SVS is an Ohio-based manufacturer of subwoofers, speakers and other assorted audio gear. Though the company's focus is on affordable, high-performance subwoofers that are sold directly to consumers, its product line is of the something for everyone variety in terms of design and budget, featuring cylindrical enclosures that save space, as well as ported and sealed enclosures. The focus of this review is the flagship of SVS's "compact" sealed cabinet line, the SB13-Ultra ($1,599). I put compact in quotes, as there's some irony in associating that term with a sub that weighs 92 pounds, measures just over 17 inches on each side and just over 20 inches when you add the grille. Speaking of the grille, I must comment on the design, as it's edgy and aesthetically pleasing, with a metal finish and aggressive lines. It's a curved design, which is exaggerated as you pinch it to fit the holes on the cabinet, making it sit out a few inches from the driver. With so many sub manufacturers sleeping through their grille design, it's nice to see SVS go the extra mile here.
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In terms of the size of the sub, we audiophiles care a hell of a lot more about performance than we do compactness - if it sounds good, we'll make room for it. That said, there are those incredibly annoying matters, such as room size limitations and spousal approval, which must be considered. Being a direct to consumer business, SVS does offer a generous 45-day in-home trial (most manufacturers offer 30), so you can test the waters in terms of size, performance, etc. The last point I'll make related to the design is that the real wood veneer (black oak in the case of my review sample) is well-crafted and commensurate with the $1,599 price point. SVS also offers a piano black gloss finish. In terms of power, amplification comes courtesy of a 1,000-watt Sledge STA-1000D amplifier, which powers a 13.5-inch high-performance Ultra driver. As you'll see later in the review, this is a match made in heaven. While the technical specifics are too plentiful to list here, a quick trip to that section of the SVS website reveals that equal attention is paid to every aspect of the subwoofer design, from the cabinet to the amplification to the driver. I will tell you that, while frequency response is listed at 20-460Hz ± 3dB, with proper room gain, the SB13 can plumb the depths below 15Hz. While you won't hear it at that level, you'll sure as hell feel it.
The packaging of the SB13 was more than adequate and secure, with everything intuitively packed in a manner that one would expect at this price point. I connected the SB13 to my reference system, which consists of the Cary Cinema 12 processor, an Integra DTA-70.1 multi-channel amp, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a MacBook Pro and a Music Fidelity V-Link USB to S/PDIF converter. My front left/right speakers are Focal 836Ws and the rest of my 7.1 system consists of Episode 700 series in-walls. All of the cabling came courtesy of WireWorld. While I used an RCA cable from my processor to one of the line-level inputs on the sub, it's worth noting that the SB13 also offers XLR, or balanced, inputs as well. SVS subs actually offer a host of connection options to cover just about any type of system. This extends to the feature set as well, which includes both high- and low-pass filters, a high-pass delay, and room compensation for those without bass management built into their systems. I started out by placing the sub in the corner of my listening room, but ended up going with my tried and true sweet spot, which is just to the left of my front right speaker and spaced about five inches from the wall. While the SB13 does offer a parametric EQ, in my experience, you're better off trying to get the placement right with a subwoofer before moving to digital solutions. It's worth noting though that I've spent quite a bit of time finding the right spot for a subwoofer in my listening room. I've gone so far as to place a sub directly behind my home theater chairs (miserable failure). That said, it's nice that SVS offers not one but two EQs on the SB13, as all rooms are created differently and sometimes an EQ can be a major ally when you're trying to tame boomy bass. Once connected and set up using the only Radio Shack product I own (a sound level meter), and disabling all room correction/EQ functionality, I let the sub break in for a good 24 hours. Then the fun began.
Typically, I'll start a subwoofer review with music, but I didn't have the patience and dove straight into the 3D Blu-ray of Titanic (Paramount). The best way to convey how visceral and game-changing this experience was would be to invite each of you readers over to my place for a demo. Since that would equal divorce and a loss of sanity, I'll simply say that I'll never go back to a lesser sub. The SB13 provided powerful, textured, fast and I'll go so far as to say refined bass. In five minutes of listening, I knew that serious attention had been paid to this sub in terms of research and development. I also knew that I had been cheating myself in this department for years. While I had heard amazing subwoofer demos at shows and in the home theaters of friends, I'd never had something of this caliber in my system. Live and learn, I guess.
Read more about the performance of the SVS SB-13 Ultra on Page 2.