Sinclair Audio Brighton Series

If you’re a regular reader of CANADA HiFi then you should already be familiar with the brand Sinclair Audio. Since 2005, we have reviewed the company’s first and second generation Brighton Series speakers. For those of you hearing about these guys for first time, Sinclair Audio is a Canadian company owned by Montreal-based JAM Industries Ltd., a long time distributor of consumer electronics and music instruments. Since Sinclair Audio’s inception, a lot of time has been devoted to research and new product development. Today, the company’s product offerings span three different series of speakers: Brighton, conventional cabinet speakers; Architex, in-wall/in-ceiling speakers; and Sculptura, contemporary, slim speakers. All Sinclair Audio products are designed in Canada and manufactured in China.

The latest fruit of labour from Sinclair Audio is the third generation of the Brighton Series speakers, a series which consists of seven speaker models and two subwoofers. The speakers are of course tonally matched so that any of these models can be combined to create a 2-channel or multi-channel system. Our review set included all of the top-of-the-line models: two 460T floorstanding speakers ($1499/pair), four 45RS bi-polar surround speakers ($299/pair), a 25CC centre channel ($299) and a 310S subwoofer ($499). The combined price of this 7.1-channel system is $2895. A 5.1-channel system would retail for $2596. Of course a less expensive system can be put together with the lower speaker models in the series.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the models beginning with the flagship 460T tower speaker which has been completely redesigned. The 460T now employs a 3-way design which uses four drivers instead of three, like its previous generation brother. Looking under the speaker grille reveals the front baffle which is visually split into two sections. The top section houses two 6.5 inch Woven Fiberglass Hybrid midrange drivers and a brand new 3 inch Transparency Ribbon sandwiched between them. The bottom section has two 6.5 inch Woven Fiberglass Hybrid woofers. Employing a ribbon tweeter is a first for Sinclair Audio, with the 460T being the only model to offer it. Compared to a traditional tweeter, the ribbon tweeter has a substantially lower mass and therefore responds much quicker. Acoustically this should translate into sound that contains improved transient musical information, particularly in the higher frequencies. The 460T has an impedance of 8 ohms, a sensitivity of 92 dB, a frequency response rated from 32 Hz to 40 kHz and can handle amplifier power of up to 250 watts. It’s hard to tell from the picture at the top of this review but the 460T is a big speaker, with a weight of a small elephant, designed for larger rooms – it measures 48 inches high, 9 inches wide and 16 inches deep. With its height of exactly 4 feet, it will look visually overwhelming in a smaller space.

The 45RS bi-polar surround speaker has also received a complete design overhaul. Its 2-way design combines a 4 inch Woven Fiberglass Hybrid woofer with dual 1 inch Black Diamond Silk Dome tweeters, which fire at about 45 degrees to the sides. It has an 8 ohm impedance, a sensitivity of 88 dB, a frequency response rated 80 Hz to 20 kHz and a power handling of 125 watts. This new design should provide better dispersion characteristics. The 45RS is also noticeably smaller than the previous generation surround speaker, making it much easier to position in any room – which is great because surround speakers are usually the most challenging to place.

The 25CC centre channel has a straight forward 2-way design, with dual 5.25 inch Woven Fiberglass Hybrid midrange woofers flanking a 1 inch Black Diamond Silk Dome tweeter. Its frequency response is rated from 55 Hz to 20 kHz and the impedance, sensitivity and power handling have the same specifications as the 45RS speaker.

Completing the Brighton series is the flagship 310S subwoofer which is outfitted with a triple 10 inch driver array, just like its previous generation brother. The front woofer is active (powered), while the dual side-firing woofers are passive (non-powered). Power is provided by a more powerful 300 watt RMS amplifier, which peaks at 800 watts. Its frequency response is rated between 30 Hz and 150 kHz. The 310S has a new, smaller cabinet which is nearly a perfect cube, with each dimension measuring about 16 inches.

Visually, the new Brighton speakers look very similar to the previous generation. Each speaker is finished in a black wood veneer with a couple of glossy panels. White drivers and silver surrounds round out the design. The white-driver-on-black-cabinet gives the speakers an attractive visual contrast but the overall aesthetics won’t win these speakers any design awards – they look like most conventional speakers. Although there were a few small imperfections in the finish of the speakers, overall the fit and finish were above par compared to other Chinese made speakers and components that I’ve played with.

During the break-in period I connected the Brighton speakers to our high-performance Arcam FMJ AVR600 AV receiver and the Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD universal Blu-ray player. I toed-in the front towers slightly toward the main listening spot since ribbon tweeters are a little more directional than typical dome tweeters. Two of the 45RS surround speakers were placed about one foot away from the sides of my couch and the other two were placed about four feet behind the couch. While making all the connections, I noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the binding posts on the 460T towers – the Furutech banana plugs of my speaker wires didn’t fit snuggly into the speaker posts, instead they sat rather loosely inside the posts. Hence I resorted to using bare wire connections to the front speakers. All of the other speakers accepted my banana plugs just fine. For my in-depth listening tests I connected the speakers to our more reasonably priced Pioneer Elite SC-07 A/V receiver – presumably most Brighton series owners would be connecting these speakers to an AV receiver in this price range.

While listening to two channel music, the 460T towers provided good stereo imaging and a pleasing midrange performance. They did not stress with the varying dynamics of Britten’s Orchestra CD (Michael Stern, Kansas City Symphony, Reference Recordings RR-120) and recreated the atmosphere of the hall where the performance was recorded quite well. Instruments playing in the higher frequency registers sounded crisp and realistic, more so than with other home theatre speakers – no doubt thanks to the ribbon tweeters. Admittedly the overall musical details didn’t quite match what I’ve grown to expect from my reference KEF Q series speakers, but they certainly were not concealed either.

Reaching for the Air French Band “Moon Safari” CD proved that the 460T towers have the ability to produce a large sonic landscape stretching all in directions. Various audio effects moved around the soundstage very convincingly. The rain effect on the first track “La Femme D’argent”, which some speakers hide far in the background, came through with excellent clarity. The bass line in this track wasn’t as punchy and articulate as I’m used to hearing but later in my tests I discovered that repositioning the speakers achieved a much better bass response. Of course, you could always turn on the subwoofer if you desire more bass.

When I moved on to multi-channel music my listening experience was elevated substantially. Clear vocals, melodic guitar riffs, keyboards and drums filled the air around me when I put on the Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” SACD. With the track “Walk of Life”, the Brighton speakers played the guitar riffs in the front channels with richness and complemented them with smoothly flowing keyboards in the rear channels. I could hear the strumming of the guitar chords and the metallic texture of the cymbals decayed realistically almost as if someone was playing drums right in front of me.

The Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” SACD was no less immersive. The bass line in “Time” played with a commendable depth and fullness, executing bass transients with control. In fact, I not only heard the bass on this track – I felt it sweep over an expansive soundstage, which stretched well beyond the measly dimensions of my room. That’s not too shabby for a fairly compact 10 inch subwoofer. Following the breathtaking intro, crisp vocals punched through the front speakers, perfectly centred in the soundstage and appropriately placed in front of the various layers of audio. The 45RS surround speakers very effectively and evenly dispersed the surround portion of the audio to the sides and back of my room. As a result I was convincingly placed in the middle of an out-of-this-world sonic atmosphere. Bi-polar speakers like the 45RS’s work particularly well in rooms where you have no choice but to place the rear speakers close to the couch (and on stands) because they don’t radiate the sound directly towards the listening position but rather disperse it at different angles. The other benefit is that they tend to create a more evenly distributed soundstage at the side and back of the room, which is particularly desirable for multi-channel music and movies.

But music is only half the equation. Before sitting down to do some movie watching, I made a trip to a local video store and picked up a few Blu-rays including Inception, Robin Hood, Iron Man 2 and The Expendables. I started with Inception, which not only offers an incredible story but also put the speakers through an extensive barrage of sonic tests. And much like with The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan kept the computer generated special effects to a minimum, choosing scaled and full sized models and sets instead. The resulting special effects are nothing short of spectacular, complete with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to match. The bomb explosions in the opening scenes shook my room with thunderous low frequencies. I was glad that the very low frequencies didn’t sound muddy at all from this relatively small subwoofer – no, they were rather well defined. Some of the explosions very effectively scattered building debris 360 degrees around my listening spot. The sound around me was pretty seamless, without any obvious gaps in the soundstage. The shattering of windows sounded crisp and realistic. But the Brighton speakers weren’t good with just these hardcore action sequences, they also had a more delicate side. In one of the chapters, the echo of bullets in the warehouse effectively recreated the size and ambience of the warehouse. The dialogue was always clean and distinct from the background music and effects.

But it wasn’t until I watched Iron Man 2 that the Brighton speakers demonstrated their true home theatre might. In one of the opening scenes, my room rumbled with bass as Iron Man jumped out of the airplane and fired up the jets in his boots and the repulsors in his gloves. The transition of the audio from the tower speakers to the subwoofer was smooth like butter. Tony Stark’s voice bounced off the dome’s ceiling and echoed realistically as he gave his speech at the Stark Expo, believably recreating the ambience of the convention centre. Later in the film, during the “Grand Prix De Monaco Historique” race, the Brighton speakers transitioned the earth shattering power of the racecar engines seamlessly from speaker to speaker. In some of the scenes I not only heard the bass frequencies, I felt them with my entire body as if I was standing right beside the racetrack. I don’t normally use rear channels (behind the couch) in my home theatre because of space constraints and find that most speakers sound a little overwhelming in this position. But this was not the case with the 45RS surround speakers – they provided directional sound when required and created a wide, dispersed soundstage the rest of the time. During the final battle with the drones things got so heated up in the soundstage that I became a little concerned, wondering if my next door neighbors (in their very close but detached house) could hear any of this in their basement – oh, the worries of an audio reviewer!

There is no question that Sinclair Audio has managed to further refine the sound of the Brighton series with this third generation. During the time that the Brighton speakers spent in my test room, they presented me with great two channel performance, an excellent multi-channel music experience and kicked butt when watching movies. Some will find the size of the 460T towers overwhelming, but if you have a room large enough you will be rewarded with very fine top-end frequencies. Medium and smaller rooms should do just fine with the smaller 260T or 250T towers. Regardless of which front speakers you end up choosing, I would definitely go for the 45RS bi-polar surround speakers – I did not listen to either of the bookshelf speakers from this series but I doubt that they could rival the fantastic dispersion characteristics of the 45RS speakers. The Sinclair Audio Brighton series are definitely worth an audition.

Sinclair Audio
Distributed in Canada by
Erikson Consumer

Sinclair Audio Brighton Series
Price: $2895 CAD (7.1-channel system as tested).

Component Pricing:
• 460T floorstanding speakers:
• 45RS bi-polar surround speakers
• 25CC centre channel $299
• 310S subwoofer $499