SVS SB16-Ultra powered subwoofer Page 2

SVS's Merlin—a portion of the company's website that offers loudspeaker-specific recommendations on SVS subwoofers and settings—recommends low-pass filter settings of 60Hz (high-pass) and 40Hz, 12dB/octave (low-pass). Because the CR-1 couldn't use different slopes for high- and low-pass filters, I set its high-pass filter at 60Hz, 24dB/octave for the Quad ESL-989s, and the SB16-Ultra's internal low pass filter to 40Hz, 12dB/octave. I then used the SVS app's parametric equalizer to reduce peak room modes at 43 and 160Hz, and played the same recordings as before. The integration of the sub's and Quads' outputs now seemed seamless, and the soundstage was markedly deeper.

I checked the lowest-frequency bands of the half-step–spaced chromatic scale on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). These sounded sharply defined, as did the 40, 31, and 25Hz 1/3-octave warble tones on that CD. The 20Hz band was not audible as such, though the track pressurized the room.

Other recordings confirmed this setup. Keith Jarrett's light, lyrical "True Blues," from his The Carnegie Hall Concert (CD, ECM 1989/90), revealed no discontinuities between subs and main speakers when he stamped his feet on the floor while playing high in the right hand. Using the JL Audio CR-1 crossover's bypass switch, it was easy to switch between the Quads run full-range alone and the combination of Quads and SVS. Either way, the soundstage depth remained unchanged, the highs were fully transparent, and there was no hardening of the sound.

I discovered the advantages of adjusting the subwoofer volume to optimize the sound of each recording. Reducing the SB16-Ultra's output removed a slight droning quality in the final organ-pedal note of Master Tallis's Testament without lessening the bass extension or the note's ability to pressurize my room. As I increased the sub's output while playing John Rutter's "Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace," with the Turtle Creek Chorale and Dallas Women's Chorus conducted by Timothy Seelig (CD, Reference RR-57CD), the pipe organ's deep pedal notes became more distinct, and the differences between the ranks of choristers were enhanced. Playing Don Dorsey's "Ascent," from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops' Time Warp collection (CD, Telarc CD-80106), the SB16's imaging let me better distinguish the positions of the synth beats that move from side to side. The dynamic ranged from soft murmurs to a thunderous rumble as the synths blend into the sustained 31.7Hz organ-pedal note that begins the next track, the introduction of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. Similarly, the 32' pipes in Gnomus, from Jean Guillou's recording of his own transcription for pipe organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117), pressurized my room while delivering full, thunderous chords. When I played a digital file (AIFF, 24-bit/88.2kHz) of the Toccata of Widor's Organ Symphony 6, performed by Jonas Nordwall and recorded by John Atkinson, an unusual sense of the recorded space occurred as the sub reproduced the deepest pedal notes with mass and solidity. It was clear that a single SB16-Ultra could produce more than enough bass extension and slam in my large listening room.


The Quads and SVS sub rendered clean, solid, full bass reproduction of the sounds of many different instruments—kick drum, bass drum, timpani, and synthesizer. For a review I wrote for the October 1989 issue, I listened to Velodyne's ULD-18 subwoofer with a recording of John Williams's Liberty Fanfare, from Lowell Graham and the National Symphonic Winds' Winds of War and Peace (CD, Wilson Audiophile WCD-8823). The downfiring Velodyne remained silent for the first 55 seconds of this track, then burst into life with the bass drum's first notes. The bass-drum whack had no unnecessary overtones, no overhang, and disturbed no midrange or treble sounds. The SB16-Ultra delivered the same dense, solid punch with no added sustain, but revealed more of the bass drum's timbre.

I compared the SB16-Ultra ($1999.99) with three other subwoofers: SVS's own SB13-Ultra ($1599.99), Revel's Ultima Rhythm2 ($10,000, discontinued), and JL Audio's Fathom f212v2 ($7000). I used the same Quad ESL-989 speakers, and the JL Audio CR-1 crossover when appropriate.

I began with SVS's SB13-Ultra, which I reviewed in January 2015, and used the CR-1 crossover, as I had with the SB16-Ultra. Both SVS subs excelled at pitch definition, speed of bass, and the ability to suddenly halt the bass output when needed. The SB16's smartphone app made setting it up easier, and the sub delivered greater solidity, mass, and power, and did a better job of pressurizing the room with sustained pipe-organ pedal notes.

I reviewed the Revel Ultima Rhythm2 in February 2015, and I didn't need to use the CR-1 with it because the Revel has its own high-pass filter. At five times the SB16-Ultra's price, the Rhythm2 has a number of features the SVS lacks: a 2"-larger woofer cone, an internal system for blending the responses of the subs and satellites, and a parametric equalizer with seven more bands. However, the Rhythm2 wasn't controllable with an iPhone app via Bluetooth. As with the SB16, setup and calibration can be carried out from the listening seat, but the Revel must be connected to a computer via a USB link, and you can't make changes on the fly as easily as with the SB16.

What most impressed me about the Rhythm2's sound was its bass power, ability to pressurize the room, the quality and speed of bass, and pitch definition, each of which was somewhat superior to the SB16-Ultra's. Yet both subs were well able to fill my large room with deep bass and slam, and pressurize it during long-held bass notes. The Revel Rhythm2's internal crossover did a better job of smoothing the integration of the satellites' and sub's outputs, perhaps due to its ability to match the sub and the satellite speakers to a pre-determined room-response curve. But, again, the Revel costs five times the SVS's price.

Turning to JL Audio's Fathom f212v2 ($7000), which I reviewed in the November 2016 issue, I found similarities in its heavy cabinet and front-panel controls. Its two 12" drivers offer more driver area than the SB16-Ultra's single 16" cone. However, it costs three-and-a-half times as much and weighs 100 lbs more. For its higher price, the Fathom f212v2 offers more: auto-optimization to smooth room modes, a calibration microphone, white gloves, and a built-in test-tone generator. The SB16 came close to matching the f212v2's deep-bass extension, solidity of bass, and ability to pressurize my room with sustained pipe-organ chords. Two Fathom f212v2s ($14,000) and JLA's CR-1 electronic crossover ($3000) let my Quads deliver a much wider, more three-dimensional soundstage and deeper bass in my large room than could a single SB16-Ultra—but at more than eight times the cost. And, as with all of the other comparison subwoofers, the JL Audio's level couldn't be adjusted on the fly from my listening seat.

Once I'd identified its optimal placement and crossover settings and experienced on-the-fly subwoofer control, I became convinced that the SVS SB16-Ultra is one of the finest, fastest, best-controlled, most powerful subwoofers I have reviewed in my large listening room. Like the SB13-Ultra, it delivered pitch-perfect, detailed, fast bass, but with greater deep-bass extension, and enough power to function within my large listening room. It doesn't offer auto-equalization, doesn't come with a free calibration microphone or white gloves, it has no internal high-pass filter, and it's heavy for its size, requiring Super Sliders under it for easy movement. But it's the first subwoofer to come with its own Bluetooth smartphone control app. And its on-the-fly control of output level from the listening seat has opened for me a new door that goes way past the awkwardness of having to set up a sub by darting back and forth between its front and/or rear panels and my chair. A Class A component if ever there was one.

SVS Inc.
260 Victoria Road
Youngstown,, OH 44515
(877) 626-5623

avanti1960's picture

Lacks high level inputs which I have found are critical for audiophile applications.
Driving with high level input (parallel with speaker terminals) sounds better and integrates significantly better when the speakers respond to the amplifier's signal- not the preamplifier signal.
Doubly important when tube amplification is used.

Also of critical importance is a flat, musical frequency response through its useable range. Unfortunately no measurements were provided.

John Atkinson's picture
avanti1960 wrote:
Unfortunately no measurements were provided.

Not sure I understand your point. This review does include in-room measurements.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

arve's picture

Lacks high level inputs which I have found are critical for audiophile applications.

Using high-level inputs for subwoofers is one of the more fatal mistakes of audio applications:

1. You will most definitely want to place the subwoofer so that speaker-boundary interference is not an issue. This typically involves placing the subwoofer close to the front wall of the room
2. Ideally, you will also want to kill sidewall reflections, which means placing them in the front corner of the room

This means that a subwoofer should typically not be placed at the same distance from the listener as the (front) pair of speakers. For the highest fidelity, it is therefore absolutely critical to have proper bass management, and the simple phase switch/dial on a subwoofer's controls is not nearly enough. You need to be able to apply appropriate delays between the subwoofers and main speakers.

Beyond the obvious issue of time alignment, a high-level input is also completely unable to provide adequate control over crossover frequency: Yes, you may be able to set a low-pass for the sub, but without any control of the high-pass, a subwoofer is a complete and total waste.

avanti1960's picture

to place the sub in the optimum location for best response with high level inputs.
in my experience with critical 2-channel audio the sub integrates better when it sees the amplifier's signal. same signal that the main speakers see. it sounds better and can literally disappear, which is why some of the subwoofer brands that audiophiles love have and recommend the use of high level signal input. connecting to the preamp out tends to make the subwoofer more likely to call attention to itself. in addition, i would never feed my main speakers through yet another crossover or DSP loop. I prefer the setting the sub crossover to the natural acoustic crossover (roll-off point) of the main speakers.
this is an area where home theater and 2-channel audio clearly have different needs and expectations.

Alberello's picture

"Ideally, you will also want to kill sidewall reflections, which means placing them in the front corner of the room"
- Why you want place a woofer in the worst acoustic part of a room?

"Beyond the obvious issue of time alignment..."
- If you use stereo configuration with two subs, you can place them to the side of the speaker so the woofer are at the same distance of the listener compared with main speakers.

"but without any control of the high-pass, a subwoofer is a complete and total waste."
- If you have parametric equalizer to reduce a couple of critical point in your room response, you can use full range response from your main speakers and use the subs with 30Hz crossover configuration just for improve the low base response.

JRT's picture

By adding a high pass filter to the mains, you not only reduce excursion at low frequencies (especially important where a woofer unloads to high excursion below the tuning frequency of a bass reflex Helmholtz resonance), but also that high pass on the mains provides poles that affect phase in the sum for a flatter summed response well above the subwoofer's low pass corner frequency, into lower midrange. ...if the crossover is properly executed.

Note that the effected spectrum is into the important telephonic frequency range where hearing is more sensitive to voice quality, and above the Schroeder frequency where Eigentones related to the room's modal response do not dominate the problem set.

At the link below, take a look at Siegfried Linkwitz's write-up, "Issues in loudspeaker design, page 5, section V, Crossover topology issues", and within that look at the graphic labeled "IMPROVED crossover topology" and the associated improvement made to the summed response in the lower midrange and upper bass, above the subwoofer's low pass corner frequency.

avanti1960's picture

filtering in the precious signal chain before the main speakers, but i will not be.
many speakers already include a low pass crossover within the design to help with such issues, the ones that do not usually have a very steep, natural roll-off at the F3 frequency, especially if it is a ported design.
measure with RTA software to find that frequency and adjust your subwoofer crossover to correspond with it.

ednazarko's picture

Love that phrase. Consider it stolen.

However, I've found that sometimes pressuring the room can turn musical bass into what I've heard colorfully described as low frequency flatulence. I've struggled with finding that boundary between just pressure or just polite bass with subs. I've had to mess with the subs in the two systems where I have them to find that sweet spot, where the bass is corporeal, but still has pitch. One of my subs has a very sophisticated (for 10 years ago) interface - the UI is very "pong" feeling - that's made it easy to get things right in several different rooms, with several different speakers. And enough different adjustments that you can get it exactly right, or horribly wrong if you don't know what you're doing.

Now I'm very interested in the SVS sub, because the other sub I have, while I've been able to get things right... it took WEEKS of twitchy tweaky adjustments in distances and angles and volumes (with hardly any controls over things like crossover characteristics.) The range of adjustments and app capability is very attractive. I need to find a physical seller I can convince to let me set up an SVS sub with a new set of speakers, so I can get a feel for the process and results.

You mention changing the sub profile for different types of music. The setup process for my older subs is painful enough that I don't even try. But in my AV system, which uses Goldenear Reference towers, I've got several different profiles set up in the AV pre-pro, and it's wonderful. With my headphone setup, ditto - I've got a profile that I call ECM (record label) and another I call "live orchestra recordings," among others. It'd be nice to have that capability in my other systems.

Doctor Fine's picture

One sub is OK I suppose but for deeper separation you really should use a minimum of two.
I use four.
Two SVS 12 inch sealed box subs and two Velodyne 15s.
Setup is to first get my mains sounding their best, then add the 12s and get it to sound its best and then add the 15s and tune them into the array.
Location of the sub voicecoils is best when physically time aligned with the main mid bass/midrange/tweet voice coils BUT in installation where it looks too bulky the big 15s MAY be hidden at the edges of the soundstage and by using a variable phase control they can be integrated nicely.
No idea what the earlier guy was on about as all my phase parametric crossover and other controls are still operable when using speaker level inputs on both my SVS and Velodynes
SVS delivers a high quality product in my experience and I have used the largest Rels, Velodynes and others for professional installs for years.
Sealed box subs are tight sounding and quick.
Ported can get more bass extension.
Yet another reason I use BOTH kinds.
Sub control is mandatory in any case.
Crossover, continuously variable phase control, parametric EQ and of course volume should be considered the minimum you should expect to see on a sub used in a musical system as opposed to a simple theater boomer.
Nice review.

karlosTT's picture

Interesting discussion here. I can't really accept the theory that High level works best, even for audiophile applications, though in practice I'm sure there are cases where it works well.
But 2 issues:-
1) High level means chaining 2 power amps in sequence after the pre, which could theoretically cause timing discrepancies between the sub and main speakers
2) It is generally accepted that filters and crossovers etc are best placed as far upstream as possible, to lessen the harm they do to the signal. This is the concept behind active speakers. So that would typically mean between the pre and the power, or actually in the digital domain, such as a DSP within a pre/pro. Using a sub's LFE input in this way also means there is no overlap of bass frequencies between the sub and main speakers, which can create dual sonic signature and reduced bass 'focus'.
Leastways, that's the theory as best I understand it.....