Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviewers' ChoiceSVS Inc., a major player in the subwoofer game since 1998, currently offers a broad range of models at various prices and designed to satisfy a wide range of needs -- each of their subwoofer lines contains sealed and ported designs, and some include décor-friendly cylindrical models. In SVS’s system of model names, SB stands for sealed box, PB for ported box, and PC for ported cylinder.

I’ve long been a fan of SVS subs. I own three: an older PB NSD-10, used in my home theater, and two SB-4000s in my dedicated two-channel system. Last month, for SoundStage! Access, I wrote about my experiences in integrating the first one, then both SB-4000s into my two-channel system. To say that I’m pleased with their sound is an understatement.

SVS

When I bought my second SVS SB-4000 ($1499.99; all prices USD), I also received from SVS an SB-3000 ($999.99). (Both prices are for the Premium Black Ash finish; add $100 per sub for Piano Gloss Black.) The SB-3000 sat in its box for a few weeks as I worked through integrating the second SB-4000 into my two-channel system, but eventually it was time to find out how it stacked up against its bigger brother. Is the SB-4000 really worth 50% more?

Description

The sealed-box SB-3000 and its ported sibling, the PB-3000, each have a 13” driver driven by an 800W class-D amplifier. The PB-3000 costs more -- $1399.99 in Premium Black Ash (Piano Gloss Black isn’t available) -- and is a bit bigger at 21.9”H x 18.3”W x 26”D. The SB-3000 is 15.6”H x 15.2”W x 17.8”D (with grille) and weighs 54.5 pounds -- almost 28 pounds less than the PB-3000. And each of my SB-4000s is about 30% larger and almost twice as heavy as the SB-3000.

For the SB-3000, SVS specifies a frequency response of 18–270Hz, ±3dB, with usable extension down to 10Hz. SVS says that in the 3000 series they use an all-new, “extreme-excursion” driver that they describe as “an iron fist inside a velvet glove.” It’s a vented, 13” aluminum cone of exceptional stiffness coupled to a proprietary, high-excursion surround of injection-molded styrene-butadiene, a synthetic rubber. The motor system consists of a flat, edge-wound, split-wind voice-coil and a massive dual-ferrite magnet weighing 25 pounds. The 800W (RMS) Sledge STA-800DS amplifier is claimed to be able to produce 2500W of peak power. The brains of the SB-3000 is a 50MHz, high-resolution Analog Devices audio engine that SVS says is the most advanced digital signal processor (DSP) ever used in a subwoofer.

As with most active subs, the inputs and controls are on the rear panel. There are six pushbuttons, three above and three below a row of 11 small, white LEDs. Buttons labeled “+” and “-” are used to adjust the volume, phase, and low-pass filter (LPF) cutoff frequency, each of which is selected with its own button, respectively labeled Vol, Phase, Low Pass. To adjust the volume, for example, press the Vol button, then “+” or “-”. The sixth button is Auto/On. In Auto mode, the SB-3000 senses an incoming signal and automatically awakes. Set to On, it’s turned on all the time. But even at the latter setting, the sub’s super-efficient class-D amp draws very little juice.

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The 11 LEDs indicate the status of the volume, LPF cutoff, or phase, depending on which of those buttons is pressed. Volume is obvious; for LPF cutoff, a frequency scale with a range of 30-140Hz is printed above the row of LEDs; below the LEDs is a phase scale of 0-180°.

To the left of the pushbuttons is a set of single-ended left- and right-channel line-level inputs and outputs (RCA); the right-channel input is also labeled LFE, for Low Frequency Effects. The inclusion of stereo line-level outputs is something this two-channel enthusiast really appreciates, as it eases the integration of the SB-3000 into a two-channel system -- no need for Y-splitters or dual outputs from a preamp. Above these ins and outs is a USB Type-A socket, for firmware updates or powering a USB device -- such as SVS’s optional SoundPath Wireless Audio Adapter ($119.99), for convenient wireless installation. Below these are a 12V trigger input and, at the bottom of the rear panel, the main On/Off switch and a 120V IEC inlet for the detachable power cord (supplied).

While it does seem necessary to provide manual controls, as SVS has done, I suspect few SB-3000 owners will use them. The SB-3000 is the lowest-priced SVS sub to offer control of all its functions via a smartphone app. The SVS Subwoofer DSP app is available at no cost from Apple’s iTunes App Store and, for Android users, at the Google Play Store; it communicates with the sub via Bluetooth. I’d already downloaded and installed the app for use with my SB-4000s, and setup and operation are a breeze.

The Subwoofer DSP app is well laid out, intuitive in use, and comprehensive. On the first screen, Home/Volume, you can adjust volume and select one of three presets. (At the bottom of each screen, swipe up to save any changes made in a given preset.) On the next screen, the LPF can be adjusted from 30 to 200Hz in 1Hz increments, and the crossover slope can be selected: 24, 18, 12, or 6dB/octave. There’s a switch for disabling the LPF control, to enable LFE mode, when the SB-3000 is part of a home-theater system and pulling LFE duty, or when the sub is plugged into the LFE output of a two-channel preamp that’s also managing the bass.

SVS app

The next screen lets you adjust phase in increments of 1° within a range of 0-180°; the following screen provides a switch that simply inverts polarity 180°. Next is perhaps the most valuable function for those using an SB-3000 without external room equalization: a three-band parametric equalizer with 1Hz resolution, +6/-12dB boost/cut in 0.1dB increments, and a range of adjustment of quality factor (Q) of 0.2-10.0.

Following all that is a screen with a switch for turning Room Gain Compensation on or off, with frequency settings of 25, 31, and 40Hz. This feature is designed to optimize the SB-3000’s low-frequency extension and output to reduce bass bloat in small rooms. The last four screens are dedicated to naming or renaming the three presets, and such housekeeping items as Standby mode, Contact Us information, and a Tutorial. As I said -- this app is comprehensive.

Setup

The SB-3000 was easy to unpack -- its small size and manageable weight meant I had no trouble pulling it out of the box on my own. Included are an instruction manual, the detachable 6’ power cord, and a black metal speaker grille. My review sample came in Piano Gloss Black -- I saw no blemishes or scuffs in the beautiful mirrored finish.

My listening space is a dedicated, sound-isolated, windowless, 15’L x 12’W x 8’H room in the basement of my home, with full carpet over concrete. The SB-3000 comes with its small, hard, plastic floor spikes pre-installed. For buyers with wooden subfloors, SVS offers its optional SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System feet ($49.99/four), to reduce the transfer of acoustic energy from sub to floor.

I’ve treated this room with broadband absorption at the first-reflection points on the sidewalls and on the front wall between the L/R speakers, bass traps in the front corners, and some diffusion along the wall just behind the high-backed recliner I sit in for listening sessions. My reference SB-4000 subs sit along the long wall, to the right of my left speaker and to the left of my right speaker, and exactly 5’ from each sidewall. In my listening comparisons, I used only one SB-4000.

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I set the built-in LPFs on the SB-3000 and SB-4000 to 130Hz, 24dB/octave slope, and used a custom, balanced, passive high-pass filter (HPF) between the preamp and amp (120Hz, 24dB/octave) to transition from the subs to my reference loudspeakers, a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s. I corrected the SVSes’ in-room bass response and seamlessly blended their outputs with those of my B&Ws with Dirac Live software, which is built into my miniDSP DDRC-22D room-correction processor, using a target frequency-response curve inspired by Harman International’s research. (See a plot of this curve in the article mentioned above: “Two Subs, One Listening Chair.”) The DDRC-22D operates only in the digital domain -- on the rare occasions when I use an analog source, I make use of the SB-4000s’ built-in parametric equalizers, to manually correct low-frequency peaks and nulls.

The SB-4000s are connected to a McIntosh Laboratory C47 preamp via balanced interconnects (XLR), and the SB-4000s’ balanced outputs feed my Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A high-pass filter, whose outputs feed my McIntosh MC302 power amp. To compare the SB-3000 and SB-4000, I defaulted to my preferred method for evaluating subwoofers in my two-channel system, replacing the right-channel SB-4000 with the sub under review -- and, using Dirac Live, calibrating the system separately for each sub.

To compare single-sub setups, I connect the left and right balanced outputs of my preamp to the left-channel SB-4000. Incorporating the SB-3000 into this system requires no modifications to these connections, because my C47 preamp has a second set of switchable variable outputs -- to these I connected the SB-3000’s RCA left/right inputs. This made switching back and forth between subs quick and easy: turn on the SB-4000 sub, and switch off output 2 on the C47; then reverse that to listen to the SB-3000 -- remembering to switch to the appropriate Dirac Live filter for each configuration.

Before I performed the calibrations or did any serious listening, I played bass-heavy music through the SB-3000 on and off for two days, to make sure its driver was well broken in.

Sound

In my relatively small listening room, the SB-3000 didn’t give up an inch -- not even a millimeter -- to its considerably larger, costlier sibling, the SB-4000.

I chose three tracks, and listened to all three through my system with first the SB-4000 and then the SB-3000, their output levels matched at SPLs in the mid-90dBs, C-weighted. First up was “Run-Around,” from Blues Traveler’s Four (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, A&M), chosen not for its bass output but for the speed, rhythm, and timing of the drumming throughout the entire track. Both SVS subs delivered quick, taut bass that produced that punchy feeling in my chest without ever losing control of the timing. I felt I was simultaneously reaping the rewards of large and small woofer cones: slam and pressure, and nimble speed.

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Next up was “Perfect,” from Ed Sheeran’s Divide (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic). At the 2:12 mark, this track climaxes in some very serious, deep, room-filling bass. Again, both SVS subs delivered the goods: Each dug deep, letting me really feel the lowest notes in my chair. The sustained decays of the lowest notes never freed me from their grip until the actual recording demanded it. The leading edges of the bass notes were reproduced by both subs with impressive punch and authority. This combination of intense punch with the feel of low-frequency extension had me turning this track up loud -- and it was an exhilarating experience, no matter which subwoofer was in use. While I wish I could tell you where one sub stepped ahead of the other, I can’t.

Last, I played some hip-hop, as I believe any reviewer of subwoofers should -- the bass in many hip-hop tracks is deep and powerful. “She Will,” from Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV (16/44.1 FLAC, Cash Money), has a strong foundation of pulsing, ultra-low bass notes, complemented by a rhythmic thumping in the lower midbass. If the SB-4000 ever outperformed the SB-3000, I figured it would with this track.

Nope -- the SB-3000 did not relent. Both subs delivered “She Will”’s liver-massaging ultra-low bass, my entire listening chair pulsing with the music. The bass thumps had the same weight through both subs, pummeling my chest with authoritative air pressure, repeatedly sustaining the quick blows of the leading edges of bass notes. Again, as I went back and forth between subs, I was forced to reconcile what my intuition was telling me, based on the difference in size of these two subs, with what I actually heard and felt. I felt there was a smidge more bass output with the SB-3000, if slightly less bass localization. As the SB-3000 continued to fill my room with bass, I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, and at one point got up and touched the SB-4000’s cone, to confirm that it was indeed switched off. It was off.

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I’m going to play it safe, and assume that the slightly superior performance I heard from the SB-3000 was due to subtle differences in the calibration results -- e.g., mike placement, and general measurement repeatability -- and not to any inherent design superiority it has over the SB-4000.

But there’s more . . .

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that the SB-3000 is just as good as or better than the SB-4000, for $500 less, that’s not quite what I’m saying.

Functionally, there are two differences between these models that are important to me. In my room, I have balanced XLR cables running in the wall from the listening position to the front of the room, where the subs and amp sit -- the SB-4000 has balanced inputs and outputs, the SB-3000 does not. Second, as a reviewer, I routinely use different presets on my SB-4000s, and their front-panel displays let me see at a glance which preset is loaded. The SB-3000 has no front-panel display. These are the only functional features of the SB-4000 that the SB-3000 lacks.

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The SB-4000 is capable of greater sound output, even if the SB-3000 equaled its performance in my room. To provide a counternarrative to my listening observations, I took measurements that show that the SB-4000 can indeed play lower and louder, with less compression, than the SB-3000, which might make the SB-4000 the better choice for rooms larger than mine.

I placed my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone about 10’ away from the SB-3000, and used Room EQ Wizard (REW) to generate a frequency sweep from 15 to 200Hz. I took five measurements, each time increasing the sub’s volume by 3dB. I began with a normalized 100dB SPL at 50Hz for both subs. The graph below shows that the SB-3000 exhibited severe compression -- i.e., its measured output no longer tracks the increases in volume -- at 20Hz with the two loudest input signals. As the two top plots show, when I raised the SB-3000’s volume setting by 3dB, I still measured effectively the same SPL at 20Hz.

Graphic 1

Compare this with the SB-4000, measured at the same subwoofer and mike positions. Graph 2 clearly shows that, at 20Hz, the top two plots still closely track the volume-setting increase of 3dB -- that is, there is virtually no compression. I would have continued raising the SB-4000’s volume and measuring the results, but REW warned me that I was nearing the mike’s clipping point.

Graphic 2

Bottom line: In a room large enough to require SPLs of 100+dB at 20Hz at a distance of 10’ or more, the SB-3000’s performance would audibly suffer in comparison to the SB-4000’s.

Conclusion

In my relatively small room, the SB-3000 equaled its much larger brother, the SB-4000, in all aspects of sound performance -- and for significantly less money. However, in a much larger room, this would likely not be the case.

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The SB-3000 provides exceptional value for a relatively low price of $999.99. Via SVS’s comprehensive, intuitive app, it gives its owner full control of all operating parameters, including phase, room-gain compensation, and a precision three-band parametric equalizer. (And for those who can’t find a way to hide wires in their rooms, SVS offers an optional wireless Bluetooth transceiver for $119.99.) The bass I heard from this small box, unassuming yet nice to look at, bordered on the difficult to believe -- very fast, very tight, very deep, with more than enough output to fill my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H room with sound-pressure levels that would satisfy all but the most demanding bass heads.

I was so impressed by the SB-3000 that I bought the review sample. Its new home is my modest home theater, where it performs just as admirably as it did in my two-channel system.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
  • Subwoofers -- SVS SB-4000 (2)
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A custom balanced line-level 120Hz high-pass filter (between preamp and amp)
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Room correction -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital sources -- Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node streamer, laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon
  • Analog sources -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable and tonearm with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper (generic, locking banana plugs)
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics Optical (TosLink)

SVS SB-3000 Subwoofer
Price: $999.99 USD in Premium Black Ash; Piano Gloss Black, add $100.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

SVS Inc.
260 Victoria Road
Youngstown, OH 44515
Phone: (877) 626-5623

Website: www.svsound.com