The Entry Level #28
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. (See this month's "Listening.") In any case, I must have thought the subwoofer very important.
It's strange, though, because I can't recall a time when I actually used it. The only thing I do remember is that the sub took up valuable space and collected a crazy amount of dust, pushed into a corner of my bedroom between the VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine and a drafty window.
Hmm . . . Have I wandered into a metaphor? Maybe if I'd installed the sub in the listening room, I'd have had more luck in the bedroom. Who knows?
PSB SubSeries 1 subwoofer
Speaking of sex, PSB's 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 36150Hz, measures approximately 13.25" high by 9.625" wide by 14.5" deep, weighs 23 lbs, and has a black vinyl finish. It's not sexy. Most subwoofers aren't. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, held this past January in Las Vegas, PSB announced a replacement for the SubSeries 1: The SubSeries 125 shares its predecessor's simple look, but is slightly larger (14.125" high by 9.625" wide by 15.625" deep) and has a more powerful (125W) amplifier. The price remains $449.
Why'd I wait so long before bringing a subwoofer into my life?
The fact is, in my old listening room I never needed a sub. Whether I was driving the PSB Alpha B1s with my 40Wpc NAD C316 BEE integrated amp or enjoying the slightly larger DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 speakers with my 75Wpc Exposure 2010S integrated, the sound in that small (10' by 13' by 8') room was almost invariably great, with all the clean, clear low-end impact and extension I could possibly want. And just so you know, Art Dudley, I didn't merely have a lot of bass, I had good basssweet, sophisticated, satisfying bass, with chocolates and champagne and candles. My relatively modest hi-fi worked brilliantly in that small rooma fact that I didn't, and couldn't, fully appreciate at the time because that system and that room were all I had ever known.
Several good friends and trusted colleagues have since explained that moving into a new listening environment, whether it be a dedicated room or a shared living space, is a big part of the hi-fi experience. A new room presents new challenges, and with those challenges come new opportunities, discoveries, and rewards.
As I mentioned last month, the hi-fi lost some of its magic after I moved into Ms. Little's apartment. No metaphors intended. Asked to serve a significantly larger (18' by 20' by 8'), more live, more compromised listening environment, the system seemed to run out of gas. Music sounded fine overall, but "fine overall" is not good enough for me. I wanted more impact, more presence, more drama, and, most important, more bass. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a complete bass freakbad bass, or too much bass, drives me into a huffing, puffing ragebut I do need to hear, to feel, some sense of body and weight.
Luckily, I hadn't banished the PSB SubSeries 1 to our shared storage space, where Ms. Little keeps her Schwinn Cruiser and I keep my Peavey Classic 50 guitar amp, Polycrystal equipment rack, boxes of baseball cards, back issues of Listener, back stock of my band's last album, and the other assorted paraphernalia of my tragic bachelorhood. Perhaps purchasing the SubSeries 1 had been less an act of innocence than an act of prescience.
Whatever. I'd rather be young and horny than have no bass. I decided to put the sub in service.
But how? The simplest solution would be to run a pair of interconnects from the amp's sub output to the sub's low-level input. Annoyingly, my NAD 316 BEE integrated amp doesn't have a sub output. Considering that an inexpensive, relatively low-powered integrated amp would likely be used to drive a pair of small bookshelf speakers, and that those speakers might very well require a sub to achieve satisfying bass, wouldn't it be logical to include a subwoofer output? Why does PSB's most affordable subwoofer provide the necessary input, while NAD's most affordable amp lacks the necessary output? One might assume that Lenbrook, PSB and NAD's corporate parent, has considered this. Is the omission due to a matter of pricing? A matter of performance?
The next simplest solution would be to run one pair of speaker cables from my amplifier to the sub's high-level input, and a second pair of speaker cables from the sub's high-level output to the binding posts of the PSB Alpha B1s, thus creating a neat, straightforward signal path. But I was again confounded, this time by the subwoofer: The SubSeries 1 doesn't have a high-level output.
I was beginning to despair. Would I ever have bass again? Should I denounce bass entirely and devote myself to a life of midrange purity? Instead, I did the unthinkable: I consulted the subwoofer's user manual, where I found a diagram for connecting an amp to a sub using only the amp's speaker outputs and the sub's high-level inputs. I figured this would be the way to go, but it still made little sense: Clearly, far too many cables and far too few inputs were involved. My mind raced back to 1984 and a certain formative scene in the blockbuster film Ghostbusters. What if I accidentally crossed the streams? Would I be risking . . .
Total protonic reversal?
In need of moral support, I got in touch with Greg Stidsen, director of technology for Lenbrook. He quickly assured me that I was on the right path. "Adding a sub is exactly what is needed for this scenario. It will allow you to move the full-range speakers away from the lively room surfaces to get a longer decay on the early reflections. This will help with image focus, but will, as a consequence, reduce perceived bass response because you will have killed the room gain. Adding a sub makes sense."
As for optimizing the sub's placement, Stidsen referred to a method used by PSB's Paul Barton: "Place the subwoofer in the primary listening position, then crawl around the room to the various locations where your girlfriend will allow you to place the sub, and see which one sounds best."
This was an interesting idea, but I wasn't so sure about crawling around the room. Whenever I get even close to the floor, I'm assaulted by cats. Stringer tries to press his wet nose into my face, while Avon collapses onto her side, stretches as far as she can, and chirps for a belly rub. They either adore me or think I'm prey.
Seemingly aware of my concern, Stidsen added an enticement: "Crawling also has a positive effect on most relationships, so you might get lucky after installing the sub." Hmm . . . perhaps it would be worth a shot.
But, really, I already knew where I'd place the sub: in the obvious cat- and girlfriend-friendly location, a foot or so behind the right-channel speaker, in the perfectly subwoofer-sized space between our new bookcase and our new entertainment center.