Bowers & Wilkins DB-1 Subwoofer Reviewed
By: Brian Kahn,
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The small OLED screen on the plinth below the main cabinet of the new DB-1 subwoofer by Bowers & Wilkins hints at the technology contained within. Bowers & Wilkins combined some traditional subwoofer design criteria with new engineering and technology to bring the subwoofer performance level up to that of the current of the current Bowers & Wilkins flagship speakers. You may have read Andrew Robinson's review of Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Series Diamond speakers and noticed one of the traits was increased clarity and detail throughout. Bowers & Wilkins needed a new subwoofer that could keep up with its redesigned flagship, so the DB-1 subwoofer was born.
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The DB-1 borrows from the aesthetic of the 800 Series Diamond by placing the cabinet above a plinth. The cabinet of my review sample is finished in the same Cherrywood as the rest of my Bowers & Wilkins system; Rosenut and Gloss Black are also available. The DB-1 has dual horizontally-opposed 12-inch drivers behind black grilles, powered by a 1kW ICE power amplifier. The cabinet can be rotated on the plinth base to allow the drivers to fire sideways or front and back. The front panel of the plinth has a small, approximately one-inch-square OLED screen, flanked on its right side by five buttons in a plus shape formation, and a power button and status light on the far right side.
Bowers & Wilkins engineering achievements with the DB-1 can be broken into two categories. The first has to do with the hardware and the second is the control system, which has some of the features of other subwoofers I have reviewed, but is unique in its implementation.
The hardware portion of the DB-1 system features a variety of electro-mechanical engineering features. The horizontally-opposed driver configuration uses the opposing waves to cancel out unwanted vibrations in the cabinet. The cabinet is made from one-inch MDF, with three-quarter-inch bracing that borrows from Bowers & Wilkins famous matrix technology, but is less extensive than in their larger floor-standing speakers, due to space constraints within the cabinet that measures 19.3 inches high, 18.1 inches wide and 16.2 inches deep, and is a solid 97 pounds in weight.
The drivers themselves are a new design and have Rohacell cores between carbon fiber skins, with inner and outer reinforcing rings to prevent delamination, a progressive roll spider design to increase linearity throughout its one-inch throw, and a T-shaped center pole to keep the magnetic field even. Even the leads to the driver were re-designed with a multi-strand design to increase reliability in case of fracturing of individual strands. A white paper available on Bowers & Wilkins' website provides additional detail for those who are so inclined to read even more.
All of this technology and the build quality, commensurate with the upper end line of an old-world speaker builder, go a long way to explaining the not insignificant retail price of $4,500 for the DB-1. While definitely not inexpensive, this is in line with some of the other upper-end subwoofers now on the market. The real question becomes whether the DB-1 is worth this type of money when installed in your system. We hope the information below helps you in making that determination.
Marc Schnoll of Bowers & Wilkins came over to set up the DB-1 in my main listening room. I was extremely thankful, as I did not relish the thought of carrying a 97-pound subwoofer up a flight of stairs all by myself. Marc placed the DB-1 along my right-hand wall, between a third of the way and halfway into the room. This is the same location that I had utilized for one of the two subwoofers that I had been previously using. Marc placed the DB-1 with the woofers firing along the length of the room (parallel to the side wall), but the DB-1's cabinet can be rotated on the plinth to accommodate firing the drivers in either direction. While not directly related to performance, I have to note that the DB-1 is diminutive is size when compared to other powerhouse subwoofers. I suspect that you should be able to fit the DB-1 into just about any room's décor.
The back panel contains a fairly typical assortment of connections: balanced and single-ended mono inputs for use as a LFE channel in a surround system, and a single-ended stereo input for use with a stereo preamplifier. Twelve-volt trigger inputs, an IR input and RS-232 and USB ports and an ungrounded IEC power cord port round out the rear panel. Notably absent are any forms of knobs or switches. While I first thought that this was a bit strange, I soon realized that the DB-1's unique (for a subwoofer) menu-driven system rendered such controls obsolete.
The screen and controls on the front of the DB-1 can be used to set up all of the subwoofer options, with the exception of running the room correction software and the naming of the five available presets. To run the room correction software, one must first download the SubApp program, then plug in the supplied microphone and USB soundcard to the computer. All the required cables are supplied. The room correction can measure up to eight locations and then utilizes a four-band parametric equalizer to smooth the four largest anomalies. The instructions wisely note that the results can vary greatly, depending on the number of measurements taken. A smaller number of measurements in a more defined area of the room may reveal particular room anomalies not present in other parts of the room. The SubApp averages out the room anomalies in order to determine the corrections to be made. Some food for thought when conducting measurements, and I would not be surprised if this characteristic is shared with other room measurement systems.
After running the room correction software, we set up three presets, which can be set up by either the front panel controls or through the Sub App program running on a computer. We connected the outputs of my McIntosh Laboratories C-500 stereo preamplifier into the single-ended stereo inputs and the LFE channel from my Anthem D2V to the XLR mono input. We set up three different presets. Each preset can individually select the input, system EQ (flat or impact), whether to engage the low-pass filter, overall level and a four-band equalizer. My presets were a stereo input for music, a music setting for the LFE channel and a movie setting for the LFE channel. Additionally, there are global settings, such as input sensitivity and polarity for each input, low-pass filter settings, including frequency, slope and phase, with presets for other Bowers & Wilkins speakers. Lastly, there are also settings for display brightness and triggers. You can set the DB-1 to turn on manually, via trigger or signal sensing. One can also set the second trigger to select a predetermined preset. For example, when you turn on your surround processor, the trigger can select your movie preset. That's pretty slick.
The speakers in my main listening room now consist of Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds for the mains, 805 Series Diamonds in the rear and the HTM-2 Series Diamond in center.
After Marc performed the initial setup, I let the subwoofer break in for a while as recommended. I was excited to compare listening with and without the DB-1 in the system, as the 800 Diamonds were no slouches in the bass department when working on their own. As the DB-1 did not have a high-pass crossover, the 800 Diamonds were always running full-range in my stereo setup. While these speakers never had a problem handling low-frequency signals at higher volumes, this could be a problem with smaller speakers. I have had some smaller speakers that simply rolled off the low end, which they could not handle with grace, and others that nastily bottomed out.
Read more about the performance of the DB-1 on Page 2.