This article is updated from time to time as new information becomes available. Last update 6/20/2016. Subwoofer 101 became the first SVS affiliate June 2016! It is not exclusive, meaning other quality makers are encouraged to participate!
This question has to cross a few minds. Is it better to go with a single giant sub that digs deep and has very high output? Or is it better to go with 2 smaller subs that dig almost as deep, but with a little less output, for the same price. The short answer is, “it depends”.
First off, you need to know what kind of equipment I’m talking about. I’m not talking about $200 subwoofers, I’m talking about high quality subwoofers. The big sub is a Hsu (pronounced “Shu”) VTF-15h MK1, a venerable powerhouse in the real world of bass, which I have enjoyed for over a year and a half. It is a 15” subwoofer, with variable tunability, such as both ports open, 1 port open, or both ports closed, as well as Q control. After shipping, it’s just over $1,000 and is a very large unit, capable of bass that will boggle your mind. It’s an excellent unit.
The dual subs are a set of SVS PB-1000 10” ported subs, which are more simplified. No port adjustments or Q control. They are currently the most economical sub you can buy from SVS. SVS sent out a set for me to evaluate for this site and this review in particular, and I see why they were eager to do so.
It is generally my recommendation to go with 12” or better, but these subs in particular demolished that barrier. They are the only 10” sub I can recommend with confidence, and that’s only after hearing what they can do. Prior to hearing them, I wouldn’t have thought they would deliver, and would have recommended something bigger. Come to find out, it is an SVS product at it’s core, which means excellent performance.
They are $499 each, or they give you a $50 break at $950 for a dual set. There are no shipping charges, even if you send them back.
Now some people may point out that this comparison is a little unfair, pitting the best of Hsu against the most affordable SVS model. It hardly seems like a fair comparison. However, if you have $1,000 bass budget, then these two options should be in your cross hairs. The benefits of duals are well known, and I can say with confidence that the benefit is very real. Some people may dismiss the PB-1000 as not being substantial enough, as I nearly did, but after my experience, I can say this would be a mistake.
Now in terms of appearance, the 2 PB-1000’s look almost “kid like” next to the VTF-15h. The words that came to my mind? “Not a chance”. These would be fun to listen to, but they weren’t going to be able to provide the same presence and authority as the big sub. In my mind, this was just going to be a fun exercise, and I’d be happy to bring the Hsu back out for duty when this experiment was over. I’ve been wrong before though…
The setup was easy, I just got a splitter and an extra RCA cable. I had to cut in a foam floor pad to make the right sub fit over the base of my speaker stand, it was a tight fit. For continuity, I put a foam pad under the left as well. This was not required, but I did have a large foam pad under the big sub, so it’s not like it would skew the comparison.
Later, having removed the pads for a different configuration, I found no noticeable effect as the standard rubber feet do a pretty good job. SVS also offers their more substantial SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System that can be used for any subwoofer with screw in feet, and they DO provide a noticeable difference on my wood floor.
I had a little more wiggle room here, but still not much. My home theater is also my living room, so I can’t go sticking the subs wherever I like. This was a problem with the big sub. It only fit in one place: The corner. A sub crawl was pointless. It could only go one place. I talk about Wife Acceptance Factor, and this was a biggie.
The smaller subs fit on either side of the entertainment center, although the right one just barely fit. I could move the left one toward the corner or up tight against the entertainment center. I preferred the latter after some experimentation.
To spare you the hi-jinks my AVR played on me, once I got the crossover levels correct, I started running through tracks I was very familiar with. I don’t mess around, I went straight for E-40, MGK, Whiz, Young Jeezy, all of the hard stuff. If there was going to be any lackluster performance, these tracks would flesh it out.
You can find these tracks on my YouTube channel under playlists, as well as the Enjoying Your Gear page, but keep in mind they are not safe for sensitive ears. They have hardcore bass, and are great for testing, but not something you want your 6 year old listening to.
And boom went the dynamite! I was beside myself with the depth, cleanliness, and tightness. It was such a full and rich experience. Very satisfying. I kept looking at my wife, asking what she thought, as I really did not trust my own ears at this point! She backed me up, she said it sounded better, wherever she was standing or sitting. I could have written this sooner, but I still didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t want to lose credibility among my audience for such a substantial topic. Truly, I did not trust my own ears.
So I began asking my brother, my niece, our friends, anyone who had heard the big sub prior. All were echoing what I felt. Duals were better, and these PB-1000’s are incredibly good. After playing the moving bed scene in “The Haunting”, I saw a lot of open mouths and big eyes. “It sounds better than a movie theater” was something I heard repeatedly. It was the immersive bass that left that impression, I’m certain of it. The dual setup was everything it was supposed to be, so long as the subs are solid!
Does this mean the VTF15h is a dog? Hardly. 2 of them would be outstanding. It would also be more than I could personally justify needing, but headroom is awesome. It does dig a little deeper, but we are talking a few hertz. The only track I found where the big sub had a clear advantage was Saint Saens Symphony Number 3 “organ“, which is a pipe organ symphony, and at 7 minutes in it gets real. The bass tends to hurt your ears, even when properly reproduced. It’s really deep. The big sub handled it better, but it wasn’t as though the PB-1000’s gave up. They just didn’t do quite as well. Unless your listening habits revolve around this track, I don’t see this as a major reason to rule out the PB-1000’s.
Frankly, I’m glad I could find a “weakness” with the PB-1000’s. It’s hard to write about SVS without sounding like a groupie. It’s a common problem, and a great problem for SVS.
In terms of music, I listen to all kinds. Sarah Mclachlan, Slipknot, Norah Jones, Dead Sara, Ray Lamontagne, E-40, Anne Murray, Merle Haggard, Digital Underground, Metallica, Korn, Keb Mo, Pink Floyd, Eagles, I could go on. Both subs do great with all of that content. It’s hard to judge this against one another as I was not willing to listen very long to the PB-1000 as a single, not because it didn’t sound good, but because duals just sounded so much better.
Frequency response is a very grey area in the subwoofer world. Fair disclosure, I do not own an SPL meter. This site is for normal guys, and like most guys, I don’t have an SPL meter laying around, (now have a UMIK-1) although I don’t discourage it. Instead, I listen to sweeps and let my ears discern the peaks and valleys. The VTF-15h had some peaks in my room around 50-70 hertz. (I though it had some peaks, but after discovering my mains were causing peaks, I need to revisit this issue.) It was authoritative down to 17, which is why it handled Saint Saens so well. It’s an excellent sub that would do even better with Room Eq Wizard and a Mini DSP 2×4 to correct in room peaks, as any sub would. Corner loading also played a part I’m sure, so don’t take my observations as accurate or definitive.
The PB1000’s had softer peaks (not as dramatic) around 35-40. (again, mains were causing peaks) They produced clean, authoritative bass down to 21 hertz, and began to taper to 19 hertz, under which they really started to fall off. These would also do well with Room Eq Wizard, but did pretty well with Audyssey alone. Again, this may be due to having dual subs, but SVS is known for their flat frequency response curves.
More “common” subwoofers that are not on the same level as these two makers might list a response of 18 hertz, but really taper off around 30 hertz, producing some sound, but not with any real authority to speak of. Both of these matched their marketing material and their stated performance. Both companies are known for being spot on, and I can absolutely back that up. Both are great value for what they deliver.
So my conclusion comes with a lead heavy caveat. In order for it be beneficial, at least in my opinion, you need to have the smaller subs be as good or better than the PB-1000’s, which is a tall order. I would prefer a sub that has true authority at 20 hertz, but 21 hertz is not enough of a difference to make me want to pass these up considering they do still produce healthy response at 19. If I was buying subwoofers today, these would be my starting point, the minimum level of performance I would be truly happy with. This is not meant to be a dig on the PB-1000, quite the opposite. It’s an outstanding sub, even if it were more expensive. There are subs that exceed $5,000 that are only rated to 30 hertz.
I’m happier with the dual PB-1000’s than I am with the single VTF-15. If you are at all familiar with the real subwoofer world, then you know the flame war that is bound to descend upon me for speaking such blasphemy! Remember, I LOVE my VTF-15, and would really love a pair, knowing I could easily power a room triple the size. If I wasn’t able to find an extra $1,000 in my couch cushions, or in my wife’s budgetary approval, I’d have to go with the dual PB-1000’s. Anywhere in between or better would be great too. Dual PB2000’s would likely be a very low compromise solution, assuming you have the space.
The goal for my audience is to find subs that are good at everything. Never running out of steam, never being taxed to a point of sloppiness at sane volumes. The PB-1000’s fit that description quite nicely. If these are not your choice, the next step in my opinion would be 12” subs, which of course will be more expensive for similar or better performance. That’s OK, bigger subs are nice, it’s better to have too much rather than not enough. Just don’t go getting dual $200 subs and wonder why you aren’t thrilled. Quality makes a huge difference.
So for this particular scenario, I’d have to put my money on the dual PB-1000’s over the single larger sub (or any other single for that matter, including SVS, this wasn’t meant to be a brand comparison). There are a couple of reasons:
Duals are amazing, few will dispute that. In my opinion, duals should absolutely be part of your plan, if you want amazing performance. It resolved my dead spots and gave great saturation. It’s not a clever sales ploy, duals are worth it!
Compromise was expected, but there wasn’t nearly as much compromise as I anticipated. Given the amount of bass heavy content I bombarded these with, I’m beside myself with how well they do. Overall, they are impressive and surprising. The PB-1000’s are ridiculously good.
The ability to upgrade to the larger PB-2000’s or any other better SVS Subwoofer within a year, at FULL purchase value. This shouldn’t be your deciding factor, but it’s a really nice option. The trade in scenario is the only time I’m aware of that SVS will ask you to pay for shipping, which gets expensive with heavy subs like these.
No shipping charges, and a full refund if you need to send them back. You have 45 days to decide if they work for you. If you live in the LA area and can pick up directly from HSU, this is not a factor.
Visual impact. Better Wife Acceptance Factor. They are not nearly as imposing as the larger sub. Granted, I can always say, “sorry honey, it’s for the website” and put just about anything I want in my living room, but not everyone will have as good of an excuse. Good bass takes up space, and you should be prepared for larger subs if you want great sound. These just happen to be the smallest ported subs that I’m aware of that truly belong on this site.
So there are my thoughts. I can sincerely say that dual PB-1000’s meet my bass needs with gusto, and given the name of this site, that has to count for something. I would not be upset if they were the last subs I was able to have. It’s getting off the hook cheap for outstanding performance.
For the reasons above, and the fact that I will be very sad to see them go back to SVS, I can sincerely say that Dual PB-1000’s are the smartest buy in bass. I would recommend buying deeper response if you can afford it, assuming proper quality, but these are extremely satisfying and should leave no trace of buyer’s remorse. Even if they did, SVS has a stellar reputation for customer service. For a bass budget under $1,000, there is no question in my mind that these are the best bang for the buck, and I cannot comfortably recommend less.
Good luck in the search, hopefully this was useful!
A quality subwoofer will not distort under lower frequency sound like many common subwoofers do. Many names associated as “top quality” have little real subwoofer performance. Almost any subwoofer will work well at 60 hertz, but once you get under 40 things get real. Under 30, and things get very real.
It would be easy to name a few brands that stick out for being overpriced, floppy, and breathless, but the goal is not to bash brands that may make future improvements and be worthy of praise. The hope is to change the industry and move it towards performance rather than hype, and do it by promoting those who are doing it right.
The focus will be on reasonable value subs, which will range from $400 to $2500. If I find a subwoofer that is outrageous under $300, I will absolutely discuss it. In fact, I will celebrate it. It’s just too hard to obtain amazing performance at that price point.
A few things to keep in mind:
Physics matter. To get substantial performance from a ported sub, you need a big box and wattage. There are a few small subwoofers that get down pretty good for there size, which typically rely on a passive radiator design, but for life below 30 hertz, they begin to lose the battle to distortion and output. While impressive for it’s size and great for small spaces, the cube subwoofer I had just wasn’t enough. The smallest ported sub I have heard that I can confidently recommend is the SVS PB-1000, which is still sizable for a 10″ subwoofer. It has been my one exception to my 12″ or better rule, and they hit all the way down to 21 hertz with authority, and don’t fall off until 18-19 hertz. It has the same rated response as the passive radiator cube design did, but the difference is substantial, with the passive radiator design falling off at 30 hertz. Lesson? Rated frequency response can be very misleading.
Manufacturer rated frequency response. Few big brands advertise realistic numbers. They are almost always inflated. Some brands do not advertise frequency response numbers at all(?!), instead suggesting you should rely on your ears. If they advertised their actual frequency response with graphs, their home theater in a box sales would plummet. The only way to judge truly frequency response is through independent testing, or your own ears using challenging tracks and test tracks that can be found on the Subwoofer101 YouTube channel playlist under Subwoofer test tracks.
White van speakers. Never, ever buy speakers out of the back of a van. EVER. They are universally garbage, and it’s a scam that has been going on for days.
Internet Direct brands. Makers that are internet direct rely a great deal on word of mouth advertising, and therefore actual performance. From what I can tell, they keep more profitability by not having to share revenue with brick and mortar stores. So when you buy a factory direct speaker for $1,000, it would have to be priced at $1,400-$1,800 to have the same profitability in a brick and mortar. That is not an endorsement of all internet direct brands, some aren’t that great, but a suggestion to look at some celebrated, quality internet only brands. It is not to say all brick and mortar sold brands are bad, but chances are you are going to have to pay much more for similar performance and quality.
Amp makers. The company that makes your favorite receiver probably doesn’t make the best speakers/subwoofers. Again, this may change in the future, but as of 2017 that is the case.
Beware of “systems”. Speaker “systems” that do NOT allow for third party subwoofers (a different brand subwoofer) to integrate should be carefully scrutinized. The same is true if you cannot use dual subwoofers, an important part of quality bass performance. If you are buying a brand that only allows that particular brand’s subwoofer to be used, then you are limited. This is true of some wireless setups that may fix the problem in the future, and some bigger name systems known for their ultra compact design that should probably be avoided altogether. A wireless setup may suite you, but you can’t expect absolute deep bass performance, at least not yet. This is not referring to wireless sub kits, which are great for placement flexibility, but any wireless kit will add delay and can complicate things. Never try to mixed wired subs with wireless subs.
You can always turn it down! Getting an under-powered or shallow subwoofer is a bigger problem than going too big. Particularly in a big room like my 24×24 living room, which is open to 1,200 square foot house, there is little pressurization, but a pair of PB-1000’s filled it up nicely. I would always make dual subwoofers a priority, and going a little smaller with duals is OK. Any sub on “The List” should fill most normal rooms under 25×25 feet, assuming sane but substantial listening levels.
Placement. Subwoofers have a longer sound wave, and the features of your room will affect your subs performance. In my room I have dead spots, caused by what’s known as a standing wave, common with single subwoofers. As the frequency changes, loud spots and dead spots shift within the room, causing what I call “Swiss Cheese Bass”. Going with separated dual subs has resolved the dead spots in my room. A sub crawl is ideal for a single sub, but in my circumstances I could only move it within a 4 foot footprint for aesthetic reasons, which brings us to our next topic…
WAF. The Wife Acceptance Factor, or more politically correct SOAF (Significant Other Acceptance Factor) is a real consideration. I auditioned a small footprint, passive radiator design cube subwoofer, and my wife loved it’s look because it didn’t stand out, but it just didn’t perform. With my 15 inch sub, it was definitely a stand out feature. There was a little dread on her face when I unpacked it due to it’s size, but when it went live she was hooked. The sound quality outweighed the visual impact. SVS sent out a pair of PB-1000’s for review, and they have been the best compromise, but the PB-2000’s just seem to fit next to the TV stand the best. Solid performance with a small visual impact, and they also happen to be the most affordable.
How low? The human ear hears down to about 18 hertz (sometimes lower) for the best of us, most of us hear around 20 hertz, and your ability to hear low frequencies deteriorates with age. So why get a sub that actually goes down to 18 hertz or lower? Because if you have a sub that does well at 20 hertz, it will likely do great at 30-40 hertz where a lot of subs reach their real limits. When you listen to that challenging track that would tax most common subwoofers, and instead you hear the sound that was actually recorded, as it was meant to be heard, it’s quite satisfying.
You also have the issue of how “flat” your frequency response is. Many common subwoofers vary widely in their measured curves. Many drop off substantially under 30-40 hertz. Many makers measure lower on that curve (even if it’s within accepted standards) , and when you listen to a 25 hertz tone and a 60 hertz tone, the 60 hertz tone is much louder. This is true for almost any sub, but how much of a difference is the key.
I have not listened to every subwoofer out there, but you can be sure I will not put a subwoofer on this site if it is not outstanding, or had a special merit.
If you are a manufacturer and want to have me review your subwoofer or otherwise believe your sub should be on “The List”, you can contact me through the contact page. My goal is to put really good products on a pedestal, not hurt brands that are still improving their products. I’ve set a nearly impossible standard, and I’m fully aware of that. Flat response curves, no bad manners, authority down to 20 hertz and reasonable output for no more than $2,500. I know there are some great subs that I have not heard of yet, so feel free to chime in.