Updated 8/8/17 after spending time with 2 PB-16 Ultras.
Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if arguably one of the world’s best subwoofer makers, SVS, decided to design a mega-subwoofer? I have, but I clearly think about subwoofers a lot. To a fault, I’m sure.
I’m very proud to be the world’s first SVS affiliate, along with my other site affiliations like Amazon. The economics of being a YouTube Creator are challenging, and I need all the support I can get, but I truly enjoy this project and interacting with my audience.
Given the reputation and performance of SVS subwoofers, their support makes a lot of sense for this site; I’d be discussing their subwoofers regardless. Viewers regularly express their surprise at just how amazing SVS subs are. I get some fun comments! The depth is undeniable, even with their most economical subs.
Gary Yacoubian, president of SVS, challenged the engineering team to build something that they were uniquely qualified to build. A bigger and badder subwoofer than the PB-13 Ultra!
That’s a tall order, if you know anything about high quality subwoofers. The PB-13 Ultra has been a home theater champion for quite a while.
The new subwoofer is truly exciting, and a little frightening! In both sealed and ported configurations, the PB16 Ultra and the SB16 Ultra, are just insane. The power behind these subs easily eclipse the PB-13 Ultra, which already delivers an astonishing 1,000 watts RMS and 3,600 watts peak. The new PB16 Ultra delivers an obscene 1,500 watts RMS and over 5,000 watts peak!!!
Now just in case you missed that, we’re talking 5 KILOWATTS of peak power!! 10 KILOWATTS with duals!! Fun, right??
5,000 watts, available and ready to convince you that there is, indeed, a T-Rex crashing through your living room. Nikola Tesla himself might have been impressed!
Subwoofer 101 Disclaimer: NOT for houses with weak foundations!!
At first, that disclaimer was just a joke. Joking aside, having enjoyed these subs personally, you might need to actually consider it. Finding the limits of these subs is not something I’m willing to attempt.
Seriously. This house was built in the 50’s, and these subs made me nervous when I tried to push it. I gave up well before the subs did.
Not only did they cram the power of a typical naval ship into the incredibly reinforced cabinet (which is an absolute MUST at these levels), they’ve added new features for SVS, including a smartphone app and a remote control, along with an advanced DSP.
I have to say, I was concerned that the app might be a little gimmicky, but it’s incredibly well thought out, allowing multiple subs, the ability to rename those subs, ability to change the PEQ’s (Parametric Equalizers) with graphs for visual reference (rather than just plain numbers) to change the response curve, and all of it done in real-time. As the app changes (like an increase in volume), so does the sub.
A lot of time was spent on the app, and it really shows. It’s very intuitive. Being able to see how the Q effects the response is very useful, as some enthusiasts may not be 100% on how Q adjustments will effect outcome. In the app, it’s pretty clear once you fiddle with it.
At one point I thought I’d found a flaw in the app: every time I set the music or movie preset, everything defaulted, including the PEQ’s, Port Tuning, and Volume, which could really be an issue. Turns out, when you make adjustments, you’re supposed to save the preset.
Here I thought I was clever, and it turned out I just hadn’t read the directions. I’m sure that’s the first time that’s ever happened in home audio, right?
Saving the presets to Movie and Music allows you to run that extra dB or so for movies, and still have the perfect balance for music. Even if you run the same setting for both, it’s still a good idea to save both presets anyway.
Then there’s the new driver. Huge 8” voice coil. Massive magnet. It is shipped on a pallet due to the weight. You’re not getting this sub into the house on your own without a substantial dolly, and even then you should have someone help you. The dimensions according to the SVS website are 25” H X 21.7” W X 30.9” D and 174.5 pounds for the ported PB16-Ultra.
I’m really enjoying these subwoofers. I waited for a while to do the review, and the only way I could review it was in a dual configuration. Knowing what duals are capable of, a single didn’t give me the experience I wanted. So, I tried mixing subs.
I’ve found that trying to mix subs is generally harder than perfectly matched subs. The closer they are, the better. The PB-2000 (12″ driver) with a PB-16 Ultra (16″ driver) was not very good, with some annoying cancellations.
PB-16 Ultra mixed with the HSU VTF-15 (15″ driver)? It was better (I’m assuming due to a closer driver size) but still not what I knew it should be. I still haven’t heard dual VTF-15’s, so based on this experience, I still haven’t truly “heard” the VTF-15’s.
When SVS was finally able to send out the second PB-16 Ultra, everything clicked into place. A tight wall of well composed thunder came forth! It was then that I truly understood the desire for increased power.
I have wood floors, which absorbs energy and redistributes sound (not a good thing), so I took the isolation off of the PB-2000’s, and with an extra pack from SVS (the PB-16 Ultra requires 6 instead of 4 feet) I got both subs mostly decoupled from the floor.
The buzz in the floor, which could be felt clearly on the other side of the house, was now only evident when standing near the subs. I envy those with concrete floors, but now I was ready to rock.
Fear laced giggling was the initial response, something new people tend to experience as well. They always look around to be sure the house is not coming down, legitimately.
Hacksaw Ridge, when the big navy guns go off, is something that still makes me shake my head in awe. Absolutely incredible with these subwoofers!!
When we first saw that scene, my wife and I just looked at each other in disbelief, jaws on the floor and eyes wide, then we laughed out loud, and used some expletives to properly punctuate the experience.
Keep in mind, big powerful subs are not new to us. We had expectations, but we were still unprepared for the merciless onslaught we’d experienced. And yet the pummeling was not painful, just exciting and fun! A little scary, sure, but incredibly fun!
Music is still as it should be, soft when soft bass is being played, but the true benefits of power become evident with powerful, “sharp” bass. Explosions hit you in the chest. Deep in the chest.
Some might assume that with such great home theater chops, music won’t be as good. After hearing all of my favorite material, even hearing vinyl for the first time in over 20 years, I can say that Diana Krall’s album on vinyl sounds absolutely gorgeous on these subs, as does Norah Jones, and my usual “go-to” tracks. If anything, the bass is just more sure footed.
Dual subwoofers are really important for music. Running dual matched subs means being able to hear all of the bass, and reduces “Swiss Cheese Bass”. Running matched duals wont make “bad” subwoofers sound great, but they will sound better.
So having said that, does this mean that the PB-16 Ultra requires a $5000 bass budget? Yes, I believe that 1,000%. If you’re going to spend this kind of money on a subwoofer, you really should get everything out of it, and not immediately put it at a disadvantage. I believe that to be true for any subwoofer.
If you’re running a cheap home theater in a box, getting a second matching sub would help, but it’s far from essential. If you’re spending anywhere near $1000 or more on a subwoofer, you really need 2.
So before the suggestion even arises, yes, if you followed the links, and bought 2 PB-16 Ultra subwoofers, it would be better for me than if you bought a single, so that MUST be my motive! No, my suggestion is that you should split your budget.
If you’re scrimping and saving to buy a single PB-16 Ultra, consider dual PB-12 Plus instead. So long as you order factory direct, you still have a year to upgrade at full purchase price, less shipping costs.
You may not get all of the benefits of the PB-16 Ultra, like the impressive amp, 75 pound driver, 8 inch voice coil, app, remote control, etc… but it’s how I would spend my money if I only had enough cash for a single PB-16 Ultra. Dual subwoofers are THAT important!!
But should you go sealed or ported? I’ve tackled this topic already, but to reiterate, I find the PB-16 Ultra more comfortable to listen to, as sealed causes a bit of ear fatigue, something I discovered when I checked out the SB-2000 subwoofers.
I expected to be a sealed subwoofer convert, but the unexpected pressure issues I experienced reduced my listening sessions down to less than an hour, and by comparison I can enjoy ported subs all day. Some people have this issue, others don’t.
I thought maybe the sealed issue might have been a room correction issue, so I was willing to try sealed again just to be sure. After all, sealed subs do have a lot of benefits, like zero port noise, tighter response, etc…
So I decided to try the PB-16 Ultra’s in sealed mode. That is what confirmed it, sealed subs don’t work for me. Angel (the white Tibetan Mastiff) didn’t like it either, her ears twitched in sealed mode, the same as with the SB-2000’s. So I think I can safely say that ported subs are more pet friendly.
Remember that naval gun scene in Hacksaw Ridge? She just slept through it, no problem. I’ve gotten used to seeing them snooze unfazed with their heads right next to the subs, but when my friend pointed it out, I realized it was pretty remarkable just how comfortable these powerful ported subs are.
I have to say though, in sealed mode, I was VERY impressed with the depth, it presented with similar characteristics of a ported sub! If you enjoy sealed subs, the SB-16 Ultra is a winner. It’s smaller, but still able to deliver serious home theater performance. The response profile is exactly what I prefer.
There are 3 modes on the PB-16 Ultra, Standard, Extended, and Sealed. Standard has all three ports open, Extended has two ports open, and sealed has all three ports closed. My favorite is Standard mode.
In Standard mode (all ports open), the performance is excellent, even in torture scenes like the one above. You can see from the video above that the PB-16 Ultras move a ton of air, enough to blow out the candles from across the room!
Cutting that airflow by 33% (plugging one port for Extended mode) was not quite as good for me. These subs like to breathe, and the extra 1/2 to 1 hertz extension wasn’t worth the trouble. Standard mode never sounded like it wasn’t deep enough.
Extended mode didn’t sound quite as natural to me either, so I recommend you let these babies breathe.
The SB-16 Ultras will not have as much headroom as the PB-16 Ultras will, but they are FAR from anemic, and will easily deliver the goods better than most ported subs. In Sealed mode, I found the sound of the PB-16 Ultra to be very impressive, and it made me more annoyed at my intolerance of sealed subs.
These subwoofers excel in providing realism that’s as close to real life as I’ve ever heard. For an ultimate home theater, a pair of PB-16 Ultras deliver a wall of bass that remains comfortable while exhilarating. Quite a trick, if you really think about it!
I don’t want to mislead anyone though. These subs, just like their least expensive stable mate, the PB-1000, could hurt your ears if pushed hard enough (I know, thanks to a rookie mistake measuring the PB-1000’s too loud), decibels are decibels.
When configured properly (as any sub should be) they are simply a joy to listen to, if not genuinely startling at times.
If you’re fortunate enough to add these subs to your home theater, plug them in, get them adjusted (more on how I do it), consider warning the neighbors to avoid uninvited blue and red party lights, buckle up, and enjoy the realism that few people will ever experience!
At $2,499 for the ported, and $1,999 for the sealed, they aren’t for those on strict budgets, but with a 5 year warranty including amp and electronics, free shipping, a gorgeous look, and loads of adjust-ability and convenience to go with it’s ultra powerful, sub-audible bass performance, they are truly outstanding.
This is what a home theater Mega-Subwoofer should be!
Getting a single sub, no matter how good it is, will leave gaping holes in your bass performance. No bueno. This is true of any subwoofer, not just SVS subs. Splitting your bass budget to get 2, so long as they are still quality subs, is almost always better than a single awesome sub at the same price.
This isn’t some audiophile thing, the way some might insist on $2,500 speaker wire (or a certain brand of cracker that MUST go with your caviar) otherwise life just isn’t worth living. This is real, and it makes a noticeable difference, even if the results aren’t always measurable.
2 subwoofers break down the standing wave effect, reducing peaks and dead spots, allowing you to hear bass that you would not otherwise be able to fully hear. It’s important, especially if you are going to go so far as to get good subs.
With that out of the way, people ask whether it is worth the extra money to go from PB-1000’s to the PB-2000’s. Being world’s first SVS affiliate, and having heard both in my room for some time, my knee jerk reaction is absolutely, but I need to go into some reasons why. Budget, of course, is a big issue, and space is the other.
In considering your budget, only you can decide that issue. Is it worth being late on your electric bill? I can’t answer that for you, some people might say yes, but I probably wouldn’t do that myself. For sure, the PB-1000’s are excellent subs, and will get down to 21 hertz before starting to taper off, which is a drastic departure from most “common” ported subwoofers.
A lot of subs, even expensive ones, start “calling it a day” and tapering off around 30-40 hertz, and some even sooner than that. The PB-1000’s are just getting started in that range. They will put a big grin on your face if you’ve never heard a quality sub. Even if you’ve heard quality subs, they are impressive and earn respect.
They are also the smallest ported subwoofer I can confidently recommend at this point. They are still larger than many ported 10” subs out there, but still “small” in the realm of proper ported bass.
Are they enough?
I’ve stated before and I’ll say it again: If the PB-1000’s were the last subs I could ever have, I would not be upset in the slightest.
I still believe they are the smartest buy in bass. I learned how to measure subwoofers with these, and through my own mistake, I damaged my ears, reaching well over 120 decibels in my room. It took 2-3 weeks to feel “right” again. They never made a bad sound during that brutal onslaught.
Output wise, yes, they are enough for me, and I would have to assume they are enough for most sane people.
Honestly though, who get’s into this to have “enough”, right? I would have 2 PB-16 Ultra’s if I could, it has nothing to do with “need”.
So what do you get when going from the PB-1000 to the PB-2000? Power is increased from 300 watts RMS to 500 watts RMS, and 700 watts peak to 1100 watts peak. More power is almost always a good thing.
You also get deeper response. Where the PB-1000’s are respectably flat to 21 hertz, the PB-2000’s are flat to 14 hertz. For perspective, I can’t hear below 17 hertz, so the PB-2000’s cover every bit of audible bass for me. I love that in a subwoofer, and for a ported subwoofer, it’s not common at all. Gold star!
On the PB-2000 you get the rounded metal grille, where the PB-1000 has a more traditional cloth over wood grille. Some people have issues with the metal grill. For some it’s an aesthetic thing, while others have found that the grill will fall off if not pushed in all the way, which could take you by surprise. It’s fairly heavy and could come down with a crash.
I never had an issue with the metal grille at all, and I like how it cleans easily, where cloth grills can attract and hold dust. I have dogs that bring in dust, so I notice this kind of thing. I prefer the metal grille myself.
Then there is this thing called headroom. The PB-1000’s have plenty of output in a dual configuration, so why would I want more power? Well, when you have more than you need, the results are often better, like horsepower or towing capacity.
Try hauling a heavy trailer up a grade with a truck loaded to it’s maximum GCVWR (gross combined vehicle weight rating), and you are really going to feel it. Now haul that same trailer with a more capable truck that has an extra 5,000 pounds worth of capacity, and that same grade will feel like nothing. It’s a little like that, you never feel like you’re pushing anything too hard, and it does what you want with ease.
The PB-2000’s are barely working at levels that would have the PB-1000’s really moving, so there’s a lot left over. I’ve not pushed the PB-2000’s to their limits. I don’t see any need to; they do so well when I play them as loud as I can tolerate already.
I’ve even cranked up the subwoofer output at the AVR and really rocked them, but I gave up before they did. I pushed the PB-1000’s to their limits, and while it was uncomfortable, I still managed to do it. My house is older, so I chickened out on the PB-2000’s. Another gold star.
So for those agonizing, I can say that both are absolutely impressive, and if you’re coming from disappointing bass (like most are), it will sound incredible by comparison. The difference compared to most subs is undeniable unless you legitimately have hearing problems.
At this point, it’s like deciding whether to get a 3D TV or not. It’s really nice to have 3D, but it’s not going to ruin your home theater experience if you stay 2D. As long as you are at least 4K, you’re in pretty good shape. Dual PB-1000’s should absolutely satisfy your needs without any real remorse of what could have been.
That said, it’s good to keep in mind that SVS has a phenomenal consumer protection package called the Bill of Rights, and one of the benefits is the ability to upgrade within a year at full price. I’ve had a lot of people tell me there is no way they could justify anything more than the PB-1000’s, and I do see their point.
For me, the only thing that would hold me back from getting the PB-2000’s over the PB-1000’s is whether I have the cash or not. In the grand scheme of things they aren’t really much bigger, so size is not that big of a deal to me. The PB-2000’s fit nicely on either side of my entertainment center, and looking at the specs of other subs, they will likely be the best fitting subwoofers on “The List” in my situation.
The PB-2000’s represent everything I discuss on this site and this channel: True, authoritative, full range bass performance at a reasonable price. The PB-1000’s are almost as good, only losing a small amount of bottom end and headroom in comparison.
In my opinion, the PB-1000’s are better in a dual configuration than a “single” PB-2000.
Make duals a priority, and you should be in good shape.
Hope this helps!
Ported VS Sealed is like asking what the best sports car is. There is no “right” answer, it just depends on your priorities. The Nissan GTR, Ferrari F430, Lexus LFA, and Bugatti Veyron all offer unique strengths and weaknesses. Which is best? That’s hard to quantify definitively.
Sealed Vs Ported presents a similar challenge, there are strengths and trade offs with each design. Here are my thoughts on the issue in hopes that it will help you decide which is right for you. Even though I may prefer one, my impression may help you decide that you really want the other.
SVS was excited to send out their sealed 12″ SB-2000’s for my next review after I was finished reviewing the ported 10″ PB-1000’s. Sealed subs have a lot of benefits, such as deeper in room extension in medium and small rooms (In other words, normal rooms. Large = auditorium), faster transient response, and a smaller footprint. But would I be a convert? You might be surprised…
Keep in mind that I’m a layperson. Aside from this project, I have no audio industry background, and I’m still learning. I’m a consumer with my own personal “consumer” desires, and apparently a few limitations that influence my decisions. While I’d love to be the guy with the perfect eardrums, it’s just not the case, so keep this in mind for your own needs. If you are into purist listening, your desires could easily diverge from mine.
Some basic differences are the ways room gain affects the response of each style. At least in my room, the response of the sealed subs goes deeper than the rated response. So the sealed response is rated for 19 hertz, but it goes down to 10-11 hertz in my room. For those interested in purist listening and ultra flat response, the sealed SB-2000 has a pretty sexy curve.
As you can see from the graph, the sealed sub (blue line) delivers well below the rated response, as SVS has shaped that curve with their DSP to give a nice flat response that drops off around 11 hertz in my room. I can’t hear below 17 hertz or so.
Ported subs do not do this. The factory ratings are pretty reliable in terms of depth limits. Any ported subs will be pretty quiet under their factory rating, but a sealed sub will likely go deeper. People have asked me how I can disqualify a ported sub so easily, but it’s pretty simple. If a ported sub is rated for 25 hertz, it’s probably not going to reach 23 hertz with any meaning, while a sealed sub rated for 25 hertz could potentially hit 20 hertz or deeper. This tends to complicate the discussion.
See the graph below to get an idea of the deficiencies common in more typical ported subwoofers. Typical subs are “good” down to about 40 hertz, and when you spend a little more, down to about 30 hertz. The “Typical” sub in the graph (Purple line) was reliably rated for 28 hertz, but started to really fall off at about 29 hertz.
The “Typical” ported subwoofer on the graph is not a cheap sub. It is a well-known name that retailed for $500, but given it’s age I’m not going to disclose the model. It’s not really important anyway, the focus here is on subs that perform comfortably under 30 hertz.
Unless a ported subwoofer has a DSP, the shape of the graph above will likely be pretty typical for your average ported sub. The “Typical” sub in the graph actually does better than most typical subs, but compared to any sub on The List, it’s pretty shallow. The difference in room is undeniable.
The whole crux of this site is about meaningful depth. Power and thunder, yet well-behaved in the process, so the sealed seems like the natural choice. Many enthusiasts will prefer the quicker transient response for music. I looked forward to trying the sealed especially after having read the Sealed vs Ported on the SVS site.
I can say that the SVS write-up is spot on. In a dual configuration there is plenty of output in my acoustically odd 24×24 mixed use room, though I listen at sane levels. For crazy loudness, ported are definitely recommended, or the SB13 Ultras. The graph does match up to the graph on SVS site (being flat below the rated response), understanding that rooms will cause the graphs to vary a bit. An anechoic graph will typically be smoother and flatter than what your room will produce, that’s almost a universal truth.
Reference vs Preference.
The SB-2000’s are great for those who want a purist 2.2 stereo setup, especially if flat response is your goal. I use the term purist instead of audiophile, because at the core definition, we are all audiophiles. We all want good sound, it’s just a question of sanity, economics, and personal flavor. My hopes are that the snooty attitudes that turn so many off to the industry will become a thing of the past, or at least get drowned out by normal people who just want to have fun.
The PB-1000 is what some would call a little “bottom heavy”. As it goes deeper, it gets louder in my room. The effect is not drastic, and I find it to be quite nice. This gives the impression of “bigger” sound.
Here’s the thing, apparently I really, really like a bottom heavy sub. I suspect it’s because deeper sound is a little harder to hear. Even though the sealed SB-2000’s go deeper, the ported PB-1000’s “sound deeper” because the room gain pronounces depth more. I can’t be the only one, based on the popularity of ported SVS subs. They are truly next level.
For sure, quality ported subs dominate cinema. The sealed SB-2000’s would trounce most “typical” ported subs in cinema, but the ported PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s have more slam when called for, and the depth is more emphasized than with the SB-2000’s.
But here is where I might diverge from the average enthusiast. I like the sound of the ported PB-1000 better than the sealed SB-2000 for music. Did your head just explode? That’s completely against the grain, and I urge you to be skeptical of my opinion.
There are 2 reasons for this, the first being that I like the more “pronounced” depth provided by the PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s. Getting a little louder as it goes deeper is my preference, and it’s a drastic departure from typical ported subs. This can be overcome with the sealed SB-2000’s with some form of external sub EQ, like a Mini DSP 2X4. The sealed SB 13 Ultra has an option like this built-in, although I haven’t heard it yet.
If you like a bottom heavy curve too, but you already have SB-2000’s, you can use the Mini DSP 2×4 to adjust the response. Fair warning, it does have a learning curve, and you need a good microphone like a UMIK-1 and something like Room EQ Wizard (free, but consider a donation to the guy who made it) to make it all happen. The same is true if you have a ported sub and like your response flatter. I felt no need to alter the SVS ported subs, but I could see the value in shaving the high end just a little on the SB-2000’s to match my own personal tastes.
The other reason I prefer a ported sub is pretty specific to me. I have sensitive ears. Not “I can hear a cricket sneeze 2 blocks away” kind of sensitive, but more of an “I can’t handle loud venues” kind of sensitive. My ears fatigue easily. I have a hard time going to concerts. Keep that in mind, as this is not a very common issue as far as I have seen.
My ears are a little fatigued from the sealed subs, though they did feel better after breaking in (or maybe I just got used to it?). The reality is that any sealed sub would likely produce the same result. I’ve heard this in box stores, but never long enough to pin it down. So it’s not an SVS characteristic specifically, it’s a sealed subwoofer characteristic. If you like sealed subs, the SB-2000’s make a LOT of sense. They sound beautiful, and they do indeed offer a purist sound.
Frankly, I find ported subs slightly more “comfortable” to listen to at higher volumes. I might have missed it had I not just heard the PB-1000’s, and then followed up by the PB-2000’s. I was never able to pin it down, but sealed subs never got me excited. Now that I have been able to identify what it is, it makes sense.
I found passive radiators more comfortable too, but I haven’t heard one I truly like, and at this point I couldn’t recommend them. However, the pressure issue is similar to a ported sub, as there is a degree of pressure relief. When the main driver moves out, the passive radiator moves in, thus keeping the pressure change to a minimum. With a sealed sub, there is no such relief. Again, this is all unproven theory on my part, and I could be completely wrong, but it makes sense to me.
My ears are overly sensitive. I identify as mild Asperger’s (never tested officially for autism, but it adds up) so that may have a LOT to do with it. The Fibromyalgia may also play a role here too. Normal ears probably won’t notice it much, if at all, and a LOT of people prefer sealed.
See the decision chart below to see which suites your needs better:
That pressure theory is purely speculation. This issue is pretty specific to me, but it brings me to the following recommendation: If you have sensitive ears in the house, like autistic ears, migraines, or dogs and cats, you may want to consider ported subs. I happen to find them more comfortable, but the difference might be difficult to perceive for most. That said, an autistic child or otherwise sensitive ears in the home would likely appreciate the consideration.
Certainly, I don’t think sealed subs should be avoided, especially if they suite your needs and desires.
I’ve come across some surprises with this project, and this is certainly up there. I fully expected to be a sealed subwoofer convert, based on everything I’ve read, and the comments I have received. Many enthusiasts prefer the characteristics of a sealed sub, and I absolutely get it.
Maybe I’m a little unsophisticated. Theoretically, I could retire to the study with a good whiskey to discuss world affairs in a chair with buttery soft leather. Something like hanging out with this distinguished gentleman. I imagine the conversation would be epic.
I could just as easily head to the garage with a good beer and shoot some pool with the guys. Both sound great to me, but shooting pool just sounds like a little more fun. No offense to Mr. Offerman or sealed subwoofers, both are class acts and have my respect and admiration.
I definitely see the appeal of both. I enjoy both, but I definitely prefer ported subwoofers at the end of the day. Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
I shot a video on this subject, knowing full well it would be controversial. I noticed that while playing around with the LFE + Main settings, you could get bass signal back to the subwoofers when you have speakers set to “Large”.
But setting speakers as “Small” on my AVR and the crossover at 80 hertz yielded the best results. So what gives?
In working with SVS, Ed Mullen helped me understand a few things about Room EQ Wizard, and the results I was getting with the Umik-1.
The first lesson was that a marginally better graph does NOT mean better sound. I could vary the phase of one subwoofer and eliminate a null, but it didn’t sound as good. Trust your ears. I keep the subs at zero phase, adjusting timing using the distance settings instead.
I asked Ed about the problems with the LFE+Main setting for the Denon, also known as Double Bass for Onkyo, and I’m sure a few other terms. My thoughts are that some people will refuse to set their towers to “Small” out of sheer pride, so why not let them get the bass back that is typically lost when the fronts are set to “Large”?
When you set a speaker to “Large” or “Full Range” on your AVR, all of the bass on that channel, including signals down to 20 hertz, goes directly to the speaker, and NO signal gets diverted to the subwoofer.
This is bad for several reasons, primarily because, as Ed pointed out, very few speakers are truly “Full Range”. Even their venerable Ultra Tower cannot deliver at 28 hertz the same dynamic output found in their subwoofers, and the Ultra Tower is a truly outstanding tower speaker, especially given the price.
Setting the speakers to “Small” keeps the subwoofer “fed” properly and keeps the main drivers fed more comfortably above the crossover, reducing stress on the amplifier and the main speakers.
Bass requires GOBS of power, and the subwoofers I discuss have comfortably capable amplification, 300 watts RMS/700 watts peak for the very smallest on the list, and as much as 1,500 watts RMS, 5,000 watts peak for the largest.
Asking your AVR amplifier to handle that load only makes sense in a few, very expensive setups. AVR’s are typically rated at 2 channels (Denon X6300 = 140 watts with 2 channels driven) which gets divided up among the other channels. So not much power when you really look at it. That’s a great AVR, but it’s still better to lighten the load.
For those who are still hung up on setting their speakers to “Large”, the “LFE+Main” or “Double Bass” setting duplicates the low frequency signals and sends them to the subwoofer as well, which explains the names.
A setting of “LFE” only (instead of LFE+Main) does not send that signal to the sub, making it difficult to integrate a subwoofer correctly. The bass only comes from the LFE channel of the content, and other speakers set to Small. Really difficult to properly integrate.
Then Ed sent me this EXTREMELY helpful write-up:
“Here is the best way to understand Small/Large , LFE/LFE+Main and the LPF for LFE.
- Small applies a 12 dB/octave high pass to the speaker at the selected crossover frequency.
- Small sends a duplicate signal to the subwoofer and applies a 24 dB/octave low pass to the subwoofer at the selected crossover frequency.
- LFE means the subwoofer gets the LFE channel and redirected bass from any channels set to Small.
- Large sends that channel a full-range signal. This is also known as ‘Full Band’.
- LFE+Main sends a duplicate signal to the subwoofer for any channel set to Large and applies a 24 dB/octave low pass to the subwoofer at the selected ‘crossover’ frequency1.
- When set to LFE+Main, the subwoofer still gets the LFE channel and redirected bass from any other channels still set to Small.
1 Note if the mains are set to Large and the subwoofer mode is set to LFE, there is no crossover selection available for the mains. If the mains are set to Large and LFE+Main is selected, then the ‘crossover’ selection becomes available for the mains. This really isn’t a true ‘crossover’ at all, because the mains are still being sent a full-range signal. What the ‘crossover’ becomes when LFE+Main is selected is the low pass filter setting for the duplicate signal being sent to the subwoofer. In this sense, the user can select the amount of ‘overlap’ between the mains and the subwoofer.
This distinction is not well understood by most enthusiasts, nor is it well communicated by the AVR GUI menu. It suggests or implies a crossover is still being applied to the mains when they are set to Large, when in reality that is not the case.
The LPF for LFE is the low pass filter setting for the LFE channel. Normally this is set to 120 Hz, since that is typically the upper limit used by DVD mixing engineers.”
So yeah, I think you can begin to see why I like SVS so much, and why I worked to become their first ever affiliate. The knowledge they have on hand is world-class.
So basically, with the “Small” speaker setting, your crossover is a “soft” limit for your mains/towers/center/surrounds, with only 12 dB/octave of filter below the crossover setting. The speakers still get the bass signal, just not as much of it.
A tower rated for 32 hertz is absolutely worthwhile, even when crossed at 80 or 90 hertz. Some people might feel their tower’s capability is “wasted” in the small setting, but that’s just not the case. Even as “Small” and set to 90 hertz, the Ultra Towers bring a LOT to the table, more than you would expect!
Even a bookshelf can produce enough bass signal to cause havoc under 50 hertz when set to “Small” and crossed at 80 hertz. I had some bookshelves with passive radiators that had nasty peaks at 40-50 hertz, and I’d blamed it on perfectly functioning subwoofers!
So again, you’re still getting bass signal to your main drivers when set to “Small”.
The crossover setting is more of a “hard” limit for the subwoofer, at 24 dB/octave, which means it really chokes off the subwoofer above the selected frequency. It’s a stronger filter (24 vs 12). That’s why I feel crossover is less about what you’re “keeping” from your towers, and more about what you’re “giving” to your subwoofers.
I appreciate Ed Mullen at SVS taking time out to offer his input on this subject, it has been a confusing one that I understand much better now. I think we both agree that the “Small” setting is best for 99% of applications. I knew what I was hearing, and his contribution above really added a lot to my understanding of the issue.
Hopefully this helps clear it up for you too! Set those speakers to “Small”, even the large ones!
More useful reading:
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!
In my strong opinion, a subwoofer should be audible and authoritative down to 20 hertz, and have a relatively flat frequency response while doing it. Not just make noise, but be heard clearly and powerfully. Simple enough, right?
Most commonly available ported subwoofers sold in stores do not have the ability to produce quality sound below 25-35 hertz. There is a “secret world of bass” where you can get subs that go down to 20 hertz with authority and clarity, and it’s fairly affordable, all things considered. You can spend over $5,000 on a sub that won’t reach 20 hertz. Why pay that much or more for something “incomplete”? I tend to gravitate to subwoofers that are more value based, and I list subwoofers that I would consider buying myself here: Best Subwoofers “The List”
Even a lot of high end professional ported subs used at theaters and concerts are only rated for 40 hertz, so what are you missing? The “WOW” feeling we all hope for. You won’t know it until you’ve heard it. The visceral feeling I get at home is more substantial than most movie theaters. That’s an insane statement, and it’s a LOT of fun!
Theaters may have more loudness, but for the home you can have more controlled deep bass with fewer bleeding eardrums, while still being able to go louder than I am personally comfortable with. I prefer sound quality over maximum volume. Some Imax theaters produce comfortably down to 23 hertz according to the video below. The most economical subwoofer I recommend is measurably comfortable at around 21 hertz, and clearly audible at 19 hertz. Amazing for a 10 inch driver, and absolutely uncommon.
It’s important to understand that frequency response numbers are commonly misleading, and a sub accurately rated for 19 hertz can trample all over a sub “factory rated” for 16 hertz. Confused? I was too, and seriously frustrated! I’ll try to simplify as much as I can. I’ll try give you the basics, show you some specific examples of quality subwoofers, and you can take it from there.
My goal is to help save my audience some time, money, and frustration. I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad about their current subwoofer, just bring your attention to what is available for when you do decide to upgrade. Spending good money on audio and getting that unsatisfied feeling is no fun. There are a lot of good brands out there, but the really great subwoofers are known to very few, or they are crazy expensive. I don’t focus on the crazy expensive, I’m more value conscious.
Have a look around, the subwoofer is not as simple as some might believe, and just because a brand is well known does not mean everything they offer is top notch. There are a handful of brands that produce excellence, and they will be discussed quite a bit.
The Audio Return Channel (ARC) can really simplify your HT setup. It requires your AVR (amplifier/receiver) and TV to both have the ARC option. It sends the sound from your TV to your AVR with an HDMI cable. The really nice part is that when I turn on my TV, my amp comes on automatically. Whether I use TV or AVR volume control, they both change at the same time. It’s a nice feature. For smart TVs that have Youtube and Netflix embedded, it makes a lot of sense.
However, when it comes to Blu Ray players, Roku players, etc… you may want to keep using your AVR to do the switching instead of your TV. Why?
Much to my embarrassment, I discovered that I was not getting full True HD or DTS Master like I thought I was, and most certainly not Dolby Atmos or DTS:X when running through the ARC. Some TV’s may pass through the lossless formats, but many do not, including my own LG 65UF8500 3D 4k TV.
I also found that on some players, like my Sony BDP S6500, you need to make adjustments before your AVR will receive lossless formats. See the video for more on that. Moral of the story? Don’t put too much faith in “the system”, I never imagined this could even be a problem.
Here is the speaker wire I spoke of in the video. I have the 12 gauge, but if you have lower end speakers or AVR, the 12 gauge may be a bit thick and may not fit in the terminals. These are good quality cables that can run more power than I use, and aren’t as expensive as others with bigger names.
Monoprice speaker cables
This is the exact wire I have but I got the 300 foot version thinking I could share with my brother, but the wire was too big for his speakers and AVR, he has more of a budget system.
SVS recently released their new line of cables for 2016, aiming to bridge the gap of good cable qualities and features, while not charging extremely high prices. They are known for a tradition of strong value, and this appears to be right on par with offering audiophile quality at normal person pricing.
Their approach seems to be, rather than be forced to either go really expensive or no frills at all, offering an in-between, high performance, high value option. I like this kind of thing, making “high end” less painful for normal people. They started with subwoofers, moved to high end speakers in rather impressive fashion, and now they are doing speaker cables, again offering reasonably priced high end. I’m interested to hear what’s next.
They now offer well built custom length, (custom terminated in Ohio for odd lengths) speaker cable called SoundPath Ultra, (be sure to measure correctly!) with bananas or spades, or any combination. They also now have new bulk/spool 14 gauge speaker cable called SoundPath One, and separate banana and spade terminals for DIY.
I used to use bare wire, but considering how often I’m plugging in speakers, banana plugs are almost essential, and have made my life a little easier. I’m not as enthusiastic about spades as they tend to loosen easily.
Of course, I would prioritize putting money into speakers and subs first, good cables aren’t going to make weak speakers sound much better. That said, making sure the signal has as little degradation as “reasonably” possible is a good goal. Is “reasonable” $2,000 in cables? Probably not. I wouldn’t need solid gold cables, nor do I want to run 20 gauge (really thin) speaker cable.
After finally doing some actual A/B testing of the Monoprice, SVS Soundpath 1, and SVS Ultra cable, I’m able to say that the Ultra cable did offer an audible improvement. I was skeptical, even though I had been using the cable for a while. I was only using them on the Prime Towers and Center, while using the Soundpath 1 cable on the Prime Satellites. Since there was a difference in speaker performance, I think this is forgivable.
Hooking up just the Prime Towers, with no subwoofers in pure mode on the Denon and setting them to Large (full range) I did some listening with some very familiar songs, then zeroed in on 2 tracks that had what I decided would be good to test with, and also annoy my wife the least. She’s grown tired of my “go to” test tracks, so I get her annoyance.
I played the first 30 seconds of Truckin’ by the Grateful Dead. Then I changed cables, and played the same first 30 seconds. I did this quickly so my “sonic memory” wouldn’t fade. I had the amp turned to the side for quick access. Banana plugs were vital for this, bare wire would have been a nightmare with my fibromyalgia. All three cables were 10 feet long and banana terminated.
I think it’s important to stress that both the Monoprice and Soundpath 1 sounded great, and I don’t mean to imply that they are inferior. They had a similar sound, and I’m not sure I could pick them out in a blind test, which I pretty much expected.
What I did not expect, after years of reading arguments dismissing most speaker cable cable technology as snake oil, was that I could indeed pick out the sound of the Ultra Cable.
Again, I feel the need to stress the point that this was not dramatic or game changing, but the music did come through cleaner and warmer.
My wife, who was barely paying attention with a project at the kitchen table, also noticed the difference and was able to pick out the Ultra Cable, also citing the warmer, cleaner sound.
So how big of a difference was it? Don’t mortgage the house for cables. It was good and I prefer it, but I think there is a sanity limit.
The Ultra cables are very nice, well built, and offer what I determined to be a noticeable improvement over the well made, typically configured cables. They aren’t insane on price either, and SVS still offers their 45 day return policy with no shipping charges, even if you send them back.
That includes custom terminated cable lengths as well. If you don’t hear an improvement, SVS is very good about no hassle returns.
So how do I quantify it? I think such a thing is impossible, but I’ll go ahead an pull some numbers out of thin air to attempt to define it. If the SoundPath 1 cables offered 97.1% performance, the Ultra cables offered 99.2% performance. That’s more than 2 theoretical percentage points! I completely stand by those totally arbitrary, made up numbers. lulz…
But seriously, there was a slight difference, and it’s made me less judgmental of those who do value speaker cables. Here’s the video I did:
I’m not going to chase the speaker cable dragon, and I’m not super interested in covering the cable issue much beyond this. I certainly couldn’t advise spending $200+ for a single 10 foot cable. Nor could I advise spending that kind of money on digital cables.
One thing I’ve learned from the video above, and the hobby in general, is that there are some fights that are worth it, and other fights that will just leave you frustrated. The great speaker cable debate is not a worthwhile fight for me. Any improvement is going to be minor, and some may not notice it at all, which causes controversy.
10 to 14 gauge is good, and I would shoot for cables that are twisted pair rather than the more common side by side or parallel configuration. Twisting the positive and negative conductors around each other is something you’ll find in networking cable to reduce cross-talk and interference. Without arguing the point much further, the cables I preferred, including SVS Ultra Cables, are twisted pair.
Unlike analog speaker cables, digital cables either work or they don’t, it’s all about 1’s and 0’s, and there’s no room for influence like there is for an analog signal. For HDMI cables, Amazon Basics should provide just as much performance as the high end cables, assuming the same specs.
The SVS Subwoofer/Interconnect/RCA cables are well shielded, which in many cases can quiet annoying subwoofer hum, making it a worthwhile investment. It’s a problem I have been fortunate to have avoided, even with cheap cables, but it would have been just a few dollars more and reasonable to have better, more “subwoofer thoughtful” cables.
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.
It’s better to discuss brands and individual subwoofers that do provide the performance that satisfies the need for clean, accurate, substantial performance at the lowest levels you are capable of hearing, and then some.
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.