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SVS SB16-Ultra Sealed Subwoofer Listening Tests

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The location that worked best for the SB16-Ultra turned out to be right behind my sofa, and this placement gave up output below 30 Hz for a relatively smooth response above that point. This location played up the strengths of a sealed design like the SB16-Ultra instead of shoring up its weaknesses, i.e. deep bass. Receiver used was a Pioneer Elite SC-55 with a variety of different speakers, and the crossover was used mostly at 80 Hz and also 100 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.

The sB16-Ultra never strained at any volume, no matter how loud I cranked it.

Music Listening 

Stanley_Clarke.jpg

Contrary to popular belief, many albums featuring bass guitar playing aren’t great for demonstrating subwoofer performance, because much of the actual bass guitar playing lay above subwoofer frequency bands. The subwoofer may get to reproduce the fundamentals of a few notes here and there, but, for the most part, it isn’t given much to do. One exception to this is Stanley Clarke’s ‘1, 2, to the Bass’ which keeps the sub busy for most of this album’s running time. Stanley Clarke is, of course, one of the great bassists, and ‘1, 2, to the Bass’ is an album where he brings in a variety of different styles and performers for a range of different musical styles, from R&B, electro, funk, and hip-hop, and even a track of Indian music. The SB16-Ultra had no trouble keeping up with Stanley’s bass guitar, with its sharp attacks and sudden stops. The SB16-Ultra also kept kick drums tight and natural sounding, at least for those tracks that used real drumsets. Other tracks used drum machines, and the thump of the electronic kick drums was not lacking on the SB16-Ultra. The SB16-Ultra kept the instruments separate, and there was never any confusion between any low-frequency instrumentation, nor was there confusion in pitch, as the SB16-Ultra clearly rendered the notation of Stanley’s performance, no matter how rapidly he was playing.

One album I thought would make for a good test of subwoofer souArc_of_PassionC.jpgnd is Steve Roach’s 2008 double-disc opus ‘Arc of Passion’. ‘Arc of Passion’ is comprised of three long-form electronic music pieces, with the middle song lasting an hour, and the two others lasting about 20 minutes each. The two 20 minute songs are atmospheric soundscapes created from sweeping synth pads, bells, and drones, and the hour-long centerpiece is made from many layers of arpeggiated synths using pulsating, pounding electronic sounds reminiscent of some of Tangerine Dream’s mid 70’s output. In the hour-long piece, the sound becomes a bubbling cauldron of various bass sounds that induces a sense of propulsion and drive. The SB16-Ultra executed the drones in the light airy passages with enough subtlety that I didn’t know where the main speakers ended and the sub began; it was one sound, and a delicate balancing act to pull off. In the hour-long piece, the sub’s activity was more evident but only from the use of deep bass in the recording, and the bass in the recording was still seamlessly combined with the higher-frequency content. Soft drone sounds were kept separate from the bass line itself, which was kept apart from the effects noises that frequently dipped into subwoofer range frequencies. The SB16-Ultra had no trouble with the complex use of bass in ‘Arc of Passion’ and helped to make it a pleasure to revisit this mesmeric album.

For bass heavy music of a more traditional style, I turned to the mighty pipe organ in organist FelixFelix_Hellc.jpg Hell’s recording “Organ Sensation”. Felix Hell sounds like the name of a punk rocker, but it is a more natural name in Germany when this performer was born. Felix is a musical child prodigy and has been performing organ concerts around the world since before he was eleven years old. ‘Organ Sensation’ was recorded at the First-Plymouth Congregational Church on their massive Schoenstein organ and features many compositions by Franz Lizst, a few by Alexandre Guilmant, and a handful of songs of other composers. ‘Organ Sensation’ is on the bombastic side of organ recordings, using notationally dramatic compositions, which is perfect for demonstrating the virtuoso Hell’s extraordinary talent. It does have moments of calm as well, but those looking for a relatively animated organ recording would do well to seek out ‘Organ Sensation.’ The SVS SB16-Ultra was capable of subtlety but also brought grandeur when asked to by the 32-foot pipes of the Schoenstein organ. These pipes are able to produce 16 Hz notes with force. While my chosen subwoofer placement for the SB16-Ultra gave away some output in those ultra-deep bass frequencies, it was still able to bring most of power of the content of ‘Organ Sensation’ to the fore. On the occasions where the recording brought in the weight of those large pipes, the SB16-Ultra pulled that effect through with authority. It never strained at any volume, no matter how loud I cranked it. ‘Organ Sensation’ was at times beautiful and other times thunderous, and the SB16-Ultra handled both ends of the dynamic range with aplomb.

For a different kind of ruckus, I looked for something very heBiological_Warfare.jpgavy in percussion, and nowhere does one find music denser in percussion than the electronic genre of ‘Drum and Bass’ music. In this vein I listened to the album ‘Biological Warfare’ released in 2004, which is a compilation of Drum and Bass tunes by different artists mixed together by the short-lived group ‘Resonant Evil.’ The bass lines are heavy and unrelenting, and the kick drums are incessant in this genre of electronic music. A well-made subwoofer loves this constant attention, but, when the volume is loud, a poorly-made sub will be begging for mercy in an album like this. A variety of different percussion and bass sounds populate the 19 tracks over this album with none of them sharing the same instrument sounds. A good subwoofer is crucial in doing this music justice if the main speakers are not truly full-range with real capability in low frequencies (a rarity, even among some high-priced speakers). The SB16-Ultra rocked ‘Biological Warfare’. There were moments when I cranked the volume to extreme levels, and the lights that shared the 15 amp circuit with the subwoofer actually dimmed, but the subwoofer itself never eased up. The abundance of bass in ‘Biological Warfare’ came through loud and clear on the SB16-Ultra. The SB16 was able to pound my home theater room with this album with a clean, punchy sound; a bruising experience, which is exactly what the artists intended with this content.

It should be kept in mind in reading these impressions of the subwoofer’s musical experience that I took the time to find the best location for a flattest response. This position placed the subwoofer very close to my listening position, which certainly assisted in maximizing the dynamics that I experienced. If no care is given to the placement of the SB16-Ultra (or any other subwoofer, for that matter) the results can end up being a very uneven response that can make for a poor reproduction of music. Those subwoofer owners or buyers who are concerned with accurate playback would do well to take the time to find the best locations. We have several articles on Subwoofer Placement  which are great starting points for anyone interested in learning more.

Movie Listening

There are many films released nowadays thaNinja_Assassin.jpgt make extensive use of subwoofer frequencies, and some sound mixes would seem to overdo it to an exaggerated degree. Since this is what is being produced, I might as well use such a film to evaluate the SB16-Ultra with, since that sort of content is going to find its way to the end user at least once in awhile. One film I picked for its excessive use of bass is the 2009 actioner ‘Ninja Assassin’, an over-the-top martial arts film starring Korean pop star Rain. In this movie, swords fly by the camera with a bass-heavy whoosh, and throwing stars slice into walls with a thunderous blow. When someone gets punched or kicked, it sounds like a side of beef was just hit by a sledgehammer. The orchestral musical score by Ilan Eshkeri makes heavy use of the subwoofers as well, with lots of double string bass and bass drums adding a persistent rumble underneath the action. The SB16-Ultra brought all of this low-frequency content out with dexterity. Every bone-breaking blow was felt as much as it was heard. While its ported sibling, the PB16-Ultra, might have given the deepest frequencies a more earth-quaking shudder, the SB16-Ultra could still plumb the depths, just not with the crushing power that the PB16 brings. Nonetheless, I was definitely not left wanting for more bass in ‘Ninja Assassin’, and the SB16-Ultra dished out the pummeling that was asked of it by the sound mix.

Another movie I watched with the SB16-Ultra was the new Jason Bourne Jason_Bourne.jpgmovie with the not-so creative title ‘Jason Bourne’. ‘Jason Bourne’ is the fifth film in the Jason Bourne franchise and is replete with action set-pieces including the stupendous climactic car-chase that lands it in my list as one of the all-time greatest car-chase sequences (leave a comment in our comments section if you disagree, but be warned I am prepared to defend my opinion!). Since the action scenes in the Bourne movie are more down-to-earth than most action movies, the low-frequencies are not used nearly as much as with the more outlandish ‘Ninja Assassin’ for the sake of creating a more convincing fictional universe. This isn’t to say ‘Jason Bourne’ is bass shy; it’s simply used more sparingly and therefore with a bit more subtlety for an action movie. Gun shots, roaring engines, car crashes, and panicking crowds round out the sound effects, and an intense, pounding orchestral score accompanies the action scenes. For ‘Jason Bourne’ the SB16-Ultra had work to do but, in order to fit in with the rest of the sound mix, it had to do it with more finesse than is the case with more fantastical film sound mixes. The SB16-Ultra hit hard when it needed to and had a soft touch in those moments when less-is-more. It gave the soundtrack a solid foundation without drawing attention to itself, which is what a subwoofer should be doing in a Bourne movie sound mix. I enjoyed ‘Jason Bourne’, and the SB16-Ultra helped to make that happen. 

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

RXP posts on March 04, 2019 03:54
shadyJ, post: 1216024, member: 20472
It does very good in deep bass for a since sealed subwoofer of its size. If you can accommodate a ported sub, like a PB13-Ultra, you can get a lot more deep bass output for the same price. The extension rating in this case ignores the distinction between ported and sealed subs, because the truth is a lot of people do not understand the difference between ported and sealed subs. Those who are after deep bass around the same price point can do better if they can handle larger enclosures.

I based my purchasing decision on this logic when I went for an SVS PB13 in my main theatre. Then I wanted a sub for my office I was shocked at the performance of the SB2000 I ordered for a smaller room (4mx2.5mx2.6m )

In the US the rooms tend to be bigger, but in the UK they're smaller. I made a PVG calculator that's available here. Just input the yellow cell. Any errors you notice let me know. The slower roll off of a sealed sub works really well in smaller rooms. Of course, the rigidity of walls and the materials of your house mean you may get significantly less.

Knowing now what I know - I'd have preferred to get a couple of sealed PB13's. I'd get deeper extension in my room at reference levels and save some space. They're also much easier to move around and ship if you decide to sell. Of course if I had a much larger room, ported is the way to go. Hopefully the Pressure Vessel Calc makes that clear to potential purchasers
shadyJ posts on October 18, 2017 12:18
It is generally not a good idea to mix ported and sealed subs, if all those subs are in one system.
Rolljdc posts on October 18, 2017 10:32
I know the difference in ported and sealed box subwoofers as I have a combination of both (Rythmik D15SE, Rythmik LVR12, 2 Golden Ear Forcefield 4's, and the aforementioned SVS SB16 Ultra. I know that ported or one with passive radiators extends deeper and has more output than sealed, and sealed is a thighter and speedier but less output and less deeper extension. As you can see, I have a combination of strengths and weaknesses in my system. The question is since the SB16 have substantial output in the 16-30hz, why would you rate it 4 star? Also the sound is probably the best I have heard in my past ownership of subs, and it ranks below the PB16? Just sayin (my opinion)…..
shadyJ posts on October 16, 2017 19:34
Rolljdc, post: 1216006, member: 83881
“The SB16 isn't just about performance. Yes, if you want raw SPL, there are other subs that can get louder. The SB16 has good performance, extensive features, great looks, and all the customer service amenities that come with SVS. Regarding performance, the SB16's wheelhouse is the range of 16 Hz and 30 Hz. No other 15” is going to touch it there."
I just got done setting up and listening with my SB16 Ultra. What the review said about the deep bass performance and extension, well should'nt that warrant a 5 star rating for the extension? Just scratching my head about that.
It does very good in deep bass for a since sealed subwoofer of its size. If you can accommodate a ported sub, like a PB13-Ultra, you can get a lot more deep bass output for the same price. The extension rating in this case ignores the distinction between ported and sealed subs, because the truth is a lot of people do not understand the difference between ported and sealed subs. Those who are after deep bass around the same price point can do better if they can handle larger enclosures.
Rolljdc posts on October 16, 2017 16:43
“The SB16 isn't just about performance. Yes, if you want raw SPL, there are other subs that can get louder. The SB16 has good performance, extensive features, great looks, and all the customer service amenities that come with SVS. Regarding performance, the SB16's wheelhouse is the range of 16 Hz and 30 Hz. No other 15” is going to touch it there."
I just got done setting up and listening with my SB16 Ultra. What the review said about the deep bass performance and extension, well should'nt that warrant a 5 star rating for the extension? Just scratching my head about that.
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