Recommended Components: Fall 2020 Edition Subwoofers

Subwoofers & Crossovers

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: $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 ★
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 WWW)

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)

JL Audio 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
partain's picture

I can't stand it !
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.
The things I've read are titillating , to say the least.

John Atkinson's picture
partain wrote:
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.

There is a pair of the new KEF LS50 Meta on its way to me.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Link's picture

Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive? Just curious what to expect. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
Link wrote:
Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive?

Passive.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

rk11's picture

Auditioned the KEF R3s, Polk Legend L200s and the KEF LS 50 Metas a few days ago with 5 tracks of my choosing and thus far my rank ordering of these speakers is as noted. Personally, I found the Metas a bit bright and their bass response was the most lacking - not surprising given the size of the speaker cabinet. Never been a fan of the Polk speakers till the Legend series. The 200s were every bit as good as the R3s EXCEPT in the vocals. I am sure that JA's review will be under a much better controlled environment.

Shangri-La's picture

In the written review, the Ares II was preferred over the Chord Qutest. Yet the Qutest is rated Class A and Ares II is Class B. Interesting...

LinearTracker's picture

BD gave the Duo an “A” rating and deservedly so, but I am listening to the new Duo with the linear power supply and believe it to be a game changer.
I hope to see an update soon.

Link's picture

I have been able to compare the BRXs to a true class A speaker in my system, and I do now agree with the class B rating. Thanks again for the great reviews.

Glotz's picture

with explanation...

Link's picture

Comparisons having been done, the BRXs are nothing to shake a 1M interconnect at. Although they are not quite up there in terms of transparency, detail, and air - they sure do get the timbre, neutrality, and imaging right.

thyname's picture

You butchered the name of T+A MP 3100 HV. Please fix it. There is no such thing as “ T+A MD 3001 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000”

Robin Landseadel's picture

The "A" rated Sennheiser HD 650 headphones have been reissued at a lower price [with a couple of changes that don't affect the sound] as the Drop HD 6XX. Drop is an online only operation, sells for $220 + shipping & tax. It's one of the cheapskate audio high points of the season along with Topping Headphone amps and DACS.

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