|Thunder is an
excellent example of what accurate, natural bass should sound like. As a bolt of lightning
superheats the atmosphere, air rapidly expands, then explodes. When the sound of that
explosion -- the thunder -- reaches you, its fundamental frequency hits you in the chest.
The sound is tight, clean, and concussive. The subsequent harmonics rumble outward and
trail off. Some subwoofers possess the enormous power and control needed to reproduce
thunders proper weight and slam. All you need to do is plunk down enough cash for a
used compact car. Affordable subwoofers typically lack the power and extension to
reproduce thunder, much less most sound effects -- that is, until "sub-humans"
Ron Stimpson and Tom Vodhanel gave it a try.
Price: $1999 USD in textured black, $2399
in various wood finishes
Dimensions: 26"H x 19"W x 29"D
Weight: 190 pounds
Warranty: Three years parts and labor
- Dual TV-12 Ultra woofers by TC Sounds
- 1000W BASH amplifier with built-in parametric equalizer
- Flush-mount amplifier (220V version available)
- Downfiring with SVS integrated base plate
- Compliant floor mounts
- Three 4" high-flow flared ports; two port plugs
- Clear hard maple veneer with solid matching rounded edging
- Four wood finishes, all with satin poly topcoat, plus
- 16Hz, 20Hz, or 25Hz extension, selectable with included port
SV Subwoofers was founded in 1999 with one goal in mind: to
build subwoofers that offer reference-caliber performance and high value. Headquartered in
Liberty Township outside Youngstown, Ohio, SVS began designing cylindrical subs, a style
made popular by Poh Ser Hsu of Hsu Research. Then, realizing that not everyone wanted a
tall black tube in his or her living room, SVS went to work on more traditional box-style
designs. The company now sells seven different box subs through their website. The SVS
PB12-Ultra/2 ($1999 USD in textured black, $2399 with wood finish) is the model just below
the companys B12-Plus/4 flagship.
My aching back
The PB12-Ultra/2 arrived in a well-designed, densely padded
container on a nifty mini-pallet. According to SVS, this "mini-pallet, lift-off
packaging" was borrowed from the appliance industry -- and, at 26"H x 19"W
x 29"D and 190 pounds, the PB12-Ultra/2 could easily pass for an appliance. Thanks to
the intelligent packaging, I found it very easy to unpack. Getting the PB12-Ultra/2 into
my living room was another story. I enlisted the help of a friend to carry it up two
flights of stairs and position it next to my couch. The PB12-Ultra/2 stood 2" taller
than the armrest, and was about 4" deeper than the end table it replaced.
The subwoofers bulk took my wife by surprise. She
immediately asked how long it would be staying -- not a good sign. But my mother-in-law,
partial to finely crafted furniture, mistook the PB12-Ultra/2 for a new end table and
commented on the cabinets rich finish. SVS currently offers four different wood
veneers (more are on the way) and a brand-new, less expensive, "fine-textured
black" finish that SVS claims is extremely durable and resistant to fingerprints. My
sample came in an attractive maple veneer with a high-gloss topcoat of satin poly.
The PB12-Ultra/2s enclosure is made of heavily
reinforced, 1"-thick MDF. SVS states that internal bracing "stiffens things up
without adding too much weight," and that "creating a non-resonant and
not-too-heavy design is the key to shippable subs."
The PB12-Ultra/2 employs a highly efficient 1000W BASH
amplifier, which, SVS alleges, can sustain peaks of 2.4kW. Harnessing this power are two
TV-12 12" drivers built by TC Sounds, a San Diego firm best known for building
robust, high-quality drivers for the car audio industry, and for other high-end subwoofers
costing twice the PB-2s price. Still, SVS believes the TV-12 has the edge on
Tom Vodhanel points out that, whereas most "high
performance" subwoofers use only two to four layers of voice-coil winding, the TV-12
driver has ten. The massive voice coil and a 97-ounce strontium-ferrite magnet contribute
to the powerful linear motor, which creates the piston action that moves the cone of
Kevlar-reinforced aluminum. Dual 10" mirrored spiders, along with a 1"
Santoprene surround, keep the cones 2" of excursion under control. According to
Vodhanel, most "high performance" subwoofers get by with a single 6-8"
spider suspension. "There is no other manufacturer using the technology that is in
[the TV-12]. Not because its proprietary to SVS, but because its so
Preparing for bad weather
Hookup is very easy. SVS includes an 8 power cord and
a comprehensive, easy-to-understand instruction manual. The three 4" ports along the
back come with two foam plugs. By adding or removing plugs and choosing the appropriate
subsonic filter setting, the user can select the best combination of extension and output
level. With two ports plugged, SVS claims flat frequency response down to 16Hz. Blocking
one port increases the subs output and cuts its frequency response at 20Hz. Leave
all three ports open and the sub will play flat down to 25Hz with maximum output
capability. I decided on the 20Hz setting, which gave me usable extension down to 15Hz
(-6dB) and pretty even frequency response.
Also included are standard controls for volume/gain, phase,
and crossover-point adjustment. One nice feature not commonly found in subs is the
PB12-Ultra/2s crossover bypass switch. Where other subs require the user to choose
the highest crossover setting, a bypass switch removes the crossover circuit from the
signal path, thereby guaranteeing that there arent two crossover circuits in series.
I engaged the bypass and used my Outlaw ICBM to manage the bass.
Parametric equalization (PEQ) is another rare feature
incorporated in the PB12-Ultra/2. In a perfect room, the frequency response from 20Hz to
20kHz would be flat, with no one frequency dominating another: a 50Hz tone would play as
loud as an 80Hz tone. But in real-world rooms, frequency-response anomalies are common. As
soundwaves interact with room boundaries, certain frequencies are emphasized while others
are weakened. According to SVS, users can target and remove a frequency peak by first
measuring the room response, then using the parametric EQ to remove a given peak. Opinions
vary on the effectiveness of PEQ. Some believe you need several bands of equalization to
tame acoustic aberrations, while others feel that EQ does more to color the sound than
The PB12-Ultra/2s parametric EQ provided the only
annoyance during setup. While the PB12-Ultra/2s manual clearly explained how to use
the PEQ, I found its range of adjustment inadequate for my room. I figured that no EQ was
better than the wrong EQ, so I bypassed it. For rooms as problematic as mine, SVS offers
outboard parametric EQ with several bands of adjustment.
The sound of thunder
My anxiety about parametric EQ disappeared ten seconds into
"The Battle of Pelennor Fields" (chapter 37, The Lord of the Rings: The
Return of the King). While other subs can aurally communicate an objects
"weight," the PB12-Ultra/2 moved enough air to give an impression of an
objects physical presence. The immense size and powerful charge of the oliphants was
reproduced with authority and insane dynamics. As enormous oliphant feet moved toward
Gondor, so did the floor under me.
Staggering impact was balanced with an amazing level of
control and detail. The PB12-Ultra/2 was able to express distinct characters in
low-frequency sounds that many subwoofers congeal into a single muddy note. As Dr.
Jekylls heavy footsteps fall solidly on the ground (chapter 9, The League of
Extraordinary Gentleman), overtones transitioned from an initial chest-thumping thud
to a taut, trailing rumble.
The PB12-Ultra/2s finesse and power demonstrated how
important the lowest octave is in giving context to frequencies above it. The infamous
train sequence in chapter 1 of Unbreakable is a great example of how deep, accurate
bass reproduction can add to the emotional power and realism of images. As the train moved
over tracks and through tunnels, its reverberating weight reinforced David Dunns
emotional distress. Many so-called "subwoofers" lack the extension and/or the
detail and control to reveal nuances buried within sub-bass sounds. The dramatic weight of
this scene was perfectly communicated with the PB12-Ultra/2 at the helm.
Nothing prepared my body for the shell shock conveyed in
chapter 4 of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. If you want to test a
subwoofers mettle, this soundtrack will do it. The films intense battle scenes
demonstrated the PB12-Ultra/2s tenacious speed and control. At no time did the
PB12-Ultra/2s drivers bottom out or turn background detail to fuzz. I sensed
velocity as artillery zipped through the air, and reacted viscerally as the devastating
weight of cannonballs ripped apart the H.M.S. Surprise. Everything I heard
-- from the desperate voices of the men to the moans of their battered ship to the
crashing surf -- didnt just sound real, it felt real.
Peter Gabriels stunningly remastered Secret World
Live DVD-Video revealed the same commanding, pitch-perfect, low-distortion grunt. Bass
lines during "Across the River," as well as Manu Katchés accomplished
percussion on "Kiss the Frog," were clean and natural. No overhang, no laziness;
just quick, accurate bass supporting classic Peter Gabriel arrangements.
I continue to enjoy the splendid percussion and massive
Japanese Wadaiko drums on Kodos multichannel SACD Mondo Head [Red Ink/Sony
56111]. The only time Ive heard the Wadaiko on this track bettered was during my
time with Jeff Fritz and the $125,000/pair Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 loudspeakers.
Although the PB12-Ultra/2 didnt reproduce the absolute tightness and control of the
Alexandrias 13" and 15" woofers, it delivered extremely powerful and
accurate bass that penetrated my torso as a hammer does a walnut.
Distortion was so low that I never felt the need to turn
the volume down. I did turn it up. The two TV-12 drivers had absolutely no problem
pressurizing my room with extremely clean bass and sending me into fits of grinning
pleasure. It was only after that that my sore ears reminded me of how loud the
PB12-Ultra/2 had been playing.
About five of Paradigms brand-new Seismic 12
subwoofers ($1700 each) would fit inside a PB12-Ultra/2. Yet the Paradigms in-room
response is specified at just two cycles above the SVSs. I recently auditioned the
Seismic 12 and found its performance impressive despite its size. More important, it was
not a one-note boom-boom machine -- its excellent definition and extension are much better
than those of other one-cubic-foot subs Ive heard. So why would someone choose the
larger, more expensive SVS over the Paradigm? Well, its the PB12-Ultra/2s very
size that enables it to produce cleaner, tighter bass with significantly more impact.
Still, the Seismic 12 is no slouch, and possesses some
impressive technology. A Paradigm-designed, overbuilt, 12" downfiring woofer is
flanked by two 10" passive radiators in a sealed enclosure. The radiators effectively
do the same job as the tuned ports on the SVS. Like an organs pipes, the port
diameter and length are tuned to a certain frequency, while radiators are weighted
to resonate at a specific frequency. This is less a case of one way being better than the
other than of dealing with the space constraints of a smaller box. A small box also
requires Paradigm to use considerable equalization to boost response at 17Hz. On paper,
the 4500W peak rating of the Seismic 12s class-D amplifier may appear more powerful
than the SVS, but the Seismics equalization circuit compromises its efficiency. The
much larger PB12-Ultra/2 uses only a small amount of EQ to clean up frequency-response
anomalies; therefore, most of its 2.4kW of peak power makes it to the TV-12 drivers.
Basic connections and controls are similar. Its smaller
size makes the Seismic 12 much easier to position and calibrate, and the Paradigm has a
balanced XLR connection where the SVS offers only unbalanced RCA-type ins and outs. But
the SVS offers parametric EQ instead of the Paradigms 60Hz boost control for
Although the Seismic 12 delivers high-quality bass, it
leans toward a warmer sound that could sound slightly slow and muddy when directly
compared with the SVS. This coloration increased as the Seismic neared its limits. For
example, I was able to hear some overhang and boom when the Seismic reproduced the brutal
cannonball fire in chapter 4 of Master and Commander. The SVS exhibited absolutely no
excess flab or artificial weight, no matter how loudly I played it.
Unbreakables bass sounded tighter and more
resolved through the SVS PB12-Ultra/2. Paradigms Seismic 12 provided good weight,
but could not deliver enough power or dynamic shading in the lowest octaves to effectively
convey the mass of the speeding locomotive. The train felt and sounded more authentic with
the SVS in control.
Master of the sub universe?
Ron Stimpson and Tom Vodhanel may be close to accurately
reproducing the sound of thunder -- the PB12-Ultra/2 is their lightning in a bottle. I
have listened to many subs, and none exhibits the PB12-Ultra/2s monstrous levels of
impact, finesse, speed, and build quality at such a reasonable price. If you have the
room, the PB12-Ultra/2s faultless ability to produce bottomless, low-distortion bass
at high sound-pressure levels will instantly win you over.
|Speakers - Paradigm
Reference Studio 20 v.3, Studio CC-470 v.3, Studio ADP-470 v.3, Seismic 12 subwoofer
- Audio Research 150M.5
|Preamplifier - McCormack
- Esoteric DV-50 universal audio/video player
|Cables - Analysis Plus
- Mitsubishi WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor (with Duvetyne modification and
full ISF calibration)
|Power Conditioners -
Panamax, Shunyata Research