Recommended Components 2021 Edition Subwoofers

Subwoofers

A

JL Audio CR-1: $3000 ★
The CR-1 crossover has continuously variable high- and low-pass filters built around two banks of precision Linkwitz-Riley filters that can be set for 12 or 24dB/octave via. Front panel switch. Upon encountering the CR-1, LG "wondered where it had been all [his] life;" he's been using it ever since. "It's beautifully made, sonically transparent, performs a critical role in the optimal setup of subwoofers, and has ergonomic bypass and mute functions that let you immediately hear the sonic iprovements of good bass management." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

JL Audio Fathom f110v2-GLOSS: $3500
This relatively small—16" × 13" × 17"—impeccably finished, powered, sealed-box subwoofer uses a 10" cone woofer and a 1.1kW class-D amplifier. The low-pass filter’s turnover frequency can be set between 30Hz and 130Hz with 12dB or 24dB/octave slopes. There is no high-pass filter, but the latest, multiband version of JL’s Digital Automatic Room Optimization (D.A.R.O.) processor is included (a microphone is supplied), which KR found impressively useful. Driving multiple JL subs from the LFE output of his multichannel server, KR perceived more solidity and definition in the pedal tones with an organ recording and an expanded dynamic scale. For listening in stereo, where an LFE output was not available, KR used JL Audio’s CR-1 Active Subwoofer Crossover and decided that its bass management was subjectively more satisfying than simply having a subwoofer playing the LFE channel on multichannel music recordings. “The JL f110v2 is a mighty mite of a sub, conceding little to its larger brothers,” he concluded. (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

MartinLogan BalancedForce 212: $4499.99/each ★
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 140lb 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)

SVS SB-3000: $999.99 in black
The new SB-3000 is 37lb lighter, a few cubic inches smaller, and $600 cheaper than the model it replaces in the SVS line—the SB13-Ultra—and while its built-in class-D amp is also slightly less powerful (800W vs 1000W), the new model is specified to reach even lower, extending to 18Hz instead of "just" 20Hz. The SB-3000's newly designed 13" driver sports an aluminum cone and boasts a new 2" split voice-coil. Wireless (Bluetooth) control of the subwoofer is made possible via SVS's smartphone app, which LG describes as "user-friendly"; wireless connection to one's music system requires the addition of the SVS SoundPath Wireless Audio Adapter Kit ($119.99). LG noted that the SB-3000 was "quicker to set up" than another recent sub and praised its bass performance for being "massive, powerful, and weighty" while preserving subtle details. His conclusion: "an outstanding choice for small to moderate-sized rooms." (Vol.42 No.9)

SVS SB16-Ultra: $1999.99 ★
Just as a big dog needs a big leash, a big woofer cone needs a big voice-coil, if only to prevent the cone from flexing and the coil from shifting in its gap. So in designing their SB16-Ultra powered subwoofer, SVS equipped its 16" driver with an 8" edge-wound voice-coil—a coil so wide that it runs outside the driver's four big toroidal magnets. Indeed, SVS says that the SB16-Ultra's voice-coil is, to date, the largest used in a commercial subwoofer. (The driver as a whole weighs 63.9lb, almost precisely the average birth weight of a Holstein calf.) Joining all that bigness is a 1500W class-D amplifier, a computerized bass-management system that, like the SB16-Ultra's basic controls, is operated from a Bluetooth-friendly smartphone app, and an "uncluttered" rear panel that, according to reviewer LG, includes both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and outputs. LG was also impressed by the 122lb SB16-Ultra's relative ease of installation, praising in particular its "smart" packaging, its four-page quick-start manual—and Merlin, SVS's online setup guide, which offers loudspeaker-specific recommendations for filter settings and the like. LG wrote that, after optimizing its setup, "it was clear that a single SB16-Ultra could produce more than enough bass extension and slam in my large listening room." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

B

Bryston 10B-SUB crossover: $5395 ★
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: $1850 in Gloss, $1650 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 25116Hz, ±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)

MartinLogan Dynamo 800X: $849.99/each for sub $$$; SWT-X adds $199.99
In 2018, MartinLogan introduced optional wireless connections for their subwoofers: a move that eliminated the need for typically long, costly interconnect runs. Soon thereafter, Larry Greenhill borrowed the next-to-smallest model in the company's new subwoofer line, the Dynamo 800X ($799.95 without wireless connectivity, $999.90 with). Boasting a 10" polypropylene woofer and a built-in, 300W, class-D amplifier, the roughly cubical (13.7") Dynamo 800X weighs 30lb, and its removable feet can be arranged to accommodate front- or downfiring installations. Comparing wired vs wireless connection, LG could hear "no differences in levels of background noise or bass power, or in pace, rhythm, pitch definition, solidity, or tightness"—nor did he experience any dropouts. In LG's experience, the Dynamo 800X is outperformed by other subs in terms of bass extension, bass dynamics, and even pitch definition, but those alternatives are all considerably larger/heavier and more expensive, leaving the Dynamo 800X a comparably high-value recommendation. (Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

COMMENTS
grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture

..in the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.
https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d6/6a/cc/d66acc2c1d4fa7ea17f5a9bb9345e912.jpg

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.
--CH

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

Tweak48's picture

I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

John Atkinson's picture
Tweak48 wrote:
I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

Not amplifiers that have class-D output stage stages but amplifiers that are rated in Class D in this Recommended Components category.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ron Lel's picture

Is there any reason no class D amplifiers are listed? Surely the Mola Molas should be mentioned.
Also I am surprised at the omission of the Audionet Humbolt.

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