"…the Pinnacle Speakers…exceeded any expectations I might
have hoped for…"
"The sound field remained faithful, uncolored and spacious…"
Reviewed by Jeff McNeal, The BIG
Reaching for the pinnacle of value and performance
It's been a long time since I've been comparing speakers from a
critical standpoint. This marks our first review of the last great
component in your audio chain before your ears detect the changes in the
sound wave pressure and bring you those shimmering highs and pounding
lows from your favorite audio sources. The importance of a good set of
speakers cannot be overemphasized. Like the screen on a front projection
setup, some make the mistake of dismissing the relative importance of
excellent components in favor of the Costco "home theater in a box"
I really shouldn't say mistake, because if there's one thing I learned
about speaker comparison shopping, it's that tastes in this area are
highly subjective and let's face it, some consumers are simply less
discerning than others. To give you an example, my wife loves her old
Beach Boys "Endless Summer" 33 RPM vinyl album and cannot comprehend why
all the scratches and pops drive me up the wall. Conversely, I don't
know the difference between expensive lipstick and crayons. See what I
mean? The same truths remain consistent for home theater gear. For
instance, while some may consider a booming low end desirable, others
will find it too "sloppy" and opt for a tighter, more well-defined punch
in the lower end.
While loudspeaker design principles have evolved slowly in comparison to
any other product developed over the last 75 years, there have been
subtle, yet significant strides made in the fine tuning of the
loudspeaker by introducing new materials, new baffle designs, bass
ports, etc. The good news for consumers is that there is a wide range of
choices and prices that you can select from that not only fit into your
budget, but also your tolerance for taste in sound as well.
It's keeping this subjective feeling in mind that I approach my comments
regarding the Pinnacle Gold Series speakers featured in this review with
a great deal of caution. I don't think any individual should make up
their minds about speaker selection without first hearing them in an
environment that closely matches their own intended listening area. The
most important elements when listening to speakers for me, include power
handling and efficiency. A more efficient speaker will require less
power to drive them, but when I'm watching Air Force One and I feel like
I'm in the mood to incur some permanent hearing loss, I want those
speakers to be able to withstand the wild transient shifts and strain
that an aggressive mix will throw at them.
When I was speaking with Dennis Shepherd at Medical Video Systems a few
months ago, I was lamenting that I wanted a new set of 5.1 surround
speakers for a second screening room we were designing in our West Coast
HQ of The BIG Picture, but stressed that these speakers would need to
accommodate a wide range of applications, since some of the DVDs we
review consist of live concert performances. We were looking to strike a
balance between robust power handling and refined reproduction of the
delicate nuances contained in musical interludes. We also wanted
something we could afford and something that could accommodate the
limited physical space of our second screening room.
Dennis suggested that I give Pinnacle VP Michael Rothenberg a call.
Pinnacle Speakers is a New York company that has been around for quite
some time. I had heard of them, certainly, but didn't have any
experience with their product or their company. To my surprise, my call
was placed through to Mr. Rothenberg immediately, without the usual
tap-dance that we're all used to when we call large corporations. I had
a marvelous conversation with Mr. Rothenberg and asked him what sort of
speakers he would recommend for our application. I asked Mr. Rothenberg
several questions that I thought our readers might be interested in
learning the answers to. This Q&A appears below.
For the purposes of our testing and review, it was suggested that we try
the Pinnacle "Gold Series" line of speakers for our room for the center
and left and right mains. The left and right duties were handled with
the "Classic Gold Standard"
speakers, each featuring two 5.25" fibercone woofers with rubber
surround with liquid-cooled gold domed tweeters, while the center
channel was handled by Pinnacle's top of the line "Classic
Gold Center" utilizing four 5.25" bass/midrange drivers and
Pinnacle's exclusive gold-domed tweeter.
We were intrigued by the tiny "Baby
Boomer" subwoofer and asked to evaluate that one, too. The Baby
Boomer sports dual 8" polycone woofers with rubber surrounds, 2" voice
coils, and 40 ounce magnets in an amazingly small cube that's less than
10" per side.
Our needs here at TBP are sort of complex though, so for the rear
surrounds, we needed a good set of in-wall speakers. We opted to try the
PM6000 series, which feature 6.5
inch full range drivers and an adjustable tweeter that can be aimed to
suit the seating position in the room. While low frequencies are not
directional, high frequencies most certainly are, so this feature is a
nice one to have.
What we didn't tell Pinnacle was that we actually intended to use the
in-wall speakers as our mains and the Gold Series Standards for our
surrounds -- we were too embarrassed to admit this, quite frankly -- but
the layout of our room and the architecture of our walls precluded any
other possible setup.
This placed the Pinnacle speaker set in what could be perceived as a
disadvantageous position, since in-wall speakers are generally frowned
upon for use as main speakers, unless the center channel happens to be
in-wall as well. Nonetheless, we installed the speakers and pressed
forward with our subjective testing.
Though by no means at the top of Pinnacle's own product line in their
respective positions (with the exception of the
Classic Gold Standard), we
were impressed with the build quality of the entire set. The speakers
all arrived very well packaged, with documentation and instructions. All
but the in-wall speakers (for obvious reasons), came with four heavy,
brass, vibration-isolating cones that screw into the bottom of each
speaker. To be completely candid, I was afraid that the Classic Gold
Standard speakers might topple over because of their height and narrow
footprint (something I may be overly concerned with living in earthquake
country), but they've been in place for several weeks now and show no
signs of giving into vibration and gravity. Hopefully, Pinnacle will
allow me to keep them, at least until our next major California
earthquake (insert grin here), so I can test my theory.
There's a patented tuned bass port in the back of the Gold Standard
cabinets that angles upwards and as stated previously, the construction
is solid and first rate.
The PM6000 in-wall speakers were
really impressive. I've had some experience with in-wall speakers
before, but the build quality of these really made me smile. Each
weighed in at a solid 5 pounds each. Rugged and tough, featuring ABS
plastic frames and heavy, removable grills the entire surface of the
speaker face is ready to install as-is or paint over if you want your
speakers to "disappear" into the wall decor. Be sure and remove the
grills before painting them, however. Since our walls are white, we
opted to leave them as-is.
It took me a few days to actually get the in-walls installed for a
variety of reasons. The actual installation is a very quick process,
however, taking no more than about half an hour with simple hand tools.
It's the planning that takes the most time... The factory had
inadvertently left out the hole template, but a quick call to Pinnacle's
toll-free customer service line had that problem remedied in short
To expedite things, I asked their friendly customer support rep if she
could simply fax the template to me and it arrived a few minutes later.
I ended up discovering (before the fax arrived) that the grill itself
makes for an excellent template, since the outside dimensions of the
grill almost exactly match the dimensions required for the wall cut-out.
I simply took out my level, placed it atop the grill, which I placed
against the wall where I wanted to install the speaker, and traced the
outside edge with my pencil. Because of the position of the speaker on
the wall, adjacent to windows and wall studs, it took me awhile to
devise a way to run the wires without having to cut additional chunks
out of the wall, but I eventually prevailed with outstanding results.
But how were these things going to actually sound?
After all the speakers were connected to the Kenwood 4900 receiver I was
also reviewing for The BIG Picture, I tentatively powered the system up
and slowly cranked up the volume. For the purposes of testing these
speakers, no tonal adjustments were made to either increase or
de-emphasize the sounds coming from the receiver. While for critical
evaluation purposes this might be desirable, it certainly would not be
under "real world" conditions, in which I would want to connect a
frequency analyzer to the system and "tune" the speakers with pink noise
and a test microphone to match the speakers to the room perfectly.
The discs I used to test these speakers are some of the most demanding I
could arrange. Eric Kunzel Orchestra's "Time Warp" (if your speakers can
withstand the punishment of this CD they will withstand anything), Roy
Orbison's Black & White Night DVD, The Eagles Hell Freezes Over DVD, Air
Force One, Titus and The Fifth Element, among many other DVD titles.
After weeks of listening to these speakers, I'm suitably impressed with
the price/performance/value ratio. The Baby Boomer is a real gem of
engineering and performance that truly intrigues me. For years, I've
been using a 100 watt amplified Klipsch downward firing 10" subwoofer
and while it has served me well, if I push it too hard it tends to
splatter, which I cannot abide by -- so I don't really push it.
I didn't seem to encounter any problems with splashy lows when trying
the Baby Boomer. With specs
boasting a low 23 Hz bottom end, the bass output from the BB remained
tight and punchy, without being overbearing. For my senses, a good,
tight bass which doesn't distract by it's very presence is far more
desirable than a subwoofer that constantly reminds you that "the
subwoofer just kicked in". For me, the latter is an undesirable
attribute -- for a second or two, anyway...
Another distraction absent from the
Baby Boomer is the lack of a
clicking relay when the power amplifier is being engaged when presented
with signal. The Baby Boomer is either on or it's off. Though this means
that it's always drawing at least some current if you forget to power it
down and leave it on, this may be an acceptable trade-off to those
irritated by the clicking power relays on some other subs, but this area
is highly subjective. If you live in San Diego like I do and faced
skyrocketing electricity bills last summer, it may give you pause for
consideration. All in all, we were very impressed with the sound output
from such a small cube and would have thought such performance to be
quite impossible if we hadn't heard it for ourselves. The real delight
for us in evaluating this subwoofer was the seamless way in which it
integrated with the rest of the speakers in our test group.
Though you certainly shouldn't expect the
Baby Boomer to outperform
larger, heavier and more powerful subwoofers, you can certainly feel
good about this purchase particularly when space and budget is a
consideration. I've yet to meet a woman that finds large, immovable
cubes sitting in the corner as an endearing decorative statement. The
Baby Boomer can be stashed out of sight or at least out of the way with
ease, making it a decorator's dream. With this kind of sound, this is
the kind of compromise that I (and my wife) can comfortably live with.
I must admit that was expecting a significant compromise when I
installed the PM6000 in-wall speakers, not because of their build, but
because they, after all, are not Pinnacle's top of the line in-wall
speaker. Well, they're not the largest, at least. This combined with the
fact that I would be mating them with a center channel designed to match
acoustically with the speakers I would be using for the rear
However, given my space limitations and room configuration, they were
the correct speakers to try for my evaluation. As Pinnacle shows us with
the Baby Boomer subwoofer, size can indeed be somewhat deceiving.
Aiming the gold-domed, liquid cooled tweeters at my primary seating
area, I settled in and was quite surprised with how well the
PM6000s integrated with the
Classic Gold Center channel
speaker, which is Pinnacle's top of the line center channel speaker.
With the Classic Gold Standard
main speakers being pressed into service for the rear-channel surrounds,
I was expecting a much larger discrepancy in the front to rear sound
quality than I received, probably due to the limited use of the rear
channels during most of the evaluation. Again, I admit that my setup is
something less than conventional, but it was refreshing to realize that
this combination was going to be such a pleasure to work with.
The only test equipment that I was using was my ears, folks. I need to
make certain you're aware of that disclaimer. All I can tell you is that
the Pinnacle Speakers, which I consider to be mid-range in terms of
price, certainly met or exceeded any expectations I might have hoped for
in sound quality and performance. The sound field remained faithful,
uncolored and spacious with the various source material that I threw
into the mix -- and more importantly, the speakers held up well during
higher listening volumes with sudden transient bursts of peak power and
rapid shifts in frequency response.
The fact that these speakers are manufactured by a family that embraces
each customer with old fashioned service and values makes every note
sound just a little sweeter, as well.
TBP Interview with Pinnacle VP Michael Rothenberg
TBP: Michael, can you give us a bit of historical perspective behind
Pinnacle Speakers and tell us how your company got started?
MR: Pinnacle Speakers started in 1976 by President and chief engineer
Rich Rothenberg. In 1977 and 1978 his brothers Michael and Marc joined
the company. Rich was a drummer and lover of music and speaker design.
He founded the company with the financial support of family members. In
those days, most people were buying their first good quality audio
system which was being considered a necessity gaining in rank with the
TV set. It was a good time to be a speaker manufacturer.
TBP: I was really surprised at how friendly and disarming your staff
appears to be. They had no idea who I was or what I wanted, yet my call
was put through immediately. When I think "New York", the words "warm"
and "friendly" don't usually come to mind.
MR: Over the years we decided that our family structure and friendly
approach as people must be a foundation of our business ethic even as we
grew financially. Now, most of our competitors are "faceless
beaurocracies" and we pride ourselves in still offering real old
fashioned service. Since our parents and uncle both still work here, we
have a good core of senior citizens around who know the meaning of "old
fashioned" service. Rich's personal zeal for designing great products at
fair and reasonable prices is the driving force behind our design goals.
TBP: How has Pinnacle Speakers, as a company, evolved over the years
MR: We have changed from a small 5 person company subcontracting our
production and materials, to a mid-sized $15M+ company manufacturing our
products in a 30,000 square foot facility. Everyone tells us that once
they get to know our company and our products we are truly unique. Our
business style is informal, but we still are careful about what we do
and how we do things. We may appear to be "off the cuff" but at our core
we are fairly conservative.
TBP: In our initial conversation, I was impressed with your enthusiasm
for your products, which seemed quite genuine and not at all contrived.
How do you maintain this sort of excitement day in and day out for
products that you've been manufacturing for some time?
MR: Our enthusiasm is somewhat intrinsic in our satisfaction with what
we do. It's great coming to work everyday and seeing your family members
and a successful business. We are all excited by the opportunity to run
a division of our own company and take action on our ideas. Imagine the
thrill of being able to both conceive and execute your own ideas and
than have them work out more often than not. What we believe around here
is that if Pinnacle did everything like everyone else does, there would
not be a need for us. We are flexible in ways other companies simply
TBP: For many consumers, a speaker is a speaker is a speaker. What do
you think sets Pinnacle apart from other speaker manufacturers in terms
of design and materials?
MR: Our engineering staff, headed by Rich, work with over 30 dedicated
driver manufacturers from all over the world. Once we know of a
particular speaker project, we determine the properties and budgets of
each of the parts, woofers, tweeters etc. Based on the part needed, we
determine which manufacturers are best suited for that project. We than
request samples from the various part manufacturers. This way, we have
the technology of over 30 firms to pick and choose from.
Our most famous engineering achievement is our patented Diaduct Bass
port which enables small woofers in small sized cabinets to produce bass
normally achieved in larger cabinets from larger woofers. The tolerances
in tweeter designs along with new materials has improved the performance
markedly over the years and now you can get excellent higher frequency
performance at reasonable cost. This, coupled with our patented Diaduct
makes for a potent cost effective speaker.
Final crossover design is critical, regardless of the cost of the parts.
Great parts can sound bad or inexpensive parts can sound good based on
the crossover. Rich is outstanding at crossover design. Similar to a
chef having good ingredients but the really great chef can make the dish
just "so" because of his talent with spices. Knowing how much of this or
how much of that to put in. Since Rich finalizes every one of our
designs regardless of price range, we believe we have an inherent
advantage over our competition. Imagine a speaker engineer with over 30
years experience designing products at our competition. Those guys are
working only on the most expensive or prestigious products. At Pinnacle,
we have that level of talent signing off on all our products no matter
what the price.
TBP: Let's say I'm a young guy, assembling his first home theater setup.
How on earth do I select what sort of speakers to purchase within my
budgetary limitations and truly get the most bang for the buck?
MR: A novice looking for his first audio/home theater system is likely
to get lots of information. Some good, some bad, and some irrelevant. We
advise spending more of your budget on the speakers than the other
components. Also, consider what percent the system is used for music as
opposed to movies. For music listening, the system needs to be accurate
and detailed and should bring "life" to the room". See if the company
has any reviews on their products. See if you can listen to the system
you intend to buy for 10- 15 minutes and if you still like the way it
sounds after that long. Often, people spend thousands of dollars and
only listen for a few seconds. It reminds me of the Realtor who said
most people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their house and
never sit in the living room before they buy.
TBP: Why do salesmen frequently ask "are the speakers for music or for
watching movies?" Obviously, most of us are looking for speakers that
will handle both. If one has to choose between one or the other, what do
MR: Music listening is more demanding in that speakers must handle a
wider array of the frequency spectrum accurately. Home Theater requires
an accurate center channel and a good powered subwoofer for effects and
peaks in the movie soundtrack. In our line, a good all around speaker
like the Classic Gold Mini-Monitor is a great choice for music or
movies. If you have to decide, choose a good music speaker and it can
probably do a good job on home theater as well.
TBP: Let's separate the wheat from the chaff, if we can. We've all seen
$3,000 speakers and although I'm sure they're worth more than $300
speakers, where does the real value lie for consumers? Why are the
expensive speakers so costly and how can the less expensive speakers be
MR: Often times the difference between say $300 speakers or $3,000 are
related to factors not exclusive to the performance. Speakers within a
range may have comparable performance given their size and cabinet
styles. Beautiful wood furniture cabinets will cost more than molded
cabinets or vinyl over particle board. Compare cabinets size and style
and then the performance.
Some companies are structured for higher volume at lower margins and
others at higher margins and lower volume. At the end of the day,
speakers costing from say $300-$500 can be compared, those costing
$500-$800 can be compared and those costing from say $1,000-$1,500 can
be compared as well. Most anyone can tell the difference between $300
speakers and $3,000 speakers but that is not to say that the $300
speaker is not good.
Each customer must determine for him/herself where they reach the point
of diminishing returns. Consider buying a $15,000 Ford or a $35,000 BMW.
Both may drive well and will take you from point A to Point B. The
difference is in the reliability and pleasure of the ride and in some
cases, the comfort with identity to a particular logo.
TBP: Thanks for the education, Michael.
MR: Thanks, Jeff. If there's anything else you need, please let me know.