GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer Review

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 onesubwoofer. 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/Rspeakers. 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 subwooferthat 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-inchsubwoofer 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-endheadphones, 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 asubwoofer. 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 Forum. 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 Forum 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 frontleft/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