravity. I'll keep an eye on that over time.
Might want to throw in a couple more complimentary grains of salt with that one too.

Intriguing design though. Nice to see something besides box plus speaker plus amp.
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post #28 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 11:53 AM
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Thanks for the review. It's easy to shove a big driver in a big box. I am more interested in hearing about the tech and engineering employed in more compact subs.

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post #29 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 12:32 PM
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Wow, Thanks for the review and the chart. I was not expecting this kind of performance from Goldenear.
Sandy Gross knows his stuff and gives it to us in a form factor that is different from a lot of other subs on the market.

I would happily pay extra for that.
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post #30 of 120 Old 10-28-2014, 01:10 PM - Thread Starter
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I don't know what it is. But I'm just not convinced. On how great this sub is. I've heard it in person. Set up in the room properly for listening. But i still ask myself. At this price point. There is so much better out there.
It's defining better that's tough. There certainly are subs at this price with more output, or that dig deeper, or that are smaller still. The ForceField 5 is a nice package, and it straight-up sounds fantastic within its operating range. Compared to the PB2000, which I did not think was as tight-sounding, it is tiny.

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