SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review
On the SVS website there's a section titled "Why go dual subwoofers?". Their reasons are simple: Two small subwoofers can fit were one large subwoofer can't, more listening position options, greater headroom, stereo bass which will improve soundstage, plus, the bass frequencies are more difficult to localize. SVS even has a video explaining why two are better than one. For quite a while I only used one subwoofer in my system. This was mostly because I didn't have enough space for two, and please, I am not saying that two subwoofers are mandatory, as I was very happy using only one subwoofer in the corner of my listening room.
Thanks to our new home having a dedicated listening room it allows for greater positioning options, and so I was able to fit a second subwoofers. I can attest to the benefits of having dual subwoofers, and I think that SVS might be understating the benefits. The sound quality has more than merely doubled by adding the second sub. And this is why SVS sent me two of their SB16-Ultra subwoofers to audition in my system. But I hope one doesn't think that only one subwoofer is only half as good as two. As I stated, I used "only" one subwoofer for quite some time. And I was very happy with the sound.
The Ultra series is at the top of SVSound's line. SVS claims that the reason why the Ultra series can be considered their best is the use of the "massive" 16-inch driver which was designed by SVS and built to their specifications. With its "unprecedented" 8-inch edge wound voice coil -- which they say is the largest ever deployed in a consumer subwoofer, it offers lower distortion, more control at higher volumes, more output, and lower frequency specifications. It also delivers more "accuracy" in these low frequencies, and also offers a quicker transient response.
How Low Do You Want To Go?
The Ultra subwoofers uses four toroidal ferrite magnets that "are the heaviest ever used in a consumer subwoofer", and so they are able to generate "unprecedented levels of magnetic force" to drive the "highest levels" of excursion, SPL, and low frequency output. The cone is made from a "rigid but lightweight" fiberglass resin composite "that never flexes" and is able to "convey subtle and room-shaking low frequency effects with equal aplomb".
Although the SVS SB16-Ultra comes with a small remote control, and all of the sub's adjustments can be made from pushbuttons on its front panel display, I found by far the best way to set-up and make changes was with SVS's app. It can be downloaded in both iOS and Android versions, and is far easier to use than the small remote that comes with each subwoofer. On the front of the sub is the angled display with large 8-character blue LED display that can easily be read from across the room.
With the slanted top portion of the SVS sub's cabinet and the front-firing 16" driver, some have commented on the internet that it resembles a front-loading clothes dryer. I never thought of that, but I in a way, I guess it does. But, with the SB16-Ultra's metal grille in place, that attaches to the front of the cabinet with four cleverly shaped metal dowels, this subwoofer takes a very contemporary, and rather stylish appearance. The grille adds a few more inches to the front of the cabinet, which might make it a bit more difficult to position in some listening rooms, but there is no question that its looks are top-notch.
Entering The Deep End
Instead of using any external measuring devices I used my ears. Setting up the SVS subs was easy and fun, as I tried all sorts of different parameters before I settled upon what I thought was the best sound. I left it this way for most of the review, only tweaking the settings slightly every once in a while. The low pass frequency was set at a rather low 55 Hz, as the low frequency specification of the speakers are claimed to be 35 Hz. To me, it sounds as if the usable low frequency of these electrostatic loudspeakers is more than a bit above that measurement, but still, that low frequency is awfully god for a pair of electrostatic speakers that aren't especially large.
The power amplifier for the entire review period was the Pass Laboratories X350.5. The digital front-end of my system remains for the most part a computer-based music server that feeds via USB a EMM Labs DA2 digital-to-analog converter. The occasional silver disc is spun on an OPPO UDP-203 Blu-ray player, which is essentially a universal disc player, so its digital output is connected to the DAC, but when playing SACDs its signal is sent directly to from its analog outputs to the preamp. The analog front end has also been in my system for a while, except for the phono cartridge, which since only a couple of months or so ago has been an Etsuro Urushi Bordeaux that I reviewed recently. The Bordeaux is mounted on a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm, which itself is mounted on a Basis Debut V turntable. The power cord coming from its AC synchronous motor is connected to a PS Audio Power Plant P300 AC Regenerator which acts as a power supply and speed controller.
Much of the equipment was supported by an Arcici Suspense equipment rack. All of the interconnects, power cables, and digital cables were made by Wireworld (review forthcoming), and the power cables of the front-end equipment were connected to a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery power supply. The subwoofer's power cords were connected to a Chang Lightspeed ISO 9300 power conditioner, as was the power cords from the Sound Labs speakers. The power amp's power cable was plugged directly into the wall receptacle, which was one of two manufactured by Virtual Dynamics, and two dedicated power lines were wired directly to our home's circuit breaker box in the basement.
The listening room was treated with acoustic treatment panels on its back, side, and front walls, and additional acoustic absorption was provided by shelves filled with LPs that lined the walls, and the commercial grade wall-to-wall carpeting. The listening room is painted with Sherwin Williams "Sky Fall" blue indoor acrylic-latex paint. This blue is a lighter blue, chosen because indoor walls painted with darker blues can evoke feelings of sadness, claims the website.
Time To Swim In The Deep End
You might be more interested in how low this subwoofer's bass was able to go. The specifications that SVS provides claim that the SB16-Ultra can reach down to 16 Hz, plus or minus 3dB, which is certainly more than respectable for a subwoofer this size and at this price point. One night I was spinning both the CD and the vinyl version of Kraftwerk's early Minimum Maximum, available in a two CD set, and when it was first sold, a four LP box set, a document of their 2004 world tour. On the suite from their album Computer World, which starts out with "Numbers" and ends with "Home Computer", I was not only impressed with how low the bass went on the coda of the last track on the side, but the quality of the sound of the bass.
I've been listening to this box set ever since it arrived at my doorstep, and I have been happy with how the bass sounded. But with the SB16-Ultras in my system, not only was it as if I could feel the sub-sonic tones on the surface of my exposed skin, but I could swear I could feel my loose shirt sleeves vibrating against my arms. The bass tones I heard during this track were wide enough where I could hear the timbre of the bass-synth, as well as sub-sonic resonances of this bass sound. I realize this may sound as if I am exaggerating. I'm not.
Not all program material has to contain extremely low bass to enjoy the benefits of a well-made subwoofer like the SVS SB16-Ultra. Even though I realize many will be using these subwoofers for home theater systems, and with that in mind they might often be judged on how much realism they can inject into a scene where a helicopter crashes into a high-rise building and then plummets to the street below, crushing a parked mini-van. With that in mind, I played my favorite string quartet record, the Borodin Quartet playing Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 paired with the headlining String Quartet No. 2 by Borodin originally released in 1962 on Decca, my copy a "Super Analogue Disc" reissued in Japan on London Records. I rarely listen to the Borodin side of the record, the Borodin Quartet's version of the Shostakovich Eighth is famous for being one of the first times Dimitri Shostakovich heard the piece played live.
Just for kicks I played the quartet with and without the SVS SB16-Ultra in the system, and even though there weren't any very deep bass frequencies to be found, the difference in the sound quality between the two was significant. As I predicted, this difference was largely in the spaciousness of the soundstage. With the subwoofers in the system it was as if I could "see" the room where they made the recording, the placement of each member of the quartet was easier to visualize, and the soundstage was deeper, wider, and I could even hear more height information. The upper harmonics are the frequencies that are usually discussed when talking about string instruments, but there are lower harmonics, too, and it seems obvious that they are contributing to the overall sound of this recording.
After playing some blockbuster demo records. I spin this LP for guests visiting my listening room. The looks on their faces usually indicate that they are just humoring me, but 99% of the time, afterwards they thank me. Not only did I turn them on to a very cool piece of music, they could hear how a full range system can add sonic benefits to a record like this, and it sounds wonderful! The SVS SB16-Ultras had no trouble demonstrating these qualities, and did so much better than I've ever heard before.
The Deep End
Purchasing a pair of them, if the funds are available, makes even more sense. This subwoofer is not the best sounding subwoofer on the market, nor it is it the best I've ever heard. But a better sounding subwoofer with a driver this size is going to be much more expensive than the SB16-Ultra's asking price. Nor is this subwoofer meant for everyone, because the SB16-Ultra is a rather large subwoofer, with its grille in place it is almost two-feet deep. But for those who have the money, and enough room, and desire more than a full-frequency range high-end system I think spending more than the SVS's very reasonable price might not make much sense. Highly recommended.
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