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"This system is a gold nugget in a sea of iron-pyrite, delightful in presentation
 and fantastic in performance."

"The PINNACLE® Classic Gold speakers are aptly named, as sonically they are "gold,"
 but at a silver price."

by Bruce Fordyce
May 1998   Audio Video Interiors

As writers in the consumer electronics press, we sometimes find ourselves relying too heavily on "numbers" when describing speaker systems. After a while, 89 dB sensitivity, dynamic range, frequency range, etc. spew forth like so much bad gin the morning after Saint Patrick's Day. This technospeaker may arguably be attributed to having a never-ending stream of speaker systems flowing in and out through our testing facilities like so many El Nino storms. Few systems are horrible enough to condemn, yet few are worthy of gushing endorsement. But there are those exceptions when a speaker system arrives, wrapped in plain cardboard boxes without outrageous technical hyperbole silk-screened all over them, that when wired to your audio processor, blows your mind to the point where boxing them up and returning them is a gut-wrenching, teary-eyed prospect where you pout moan and complain to the point where even your loyal dog says (in her own way), "Enough is enough, chief!" Such was the case with the PINNACLE® Classic Gold Series 5-speaker array, plus their Digital Sub350 powered subwoofer ($3,035 total system).

Before I get another line into this, let me just say that these speakers are awesome! This system is a gold nugget in a sea of iron-pyrite, delightful in presentation and fantastic in performance. I had never heard of PINNACLE® Speakers before and based on this system's reasonable price, I wasn't expecting such performance. The overall visual presentation is a simulated wood black finish with black-cloth grill covers. As they sit there in surround sound formation the look is one of quite, unobtrusive sentries, but once you feed these babies some quality audio signals--Look out!

And in this Corner...
Being pretty handy with large-caliber firearms, as well as wiring tools, I designed an A/B switch box to snap between two separate 5-channel speaker systems in real-time (you know, five in 10 out). My reference system is nothing to scoff at, and in fact, the stereo speakers (which carry a similar driver complement to the PINNACLE® Classic Gold Reference units) cost almost as much as the entire PINNACLE® system and since I paid for my speakers myself it makes this review somewhat bitter-sweet.

Rarely has a speaker system I've tested beat my reference setup, at best they were comparable, until the Classic Gold Series came along. Switching between the two was like switching from Jack Daniel's to Old Bushmills Black, from a Dodge Diplomat to a Ferrari Testarossa, or from a previously viewed VHS tape to a DVD. You get the idea, the PINNACLEs kicked its...buttocks.

What was most noticeable right off was how clear, bright and accurate the overall sound quality was, separation between mid-bass, low-bass and high frequencies was amazing, subtle nuances usually smeared in modest-priced systems such as this one were bright and distinguishable. The low-frequency attack was tight and authoritative, leaving you with a real sense of "full range," as well as "real-time." Movies I've watched an embarrassing number of times seemed as if they had been re-mastered, as subtle sound events were now more evident making for a far more involving audio presentation--not to mention enhancing the films' overall enjoyment level.

Test Criteria
Besides running any new component, through an alarmingly long series of movie viewing, I also always put the stereo speakers through the patented Fordyce music test. I think this is valid as the stereo fronts in any decent surround system should do an adequate job in stereo as well as in 5.1-channel surround. Usually this music test part ends with me sitting there thinking, "Yeah, whatever." But not this time. I cranked up the Alice In Chains acoustic SAP CD, some vintage Pistols and some Elvis and just melted back into the old, jet-black simulation, crushed-velvet dog-hair-covered couch. What's usually a 2-hour music listening test was a 2-day affair. Suffice it to say, the PINNACLE® Classic Gold Reference front stage stereo pair ($895/pair) laid a handsome hand upon my favorite music, I had never heard Johnny Rotton, Sid Vicious or Andy Gibb sound better--nor Mozart for that matter.

Oh Please, be Gentle
With a nominal 8-ohm impedance and 91 to 92 dB sensitivity, the Classic Gold system is an exceptionally easy load for even the most repugnant swap-meet-grade receiver to handle--but use the best processor you can, as these speakers will do justice to the best of them.

Center Field
Although it's not such a common practice today, in the early days of home theater, an enthusiastic neophyte who already owned a decent pair of stereo speakers would just add the center channel and surround speakers to their existing stereo speakers (the logic being, "why buy speakers I already own?"). The problem with this, besides the timbre-matching issue, is that the center-channel speaker chosen was usually substantially inferior to the stereo fronts. Depending on who you ask, somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of all movie soundtrack audio pipes through the center channel. So, obviously, procuring yourself the highest-quality center channel possible should be a max. priority.

PINNACLE® obviously understands the importance of the center channel to home theater, as their Classic Gold Center Channel ($550) is one serious contender. What's immediately noticeable is the speaker's 31-inch width, as well as the driver complement (four 5 1/4-inch mids and a single 1-inch dome tweeter). The logic behind this design, according to PINNACLE® engineer Peter Moore, "(is that) the larger a TV screen becomes, the more important it is that the sound appears to come from the entire screen. The small speaker on top of a big screen can create an easily discernible 'point source' which is distinguishable as being different in scale than that of the picture." According to PINNACLE®, 32-inch or larger TVs would benefit from the Classic Gold Center Channel's design, and in my center channel only A/B testing I found there was some improvement in this regard, not to mention that the driver complement makes movie dialog more intelligible and crisp.

The rest of the array consisted of the Classic Gold Mini-Monitors ($395/pair), which are 2-way bookshelf speakers running 5 1/4-inch woofers and 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters. And, for the low-end rumble that makes big action pictures what they are ('cuz it isn't usually the plot), PINNACLE's Digital Sub350 ($1,195) was included as well.

The Digital Sub350 warrants an article all its own, but, basically it's a 350-watt RMS amplified system pushing two 12-inch woofers in a compound compression (isobaric) configuration. This offers up an excellent power-output-to-size ratio, an attribute those with limited living space can appreciate. I purposely put the 350 through a sadistic low-frequency signal-test regiment, consisting of running low-frequency test tones through the 350 at maximum volume. This is a truly unfriendly act to subject any subwoofer to, but what the hey, that's why I'm here. In any event, the Digital 350 held up surprisingly well, and appears to be an example of a speaker maker who didn't add in a sub just to "complete the package." Sound-quality-wise it handled whatever was thrown at it like it was a day at the beach, never once degrading into that muddy sounding output common to many modest-priced powered subwoofer systems.

The PINNACLE® Classic Gold speakers are aptly named, as sonically they are "gold," but at a silver price.

One Major Complaint
The only major complaint I have about the PINNACLE® Classic Gold series speakers is that I'm going to have to give them back.



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