Keep in mind that AVR settings are kind of personal, and will vary as the equipment changes. I decided to do a walk through on some of my own Denon X6200W AVR settings, not to proclaim it as the right way to do it, but just to show the way I do it. Some or all of the settings I use may not be right for you, but my hope is that some may benefit from seeing how I adjust my settings and why.
Tip: the Denon X6300 comes with 11 channels now, and the Denon X4300 and Marantz SR-7010, SR-7011, and SR-6011 are all 9 channel, allowing 4 height effect Dolby Atmos and DTS:X speaker configurations, and most if not all offer Auro 3D as a paid upgrade. The Denon X6300 allows 4 height, but also back/rear surrounds as well, I would need to add an external amp to do that with the X6200w. I also really like the Sub EQ HT feature on these units, it does a really nice job.
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.
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!
**Everyone** wants better bass, whether they realize it or not. Even people who scoff, and say it’s not important, or that they aren’t interested, are quickly “converted” once they hear the difference.
It’s undeniable, and so much better than what most people are used to! From blockbuster movies to Diana Krall, nearly everything sounds better when you can actually hear **ALL** of the bass.
Traditional, run of the mill subwoofers basically filter out real depth, which is not good.
This isn’t just about loudness, almost any typical, basic, run of the mill sub can be loud.
It’s about the Depth of Presentation, or truly **SOUNDING DEEP**.
Your local theater rarely dips under 40 hertz with any meaning, while many of these subwoofers will routinely drop to 14 hertz in room, which is likely lower than you can hear.
Most subwoofers, easily more than 90% of ALL 10″-18″ subs (regardless of wattage, rated frequency response, and price), are TOO SHALLOW SOUNDING, both in extension and in “Depth of Presentation”.
“Depth of Presentation” is important, because your hearing fades as the frequencies get deeper.
Some people assume that’s why they can’t hear the deep stuff, but it’s actually the “typical subwoofer” that is to blame. It’s definitely audible, but most subs just don’t produce *enough* of it.
Few subs can plumb the depths, like they really should.
Good bass is not about what your neighbors can hear (like that guy next to you at the stoplight), it’s about what YOU can hear.
If you have an extra-large room (greater than 600 sq ft), you may need to look at the bigger subs, while those with large rooms and smaller have no such limitations on this particular list, so long as you go dual like you should.
You can always turn a sub down, and it should always be volume matched to your main speakers, regardless of room size. (How I level match by ear)
Big subs like these DO NOT mean overpowering “boom boom”, they mean “articulate” bottom end sound reproduction, which will include blowing your mind with movies like Jurassic Park and Hacksaw Ridge, and shows like my personal favorite, Cosmos.
Amazing content with the proper subs.
Cosmos was particularly surprising. It’s not all about punch, but a lot of low rumbling sounds too. It’s an impressive series too, bass aside. Dr. Tyson has a great way of explaining things.
If the source material is bass heavy, these subs will respond appropriately, while still remaining balanced, and not intrusive at all with regular content, when properly set up.
Tom Petty’s (RIP, I love his music) “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” will NOT rock your world with bass, it just wasn’t mastered that way. Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, “Lord’s of Summer”, and “Murder One” are truly an experience, if you enjoy their music.
Metallica’s new album, “Hardwired… To Self Destruct” is excellent for bass. “Lords of Summer” is what I use to set subwoofer levels by ear. I used to use several songs, but I get it set right away with 1 song now.
These subs should all do as they’re told, no more, no less. They should be thrilling, yet not intrusive. You can run them too loud of course, but integrated properly, they are true to the content.
The following subwoofers are known for great bass, a DRASTIC departure from more commonly known names that tend to inflate their numbers, but totally lose composure at lower levels. All of these should play with real authority to 20 Hertz, not just make “measurable noise” at that depth.
It’s my opinion that a subwoofer is not a **quality subwoofer* if it can’t play the entire humanly audible bass spectrum, down to 20 hertz,with clear, low distortion authority. Impeccable manners are also a must, and more rare than you might imagine.
Since I have not listened to every single sub out there, the only subs I can personally vouch for on this list are labeled “VERIFIED”.
Other subs listed generally have great reputations, but I have not heard them yet. No subs over $3,000 will make the list for the sake of value and relative sanity.
As you can see, the list is pretty short. Great bass is truly rare. Keep in mind that going dual is SUPER important, and I would make it aSTRONG priority instead of getting the largest sub possible.
If you are going this far, you might as well do it right! You will need a pretty big room to strain any of these if you listen at “normal person” levels (loud, with plenty of oomph, but not ear damaging, headache inducing, foundation crumbling loud).
If you want serious power, more authority, and super convincing realism (a truly believable thunderstorm in your room), go with the higher end models, like dual PB-4000’s or PB-16 Ultras.
I would consider it a mistake to buy one of these to use **as a single**;splitting your budget for other subs on this list is a MUCH better choice.
**Dual PB-3000’s** would yield MUCH better results than a **single PB-16 Ultra**.
Gotta go dual! Seriously, it’s everything!!
Most of my audience, would be thrilled with ANY of the following in a dual setup. There isn’t a dog in the bunch, and even the smallest will challenge structural integrity when pushed, that I can absolutely verify!
This will be an evolving list that will change as I listen to more offerings. Generally, ported offerings produce greater output and depth of presentation, and therefore better value over a sealed sub, but that’s just my opinion.
Many prefer sealed, and I can respect that. See my Ported vs Sealed write-up for more on that.
I find ported subs MUCH more comfortable to listen to, and I highly recommend them over sealed for sensitive ears, like those prone to headaches, sensitive ears in general, autism spectrum, Post Concussion Syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury, and pets.
I have Post Concussion Syndrome, which causes light and sound sensitivity. A canary in the coal mine, poor sound will bother me before it bothers most people. It’s something I prefer NOT to experience, I don’t recommend it. Similar to a horrific hangover.
This sound sensitivity is why I don’t review sealed subs anymore, but I do respect their positive qualities.
If I was going to go with sealed, I would start with the SB-3000’s. That is where the sealed subs take on a deep, ported box sound, which is a very good thing.
Even the most finicky audiophiles would have a hard time picking these subs apart in any “meaningful” way.
Subwoofer101 is the world’s first SVS affiliate. Rather than producing “man cave only” subwoofers, they produce subs that look nice in living/family rooms as well, while also producing the deepest sounding subs on this list. All subs on the list are deep sounding, but so far SVS subs consistently have the deepest sound and depth of presentation, regardless of size or price.
Following these links before ordering can put a little change in my pocket to keep the Subwoofer101 website and YouTube Channel going, with zero added cost to you. Everything helps, as it’s a 1 person show.
Ordering Factory Direct through these links ensures full Bill of Rights, including 1 year trade-up, and other benefits that might not be included from dealers (like return period, etc…).
($) The PB-2000 Original is a 12″ Ported subwoofer. The predecessor to the PB-2000 Pro (my personal favorite so far for performance, price, and size), these subs have been produced for a small production run for BLACK FRIDAY ONLY!! Once they are gone, they are gone!! While these are available, they have dethroned the PB-1000 Pro as the “Smartest Buy in Bass”!! Get them while you can, and go dual!! If you miss the Black Friday sale, watch the SVS Outlet, gently used products that have the same Bill of Rights and warranty as new, including free shipping, free returns, and 1 year trade up!
($) The PB-1000 Pro is a 12” Ported Subwoofer. Verified!!– Highly recommended for duals under $1,500, the most compact and affordable ported subwoofer on this list!! Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. “Smartest Buy in Bass” due to economics, performance, and the 1 year trade-up. Get started with quality dual subs, and trade up if you feel the need! Free shipping, free returns.
($$)VERIFIED!!! The PB-2000 is a 12″ Ported subwoofer, 500 watts RMS, 1100 peak. My favorite sub for value, size, and 100% full range bass performance down to 14 Hertz measured in my room. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. My “Go-To” subwoofer to recommend.
($$$)VERIFIED!!! The PB-3000 is a 13″ Ported subwoofer, 800 watts RMS, 2500 watts peak, with SVS App control! My favorite PREMIUM subwoofer for the value, size, and 100% full range bass performance, and INCREDIBLE IMPACT! Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. It’s only about an inch bigger on all sides than the PB-2000, yet it’s performance is much closer to the PB-4000 in terms of raw impact and explosiveness!! Aside from the outstanding PB-16 Ultra, this has been THE MOST SURPRISING SUBWOOFER I’VE REVIEWED YET!! The Split-Wind voice coil isn’t just cool sounding tech, it makes this sub SOUND BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL than it is. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!!
($$$$) VERIFIED!!!The PB-4000 is a 13.5 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. 1,200 watts RMS, 4,200 watts peak. True 13 hertz performance in room, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up.Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, very heavy (153.2 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet. Realism, impact, and explosiveness are off the charts!
($$$$)VERIFIED!!!The PB-16 is a 16 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. New SVS Flagship, 1,500 watts RMS, 5,000 peak! True 13 hertz performance, remote control, 8 inch voice coil. For those who want the best of the best, it’s my favorite “money no object” subwoofer, and the best bass I’ve heard to date. Comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, VERY heavy (175 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet, yet still with free shipping and free returns! Realism, impact, and explosiveness are the best I’ve heard so far, and a great spleen massage while still 100% comfortable. TRULY INCREDIBLE!!
($$)Verified!12″ Ported Cylinder sub, comes with the Soundpath Subwoofer Isolation System, same internals as the PB-2000. Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but might not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. The Isolation System helps for wood floors (comes stock, no need to order more isolation).
($$$$) (Not Verified, but same guts as the PB-4000, which is totally Verified!!!) 13.5 inch Variable Ported. 1,200 watts RMS, 4200 watts peak. True 15 hertz performance, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation included! Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very tall (47 Inches). Realism, impact, and explosiveness are incredible!
I’ve been a Monoprice affiliate much longer than SVS, long before their Monolith subs came out, but I was never able to get any response to my inquiries to review their subs, despite several attempts since these subs first came out.
At their customer service line recommendation, I bought a pair of Monolith 15’s, listened during the 30 day return period, and sent them back.
Shipping is free, but return shipping is the customer’s responsibility, and it will vary, depending on how far you are from their facility in California.
For TWO Monolith 15 subwoofers (266 pounds total, on a pallet) the return freight was over $300 for less than 500 miles. Return freight for 2 Monolith 15’s could exceed $800 on the East Coast, something to be aware of. The smaller subs would certainly be cheaper to return. It’s the customer’s responsibility to shop and arrange the freight shipment.
That said, the Monolith 15’s have the depth of presentation and explosiveness that I look for, and I welcome it to the list! They did a great job with the Monolith 15 THX subwoofer, and I look forward to hearing more!
($$) (NOT VERIFIED) The Monolith 12 is a 500 watt 12″ variable ported subwoofer. Based on previous experience, it would likely not make this list in “THX Mode”, but it MIGHT belong in “Extended Mode” like the 15. This subwoofer is on this list tentatively, pending an actual hands on, dual sub review. I can’t say that it will deliver the kind bass that I look for, but I suspect it might, and earn a permanent spot on this list.
($$$) (VERIFIED!) The Monolith 15 is a 15″ driver, variable ported subwoofer with 1,000 watts. It would not make this list in “THX Mode”, but it does belong in “Extended Mode”, with all ports open. This sub has heavy relative infrasonic bass (under 20 hertz, inaudible), which might be uncomfortable to some people, but can mitigated by THX Mode. However, THX Mode does reduce the explosiveness of the sub. Overall, it’s great performing subwoofer and a solid buy based on it’s depth of presentation and explosiveness.
While Outlaw is not a direct affiliate for Subwoofer101, you can order them on Amazon:
($$$$) Verified. 13″ Variable Ported, down firing Outlaw Flagship, THX Certified. In THX mode, this subwoofer would not make the list, it sounded far too shallow in my opinion. Other EQ settings were more acceptable, though not as deep sounding as other subs on this list. So far, it’s the shallowest sounding subwoofer on this list, and anything shallower would not qualify. It’s ability to be hidden is an excellent feature, however. Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Excellent for hiding subwoofers as end tables, so long as the beautiful top is protected from scratching.
($$)(Not Verified) 12” Variable Ported
($$$) (Not Verified) 15” Variable Ported
($$$) 15” Variable Ported. Verified, MK-1 version. High (max) output, true 16 hertz performance, though not as deep “sounding” as other subs on the list. Shipping policy is painful, especially if you return it, but a good option if you are in the Los Angeles, California area, and can pick up and return in person. I bought this subwoofer myself before starting the website and channel, but haven’t been able to get support to hear duals, which is unfortunate. The MK-2 should be better, but I wouldn’t know.
($$) (Not Verified) 12” Ported
($$$) (Not Verified) 15” Variable Ported
FV15HP (Not Verified)
($$$) 15” Variable Ported
$= less than $500 delivered or $1,000 for dual
$$= more than $500 delivered or $1,000 for dual
$$$= more than $800 delivered or $1,600 for dual
$$$$= more than $1,400 delivered or $2,800 for dual
Ported = With ports, not sealed.
Variable Ported = Ported, with inserts to change the tuning.
Each brand has it’s own flavor, so to speak, but any of the above subs should satisfy with gusto in most home theater setups (a lot of which are in living rooms like mine).
The smallest, least expensive entry will perform with outstanding depth, clean bass, unobtrusively, but with movie theater quality bass and impact (EASILY deeper than most theaters) that will impress and satisfy when called upon. By no means is the most economical sub to be avoided. See my 1 big sub vs 2 small subs comparison for more on that.
Dividing your bass budget to include 2 matched subs is the ONLY way to go, and any sub on this list in a dual configuration should put a Cheshire grin on your face. If not, your sickness is much worse than mine, and you are in serious trouble! Fortunately, all offer in home review periods. Some require you pay for shipping, others do not.
If you decide to go with one of the above, please follow the links shortly before placing your order. For those that are not linked, please be sure to tell them you heard about their subs on this site.
Canadian orders aren’t tracked through SVS, while Amazon orders are, but going factory direct is better for Canadian customers for the Bill of Rights. I rather you got the trade up instead of me getting credit on Amazon.
You can follow any affiliate link for any product from that maker, so even if you click a link for a subwoofer cable and buy a PB-16 Ultra or vice versa, it’s all good, and I truly appreciate it!
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.
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.