Hsu Research VTF-1 MK3 Subwoofer Listening Tests
The best placement for a single sub in my room gives me a relatively flat response for an un-EQ’d single subwoofer, with a window of +/- 4 dB from 25 Hz to 100 Hz with no broad dips in important ranges. This location trades low-end room gain for a relatively flat response, a worthwhile trade for my tastes. The 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 at times. 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.
It should be mentioned here that the subwoofer placement for the flattest response in my room is directly behind my sofa. This is advantageous for a smaller subwoofer like the VTF-1 mk3, since my main listening position is going to get hit with a lot of its direct acoustic energy. This type of placement, called near-field placement, provides a much more tactile experience than what would normally be had from a subwoofer of this caliber. Typical placements available for most users, such as the front corner of the room, will not have this effect, and the reader should bear that in mind. However, deliberately placing the VTF-1 in a location with an inferior frequency response would not be fair for any product under review, so I decided to stick with the very advantageous near-field placement.
The pipe organ is famous for its powerful deep bass abilities, and one series of recordings that makes extensive use of this is the Davies Symphony Hall recitals by Michael Murray from the Telarc label. The Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is home to a formidable pipe organ, and Mr. Murray’s choices of music and performance really demonstrates its potential. In ‘The Ruffatti Organ in Davies Symphony Hall: A Recital of Works by Bach, Messiaen, Dupre, Widor, & Franck,’ Mr. Murray does not shy away from very low frequencies, and strong bass digging down to the low 20 Hz region can be heard at times in this recording. Subwoofers were invented for this type of content since so few full-range speakers have significant power below 30 Hz.
The VTF-1 mk3’s performance on this album put me on notice: do not be fooled by the modest 10” driver diameter. The Davies Symphony Hall is one of the largest, if not the largest, concert halls in North America, and the VTF-1 mk3 brought about that mammoth size to my living room. The Fratelli Ruffatti Pipe Organ’s visceral power was also brought to fore by the VTF-1. It may be a subwoofer of modest size and specs, but it was able to replicate the sound of a monster pipe organ rather convincingly, at least for the healthy volume levels I was listening at. While I would guess that the VTF-1 mk3 would not be able to match the sheer power of a live performance of a huge pipe organ (a feat that few subwoofers would be capable of), I do think it can reproduce it at loud enough levels to satisfy most people in a medium to small room.
For heavily textured low-frequency content, I picked the album ‘Of Darkness and Recreation’ by the Norwegian artist Svartsinn. ‘Of Darkness and Recreation’ is an album of dark ambient music released in 2003 and sounds like the aural incarnation of foreboding and desolation. It is not a ‘fun’ album in the traditional sense of the word, but there is not much traditional about this recording at all. This is an album that uses a variety of bass sounds as a part of its sonic palette, from low-key grinding noises, ominous drones, pulsating rumbles, and the quiet roar of some distant, monstrous clamor. The sound is cavernous, and the bass is multi-layered at times and can dip to positively subterranean frequencies. It all adds up to a very gloomy, cinematic soundscape.
The VTF-1 mk3 was able to convey the various textures of bass throughout Of Darkness and Recreation, and it did so with authority. Most of the low-frequency content in Of Darkness and Recreation is a bit recessed, but it does have moments of tremendous bass, and the VTF-1 handled both elements of subtlety and high-energy with aplomb. A larger sub might have brought a bit more of the deepest frequencies out of this album, but the Hsu subwoofer acquitted itself admirably and helped bring life to the bleak scenery described by these compositions.
For something percussive and with a very wide dynamic range, I found the album ‘Heartbeat - Kodo 25th Anniversary’ to be a great demonstration of those aspects, and so I gave it a go on the VTF-1 mk3. This album is by the renowned Japanese Taiko drum group Kodo. The high-quality recording of the enormous Odaiko drum in action can give any subwoofer a chance to flex its muscles. Their primary Odaiko drum looks to have its fundamental at 60 Hz but with plenty of subharmonics below that, with many of the other drums having subharmonic content into deep frequencies as well. Kodo has long been a source of high-quality percussion recordings, and ‘Heartbeat - Kodo 25th Anniversary’ is certainly no exception. It is one of their albums that does use subwoofer-band frequencies extensively.
There are moments in ‘Heartbeat’ when the bass is simply thunderous, and the VTF-1 mk3 was able to execute that effect without any loss of poise. On passages using the mighty Odaiko drum especially, the listener is pummeled with low-frequency blows. Other drums feel more like jabs and hooks because of their rapid decays and higher frequency composition, but the Odaiko feels like a succession of powerful body blows due to its long decay and deeper bass. The VTF-1 managed each of the variety of drums with a great sense of control when they had spectral components that fell into the subwoofer range. At no point did I feel muddiness or confusion in low-frequency playback even on passages that were dense with percussion. ‘Heartbeat - Kodo 25th Anniversary’ is a fun album made all the more enjoyable with the competent bass reproduction from a subwoofer like the VTF-1 mk3.
I also wanted to try something more contemporary and reflective of modern rock and pop recordings, and toward that end, I queued up the album ‘You Need Therapy’ by Technical Itch. ‘You Need Therapy’ is a mix of hard drum’n’bass, a genre of electronic music that makes very heavy use of bass frequencies, as its name would suggest. The bassline is nearly continuous and contains the bulk of the available energy from the dynamic range. Percussion is dense and also heavy in low-frequency energy, and it flies non-stop at a high tempo throughout the duration of the album’s running time. This type of music is unrelenting on subwoofers; at any significant volume level at all, the subs are always being pushed. It would constitute abuse to run any subwoofer at high volumes for the entirety of this 80-minute album, and that is exactly what I did with the VTF-1 mk3.
On ‘You Need Therapy’, the VTF-1 mk3 was able to punch above its weight class. I ran the LFE channel 6 dB hot, and the sheer quantity of bass this Hsu subwoofer could produce was impressive, and not just for a sub of its size and specs. Of course, larger and much more powerful subwoofers can hit harder, but the VTF-1 mk3 was delivering a true sense of weight to the music. It was more than merely loud as well; every different kick drum and bassline had its own character, and that was conveyed by the VTF-1 mk3. ‘You Need Therapy’ is a test of subwoofer stamina, and the VTF-1 was able to keep up with this brutal album without losing composure. Even though I had an idea of the capabilities of the VTF-1 mk3 beforehand, experiencing what it can do at this level of output was still a surprise.
One movie I watched using the VTF-1 mk3 is an underrated action film from 2008 called ‘Doomsday.’’ Doomsday is set in the near-future UK and is about a military officer who must venture into the savage wasteland of Scotland to retrieve an antidote for a deadly virus outbreak in London. The action in this movie is nearly constant and takes place in a variety of venues, and set pieces ranging from car chases, gunfights, swordfights, and even a gladiator tournament. The music score has variety as well, with pounding orchestral music to go with action scenes, vintage analog synthesizer music used to build tension, and 80’s pop music punctuating the film at opportune moments. This is a rowdy movie that will keep any subwoofer busy.
I played the movie loud, and the VTF-1 mk3 gave a good showing. Other larger subs are able to shake my house more, but it sounded tight and punchy and was able to give gunshots and explosions the necessary roar to underpin an exciting scene. Car and motorcycles engines growled and demonstrated how aggressive the VTF-1 could sound for loud action scenes. The music was given a healthy foundation of bass by the VTF-1, even amidst the din and clamor of action. Doomsday is a rough and tumble movie that needs a capable audio system to do the experience justice, and I can report that the VTF-1 mk3 is up to the task.
Another movie I watched was the now classic 1999 film ‘Fight Club,’ which certainly needs no introduction at this point. David Fincher’s brawler has many passages with strong low-frequency content and makes for a great exhibition of effective use of bass. Car crashes, plane collisions, explosions, and the meaty thuds of the fist fights populate the soundtrack of fight club, along with the Dust Brothers’ beat heavy music score, but while bass is plentiful, it is not overused. Some films overuse bass to the point that the sound mix becomes one long rumble. In Fight Club, it serves as punctuation in a sound track, as opposed to the constant use of bass which, I would say, is analogous to typing in all capital letters, which can be inuring.
The VTF-1 mk3 gave a terrific foundation to the sound mix of the Fight Club. Punches, explosions, and kick drums were given their due weight. The bass was tight and never confused different low-frequency sounds, for example, when the bass-laden percussion of the music played during a fight scene with lots of bass-heavy pounding of fist cuffs. The VTF-1 mk3 may not be able to dig quite as deep as larger subwoofers, but, to be honest, I didn’t miss whatever minor bit of ultra low-frequency content that escaped the VTF-1’s capabilities. The VTF-1 mk3 can catch sound down to the mid 20’s Hz range, and that will encompass the vast majority of bass in most movie sound mixes. Maybe if I did an A/B comparison of the VTF-1 mk3 against a much deeper digging sub during sections of Fight Club, that would answer the question of how much the experience is changed, but as it is, to my ears, the Fight Club soundtrack felt complete with the VTF-1 mk3.
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William Lemmerhirt, post: 1212839, member: 81215All of my review subs get placed in that near-field position, because it offers the flattest response for a single sub in my room for my listening position, not because it provides an higher tactile sensation. So the VTF-1 is on a fair footing with the other subs in my reviews, at least for the subjective experiences. If I placed it anywhere else, it would not be fair to it with respect to other subs I have reviewed.
Nice review, but I think the near field review should be accompanied by another one with placement more akin to where most people will use it. As you said shady, it wouldnt be fair to intentionally place the little 10 in a spot to a disadvantage but conversely, a near field review is equally unfair. (Most people wont be able to see through the disclaimer early in the review about typical placement behavior).
We just have to encourage prospective subwoofer buyers to take the time to place the sub in an optimal position to get good results. Great subwoofers can be made to sound terrible with poor placement, and mediocre subs can be made to sound passable with good placement. It is such a huge factor in how a subwoofer will sound in room that it can not be stressed enough.
Read: Hsu Research VTF-1 mk3 Ported Subwoofer Review