Canton AS 120 SC Subwoofer

Affordable bass-in quantity with quality.

For many years, European speakers-especially bookshelf models-have had the reputation for their inability to produce the quantity of bass that the majority of ears on this continent like to hear. Canton's AS subwoofer line-a range of powered subs aimed at providing affordable, yet substantial bass response to the sector of masses seeking better-than-average performance-ought to help lay that old notion to rest for good.

Bigger Than A Bread Box
The AS series models aren't designed along the lines of, "Let's see how small we can make the box." Instead, their aim is to make bass-lots of it-without compromising sound quality. In other words: "Let's keep distortion levels as low as feasible." Although none of the models in the line are ginormous, as my daughter would say, the physical dimensions of the cabinets do make invisibility an impossibility, so Canton did the smart thing and made the subs look as attractive as possible. The AS 120 SC Canton sent my way is the largest of the AS group, but the quality of the construction and finish give it a fine-furniture look that will get it through the door and onto the floor of almost any living room. It isn't a guaranteed thing, though. If you live in a home that doesn't permit the visibility of home theater gear, move on to something less obtrusive. There's just no way to hide this one.

On the other hand, if you're not so visually constrained, there's plenty to like about the AS 120 SC. At 51 pounds, it's no lightweight, but the entire cabinet is rigid and resonance resistant. Everything, from the controls on the back panel to the metal grille on the front, has the feel of quality.

The sub is forward-firing with both the 12-inch driver and the port located on the front baffle. The driver is a modified version of the aluminum cone bass drivers used in Canton's Vento series-with those being derived from the top-of-the-line Karat Reference drivers. This particular sub's driver incorporates a cellulose/graphite fiber cone plus a specially designed surround material and spider assembly that's again a hand-me-down from the Vento series. The surround uses a sinusoidal double-curved shape rather than the more familiar half-round. Sinusoidal isn't something your doctor will treat with antibiotics. It's a special way of shaping the surround material that provides more surround surface area and lets the driver move in and out up to twice as much as some traditional designs-without producing nasty noises and distortion. Essentially, as Canton explains, it all means the sub can get louder and handle more power resulting in something like a claimed 6 to 9 decibels of increased output in the deep bass range.

No Global Warming-It's The ICEpower Age
The "SC" in the model number refers to an active electronic filter circuit in the sub's amplifier. Canton has specifically engineered the circuitry for each AS model to compensate for the interaction of the driver and the enclosure. The 200-watt internal amplifier is a small, no-nonsense component using ICEpower technology. According to developer Bang & Olufsen, ICEpower (intelligence, compactness, and efficiency) amplifiers are tiny and efficient, while producing low distortion and minimal heat. Lots of companies are now using ICEpower technology including Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, and PS Audio. Canton feels the amplifier technology is crucial to the AS series subwoofers' ability to produce lots of volume with little distortion.

You can't bypass the adjustable internal crossover-Canton's engineers feel that when set at the high point (200 hertz), it won't acoustically interact with the use of any crossover in your receiver or pre/pro but will still prevent stray high-frequencies from slipping through to the amp and affecting the sound quality. Something you don't see very often is a flat line-level output that you can use to daisy-chain a second subwoofer without running an additional preamp cable from your A/V receiver or pre/pro. There's also a filtered line-level output that sends out 80 Hz and above.

The AS 120 SC also includes a Room Compensation (RC) circuit. The circuit's three settings-normal, wide, and narrow-don't magically change the dimensions of the cabinet. In simplified terms, the wide mode lowers the cut-off frequency while "narrow" causes the frequency response curve to drop more rapidly than in the "normal" mode.

The Sound Of Thunder
Someone at Canton is either very lazy or very smart, and either way, he (or she) deserves congratulations. The controls you need to fiddle with in order to set up the sub in your system are located near the top, on the back of the cabinet-and the nicely designed instruction manual includes clear photos of each control, making it physically easier to dial in than a lot of other subs.

Acoustically, it was a little tougher to set up than a lot of the subwoofers I've worked with lately. In this case, I was using the AS 120 SC with a Definitive Technology Mythos Four/Three/Two system-a set of speakers that demands a subwoofer for both music and movies. Matching the sub with the main speakers was relatively straightforward, but taming a wild room resonance around 60 to 70 Hz wasn't so easy. Canton's RC circuit certainly helped; and, although the bass output had more deep-throated authority in the wide mode, it was easier to control in my room setting it in the narrow mode.

The AS 120 SC did a fine job with the usual theatrical suspects like Apollo 13 and U-571. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the force and stamina the sub exhibited with the rapid-fire depth charges in U-571. Lesser subwoofers can sound a little wimpy when asked to do this much heavy lifting. More recent demo material such as The Enforcer and Batman Begins came across just as well, especially the latter, during which the AS 120 SC excellently created the dense, foreboding low bass floor that you find throughout the soundtrack.

Something that's neither movie nor music is the three-minute "The Storm" track from Dr. Chesky's Magnificent, Fabulous, Absurd & Insane Musical 5.1 Surround Show. The AS 120 SC handled the quick attack of the beginnings and slowly fading low frequencies of the thunder claps with aplomb.

Not surprisingly, music is where Canton's AS 120 SC was most comfortable. From the same Dr. Chesky disc, the higher- and lower-pitched drum beats of "Bass Drum March" showed off the excellent way in which the sub was able to blend with the Mythos speakers. Likewise, with Cassandra Wilson's "Waters Of March" (Belly of The Sun), along with Suzanne Vega's "Caramel" (Sessions At West 54th) and Donald Fagen's "I.G.Y." (The Nightfly), pointed out how musically adept and natural the AS 120 SC is.

When it comes to sheer gut-punching, rattle-the-rafters, shake-your-eyes-out-of-their-sockets bass, though, the AS 120 SC isn't the sub of first choice. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. There's certainly enough punch here for all but the most fanatical die-hard bass fanatics. Of course, you'll have to pay more to get bass that's louder and deeper but still just as controlled. Instead, for $999, the AS 120 SC offers an affordable, great-sounding subwoofer with plenty of juice behind it that's an excellent ingredient for anyone putting together a quality midpriced system. Thus, for those whose sensibilities hover a little higher than the standard run-of-the-mill, this is one Canton that can.

• Beautiful cabinet construction and finish
• Room Compensation circuit

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