Sunfire XTEQ12 Subwoofer Reviewed

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Sunfire XTEQ12 Subwoofer Reviewed

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The Downside
The downside of the XTEQ12 is literally the downside: the bass region below 40 Hz. While I got good output in all the punches, kicks, and explosions in movie soundtracks, I didn't get much of that powerful, room-pressurizing low-frequency energy that the biggest and best subwoofers deliver.

For example, in the scene in U-571 where the titular submarine dives under a destroyer and you hear the engine noises of the sub and the ship, I didn't experience the intense, floor-shaking deep bass that the best subwoofers can reproduce. The deck cannon shot and resulting explosion in the scene had reasonable punch and impact, as did the depth charges that follow, but the "thrill ride" part of the experience was mostly missing. ("Good!" I can almost hear some audiophiles shouting.)

I felt the same way during the Attack of the Clones clip. The XTEQ12 was able to entertain me, but not to scare me; it didn't have enough deep-bass power to really suck me into the action. I'm being picky here, but most of the $1,000-and-over subwoofers I test do have this capability. If you play movie soundtracks at quieter levels, you might never notice this...but then you probably don't need a $2,000 subwoofer, either.

As I always do during subwoofer tests, I played the recording of the Saint-Säens Organ Symphony from the Boston Audio Society Test CD-1. This recording features pipe organ notes going down to 16 Hz. With a top-notch subwoofer, this track will scare you because you feel your entire house vibrating and probably hear things in adjacent rooms rattling, much as you do in a mild earthquake. With the XTEQ12, not only did I not get this effect, but when I cranked it up, the sub actually produced a couple of false tones that obscured the original notes--the result of harmonic distortion, which creates false tones that aren't in the source recording. Later measurements confirmed a false third harmonic at high levels with the deepest bass tones, essentially adding a tone an octave and a fifth higher. Of course, very little music and movies has much content at such deep frequencies, but enthusiasts rightly expect that a top-of-the-line, expensive subwoofer will play practically any material at high levels without gross distortion. In fact, SVS's PB-1000--a larger but, at $499, much less expensive ported model with a 10-inch driver--handled the deep tones in the "Organ Symphony" with more authority and lower distortion.

Measurements

Sunfire-XTEQ-FR.jpgSunfire-XTEQ12-EQ.jpg

Frequency response
±3.0 dB from 43 to 91 Hz
±5.0 dB from 24 to 110 Hz

Crossover low-pass roll-off
-36 dB/octave

Maximum output
                                                               CEA-2010A         Traditional
                                                               (1M peak)            (2M RMS)
40-63 Hz avg                                          116.2 dB             107.2 dB 
63 Hz                                                      118.4 dB L          109.4 dB L
50 Hz                                                      117.0 dB L          108.0 dB L
40 Hz                                                      112.1 dB L          103.1 dB L
20-31.5 Hz avg                                       105.4 dB             96.4 dB
31.5 Hz                                                   109.2 dB             100.2 dB
25 Hz                                                      105.5 dB             96.5 dB
20 Hz                                                       98.4 dB              89.4 dB

The top chart shows the frequency response of the XTEQ12 with the crossover set to the maximum frequency, or bypass mode (blue trace), and to the 12:00 position, or roughly 80 Hz (green trace).

I had to open up the measurement spec on the XTEQ12 to ±5 dB. You can see that it clearly has ample response down into the 25-Hz region, but a peak at 70 Hz throws off the ±3dB spec. Yes, the auto EQ could help fix this, but I think it would be a better strategy to get the sub's response flat before EQ; if your room has a resonance at 70 Hz, the auto EQ might not have enough range to tame it because of the sub's 70-Hz response peak. The 24-Hz deep bass extension figure in my results represents a good estimation of what you'll get in a normal room, especially if you're using a receiver and you engage the receiver's auto EQ function.

The bottom chart shows the XTEQ12's response measured at my seating position before (green trace) and after (orange trace) auto EQ. As you can see, the effects of the auto EQ were limited but still significant. In my listening position (and throughout much of the room), my room has a broad peak at about 40 Hz, which the EQ flattened out nicely. It also slightly reduced a mild peak at 84 Hz, but it didn't do anything to flatten the peak at 63 Hz. I'd say this performance is actually above-average for a relatively simple subwoofer auto EQ system, although I've had better results with systems such as Velodyne's Digital Drive and Paradigm's PBK.

The CEA-2010A results shown here are for a second test sample that Sunfire supplied after seeing my results with the first sample. It measures better than the original sample: The original averaged 115.0/101.0 dB, the second sample averaged 116.2/105.4 dB (these averages are for 40-63 Hz and 20-31.5 Hz, respectively). However, neither set of numbers is impressive for a $2,000 subwoofer, even one this small. For example, the SVS SB-2000, a $699 sealed-box subwoofer that's almost exactly the same size as the XTEQ12, averages 117.8/107.4 dB. The SVS PB-1000, a $499 ported sub with a 10-inch driver and 300-watt amp, averages 118.2/111.6 dB. Velodyne's $899 Wi-Q12, a 12-inch, 225-watt ported sub that has an auto EQ function similar to the XTEQ12's but also adds wireless capability and remote control, averages 116.5/103.1 dB.

It's worth noting that, at 63 and 50 Hz, the subwoofer's distortion was relatively low; total harmonic distortion (THD, including in this case the second through fifth distortion harmonics) was 9.6 and 5.5 percent, respectively, with the second sample. Typically, I might see numbers more like 15 to 25 percent THD here. That probably sounds like a lot because we're all used to seeing THD quoted for amplifiers, but for a sub even 10 percent THD is usually just barely audible. So the limiter keeps the XTEQ12's distortion low and probably prolongs the life of the driver and passive radiator, but it may be preventing the sub from delivering the dynamic peaks that a less conservatively designed product can achieve.

Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency response using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone, with the sub's auto EQ turned off. I did a close-miked measurement with the microphone placed about a quarter inch from the woofer and the passive radiator, then summed the responses. (I often don't close-mike subs, but in this case I did because both radiating surfaces are the same size and thus require no scaling of the curves before summing.) Given the somewhat unusual frequency response result, I checked the measurement by doing another measurement in a ground-plane environment, outdoors at one meter with an Earthworks M30 measurement microphone, smoothed to 1/6th octave, and got almost identical results.

I did CEA-2010A measurements using the Earthworks M30 mic, an M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface, and the CEA-2010 measurement software running on the Wavemetric Igor Pro scientific software package. I took these measurements at two meters peak output, then scaled them up to one-meter equivalent per CEA-2010A reporting requirements. The two sets of measurements I have presented here--CEA-2010A and traditional method--are functionally identical, but the traditional measurement employed by most audio websites and many manufacturers reports results at two-meter RMS equivalent, which is -9dB lower than CEA-2010A. An L next to the result indicates that the output was dictated by the subwoofer's internal circuitry (i.e., limiter) and not by exceeding the CEA-2010A distortion thresholds. Averages are calculated in pascals. The sub's auto EQ was switched off.

Because of the XTEQ12's unusual performance, I performed two rounds of measurements on the original sample and a new round of CEA-2010 measurements on the second sample. I also did some more measurements, using TrueRTA software and the Earthworks mic to measure peak output during passages of U-571 and the "Organ Symphony."

Comparison and Competition
The XTEQ12, being relatively small at roughly 14 inches on each side, doesn't compete with the big monster subs from companies such as Hsu Research, PowerSound Audio, and SVS. It's best compared with smaller "lifestyle" subs, preferably ones that have some sort of auto EQ function.

For example, Paradigm's $1,100 Monitor Sub 12 has a 12-inch driver and a 900-watt amp, and it's about the same size as the XTEQ12. For $100 extra, Paradigm can supply the Perfect Bass Kit (PBK), which in my experience is a more sophisticated and effective auto EQ system than the one used in the XTEQ12. The downside of the Monitor Sub 12 is only that it's ugly; the "pretty" version, the Prestige 1000SW, costs the breathtaking sum of $2,999. Unfortunately, I don't recall having done output measurements on either one. However, I seriously doubt that any decent sub more than $500 can't match or, more likely, exceed the XTEQ12's output.

If you really want auto EQ (and aren't using a receiver with it built in), any subwoofer can be combined with an add-on auto EQ, such as the $269 DSPeaker Anti-Mode 8033Cinema. Another alternative is to buy two less-expensive subwoofers and put them in the corners of the room. Even without auto EQ, two subs will automatically smooth out some of the negative effects of room acoustics on the bass response, and you'll get the beneficial effects over a larger part of the room, so the sound is optimum not just for you, but for everyone.

Conclusion
There are things I like about the XTEQ12, including its auto EQ, its built-in high-pass filter for satellite speakers, and its small size. However, it doesn't deliver any more output than many models at much lower prices do, and subs with similar or even superior feature packages are available for much less. Yes, a Sunfire subwoofer is a classic, but one has to expect that a $2,000 subwoofer with a 12-inch driver and a 3,000-watt amp will deliver powerful deep bass. That challenge is simply missed with this product.

Additional Resources
• Check out our Subwoofers category page to read similar reviews.
Sunfire's New XTEQ Subwoofer Series Is Now Available at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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HTR Product Rating for Sunfire XTEQ12 Subwoofer

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

2

Overall

2.5

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