Recommended Components: 2017 Edition 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 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 f212v2: $7000
Blessed with a model designation that has nothing up its sleeve—this is the second version of a Fathom-series powered subwoofer that contains two 12" drive-units—the f212v2 is the second-most-expensive subwoofer made by Miramar, Florida–based JL Audio, exceeded in that regard only by the Gotham v2 ($15,000). The Fathom f212v2, which stands only 32" tall yet weighs 224 lbs, incorporates the company's DARO "cut-only correction" equalizer, each of whose 18 bands is DSP controlled. Its internal class-D amplifier is capable of outputting 3600W short-term. LG, who praised the f212v2's build quality as "outstanding," used the new sub with JLA's CR-1 standalone electronic crossover ($3000), which is designed for use in music-only systems whose preamps or integrated amps lack built-in crossovers. He praised the DARO system for increasing "the precision and reliability of the sub's setup," and concluded that the "beautifully made, sonically transparent" f212v2 is "exceptionally powerful" and "strongly recommended." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

JL Audio Fathom f113v2: $4500
Descended from the JL Audio Fathom f113—a Class A subwoofer in previous editions of "Recommended Components"—the recent f113v2 is a compact subwoofer with a single 13.5" driver and an internal amplifier boasting 3000W RMS (compared with the f113's 2500W). Other refinements include the rerouting of audio signals away from the v2's control panel and, perhaps most notably, an upgrade from the original's Automatic Room Optimization (ARO) to JL Audio's new Digital Automatic Room Optimization (DARO, a name that caught us totally off guard). In contrast to ARO's single filter, DARO provides 18 bands of (cut-only) correction. According to KR, who declared DARO easier to operate than ARO, "the v2's improvement over the v1 was the complete disappearance, from my conscious awareness, of the subwoofer's existence." KR's conclusion: "JL Audio's Fathom f113v2 is everything good from the Fathom f113 and more." (Vol.39 No.1 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 . . . 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)

B

Bryston 10B-SUB crossover: $4695 ★
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)

JLAudio E110: $1699.99 in Gloss, $1499.99 in Ash $$$
One step down from JL Audio's Fathom series is the Florida company's E-Sub line, the entry-level model of which is the e110 in black ash finish. (Add $200 for gloss black.) The self-powered (specced at 1200W RMS) e110 sports a 10" driver and pairs of RCA inputs and outputs. With the sub's crossover engaged, the output jacks provide a 24dB/octave, Linkwitz-Riley–filtered high-pass signal; when the crossover is defeated, they provide a buffered version of the same signal that appears on the e110's input jacks. Controls include level, filter defeat, filter frequency, polarity, and variable phase; the e110's specified frequency response is 25–116Hz, ±1.5dB (–3dB at 23Hz). KR, who relied on Audyssey and Dirac Live software for EQ chores, found that, in his room, "useful response was maintained to below 15Hz. Pretty impressive for a pair of 10" drivers!" And although, as KR observed, "two 10" subs couldn't 'load' the room" as his larger subs did, the E-Subs offered "deep, powerful bass." (Vol.39 No.9 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 ESL-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)

C

Tannoy TS2.12: $921 $$$
With a double-layer (50mm thick) MDF cabinet, two opposed 12" drive-units (one active, the other passive), an internal 500W class-D amplifier, and a bypassable, three-position low-pass filter with a continuously variable phase control, the TS2.12 offers a lot for its three-figure price. Moreover, as LG discovered, the Tannoy's small size (17.2" H by 16.75" W by 14.75" D) and reasonable weight (40 lbs) make it easier than some to schlep around the listening room. With the Tannoy supplementing his Quad ESL-989 electrostats, LG was "delighted by the deep-bass response" while playing some favorite pipe-organ recordings, and he enjoyed the "authority, solidity, and clear pitch definition that I didn't hear from my Quads alone." But other recently reviewed—and more expensive—subs "went substantially deeper in the bass" than the TS2.12, the extension of which in LG's room tended to roll off below 40Hz. (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

D

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)

Deletions
PSB SubSeries 125 not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
Richard D. George's picture

Thank you for your efforts. These are always informative and interesting.

Comparing this web page for Loudspeakers with my iPad subscription, I believe that there is a section header missing after YG Acoustics Carmel 2 and before Bowers & Wilkins 683 S2.

Richard D. George's picture

Thanks.

rom661's picture

I'm surprised at the age of some of these components; at least two are discontinued. What's up?

John Atkinson's picture
rom661 wrote:
I'm surprised at the age of some of these components; at least two are discontinued. What's up?

We checked with every manufacturer and distributor in January about the current price and availability of everything included in the listing. It is always possible that some products have been discontinued since January.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Leoi's picture

An interesting cartridge to review, in the wake of yout review of the ART-1000, is of the AT ART-7. I've heard it and for the money I think is among the best; it might get a place in the next list of components.

Zenonu's picture

Please hyperlink each component to the manufacturer's website. I should be able to click through on each component w/o having to do a Google Search first. Perhaps some components aren't represented on the web, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.

gaddgadd's picture

Bob Katz compared in a blind listening the Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum Bundle: $5295 (with Voltikus power supply) and the Yggdrasil. Results...50-50. On youtube you will find a video...What are the reasons for this poor rating?
Numerous raving reviews and only Stereophile will tell us we are all wrong. mmhm

TheNoose's picture

Some major names not present...CH Precision, Tidal, Mola Mola, Nagra to name a few. Is that cos' you haven't had them in for testing...?

John Atkinson's picture
TheNoose wrote:
Some major names not present...CH Precision, Tidal, Mola Mola, Nagra to name a few. Is that cos' you haven't had them in for testing...?

That's correct. We have reviewed Nagra components in the past and have published a review of a CH Precision phono preamplifier since this list was compiled.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

TheNoose's picture

Thanks John. Much appreciate your super quick reply, and the basic list done yearly, very helpful to compare major brands. I like it a lot.

z24069's picture

Logged this in 2016 for those lists and with no response. The lists have not changed in many ways so sending again...

There are some fine choices on the Transports, Digital Processors, Preamp and Amp listings. I am puzzled however at the total lack of mention of any Esoteric Audio product. They are current products well known for their performance and musicality. What criteria being utilized could yield a recommended components lists where at least one of their products (or more) would not make it into the results?

Ali's picture

Recently reviewd Mytek Manhatan 2 DAC recommended as class A by reviewer is not in your list here; Missed in print or is not just chosen at all?

John Atkinson's picture
Ali wrote:
Recently reviewed Mytek Manhattan 2 DAC recommended as class A by reviewer is not in your list here; Missed in print or is not just chosen at all?

I'm afraid our time machine is out of order. This listing was published in the April 2017 issue whereas the Mytek DAC was reviewed in the September 2017 issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

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