Five Blue Notes For
Review By A. Colin Flood
OK, you see the picture -- so you know Audio
Concepts' Titan subwoofer is one gorgeous deep bass machine. The kind of
electronic furniture craftsmanship extolled in "Sculptural
Art," thus instantly winning bonus points for its
Wife/Mate/Spouse Acceptance Factor. What you can't see is that this elegant
sub-sonic machinery weighs 69 pounds and thunders down to 20Hz!
The ACI Titan has higher output and price, with lower distortion, than the first model a few years ago. Resplendent in beautiful burled Cherry, the new Titan is $1200 on the Internet. At that price, Audio Concepts' improved model competes with mid-range retail subwoofers; in price, but not looks or performance. Wood lovers, when was the last time you saw a subwoofer that looked this good?
Fitting modest subwoofers in with my big
ole horns is difficult at best. With large bass bins, my horns
have no problem covering the outfield bass so many mediocre subwoofers think
is too far afield. Khorn bass is certainly present, but it is lean and taut.
Like acoustic string bass compared to amplified electric bass. It falls off
naturally at 80Hz, yet extends down to 31.5Hz, leaving only a small basement
for a subwoofer. Modest subwoofers can't crawl under the horns. They add to
the excitement of movies sure, but muddy up critical listening like skunky
wine. Drinkable perhaps, but hardly the juice of audio nirvana.
On jazz vocalist and pianist Diana
Krall's new CD, the Titan seems barely there, unless input is
turned all the way up. The bottom-side 12" cone flexes easily. Though it
hardly moves, it adds significant depth and warmth. Only turning it off makes
the Titan's absence clearly noticeable. Turning it back on restores solid
texture and heft to bass drums and left-hand piano keys. It restores the
balance. The Titan fills in the hollow with cement. One song and you don't
want to listen without a deep and powerful subwoofer. This holds especially
true, in my own humble opinion, when flea-powered tube amplifiers try to push
the impedance of 15" woofers. Here the hard edge of solid-state adds required
On Kralls' first song, the opening notes are a plenty of growling 80Hz notes. Even though barely noticeable, the Titan adds texture to string bass. With it dialed back, the bass is smoother and warmer, but still vibrating furniture. The Titan seems to drop the piano and string bass down an octave. The Titan makes music and movies thrilling. It makes me want to abandon the goal of a flat frequency response in favor of tipped up bass.
to the techno-boom of Sade's Lover's Rock jazz CD, the Titan delivers
her deep bass like a purple '75 Chevy from the bad neighborhood. The Input
knob has thin white line, making nighttime adjustments at the back of the
subwoofer easier. The knob turns from 10 to 8:00. On acoustic bass tracks like
Patricia Barber's artsy "A Distortion of Love" jazz CD, the setting with the
most bass, without sounding boomy, was at 6 o'clock.
The pounding "U-571" submarine action movie - with the once talented Matthew McConaughey (see the second "Texas Chainsaw Massacres," he is gruesome) - has become one of the benchmarks of ridiculous audio performance, like dragging racing Dodge Neons down the street to select the most economical family sedan. Yet, this movie is now a standard to judge all subwoofers.
The sumptuous subwoofer performed wonderfully. The Titan gives outrageously loud and deep bass in the Depth Charged scene (15). It makes steel drum bombs clinking together and dropping into watery depths sound fuller and better formed. As the charges pound the submarine, the Titan rocks the room, sending low rumbles of thunder through and adding a new dimension to the action/adventure genre. It never blinks, huffs or makes any noise. I didn't have the pedal to the floor mind you, but with volume louder than normal, the Titan is a tactile thrill.
Equipment influences music choices (admits the SET and horn lover). So did
the Titan. I found myself listening to riffling bass lines and watching
mediocre action flicks. Man, there is a lot of subterranean bass in new
Every loudspeaker should come with its own frequency response and linear impedance curve. Subs are no exceptions. Frequency responses allow consumers to match loudspeaker and subwoofer performance factually, without subjective opinions. The Titan's frequency response (transfers) charts are available at their website.
The second chart shows that with the two filters set at their lowest 40Hz
settings, the Titan's output shifts lower, while declining steeply before
100Hz. This steep roll-off merges the Titan seamlessly with full range
The sound of "space" in many large areas is enhanced by the "hall" sound, which has a considerable amount of low-bass content. Extension to 20Hz ensures that space fundamentals play accurately. The Titan measures down to a 20Hz, within an admirably flat 3dB.
The 200-watt Klipsch KSW200 subwoofer peaks around 60Hz. According to its
frequency response, the KSW should be the flatter, more natural sounding
subwoofer with Khorns. Yet, the KSW always intrudes on the big ole horns,
stepping on their toes, muddying the mid and upper bass.
The 500-watt Klipsch LF10 subwoofer peaks around 40Hz, low enough for many
full-range loudspeakers, but not deep or adjustable enough to get out
off the Khorn's way. It turns warm booms into tight thunks, also fills lower
registers, yet is more accurate and precise doing it. It helps a little, but
didn't make an incredible difference.
At the highest settings, the Titan is several times louder than the other
two subwoofers throughout the 50 to 200Hz range. It is almost 2 to 3 times
louder at 20 and 25Hz! Dialed to match the Khorn's effortless output level, it
stands aside to let the big ole horns play their low notes, and picks up the
slack below 80Hz. At its lowest EQ settings, the Titan clearly fills below
63Hz and down to 20Hz.
The golden child is overwhelmingly effective. Bass is deep and powerful. Low level listening is palatable. Every song is affected, as if the bass was missing before. I kept looking for something wrong with the Klipsch subwoofers. Titan rumble is felt through the couch; its extra power especially nice for action movies.
In the purist world of audio, many subwoofers have more powerful output than the Titan. Comparing my in-room response to reviewer Tom Nousaines' measured 20Hz output alone, the Titan runs with the pack of 31 most powerful subwoofers.
Comparing price for 18 deep subwoofers however, puts the cherry Titan ahead of subwoofers that are larger and/or more expensive, on par with DIY kits and used subwoofers; the big SVS 20-39 tubes and the Legacy Audio Deep Impact do better.
Subwoofer output at 25Hz is more audible than 20Hz and quite noticeable in
movies and music. Ranking 41 subwoofers by their 25Hz output alone,
the Titan is middle of the pack. Larger, more expensive old dogs in this
survey top it.
Compare price at the 25Hz level however, and the cherry Titan is
near the top. Lower cost models, but with less output, do better: Atlantic
Tech T70.1PBM, PSB Subsonic 5i and JBL S120PII.
The Titan is louder, deeper and fits better with my big ole horns. With its
gorgeous looks, the Titan excels in this price range. I can't think of a
better looking subwoofer that sounds this good.
Modest performers are the most economical values in subwoofers. They bang
the bass drum for the least bucks. Look at the Enjoy the Music.com™
review of the PSB
SubSonic 5i, for example. The 5i lists at $529, the low end of
the subwoofer scale, has only 87dB output at 25Hz, yet is one of the better
price/performance values in this survey.
Obviously there is more to subwoofers than mere deep output and price. The
key to the Titan's success are not its charming good looks, but its two
wide range 12dB-per-octave filters. The independently adjustable filters
equalize from 35 to a high 250Hz, allowing the Titan to slip under the radar
of both full range and small bookshelf speakers. Used together, the filters
yield a sharp slope of 24dB down.
Keeping crossover frequencies low and steep avoids overlap that muddies the
mid-bass. The sharp slope and Titan's loud output match main loudspeakers with
already low bass. At their lowest settings, the Titan filters did indeed merge
easily with my big ole horns. But with my flea-powered amplifiers at modest
volumes, the Titan sounds better adjusted about mid-way; giving an added push
without distorting the mid-range. Additionally, it has one theater direct
input as well as two 35Hz line-level outputs.
Although ASC recommends their 18" for most configurations, I was not sure their Subtrap could help the Titan in my new, larger room. Indeed, the RTA function of the Behringer DEQ2496 showed immeasurable differences in this room.
Constructing A Classic
Audio Concepts, Inc. (ACI) sells direct to consumer for nearly 28 years.
They build OEM for other companies that sell under their own names. Mike
Dzurko (pronounced De-zurk-o) started ACI in 1977. Half Czechoslovakian and
half Norwegian, the ex-musician built his own, until people heard them and
started buying them, he says, "I built more and more and it took off from
there." For fun, he has been building for about 38 years.
Dzurko says electrical phase is not simply 0 or 180 degrees, but varies
continuously. It is difficult, he says, to blend a subwoofer with the main
loudspeakers correctly "unless you can match phase precisely." So the new
model features continuous two-way phase adjustment (0 or 180 degrees). A
manual and warble tone CD fine tune the fit. An Excel spreadsheet at the ACI
site automates the tuning task.
System Q (damping) primarily measures the transient response of a
subwoofer. It is a function of the woofer, cabinet size and electronics. The
Titan has no ports or vents. It is a low Q rating, sealed, second order to
maximize transient accuracy. The Titan has a system Q of approximately .6,
compared to many subs with Qs from 1-1.5.
Line input impedance is approximately 10,000 ohms. Input impedance with ACI's
speaker level adapter is approximately 24,000 ohms.
The cabinet is High Density Fiberboard (49.5 lb/cu. ft.). Walls vary from
0.75" to 1.5" thick. Varying the thickness helps with resonance control.
Internal bracing is interlocking 0.75" MDF rings. Internal dampening is a
proprietary type of polyfill.
The Titan's cabinet is tall and narrow, trimmed and topped with hardwood
panels, primarily for high partner approval ratings (WAF). The panels and trim
top aren't laminate or plastic, but smooth hardwood. Cherry or clear oak with
black insets are standard. ACI customers get an attractive end table, not
a bulky black box. The panels make good handholds for inching it in and out of
Free air resonance (Fs) is a very low 18Hz. To get there, the Titan has a
cast-frame downward firing SV-12 driver. ACI says forward facing subs have an
advantage only if the crossover frequency is high, above about 100Hz. Voice
coil size is 2 inches. The cone is a rigid long-fiber ribbed cone with loose,
flexible black surround.
Although Sunfire recommends mink oil for shoes on their rubber cone
surrounds, Dsurko says not to put anything on the rubber as it might "react
and cause problems." He says Titans last for years with no other treatment
Titan is a 250-watt Class A-B amplifier, like many separate amplifiers, not
the typical Class D of subwoofers. Dzurko says this amplifier costs 6 to 7
times the typical plate amplifier, but "is worth every penny for reliability
and sound quality." The driver and amplifier are made in the US. Though the
subwoofer sounds good right from the start, break-in period is 60 hours.
With all of the possible methods for adding a subwoofer to your home movie
and music reproduction system, ACI provides some excellent graphics at their
subwoofer set-up page. There is also a good subwoofer primer on their site.
With only RCA inputs, ACI provides thin RCA to loudspeaker cable adapters:
simply plug them in and twist around your positive and negative cables. Using
audiophile-quality interconnects instead of thin chain store specials improved
bass definition slightly.
The 8 1/2' Titan power cord is long, but attached. It doesn't allow for upgrades, but it does make placement and ASC Subtrap swapping easy.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, is about 2.5 hours south of my teenage stomping
grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota, and less than 5 hours from Chicago. St. Paul
is home of Atma-sphere OTL amplifiers, audio legend Robert Fulton and Magnepan
panel loudspeakers. Obviously, the ice-cracking winter air makes for some
great audio listening.
Dzurko says they have about 35 different models. Their most popular model
is a toss up between Sapphire, Panorama, Emerald, Titan and Force. Eight woods
are commonly used. ACI's most popular finish is the beautiful Cherry -- $150
over the basic black and well worth it. Black oak, oak, maple, mahogany,
rose-walnut, walnut, gold oak are all options at slightly higher cost. In
addition, ACI can custom match 100s of finishes.
ACI has a retail showroom at a local AV specialist. Most orders ship within 2-4 days with a 30-day Money-Back guarantee. If ACI doesn't have the chosen wood in stock, it can be three-four weeks. Warranty is a good five years with ACI covering everything including shipping the first year.
Though I normally grade on a miserly scale, I lavish four Blue Notes on
many of the Enjoy The Music.com™ categories. I
thought the Titan made above average improvements in Tonality, Sub-bass and
Mid-bass. Fit and Finish were superb for a subwoofer in this price range, with
no Self Noise. The Titan doesn't affect many other categories, so they are not
rated: High-Frequencies, Attack, Decay, Inner Resolution, Soundscape (Width;
Front & Rear, Depth & Extension). My own Enjoyment category is higher
than most other products: another Blue Note. The Titan appearance and power,
with two steep adjustable controls, make it a very enjoyable companion.
Therefore, for the first time, I award five Blue Notes, for Excellent Value!
Type: Self-powered subwoofer
Driver: 12" proprietary "extreme long throw" cast-frame woofer
Amplifier: 250 Watt amplifier ("Class AB" with discrete outputs and toroidal transformer)
Adjustments: Level control for loudspeaker or line-level (RCA) inputs
Inputs: Mono or stereo inputs via RCA
Low-Pass Crossover Frequency: Continuously Variable: 35-250Hz total of 24db/octave, increasing to 36db/octave
Outputs: Line-level RCA
Adjustable phase (0 to 180 degrees)
Warranty: Five years labor and parts
Dimensions: 22.75 x 16.5 x 16.5 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 70 pounds
Price: Black $1050 and Cherry: $1200
Audio Concepts, Inc.