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SVS PB16-Ultra Subwoofer Conclusion


SVS has callpb16 frontC.jpged the unveiling of the 16-Ultra subwoofer series the “most important product launch in SVS history” and has claimed that the 16-Ultras are the most advanced subwoofers in the world. These are some pretty lofty claims, to say the least, and will probably be dismissed by many people as marketing hyperbole. However, after spending time with the PB16-Ultra, I think there is merit to SVS’s statements. The PB16-Ultra is a major step up from the PB13-Ultra while only costing 20% more and is well worth the extra cost. I also can think of no other subwoofer with as long a list of features. From innovations in driver technology, amplifier technology, and controller technology, the PB16-Ultra is a step forward in every aspect of its design. I can’t think of any subwoofer that has this degree of sophistication. Some subwoofers can match its advances in one aspect or another, but the PB16-Ultra pushes the envelope in almost every respect.

Before wrapping this review up, I think this is a good place to list my criticisms and compliments. I will start with criticisms, as I personally always want the bad news before the good news. The foremost problem I had with the PB16-Ultra was safely managing its size and weight; it is not an easy task. This is compounded for this reviewer, since I have to take it out and drive it to a special location where it can be properly tested, but a typical user will not be faced with that challenge. However, if an owner has to move or ends up selling it, transporting it without scratching or denting it is not a casual matter, and the logistics must be carefully planned beforehand. Another potential problem about its size is that it needs a lot of floor space. Anyone looking to get one should do a mockup of its size to insure that it will fit its intended location. As we discussed earlier, it is not a subwoofer that can be easily hidden, so potential owners should be sure that their significant other is cool with it before purchase, as it would be a headache (and backache) to repack and return otherwise.

SVS has taken clean deep bass to another level..I'm expecting to see PB16-Ultras in pictures of room setups across the country before long.

A minor complaintPB16RightAngleC.jpg is that while the PB16’s mid-bass output is good, it is not quite great like its deep bass output. It is all very clean and articulate, but frequencies above 60 Hz just don’t quite have the staggering output that they do below that point. Users with mid-bass capable speakers and sufficient amplification may want to try a 60 Hz crossover point if they want more ‘slam’ in that band. This is a minor complaint, because the mid-bass isn’t bad -115 dB at 2m is nothing to sneeze at-, and also most people who can afford a $2,500 subwoofer likely have powerful main speakers that can handle this region if they want more output there. After all, pairing the PB16-Ultra with some diminutive bookshelf speakers would be an absurd and lopsided system, since the bass capability would be so far beyond that of the mains. While the mid-bass performance was measured to be not as powerful as its deep bass performance, that is not something I noticed during actual listening. It was not something that stood out, and I doubt that anyone throttling the PB16-Ultra to thunderous levels would be able to discern that the 80 Hz output is a few decibels down from its 40 Hz output.

With the critical comments out of the way, let’s get on with the compliments, because the PB16-Ultra has much to admire about it. The highlight for me was the extremely low distortion for the quantity of bass on tap. This is not an easy trick to pull. 16 Hz at 109 dB with only 8% THD should be considered one of the wonders of the modern world. That has to be the cleanest and loudest bass in such a deep frequency that can be physically generated out of a cabinet of that size, at least with conventional loudspeaker designs. This is the outstanding performance you get from a heavily optimized system and easily earns our Bassaholics ‘Extreme’ room size rating, meaning this sub is suitable for rooms over 5,000 cubic feet in volume.


Along with the superb performance, you get an exceptional amount of fine control over that performance via SVS’s subwoofepb16-black-oakC.jpgr app and the multiple tuning modes. Here are just a few of the aspects one can control with the app: the low-end slope can be adjusted with room compensation curves, multiple peaks in room response can be trimmed with the 3-band parametric equalizer, the gain can be precisely set, the phase can be precisely set to any degree between 0 and 180, and the sub can be seamlessly blended in with virtually any speaker with the powerful low-pass filter. This can be done for multiple 16-Ultra subs individually, so you can control any and all 16-Ultra units separately from your smartphone or tablet. 

In the compliments column, I have to mention once again that the sub does not allow itself to be overdriven into danger. The limiter is bulletproof, so owners can crank it as hard as they want to impress visitors, and it will survive. That being said, putting it or any subwoofer or speaker on full throttle all the time will eventually kill it, so if you do find yourself frequently driving your sub to its limits, whether it be the PB16-Ultra or any other model, it will eventually die. The heavy protection that SVS has given the PB16-Ultra will only postpone that demise. However, in short bursts, the PB16-Ultra is pretty much indestructible.

Moving down the list, there is the gorgeous piano black finish and overall attractive cabinetry. The PB16-ultra is a largepb16-display.jpg sub, but it is also a nice-looking sub. The shipping packaging is very well thought out, and owners would do well to hold on to that packaging. Owners get a 5-year transferable warranty, which is above the norm for electronics warranties. This is a part of SVS’s ‘Customer Bill of Rights’, which is a nice list of customer services offered by SVS, but other companies do offer many of the same customer services, although they do not tout them in such a grandiose manner. One ‘right’ that PB16-Ultra owners will likely not be able to take advantage of is the one year trade up policy, where an owner can trade their product in for credit toward a more expensive model; I can’t imagine SVS releasing anything more expensive or larger than the PB16-Ultra, but hey, who knows what the future holds (PB21-Ultra anyone?) By the way, if you decide not to keep the PB16-Ultra within 45 days of receiving it, SVS will foot the bill for return shipping. With as much as it costs to ship that behemoth, that return policy indicates that SVS is very confident in their product.

To bring this review to a close, I have to say after spending time with the PB16-Ultra, I am a big fan of it. SVS has taken clean deep bass to another level from their previous efforts, and those who looking for high-output, low distortion, deep-frequency bass from an upscale cabinet have a terrific new option to choose from. SVS surely has another winner on their hands, and I am expecting to see PB16-Ultras in pictures of room setups across the country before long.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStarStar
Attached Files
About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

shadyJ posts on April 18, 2017 13:53
Interesting idea that port compression will make the driver behave as though it were in a sealed enclosure. It makes some sense though. Also an interesting idea that port compression will reduce port distortion relative to cone excursion at high output levels. A good way to investigate that would be to take a variable tuned sub out for a day and do much finer sweeps that what is in those charts, and then compare the 2nd HD vs 3rd HD for various port settings. I probably won't have time to do that myself, but maybe on a slow day during testing its worth a look.
Andron posts on April 18, 2017 06:23
:oops: I'd like to propose my answer for the phenomenon, James Larson noticed in the review, saying:

James Larson
One slight oddity is that the second harmonic actually decreases as a percentage at the highest sweeps, and I don’t know why that would be, except if maybe the limiter became more active above a certain output level.

I think it's because of the ‘natural limiter’ of the reflex alignment = port compression.
I read, the port produces 2nd order distortion.
When the port compresses, the Subwoofer becomes yet a bit more like a closed box around the tuning frequency.
Cone excursion increases which leads to increased 3rd order distortion BUT the air in this, now semi-closed box, actually decreases harmonic distortion relative to the cone excursion due to linearization of Kms(X) of the driver's suspension, due to the now more prominent air spring coming into play again.
So, while the fundamental output decreases compared to the driver's excursion, it's more than compensated by the reduced, port generted harmonic with further reduction of the said 2nd harmonic by the now prevalent air spring. I can be wrong. Just a curious thing.
shadyJ posts on January 11, 2017 20:17
It looks like a SB16-Ultra review will be happening but not until the spring, perhaps an April/May time frame. Sorry for the delay, but groundplane measurements are not possible in this neck of the woods until then.
Auditor55 posts on January 11, 2017 20:08
Still no update on SB16 review?
Auditor55 posts on January 01, 2017 15:39
shadyJ, post: 1163127, member: 20472
Hello David,

It would be great to review the SB16, but for myself, I will not be able to review subwoofers until the spring, sadly, so if that does happen, it won't be for awhile.

As for the group delay, I am guessing that the higher levels of delay in the PB16 are probably mostly due to the subsonic filters used to protect the driver. The nonstandard driver designs and somewhat larger enclosure might also be contributors. But, like is stated in the article, this delay should not concern you, it is far too low in frequency to be offensive or even audible.

I really would like to get a review of the SB16.
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