SVS SB16-Ultra Sealed Subwoofer Listening Tests
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.
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 sound 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 Felix 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 heavy 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.
There are many films released nowadays that 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 movie 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.
Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!
Recent Forum Posts:
Bill Shenefelt, post: 1542738, member: 24555But did you do any measuring or consult with an acoustician about which treatments to choose and where/how to place them? Putting up room treatments “doing it by ear” is not a great idea. Slapping them up around the room without the right data is a recipe for making things worse. It's really easy to over do it or attenuate the wrong frequencies. I would never attempt treatments without before and after measurements and good knowledge of how to apply them.
I added the corner bass traps to sort of lower the intensity of placing a SVS 16 ultra at each front corner. I placed two 2x4 ft ceiling sound panels up to cut ceiling reflection of midrange that could blur speech.
Pogre, post: 1542257, member: 79914
I think what you need is to measure the frequency response to see what's going on, but right off the bat I'm gonna say I'd recommend ported subs for the space you have.
You have several treated walls and bass traps? So how did you determine that you needed them, and how did you determine which treatments to get and where to put them
I added the corner bass traps to sort of lower the intensity of placing a SVS 16 ultra at each front corner. I placed two 2x4 ft ceiling sound panels up to cut ceiling reflection of midrange that could blur speech. I do have a third sealed SVS 16 ultra along the sidewall across from the archway in the other long wall and in line with my seats. The old 18 inch JBLsub is ported and so are my 4 big JBL monitors holding 15 inch woofers. The 5 ported JBLs are all tuned to 27 CPS and have great output up into the 300 cps plus range. Summing up the ported enclosure volumes it comes to about 28 cubic feet. The three SVS sealed subs are not ported since I only have so much space in my living room. I had started with two ported svs 13 cylinders and went to the newer sealed 16 ultras. SVS recommended that option over ported since I should not need to go to the higher efficiency ported gives. If I had gotten the ported ones they would not have meshed with the higher frequency porting of the JBL's anyway. The overall frequency response with a sweep is pretty decent from about 12 cps up. Having the room length twice the room width is sort of bad for the 60 cps realm but I cannot move the room walls. The svs in line with the seating at about the middle of the room length helps fill tant standing wave though. Having the multiple subs helps to smooth things out. I hope to get my Anthem 90 processor (which has 4 sub outputs all separately controlled by the processor) this coming month after waiting over a year for it. It will hopefully help blend the ported subs with the sealed subs
Bill Shenefelt, post: 1542236, member: 24555I think what you need is to measure the frequency response to see what's going on, but right off the bat I'm gonna say I'd recommend ported subs for the space you have.
My livungroom is about 27 ft (7 1/2 meters) long by13 feet (3 1/4 meters)wide by 8 feet (2 2/3 meters) tall. Front subs are 3 ft(1 meter) in from each sidewall but against the front wall. The room is “beside” my dining room and kitchen which are connected to the theater(my living room) with a 6 foot wide archway on one sidewall adding almost another volume nearly as much as the living room. The big old JBL 18 sub is roughly centered against the end wall. Seating is about 2/3 of the way to the back wall from the front wall. I have several treated walls and some treating pannels on the ceiling with floor carpeted. Each front corner has a 1.5 by 1.5 by 8 ft tall “bass trap” between the front sub and the front corners of the room. Walls are drywall or paneling with no special acoustical construction, just 16 inch centered 2x4 studs. The room measurment ratios are not great for 60 cps especially. With the multiple subs it is not too bad at the seats though
You have several treated walls and bass traps? So how did you determine that you needed them, and how did you determine which treatments to get and where to put them?
Steve81, post: 1506237, member: 61173I located my first two SVS ultras near the front corners of the room and the third is at aboout 2/3 of the way to the rear wall along side of the three seats. The JBL 18 is a super punch generator in the 35 to 80 cps realm along with the 4, 15 inch JBL ported's also tuned to 28 cps
A few thoughts
1. Have you measured your in-room FR to see if there are any big problems?
2. Moving one sub near field might be worth a try. Its free, and easily reversed if nothing else.
3. If punch is what you desire, youre probably looking for more mid / upper bass output, which isnt exactly the PB16s specialty.