The Pinnacle Black Diamonds are stellar performers with a winning personality, delivering consistently pleasing sound."
"Nothing less than fabulous-sounding 5 star performers."
Sound and Vision Magazine, February 2014
By Mark Fleischmann
EVEN IN OUR INDUSTRIAL twilight, the USA still has a cornucopia of great loudspeaker brands, and Pinnacle Speakers is one of them. Since the company’s founding in 1976, it has always been a family-owned business; and if there’s one kind of outfit you don’t want to mess with, it’s a family outfit. I haven’t reviewed a Pinnacle product in eight years, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
A limousine screeched to a halt outside my building, and two bulky guys in Men’s Wearhouse suits got out. They didn’t leave me much choice: I was blindfolded and driven around for hours and hours until I had no idea where I was. At one point, I thought I smelled Secaucus, New Jersey. Another time, the blindfold slipped, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Satriale’s Pork Store.
Eventually, we pulled up outside a McMansion, I was hustled inside, they roughed me up a bit, and I was taken to the garden out back. There, an old guy I wouldn’t care to cross made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Review another Pinnacle product, or else. I am convinced the only reason I still have 10 fingers is that I needed them to type the review.
Black Diamonds I and II
Actually, it’s always a pleasure to review Pinnacle (and I’ve just about recovered from the kidney punches, though I’ve still got the stitches in my face). This review celebrates the
Black Diamond Series II in a system featuring the
BD 650 II three-way bookshelf speaker. (In the course of things, our style sheet would have me call it a monitor speaker. But remember what I said about still having 10 fingers?) Also included are the
BD 600 II three-way center speaker, the smaller
BD 500 II two-way bookshelf speaker, and the
Sonic 500 subwoofer. Other members of the Black Diamond line (not reviewed here)—some with the Series II designation, some older models—are the
BD 2000 II and BD 1100 towers, the smaller
BD 300 II center, the BD 200 LCR, and the
BD 100 satellite.
Each speaker comes in a piano black lacquer finish that requires a week of labor and “40 meticulous procedures and processes.” All Pinnacle products are designed in Massachusetts, and most are assembled at Pinnacle HQ in the great state of New York, using both domestic and foreign materials.
The speakers share similar 1-inch liquid-cooled silk-dome tweeters with neodymium magnets. Each tweeter is recessed into a half-inch-deep waveguide, which Pinnacle calls a horn. The BD 650 bookshelf adds a 4-inch midrange (with a die-cast phase plug) and a 6.5-inch woofer (in a die-cast basket). The side walls of its front-ported enclosure curve toward the rear. The BD 600 horizontal center has a similar midrange and woofer, but it adds a second woofer and has a sealed enclosure, with asymmetrical curves on top and bottom. Midrange drivers are isolated in their own chambers, enabling them to achieve high outputs while maintaining purity of tone. The BD 500 bookshelf, here used for the surround channels, has a 5.25-inch woofer with phase plug in a rectangular enclosure. All woofer and midrange drivers utilize polypropylene cones with rubber surrounds.
Every speaker has a specified nominal impedance of 8
Ohms. Crossover frequencies in the three-way BD 650 and BD 600 speakers are 500
Hz between woofer and midrange and 4 kHz between midrange and tweeter.
The Sonic 500 sub has a front-firing 12-inch heavy-gauge polypropylene woofer (with 2.5-inch voice coil and 50-ounce magnet) in a sealed enclosure, backed with a phat amp (170
Watts RMS, 625 Watts Peak).
Associated equipment for this review included a Pioneer Elite VSX-53 A/V receiver, an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, a Micro Seiki BL-21 turntable, a Shure V15MxVR/N97XE cartridge, and an Onix OA 21s integrated amp serving as the phono preamp. All movie demos were Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
Some speakers are chameleons that you don’t notice. The Black Diamond IIs are the other kind: They have a sweet, gentle, winning personality that never fails to assert itself. The upside is that they make everything sound a little better than expected, which is exactly what most listeners hope and pray to get from their loudspeakers. The downside—which may be insignificant to a real-world audience—is that their one-soundfits-all approach delivers few serendipitous surprises as you wend your way through your music collection.
Don’t take that to mean that these speakers are anything less than fabulous-sounding, five-star performers. The top end is polite but not reticent and certainly not gauzy. It makes a graceful transition to a midrange that is warm, generous, and well controlled even at high volumes. As a bonus, the monitors—um, bookshelf speakers, sorry!—have strong bass response for their size. If you’re not looking for percussive slam, they can deliver most kinds of music reasonably well without a sub.
As for the Sonic 500 sub, it’s a decent but not exemplary performer. It offers plenty of output, but bass pitches are soft, lacking definition. The speakers outclassed the sub. (I say this from the safe vantage point of the Critic Protection Program.)
Solomon Kane is an action-filled sword-and-sorcery tale about a swashbuckling soldier who renounces violence but takes it up again to fight the forces of evil. Battle scenes use the technology of the 16th century, which means cutlasses, the occasional pistol shot, hand-to-hand combat, and a lot of grunting and ooophing. When I set up the speakers with pink-noise tones, I noticed that the center, bookshelf, and smaller bookshelf each had its own subtly different balance of frequencies—but that didn’t stop the system from providing good envelopment in the heat of battle. A phase-shifted supernatural voice filled all channels with menace. The shring of swords being unsheathed made it through the Black Diamonds’ polite top end. A system with a more etched presentation might have made them ring louder but at the expense of the BDs’ effortless smoothness and high-volume listenability.
The Last Ride is a road movie in which the charm and bad habits of a dying Hank Williams pose a series of challenges to his wet-behind-theears long-distance driver. Music is of course a major element. Venerable mono recordings that punctuate much of the movie’s first half benefited from the BDs’ sweetening, as if I were listening through an idealized version of a vintage car radio. Later scenes mix images of musicians onstage with pristine studio recordings (none of them from the real Hank Williams, though his daughter, Jett Williams, sings several songs). It all poured out of the speakers like honey. The system seemed to have no timbre-matching problems in scenes featuring urban street noise, rural crickets, and what my notebook referred to as “slappy rain,” so vivid that it made me feel wet and cold.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is a John Woo production that pits Taiwanese aborigines (an indomitable and warlike people with a flair for decapitation) against Japanese colonists (who bring schools, post offices, and oppression). Once again, the soundfield filled with tumult, but the Black Diamonds rose to the challenge, juggling varied and dynamic elements with ease and effortless listenability—that’s the second time I’ve used that word, but it fits pretty much every moment I spent with these speakers. One of the Seediq’s more ingenious battle strategies is an induced avalanche. This gave the sub its chance to shine, but whereas I didn’t expect bell-like pitches from this effect, the intended chunky rock-slide roar emerged flabby and unfocused. The movie is unstintingly direct about the impact of violence on women and children, and the speakers poured orchestral violins and bamboo flutes over tragic images like warm bathwater over a battered body. This heightened the intent of the filmmakers while making the viewing experience more tolerable.
"The Black Diamonds rose to the challenge...with ease and effortless listenability."
Glowing but Complex
The Black Diamonds were perfectly suited to Linda Thompson’s voice. On Won’t Be Long Now (CD), her fourth non-compilation solo album, it’s an older, deeper, more artful voice, yet still emotionally frank and electrifying, capable of provoking any response but apathy. The BD 650 II gave it a golden glow but didn’t conceal a morsel of its considerable timbral complexity.
Each track has a unique lineup and sound. The Black Diamonds teased out the characteristic vocal textures of Teddy and Kami Thompson, Linda’s son and daughter. (You’ll want to run out and buy their own albums, if you haven’t already.) Ex-husband Richard Thompson’s distinctive Lowden acoustic guitar graces the first track, and the BDs delivered both the light woody body and the tangy metal strings, with slightly more emphasis on the wood.
Prokofiev 3 Bartók 2 (CD) consists of those two piano concertos as recorded for Sony Classical by Lang Lang, Simon Rattle, and the Berlin Philharmonic. In the short time I’ve had the disc, I’ve played it on every possible combination of equipment, including a Woo headphone amp and several headphones. The Black Diamonds conjured lush, smooth, colorful textures from the orchestra and a splashy, supple, dynamically fluid feel from the pianist. The speakers operating alone were enough to convey the piano, though kettledrum flourishes benefited from addition of the sub, despite its loose pitch definition. The second movement of the Bartók concerto is a particular challenge for low-level resolution as the orchestra dies down to a whisper. A speaker with a lazier top end might have let the faint exhalations of the string section fall below the threshold of clarity. But the diplomacy of the BDs didn’t tip over into vagueness; the strings glimmered quietly but distinctly.
The demos ended with memorial listening to mark the death of Lou Reed. The Blue Mask (LP) began his association with guitarist Robert Quine as well as the renaissance of his own rudimentary but effective guitar playing, and the Black Diamonds greeted this dual six-string feast with the roiling tone color it deserves. Despite what I’ve said about the sub, it did a good job with the bottom end of Fernando Saunders’ squirmingly tuneful fretless bass. The album runs the full gamut from married bliss to violent terror, and the system kept pace with it, never losing track of the varied textures of the guitarists as they rose from a murmur to a scream. When I moved on to New York (CD), the speakers adapted to the more biting guitar attack of Reed and Mike Rathke. The BDs also made the vocals—if anything—even more rich and resonant. Reed wasn’t a great singer in the conventional sense, but
he had a great voice.
"The Pinnacle Black Diamond II is that particular kind of great loudspeaker
line that imparts a little of its greatness to everything it touches."
All right, no more organized-crime jokes. The Pinnacle Black Diamond II is that particular kind of great loudspeaker line that imparts a little of its greatness to everything it touches, especially in the top end, which is consistently smooth, warm, pleasing, and euphonic without being dumbed down or sterile. Each time I started playing favorite music through them (or otherwise unmentioned Bluray Discs of Mad Men), I felt as if I were sitting down with a friend to discuss some subject of mutual enthusiasm.
If you're interested in the Black Diamond Series II - and I hope you are - Pinnacle sells through authorized custom installers but also online through authorized retailers such as Amazon, RadioShack, WOOT and Dell. If you want sweet sound at a moderate price, maybe it’s time to hear a little of that old Black Diamond magic for yourself.