In March 2008, when I bought my PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers, I decided that I should also buy PSB's matching SubSeries 1 subwoofer (footnote 1). It seems odd to me now that I would have considered the $449 subwoofer a necessary complement to speakers that sold for $279/pair. What was I thinking? Was I rolling in money? Certainly not. Was I merely young and fancy free? Yes and no. Was I sex-starved? Quite possibly.
Subwoofer technology is moving fast, with automated room equalization and system integration now a reality. A wave of new products has appeared in the past five years, all using different approaches to solving the problems of optimizing subwoofer response in listening rooms.
I was so impressed by the Nelson-Reed 8-04/B loudspeaker's low-end range that I seriously doubted the add-on subwoofers could add enough of significance to be cost-effective.
I was wrong.
Two of the subwoofers were provided, along with the necessary electronic crossover unit. Each 1204 unit contains four 12" woofers in a very solid sealed enclosure, with two facing to the front and two facing the rear. The electronic crossover has three controls, besides the AC power switch: a hardwire (footnote 1) bypass switch, a stereo/mono switch, and a subwoofer level control. In the stereo mode, the low frequencies are kept separate, left from right; in mono mode, they are blended together for feeding to a single subwoofer. I will not resurrect the question of whether or not it is important to maintain stereo separation into the LF range, except to echo N-R's observation that there is no LF separation on analog discs to begin with; the lows are mixed together, to limit vertical excursions of the cutting stylus that could cause it to rise above the disc surface or, worse, dig into the aluminum base of the master disc.
Welcome back, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the continuing saga of the Englishman's Search for True Bass. In the previous episode (footnote 1), you witnessed Our Hero tussling with the problems of ported vs sealed-box woofer loading for full-range speaker systems. His conclusion? That ported designs may offer low-frequency quantity but it always seems to be at the expense of quality. If it's bass quality you want, you are better off with well-tuned sealed boxes, which explains why he is an unashamed fan of relatively small speakers with fast, tight upper bass. In this month's thrilling installment, JAstiff upper lip thrust forwardwrestles with the problems of extending the bass response of his preferred speakers with a subwoofer from the Californian company of Sumo! Now read on . . .
Although many high-end audio products are described as revolutionary and as breakthroughs in design when new, most audiophile components now on the market have not changed our way of relating to such products in the way the iPad has done. Once in a while, a new audio product does move in that direction by enabling the audiophile to do install a product and optimize its performance in a different way.
I should begin this review by confessing that I've never been a fan of subwoofers. Most subwoofer systems I've heard have been plagued by a familiar litany of sonic horrors: poor integration between subwoofer and main speakers, boom, bloat, tubbiness, slowness, excessive LF output, and an overall presentation that constantly reminds the listener he is hearing a big cone moving. To me, subwoofers often sound detached from the music, providing an accompanying thump that bears little relationship to the sound from the main speakers. Rather than revealing the music's harmonic underpinnings, subwoofers often obscure them in a thick morass of featureless boom. In addition, adding a subwoofer often destroys the qualities of the main speakers that made you buy them in the first placejust to name a few of my observations (footnote 1).
There are two kinds of audiophiles: those who own original Quad ESL speakers and those who don't (footnote 1). This review is for the former, although the latter may find it of some interest. The Gradient SW-57 subwoofer attempts to do for the original Quad (footnote 2) what Gradient's SW-63 (footnote 3) does for the Quad ESL-63: supply the bottom octave while relieving the ESLs of the strain of reproducing low bass.
Velodyne introduced their series II subwoofer line in the fall of 1988, and it seems timely to review their largest, most powerful unit, the ULD-18. As the line's flagship, this Velodyne subwoofer represents the most sophisticated and expensive system offered by the company. It is sold as a system, complete with driver, enclosure, amplifier, control unit, electronic crossover, and servo cable and circuitry. Velodyne's unique servo circuitry, manufacturing techniques, and aggressive sales technique emanate from the company's designer, David Hall.
It's been over two years since I reviewed a pair of JL Audio's Fathom f113 subwoofers. Kalman Rubinson and I both gave the f113 top marks for delivering clean, powerful bass in a wide variety of full-range systems. At the end of the review period, JL Audio's Carl Kennedy told me that they wouldn't send me another subwoofer for review until they had developed one that outperformed the Fathom f113 (footnote 1). To this day, the Fathom f113 tops the subwoofer category in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."
It seems only yesterday, but it's been 10 years since I began using the original Paradigm Reference Servo-15 subwoofer in my system. It was good then, and it still is, although a lot around it has changed. At first, I hooked it up via Paradigm's X-35 crossover, then via a Technics SH-AC500D surround processor, and finally to the subwoofer/LFE outputs of the various preamplifier-processors and A/V receivers I've used. Y'see, the Servo-15 is just a powered sub. It has an amp and a level control, but no crossover, no channel mixing, and no phase control. Just plug in the signal and it plays it. Along came in-room response correction from Audyssey, Anthem, Velodyne, etc., and the Servo-15 became an even better sub. For music, it entirely satisfies my needs.
We all recognize that the Super Audio Compact Disc, despite being an almost ideal format for high-resolution audio, has not replaced the "Red Book" CD. However, Sam Tellig's comments in the June and July issues of Stereophile, and Steve Guttenberg's "As We See It" in July, unleashed e-mails urging me to champion multichannel sound (don't I do this already?) and smite the unbelievers (not a chance).
There was a time, as recently as 40 years ago, when frequencies below 100Hz were considered extreme lows, and reproduction below 50Hz was about as common as the unicorn. From our present technological perch, it's too easy to smirk condescendingly at such primitive conditions. But just so you're able to sympathize with the plight of these disadvantaged audiophiles, I should tell you that there were two perfectly good reasons for this parlous state of affairs. First of all, program material at that time was devoid of deep bass; not because it was removed during disc mastering but simply because there wasn't any to begin with. The professional tape recorders of the day featured a frequency response of 5015kHz, ±2dBjust about on a par with the frequency performance capability of a cheap 1988 cassette tape deck.
With the popularity of home-theater systems, subwoofers have proliferated. Because multichannel AV receivers are designed to provide a properly filtered, line-level subwoofer, or low-frequency effects (LFE) signal, many subs no longer come with built-in high- and low-pass filters for insertion into two-channel audio systems. However, the PB13-Ultra subwoofer from SV Sound does include these, which is what piqued my interest in it. After Ed Mullen, SV Sound's director of sales, assured me that the PB13-Ultra was capable of reproducing solid 20Hz organ-pedal notes in my listening room, I asked for one to review.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.