I began my evaluation of the SX-1212P/R with Dave Matthews Band's album Under the Table and Dreaming (RCA) and the track "Dancing Nancies."
I use "Dancing Nancies" a lot as a bass demo, due in part to the impact of the opening kick drum. Through the SX-1212P/R, the kick drum had not only a visceral presence but also a nuanced one. It's not that the recorded drum is altogether deep, as in plunging to even 20 Hz; it's that, along with the sudden impact, a good sub should also capture the incoming strike and resulting recoil of both the mallet and the skins, which the SX-1212P/R did brilliantly. It even managed to resonate, in a good way, higher up the frequency range than others before it, creating for a more seamless blend between loudspeaker and subwoofer. But above all, with this demo, the drum sounded real, which is to say that it was the appropriate size and possessed true organic weight and thus interacted with the room accordingly. More impressive still was that all the bass came from the back center of the soundstage rather than along my left side wall where the SX-1212P/R itself was located. While bass is omni-directional, that doesn't always mean a sub's location is hidden from view. With the SX-1212P/R, it was, which was quite a feat, given its sheer size.
Next I cued up "The Best of What's Around" off the same album, only this time I focused on the bass guitar. Through lesser subs, this can sometimes turn into a monkey's breakfast. Again, not so with the SX-1212P/R. The bass guitar was not only speedy (okay, plucky even), it possessed real audible depth and weight. Moreover, while electric, there was a sense of resonance and vibration present in the strings of the bass guitar that were then amplified by, well, the amplifiers used in the mix. This level of inner detail, while perhaps present at some level through my other subs, was presented with greater clarity, focus and detail via the SX-1212P/R. While all this was going on, the track's drum kit and low-frequency elements were rendered with the same attention to detail and fervor, thus giving the whole track several new layers of dimension. Impressive, considering this album has been with me for nearly 20 years and I heard things I never knew were present until the SX-1212P/R's arrival on the scene.
Satisfied with the SX-1212P/R's two-channel performance, or "musicality," I dove right into movies, beginning with Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray (Paramount). I went ahead and skipped to the climactic battle sequence where Iron Man and War Machine square off against a literal army of mechanical drones. Via subwoofers that can plunge low but with little finesse, this sequence can quickly become overpowering and plodding. Via the SX-1212P/R, it was as dynamic and dimensional as the visuals unfolding on the screen. Bass was not a one-note affair, but rather as complex as the rest of the frequency range. Each machine's unique low-frequency signature was captured, presented faithfully and with zero editorializing and/or bleed-over from the other low-frequency elements. Just because something has mass and strikes another object with force doesn't mean the resulting sound should simply be that of a boom; everything resonates differently, and the SX-1212P/R captured and thus reproduced each brilliantly. Even more exciting was the SX-1212P/R's movement of air, which may seem like a silly thing to note, except that when a shockwave on screen is actually accompanied by a small, literal shockwave in one's room, it's very exciting. It elevates one's viewing experience from mere engagement to visceral real quick. That really is the best way to sum up the SX-1212P/R's performance on Iron Man 2 - visceral.
I ended my evaluation of the SX-1212P/R with another fine Blu-ray disc, James Cameron's Titanic (20th Century Fox). I skipped ahead to the film's many boiler-room scenes and set my system's volume to reference. Under these conditions, every subwoofer, regardless of price, that I've reviewed since Titanic's release on Blu-ray has bottomed out and cried uncle. Every single one except the SX-1212P/R. Not only did the SX-1212P/R not tap out, it plunged lower and struck harder than I think I've heard anything do to date. Additionally, the resulting pressure generated inside my room by the SX-1212P/R's sheer movement of air again added that extra layer of dimension and presence to the entire performance. When Cameron cuts to the ship's mighty props, it was that same movement of physical air that gave the visuals a sense of liquid weight and aural dimension. The image simply ceased to be a mere projection on a screen, becoming rather a contained facsimile of what it must actually look, sound and feel like a few meters from a ship's prop. It was incredible. Even my wife commented that the whole presentation felt more alive than when we had watched the film previously. It wasn't as if the SX-1212P/R was straight blunt force trauma; it too possessed a delicacy that no sub before it has been able to match. It was simply sublime.
The biggest drawback to the SX-1212P/R has to be its size; it's simply huge. That being said, as big as it is, I'm not certain I've heard a more nimble and articulate subwoofer. So while its physical presence may dominate the visual space, depending on where you've placed it, the sonic presence, when necessary, is miniscule. Of course it can shake your house off its very foundation, but it's still shocking to me that something as large as the SX-1212P/R can sound so effortless and small at the same time.
As great a value as I believe the SX-1212P/R to be, even at $5,300 as reviewed, I feel the unpowered version is even more so. Not only is it more affordable at a little over $2,000, an appropriate amplifier wouldn't even put your over the $3,000 mark while potentially also affording you even greater control. For example, a SX-1212 in its non-powered configuration mated with, say, a Crown XLS 2000 or 2500 amplifier would set you back less than $3,000, while giving you (roughly) the same power output and also giving you control for DSP, crossover, etc., inside the amplifier itself.
I don't like that the SX-1212P/R is always on, meaning it doesn't have a standby mode or a signal-sensing switch. This, in my opinion, is a gross oversight.
Lastly, the fact that the SX-1212P/R features only XLR-style inputs may limit its ability to be integrated into a wider variety of systems, although adapters can be purchased to combat this issue at minimal additional cost.
Competition and Comparison
Prior to the SX-1212P/R's arrival, my subwoofer of choice was the SVS SB13-Ultra at $1,599. For just under $1,600, the SB13-Ultra is silly good and arguably all the sub anyone truly needs. It can play to 20 Hz with authority and possesses the requisite speed and accuracy up top to make it musical, too. That being said, at a little over three times the price as configured, the SX-1212P/R is just that much better and more sublime in its sound.
The SX-1212P/R is aimed more at subwoofers like JL Audio's Fathom f212 or even Gotham subwoofer. Both JL offerings cost far more than the RBH, yet both boast similar driver complements and power. Neither can hit the reported frequency response of the SX-1212P/R. With regards to these two JL subwoofers, the SX-1212P/R represents the better value, if not the better performance overall.
Other notable competitors would be Bowers & Wilkins' DB1 subwoofer ($4,500) and Paradigm's SUB1 or SUB2 ($4,499 and $8,999, respectively). While the DB1 is less expensive than the SX-1212P/R, it's easy to spend more, as is the case with Paradigm's SUB 2, which really does put the RBH somewhere in the middle of what is "reasonable," but still a far cry from insane. For more on these subwoofers, as well as others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Subwoofer page.
At $5,300 retail, the RBH SX-1212P/R isn't cheap, but it's far from the most expensive subwoofer you can buy, even within its own class. No, what the SX-1212P/R is, for me, is a last stop. Expensive enough that I couldn't just pop off and buy one on a whim, but not so expensive as to relegate it to being a thing of pure fantasy - you know, like unicorns. The SX-1212P/R is, for lack of a better descriptor, all the subwoofer anyone (including me) would ever truly need, thus making it potentially the last subwoofer a potential customer would ever own.
In terms of performance, this subwoofer is hard to fault. While the SX-1212P/R may be large and may lack a few modern amenities, for those like me who like their components to be somewhat specialized, it's near perfect. In truth, the only knock I have against it is that I feel its unpowered sibling, the SX-1212N/R, may be the greater value and even more flexible in terms of integration. Still, regardless of which SX-1212 subwoofer you choose, you're arguably getting one of the very best subwoofers available today. Say hello to my new reference.