SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Reviewed

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SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Reviewed

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Performance (Continued)
But the depth charges sounded amazing, too, with a low-frequency component to the explosions I hadn't noticed before. With almost all other subs, you get the punch of the explosion, but with the SB16-Ultra, you also hear the rumble beneath the punch.

The first minute of the Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle Edge of Tomorrow has become a favorite test of the under-20-Hz muscle of super-subwoofers because it contains loud infrasonic tones that go down to 16 Hz. The SB16-Ultra reproduced even the deepest tones with authority. Of all the movie clips and music recordings I played through the SB16-Ultra, this is the only one with which I managed to get it to distort audibly. So, unless you play the intro of this movie all the time (or the couple of other pieces of content out there with true under-20 Hz tones), you can be confident that you will not hear distortion with this sub.

Bottom line: If you like your bass tight, punchy, and powerful, this sub does it better than anything else I've heard.

Measurements
Here are the measurements for the SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofer. (Click on the chart to view it in a larger window.)

SVS-Ultra-FR.jpgFrequency response
±3.0 dB from 25 to 192 Hz (Movie mode)

Maximum output
                                    CEA-2010          Traditional
                                    (1M peak)           (2M RMS)

80 Hz                           124.6 dB L         115.6 dB L
40-63 Hz avg               122.4 dB            113.4 dB 
63 Hz                           123.4 dB L         114.4 dB L
50 Hz                           123.0 dB L         114.0 dB L
40 Hz                           120.5 dB L         114.5 dB L
20-31.5 Hz avg            114.1 dB            105.1 dB
31.5 Hz                        118.3 dB L         109.3 dB L
25 Hz                           113.0 dB            104.0 dB
20 Hz                           108.1 dB             99.1 dB
16 Hz                           103.5 dB             94.5 dB

The chart above shows the frequency response of the SB16-Ultra in Movie mode (blue trace) and Music mode (red trace). This is a fairly typical response curve for a sealed-box subwoofer, with a gentle (roughly -12dB) rolloff as the frequency drops below the box/driver resonance. The Music mode's effect is subtle, just a max +3dB boost centered at about 65 Hz.

The CEA-2010 output numbers are impressive. Basically, the SB16-Ultra is a sealed sub with output comparable to that of many large, powerful ported subs. Unfortunately, I don't have measurements of the SB13-Ultra to which I can compare the SB16-Ultra's results, but I do have numbers for the older SB13-Plus, which in my tests delivered an average of 114.1 dB between 40 and 63 Hz, and 103.2 dB between 20 and 31.5 Hz. For the SB16-Ultra, the numbers are 122.4/114.1 dB, respectively. I got basically the same output from Paradigm's 15-inch 2000SW sealed sub, which averaged 122.5/114.4 dB. A top-notch ported sub can surpass both even with a smaller driver: the SVS 13-inch PC13-Ultra averaged 125.8/116.9.

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. I close-miked the woofer and smoothed the curve to 1/12th octave. I did CEA-2010A measurements using an Earthworks M30 microphone and M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface with the CEA-2010 measurement software running on the Wavemetric Igor Pro scientific software package. I took these measurements at two meters peak output. 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 -9 dB 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. (See this article for more information about CEA-2010.)

The Downside
I stated before that the SB16-Ultra sounds like no other subwoofer, but that doesn't necessarily mean its sound will suit your tastes. Steely Dan's "Aja," which I've heard through innumerable subwoofers, features an almost perfectly played and dynamically even melodic bass line. With the SB16-Ultra (and the parametric EQ engaged), this line sounds exceptionally even. Every note punches out cleanly at you, and there seems to be no overhang or ringing at all--i.e., when the bass note stops, the driver stops. Technically, it's impressive, but it calls more attention to the bass line and changes the feel of the groove a bit. It's hard to say if this is "right" because this isn't what Steely Dan heard in the studio. An electric bass played through an amp doesn't sound like this; no bass amp I've seen has the output or sophistication of the SB16-Ultra. I would guess that the bass was recorded direct, without an amp, but the bass player and the band members would have heard it through 1970s-era headphones and/or studio monitors that couldn't even approach the SB16-Ultra's muscle.

So it's a different sound, and it's up to you whether or not you like that sound. I know a lot of enthusiasts love that super-punchy, tight bass sound, but I've come to prefer the less-intense experience of a typical ported sub.

As I stated in the measurements, the SB16-Ultra has impressive (probably unprecedented) deep bass performance for a sealed sub, but it still can't deliver that frightening, ultra-low-frequency floor shake that the very best ported subs deliver. When I watched the scene from San Andreas where the Hoover Dam collapses, the SB16-Ultra pounded my chest with notes in the 40-Hz range and was able to reproduce the really deep notes, but it couldn't scare me with subsonic shake the way the SVS PC13-Ultra or Hsu's VTF-15H Mk2 can when used in ported mode.

Comparison and Competition
Most high-end muscle subs are ported. I'm not going to compare them to the SB16-Ultra because, if you're considering a ported sub, you'll almost certainly go for the PB16-Ultra instead--which is much larger and $500 more expensive but will certainly have at least a few dB more output at all frequencies than the SB16-Ultra.

The SB16-Ultra could be compared with the $4,999 Thiel SmartSub 1.12 and the $3,999 Paradigm 2000SW, both sealed designs. The Thiel and Paradigm models are both much more expensive and offer automatic EQ; the Thiel model is also much more beautifully designed and finished. While the Paradigm's output measured about the same as the SB16-Ultra, the Thiel's 12-inch driver can't keep up with either of the larger subs.

Power Sound Audio's $899 15S has a 15-inch driver and, according to Power Sound's published specs, has output comparable to that of the SB16-Ultra, but it has a utilitarian black crinkle finish and a Spartan feature package with no internal EQ.

Probably everyone considering the SB16-Ultra would also consider the $1,599 SB13-Ultra, but the SB16-Ultra looks like the better buy. The SB16-Ultra is a little larger and $400 more, but surely has substantially higher output. The SB13-Ultra does offer parametric EQ, but it has two bands compared to three in the SB16-Ultra, and the center frequencies are fixed in 1/6th-octave steps rather than the 1-Hz steps of the SB16-Ultra. The SB16-Ultra's EQ offers narrower Q settings, which would make it easier to "notch out" narrow peaks. However, the SB13-Ultra has an integral high-pass filter that can filter the bass out of your main speakers, which will come in handy in stereo systems using a preamp with no subwoofer crossover.

SVS-sb16-grille.jpgConclusion
The SB16-Ultra is a truly impressive creation that delivers bass reproduction unlike anything else out there. There are many enthusiasts of sealed-box subs (SVS lists the SB13-Ultra as "the most reviewed and top-rated subwoofer in SVS history"), and for them the SB16-Ultra may well be the greatest subwoofer ever made. I expect it will find a following with high-end audio enthusiasts, too, because perhaps more than any other sub I've tested, it is utterly free of the boominess, sloppiness, and distortion that cause many audiophiles to shy away from subs.

Additional Resources
• Check out our Subwoofer category page to read similar reviews.
SVS Announces New 16-Ultra Series Subwoofers at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the SVS website for more product information.
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HTR Product Rating for SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer

Criteria Rating

Performance

5

Value

4.5

Overall

5

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Available at Amazon

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