Carson city, NV-based BG Radia Corporation has staked its reputation on building loudspeakers that leverage the strengths of planar ribbon drivers. As listeners familiar with those technologies might tell you, well-designed planar ribbon drivers can, at their best, offer effortless and uncanny clarity, delivering sound so lucid and transparent that it almost defies description. The only catch, really, is that it’s not easy to manufacture ribbon drivers that can reproduce lower midrange/bass frequencies at high volume levels, which has led BG Radia to offer hybrid speakers that use conventional piston-type drivers for lower frequencies and planar ribbon drivers for higher frequencies.
BG Radia’s most affordable and conventional looking hybrid models are collectively known as Z-series speakers—a product family that’s been around for quite a while.
About four years ago I reviewed a surround system based on BG’s first Z-series speakers and found it to be very good, though with the minor caveat that you could sometimes hear discontinuities in transient speed and resolution between the speakers’ blazingly fast planar ribbon tweeters and audibly slower conventional woofers. What would have helped, I thought at the time, was a planar ribbon midrange driver to help bridge the gap in the middle. And as it turns out a planar ribbon midrange driver is precisely what BG Radia provides in its newest Z-series models—the Z-92 and Z-62. In theory, these speakers should offer greater clarity from top to bottom and a more seamless blend between drivers, and to test that theory I decided to review a surround rig comprised of two Z-92 floorstanders (used as L/R main speakers), three Z-62 L/C/R speakers (used in the center channel and L/R surround positions), plus one of BG Radia’s 210i subwoofers. How does the complete package sound? Read on.
Consider this speaker system if: you’re passionate about sound quality and want a movie and music-worthy speaker system that delivers blockbuster dynamics, effortless clarity, detail, and levels of sonic finesse rarely (if ever) heard in commercial theaters. But note: you’ll need good electronics for optimal sound.
Look elsewhere if: you are pressed for space or would find the ~$7000 system too pricey. The Z-92s and Z-62s are lovely, but can visually dominate smaller rooms. Also, look further if you favor speakers with a soft, diffuse, “romantic” sound; the Z-models invariably give you clarity and detail—in spades.
Ratings (compared to sub-$7k surround speaker systems)
- Transparency and focus: 10
- Imaging & soundstaging: 9
- Tonal balance: 9
- Dynamics: 10
- Bass extension: 9
- Bass pitch definition: 7
- Bass dynamics: 9
- Value: 9
Both the Z-92 and Z-62 are three-way, four-driver, bass reflex (i.e., ported) speakers, each featuring dual 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers, a 10-inch x 5-inch Neo10 planar ribbon midrange panel, and a 2.5x3.5-inch Neo3PDR planar ribbon tweeter coaxially mounted in front of the Neo10 panel.
The Z-92 is a full-range floorstander, while the Z-62 is a somewhat smaller, near-full-range stand-mount monitor/center channel speaker.
Relative to the original Z-models (which remain in production), the Z-92/Z-62 get improved 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers featuring anodized aluminum cones driven by “double-gap” motors with Neodymium magnets.
The Z-92 and Z-62 offer gorgeous, real wood veneers with options for light maple or black ash finishes.
The Z-92 and Z-62 both offer—get this—a lifetime parts and labor warranty.
500-watt 210i subwoofer provides dual 10-inch Kevlar woofers arranged in a horizontally opposed, “reactance cancelling” configuration (the woofers face in opposite directions and move outward and inward in unison so that vibration forces exactly cancel out).
The Z-92 and Z-62 speakers take big steps forward from the original Z-models in several key areas. First, their new midrange drivers give middle frequencies the same fast, transparent, wide-open sound that made BG Radia’s planar ribbon tweeter famous. This means that transient sounds—drumsticks striking cymbals, guitar picks passing over strings, etc.—burst into life with compelling, realistic immediacy.
Second, the speed and resolution gap I previously heard between the woofer and tweeter in the original Z-models has now mostly been bridged. This is partly because the new midrange panel fills that gap, but also because the Z-92/Z-62 woofers, which have significantly improved motors, have also gotten better, delivering a more refined, nuanced sound. The result is a speaker where driver voices blend more smoothly than before—with better integration than in many other hybrid speakers I’ve heard.
While the Z-92/Z-62 speakers sound somewhat bright straight out of the carton, they smooth out nicely after about 50 hours of playing time. Once broken in, they exhibit generally neutral tonal balance, though with faint, occasional hints of upper midrange/lower treble emphasis—characteristics some listeners think enhances clarity, but that tug at your ears to disrupt 3D imaging just a bit.
But the best part of these speakers, by far, is their midrange, which is smooth, evenly balanced, and full of detail and nuance. Bass is rich and very well weighted, but perhaps just a bit under-damped so that low notes—the deep throb and growl of a vigorously plucked acoustic bass, for example—exhibit more bloom than is, strictly speaking, realistic. This partly has to do with the bass performance of the Z-92/Z-62 speakers themselves, but also with the sound of the 210i sub. The 210i goes low and is powerful, but for its price, I wish it delivered a more taut and defined sound (which BG Radia’s flagship BGX-4850 in-wall sub does, by the way).
Dynamic prowess is a major strength of the entire BG Radia system—one that differentiates it from many others in its class. There’s an old adage that says you can get sonic subtlety or robust dynamics in a speaker system, but probably not both at once. But with this BG Radia rig, you can. The Z-92/Z-62/210i combo sails happily through large-scale sound effects and musical crescendos at volume levels that would make many systems beg for mercy—a quality that I and that many guest listeners found thoroughly thrilling.
An important hint: The Z-92/Z-62 system sounds very good without any EQ at all, but if you want to hear this system taken to the next level, try using it with electronics that feature the Audyssey MultEQ room/speaker equalization system; the synergy is breathtaking. Because the Z-92/Z-62 speakers are quite good to begin with, the changes you’ll hear might at first seem small, but their overall effect is not. With Audyssey EQ in play, the speakers’ slight upper midrange forwardness goes away and the bass tightens up and becomes better defined—all without losing any transparency or dynamic clout. The net result is that this already very good speaker system becomes even better, with smoother sound overall and surround imaging that’s more pefectly seamless.
One film whose soundtrack shows off a plethora of the system’s strengths is Clint Eastwood’s brilliant Letters from Iwo Jima (see for a capsule review of this movie). Few films offer more striking contrasts between heartbreakingly quiet, soul-searching moments and gargantuan battle scenes—a spectrum the BG Radia system handles with authority and poise. In the conversation where Saigo argues with Shimizu that the Emperor is better served by soldiers who live to fight rather than by those who commit suicide, for example, the BGs let you hear and feel the desperate, persuasive edge in Saigo’s voice. Yet in larger scale scenes, such as the one where a machine gun emplacement takes a direct hit, the system can reproduce shock waves so violent that they smack listeners in the chest, pinning them to their seats.
Finally, the BG Radia systems ads power and impact to the scene where we see Japanese soldiers hunkered down in caves, cringing as American artillery shells fall closer and closer to their position. What makes the scene so powerful is that we hear explosions that seem to encircle us, first from afar and then from close range—an effect the system renders with superb surround imaging. Tension builds almost to the breaking point as shells land close enough for the soldiers ( and for us) to hear the fierce, metallic “crack” of detonations almost directly overhead. It’s a scene to make one’s blood run cold, made even more powerful by the BG Radia rig’s ability to remain clear and composed at higher volumes.
It takes just one great jazz recording—namely, The Jimmy Cobb Quartet’s Cobb’s Corner [Chesky, Multichannel SACD]—for you to realize that there is more to this system than monster dynamics or the sturm und drang of battle scenes. Try listening to “My Foolish Heart,” and you’ll be struck by the way the Z-92s captures the sweet yet incisive bite of Roy Hargrove’s solo trumpet, which sounds very realistic both in size and timbre. The speakers convey the sense of notes forming with within the horn’s interior and then bursting forth through its brass bell; it’s a captivating sound. Off to the right side of the stage, you’ll hear Cobb’s deft, sure brushstrokes on drums and cymbals. The system does a great job of capturing their delicate, filigreed sound and of expressing the quiet, masterful intensity of Cobb’s playing. In short, the system retrieves deep layers of musical information that other speakers might underplay or simply leave behind.
BG Radia’s Z-92/Z-62 surround system may not be the slam-dunk “best product” product in its class, but it can certainly compete with the strongest systems I’ve heard in the sub-$7K price bracket, which is saying a mouthful. The system brings distinctive strengths to the table, including superb treble and midrange detailing, a highly nuanced sound, good top-to-bottom driver integration, and the ability to serve up killer dynamics on demand. Dropping close to seven grand on a speaker system might initially seem like an over-the-top luxury, but once you live with the BG Radia system for a few weeks the idea will make perfect sense.
SPECS & PRICING
BG Radia Z-92 three-way floorstanding speaker
Driver complement: On 2.5” x 3.5” Neo3PDR planar ribbon tweeter, one 10” x 5” Neo 10 planar magnetic midrange panel, two 6.5” aluminum mid-bass drivers with double-gap motors and Neodymium magnets
Frequency response: 32Hz–25kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 44.25” x 7.7” x 14”
Weight: 70 lb./each
Warranty: Lifetime parts and labor
BG Radia Z-62 three-way stand-mount monitor/center channel speaker
Driver complement: As for Z-92
Frequency response: 55Hz–23kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 7.7” x 26.8” x 11.5”
Weight: 40 lb./each
Warranty: Lifetime parts and labor
BG Radia 210i powered subwoofer
Driver complement: Two 10” long-throw Kevlar woofers arranged in a horizontally opposed “reactance cancelling” configuration.
Integrated amplifier power: 500W
Dimensions (HxWxD): 14.69” x 16.25” x 17.5”
Weight: 62 lb./each
Warranty: Five years
System Price: $6999
BG RADIA Corporation