Review: Monoprice MSUB-A122 Subwoofer Page 2

Setup

The MSUB-A122 sets up just like any normal subwoofer. I plopped it down in my “subwoofer sweet spot” — the place where a single sub sounds best from my listening chair — and fed it with a line-level signal from the subwoofer output of my Denon receiver. I turned the sub’s crossover control to max (150 Hz) and set the level about midway.

The sub looks nice with or without its black fabric grille. I took the grille off so I could monitor the woofer cone’s excursions — and maybe back the volume down if it looked like the cone was about to rip free of the basket when I played my favorite deep-bass test tracks.

I used the MSUB-A122 with everything from fancy speakers like the MartinLogan EM-ESL to ultra-downmarket stuff like the Dayton Audio B652, in every case setting my receiver’s crossover point to 80 Hz so the MSUB-A122 would have to handle all the bass.

I compared the MSUB-A122 to the Cadence CSX-12 Mark II (which until I got the Monoprice sub seemed like an outrageously inexpensive product) and the new Definitive Technology SuperCube 4000. Don’t say it, I know: Those subs are more than four and eight times the MSUB-A122’s price, respectively. You expect me to keep a stock of $84 subs on hand for comparison?

Performance

When I want to get a real quick idea of how a subwoofer performs in a home theater setup, I always cue up chapter 3 of the Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones DVD. (Yeah, I know I should get the new Blu-ray Disc, but the DVD gets going so much quicker.) The sound from the spaceship that opens the chapter — followed by the ship’s nasty, loud explosion — is one of the toughest low-frequency tests I’ve heard in a movie soundtrack.

I didn’t have to wait for the chapter to start to hear that the MSUB-A122 sounded boomier and less distinct than the subs I usually test for S+V. Even the music that accompanies the DVD menu — which of course I usually ignore — told me this was no $500 subwoofer. But get this: The MSUB-A122 played loud and powerful on both the ship’s fly-over and the explosion. It wasn’t particularly distinct, but it wasn’t distorted, either, and the sound was very full. With the ship fly-over in SWII and the simple, ominous bass tones in the soundtrack of the Frozen Blu-ray Disc, the MSUB-A122 sounded fairly close to the more expensive subs. None of the subs I’ve heard in inexpensive home-theater-in-a-box or soundbar systems could even approach this level of output. But more demanding effects, such as the spaceship explosion in SWII, lost their impact. Instead of “boom!” you get something more like “whoom!”

No matter what I played, the MSUB-A122 never sounded strained. This is because it doesn’t attempt to do what it can’t. Deep-bass torture tests like the organ symphonies from Camille Saint-Säens and Joseph Jongen don’t faze the MSUB-A122 because it ignores the lowest frequencies entirely, reproducing only the harmonics of those tones. You don’t notice this unless you’re seeking out the limits of the sub’s deep-bass performance, though; it never, ever sounds thin or weak.

It’s important not to confuse “boomy” with “one-notey,” an adjective commonly used to describe the sound of inexpensive subwoofers, which tend to make all bass notes sound like the same note. Because the MSUB-A122 doesn’t sound one-notey. You can hear the individual notes quite well, they just don’t have the punch you’d get with something like the Cadence CSX-12.

Paired with the Dayton Audio B652s, the MSUB-A122 makes a remarkable sound, considering the whole system costs just $118.60. It’s not what I’d call refined — not by a long shot — but it’s certainly a full-range system without the obvious frequency response holes and midrange roughness that plague many inexpensive HTiBs and soundbar systems. Therefore, it’s quite satisfying for casual listening. Combine these with your iPod, an adapter cable and one of the little Pyle amps from Parts Express and you would have one hard-rocking sound system for your garage or playroom for less than $150 brand-new.

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