2015 Recommended Components Subwoofers

Subwoofers & Crossovers

A

B&W DB1: $4500
The DB1 is a powered subwoofer in a handsome sealed enclosure measuring 19.3" H by 18.1" W by 16.2" D and weighing 97 lbs. Its solid construction includes: two mechanically opposed 12" woofers separated by a partially open internal partition, 1"-thick walls of MDF with 3/4"-thick bracing panels to minimize vibrations, digital signal-processing circuits to run its menu-based control system, home automation capability, and a 1000W switching amplifier equalized to produce linear output. Also included are a calibration microphone, four connector cables, and a USB-connected soundcard for use with the DB1's Room Acoustics Compensation program. Setup was quick and easy. Though it lacked the pitch definition of JL Audio's Fathom f113, the DB1 blended seamlessly with LG's Quad electrostatics, and produced powerful deep bass and impressive room lock. "The B&W DB1 proved to be a real pocket rocket," he said. (Vol.35 No.2 WWW)

JL Audio Fathom f113: $4300 $$$ ✩
The f113 is a small, sealed cube featuring a 13" drive-unit with a prominent OverRoll surround that permits huge cone excursions. All controls and connections for JL Audio's Automatic Room Optimization are conveniently located across the front of the sub, beneath the removable grille. Setup was simple and sophisticated. "Small as it is," said KR, "the f113 makes a powerful and musical contribution to the bottom end, even in the context of an already full-range system." "Remarkably powerful and clean by any standards, it is all the more so considering its compact dimensions," he sums up. When passing his system's low-end signal to the f113 below 80Hz, KR also noted "a dramatic expansion of the entire soundstage." Though installing two f113s in his system required more care and time than LG had anticipated, the improvements in soundstaging and deep-bass reproduction were worth the effort. "My entire system achieved its best performance to date," he said, also noting that the JL Audio's Automatic Room Optimization circuit enabled him to tune out an annoying 50Hz mode in his room acoustics. (Vol.29 No.11, Vol.30 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

JL Audio Fathom f212: $6700 ✩
The ruggedly built Fathom f212 is a powered, sealed-box sub with two 12" cone woofers. It measures 32" H by 15" W by 20" D, weighs 220 lbs, and has an effective cabinet volume of 574 cubic inches. Like the smaller Fathom f113, the f212 provides an automatic internal room optimizer for single-band adjustments, but lacks a high-pass filter. With its clean, well-defined low bass and outstanding three-dimensionality and soundstaging performance, the f212 delivered the full intensity and emotional impact of music, said LG. "The Fathom f212 has raised the performance quality of my audio system, and my enjoyment of it, to much higher levels," he concluded. (Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

MartinLogan 2X BalancedForce 212: $3995
The two 12" aluminum-cone woofers of the 212 are mounted on opposite sides of their enclosure and operated in opposition to one another—an approach for which MartinLogan has coined the term BalancedForce. Power comes courtesy an internal pair of 850W class-D MOSFET amplifiers, themselves addressed with a choice of balanced and unbalanced connectors for left-channel, right-channel, and LFE (low-frequency effects) operation. Controls include continuously variable knobs for level, low-pass filter (30–80Hz), and phase (0–270°), plus an On/Off switch with a third choice for power-saving Auto mode, which detects an incoming signal and powers up the system accordingly. JI used two 140-lb BalancedForce 212s with his own MartinLogan Prodigy loudspeakers, and was impressed with the results—especially with the newly remastered Led Zep catalog: "Kick drum and bass were tuneful and heavy . . . yet there was no sense of bloat or bass 'effect,' and the tonal balance from top to bottom just felt right and real." The only performance negative: the audible clacking of the system in Auto mode. Perfect Bass Kit costs $100. (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Paradigm Reference SUB 15: $3499 ✩
The SUB 15 has a 15" drive-unit with a 76mm-diameter voice-coil, and is rated for bass extension down to 12Hz. Considerably more attractive than the austere Paradigm Reference Servo-15, the SUB 15 has outrigger feet, gracefully tapered side panels, and weighs 114 lbs. It accepts balanced and unbalanced RCA input signals, and offers a trigger input, adjustable low-pass filter, phase adjustment, and a USB port for control of its equalizer. Compared to the Servo-15, the SUB 15 produced a flatter, more extended bass response with a smoother upper end, allowing it to more readily "disappear" as a discrete sound source. "The SUB 15 offers all the powerful bass and extension needed for any music and, indeed, for home theater, unless you're a bass maniac," said Kal. Add $300 for Piano Black finish. (Vol.33 No.1 WWW)

Revel Ultima Rhythm2: $10,000
How does one approach a subwoofer that weighs just under 200 lbs, has an 18" cast-frame woofer with dual 4" voice coils, is driven by an internal pair of 1000W class-D amplifiers, and outsizes, by nearly 3 cubic feet, its manufacturer's previous flagship model? With the utmost respect—as did LG when he closed in on the stygian, stentorian, and altogether big Revel sub. His opinion: "The Revel Ultima Rhythm2's musicality and power are exceptional, with a unique ability to deliver a powerful performance in a large listening room. Its deep bass has tremendous weight and slam, yet can turn on a dime." LG also praised the Revel's brace of manual user controls and the woofer's user-installable automatic Low Frequency Optimization (LFO) program, but chafed slightly at having to download the software, the user manual, and the associated test signals: "For this nosebleed price, one could argue that Revel should include a printed LFO instruction manual, a USB cable, and an iTestMic, if not an individual optimization by [the designer]." (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Velodyne DD-18+: $5799
The DD-18+ is a powered, sealed-box subwoofer; its 18" forward-firing driver has a fiberglass Rohacell-laminate cone, a 3" voice-coil, and a 39.7-lb magnet. Compared to the original DD-18, the 18+ is 6.5" deeper, 19 lbs heavier, has 28% more internal volume, uses a more efficient amplifier, and features strongly tapered side panels. In addition, the DD-18+'s equalization software provides automated room compensation and controls drive-unit distortion using a servo-loop accelerometer. Despite a daunting number of features, controls, and options, setup was simple. The DD-18+ played the deepest bass passages with minimal distortion, low coloration, and outstanding pitch definition, said LG. "Solid Class A," he concluded. (original version, Vol.27 No.6 WWW; Vol.36 No.3 WWW)

B

Bryston 10B-SUB crossover: $3595 ✩
The 10B features three balanced configurations—stereo two-way, monophonic two-way, and monophonic three-way—and proved extraordinarily versatile in managing crossover slopes and frequencies. LG heard no electronic edginess and noted only the slightest loss in soundstage depth. "I found the 10B-SUB's sound clear, transparent, and neutral—as good as I've ever heard from an outboard crossover." (Vol.18 No.5, Vol.28 No.11 WWW)

SVS SB13-Ultra: $1599.99
Weighing less than 100 lbs—a noteworthy accomplishment for a good subwoofer, per LG—the sealed-box SB13-Ultra is a compact (17.4") cube containing a 13.5" ferrite-magnet driver and a 1000W Sledge class-D amplifier. The SB13-Ultra lacks a remote control, offering instead a single-knob Integrated Function Controller next to its small LCD screen and balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs and outputs. SV Sound offers, on their website, an automated setup advisor (called Merlin) that LG found helpful in integrating the sub with his Quad ESK-989 electrostatic panels. His verdict: "The combination of Quad ESL-989s and SVS SB13-Ultra rendered clean, dense, fast response for many different instruments, including kick and bass drum, synthesizer, and or timpani." LG concluded: "In its price range, it's the best subwoofer I've heard." The SB13-Ultra is sold direct from the Girard, Ohio, factory with a 45-day home-trial period and a money-back guarantee. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

D PSB SubSeries 100: $249
Designed to complement PSB's Alpha PS1 powered desktop loudspeakers, the SubSeries 100 miniature subwoofer measures just 6 3/8" W by 6 3/8" H by 7 7/8" D, and has an attractive high-gloss black finish. The sealed-box sub includes a 50W class-D amplifier and a 5 1/4" drive-unit designed to maximize bass extension while minimizing distortion. Volume, Crossover, and Phase controls, along with a single pair of RCA inputs, are provided on the tidy rear panel. Setup was simple; the sub partnered seamlessly with SM's Alpha PS1s, showing no evidence whatsoever of discontinuities between the high and low frequencies. In addition to clean, well-extended bass, the SubSeries 100 provided improved senses of timing and touch, better image focus, deeper silences, and more dramatic climaxes, said SM. Can be purchased with PSB's Alpha PS1 loudspeakers, as the Alpha 1-100 system, for $499.99—a savings of $50. (Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

PSB SubSeries 125: $449
The SubSeries 125 (originally called SubSeries 1) is a front-ported, bass-reflex design with an 8" polypropylene-cone driver and a 110W, class-A/B BASH power amplifier. It has a claimed frequency range of 36–150Hz, measures 13.25" H by 9.625" W by 14.5" D, weighs 23 lbs, and has a black vinyl finish. There are front-panel Volume and Crossover controls and a rear-panel Phase switch. Setup was simple. With the SubSeries 1 in his system, SM noted a wider, deeper soundstage and tight, musical bass. As SM's review went to press, PSB announced a replacement for the SubSeries 1: The SubSeries 125 shares its predecessor's simple look and controls, but has a more powerful (125W) amplifier; the price remains the same. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are no Class C subwoofers listed.

K

Tannoy TS2. 

COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often. Maybe it's a hardware-software thing.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The digital processors are DACs or things to route digital sound somewhere. There is some overlap if there's a CD player with inputs to its DAC, and some overlap with preamp/DACs, some of which of those might have some additional, secondary digital EQ functions.

The signal processors are mostly about varieties of digital EQ, with again a few hybrid products having some secondary functions.

The separation seems clear enough to me. It is the whole universe of modern audio which seems complex, i.e., the products themselves.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often.

The Digital Processors category is almost exclusively digital/analog converters. The Signal Processors category is reserved for things that do something to the signal and includes analog-domain processors, such as the BSG Q0L.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I'm going to profess a bit of ignorance here, so .... one of the places where DSP or some variant shows up in my world is related to music players such as built into the Pono device, or in computer software such as Foobar2000 etc. The great thing about EQ included in these players (or as plug-in software) is that the digital data gets EQ'd before it hits the DAC, so that whatever DAC or amp is used, the EQ remains constant in playback. Ignoring any negative impact on the EQ due to which peripherals are used, I've always assumed that EQ pre-applied to the digital data as described will reduce the resolution of the playback. If that's true, are there common analog EQ solutions that would provide better sound?

tdixon's picture

Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

John Atkinson's picture
tdixon wrote:
Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

Unfortunately, that's correct. No plans. However, this website reprint replaces the standalone free app.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dushyant's picture

From your comments prefacing the Recommended Loudspeakers 2015, I understand that category A (Full Range) has LF extension down to 20Hz. What about B (Full Range) and C (Full Range)? Do they also need to have LF extension down to 20Hz? If not, what is the LF extension for inclusion? For the restricted LF I assume that LF extension is to 40Hz for all categories. Clarification will be helpful and appreciated.

Thanks
Dushyant

leesure's picture

Despite there being 25 Class A preamps, there are only 2 Class B preamplifiers (both from the same company) and NO class C Preamps? There are 18 Class A Power Amps and Zero Class C or D Power Amps? I thought, "Perhaps there are just no products that fit those categories any more. No more Adcom's. No more B&K's." But then I looked around and found that there ARE musically satisfying budget electronics.

So I am left to wonder...do they no longer submit their products for review or is Stereophile no longer interested in reviewing them?

I began reading Stereophile in my 20's when there was no way I could even consider a $10,000 amplifier. I aspired to a system like that, but also loved reading about gear that I could stretch to afford. I loved building a musically satisfying SYSTEM for well under $10,000. Had I only been able to read about the gear that was so far out of reach, I would likely have dropped the hobby altogether. Without the bridge, I would never have been able to get across to the ultimate destination. That bridge is being taken away from the next generation of Audiophiles.

I think that's a real shame.

Christopher Mankiewicz's picture

Kal, Please let me know. Thanks, Chris