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SVS PB16-Ultra Subwoofer Listening Tests


The PB16-Ultra is so large, I didn’t have much of a choice in places where it could go; I set it behind my sofa. The resulting frequency response was not as bad as I had anticipated, with a very narrow but deep dip at 60 Hz and a broad but shallow dip at 30 Hz. Receiver used was a Pioneer Elite SC-55 with some Fluance Signature tower speakers, with the crossover set at 80 Hz. Since room acoustics have a huge effect on low frequencies, the way this sub sounds in my room at my listening position is not necessarily going to be the way it sounds anywhere else for anyone else, so readers would do well to keep that in mind, and not just for this subwoofer in this review, but for any subwoofer in any review.

Music Listening 

Pipe organ lovers will truly appreciate the PB16-Ultra... 

A pipe organ album recommended for some powerful bass tracks is “King of Instruments: A Listener’s Guide to the Art and Science of Recording the Organ” which is a compilation of recordings made from different pieces played on different organs. Some of the pieces turned out to contain very powerful bass fundamentals all the way down to 20 Hz, no doubt one of the reasons why the organ is nicknamed the ‘King of Instruments’. Many of the tracks can present a massive tower of sound, with layers of low-frequency harmonics accompanying a deep fundamental. The SVS PB16-Ultra captured these dense low-frequency passages with the utmost fidelity. The power of the PB16-Ultra (and also its near-field placement) lacked for nothing in recreating the colossal bass sound of these mighty instruments; there were moments that it vibrated my entire sofa. Indeed, it is as if, musically, the PB16, with its deep tuning frequencies, was made for the pipe organ, since no other natural instrument can dig as deep or play low frequencies as loud. Pipe organ lovers will truly appreciate what the PB16-Ultra can do here, and I can also recommend the album ‘King of Instruments’ to pipe organ enthusiasts as well; a great recording played back on a great speaker system makes for a marvelous experience.

KingofInstruments.jpg     ThroneOfDrones.jpg

For something much less traditional and more on the experimental side, I turned to the album ‘Throne of Drones’ which is part of a series of dark experimental soundscapes from the recording label Asphodel. These albums are good for gauging a subwoofer’s capability due to the often finely textured low-frequency content in some of the tracks. The music itself sounds like a soundtrack to a tour of a long-dead city of an advanced alien civilization; it is atmospheric, exotic, and gloomy. The bass in this recording can take many shapes: a subtle background hum, a blast of vibrating buzz, a distant cavernous rumble, or an all-encoFromBeyondTheGrave.jpgmpassing growl. The PB16-Ultra deftly handled everything and anything that was thrown at it with equanimity. It gave some tracks a positively subterranean feel, as though my room had fallen into the depths of the Earth. For a high-fidelity subwoofer like the PB16-Ultra, this music must be like a high-grade road course is to a high-performance car; a prospect to relish that a lesser performing unit would fear to tread.    

Taking a 180° turn, I turned to something a bit more boisterous. For loud, frenetic, and hard-hitting, it would be difficult to top the drum’n’bass group Counterstrike, so I queued up the album ‘From Beyond the Grave’, a 2005 monster of a recording. For its time, it was the extreme end of an extreme genre of electronic music: an absolutely ferocious album with a very high tempo, very dense percussion, and very heavy bass lines. It is to electronic music what death metal is to rock music. Out of a sense of masochism, I cranked the subwoofer output 9 dB hot with the master volume set to reference and braced myself for a beating. On the PB16-Ultra, ‘From Beyond the Grave’ pounded. Kick drums punctuated the nearly constant bass line, and the PB16 made sure it was all felt as much as it was heard. With the PB16-Ultra firing into the back of my sofa, it felt like sitting in a massage chair that had gone insane. It was a bruising and distressing experience that left me deeply traumatized, but it was also a whole lot of fun. The PB16-Ultra was certainly up to the task of dishing out a savage beating when asked. If you can set aside some time for trauma counseling afterward, I can heartily recommend Counterstrike’s ‘From Beyond the Grave’ as blasted through a SVS PB16-Ultra.

Movie Listening

With the PB16-Ultra firing into the back of my sofa, it felt like sitting in a massage chair that had gone insane.

A subwoofer built for such deep frequencies deserves to be paired with content built for deep frequencies, and there is no content I know of that has such sustained deep bass as 2010’s ‘Tron Legacy’. Most reading this will likely be familiar with this film about a young man’s adventure through a computer generated world (which seems to be the same situation as almost every major film nowadays, but in ‘Tron Legacy’ this is the actual plot). However, those who have only heard it on a typical home audio system have only heard half the movie, since there is so much low-frequency energy beyond what most systems are capable of reproducing. That certainly is not the case with the PB16-Ultra, as I found out when I used ‘Tron Legacy’ to see what this sub could do. Between the thunderous effects sounds and Daft Punk’s relentless score, ‘Tron Legacy’ is filled with all kinds of bass from opening credits to end credits. At high output levels, this is a soundtrack that will beat lesser subwoofers into submission, but the PB16-Ultra took everything that ‘Tron Legacy’ could throw at it with ease. Not only did it crank out bass so visceral I could feel it in my chest, but it did it gracefully, with nary a hint of stress or strain. A lot of fun was had on movie night watching ‘Tron Legacy’ with the PB16-Ultra. “Tron Legacy’ is a great demo movie for the PB16-Ultra, and the PB16-Ultra is a great subwoofer to demo ‘Tron Legacy’s epic low-frequency sound mix.

TronLegacy.jpg     fury.jpg

Another film I watched with the PB16-Ultra was the 2014 World War 2 film ‘Fury’, which is about an American tank crew fighting in Germany towards the end of the war. I decided on ‘Fury’ due to the more naturalistic bass sounds involved, as opposed to many of the science fiction and comic book movies where the sounds can be unearthly and are totally invented by the director and sound designer. ‘Fury’ is no slouch in the LFE department, but no movie about tank warfare should be lacking in low frequencies. I watched ‘Fury’ at a high volume and, with the PB16-Ultra only a foot behind me, and the experience was utterly concussive. Every blast from the turret cannon was felt, as was every round fired from the .50-cal heavy machine gun, every mortar shell and artillery detonation. If the aural experience of watching this in a home theater was rough, I can only imagine what it sounded like for actual tank crews in World War 2. It must have been hellish. While there were many different types of bass sounds during the battles, the PB16-Ultra sorted them out nicely. The tank engine rumble, machine gun fire, cannon impacts, grenade blasts were all separate and distinct low-frequency sounds, whereas a lesser subwoofer might have blurred them altogether into a boomy mess. ‘Fury’ has a grim tone as a movie, but the action scenes are undeniably exciting and well-directed, and a high-quality, high-performance subwoofer like the PB16-Ultra is needed to get the full experience that this movie has to offer. Besides, what is more appropriate content for a subwoofer that is built like a tank than a movie about a tank?


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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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