Tag Archives: serious

Ported VS Sealed

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.

Sealed SB-2000 (blue line) vs Ported PB-1000 (red line)
Sealed SB-2000 (blue) vs Ported PB-1000 (red)

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.

Quality Ported VS Typical Ported with notes
PB-1000 VS “Typical” Ported Subwoofer

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:

Ported VS Sealed decision chart

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.

Ryan B.

Large Vs Small (LFE + Main, Double Bass, etc…)

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.

Ultra Towers with PB-4000’s, set to **SMALL** at 80 hertz crossover.

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.

Emotiva: Shop Now

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.”

-Ed Mullen

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!

Ryan B.

More useful reading:

The Art of Speaker Placement

Getting started with Atmos/DTS:X/Auro 3D

Towers vs Bookshelf speakers

Welcome

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”

Subwoofer 101 Mascots
Subwoofer 101 Mascots

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.

Must read:

Best subwoofers

1 Big Sub VS 2 Smaller Subs

Setting Up Your New Subs

Large vs Small, (LFE+Main, Double Bass, etc…)

Ported VS Sealed

Speaker Wire

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.

12-12-2015:

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.

Soundpath Design

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.

Soundpath One Spool

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.

Update 1/13/2017

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. 

SVS Soundpath Subwoofer RCA and Satellite Ultra cables

How to buy a serious home subwoofer

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.
Dual SVS PB-1000's
Dual SVS PB-1000’s
Hsu VTF-15h
Hsu VTF-15h

 

  • 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.