GoldenEar BRX (Bookshelf Reference X) loudspeaker Herb Reichert December 2020

Herb Reichert reviewed the GoldenEar BRX in December 2020 (Vol.43 No.12):

When I first started writing for Stereophile, John Atkinson brought me a speaker to review. The shipping box was really beat, and it had some other reviewer's name on the UPS label. After a few days of trying to get it to sound good, I speculated that John and at least one other reviewer already knew this speaker did not sound good. Flummoxed, I wrote JA a simple email (he likes simple emails), "Is this a test?" He replied, "Everything is a test."

On Tuesday, at 10am, John's well-traveled, faded-tan Land Cruiser was double-parked on Hart Street in front of my building. As he handed me the boxed BRX loudspeakers from American company GoldenEar, he said, "I reviewed and measured these. Now let's see what you think of them." That means it's a test.

When doing comparisons, sequence is everything. What just left the room inevitably affects my responses to what just entered. Before I installed the $1599/pair BRXs, I was playing the twice-as-expensive ($2995/pair) Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a, driven by the new Nelson Pass–designed, class-A, single-ended, First Watt F8 amplifier. This humble little setup was among the most exciting truth-telling audio systems I've ever assembled, and I was not in the mood to change it. But I did.

As I set the BRXs about 6' apart on the 30" Sanus stands JA1 provided, I thought, Oh no! Passive radiators! God save me from speakers with puffing cheeks. Then I saw the luxurious, stamped-metal grilles and was delighted. I like when speakers sound right with their grilles on, and the BRXs looked like they were designed to be seen and used with their grilles on.

Then I noticed the thick, curved lip protruding 1.5" from the bottom front of the speaker and wondered if it served any purpose beyond making sure the relatively heavy grilles don't slide off. (Later, I determined that the BRXs sound smooth and articulate with their grilles on, but I preferred the rawer transparency without.)

The first album I played with the BRXs was a recording I'd been studying for weeks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago's Bap-Tizum – Performance At The Ann Arbor Blues Festival (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal). This was one of the recordings that exposed the wonders of the First Watt F8/Falcon LS3/5a partnering. My eyes opened wide as I heard John Sinclair introducing the players of the Art Ensemble. The words detailed! and lucid! popped into my head, with exclamation points.

By the end of the fourth track, "Oouffnoon," I was in awe of the BRX's HGHV folded ribbon tweeter, how effortless it sounded, and how silently it meshed with the midwoofer. It permitted cowbells and cymbals to develop their full register of complex tones.

I was also pleased because those passive radiators did not appear to be dulling the sound or dragging behind the beat. Instead, they seemed to be making the BRXs sound larger than they are.

What I could not understand was how the decidedly unmuscular (25Wpc/8 ohms, 13Wpc/4 ohms) First Watt F8 amp—the amp that only likes speakers over 8 ohms—was driving these speakers with so much detail and clarity. But by the end of Bap-Tizum, I realized that the F8 was not handling the BRX load very well; intermittently, it got doughy and unfocused in the bottom octaves. I switched to the 150Wpc/4 ohms Yamaha A-S3200 integrated.

With the Yamaha integrated: I was certain that the $7499.95 Yamaha A-S3200 integrated amp would play tighter in the bass than the First Watt F8. So, for fun, I played the audiophile bass recording: Organ Sounds From Mount Olivet (LP, ARK No. 1094-5) with Diana Lee Metzker, organist.

As Metzker played, my quest for tighter bass was interrupted by something else: I realized that the BRXs' bass-mid-treble balance was unusually even. Small speakers rarely achieve this level of energy balance because their bass energy is curtailed by woofer size. This three-part balance is important because it allows the speaker to sound natural and play a wide range of recording types without sounding wrong or off.

With the A-S3200, I played this famous disc loud, but neither the amp nor the speaker cared. The sound was nicely focused, with extra-good transparency and rhythm prowess. Bass was taut and tuneful. Distortion seemed low, especially between 60Hz and 500Hz where, as reproduced in this system, most of this recording's energy is centered. Most unusual was how notes below 60Hz were faint but also clean and in tune.

With the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3: When I hooked the BRXs to the 200Wpc/4 ohms Rogue Sphinx V3 integrated amplifier, the full, glorious reverb of the 11 pianos on Carlo Cipa's Correlations came out (24/44.1 FLAC Warner/Qobuz). From each piano, a wider spectrum of reverberant tones emerged. The Sphinx powered the BRXs with ease and élan. The BRXs' extraordinary bass-mid-treble balance seemed enhanced by the Rogue.

The Yamaha integrated made the BRXs sound alive and kicking, but it played a little dry and flavorless compared to the more modestly priced ($1595) Rogue Sphinx V3, which came on musically like an aged, full-flavored Cabernet Sauvignon: rich, spacious, and slightly dark, not dry or sweet. This roughly $3200 amp-preamp-speaker combination was so focused, so 3D, and so engaging, I felt maybe I was cheating by keeping the $5k HoloAudio May DAC in the system. Feeling guilty and curious, I replaced the $5k May with the $768 Denafrips Ares II DAC.

With the lower-priced DAC, high-frequency detail and midrange resolution decreased some, as did the soundfield dimensions. But this system still played big, with a taut, eager gusto that made listening fun.

While the Ares II failed to exploit the clarity and extension of the BRXs' fab tweeters, it compensated by giving the 60Hz–300Hz region weightier mojo, which in turn made Jimi Hendrix and Primus and Bob Marley sound wildly good. The Ares-Sphinx combo let the BRXs play every music genre with vigor and perspicuity.

With the Ares II sourcing the Sphinx V3 powering the GoldenEar BRXs (with Cardas Iridium interconnects and Triode Wire Labs American Series speaker cables), I believe I found an incredibly lucid, instantly loveable, budget-friendly audiophile system.

With Rogue Audio Stereo 100: I really wanted to hear the BRXs with at least one tube amp, so I hauled out Rogue Audio's $3495, 100Wpc Stereo 100 and played Lou Reed and John Cale's Songs For Drella (24/96 FLAC Rhino/Warner/Qobuz). I would not say that listening to Songs For Drella was a "Wow!" moment, but it was a highly pleasurable one.

With the ST-100 powering the BRXs, the close-miked directness of Lou and John's vocals and Cale's piano appeared in a large, layered, reverb-energized, 3D space. Vocal and instrument tone appeared spot on. With Reed and Cale and the 100Wpc Rogue, the BRXs sounded vivid and unusually physical but also slightly hesitant and occasionally thick-tongued. Both are signs that the GoldenEars needed a more muscular amp.

With the Mytek Brooklyn AMP: I now understood that, in order to fully expose their myriad talents, the GoldenEar BRXs require triple-digit power and triple-digit damping factors. Happily, Mytek HiFi's $2495 Brooklyn AMP satisfied both requirements.

The Brooklyn AMP is specified to produce 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 300Wpc into 4 ohms, which was confirmed by JA’s measurements. If that can't drive the little GoldenEars, what will?

In my systems, the Brooklyn AMP tends to sound softer and more atmospheric than other class-D amps. So, instead of beginning my auditions with a current-hungry, power-sucking organ blockbuster, I chose the quiet and intimate Stories –The Romantic Spanish Guitar played by Dimitri Van Halderen (16/44.1 FLAC Playclassic/Qobuz). My goal was to assess the BRX + Brooklyn's inner detail and focusing powers. But before I could do that, I was sucked into the dreamy mood and atmosphere of this reverie-inducing album. When the dreaming stopped and I began listening critically, I realized all that mood and tone was in fact proof of the combination's resolving powers. With the BRXs, the Mytek amp sounded luxurious and more sharp-focused than it usually does.

During the Stories album, the BRXs retained their ability to expose dynamic microcontrasts at very quiet listening levels. Whisper-level shifts of tone and pitch made listening magic.

Like JA1 said, "Everything is a test." This Sony remaster of a 1947 recording with Bruno Walter conducting Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.5 (16/44.1 FLAC Sony/Qobuz) is always a test for any speaker. If you try it on your speakers, you'll see what I mean. I knew before I tried it: If the BRXs and Mytek amplifier could deliver even an appetizer portion of Mahler's Teutonic force and even a glimpse of the lyric poetry of his melodies, I could rate the Brooklyn + BRX as a successful combination.

Fortunately, the BRXs' tone remained bright and clean and pleasurable. Its bass and dynamics did not appear to compress. That spectrum of microcontrasts I mentioned earlier was, however, less evident with complex music at high volumes. Despite that, this 1947 recording played rich enough, dynamic enough, and subtle enough to keep me fascinated from beginning to end. A mighty achievement for a $2500 amp and a $1600 pair of tiny speakers. My power worries were over: The Mytek Brooklyn seemed a perfect match with the compatibly priced BRXs.

Compared to the Magnepan .7: When I first played the GoldenEar BRXs, I thought their quiet, naturally detailed, transparent sound was similar in character to the Magnepan .7s I reviewed in Gramophone Dreams #5. This similarity led me to wonder if the GoldenEar BRXs might offer a more conventional alternative to the comparably priced ($1395/pair), but room-grabbing, quasi-ribbon panel speakers.

I wondered too if Live at Carnegie Hall (16/44.1 FLAC Angel/Tidal), with Anoushka Shankar playing sitar ragas, would be good for distinguishing between these similar-sounding speakers. Besides Shankar's powerful, raga-induced delirium, this stunning recording is saturated with droning tambura, deep-pounding tabla percussion, and complex harmonics that urge the mind heavenward.

The BRXs driven by the Mytek Brooklyn focused my attentions on the blazing pace of Anoushka's sitar playing and the percussive attack on the strings of the accompanying tambura.

What stood out most, though, were the buzzing, overtone-rich notes of Anoushka's sitar. These notes seemed more alive than I remember from previous experiences.

This was all good, so I switched to the Magnepan .7s, wondering if they'd match up.

Live at Carnegie Hall opens with audience applause, then Anoushka Shankar speaking an introduction. In comparison with the BRXs, both seemed slightly muffled through the .7s. Tabla strikes were muffled also. My awareness of sitar plucks and the flashing radiance of their harmonics were reduced. Through the BRXs, these sounds retained their bite and sparkle.

Listening with the Magnepan .7s made me aware—perhaps improved my understanding—of how the BRXs' passive radiators add air-moving capability to the speakers' lower octaves. The Maggies' greater radiating surface played bigger and more solidly than the BRXs did, but that difference would surely have been greater without the added push of the BRXs' passive membranes.

That being said, the Maggies' significantly larger radiating area caused the .7s to sound more believable in the 50Hz–500Hz range. With the .7s, I could hear the Carnegie stage floor more and better than through the BRXs. Fortunately, neither speaker reduced the magic of this timeless Anoushka Shankar performance.

Compared to the KEF LS50: Since its introduction in 2012, I have admired the incredible build quality and sonic precision of KEF's affordable LS50 standmount speaker ($1299/pair) according to acoustical and psychoacoustic research. Its eight octaves of clean, well-ordered response are the standard to which I compare all other standmounts. For pleasure listening, however, I find the LS50 a little dry and lusterless.

I knew this would be an interesting comparison, because the GoldenEar BRXs appear to specialize in reproducing luster and harmonically charged atmospherics.

When I played Carlos Cipa's Correlations (on 11 pianos) (24/44.1 FLAC Warner/Qobuz) through the KEF LS50s, I thought to myself, I bet what I'm hearing now is not too far from what the artist and producer heard in the studio. All the basic information was there, clearly enunciated. Bass from the little KEF monitors was solid and properly executed. Leading and trailing edges of piano notes were fully accounted for, but compared to the supple-sounding BRXs, the LS50's notes seemed tight and slightly hardened, less flowing and yielding. The LS50 generated a well-mapped soundstage; the BRX soundstage invited me to enter. Left-brain/right-brain? Moon and sun? Masculine-feminine? Is one ever more right than the other?

An auspicious debut: My auditions suggest that the new GoldenEar BRXs might be the best thing to happen to affordable speakers since the debut of the KEF LS50. With the right amplifier, they achieved a level of overt lucidity that is extremely rare at this price. In my studio, the BRXs' quick-flowing, spacious, detail-rich manner favored more genres of records, and generated more musical excitement, than either the LS50s or the Magnepan .7s. That is a huge accomplishment. Consider me gobsmacked.—Herb Reichert

The Quest Group dba GoldenEar Technology
2621 White Rd.
Irvine, CA 92614

Bogolu Haranath's picture

As a less expensive alternative to Parasound JC1+, one of the good choices would be the Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amp ...... Stereophile measurements show ML 5805 can handle 2 Ohm loads :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thank you JA2 for reviewing the ML 5805 and doing the 'heavy lifting' :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 should include the ML 5805 as one of his reference (integrated) amplifiers as a part of his reference amplifier arsenal :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Is it possible for JA1 to do the EPDR measurements in retrospect, for at least some of the class-A speakers? ...... The impedance and phase measurements are already available for those speakers :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 says, "I don't have time for that EPDR measurements ..... Go buy the Parasound JC1+ amps" ....... Just kidding .... Just kidding :-) .......

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
Is it possible for JA1 to do the EPDR measurements in retrospect, for at least some of the class-A speakers?

I have started doing that. The Volti Razz review now has the EPDR figures - - and I will be adding more as time goes by.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture
Thank you JA1 ...... You are a gentleman and a scholar :-)
Bogolu Haranath's picture

TG liked the sound of Volti Razz speakers better with the Bel Canto e1X amp ...... EPDR measurements explain the reason in a better way :-) .......

Anton's picture

I love 'stand mounts.'

They make for easy in n' out for switching speakers, which makes for awesome shoot outs!

These seem like winners.

I've been ogling the Legacy Calibre, too.

I also watch for Sonus Faber Extremas, but the have simply refused to depreciate worth a damn!

Thanks again for this review. Any chance you will keep it around for more comparisons?

Last question: Would have any working memory of the Crystal Cable Arabesque speaker for a few comparison comments?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Crystal Cable Arabesque speakers ($20,000/pair) are certainly memorable for their looks :-) .......

Anton's picture

Good work, man.


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another audio component whose beauty is only skin deep :-) ........

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
Thanks again for this review.

You're welcome.

Anton wrote:
Any chance you will keep it around for more comparisons?

Herb Reichert now has the BRXes for a possible followup review.

Anton wrote:
Last question: Would have any working memory of the Crystal Cable Arabesque speaker for a few comparison comments?

Too many speakers have passed through my listening room for me to be able to offer any thoughts on the comparison. Sorry.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

My 'crystal ball' says, HR likes the sound of BRX with LKV PWR+ and Bel Canto REF600M ...... Both have 3rd harmonic distortion and both can handle 2 Ohm loads :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW .... May be HR could do a follow-up review of the Parasound A21+ ($3,000) :-) .......

remlab's picture

By what Sandy Gross and company pull off for the price. I don't care where its made. Exceptional engineering, design, and quality control.

remlab's picture

they usually don't measure this well. Very similar to the Elac, at least in this case

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It would be a good idea, if GoldenEar uses the same tweeter for their top model speakers :-) ......

remlab's picture

to subjectively compensate for the extremely deep bass response on the other models

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some of the young people who can hear up to and above 15 kHZ, have complained about harsh treble in GoldenEar top models in the Stereophile web forum :-) .......

remlab's picture

Especially in how it relates to the loudspeaker's efficiency is much, much better than the Elac

remlab's picture

and I examine everything he does with a keen interest, but Sandy's got him beat on this one.