Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Reviewers' ChoiceThere was a time when rock recording engineers would bury the bass guitar in the sound of the bass drum. While bass was and is a musical necessity, it was then felt necessary only to feel the bass -- to tickle the sense of touch, not hearing, with the notion that there was a unified foundation to whatever was going on up front; you know, the stars of the show -- everything but the bass and drums. A rock recording without bass sounds thin, weightless, incomplete. Listen to any of the early White Stripes albums. Regardless of what you think of the band’s music and musicianship, these recordings lack depth and low-frequency resolution. Still, for the longest time, many sound engineers didn’t know how to properly mix the bass into the rest of a recording’s sound. It wasn’t until skilled musicians -- Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Bill Wyman, Jack Casady, James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, and so on -- gave the bass a voice that producers and engineers were forced to give it its own space in the mix.

Subwoofers offer an analogous conundrum. However necessary the bottom end is to the music, its reproduction, especially by a component dedicated to reproducing it, can confound the home-music enthusiast. Finding a proper place for a subwoofer, the intersection of musical necessity and sonic harmony, indeed can be a hair-pulling exercise. The balance between producing just enough low end to anchor the music, while minimizing such subwoofer artifacts as room modes and limitations in cone excursion, which could overwhelm any system, remains a delicate one to find and maintain.

SVS

The SVS PB-3000 powered subwoofer doesn’t automatically solve the problems of subwoofer positioning, bass management, and system integration. But it places at your fingertips tools to train, contour, and ultimately tame the bass.

The plant

The SVS PB-3000 costs $1399.99 USD in Black Ash, the only finish available. It weighs a whopping 82.2 pounds and measures 21.9”H x 18.3”W x 26”D -- I strongly advise that you find a buddy to help you unpack and position this beast. SVS’s proprietary, 13”, high-excursion driver has a flat, edge-wound, split-wind voice-coil built around a 2” former of polyimide-impregnated fiberglass. The cone, propelled by two ferrite magnets, sits in a basket cast from high-density, FEA-optimized aluminum. Power is supplied by a Sledge class-D amplifier that delivers 800W continuous and 2500W peak.

The driver is mounted on the front of the MDF cabinet behind a curved, acoustically inert metal grille. Below it are two flared, tunable, 3.5”-diameter ports that can be sealed with foam plugs (supplied), giving you the option of using the PB-3000 in sealed or ported mode. Ported, the PB-3000’s specified frequency response is 16-260Hz, ±3dB; sealed, it’s 18-260Hz, ±3dB. What I like about this is that I have the option of maximum volume with both ports wide open, or optimal transient response with the ports plugged.

SVS

On the rear panel are the power-cord receptacle, the master power switch, and pushbuttons for adjusting the PB-3000’s volume, phase, and low-pass frequency. There are also RCA jacks for signal input and throughput to a second sub. If you use your A/V receiver’s bass-management capabilities, one of these inputs bypasses the PB-3000’s low-pass filter.

But complete control of the PB-3000 is possible only with SVS’s Subwoofer DSP app, which links your smartphone or smartpad to the PB-3000 via Bluetooth. Downloadable from the Apple App Store or Google Play, this app replicates the rear panel’s volume, phase, and low-pass filter controls, to which it adds a host of tone-shaping controls: parametric equalization, room-gain compensation, and port tuning (depending on whether or not you plug the ports). These controls can be user adjusted and assigned to one of three presets: labeled Music, Movie, and Custom in the app (note: each preset can also be renamed by the user). Basically, once you’ve downloaded and installed the SVS app, you never have to fiddle with the controls on the rear panel: everything’s on the app. And other than tuning the ports, all parameters can be adjusted on the fly. All in all, pretty cool.

Installation

You’d think that installing a subwoofer is the easiest thing in the world: Plug it in, connect it to the receiver’s sub out, and you’ve got a big, beautiful wall of bass. SVS’s excellent manual reminds you that tight, accurate, well-controlled bass requires a bit more than that, but promises that once the PB-3000 has been properly set up, you can forget about it. The manual guides you through the standard placement options, and suggests that you contour the sound to your room and taste by experimenting with the app’s controls.

Which is what I did. I placed the PB-3000 to the left of my left-channel speaker, about 6” from the front wall, in the same spot usually occupied by my own sub, a Polk Audio DSW Pro550wi. I’ve found that this placement optimally integrates the sub’s sound with that of my stereo pair of PSB Image 2Bs. I connected the sub out of my Onkyo TX-RZ610 receiver to the PB-3000’s low-frequency effects (LFE) input, then ran Onkyo’s AccuEQ calibration software, setting the LF crossover frequency to 80Hz, which I’ve found works best with the PSBs. AccuEQ also does a decent job of compensating for the acoustic quirks of my room, which is cluttered with guitars, CDs, LPs, and other audio detritus. With my reference Polk sub, the result is fairly honest, even bass response with neither bass-bloated nor bass-thin spots.

SVS

After that, I used the SVS app to test which settings worked best with what I wanted to watch or listen to. For example, I changed the port tuning control to Sealed Tune and assigned this change to the Music preset, so that when I wanted to listen to music with the sub in the sealed configuration, I just needed to insert the port plugs and switch to the Music preset using the app.

Listening

There’s a genre of American rock that I call the Monster Regional Band: bands with generous followings in and around -- sometimes far around -- their base of operations. Though MRBs may have fans scattered across the country, by definition (mine) they’re not considered “national” acts. Current examples are the Freddy Jones Band (Chicago), the Republic Tigers (Kansas City), Guster (Boston), and Big Head Todd and the Monsters (Denver); MRBs of the past include the True Believers (Austin), the Plimsouls (L.A.), and the Greg Kihn Band (San Francisco), each of which relied on touring to stay alive and keep playing, while creating amazingly good music of lasting value without, in most cases, ever breaking into the Top 40.

In 2008, the Republic Tigers spawned the soaring “Buildings & Mountains,” from their album Keep Color (CD, Chop Shop/Atlantic 477884-2). I’d never appreciated how much bass is dialed into this track until I played it through my stereo system with the SVS PB-3000 installed. At first I listened with the PB-3000’s ports open. Whoa. Bass boomed -- perhaps a bit too much. In went the port plugs, and up came the Music preset. Not only did this considerably tame the bass, which was now taut, strong, and smooth, but its integration with my PSBs’ output was also much smoother: I heard no discontinuity between sub and speakers.

SVS

Again with the PB-3000’s ports plugged and the Music preset selected, the propulsive “In a Daydream,” from the Freddy Jones Band’s Waiting for the Night (CD, Capricorn CXK 42022), similarly took flight. The SVS revealed a deepened dimensionality with this track. But with the PB-3000 I now had a new favorite track from this album: the FJB’s cover of Robben Ford’s “Crosscut Saw,” with a bass line straight out of the Chicago Southside grime. That line isn’t complicated, and you immediately recognize it, but as reproduced by the PB-3000, its punch and drive were mesmerizing.

Watching

I haven’t lost my action-movie jones, and a new subwoofer is just the excuse I need -- as if I needed an excuse -- to tee up two VERY LOUD films with which to rattle my rafters. First was the curious Wonder Woman and the decidedly uncurious Gal Gadot, who plays her in the film. Once again, I fault whoever writes the screenplays for film versions of DC Comics superheroes for their overlong, fan-conscious backstories. Like the dead-on-arrival Green Lantern, Wonder Woman spends way too much time dwelling on her origins and dressing her up before getting her into the action. But once she hits the stage, as Marvel’s Ben Grimm/The Thing says, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

The trench warfare of WWI consisted mostly of lobbing artillery shells back and forth across No Man’s Land, something not lost on Wonder Woman’s Foley engineers -- blasts of varying size and intensity landed with deadly tonal accuracy in my room. Late in chapter 7, when Wonder Woman takes out a sniper in a bell tower -- actually, she takes out the tower and the sniper along with it -- a glorious explosion demonstrated that the PB-3000 could grab that extra skosh of LF depth and really shake the room with waves of low-frequency energy. But even that wasn’t as impressive as in chapter 11, when Trevor (Chris Pine) detonates the Gotha bomber, and in the process immolates himself. The shattering impact of that explosion was rivaled only by Wonder Woman’s destruction of Ares later in chapter 11. The PB-3000 proved so capable of massive output with very-low-frequency effects from this blockbuster that it could move my room with apparent ease.

SVS

Next up was Deadpool 2, with Ryan Reynolds reinventing the fourth wall and a zillion body parts splattering across the screen. More important, even if Deadpool 2 can be considered a cautionary morality tale, the action is nonstop, and every heavy step, window crash -- four of the latter before the opening credits -- and gunshot oozes with unparalleled depth, conjuring up a sonic analogue to pure, miserably unrepentant evil. From Cable’s prison break (chapter 14) to the transfer convoy’s crash (chapter 23) to Russell’s demolition of the mutant torture facility (chapter 28), the PB-3000 rendered the LF effects straight from the abyss, without apology or regret, captured with lethal accuracy and booty-bumpin’ oomph. Once you hear a sonic blast out of this sub, you’ll understand that when its amp sends 2500W of peak power to its woofer cone, all of that juice is transformed into clean, room-shaking, low-frequency soundwaves.

For these action flicks I pulled the port plugs and chose the Movie preset. My choices of how to engage the PB-3000 don’t necessarily mean that if you want to listen to some CDs, then switch to a movie on BD, you have to insert and remove port plugs and reprogram the sub with the app. I am suggesting that the ability to extract the maximum performance from the PB-3000 for music or movies is at your fingertips. For me, the very real improvements in LF sound quality for, alternately, music and movies, was worth the negligible hassle of handling a couple pieces of foam and pushing a couple buttons on my iPhone.

Conclusion

We’re in the midst of a technological transformation in the reproduction of low frequencies. We have subwoofers that are wireless, or programmable, or both. There is steady improvement in the design and manufacture of cones, baskets, magnets, enclosures, and amplification. Add app-based controllers, and you have recipes galore for a dizzying menu of products to satisfy the cravings of every bass lover. And while you can’t change the laws of physics -- room modes are room modes -- there are tools for taming their impact in your room and with your sound system.

SVS

I’ve auditioned subwoofers of widely varying prices and abilities, some of which have outperformed the SVS PB-3000 in terms of depth and extension. Then again, those subs easily cost twice as much as the PB-3000 without yielding twice the benefits. I consider the PB-3000, with its shape-shifting app options, a cut above the competition, especially at its price point. It reaches musical and cinematic depths with ease and grace, and its app provides a multitude of options for shaping the sound to suit both it and your listening space. And you can do it with a simple poke of a button on an app.

The PB-3000 is the first subwoofer that I can describe as being fun to use. It’s a snap to install, delivers the goods with rumbling authority, and can be modified to suit your needs and tastes in real time, from the comfort and convenience of your listening and/or viewing chair. The future of subwoofing is here, and it’s the SVS PB-3000.

. . . Kevin East
kevine@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • A/V receiver -- Onkyo TX-RZ610
  • Speakers -- PSB Image 2B (front L/R), PSB Image C4 (center), Mirage Omnisat Micro (surrounds)
  • Source -- Oppo Digital UDP-203 universal BD player
  • Display -- Vizio D48 D0 48” TV

SVS PB-3000 Subwoofer
Price: $1399.99 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

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

Website: www.svsound.com