2015 Recommended Components Fall Edition Subwoofers

Subwoofers & Crossovers


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 ¾"-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 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 .ˇ.ˇ. 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)


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)

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


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)

PSB SubSeries 100: $249
Designed to complement PSB's Alpha PS1 powered desktop loudspeakers, the SubSeries 100 miniature subwoofer measures just 63/8" W by 63/8" H by 77/8" D, and has an attractive high-gloss black finish. The sealed-box sub includes a 50W class-D amplifier and a 5¼" 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)


Tannoy TS2, JL Audio Fathom f113 Mk.2.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Is meant to summon 1960s LP album covers - the record company banners on them. Of course the "stereophile" logo is of a different style, but still a nice touch if I'm correct.

Venere 2's picture

Too funny to see the 1499$ KEF LS50 still in Class A with the Magico Q5 at 65 000$

That is one of a good handful of aberrations. Stereophile gets a lot of things right. But when they don't, they really don't!

z24069's picture

Under Disc Players, Transports, etc...there are some fine choices in all the categories and they all definitely belong on the list IMHO.

HOWEVER, you've completely left Esoteric products off the list; this begs the question as to how at least one of the myriad SOTA products (1box as well as multi-box) from Esoteric including the K-01x, K-03x, P-02/D-02, P-1/D-1s/etc...cannot be found on this list.

Their products did receive nominations from TAS and Stereophile for best-of categories for many years and have been bettered in terms of sound quality in more recent product releases; it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

This is because we haven't reviewed any Esoteric products for a couple of years. (I favorably reviewed the D-07 D/A processor in 2011 - see www.stereophile.com/content/esoteric-d-07-da-processor.) The company has gone through major changes in its management and distribution and we are waiting for things to settle down before investing our resources in a review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

z24069's picture


Thank you for the reply...there has been high praise on various forums for K01, K01X, K03X, P1/D1, P2/D2 and C02/C02X products from them. It is true with the buy of Esoteric away from Teac and Onkyo/Integra now providing support and sales things have changed and a number of us had to dig a bit to get contacts at the new company for everything from sales to support. It may be time to review them again however as the level of playback achieved by the P1/D1, P2/D2 and K01X is nothing short of stunning, certainly in line with many products that did make the list over the last couple of years. If you are interested in those contacts or talking directly with some Esoteric owners of multi-generations including the current ones, please let me know and I'll get you in touch.... There are other brands and products missing as well (check out Legacy "V" and "Aeris" for example) and the industry has grown,...perhaps the 500 number as a cut-off should be revisited and raised!

z24069's picture

BTW...if there is a way to reach you via email, I'd be happy to pass on the contacts that some of us have found work for getting in touch with the Sales and Support side of the new Esoteric and to talk about some great music that is currently spinning....Have a great weekend!

yuvalg9's picture


1. In the CD players category, I think you should have mentioned the Naim CD5si and the Cyrus CD i. Both are great value for money.

2. In the Turntables category, I think you should have mentioned at least one of the Pro-Ject models. Pro-Ject is, as you may know, the largest TT Manufacturer in the world.

3. GoldenEar's Triton 5 under the "K" category? Maybe I misunderstood what the "K" category is?