Review: SVS PB-1000 subwoofer

Speakers are like karate. Subwoofers are like weightlifting. The quality of a speaker is determined by subtleties: well-chosen drivers, just-right crossover points and slopes, and a perfectly tuned, solidly constructed enclosure. The quality of a subwoofer is determined mostly by its muscle: the size of the enclosure, the displacement of its driver, and the power of its amplifier.

If the designer has lots of money to spend—on a beefy driver, a powerful amp, and/or a large enclosure—building a great sub isn't so hard. But if you're trying to build a great sub for less than $500, it's tougher. And if your goal is to have usable response down to 19 Hz, it's really tough. That's just the challenge SVS' new director of product development, Mark Mason, faced when working on the new PB-1000, a ported sub that sells for $499.

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There's nothing outwardly special about the PB-1000, just the usual stuff you might expect in a $500 sub: 10-inch driver, 300-watt Class D amp, modestly sized enclosure, generic faux black oak vinyl wrap finish. But maybe there's something special about the performance, some special sauce or magic dust Mason and his team threw into the acoustical design or programmed into the amplifier's onboard digital signal processor (DSP).

Setup
At $499, the PB-1000's price is too paltry to allow all sorts of fancy adjustments. (Yeah, the $459 Velodyne EQ-Max 8 does, but it's an 8-inch/180-watt sub.) All you get is knobs for volume, crossover frequency, and phase. I allowed the PB-1000 to share my listening room's "subwoofer sweet spot" with the Hsu VTF-15H, which I use as a reference sub. (Shipping included, the VTF-15H is about twice the price of the PB-1000, and it's much larger and heavier, but I wanted to see if the PB-1000 could at least come close to the VTF-15H's performance.) I set up the Hsu with one port open, hoping that way I'd be getting a more "apples to apples" comparison than I'd get using the VTF-15H in sealed mode, which I generally prefer.

I connected both subs to the switcher I use for blind testing, and connected the switcher to the sub output of my Outlaw Audio Model 975 preamp/processor. This way, I could easily switch between the subs from my listening chair. Sunfire's CRM-series speakers and AudioControl's Savoy 7-channel amp rounded out the system. I used an SPL meter with the Model 975's internal test tones to match the subwoofers' levels.

Performance
Anyone with a few good bass test tracks or scenes should be able to figure out what SVS' priority was for the PB-1000: to deliver the full range of bass response down to 20 Hz. It was pretty amazing to hear what the PB-1000 did on the plane crash scene from Flight of the Phoenix. It shook my listening chair and pressurized my listening room the same way the Hsu did, giving me the terrifying sense that I was actually in the doomed plane. It did sound more distorted than the VTF-15H; after all, we're talking a 10-inch woofer in a compact cabinet vs. a 15-inch woofer in a colossal cabinet. But still, it was the best thrill ride I've gotten from a sub-$500 sub.

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Same on my favorite deep bass test, the opening scene of Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The PB-1000 got the intense vibration of Senator Amidala's ship as it passes through the clouds—something I can't remember hearing from any other sub at its price—and shook my floor with the rumble when the ship exploded. Again, I could tell I was pushing the little sub to its limits; the VTF-15H's lower distortion in the deep bass allowed it to reproduce that sense of air being torn apart better than the PB-1000 could.

The PB-1000 even reproduced the toughest ultra-low bass test I know, the 16 Hz organ notes on the recording of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 from the Boston Audio Society Test CD-1. Yep, I could actually feel those subsonic tones, which is something I didn't think I'd ever experience with a 10-inch woofer in a ported cabinet powered by a 300-watt amp.

What I didn't get from the PB-1000 was the sense of tunefulness and precise pitch definition that I got from the VTF-15H, and also from the Proficient Audio GS10, a smaller 10-inch sub I had on hand. For example, the melodic bass line in Steely Dan's "Aja" seemed a bit soft and a tad boomy through the PB-1000. It sounds decent with music, but audiophiles will want something that delivers a tighter sound—perhaps the SB-1000, a smaller, sealed-box sub with a 12-inch driver that uses the same amp as the PB-1000.

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