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SVS SB13-Ultra Sound Quality Tests

By Joshua Ricci

The SB13-Ultra was placed in the front right corner of my basement HT room facing into the wall and plugged into the system with an XLR cable. I left the gain of the SB13-Ultra at its maximum of 0dB and disabled all internal high and low pass filters and equalization. I allowed Audyssey to run its auto equalization on the system and afterward checked the balance of the SB13-Ultra against the main speakers as I often find it to be off a bit. The low pass to the SB13-ultra was set at 100Hz inside of my Onkyo processor.

Music listeningMetallica  TTN 800.jpg

The SB13-Ultra showed up at my place right about the same time that the E series JL Audio subs were heading back to the factory. Both the E series and SB13-Ultra are compact, high power, sealed designs, with similar design goals, so I took the opportunity to use much of the same material to evaluate the SB13-Ultra as I had used for the JL’s. I broke the SB13-Ultra in for a couple of days with a heavy dose of Static X, Secret Chiefs and Strapping Young Lads. This was casual while I worked on the computer or walked around doing things but it did give me a chance to see if the SB13-Ultra could kick out the jams in my theater room and it did. None of the booming bass lines or bass drops appeared to fluster the SB13-Ultra and it happily reproduced fast triggered kick drums and all manner of electronically generated bass noises over the course of a few afternoons with stoic composure. Secret Chiefs in particular is an incredibly odd group but they do have occasional tracks with epic amounts of bass, some of it below 30Hz. I didn’t realize quite how loud I was listening one afternoon until one of these tracks came on but the SB13-ultra handled the sudden surges of powerful bass down in the 25Hz range just fine. I also gave the SB13-Ultra the obligatory bass sweep from the NIN track Discipline to see if it could reproduce the bottom of the sweep with any power or clarity and it did without any issues. 

Lately I’ve been using Metallica: Through the Never as one of my go to concert discs because I’m a long time Metallica fan and because the drums on the disc have a huge live sound with tons of power. What I look for primarily with this disc is dynamic attack without bloating or distortion and the ability to project enough power into the room to provide an illusion of being at a concert. I found the SB13-Ultra did quite well here with enough oomph to keep up with the rest of the speaker system and without any loss of clarity or smearing of the kick drum. All of the bass was clear and well defined even during dense passages involving lots of quick drum work and frenetic guitar and bass rhythms. I also gave the self-titled Days of the New album a spin. I like to use recordings from this band because they are local to me and also because they typically have a good mix. What I find this music especially good for is evaluating the mix between the upper range of the subwoofer and the lower range of the main speakers. The guitar is electric acoustic on the majority of tracks that is mixed in the lead with a very full lower register and the drums and bass are somewhat sparse but also cleanly recorded. On top of that there are occasional parts where the vocals will drop to a throaty baritone. The result is a mix that can be very dense through the crossover region at times but alternatively can also be quite empty with just the bottom strings of the guitar resonating in this region. It can be very revealing of holes in the response, phase issues or issues with the subwoofer being too hot. The SB13-Ultra once dialed in, had no problems with the material and exhibited an excellent blend with the main speakers and produced the bottom end of the music without over emphasizing any notes or jumbling the fundamentals of the various instruments together.

The SB13-Ultra is my personal favorite of the SVS subs I’ve reviewed thus far.

Movie listening session

I started off the movie viewing with Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. I really enjoy the over-driven punk rock bass guitar and comic book action sequences with loads of sub bass. I turned this one up to -10 on the master volume let the SB13-Ultra do its thing. During the music sequences the SB13-ultra did a great impression of a saturated tube bass amp turned up to 11 and during the video game fight sequences it produced powerful, chunky, thumps, thuds and even a few subtle shudders through the couch that indicate high level bass below 25Hz. This is very difficult for a small sealed sub to do in a concrete floored room but the SB13-Ultra managed it.  Thor is another movie that I watched in its entirety and in which the SB13-Ultra helped to add the fun factor. Despite not having much in the way of very low bass frequencies Thor is mixed quite loudly and makes heavy use of the subwoofer connected to the LFE channel. The SB13-Ultra produced plenty of bass from the fight scenes to be convincing and entertaining as was the bass output during the battles with the destroyer and the frost giants. Whenever the rainbow bridge was utilized the SB13-Ultra would fill the room with groaning bass and rumbles. The SB13-ultra has enough guts for an engaging movie experience in a large room. 

As is usual for my victims... ahem…thor.jpgreview subjects, I subjected the SB13-Ultra to a few infamous sub busting tracks in order to see just what the subwoofer is capable of and protected from. First on the list was the plane crash scene from Flight of the Phoenix which is mixed really loud and contains a mix of frequencies culminating in a very loud 30Hz drone during the barrel roll of the plane. At a playback level of -10 from what would be reference the SB13-Ultra most likely gave everything it had during this scene and while it couldn’t knock the pictures off of the walls it didn’t self-destruct or obviously distort badly and managed to produce more bass than I would have thought. I think the JL Audio E112 may have had a tiny bit more output on this scene but the SB13-Ultra may have been a bit cleaner in its presentation. Audio memory is notoriously shabby though, so I could be completely wrong on that score. Either one is going to offer about as much headroom as can reasonably be expected from a box that size.

Next up was The Hurt Locker where the 50-caliber is being fired in the desert. With this scene the subwoofer is asked to produce huge amounts of bass under 20Hz accompanied by a reduced but still significant level of upper harmonics. Very few bass systems reproduce this content fully. The SB13-ultra being a sealed design does extend rather deep in room and did reproduce the majority of the signal but it did not have the full dynamic range and heft that can be present on this track when played back on a system with nearly unlimited dynamic reserves in the bottom octaves. It was still an impressive effort for the SB13-Ultra. It just lacks the headroom in the deep bass to reproduce the full dynamics of the bass signals in this scene all by itself in my room. Again…Very few systems really do this ridiculous scene justice. Most subs do not even attempt to play the bottom of this signal but the SB13-Ultra did. It just needs 2 or 3 of its brothers to provide the extra headroom.  

Demo scene number 3 was the rail-gun test scene from Batman: The Dark Knight. This one isn’t particularly deep or taxing on most subwoofers but it has very loud and abrupt bursts of bass good for judging how dynamic the bass system is in the middle and top of its bandwidth. The SB13-Ultra was quite impressive on this scene and really blasted out the bass accompanying each shot from the gun with room filling authority and without any hint of strain.

As a final torture test I usually use the server room scene from the horror movie Pulse. This particular scene is one of the more demanding that has been released with loud, sustained, warbling bass centered at about 17Hz. To top it off there really isn’t a lot of accompanying noise in the soundtrack either. This scene makes a lot of ported subs, even good ones, audibly wheeze, some subs skip this sub 20Hz content almost completely and don’t even try to reproduce it. A lot of other subs cut out and go into protect or get driven into distress very easily with this content. The SB13-Ultra did what it could with this track and did not shutdown or get driven into severe distress. Much like the JL Audio E112, the SB13-Ultra did reproduce the 15-20Hz content to the extent that it could which was enough to be noticeable but clearly there was some compression and limiting of the signal going on at the chosen playback level and there was a bit of distress noise and distortion from the driver. This was the only time that I heard any audible distress from the SB13-Ultra during the listening sessions, which is impressive considering how much bass was being expected out of a single driver. The SB13-Ultra provided yet another exemplary subjective performance from an SVS sub. It has a lot of power for a subwoofer of its size and is very well behaved subjectively. The SB13-Ultra is my personal favorite of the SVS subs I’ve reviewed thus far.


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