Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Subwoofers & Crossovers

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 subwoofrs, 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 ★
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 Ash finish; $1099.99 in Piano Gloss Black finish
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

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)

KEF KC62: $1500
This minuscule—10" × 10" × 10"—powered subwoofer weighs 30.9lb and uses KEF's unique force-canceling, bipolar Uni-Core drive-unit, which has two opposed 6.5" diaphragms with concentrically sleeved voice-coils sharing a common magnetic pole-piece. The aluminum enclosure acts as the heatsink for the internal amplification and the KC62 includes line-level (RCA) and speaker-level inputs (Phoenix connector) and a variable (40Hz–120Hz) high-pass–filtered line-level (RCA) output. There are five DSP room-placement profiles: Room (for positioning away from walls); Wall (for next to a wall but not in a corner); Corner; Cabinet (near a corner, inside a cabinet); and Apartment (which reduces the level of the KC62's lowest frequencies). With Falcon's "Gold Badge" LS3/5as, HR noted that after some experimentation with settings and placement, as well as extending the minimonitors' low frequencies, the KC62 improved the speakers' midrange presence and spaciousness in ways that made it easier for him to look into the sound-space and stay focused on performances. "Instruments and voices sounded bigger, more physical, and easier to 'see' with the KC62 engaged." He also achieved excellent results with Magnepan .7s and KEF LS50s and concluded that the KC62 "took an already great speaker and made it greater. Isn't that what a subwoofer is supposed to do?" Class rating reflects limited output power. (Vol.44 No.6 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)

SVS 3000 Micro: $799.99
At 10.9" × 11.7" × 10.7" and weighing in at 26.7lb the 3000 Micro is similar in size and weight to the KEF KC62. It features two opposing 8" aluminum-cone drivers equipped with dual-ferrite magnets and powered by a 800W Sledge STA-800D2 class-D power amplifier. A Bluetooth smartphone app (Apple iOS and Android) and a control panel on the subwoofer's side plate both allow volume, low-pass frequency (30–200Hz), phase (in single-degree increments), polarity, room-gain compensation, and crossover slope (6, 12, 18, or 24dB/octave) to be adjusted. There is also a DSP-powered parametric equalizer, which allows users to create and save as many as three custom EQ settings. With the Falcon Gold Badge speakers, HR set the 3000 Micro's low-pass filter to 68Hz and the level to –29dB, at which point "bass-register piano notes snapped into full-textured focus. … [M]y system's octave-to-octave tonal balance seemed ideal. Bass and lower midrange exhibited a satisfyingly pure harmonic structure. Plus, all the bass sounds appeared to be coming from the LS3/5a's, not the sub." HR found that in his relatively small room, "the SVS's dual 8" cones projected their energy with more ease and flow than the 6.5" KEF KC62 cones had." However, he felt that more expensive KEF KC62s had better pitch definition, pace, and timing than the 3000 Micro. "The KEF's tone seemed slightly more correct, and it danced with slightly greater precision," he wrote, adding "but it was close." HR also had successes integrating the SVS subwoofer with Harbeth M30.2s and Magnepan .7s, concluding that "everything about my first SVS subwoofer experience pointed to a manufacturer that specializes in 'well and thoroughly conceived' subwoofer experiences." (Vol.44 No.8 WWW)

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Not much for me here, being a vintage gear fan first. Please bring back the entry-level column, there is a lot of gear at that price-point worth getting reviewed.

Anton's picture

Budgetwise, I think I would be most like a "Double A" audiophile.

Same with me and wine.

I do admit to seeing some of the top end prices for either wine or Hi Fi and thinking that there are people who have checkbooks that are 'better' than their palates/ears.

Like JA1 described in the past...there are already parts of my own hobby that are beyond my budgetary event horizon.

_

If we did have audiophile classes, from minor leagues to major league, I wonder what the price points for each step would be.

MatthewT's picture

Lets me play every now and then in the Majors. Nothing depreciates faster than audio gear. I have to admit being somewhat happy at seeing a dartZeel break while listening to it, while my beloved Sansui keeps making music.

Anton's picture

I like showing gear in the reviews to my wife and asking her to guess the price.

When I saw the OMA turntable in the latest issue, I guessed 15,000 dollars. When she saw it, she guessed 12,000 dollars, and we've been playing this game for 25 years!

Next, I asked her if I were able to purchase it for 90% off retail, would she let me. She said, "Only I promised to flip it immediately."

Then, she threw me a bone and said, "You could buy it and keep it for the 12,000 dollars that I guessed."

I'd need a 97.5% discount to have a chance at it. And even that would be wildly extravagant. I'm happy with life, this is just for scale.

tonykaz's picture

Above the PS Audio level is the world of Status & Ego. !

Which has me wondering if Stereophile is a Status & Ego type publication ? Is this a Robb Report mag that belongs on the coffee tables of private Jet Airports ? ( I've never seen it there )

Does an Anodized Red $200,000 Amplifier belong on the Front Cover of a magazine like ours ? None of us will ever have any chance to experience Velvet Rope Gear so why are we bothering with it? It being better is probably one person's opinion ( and that person probably doesn't have to buy it or own it ).

Reviews of these $100,000 +++++ pieces are man-speaking to us how our gear is deficient and unworthy, we are reading Hubris & gas lighting.

There is a World of $1,000 bottles of Wine, $25,000 Rolex Watches, Super pricy First Class Seats on UAL Flights and Political Leaders that are wealthy from insider trading. We shouldn't be reading about those things here.

Ours is like the world of our modest Canadian, revealing a new form of music discovery and writing one of Stereophile's most insightful pieces of literature about it. ( nice writing Mr. Robert S.)( is that the door bell? )

Tony in Venice Florida

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Tony

tonykaz's picture

Annnnndddd :

Thank You to the Editor that gave you the Word Budget and turned you loose.

Stereophile keeps raising the Bar !!!

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

Where on Maslow's Pryamid is a half million dollar record player?

I'm curious to see....misguided 'esteem?'

I prefer to use Swanson's Pyramid....

https://external-preview.redd.it/5cDe4MZ9E0ZfvcS10kmAUd2ynTkp6b3wfU-fYsxyNfg.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=be478d54ccedc0bd3a8ea8428e368fe10ed78c60

(Second from bottom left.)

tonykaz's picture

A most expensive record player would service the Ego needs of someone needing to establish themselves as the very Top of Analog Audio's Caste System.

The widely recognised Top Level Analog Format has been Tape.

I grew up in a Performing Arts household, my mother was an Operatic Performer and one of my older brothers was a Horn Player for our local Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

So, from my point of view, no Analog Audio System has ever come close to performing like a Live Audio Performance from a listening distance position.

Super pricy Audio Gear is about Status & Ego !!! ( I hear that Bob Carver still laughs at this stuff )

Tony in Venice Florida

tonykaz's picture

Yes, Brilliant Observation! ,

of which, of-course, I completely agree .

Proving the old maxim: when two people agree on something - only one is doing the thinking.

Now that I'm living in the Deep South, Swansons Pyramid is where I'm slowly migrating to. Hmm.

Y'all have a Grate Day

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

The introduction to recommended loudspeakers states that "Candidates for inclusion in this class [i.e. Class A, limited LF extension] must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar." The Falcon LS3/5a, for example, most certainly does not reach down to 40 Hz, unless you define "reach" to include a -10 or -15 or even lower dB point, which cannot be construed as useful bass etension. This is probably true for several other speakers listed in this category. So what is happening? What is the thinking behind this inconcistency?

smileday's picture

Perhaps about -7 dB at 40Hz in this room. Fig. 6, https://www.stereophile.com/content/bbc-ls35a-loudspeaker-harbeth-measurements

It might be -3 dB at 40Hz in a broadcast van, the intended usage at the design stage.

tonykaz's picture

...performance level for all Great Transducers?

It was the very loudspeaker that brought me and my English partner into the Audio Business. ( back in the early 1980s ) -- ( my business partner and I begged Raymond Cooke for this design to import to USA - he said NO! )

Isn't it still a "Reference" for comparison ? , doesn't any new design have to match or exceed it's super high levels of performance?

This little device and a well matched sub builds an outstanding Desert Island System.

But, it's still outstanding without the Sub.

It may not be Full Range but it well earned a Lifetime Class A+ transducer system rating. ( four Decades + )

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... like antique furniture, but the KEF LS50 Meta is a much more highly evolved successor.

tonykaz's picture

I'm sure that I agree with you.

I seem to have a deeeeeeeep seated feeling that the LS3/5a is the grandfather of High End music Gear.

Even during the 1980s, my little shop : Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Mi. stocked most of the small mini-monitors including the LS3/5a, Linn Kann, ProAc Tablette, Spica TC50, Quad ESL63 and the whole range of other hopefuls. Performance wise, the ProAc Tablettes were the musical leaders, the Quads were the Sales leaders, the Spica was the Reviewer Favourite . We had them all on permanant comparison using a VPI player, Koetsu Rosewood, Electrocompaniet Electronics and MIT Music Hose cable interfaces. It was an exciting adventure for any and all customers to take part in the ongoing comparisons. People bought scads of 'all' of those small speakers types.

With great or outstanding supporting gear, the LS3/5a can Scale up to amazing levels of music reproduction.

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

@ smileday: With due respect, the link you posted is not to the current Falcon "Gold Badge" reviewed in 2021, which I was talking about, and which is about 12 dB down at 40 Hz (ref. 1 KHz) in JA's listening room on the evidence of Fig. 6 and Fig. 8 (red trace). This, as I was saying, cannot and should not be construed as useful bass extension at 40 Hz, so listing this speaker as "Class A, limited LF extension" is misleading (to say the least) in light of Stereophile's own stated criteria for inclusion in this category. Perhaps Editor Mr. Austin would like to take the stand on this. Furthermore, most of us don't listen to music in a broadcast van. Mind you, I am not saying that these are not truly great speakers. Indeed, I used to own the Harbeth P3ESR, which I found as nearly flawless as I suspect is possible in a loudspeaker, except for bass extension and volume (SPL) capability -- admittedly an inevitable design constraint given the size of the midbass driver, the size of the cabinet, and the benign impedance. This is why I eventually replaced them with a pair of the Harbeth C7 (40th Anniversary), which turned out to be game-over speakers in my small, 12 sqm study. Perfectly solid bass to 40 Hz and possibly below.

TowerOfPower's picture

It's surprising to not see a single Soundsmith cartridge on this list. Would like to know why.

X