Bowers & Wilkins DB-1 Subwoofer Reviewed

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Bowers & Wilkins DB-1 Subwoofer Reviewed


BW-DB-1-subwoofer-review-close-up-small.jpgThe 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.

Additional Resources
• Read more subwoofer reviews written by Home Theater Review's writers.
• Explore pairing options in our Bookshelf Speaker and Floorstanding Speaker sections.
• See more reviews in our AV Receiver Review section.

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.

BW-DB-1-subwoofer-review-cherry.jpgThe Hookup
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 d�cor.

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.

Performance
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.

HTR Product Rating for Bowers & Wilkins DB-1 Subwoofer

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

3.5

Overall

4

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Listening to "Le temps pass e" from Michel Jonasz's album La fabuleuse histoire de Mister Swing (CD, EMI), I immediately noted how well the drums locked into and pressurized the room. The notes were solid and locked in, with a dimensional presence and depth that were missing before I switched the subwoofer into the system.

Moving to a more familiar piece with dynamic bass, I listened to Paula Cole's "Tiger" off her album This Fire (CD, Warner Brothers). Those of you familiar with the piece know the dynamic drums and deep bass lines that can test a system's low-end response and detail. The impact of the initial drums was dynamic and visceral, with no compression even at high volumes. In addition to hitting hard, the DB-1 reproduced the detail in the bass lines as well as any other subwoofer I have had in my system. This impression remained consistent with the detailed bass lines in Holly Cole's "Train Song" off of It Happened One Night (CD, Blue Note Records). Whether the volume was low or on the higher end, the DB-1 added depth and impact to the system. While I expected this at the higher volumes, I was pleasantly surprised by the resolution and detail the subwoofer added, even at lower volumes.

The DB-1 also performed well with modern bass-heavy tracks, such as "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj of off her album Pink Friday (CD, Cash Money Records) and the Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Be" from The E.N.D. (CD, Interscope). This disillusioned me of the DB-1 being overly polite; it hit as hard and tight as any other single subwoofer I have had in my system. The quick bass of the synthesizers used on these albums may not be natural, but it can be good for checking out the speed at which a subwoofer can respond to the signal. The DB-1 did not have problem with either the leading edges of the quick notes of the synthesizer, or playing the low-driving bass beats with conviction.

As the DB-1 had no problems with any of the two-channel music I threw its way, I switched over to multi-channel music using the second preset on the subwoofer. I began with High Altitude Drums SACD from Ray Kimber's IsoMike label. This album features two different bands with, no surprise, lots of drums. Bowers & Wilkins' 800Ds were utilized in mastering this album. The track "Square Push" has very dynamic drums with good pitch, definition and space. The spacing and notes of the different drums were readily discernible and well-balanced. The bass remained well-balanced, despite the changes in notes or locations of the drums. The "Amazing Grace" from this disc was drum-filled and dynamic. Despite the multitude of drums, the DB-1 remained detailed and musical.

Moving to more mainstream and more aggressive rock music, the DB-1 remained potent and composed with Godsmack's "Batalla de los Tambores" from the Changes DVD (Zoe Records, DTS 5.1 track). This track features a lengthy duel between two drummers and is best enjoyed at high volumes. Many a lesser sub has let the drums dissolve into a muddy mess. Not the DB-1; the individual drum strikes remained clear and distinct. The DB-1 had no problems controlling the drivers in between a flurry of heavy bass notes. Nor did the amount, either in number or volume, of the bass notes dissolve the reproduction into one-note bass or noticeable compression at loud but (maybe) sane listening volumes.

Lastly, I used the DB-1 with some movies, with the third "Movie" preset engaged. This preset was similar to the second "Music" preset, but with the impact rather than flat curve, as well as a slight bump using the four-band equalizer.

The Dolby True-HD soundtrack on Super 8 (Blu-ray Paramount) is an exhilarating ride. The train crash scene was appropriately bombastic and visceral and ends with chest-pounding thumps from the boxcars after they come to a stop. These last notes were truly impressive, with great depth and authority.

Cloverfield (Blu-ray, Paramount) is another movie with similar themes and some system-testing bass notes - deep, room-shaking bass notes that commence with the first attack scene and continue throughout the movie. The DB-1 reproduced this pounding without any sign of strain.

BW-DB-1-subwoofer-review-piano-black.jpgThe Downside
The DB-1's performance is hard to fault. There were a few times early in my listening sessions when I though the DB-1 was a bit reserved or polite in comparison to my prior reference. However, I then realized that this is not a fair comparison, as my prior reference was a pair of Paradigm subwoofers, each with a 15-inch driver. I also suspect that the drivers loosened up a bit as they broke in.

While most subwoofers do not have remotes, the use of various presets would make a remote more attractive for this subwoofer. While Bowers & Wilkins did not provide one, I suspect that most end users will have this subwoofer professionally installed, and the combination of RS-232 and trigger controls will take care of most situations. One can also use a programmable IR remote.

My one criticism that impacts both setup and performance in limited situations is the lack of a high-pass crossover. In a situation where your main speakers cannot handle low bass without distortion and your system has no means of bass management, the high-pass crossover will be missed. In this type of situation, the lack of a high-pass crossover will limit the playback volume available without audible distortion.

Competition and Comparison
JL Audio and Velodyne make some very highly regarded subwoofers that I have not had an opportunity to listen to firsthand; they may offer models competitive to the DB-1. I have spent a lot of time with Paradigm's recently discontinued SUB25 and can attest that it would be a worthy competitor. That experience, coupled with brief listening sessions with Paradigm's SUB 1 and SUB 2 subwoofers, led me to believe that these models also deserve an audition by those seeking a subwoofer capable of integrating with high-performance music and theater systems. For more on these subwoofers and others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Subwoofer page.

BW-DB-1-subwoofer-review-black-background.jpgConclusion
It would be hard to imagine this subwoofer not impressing just about any listener. The combination of room equalization and number of setup options should allow the DB-1 to be to be integrated into nearly any system with ease. This, coupled with its great sound quality, should please almost every user. True, it is not cheap and there is some heady competition at this price range, but the sound quality and aesthetics are hard to dispute. The only listener who might not be impressed is one who is seeking quantity first. For that listener, there are other subwoofers on the market that can hit harder, but I doubt one could find a subwoofer that hits harder that is just as musical as the DB-1 in this price range.

The DB-1 is an exceeding clean and musical subwoofer that not only can play low with great power and precision but, just as importantly, can play cleanly into the higher frequency ranges, allowing a clean transition to smaller main speakers. One of the greatest challenges in getting a subwoofer integrated into a music system is the transition between the main speakers and the subwoofer, especially if the main speakers have limited low-end extension. The DB-1's clean reproduction capabilities, coupled with its setup options, should allow for a clean and musical transition. The only thing that would make this transition even easier would be a high-pass crossover for those main speakers that cannot handle low frequencies without distortion or clipping.

The DB-1s musicality provided a good start to its LFE duties with movies. A musical subwoofer can also reproduce the various low-frequency notes associated with blasts, crashes, etc., without them turning into a jumbled mess. Indeed, the DB-1 handled these tasks with ease. The dual 12-inch woofers and 1,000-watt amplifier also provided plenty of punch for visceral, chair-shaking bass. Despite high listening volumes, the DB-1 never lost its composure, remaining detailed and dynamic throughout my listening sessions.

To sum it up, the DB-1 is among the elite subwoofers. Its small size makes it unusual within this group and opens up more placement options than the majority of its competitors can offer.

Additional Resources
• Read more subwoofer reviews written by Home Theater Review's writers.
• Explore pairing options in our Bookshelf Speaker and Floorstanding Speaker sections.
• See more reviews in our AV Receiver Review section.


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