STF-1 Setup & Listening Tests
I listened in both the context of a home theater application and in a stereo application.
For audio/video listening, the sub was located were I normally place my own sub, the front right corner of room. Dr. Hsu made some recommendations for possible listening positions that also included along side the couch, near the center of the room. I tried this location but found it unsuitable; the couch muffed the sub, distorting the sound at the listening position. Connection to the STF-1 was made using a dedicated Sub-out channel. After connecting, I listened to the phase response and found the 0 deg setting to be appropriate. The crossover was set to 80 Hz at the receiver.
During stereo listening, the sub was connected to a second preamplifier output channel and mated with monitor speakers I usually have in my home theater system. The unit was placed in the left front corner, to the side of the left speaker. I again found that 0 deg phase was reinforcing and after some listening around the specified roll off point for the main speakers, I went with a subwoofer cross over frequency of 60 Hz. I heard excessive audible overlap with the crossover set at 65 Hz or higher.
I listened with the intent to consider what Dr. Hsu has said are aims in his design of the STF-1. While considering the cost of the unit, I listened for the obvious, such as extension and output, but more importantly, I listened for how musical the sub sounded and how well it blended in with the rest of the system. I personally do not believe in the concept of speaker designs for movies versus music; I find it tends to be used as an excuse applied to equipment that does not sound very good, but has flaws that pander to the sensationalized presentation inherent in movie sound effects. Well designed equipment should not sacrifice sonic accuracy to make explosions seem louder than the equipment has ability to play.
Ported designs are more efficient, making the most out of what amplified power is available, but they are more difficult to tune. Using a port makes the sub more sensitive to resonant frequencies that, if not properly executed, can ruin reproduction quality. Too many manufacturers of mediocre products aim for the obvious, and loud is obvious. When an inexpensive sub is combined with loud as a primary goal, loud is all there is, and the method by which loud is achieved in budget usually requires the shortcomings that cause a sub to be "boomy" with one note tuning sound characteristics. It is my opinion that if a sub sticks out and cannot act as an extension of the system of which it is part, then it is a poor design.
To this end, listening selections were geared to revealing the musicality of this subwoofer system, as well as verifying that it was capable in the more obvious expected areas. Can the sub retain musical timbre while kicking out explosions; can it keep up with a moving bass line without tripping over itself, can it capture dynamics while maintaining composure?
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
This selection was made for a number of reasons. The well-written score makes use of the LFE channel for music and a good sub will add to the depth of the brass, strings, and percussion, framing out the sound without being otherwise obtrusive. Of the three movies, I personally find the fidelity of the first movie superior; the sound is fuller with greater clarity and openness. That the sound effects are also spectacular is obvious, but I will mention it for completeness' sake.
The STF-1 blended in musically, adding depth to the score within the limits of its extension. There are subs that can do more, but there is cost associated to buy that additional frequency response and output. Within the STF-1's frequency capabilities, the instruments were rich and retained their timbre. Standout scenes for display of the subs musicality in presenting low strings, brass, and percussion included "Buckle-berry Ferry", "Weathertop", "Flight to the Ford", "Lurker in the Waters", "Drums in the Deep", and "The Bridge of Khazad-dum". The STF-1 did its job, reinforcing the score without drawing due attention to itself until called for by the sound effects.
And, when called for, the sub would speak up and make its presence known. Even with a stated lower frequency response of 30 Hz, the STF-1 could convincingly rumble the room. I did not find the STF-1 as tight as I am used to, but the STF-1 did well to minimize shortcomings associated with some inexpensive ported designs. Dynamics were good, but under some of the most demanding sound effects, I did hear what sounded like possible port noise. I will state that I did not observe this for any other source material or listening conditions.
I also did notice some tendency towards resonant excitation, but again, only with this soundtrack. Movie soundtracks are aimed towards the sensational, not necessarily the realistic. Movie sound effects are described at www.Filmsound.org as hyper-real, meaning that they are deliberately exaggerated, and many effects are cobbled together from various unrelated sounds that can be modified to give a particular illusion. Subwoofers, in particular, are often challenged to recreate these exaggerated sounds, leaving only the finest able to overcome what these demanding sounds require without exposing their design shortcomings.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
This is the kind of movie to keep any sub busy. With all of the airplanes, gunfire, explosions, and earthshaking giant robots, the STF-1 maintained composure and delivered rumble without sacrificing the score. At realistic listening levels, the sub delivered while appearing to not strain its headroom limits.
Plane engines had realistic depth, explosions were dynamic, and I could actually hear the inner harmonics present in the approaching footsteps of the giant robots that invade Manhattan. The scene at the end where Sir Laurence Olivier gives a speech, as Dr. Totenkopf, through an electrical discharge display, resonated satisfyingly as the image repeatedly broke up and reformed.
I did catch the sub making a popping noise, once, during the final scene on the rocket when the emergency release was activated and the final cargo sections were dropping from the hull. To put this in context, I did not notice it the first time I watched this movie with the goal of seeing how well the sub blended into my system, but on a subsequent viewing with the sub turned up, a little disproportionately, while trying to hear what exactly the sub was contributing.
I was glad to see this album receive a favorable review on this site recently. I personally like this band, and I am pleased to see these musicians get a little recognition. It is also a good test for subwoofers as advertised. There is a lot going on at the low end and it all moves along quickly. A sloppy sub with poor transient response will be left behind.
There are elaborate drum parts, and exposed bass lines abound. The STF-1 performed what was asked of it. It kept up with double bass drum parts while blending into the system. The bass was solid but was not "boomy". "Halo" is a prime example, the exposed bass part was full, and staccato bursts of bass drum did not cause any loss of control.
The sub handled dynamic changes well. During "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here", when the last verse instantly starts up, the sub sounded as if it had been playing along the whole time. Less physically demanding, but subtler musical sections were handled well also. The inner detail of the articulate bass line in "Glass Arm Shattering" came through well.
At times, the STF-1 was able to convince me that the extension was deeper than I expected, and at other times, I could hear something missing. The bass drum part in "Mellotron Scratch" was unusually deep, and about sixteen measures into "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here", the bass came in, and held for a number of measures, and the STF-1 allowed the note to rumble away. But during the opening of "The Start of Something Beautiful", the depth of the synthesizer part was a little lighter than it should have been. On the other hand, the sub was able to sonically separate the intertwined bass guitar and low synthesizer parts from each other and resolve inner detail in those parts.