Subwoofer Reviews

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David Vaughn  |  Jan 09, 2017  |  4 comments

PB16-Ultra Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

SB16-Ultra Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,499, $1,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful, deep bass response
Infrared remote and Bluetooth app control
User adjustable EQ presets
Minus
Extremely heavy
Large size can make optimal placement challenging

THE VERDICT
If you want foundation-shaking bass and have the floor space to accommodate one (or two) of these beasts, you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood on movie night.

I’ve had a home theater going on 20 years now, and one thing has remained constant through those years: upgrades. It got so bad at one point that my wife had me enter into a contract with her in 2004 that my latest subwoofer upgrade would be my last for the next 10 years. Desperate to make the purchase, I reluctantly agreed and signed my name on the dotted line. Fortunately, the subwoofer just happened to be an SVS PC-Ultra, a cylindrical monster that kept my subwoofer itch scratched for a full decade. But as soon as the contract was up in 2014, I did add a second subwoofer to the mix, a Hsu VTF-15H MK2, which has been filling my room with copious amounts of bass ever since.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 28, 2016  |  2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,047 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Concentric mid/tweeter
Pinpoint imaging
App-driven, room- correcting sub
Minus
Extra power required
App required for sub control

THE VERDICT
Speaker designer extraordinaire Andrew Jones continues his work for German manufacturer Elac with some of the best monitor-class speakers we’ve ever heard plus a provocative, app-driven sub.

There are a lot of ways to put together a home theater system. Small speakers—or, as I call them, monitors—are among the best foundations for a multipurpose room that isn’t cavernous in size. The audio industry used to pump out so many potentially interesting passive monitors (not to mention towers) that we could barely review a fraction of them. But with the increasing emphasis today on soundbars and powered lifestyle speakers at the lower end of the market, it’s becoming increasingly hard to put together small-speaker configurations for surround sound.

David Vaughn  |  Nov 18, 2016  |  0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very powerful on music
Outstanding build quality
Small size
Minus
Tepid output at the very bottom

THE VERDICT
One of the most musical subwoofers I’ve ever auditioned, and it’s damn pretty, too!

Founded in 1972 in Ontario, PSB Speakers has grown from one man’s passion for audio into an international speaker company with more than 50 distributors and approximately 1,000 dealers. Paul Barton got his start in audio when he was just 11 years old, making speakers with his father. As he became more confident with his designs when he was in high school, he started to sell his speakers to college students at the nearby University of Waterloo. From the beginning, Barton’s goal was to create high-performance, highvalue loudspeakers for music and, eventually, for home cinema applications.

Daniel Kumin  |  Sep 22, 2016  |  1 comments

Imagine X Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SubSeries 200 Sub
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,443 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Brilliant octave-to-octave balance for musical playback
Exceptional center-channel timbral match
Effective and adaptable Atmos module design
Minus
Short towers may require tilt/angle manipulation
Limited subwoofer extension
A bit expensive relative to some recent debuts

THE VERDICT
Though it’s got some stiff competition at and even below its price, the Imagine X series trickles the magic of PSB’s near-perfect tonal balance down to a more attainable price while adding the option of object-based surround sound.

It’s a fact that good loudspeakers sound more alike than different. After all, they’re trying to accomplish the same task: reproduce the recording presented to their inputs with as little change, whether reduction or addition, as possible.

PSB speakers are good loudspeakers. Thus, thanks to the transitive property we all learned in middle school, one PSB model should sound very much like another PSB model, with allowances made for size, price, and range. It follows that PSB’s new mini-tower in their Imagine X series, the X1T, should sound like the full-sized and vastly more expensive Imagine T3 (Sound & Vision, September 2015, and soundandvision.com).

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 25, 2016  |  0 comments

LCR3 Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB-900 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value

FS3 Soundbar
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,550 to $2,075 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Slim-profile passive soundbar, or...
Compact LCRs in front, with...
One sub or two
Minus
AVR required for passive bar
Inherent limits of 8-inch sub

THE VERDICT
Whether configured with a three-channel soundbar up front or compact LCRs all around, this system delivers deeply satisfying performance for the price, with plenty of listening comfort.

How should your 5.1-channel system handle the three channels in front? You might use the traditional approach of three separate speakers. Then again, you might simply use a passive soundbar with left, center, and right drivers. We’ve reviewed both kinds of systems—but until now, we haven’t reviewed both options at once. In this Test Report, that’s just what we’re going to do. We’ll start with Atlantic Technology’s new FS3 soundbar in the front and two voice-matched LCR3 satellites in the surround positions. Then we’ll swap out the soundbar for three more satellites to see what that brings to the table. To make it even more interesting, we’ll start with a single 8-inch SB-900 subwoofer, then contemplate the advantages of adding a second one.

David Vaughn  |  Aug 09, 2016  |  10 comments

Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $50

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Easy to install
Tames unwanted vibrations
Minus
Why aren’t these standard issue?

THE VERDICT
If you have touchy neighbors who complain about vibrations from your subwoofer, you need these in your system.

I love bass, always have, always will. The same can’t be said for my wife, who constantly tells me, “Turn it down. You’re going to wake the dead, or worse, go deaf!” Part of my problem is that my home rests on a raised foundation with a wood subfloor underneath my carpet, which means my dual-subwoofer setup transmits plenty of vibrations from the subwoofer to the floor, which then resonate through the rest of the house. In fact, on certain low-frequency scenes in movies, you can literally see my windows vibrating. But is this really a problem?

David Vaughn  |  Jun 22, 2016  |  10 comments

Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Exemplary value
Clean, punchy bass
Optional wireless transmitter works like a charm
Minus
Doesn’t go quite as deep as the big boys

THE VERDICT
When I heard I was going to review a budget $399 subwoofer, I dreaded the month I’d miss my reference subs. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

There are two things that I really love in life. The first is the entrepreneurial spirit that grows within someone and inspires them to take a chance with an idea, create a company, and do their best to make it succeed. The second is great bass. As longtime readers know, I’m a bass-oholic—and if my wife would let me, I’d have four (or more) subwoofers in my media room, because there’s no such thing as too much bass!

Daniel Kumin  |  Apr 14, 2016  |  0 comments

Cinema M6 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SUB 1X12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,494 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very dynamically capable, with high power handling, high output
Solidly integrated front stage
Impressive subwoofer output and extension
Flexible “tripole” surround speakers
Minus
Slightly forward tonal balance (but perfect for behind-screen placement)
Pricey

THE VERDICT
Reference performance for movie playback, from some unusual speaker designs.

Complete the sentence with the most appropriate choice: “Yah, I sure do love those Swedish…”

A) meatballs.
B) supermodels.
C) interior designs.
D) loudspeakers.

If you chose D), congratulations, you’re a winner! Because while Swedish loudspeakers may not be a household word, or available at IKEAs everywhere (yet), the examples before us here just might be a winner in your home theater.

XTZ defines itself as much pan-Scandinavian as Swedish per se, but the company’s home base is in the blue-with-yellow-cross zone. The speakers themselves, like so many others today, are made in China, though XTZ points out that they employ high-quality drivers from fellow Scandinavian manufacturers such as SEAS and Scan-Speak, and the drivers are housed in unusually heavy, non-resonant cabinets. (XTZ offers a wide range of other speakers, as well as Dirac DSP and measurement systems, on its Website.)

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 24, 2016  |  3 comments

Diamond 220 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

WH-D10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,546 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sound for price
Bottom port cuts unwanted noise
Dressy cosmetics
Minus
Odd binding-post layout

THE VERDICT
The Wharfedale Diamond 220 speaker system looks and sounds far better than its modest price tag would suggest.

When a venerable audio brand leaves its founders behind, sometimes it loses its way. But sometimes it gets a whole new lease on life. That’s what happened when the International Audio Group (IAG, originally of Taiwan, now of mainland China) acquired a handful of British brands, including Wharfedale, Mission, and Quad. When I visited IAG’s design and manufacturing facility in Shenzhen a dozen years ago, I was surprised at how self-reliant it was. The resident speaker designer could have a custom part made and tested in 24 hours, rather than having to outsource it and wait for months, as Wharfedale’s British forebears had to do. Thus, he has the luxury of endless tweaking. Even so, Wharfedale hasn’t had a commanding presence in the U.S. market commensurate with the brand’s engineering resources and expertise. Will the new Diamond 200 series change that?

Michael Trei  |  Feb 25, 2016  |  0 comments

T50 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PSW108 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $690 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound, small price
Efficient and easy to drive
Proper surround sound at a soundbar price
Minus
Black vinyl is the only finish

THE VERDICT
Polk’s T50 system is all about value with a capital V— delivering a real 5.1 experience including a powered subwoofer and floorstanding tower speakers at a soundbar price.

“What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”—Thomas R. Marshall

American vice presidents aren’t usually remembered for much, but Woodrow Wilson’s VP Thomas R. Marshall will always be remembered for saying that America needed good cheap cigars. If you figure in a hundred years of inflation, Marshall’s five-cent cigar would still be well under a buck today, so clearly he was a man who wanted real value for the money. With that in mind, I reckon that if Marshall were alive today, he would be a huge fan of the Polk T Series speaker system.

Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 23, 2015  |  0 comments

Debut F5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

S10EQ Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,470 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics, neutral tonal balance
Decently finished, simple look
Unapproachable value
Minus
Some off-axis center-channel tonal shift
Audible thump on sub’s auto turn-off

THE VERDICT
Elac’s Debut series reintroduces a near-forgotten brand with a design by a well-known name—Andrew Jones—and a value/performance factor to be reckoned with.

As longtime S&V readers have doubtless come to understand, I believe that cheap, as Gordon Gekko definitely did not say, is good. Any $10,000 pair of loudspeakers makes me vaguely uneasy, while a $50,000 pair leaves me ready to join the Che Guevara Brigade and start lining up oligarchs. So the arrival of a new family of cheap—err, high-value—serious loudspeakers from Elac U.S., designed by tech’lebrity engineer Andrew Jones, caused a certain amount of excitement hereabouts. (For more on Elac and Jones, see “Man on a Mission”.)

Daniel Kumin  |  Nov 18, 2015  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
True bass from truly tiny sub
Highly flexible setup, including wireless option
Beautifully made and finished
Minus
Finite upper-volume limits
Display too small to discern easily

THE VERDICT
If you demand real bass from a really small subwoofer (and you have $1,000 to pay for it), Artison’s got your micro-sub.

Ever since the first hominid bashed another hominid over the head (with the femur of a third hominid), humankind has pursued one arms race or another. From the atlatl to the AR-15, man’s competitive genius always finds a way to up the ante. One rather more constructive expression of this innate drive can be seen in the long-standing contest to extract more and more bass out of smaller and smaller boxes.

Michael Trei  |  Oct 22, 2015  |  4 comments

Motion 60XT Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Dynamo 1500X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $6,695 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful, punchy sound
Excellent sonic match among speakers
Fine upper-octave detail
Minus
Clunky interface for Perfect Bass Kit
Marketing not withstanding, they can’t image like ML’s dipole speakers

THE VERDICT
While they don’t have much in common with MartinLogan’s electrostatic offerings, the Motion XT speakers let you keep a foot in both the music and home theater camps with little compromise.

Coming up with a good slogan for your company can be tricky. You want something that tells people what you do, but you don’t want it to tie your hands as the company evolves. For years, Burger King ran commercials using the catchphrase “Have It Your Way,” but they had to drop it when they wanted to reduce the bottlenecks being caused at restaurant counters by custom orders. Now they’re back to being the “Home of the Whopper.” Of course, you could simply ignore the historical inaccuracy of your catchphrase, as the H.J. Heinz Company has done; after all, they probably have 5,700 varieties today, not just 57.

David Vaughn  |  Sep 24, 2015  |  0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,750

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Small form factor is décor friendly
Satisfying bass response
Minus
Can’t deliver the sonic impact of a bigger sub
Better values can be found in the market

THE VERDICT
Given the Sunfire’s dainty size, I didn’t expect much, but it delivers in spades with music and should be adequate with movies for many listeners.

My name is David Vaughn, and I’m a bass-a-holic. There isn’t a 12-step program to cure me of this disease—and even if there were, I’d avoid the treatment like the plague. There’s nothing like feeling the thump in your chest when an explosion rocks the room in the latest Hollywood blockbuster or hearing the windows rattle to some classic rap from the early 1990s. (Hell, who would have ever thought that “classic” and “rap” would go together in the same sentence?)

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 17, 2015  |  0 comments

RP-150M Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
R-110SW Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,399 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Titanium-dome tweeters in 90x90 Tractrix horns
Tractrix-shaped rear ports
Wireless sub option
Minus
Sacrifices some warmth for analytic detail
Sub subdued

THE VERDICT
Klipsch’s Reference Premiere achieves high resolution at a low price, though it can be too revealing for some content.

Klipsch is built on concepts so fundamental that they have transcended changes in audio fashion and even ownership. Chief among them is the concept of horn-loading, promulgated by the legendary Paul W. Klipsch (1904–2002) and marketed by him, his family, and their successors. It enables reasonably priced speakers to play louder, and to many listeners sound clearer, with less power. Klipsch speakers also look like no one else’s, thanks to the tangerine/copper color of the woofers, another of the brand’s 20th-century traditions.

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