GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X Subwoofer X Marks the Spot

Neil Gader

The Absolute Sound 10/2018

If you’ve spent any time listening to GoldenEar’s Triton Tower loudspeakers, you know firsthand that GE doesn’t produce shrinking violets. Its speakers are robust music makers that deliver a dynamic, full-spectrum performance and are girded with rock-solid bass. A good portion of the credit goes to the fact that each of these entries is a hybrid or active/passive design, and uses powered subwoofers to anchor its low frequencies.

Such speakers are inherently more efficient and controlled than traditional all-passive designs, and are effectively immune to the vicissitudes of external amp mismatching. GoldenEar brings this same experience to bear in its stand-alone subwoofer line—perhaps most persuasively in the SuperSub X under review here.

At a glance, the SuperSub X is almost impossibly small, with a footprint that’s little more than a twelve-inch cube constructed of high-density medite and finished in high-gloss piano-black lacquer. Yet, sound quality was perceivably high, elevating that crucial first impression well beyond your typical woofer in a box.

Internally there is a helluva lot going on in the X. For example, unlike a more traditional small subwoofer, which might contain a single forward- or downward-firing driver plus a port or a passive radiator, the GoldenEar implements a pair of horizontally opposing 8" long-throw active drivers and two vertically opposing 10" x 11" “planar infrasonic radiators” firing upward and downward. In GoldenEar’s words, the drivers in this four-sided arrangement behave like counterforces. “The force-cancelling inertial balancing preserves and focuses all the energy produced by the transducers in order to effectively move the air in the room.” Not surprisingly the X is intricately braced in order to eliminate resonances or the flexing of cabinet panels due to internal pressures.

GoldenEar also posits that the orientation of the multiple drivers creates a driver-to-room coupling that can more effectively minimize standing waves. However, in fairness, and given the long wavelengths that define low frequencies, a single X cannot cancel out a room’s normal peaks and nulls—at least not to the extent that a pair of SuperSubs can. GoldenEar would likely agree. A further benefit that I observed was that this driver configuration tended to counter the tendency of smaller, lighter subwoofers to “crab” across the room (move along the floor) under high output.

The X is powered by a 1500W Class D amp, originally developed for the Triton One speaker. It uses a fully balanced topology to help minimize noise and distortion, and is controlled by a 56-bit DSP device with a 192kHz sample rate. The amplifier also utilizes many small, separate power supplies for each circuit section in order to provide further isolation.

The back panel input/output complement is straightforward and includes right and left line-level inputs, a toggle that selects between LFE and preamp inputs, plus an IEC connector for the supplied power cord. A pair of knobs controls level and the low-pass crossover (ranging from 40–150Hz).

Successful subwoofer setup is about creating seamless integration between the sub and the L/R or “satellite” speakers. The fact that low bass is omnidirectional means that subs can be moved about freely, an important advantage over full-range speakers that demand pinpoint placement to optimize soundstaging and imaging. When adjusting a subwoofer, my set-up credo is “less is more”—as in selecting crossover and output settings as low as possible to keep from localizing the source of bass in the room.

Ideally the chosen compact will have some supportive midbass response in the 80–100Hz range that will assist the subwoofer as it attempts to fill in the low-frequency gaps. Fortunately, I had on hand two superb compacts that fit the bill—the ATC SCM20SL and Revel’s new Performa3 M126Be (review forthcoming).

When I begin setting up a single subwoofer I typically place it at a corner behind the satellites, facing the driver (in the instance of a forward-firing woofer) diagonally across the room, which maximizes room reinforcement. I listen for the way the sub is launching air into the room. If the sound is thick and bloated, I incrementally move the sub farther out into the room or experiment with moving the sub along the plane of the speakers. I then listen to familiar tracks with repetitive bass lines, gradually settling first on a basic volume setting followed by the crossover setting to eliminate any holes in the response between the sub and the sats.
A finely tuned sub such as the SuperSub X goes beyond mere extension and actually rebalances a system along more musically authentic lines. Capturing the realism of the concert hall is my goal. This is where the SuperSub X really shines. Partnering with the Revel M126Be it raised that compact’s performance by supplying a foundation that extends perceivably into the low 30Hz range, even touching the upper 20Hz range in my room. Bass quality was full-bodied yet controlled, exhibiting the requisite bloom and resonant sustain expected of deep lower octaves. In a brass ensemble track like Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man the bass drum not only had deeper pitch extension but also reverberant drum-skin textures and more graduated sustain. Similarly, during Rutter’s Requiem the pipe organ developed denser waves of bass energy projecting into the hall. Such low-frequency density aided in defining the soprano soloist’s position as well as the vast reaches of ambient space within the venue.

With the SuperSub X back in play, the standup bass regained its persuasive personality—full, ripe with bloom, and even on occasion a bit boomy with woody resonances, just as basses can sound in live performances in intimate clubs. For compact speaker enthusiasts it’s worth noting that if you augment a stand-mount like the Revel or ATC the overall tonal balance will seem to shift downward a notch. Restoring the bottom octaves elicits an “unmasking” effect that impacts mid- and treble-range detail, as the subwoofer blends with the L/R speakers. This is a natural consequence of adding bass to hitherto bass-restricted systems. It’s a tradeoff, and some may miss the hyper-detailing they’ve come to expect from a cherished two-way. But achieving sound that can approach concert-hall realism is a worthy trade in my view.

The SuperSub X was not just for the classical or jazz aficionado, either. Sometimes a woofer just wants to get out there and party, and on those occasions I found that the X marks the spot. There are three pop tracks that appeal to me for their steady bass vamp intros: Gordon Lightfoot’s hit “Sundown,” the bass intro leading into Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly,” and the electric bass opening from BS&T’s “Something Comin’ On.” In none of these tracks the is the bass especially subterranean, but there is a larger point that a sub like the GoldenEar underscores. It’s not just the raw note being played; it’s the character of each instrument, the pitch and dynamic force that each adds to the presentation. With the X, the bass notes seem wider and more expansive instead of limited and pinched. I also cued up an old Nautilus pressing of The Cars’ rollicking track “Just What I Needed,” and the SuperSub willingly hit the dance floor with all the right moves—rhythm, speed, and punch that belied its modest dimensions. There was terrific pitch control with every kickdrum/bass-guitar pulse. The SuperSub’s drivers were unfazed by the demands of the music; their controlled excursion at very high levels testified to the effectiveness of the transducer/enclosure configuration.

Certainly there are much larger subs that possess greater output and ultimate extension (like the X’s big brother, the SuperSub XXL). Still, the SuperSub X firmly pushes important buttons; plus there is something more than bottom-octave extension that’s key to its performance—a finely honed capacity to expand the soundspace, upscale images, and open up the performance. To say I was impressed greatly diminishes the impact this subwoofer had on me. It will mate superbly with a wide range of compacts and smaller floorstanders and fit into almost any room. GoldenEar’s SuperSub X is a speaker of estimable extension, slam, and musical subtlety. The fact that it’s a bargain to boot only sweetens the deal.