In GoldenEar's short, three-plus-year existence, the company has earned a reputation for delivering high-performance speakers and subwoofers at a more affordable price - products like the Triton Three tower and ForceField 4 subwoofer that we've previously reviewed. With the introduction of the new SuperCinema 3D Array (SC3DA), the company is now tackling that most popular and difficult of product categories: the soundbar. Popular, because a lot of people love a soundbar's minimalist form factor, which combines multiple speakers into a single cabinet that can hang above or below your TV and provide better sound than you can ever hope to get from the TV's speakers. Difficult, because the all-in-one nature of a soundbar presents sonic challenges that speaker manufacturers try to overcome in a variety of ways.
• Read more soundbar reviews from the writers of Home Theater Review.
• Explore related reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.
• See more reviews in our HDTV Review section.
Soundbars fall into two camps: active and passive. The active soundbar puts all of the speakers, amplification, and signal processing in one cabinet; just connect your sources (and often a subwoofer) directly to the soundbar, and you're good to go. The passive soundbar is more like a traditional speaker system that requires connection to an external receiver or pre/pro that will handle the source input and signal processing. GoldenEar has opted for the latter approach with the SuperCinema 3D Array ($999.99), a three-in-one design that houses the left, center, and right channels in one cabinet. To flesh out the system, the company also sent me a pair of SuperSat 3 satellite speakers ($249.99 each) and a ForceField 3 subwoofer ($499.99). The total price for this 5.1-channel system is $1,999.96.
The SC3DA measures 49 inches long by 4.75 inches high by 2.9 inches deep and weighs 20 pounds. Its rounded cabinet has an elegant, high-gloss black finish with a detachable, black-cloth grille. The extruded-aluminum cabinet feels very well constructed and wonderfully inert. Within the 49-inch bar are discrete driver arrays for the left, center, and right channels; each channel gets dual 4.5-inch Multi-Vaned Phase Plug (MVPP) midbass drivers with a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter sandwiched in between. These are the same driver designs used in the Triton line. As the name suggests, GoldenEar's High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter places a thin, folded ribbon diaphragm between two magnets that squeeze air out of the folds at a very high speed. This approach is designed to be more efficient and produce less resonance than a dome, to create a smoother high end with less harshness.
There's about 35 inches of separation between the left and right channels (from tweeter to tweeter), which is a decent amount for a soundbar but still not as wide as you could get from dedicated left/right speakers. One of the primary challenges of the soundbar approach is that, because the left and right speakers are so close together, there's more crosstalk, where left- and right-channel signals interfere with each other and jumble up the soundstage. The SC3DA employs interaural crosstalk cancellation to help minimize this problem, which is especially beneficial with two-channel music. Within the soundbar's left channel, the outer midbass driver sends out a "minus-right" signal that's designed to cancel out the right-channel info at your left ear. The right speaker's outermost driver does the same for left-channel info, which should result in better imaging and a broader soundstage (we'll talk performance in the next section).
The 3D Array Soundbar's back panel has three sets of gold-plated binding posts that will accept banana plugs (my connection method), spade lugs, or bare wire; be warned, the posts are short and very close together, so feeding bare wire through them could prove challenging. The backside also offers a pair of steadying "feet" that allow the soundbar to sit upright directly on a tabletop (keyhole mounts are also available for wall-mounting); these feet include adjustable screws that change the soundbar's tilt to more precisely aim the drivers up or down at the listening position, depending on whether you place the bar above or below the TV. I began my review with the SC3DA simply sitting on the countertop in front of my TV, which put the soundbar right at my ear height (the center of the speaker sat at a height of about 33.75 inches). Unfortunately, the stand for my Panasonic TV is a bit shorter than average, and the screen area begins at a height of about 4 inches. So, the SC3DA's 4.75-inch height caused the soundbar to block the bottom edge of the screen, as well as the IR sensor along the TV's bottom bezel. GoldenEar sent along an optional mounting bracket, the CSB-3006-BLK by Center Stage Bracket Systems ($99.99), that allows the soundbar to sit on top of a freestanding TV. During the course of my review, I tried this placement, as well.
As for the remaining system elements, the SuperSat 3 satellite is designed to be a perfect sonic complement to the soundbar - sporting the same driver array (two 4.5 MVPP midbass units and an HVFR tweeter) with the same basic rounded, extruded-aluminum cabinet design, measuring 12 (h) x 4.75 (w) x 2.75 (d) inches. The satellite comes with a miniature stand to sit upright on a shelf, but I used the optional SuperStand 3 stands ($149/pair), which put the center of the satellite at a height of about 40 inches (total height 46 inches).
The SC3DA has a rated frequency response of 35 kHz down to 60Hz, while the SuperSat 3 has a rated frequency response of 35 kHz to 80 Hz. Obviously, a subwoofer is a necessary addition if you want some real meat at the low end of your movie and music tracks. The ForceField 3 is the baby of GoldenEar's well-reviewed trio of subwoofers. This is a fairly compact unit that measures about 11.5 (h) x 11.38 (w) x 15.75 (d) inches and weighs 26 pounds. It uses one front-facing 8-inch long-throw bass driver and one 9x11 down-firing passive radiator, with a 1,000-watt digital amplifier. The connection panel includes both a direct LFE input (my connection method) and high-level inputs and output, with a crossover dial and a master volume control. I placed the subwoofer in the front right corner of my listening room, about 1 foot from the front and side walls.
I conducted my evaluations in my large family/theater room, which measures about 18.75 x 12 x 7.75 feet. For most of my movie demos, I used the full 5.1-channel array, but I did experiment a bit with a no-surrounds 3.1-channel setup, too. I mated the system with an Onkyo TX-NR515 receiver and an OPPO BDP-93 BD player. I performed a manual speaker setup of level, distance, and crossover - opting for a GoldenEar-recommended crossover of 120Hz for both the soundbar and the SuperSat 3s. I did not activate any room correction or other Audyssey tools found in the Onkyo receiver for my tests.
Read about the performance of the GoldenEar SuperCinema soundbar on Page 2.