Goldenear Tech­nol­ogy Invisa Sig­na­ture Point Source In-wall Speaker Sys­tem In-wall we must.

PRICE $7,250 as re­viewed

Sound & Vision - - CONTENS - by Dar­ryl Wilkin­son

JUST AS NOT EV­ERY­ONE PREFERS to eat turkey on Thanks­giv­ing, there are some peo­ple who don’t like to have tower speak­ers stand­ing at at­ten­tion (and draw­ing at­ten­tion) in their fam­ily’s liv­ing room. At our fam­ily’s tra­di­tional Thanks­giv­ing chow-down (at Christ­mas, we have a ho-ho-hoe­down), we serve baked ham as an al­ter­na­tive to the de­li­cious, funny-look­ing bird the rest of us en­joy. (Those who don’t like ei­ther choice get bread and wa­ter.) For peo­ple who can’t or won’t have tall, floor­stand­ing speak­ers in the vicin­ity of their TV, the acous­tic equiv­a­lent of baked ham is a set of in-wall speak­ers. (Those who don’t like in-room or in-wall speak­ers get their own kind of bread and wa­ter: a cheap sound­bar with no sub­woofer. Only those on the naughty list must en­dure the speak­ers built into the TV.)

Al­though the thought that a pair of in-wall speak­ers could ever approach the sound qual­ity of a re­ally good set of in-room speak­ers is laugh­able for many peo­ple who are se­ri­ous about listening to mu­sic and movies, there are a hand­ful of speaker de­sign­ers who hon­estly think it’s pos­si­ble to en­gi­neer such a thing. In other words, these acous­tic chefs be­lieve that, with the right com­bi­na­tion of spices, they can make ham taste—um, sound—like turkey. (But not sound like a turkey, be­cause that would be to­tally plucked up.)

Ref­er­ences, Please

Sandy Gross of Goldenear Tech­nol­ogy is one of those pump­kin-pie-in-the-sky dream­ers who say, “I want to have my ham and eat my turkey, too.” Hav­ing helped co-found not only Goldenear but also two other speaker com­pa­nies, Polk Au­dio and De­fin­i­tive Tech­nol­ogy, Gross is no stranger to the de­sign pit­falls of try­ing to shove a speaker in a wall and make it sound like it’s out in the room. He also has a rep­u­ta­tion for com­ing up with in-room speak­ers that sound like, well, they’re not in the room: Most re­cently, Gross (with his en­gi­neer­ing part­ner, Don Givogue, and the de­sign team at Goldenear’s fa­cil­ity in Ottawa, Canada) in­tro­duced the com­pany’s top-of-the­line ($4,250/each) Tri­ton Ref­er­ence pow­ered tow­ers, the ones that turned Al Grif­fin into an “au­dio crack”– ad­dicted “mu­sic junkie” when he re­viewed them for our June 2017 is­sue. (Word is he still hasn’t left his listening room.)

Near the end of his re­view, Al asked of Goldenear, “What to do next af­ter cre­at­ing a speaker called the Ref­er­ence?” Gross’s an­swer is the new Invisa Sig­na­ture Point Source in-wall LCR speaker. At a “mere” $1,000 each, it seems like a flea-mar­ket bar­gain com­pared with the hefty price of the Tri­ton Ref­er­ence tower—and, in a way, fol­low­ing up such a fan­tas­tic speaker with an in-wall model feels like a let­down. Ar­chi­tec­tural speak­ers are a dif­fer­ent breed, though, and one thou­sand bucks for a sin­gle in-wall is def­i­nitely get­ting into eye­browrais­ing ter­ri­tory. In fact, you have to do some se­ri­ous search­ing to find an in-wall or in-ceil­ing speaker that costs $1K or more. They’re out there—i’ve re­viewed a few of them—but there aren’t many. So, for the mo­ment, the Invisa Sig­na­ture Point Source in-wall is Goldenear’s first at­tempt at cre­at­ing a “ref­er­ence” ar­chi­tec­tural speaker.

Turn­ing Tow­ers into Walls

Gross told me that the im­pe­tus be­hind de­vel­op­ing the Invisa SPS was the num­ber of cus­tomers who re­quested an ar­chi­tec­tural speaker with per­for­mance sim­i­lar to that of the Tri­ton se­ries tow­ers. Not sur­pris­ingly, the de­sign goal was to “take as much of the tech­nol­ogy in the Tri­tons as pos­si­ble and put it into an in-wall speaker.”

The re­sult is a 2½-way speaker that bor­rows heav­ily from the en­gi­neer­ing found in the Goldenear tow­ers, in­clud­ing four 5.25-inch cast-bas­ket bass driv­ers—two of these han­dling midrange du­ties and em­ploy­ing the com­pany’s mul­ti­vaned phase plugs, and all four in­cor­po­rat­ing Goldenear’s Fo­cused Field mag­net struc­ture. The sin­gle folded pla­nar mag­netic tweeter— a stan­dard com­po­nent of ev­ery

Goldenear speaker—is largely based on the tweeter used in the Tri­ton Ref­er­ence tower. Next to the tweeter is a three-po­si­tion high-fre­quency ad­just­ment switch. Gross be­lieves that per­haps the most im­por­tant ele­ment of a speaker is the crossover; he refers to it as the “con­duc­tor” that di­rects the per­for­mance of the “orchestra” of driv­ers. Goldenear spent a sig­nif­i­cant amount of de­vel­op­ment time solely on voic­ing the speaker.

The SPS mea­sures 28.5 x 8.5 inches, and at about 3.75 inches deep; it fits into stan­dard 2 x 4 stud-con­structed walls. Em­bed­ded around the outer perime­ter of the speaker’s front baf­fle are 24 small neodymium mag­nets that tightly hold the off-white metal grille (with a nearly in­vis­i­ble flange de­sign) to the front. Four small pads strate­gi­cally lo­cated in­side the grille serve to fur­ther min­i­mize ex­tra­ne­ous vi­bra­tions. The ex­tremely rigid, all-in-one baf­fle-and-mount assem­bly in­cludes a dou­ble-chan­nel sup­port molded into the back. It has an un­usu­ally high num­ber (12) of dog-leg-style clamps around the edges that, com­bined with the rigid­ity of the baf­fle, make the wall feel like it’s made out of brick rather than wall­board once ev­ery­thing is in­stalled.

Goldenear ships each SPS con­fig­ured for a straight­for­ward, ver­ti­cally ori­ented in­stal­la­tion. For hor­i­zon­tal use, the tweeter has four very short screws that are easy to re­move (and re­in­stall), al­low­ing the tweeter to be ro­tated 90 de­grees—which was how I in­stalled the cen­ter-chan­nel speaker in the sys­tem. If you’re do­ing a retro­fit in­stal­la­tion, one of the ma­jor draw­backs of any hor­i­zon­tally ori­ented in-wall cen­ter speaker mea­sur­ing more than 15 inches wide is that one (or pos­si­bly more) of the studs in the wall will need to be mod­i­fied in or­der to make room for the driv­ers’ bas­kets and mag­net as­sem­blies. Most pro in­te­gra­tors are pre­pared to handle it, though. With new con­struc­tion, the walls can be framed to ac­com­mo­date the speaker’s di­men­sions ahead of time.

New­ton’s Fa­vorite Tech­nol­ogy

The sys­tem that Goldenear put to­gether for me to in­stall and lis­ten to in­cluded three Sig­na­ture Point Source speak­ers (two ver­ti­cally for left and right, one hor­i­zon­tally for the cen­ter) and two other mod­els from the Invisa se­ries: a pair of MPX Mul­tipo­lar in­wall speak­ers ($500 each), for the sur­rounds, and four HTR 7000 in-ceil­ing speak­ers ($500 each), for the front and rear Dolby At­mos height chan­nels. From the Su­per­sub se­ries came one of the com­pany’s fairly re­cent small-form-factor free­stand­ing sub­woofers, the Su­per­sub X ($1,250). I’ve re­viewed the MPX and HTR 7000

speak­ers as part of pre­vi­ous sys­tems, so I won’t spend much time on them here, other than to say that they in­clude driver and crossover tech­nolo­gies sim­i­lar in con­cept and en­gi­neer­ing to that of the SPS speak­ers—es­pe­cially when it comes to the tweeter in each one. The Su­per­sub X, mea­sur­ing 14 inches wide x 12.75 high x

13.25 deep, is a pow­ered sub­woofer that uses GoldenEar’s patented Dual-plane In­er­tially Bal­anced Tech­nol­ogy. Ba­si­cally, this is a con­fig­u­ra­tion that pits two ac­tive and two pas­sive driv­ers against each other in an at­tempt to can­cel forces that would shake the cabi­net in­stead of ra­di­at­ing all of the en­ergy into the room—mak­ing the cabi­net per­form more as if it were in­ert.

The Su­per­sub X is pow­ered by a 1,400-watt-peak Class D am­pli­fier. (The Ref­er­ence tow­ers in­clude an 1,800-watt amp.)

Dou­ble En­ten­dre

I’d heard the SPS in-walls set up as part of a 7.2.4 At­mos sys­tem in Goldenear’s CE­DIA booth in Septem­ber 2017, so I had a pretty good idea that they’d per­form quite well in a twochan­nel sys­tem. (As a brief aside, I think a Dolby’s At­mos rig us­ing Dolby Sur­round up­mix­ing is fan­tas­tic with most two-chan­nel source ma­te­rial. In my case, I nor­mally lis­ten to mu­sic with my sys­tem’s full At­mos ar­ray be­cause I like the pro­cess­ing’s del­i­cate han­dling and ex­pan­sion of am­bi­ence cues in two-chan­nel ma­te­rial. Mainly be­cause of the Invisa se­ries speak­ers’ sim­i­lar voic­ing, the 5.1.4 con­fig­u­ra­tion for this re­view sounded spec­tac­u­lar with nearly ev­ery mu­sic se­lec­tion. But I di­gress.) If the Invisa SPS speak­ers were to truly live up to their Tri­ton Ref­er­ence pedi­gree, though, they were go­ing to have to be damn good for listening to mu­sic—with­out any caveats re­lated to the­atri­cal per­for­mance.

Yes, my ex­pe­ri­ence at CE­DIA was fa­vor­able. But as I started this re­view—when it was just me, a pair of the SPS in-walls, and the Su­per­sub X in my room—i was still caught off guard by how open and re­veal­ing the SPS speak­ers were. I was caught dou­bly off guard (off-off guard?) when I lis­tened to the “neo­teric and in­trigu­ing” duo of Ari­anna War­sawFan (vi­olin) and Meta Weiss (cello), known as duow, on their 2013 re­lease, En­ten­dre. (I lis­tened to the 192-kilo­hertz/24-bit two-chan­nel ver­sion, but the Blu-ray Au­dio edi­tion in­cludes DTS-HD Mas­ter Au­dio

5.1 and 7.1 ver­sions.) The re­lease in­cludes Kodály’s Duo for Vi­olin and Cello, Op. 7, and through­out all three move­ments, the two in­stru­ments weave in and out and talk to each other in a mu­si­cal lan­guage of their own. In the clas­si­cal canon, there’s not a whole lot of mu­sic writ­ten for vi­olin-and-cello pair­ings, but duow’s per­for­mance of the Kodály is an in­vi­ta­tion for com­posers to write more. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe the life and emo­tion these two women im­bue their in­stru­ments with. It’s nearly as dif­fi­cult to de­scribe how in­cred­i­ble the SPS in-walls were at con­vey­ing that life force into the room. I al­ways love the top end of Goldenear’s speak­ers, and this vari­a­tion of the tweeter in the SPS in-walls is truly wor­thy of its Ref­er­ence badge. The vi­olin was light and open, with­out any no­tice­able ring­ing or breakup. The lower voice of the cello was equally re­veal­ing, es­pe­cially with the nu­anced de­cay­ing res­o­nance of the in­stru­ment’s body.

I moved on to “Lul­laby of Bird­land” from Heather Masse and Dick Hy­man’s Lock My Heart. The open­ing pi­ano notes were not only widely spaced across the front of the room, they also had the same de­ci­sive per­cus­sive na­ture that the cello strings had on duow’s En­ten­dre. In fact, the lively dy­nam­ics of the pi­ano across its tonal range were ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic for an in-wall speaker. Masse’s sweet and fluid vo­cals had none of the box­i­ness or con­stric­tion that is of­ten present with in-walls, and her voice was placed solidly in the cen­ter—as well as slightly out into the room. What’s more, the en­tirety of the sound­stage had a sense of depth that was to­tally un­ex­pected from speak­ers on a flat wall in front of me.

On the sub­ject of sound­stage depth and width: “I Need Never Get

Old,” the highly en­er­getic open­ing track by Nathaniel Rateliff & the

Night Sweats on their self-ti­tled 2015 de­but, had both in spades—start­ing with a solo gui­tar way out to the left be­fore it is joined by an­other gui­tar equally far to the right. The horns that fol­low filled in the mid­dle along with the drum kit and were smooth yet crisp, even when the SPS speak­ers were pushed to high vol­umes. The pro­jec­tion of the sound­stage into the room was even more no­tice­able here than with “Lul­laby of Bird­land”— al­most to that magical point of breaking out and match­ing the depth per­cep­tion gen­er­ated by an in-room speaker. But even that was bested by “Poc­a­hon­tas” from Neil Young’s re­cent Hitch­hiker re­lease (of a 1976 record­ing ses­sion), dur­ing which I noted, “Damn, that gui­tar is liv­ing in the room!”

Al­though I’d al­ready no­ticed how well the Su­per­sub X blended with the Invisa SPS speak­ers, along with how mu­si­cal it was (es­pe­cially with the cello on En­ten­dre), I au­di­tioned a peren­nial fa­vorite of mine: Linkin Park’s “When They Come for Me”

( A Thou­sand Suns). The tran­si­tion at 80 hertz was im­per­cep­ti­ble, and both the taut­ness and the depth of the drum­beats were amaz­ing— even more amaz­ing when you con­sider that the Su­per­sub X is ba­si­cally a cube that’s less than 14 inches in any di­men­sion.

Won­der­fully Wide Wilder­ness

If ever there was a movie epit­o­miz­ing the fact that sound is 50 per­cent of the over­all movie ex­pe­ri­ence, Walk­ing Out is it. Set in the re­mote moun­tains of western Mon­tana, it fol­lows David, an ur­ban teenager who lives with his mother in Texas, and his nearly off-the-grid fa­ther,

Cal, who lives on sprawl­ing acreage in those moun­tains, as they go (re­luc­tantly, in the case of David) on the boy’s first moose hunt. Of course, the movie is more about the at­tempt of the two to emo­tion­ally re­con­nect than it is about moose hunt­ing. It’s a tra­di­tional drama, one in which you’d ex­pect the back­ground mu­sic and di­a­logue to be the only im­por­tant parts of the sound­track. But here, while it’s true that there are few “sur­prise” sur­round ef­fects (one of the most no­table be­ing a num­ber of star­tled grouse that fly out of the grass di­rectly be­hind the viewer), the sub­tle sound­track is ac­tu­ally one of the main char­ac­ters.

For a movie like Walk­ing Out, it’s vi­tally im­por­tant that the speak­ers in your sys­tem per­form as a seam­lessly in­te­grated sin­gle com­po­nent—and this is ex­actly what the Invisa sys­tem be­came. For starters, al­though I was ini­tially a lit­tle con­cerned about how the SPS speaker mounted hor­i­zon­tally for the cen­ter chan­nel would per­form, it turned out that the LCR trio was spec­tac­u­lar at smoothly han­dling sound that panned across the front. Just as im­por­tant, the hor­i­zon­tal SPS didn’t have any of the boxy, con­stricted char­ac­ter that you can of­ten get with in-wall cen­ter-chan­nel speak­ers—an at­tribute I highly ap­pre­ci­ated with the di­a­logue-heavy Walk­ing Out. The full-throated, open char­ac­ter of the hor­i­zon­tal SPS al­lowed the emo­tional nuances in the ac­tors’ voices to stand out, since there was noth­ing ex­tra­ne­ous to mask them. This also gave ex­tra em­pha­sis to the some­times heart-wrench­ing sound of the vi­olin in the sound­track.

The en­tire Goldenear sys­tem was ab­so­lutely stun­ning dur­ing the out­door scenes, both in the open fields and in the densely forested moun­tains, as it re-cre­ated a com­pletely seam­less au­dio en­ve­lope, bring­ing the sounds of the wind, an­i­mals, and flow­ing wa­ter into the room. A large part of this was ob­vi­ously due to the won­der­fully matched tim­bre of the speak­ers. I re­ally can’t say enough about the artistry of the movie’s sound­track— and the way in which the speaker sys­tem re­pro­duced it. Awards should be given to both the movie and the speaker sys­tem.

It feels awk­ward go­ing from the sub­lim­ity of Walk­ing Out to the ram­bunc­tious­ness of Atomic Blonde, but the con­trast­ing styles of the two movies’ sound­tracks helped to show that the Invisa sys­tem was to­tally ca­pa­ble of han­dling shock and awe, too. I’m not sure I can give a good synopsis of this movie, but I can tell you that from nearly its very beginning, this was ob­vi­ously go­ing to be a thrill ride. Here again, the match­ing of the MPX sur­round speak­ers (and the four HTR 7000s in the ceil­ing for the height chan­nels) with the front SPS speak­ers was mar­velous. This was clearly demon­strated in a scene where a stolen Stasi car, its trunk in flames, flies over­head from the rear to the front, where it slams into the Ber­lin Wall and ex­plodes. Later, when MI6 agent Lor­raine Broughton (Char­l­ize Theron) is hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion in a lo­cal bar, ini­tially with a male and then a fe­male Stasi agent, the hor­i­zon­tal cen­ter speaker’s open­ness and ex­tremely close match to the ver­ti­cal left and right speak­ers main­tained in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity of the di­a­logue re­gard­less of its po­si­tion across the front. Mean­while, the ’80s mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground po­litely filled the re­main­der of the room, cre­at­ing a won­der­ful sense of space be­hind the close con­ver­sa­tion in the front. While I was watch­ing the movie, I wrote in my notes, “One of the best LCR matchups with in-walls that I’ve heard in a long while. Seam­less­ness de­fined!”

Con­clu­sion

In-wall and in-ceil­ing speak­ers get a bad rap—and for good rea­son. Most are de­signed with a low price point as the goal, and they merely pro­vide back­ground-mu­sic qual­ity. But that doesn’t al­ways have to be the case. Goldenear Tech­nol­ogy’s new Invisa Sig­na­ture Point Source speak­ers are proof that you can build an at­trac­tive, non-in­tru­sive in-wall loud­speaker of­fer­ing per­for­mance that ri­vals (and, in some cases, sur­passes) that of an equiv­a­lently priced in-room speaker.

It’s of­ten said that Goldenear’s speak­ers sound as good as other com­pa­nies’ speak­ers cost­ing many times more. Ar­chi­tec­tural speak­ers are harder to com­pare us­ing such a blan­ket state­ment be­cause in­stal­la­tion, size, form factor, and other things need to be con­sid­ered as well as sound qual­ity. That said, on price alone, I’m not sure you can find an­other speaker at the $1K price point that sounds any­where near as fan­tas­tic as the Invisa SPS in-wall does—whether it’s for a two-chan­nel or mul­ti­chan­nel sys­tem. Once again, Goldenear has set a new high for the per­for­mance-to-cost ra­tio.

More im­por­tant, they’ve done some­thing ex­tremely rare: They’ve cre­ated an in-wall loud­speaker that just might con­vince a die-hard in-room speaker fan.

The Su­per­sub X is one of Gold­e­n­ears’ small-form-factor sub­woofers.

The smaller Invisa MPX and round Invisa HTR 7000 flesh out this re­view sys­tem.

One folded pla­nar mag­netic tweeter nes­tles in be­tween four woofers.

The SPS’S pla­nar mag­netic tweeter can be re­moved and ro­tated 90 de­grees for hor­i­zon­tal use.

Small neodymium mag­nets se­curely hold the off-white grilles to the baf­fles.

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