Pinnacle Speakers, a unique family owned and operated business since 1976, designs and manufactures speakers famous for their sterling sound. Our products combine superior technologies with artistic expertise, supported by extended warranties, the longest of any major speaker brand. We are proud to provide a personal service philosophy that's unprecedented in these times, and in this highly automated world.

"…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 Picture

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" approach.

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 order.

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 surrounds...

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 since 1976?

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 cannot be.

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 you recommend?

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 any good?

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.



 

 

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