GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer Review Highlights
“Good things come in small packages.” It’s a saying we’ve all heard many times before to describe all manner of things in life. However, I think its use is especially apropos to summarize what‘s available from GoldenEar’s current selection of subwoofers. The ForceField 5 ranks as GoldenEar’s most potent offering in their subwoofer product line. Primarily, it will impress you by the significant quantities of tuneful, articulate bass it produces over a broad range of material.
You will then be further amazed when you notice that all this sonic goodness is emanating from a cabinet that is barely the size of your average beverage cooler. How is this possible you ask? Well, GoldenEar has used some considerable engineering and construction know-how to create a space friendly sub that can handle medium to large room requirements with confidence. If you’re the kind of person who needs the benefits of multiple subs in a room, a pair or more of ForceField 5s will do wonders for your bass cravings while not making your home theater feel cramped and crowded with big, heavy boxes.
GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer Highlights Summary
- Trapezoidal design and solid construction help minimize standing waves within the cabinet.
- 12 inch long throw, low distortion subwoofer driver
- 1500 watt (peak to peak) custom digital power amplifier
- Down firing passive radiator helps achieve desired output while allowing smaller cabinet size.
- Large, fixed rubber feet protect multiple floor surfaces and help isolate the sub properly.
Introduction to GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer Review
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to review a GoldenEar Triton Seven-based surround sound package and, more recently, another package based around the SuperCinema 3D Array XL. One of the things that both these excellent systems had in common was the model of subwoofer included. In both of my reviews, the GoldenEar Forcefield 5 showed itself to be uncommonly good at reproducing the low octaves for both music and movies.
What made its performance even more eye opening to me was the comparatively modest size of the subwoofer itself. It’s particularly handy if, like me, you like to run dual subs to help smooth room response and add headroom. Placement flexibility becomes so much better and honestly, what’s not to like about a powerful, quality sub with a small footprint? I became interested to explore, in more detail, how the ForceField 5 performs as well as it does.
GoldenEar was even kind enough to provide me 2 subs so that I, from a subjective standpoint, could make a more apple-to-apples comparison with the twin sub setups that I currently have.
GOLDENEAR FORCEFIELD 5 SUBWOOFER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Front-firing Subwoofer with Down-firing Passive Radiator
- Drivers: One – 12? Long-Throw High-Output Bass Driver
One – 13? x 15? Quadratic Planar Infrasonic Radiator
- Amplifier: 1,500 Watts Class D
- MFR: 12 Hz – 250 Hz
- Speaker Level High?Pass Filter: 6 dB per Octave at 150 Hz
- Speaker Level Low?Pass Filter: 12 dB per Octave Continuously Variable from 40 Hz – 150 Hz
- Low?Level Input (Mono): Unfiltered (no low-pass), Direct Coupled
- Dimensions: 14.6″ H x 15″ W x 18″ D
- Weight: 46 Pounds
- Finish: Textured Black with Cloth Grille
- MSRP: $999 USD
- SECRETS Tags: GoldenEar, ForceField, Subwoofers, Passive Radiator, ForceField 5
- Where to Buy: GoldenEar Website
Design and Setup of the GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer
The first thing you’ll notice about the GoldenEar ForceField 5, upon first unpacking one, is its size, or lack thereof. As an owner of a few subwoofers with both 18” and 15” and 12” drivers, I’m more than accustomed to these items taking up a certain amount of vertical and horizontal real estate in a room. While not exactly “itty-bitty”, the ForceField 5s are definitely smaller subwoofer specimens than I’m used to.
The next thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is that these guys are no light weights. At 46 pounds each, they remain manageable to move around but they do feel like solid little bricks. Rapping knuckles on any of the cabinet walls only gives one reassurance to an overall sense of solidity. Touching on the cabinets for a moment, the trapezoidal shape and rounded side edging are a very pleasing design and a nice break from the typical square or rectangular enclosure. The shape is also said to help minimize internal standing waves and reduce distortion as a side benefit.
The front grille, which consists of black cloth over a rigid plastic frame, is also suitably substantial and is held in place with traditional grille pegs. Continuing to the parts of the sub that actually move air; the main driver is a beefy looking 12 inch unit with a treated paper cone, a large rolled rubber surround and a heavy magnet structure. This front-firing driver works in conjunction with a down-firing, rectangular passive radiator.
Typically, in a subwoofer of this type, the passive radiator needs to be of a larger surface area than the main driver or there needs to be at least two passives, of the same size as the main driver, to achieve a suitably low tuning point. This is not an easy feat in a cabinet the size of the ForceField 5. However, the trapezoidal construction allows the underside to have a large enough area for a bigger passive radiator while keeping the overall footprint of the sub quite acceptable. It’s a slick design solution to be sure.
So, while we have the potential upsides here of: low tuning achieved in a smaller box and no possible port noise, there are a couple of potential downsides as well. The first is added complexity of design and resulting cost. The other is that passive radiator subs tend to roll off quickly at the bottom end of their range, in a similar fashion to ported subs, after they reach their tuning frequency.
So you may want to think twice about boosting the low end frequency response of this sub too much with any additional aftermarket equalization. Such a scenario might very well over-tax and shut down the subwoofer. The ForceField 5’s amplifier is described as a custom made digital amp rated at 1,500 watts of power. I asked GoldenEar co-founder Sandy Gross for a little more detail on the amplifier’s power rating and he indicated that the 1,500 watt number was halfway between the Peak to Peak (short burst) and RMS (continuous) power ratings.
Actual RMS power is 1,000 watts with the Peak to Peak number being 2,000 watts. As an aside, I didn’t feel a lack of any power at any point during my testing with these subs. The user controls are fairly standard for a powered subwoofer. There is a Low Pass Frequency dial, a Gain dial, an LFE input jack and High Level Inputs and Outputs. There is also no on/off toggle switch as this little guy is strictly auto signal sensing.
A particular note about the Gain dial; GoldenEar advised me, as well as it being mentioned on their website, that the Gain control for these subs is very sensitive. Therefore, when setting up and calibrating the subs, the gain should be set lower, to begin with, on the dial than what you may normally be used to with other subs. My receiver’s instructions typically recommend setting your sub gain at the 12 o’clock position when beginning a calibration session. With the ForceField 5s that is way too high a setting. I found that beginning at the 9’oclock position to be a much better setting to start with, in order to avoid any damage to sub or home!
I performed listening tests and some measurements of the GoldenEar ForceField 5 in both my home theater and 2-channel, studio setup. All measurements are done off a single subwoofer. Listening in the home theater was done mostly with a single sub while my studio 2 channel system used a dual sub configuration. The subs were typically crossed over at either 80 Hz with my typical speakers (Salk Songtowers or Bamberg Series II MTM) or at 120 Hz with the GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array XL surround system.
The GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer In Use
Let me just cut to the quick and say that a single ForceField 5 subwoofer proved more than capable of handling bass duties in our average sized home theater. The room’s dimensions are 13.5 feet wide by 18 feet long by 7.5 feet high. At no point during my listening time did I feel that my music or movies were bereft of bottom end. So no one should come away thinking that one of these subwoofers isn’t plenty.
I will say that the real, tangible benefits of running dual subs in my home theater amounted to a more even distribution of bass amongst all the seating and a roughly 6dB increase in headroom. This also means that the twin subs had to work about half as hard to create a given volume of sound over a single one. Theoretically, this can result in lower distortion in the bass if you are listening at high levels but it was never something I could honestly tell in my listening. My art studio takes up about half our basement and is roughly four times the area of our HT. A single sub, while okay, did not prove as effective in moving the amount of air needed. Running both subs in this room took care of that straight away.
Starting off with Tron Legacy on Blu-ray, the GoldenEar ForceField 5 laid down an immediate and impressive foundation with Daft Punk’s movie soundtrack. In particular, when Sam Flynn first arrives on The Grid and no sooner finds himself face to face with the Recognizers. This subwoofer has impressive output and tonality for its size. It made very clear the sheer scale and power of the Recognizers as they landed and flew by without sounding bloated or showing any distress. It definitely had no problem rattling adjoining doors and framed pictures on the walls either!
In fact whether it was the scene of Sam’s initiation to the games, the light cycle battle, the bar fight and all the way through to the finale, bass sounded full, clean and potent throughout the movie. The ForceField 5 successfully rendered the depth of even rudimentary effects sounds, immersing me properly in the otherworldly environment of The Grid. Touching again on the scene of Castor’s betrayal of Sam and the resulting bar fight sequence, the playback of Daft Punk’s song, “Derezzed” that underpins it all was magnificent, sounding punchy, powerful and clean.
Another sci-fi favorite in our house is the movie Serenity, also on Blu-ray. Continuing the story of the short-lived TV series Firefly, this Joss Whedon directed movie, while not on the same room shaking bass level as Tron, has some good material to test the GoldenEar’s mettle. An early scene where the spaceship Serenity is making an atmospheric re-entry, the ForceField 5 does an excellent job of recreating the violence being inflicted on the ship hull by all the turbulence. Multiple loud jolts, judders and impacts were recreated faithfully and without sounding sloppy, indicating that the sub could handle broad shifts in dynamics without distortion and stop on a dime when need be.
The Reaver chase, in pursuit of our heroes after the heist, was also a great way for the sub to show off how it handled different distinct bass passages within the same scene. The Reaver pursuit craft had a distinct low bass “chugging” rumble to its out-of-tune engines. The Forcefield 5 easily reproduced this sound along with the low bass rhythm of the soundtrack, harpoon shots, the engines of the Mule (hero’s ship), explosions, etc. The sub kept everything in this complex scene pitch accurate and detailed so everything remained distinct without devolving into muddiness.
All these qualities are things that I’ve heard before in other really good quality subwoofers. However, I’ve never heard this type of bass quality come out of a package this modestly sized before. The combined displacement of the 12 inch bass driver and the larger radiator equates to the performance of a comparable 15 inch bass driver according to GoldenEar. Very crafty stuff going on here!
Moving on to music and relocating to the studio with twin subs in use, I started with Peter Frampton’s instrumental album, Fingerprints on CD. A great sounding and dynamic recording that displays a few different musical genres than what we might typically associate with famed guitarist. From the opening strains of the first track “Boot It Up,” we are treated to nice deep, and driving bass lines punctuated with solid kick drum hits.
I typically have twin 15 inch sealed subwoofers set up in this room. While the enclosures are easily twice the size of a ForceField 5 and they’re controlled with some external equalization, it became immediately clear that the GoldenEar subs were no slouches and would handily keep up with what I was used to. Now while the ForceFields may not extend down as low as my stock subs, the devil, as they say, is always in the details, particularly when it comes to music. This is where the GoldenEars truly excel. On tracks like “Ida Y Vuelta”, “Double Nickels” and “Smoky,” the bass lines just sound so detailed and pitch correct and when there is synthesized bass for atmospherics, it underpins everything else without obscuring the details of drums and bass.
As with movies, the ForceField 5s exceptional tonality shone through on music. They didn’t just playback the sound; they succeeded in recreating the characteristics of the instruments. The subs also seemed to have no issues integrating with my studio speakers, creating a nice seamless transition from top to bottom.
Next up was a jazz CD titled “Black Orpheus” by the Isao Suzuki Trio from the Japanese music label, Three Blind Mice. It features Mr. Suzuki performing some virtuoso work on bass and cello and I was curious to see how the ForceField 5s handled the sound of acoustic bass over electric. Very, very well it seemed. The powerful cello playing with the bow and then transitioning to string plucking on the track “Manha De Carneval” came through almost viscerally on the twin GoldenEars, especially when getting to the lower registers. The sound of that bass was meaty and substantial, but with plenty of the string detail coming through. And when drummer Donald Bailey joined in with a dueling kick drum, getting almost frantic at times, I never lost the distinctness or the detail of either the bass playing or the drumming.
Things never got sloppy with the ForceFields. You didn’t just hear the intensity and nuance of Suzuki’s playing, you felt it in a most rich and tonally satisfying way. When turned up, the plucking of the bass strings on the tracks “Angel Eyes” and “Blues” were imaged right in front of me and were felt squarely in the gut. If I were to sum up the sound of these subs in one word, I would say they were “satisfying.” In that I mean, while their bass doesn’t get as subterranean as some larger subs that I’ve heard, their output is musical, very revealing and quite substantial in any practical music or movie application that I used them for. These are characteristics that I personally, highly prize.
The GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer On The Bench
I don’t really have a “bench” and I don’t have the ability to take varied or elaborate measurements but I do have a professionally calibrated microphone, a computer and Room EQ Wizard. So with these in hand, here is some measurement data that, I hope, might prove to be practical and useful. There is no smoothing applied on any of the graphs.
Below is a close mic measurement of a single ForcField 5. It is a combination of two measurements, one taken with the microphone placed 6” away, on-axis, from the main driver and another taken with the mic placed 6” away from the passive radiator. Both measurements were normalized to the same level and combined to produce a complete response. There was no additional EQ, processing or crossovers in the loop. The sub was positioned in the middle of the room to help mitigate any boundary effects.
Here is a measurement, done from the main listening position in my home theater, of a single ForceField 5 as it was set up for my listening sessions. The green trace is the subwoofer response without any additional equalization applied. The purple trace is the subwoofer response with Audyssey Sub EQ HT applied from my receiver. With Audyssey applied, the sub tracks an admirably smooth response showing a -3dB point at about 23Hz.
Conclusions about the GoldenEar ForceField 5 Subwoofer
In summation, the GoldenEar ForceField 5 is an impressive little subwoofer indeed. It “checks off” many of the right requirements for a desirable bottom end addition to a home theater or music system. It combines an attractive design, solid construction, powerful amplification, a substantial driver and GoldenEar’s penchant for passive radiators to a wildly successful effect.
More than just the sum of its parts, these features in conjunction with some smart design and intelligent engineering result in a subwoofer that is musical, potent and wonderfully flexible in terms of placement. For most applications and rooms, one of these subwoofers would be beyond sufficient. However, in my humble opinion, their modest size just begs the ForceField 5s to be used in multiples.
Good grief, imagine one in each corner of your room…….but I digress! The smoothness of bass you’ll achieve through all the seating positions and the buckets of headroom you’ll have available, using multiples, is a very, very addicting experience. For movies, the ForceField 5 has you more than covered for every explosion, spaceship fly-by, ground assault and giant robot Watusi that you can possibly throw at it. For music it excels at deep, clean, pitch-correct bass with plenty of detail that is a joy to listen to over extended periods. I highly recommend that anyone in the market for a subwoofer, give the ForceField 5 a listen. It may just change your mind, when it comes to bass, from thinking bigger to thinking smarter.