SVS PB16-Ultra and SB16-Ultra Subwoofers Review Page 2

The upper front of each Ultra includes an angled area housing an LED display and four directional controls in case you lose the tiny remote or still own a flip phone that won’t do apps. The well-written manual includes a flow chart of how to navigate through the various settings manually, though these are much easier changed within the app. Each sub includes a detachable rigid perforated metal grille that protects the woofer. Additionally, the grille on the PB16 covers the three 3.5inch flared ports that reside below the driver.

Along with having a vented enclosure, the PB16 has a footprint that’s nearly 50 percent longer than the SB16’s, so it doesn’t easily tuck into a corner. It also has different specs, obviously: The SB16 is rated from 16 to 460 Hz, ±3 decibels, while the PB16 has three different ratings: 15 to 280 Hz ±3 dB in Standard mode (all ports open), 13 to 280 Hz ±3 dB in Extended mode (two ports open), and 14 to 360 Hz ±3 dB in Sealed mode (all ports bunged). As with any sub, placement will also have a huge effect on response.


My home theater is just shy of 5,000 cubic feet, so it definitely needs a big subwoofer or two to pressurize the space. My PC-Ultra sits in the front left-hand corner of the room in a relatively tight space that just fit the SB16-Ultra. The PB16 wouldn’t slip into my usual secondary location and was temporarily placed directly behind our couch in a spot where the bass response makes for one of the best sub locations in the room, but which also put it close to foot traffic. Obviously, if you’re bringing either of these subs into your home permanently, you’ll know exactly where they’re going in advance and have a plan to properly integrate them.

Testing two different subwoofers at once is not an easy chore, but with dual outputs from my pre/pro, I was able to calibrate each sub individually and manually power one off while testing the other. I skipped the Audyssey room correction in my Marantz pre/pro and charted some frequency-response measurements using bass tones and an SPL meter; then I utilized the PEQ function to flatten the response up to 80 Hz. For the PB16-Ultra, this meant doing three different curves: three ports open, one port blocked, and all ports blocked. Thank god for the three presets! Luckily, my room is treated and has a pretty flat response already, so the only required adjustments were around the 40-to-50Hz area, and I was very impressed by the ease of the calibration process using the SVS app.

117svs.rem.jpgHow Low Can You Go?
I have a demo list of titles to test bass response, and I really wanted to see how deep each of these subs could go. I started by cueing up my old DTS Demo Disc #4 on DVD to play a clip from The Haunting. In this segment, an evil spirit is invading the heroine’s room, and the bass dips well below where you not only hear it but also feel it. Starting with the SB16, I was surprised that my room’s subfloor was vibrating so much. Granted, the spec sheet says it can go down to 16 Hz, but it’s possible that its in-room response goes even lower. I had a similar experience with the ported PB16 when its ports were fully sealed, though with two or all of the ports open, I was even more shocked at how much energy was going into my raised foundation. Subterranean bass, indeed!

Another great low-frequency test is from the Dolby Atmos track on the UHD Pacific Rim Blu-ray, right after we see the Jaeger battle the Kaiju off the coast of Alaska. Battle scarred, but not dead, the Jaeger makes its way to shore where a man and his grandson are searching for hidden treasure with their metal detector. Before you hear the giant coming to shore, you can feel each step it takes. Each subwoofer passed this test with flying colors, regardless of configuration. Just like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, there were ripples in my water cup as the Jaeger approaches landfall. Yes, my jaw was stuck ajar—man, I love good bass!

Every Christmas season, we have a list of movies that our family enjoys watching, including such classics as A Christmas Story, Elf, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. One that made the list this year was The Polar Express. The train arrival scene is another where you can feel the bass before you hear it, and both of these SVS subs are tailormade for this type of effect. You know the train is arriving when the decorations on the boy’s wall start to rattle, and if your subwoofer is up for the challenge, your floor will begin to rumble as well—mine certainly did. As the scene built to a crescendo of smile-inducing bass, the kinetic energy reached deafening reference listening levels. It felt like my house was going to come crumbling down as the windows vibrated and the floor shook mercilessly. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t set off the Earthquake Detection System we have in California. Hans Zimmer is one of the best living movie composers, and I streamed a FLAC recording of Track 7 from his Inception soundtrack, “Mombasa.” It proved to me that, despite their large 16-inch woofers, the SVS subs could handle this fast track without muddying the bass response, which features an up-tempo beat that lesser subs noticeably blur.


I tend to run my subs about 2 to 3 dB hot at all times because I like it that way for movies, but I found the PB16-Ultra to be a little bit too overpowering when I ran it at my normal setting with rap music, such as The Beastie Boys, Run D.M.C., and N.W.A, This was easily fixed by lowering the volume a couple of decibels with the IR remote or app until it blended better with my speakers. (This is another good use for the available presets.) The sub level wasn’t as much an issue with the SB16, which blended with my M&K S150 studio monitors with relative ease with the crossover set at 100 Hz, as recommended by SVS’s own Merlin app on their website. Maybe the variation in character and response between the PB16 with ports open and the sealed SB16 had something to do with this difference. It’s hard to say, especially given their positions on opposite ends of my room.

Regardless, the musicality of each sub surprised me. The engineers at SVS certainly spent some time refining these beasts for all sorts of listening scenarios.

So Sad to See You Go
I spent quite a few days listening to the four different scenarios outlined above and came to the conclusion that I really liked the SB16’s sealed sound, especially on music. However, I preferred the PB16 with one port closed (and Extended setting engaged) for bass-intensive scenes from Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray Discs because of its additional response from 15 to 20 Hz; it really packed a heavy punch when configured this way. Don’t read me wrong: The SB16 and other configurations of the PB16 weren’t weak by any stretch in this area, but this is where the PB16 made the best use of its larger enclosure and extended response setup.


To say I enjoyed my experience with the SB16-Ultra and PB16-Ultra would be an understatement. I love bass, and these two siblings delivered it in spades. If I had to choose one of the two for my particular room, I’d probably go with the SB16—actually, two of them—because its smaller form factor is relevant to my shared theater space and I found it still had plenty of punch on the low end, though the PB16 had a bit more lowdepth impact in my room. Performance aside, I also can’t rave enough about SVS’s app. The setup is easy, and configuring the subs from the comfort of my couch is something I could certainly get used to.

If you truly love bass, you should really give one (or both) of these state-of-the-art subwoofers a try. SVS says they’re made to compete with top-performing subs costing twice or more their price, and after my experience, I don’t doubt they’re a great value. SVS backs up the claim, too, offering a 45-day in-home trial that even includes paying the shipping both ways. They must know that once you hear one of these subs, it’s a one-way trip. Very highly recommended.

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dmusoke's picture

Nice reviewer of these 2 awesome subs. A first I believe with technical measurements.

How do you explain the difference in the -3dB points between what you measured (Closed-mic) and what SVS states using the 2m ground plane technique?

Even the high-end is off. SVS claims 3dB at 460Hz and you measured significantly lower.

dmusoke's picture

What PEQ setting did you use, including Q values?

dmusoke's picture

I forwarded this review to Ed Mullen from SVS and pasted his response is on SB16/PB16 AVS forum at:

In short, the measurement technique used in this review are not correct.

Tommytom83's picture

SO how did the HSU compare to the SVS? Worth the extra money or better off with to Hsu subs?