Do you care what your subwoofer looks like? That’s not a trick question, and there’s no wrong answer; it’s merely something you have to consider when purchasing a new bass-maker. If you’re completely unconcerned with aesthetics, there are all manner of high-performance-but-unfortunate-looking black boxes that will put a rumbly in your tumbly. And if aesthetics come first, you have your pick of compact, cute-as-a-button micro-subs that do a great job of extending the bass response of your bookshelf speakers an octave or so while practically disappearing in the room, or even sitting behind your speakers unobtrusively.
But perhaps you sit somewhere between those two extremes. Maybe you want something that’s nice to look at without being positively handheld—one that plays deep, but won’t part your leg hair. If that sounds like you, GoldenEar’s new ForceField 30 subwoofer ($900, all prices USD) might just be exactly what you’re looking for.
In a world where seemingly every new subwoofer is a hyper-connected, app-driven affair, the ForceField 30 is almost shockingly straightforward. It doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity. It doesn’t have built-in room correction or parametric EQ. It doesn’t have a phase control. In fact, it’s even simpler than its predecessor, the ForceField 3. The older model had stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs, which the ForceField 30 has dropped in favor of stereo line-level inputs.
In many other respects, the new sub is quite similar to the old one. It sports an 8″ front-firing polypropylene woofer backed by a 1000W DSP-controlled class-D amplifier, along with a 9″ × 11″ down-firing passive radiator. Its controls consist of a volume knob and low-pass filter with a range of 40Hz to 150Hz. One I/O difference between the ForceField 3 and the new ForceField 30 is that the latter has a switch for toggling between single-channel LFE (low-frequency effects) input and left/right line-level input.
There’s also quite a significant difference in terms of aesthetics. Whereas the ForceField 3 had a sort of trapezoidal shape and a cloth grill whose pegs had a tendency to break, the ForceField 30 draws its design inspiration from GoldenEar’s excellent BRX bookshelf speaker, what with its strong rectilinear shape broken by a gracefully curved top and its perforated metal grills for both the front-firing woofer and down-firing passive radiator. It also features smoother rounded corners and a more refined multilayer satin finish.
Installing, positioning, and dialing in the GoldenEar ForceField 30 sub
I’ve spent the last two years tweaking the placement of an SVS PB-1000 Pro sub in my two-channel listening room, so it didn’t take a lot of thought to remove it from its spot between my Paradigm Studio 100 v5 tower speakers and plop the ForceField 30 right in the same spot. I did move it forward a scooch to account for the difference in size between the two subs, but after running some test tones and frequency sweeps, I didn’t need to make any other adjustments.
I’m between integrated amplifier review samples at the moment, so I relied on my old Classé Sigma 2200i for the bulk of this review. One nice thing about the 2200i is that its bass-management capabilities are relatively flexible for a stereo integrated amp, giving you a choice between Full + Sub (operating the main speakers full range) or X-Over (engaging a high-pass filter for the main speakers) with crossover frequencies ranging from 40 to 140Hz in 10Hz increments, and a choice between 6, 12, and 24dB/octave slopes.
The Full + Sub setup sounded perfectly fine, so long as I set the low-pass filter of the ForceField 30 to somewhere around 62Hz. (I know that’s a strange number, but the knob only has labels at 40, 95, and 150Hz, with four equally spaced dots between each. So it’s only reasonable to assume that each of those dots represents an 11Hz increment, giving you unlabeled stops at 51, 62, 73, 84, 106, 117, 128, and 139Hz). But I got much better integration between the sub and my Paradigm towers when I set a 12dB/octave crossover at 80Hz on the Classé amplifier.
I briefly swapped out my Studio 100 v5s for a pair of RSL CG3 bookshelf speakers. After some tinkering, I found that a 100Hz crossover point resulted in the best integration with this setup. Again, I briefly tested a Full + Sub setup, setting the low-pass filter on the ForceField 30 to somewhere between the 95Hz marker and the next dot, which I assume represents 106Hz. So let’s call it 100-ish. But a 12dB/octave crossover set at 100Hz in the Classé integrated amp resulted in more seamless integration—as good as I’ve heard with these speakers, in fact.
No matter the setup, the connection to the ForceField 30 always came in the form of a Monoprice Onix Series RCA cable (12′), and sources for this review were primarily my Maingear Vybe media/gaming PC and my iPhone 12 Pro Max (connected to the Classé via AirPlay).
How does the GoldenEar ForceField 30 sound?
It’s a subwoofer review, and you know what that means: the first thing I cued up was some Björk. Actually, you know what? That’s not true. The first thing I did, as mentioned above, was run some test tones and frequency sweeps, mostly for the sake of level adjustment and placement. I also took the opportunity to compare the ForceField 30’s output to that of the ForceField 3.
Frankly, I’ve always had a certain fondness for the ForceField 3, despite its no-frills aesthetic. My only real beef with the old sub is that it didn’t come anywhere near meeting GoldenEar’s specified frequency response of 18–250Hz. In my experience, the thing barely delivered usable bass down to 25Hz, which is actually pretty excellent for a sub of its size and (especially) its price.
That’s pretty much exactly how much usable bass extension I’m getting out of the ForceField 30, but there are two noteworthy differences. First, GoldenEar only specifies the new sub’s frequency response as 25–200Hz (or 30–170Hz anechoic, -6dB, on-axis). Second, the ForceField 30 sounds to me like it approaches its performance extremes at both ends of its frequency range more gracefully, more linearly—more naturally.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled Björk. I’ve long used the Icelandic artist’s “Hyperballad” (Post, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Atlantic/Qobuz) as a subwoofer stress test, but it wasn’t until I dove deep into the song with a spectrum analyzer for a recent editorial that I fully appreciated what’s going on at its bottom end.
If you want to geek out with me, read on. If not, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. I promise I won’t get my feelings hurt. At any rate, the song’s first three notes comprise its bass line. The first two—a D# and D at ~38.9 and ~36.7Hz—vary in loudness by only about a decibel. A third note—a C at ~32.7Hz—is about 2.5dB down from the second. Interestingly, the second harmonics of the first two notes are down a decibel or two from the fundamentals, but with the third note, what I’ve always thought was the second harmonic isn’t actually the second harmonic at all. It’s the fundamental (!!!), with the sinewave at ~65.4Hz being roughly 3dB up from the subharmonic at ~32.7Hz.
Long story short, this seemingly simple but deceptively complex interplay of harmonics and subharmonics requires a good tonal balance way down near the bottom end of the audible spectrum. Otherwise, the perceptual balance of these notes sounds uneven, which may explain why it’s such a good subwoofer stress test, even if I never fully understood why until recently.
In every respect, the ForceField 30 did a better job with “Hyperballad” than the ForceField 3 did, and the 3 did a pretty good job to begin, considering that so much of the driving force of the song occupies a space very near the limits of both subs’ capabilities. And that was true whether I played the song at sane listening levels or cranked it into dance-club territory. I wish I were physically capable of running CEA-2010 [an industry-standard test for measuring subwoofer output at different frequencies] right now, because I’d love to get an objective look at the performance of the ForceField 30’s DSP limiter. But I’m not hearing anything weird going on in that department at all. The only criticism I could level against the ForceField 30 is that when cranked to its limits, if you sit too close to the sub (say, for example, if you were using it under a desk in a nearfield system), you can hear the passive radiator burp on rare occasions.
The only material I’m intimately familiar with that digs much deeper than “Hyperballad” comes from the domain of A/V, not music, so I plugged my Roku Ultra into the HDMI input of the Classé Sigma 2200i and cued up The Amazing Spider-Man via Vudu. In the sewer fight between Spider-Man and the Lizard, I know for a fact there’s a lot of LFE activity that’s deeper than anything the ForceField 30 is capable of cranking out. But this wasn’t any sort of gotcha test; I was simply interested in hearing how the sub performed when pushed past its specified capabilities. There are subs in this price range that make you painfully aware of their inability to dig so deep. You feel like you’re missing something more than merely the tactile sensation of bass. The bottom octaves feel chopped off.
That wasn’t the case with the ForceField 30. As became clear from listening to Björk, GoldenEar’s new sub approaches its limits quite gracefully. What The Amazing Spider-Man added to my assessment was that this graceful roll-off of the very deepest frequencies extends all the way to the sub’s lower limits and beyond.
What about the upper end of its capabilities? Jimmy Buffett’s “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus” (Havana Daydreamin’, 16/44.1 FLAC, Geffen/Qobuz) is a great test for this, assuming your sub and speakers are crossed over at or around 80Hz. The song’s jaunty, bouncy bass line plays around in this territory, and it doesn’t have a very forceful attack, so with some subs, the lowest notes around the 13-second mark can get a little swallowed, a little recessed, a little lost in the mix. Not so with the ForceField 30. It did a wonderful job with the song’s bass across the board, delivering a solid foundation for the song that sounded more like an extension of my speakers than a separate bass-making box.
What other subs in this price class should you consider?
As I said in the intro, before we can talk about competition for the ForceField 30, we need to figure out what you consider to be competition. Do you lean more toward bang-for-your-buck? Are you more concerned with something that’ll look great in your living room? There’s no wrong answer here.
If it’s the former, you might want to look at something like the SVS SB-2000 Pro subwoofer at $899. It plays a lot deeper—as it should, given its larger cabinet and much larger driver. And it plays a lot louder. But it looks like it looks, and there’s just nothing to be done about that.
If it’s the latter, maybe look at the Monitor Audio Radius 380 at $925. It offers low-frequency extension down to only 30Hz, but seriously, go check out that walnut finish. It’s one of the prettiest subs I’ve seen this side of Sonus Faber’s Gravis line.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to balance performance and aesthetics, I think the SVS 3000 Micro at $899 is a worthy adversary. It relies on dual opposing 8″ drivers to deliver low-frequency extension down to 23Hz (-3dB), and it’s as cute as a speckled puppy belly. It’s also a very connected sub, with a mobile app that allows you to set parametric EQ filters and control other aspects of the sub’s performance.
TL;DR: Should you buy the GoldenEar ForceField 30 sub?
You already know where I’m going with this, don’t you? If you’re looking for a sub that’ll crack your foundation and crank out ludicrous SPLs doing so, then no. You’re obviously not shopping for the ForceField 30. And if your primary concern is that your subwoofer delivers a bit more bass than your main speakers can muster while being as small or unobtrusive as possible, there are any number of micro-subs that have your name written all over them.
But if you’re looking for something that represents a nice middle ground—excellent performance within a frequency range that covers most of the music you’re likely to listen to, in a form factor that’s not too big, not too small, not too flash, but not too stark—the ForceField 30 ticks all the right boxes. It’s got a well-designed DSP, its cabinet is a bit more inert than I would expect at this price point, it’s very easy on the eyes, and it doesn’t take up much space at all.
. . . Dennis Burger
- Speakers: Paradigm Studio 100 v5.
- Integrated amplifier: Classé Sigma 2200i.
- Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible speaker cables.
- Line-level connections: Monoprice Onix Series RCA cable.
- Sources: Maingear Vybe PC; Apple iPhone 12 Max, Roku Ultra.
- Power protection: SurgeX XR115 surge eliminator / power conditioner.
GoldenEar ForceField 30 Subwoofer
Warranty: five years parts and labor on speaker; three years parts and labor on amp.
The Quest Group—dba GoldenEar
2621 White Road
Irvine, CA 92614
Phone: (949) 800-1800