GoldenEar Technology BRX Bookshelf Speakers Review
Eric Teh auditions this interesting little standmount loudspeaker…
BRX Bookshelf Speakers
US$1,598 | S$2,359 RRP
GoldenEar Technology was founded in 2010 by Sandy Gross, a man well-known in the industry for producing innovative loudspeaker designs that sound good and are affordably priced. He has had a long and illustrious career in the audio industry, co-founding Polk Audio and Definitive Technology in 1972 and 1990, respectively. Both companies are still going strong, which is a testimony to the quality and popularity of the products. In 2020, GoldenEar was sold by Gross to The Quest Group, the parent company of AudioQuest.
GoldenEar describes the Bookshelf Reference X as having a goal of achieving accurate high-definition sound reproduction, with three-dimensional imaging comparable to that achieved by the company’s more expensive designs. To all intents and purposes, its drive units are borrowed from the company’s floorstanding Triton range, with the 150mm bass/midrange driver being said to be almost identical, and the High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter being the same.
The latter is similar to Oscar Heil’s air motion transformer in design terms. A very thin conductive membrane is folded into an accordion-like shape and placed in front of the drive unit magnet. The music signal that flows through the membrane causes it to squeeze inwards and outwards to create sound. Like ribbon and electrostatic drivers, the membrane is extremely lightweight. However, the folded membrane is said to result in much higher air volume movement and faster velocity. The use of innovative technology such as this is welcome, especially at the price.
Two side-mounted 165mm passive radiators, or auxiliary bass radiators as they’re also called, complete the picture. These are essentially drivers without magnets and voice coils fitted. Instead, cone movement is powered by the air pressure inside a sealed speaker cabinet. Since there is no port, related port noise is avoided. By using twin drivers, the radiating area becomes equivalent to a much larger driver which would have been otherwise impossible to mount in something as small as the BRX. As they are mounted on opposing sides, the forces and vibrations created are opposing and should in theory cancel out, reducing cabinet vibration. This approach has been used by other manufacturers like KEF and Vivid Audio to good effect.
This is a pretty compact speaker, with dimensions of 205x308x313mm. Weight is a moderate 5.4kg. Efficiency is claimed to be a respectable (for a small speaker) 90dB – so it should go loud with relatively little power. However, the manufacturer’s quoted nominal impedance figure of 4 ohms means that it will prove a tough load for some amplifiers. Frequency response is said to be from 40Hz to 35kHz, but this is relatively meaningless as no cut-off points are specified. GoldenEar says the speaker will work with amplifiers with a power output of 20 to 250 watts per channel.
The review sample was supplied in gloss black, which is the only finish available. The subtle curves of the cabinet were a refreshing change from the usual boring rectangular box, and the front grille is similarly curved. The fabric grilles rest on a protruding lip at the bottom of the cabinet, which does look awkward with the grilles removed. This was not an issue as I found the BRX to sound best with them on. The metal grilles covering the passive radiators on the cabinet sides are glued in place. A single pair of binding posts are located at the rear. During my auditioning period, each BRX was placed about a metre from the rear wall, with toe-in pointing to a spot behind my head, as recommended in the manual.
GoldenEar’s little BRX is certainly no shrinking violet. It packs a decent punch and exhibits a liveliness that belies its diminutive size, thanks partly to a bright and open treble that illuminates the music nicely. Add this to its authoritative bass, and the result is an exciting presentation – yet this speaker is still comfortable to listen to over long sessions, thanks to a smoothish midrange and relative lack of harshness.
Speaking of bass, you get plenty of this from the BRX. The passive radiators usefully extend low frequencies and bass remains accurate and tight even at higher-than-usual volumes. In a small apartment, this should deliver more than enough bottom end for most listeners, even without a subwoofer. Passive radiators can be tricky to get right, and end up slow and ponderous if poorly executed. Thankfully, listening to double bass on I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Inger Marie Gundersen confirmed plenty of texture and articulation in the lower registers. I could hear both the plucking of the strings and the harmonics from the vibrating strings and instrument.
Cueing up Arthur’s Theme by Monty Alexander, the BRX showcased the energetic and dynamic piano playing, especially the crisp attacks on high notes. As the track builds in tempo and energy, this speaker remained firmly in control – even with the busy work between the drummer and Monty. This was a pleasant surprise, and one would expect a small bookshelf like the BRX to compress or otherwise get rhythmically caught out by more dynamic music like this. This pocket rocket goes far deeper and louder than expected! I did notice, though, that at lower-than-usual volumes, the bass was more reticent, which resulted in a leaner and brighter tonal balance. This is something worth considering if most of your listening sessions are late at night.
Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega is a great test for midrange purity and tone. In fact, this track is referred to as ‘the Mother of the MP3’, as audio engineer Karl-Heinz Brandenburg used this as a reference track in the development of the MP3 compression algorithm. With this a cappella track, the focus is solely on Vega’s voice. This recording has a subtle warmth and clarity that is easily affected by lesser systems. The BRX did an admirable job here with purity and ambience. Any sins in the midrange were ones of omission – there was a hardly noticeable smoothing-over effect that reduces a bit of detail, but with the added benefit of taming sibilant recordings. Subjectively, midrange energy felt a tad restrained compared to the rest of the frequency range, pushing vocals back slightly in the soundstage.
The star of the BRX is definitely the HVFR tweeter unit. There is plenty of high-frequency energy, which gives the speaker a bright and airy presentation. However, attack transients have a gentler edge than most metal dome tweeters. Cymbal strikes are clear and fade convincingly, but with less emphasis on leading edges. Listening to Do Nothing Till You Hear by Johnny Frigo with Bucky and John Pizzarelli, and the violin playing was clear and expressive but never harsh. I heard gentle and extended highs without them sounding piercing or rolled off.
Personally, I am a big fan of bookshelf speakers for their imaging and soundstaging strengths, and the BRX did not disappoint in this regard. Instruments and voices were always placed precisely in acoustic space. The main weakness of this design, compared to more expensive speakers, is its flatter soundstage with less sense of depth and spaciousness. There’s also a directivity issue, as the output from the tweeter drops significantly when you’re not listening on-axis.
This means that you need to be careful when positioning the GoldenEar. Its small size can result in low placement height, with the tweeter well below ear level for the typical listener. On my 24-inch Partington Super Dreadnought speaker stands, I had to lower my listening position by a few inches to compensate. For most people, it would be best paired with 28-inch speaker stands; otherwise, treble may sound dull and lacking in energy.
Secondly, despite the highish claimed sensitivity of this speaker, they only sounded confident and alive with fair amounts of power. I tried a variety of amplifiers, including a Schitt Aegir (20W), AGD Audion (85W) and Apollon Stereo 1ET400A (227W). The Schitt ran out of steam powering the BRX, while both the AGD (85W) and Apollon (227W) matched very well. Given its composure at louder volumes, it was always tempting to play this speaker loud, so this should be factored in when choosing a partnering amplifier.
GoldenEar’s little BRX is perfect for the apartment dweller who wants a large, high-quality sound but cannot accommodate bigger loudspeakers. I imagine it would also be good for smaller home theatre applications, making it easy to mount and blend into the decor. Indeed, in typical Sandy Gross fashion, it delivers great quality for the price. You get high-end performance in a compact package, all for a wallet-friendly price tag – useful in these times of inflation and high energy prices. I especially appreciated how it loved all genres of music, sounding good with mediocre recordings and fantastic with well-recorded tracks.
Tinkering since he was a wee little Audiophile, Eric also collects fountain pens and watches. He is on a never-ending journey to find the meaning to life, the universe and everything.
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