McGary Audio

Essential Sound

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Audiophile Subwoofer Review!
SVS SB13 Ultra 1000W:
“Serious Bass Performance
For Less Than $2,000”

Price: $1,599
Likes: tight deep bass, 1000w amp
Dislikes: nothing sub-par here
Wow Factor: “powerful sub at a great price”
More info: SVS SB13-Ultra 

by John Gatski
  There are numerous subwoofers — down to a few hundreds of dollars — on the market that give varying degrees of bass, but the good stuff comes at a higher price. Normally, to get extra extension below 20 Hz that is clean and loud, you have to spend a couple of grand or more. In my experience there are few, higher-performing subwoofers under $2,000 that address the home theater and audiophile niches with equal capability. My Paradigm Pro 15 reference sub fits my criteria nicely — with audible extension to under 20 Hz and fast, tight response in the more audible frequencies for 24-bit music, as well as the kick of a top-notch Blu-ray movie. But it retails for more than $3,000.
  The SVS SB13-Ultra, priced at $1,599, is a recently discovered gem of a subwoofer that works for both multichannel home theater and stereo audiophile applications, offers high-performance and is priced at under $2,000 (well-under). As an acoustic-suspension sub, the 13-inch driver is combined with a Class D 1,000W RMS amp and onboard DSP, making it a serious subwoofer for music and home theater use — with clean response and good extension down to 20 Hz.

  Designed in the USA and manufactured in China, the SVS SB13-Ultra is an acoustic suspension powered subwoofer. The fairly large sub enclosure houses a front-firing 13.5 inch driver optimized for sealed enclosure applications. The driver features a custom-tooled, die-cast aluminum basket frame with a flat-wire, 3” diameter, high-power, high-temp, eight-layer, aluminum voice coil. The driver also utilizes an UltraPolyimide impregnated fiberglass former/bobbin and dual 9" composite layered, linear roll, extreme excursion spiders, which enable impressive bass extension that one usually hears from a 15-inch driver.
  Input connections include low-pass L/R balanced XLRs, and L/R unbalanced RCA jacks. Balanced and unbalanced are also available for high-pass, line-level signals. A level switch enables input line level and output line level to be set at “normal” or “high,” depending on the level needs of your system. On Normal the maximum allowable input voltage is 2V rms (which covers virtually all consumer audio equipment). On Hi-Level, the maximum allowable input voltage is 4V rms (which covers pro-sound and/or esoteric equipment with a higher-than-normal line level voltage). The switch is usually set to Normal. The rear panel also houses the main power switch and the Power Mode switch, which allows triggering the sub amp via incoming signal or in the always-on mode.

1,000 watts lurks behind the I/O panel

  The sub’s horsepower comes from a 1,000 RMS Class-D digital amplifier, and setup flexibility comes courtesy of the Integrated Function Controller. It sports onboard control for level, hi-pass filter curves, low-pass filter curves, phase settings, room compensation, high-pass Delay adjustment, and parametric EQ.
  Of note, the high-pass and low-pass filters are stepped at 31 Hz, 40 Hz, 50 Hz, 63 Hz, 80 Hz, 100 Hz, and 125 Hz. The Room Compensation is handy for tailoring the SB13-Ultra to the size of the room. Placing subwoofers near corner or wall boundaries can result in a spike in the boomy midbass; this can be tamed by the Room Comp control at 40 Hz, 31 Hz or 25 Hz, with 6 db per octave or 12dB.octave filter slopes. If your room is in good tune, the disable mode is preferred.
  One cool feature of the SB13-Ultra is the high-pass delay adjustment, which effectively gives some main speaker delay control to audiophiles who prefer DSP-less amps and preamps, or those who use old gear that does not have any delay settings.
  The onboard PEQ (parametric) allows numerous EQ curve options and Q’s. You could use this feature to further tailor the sub to a room that has significant response peaks and valleys. Since my room is dead on for speaker testing, I used no EQ, Room Comp. In fact, I bypassed the sub’s low-pass filter and used the crossover of my high-end AudioControl AVR-3 receiver that provided the audio during the home theater portion of my review. But it is comforting to know that you have the flexibility to tune the subwoofer to most any room with the onboard DSP. You just need a good SPL meter.
  The SB13-Ultra is housed in a rigidly braced, MDF cabinet Overall Dimensions are: 17.9" (H) x 17.4" (W) x 20.4"(D), which includes the feet, grille, amplifier. Weight is just over 91 pounds. It’s a hefty sub, comparable in size to my Paradigm Reference Pro 15.

 For under $1,600, the SVS SB13-Ultra gets you a high-performance, acoustic suspension subwoofer that can handle about all the serious bass of a multi-channel or stereo speaker system.

  SVS does a great job on its web site, providing copious amounts of info and operation tips on their products. The site also provide measurement graphs, and buying options — including a discount package when buying two SB13-Ultras; you save $200. SVS products are available directly from the company and various dealers throughout the US. Other SVS speakers for hi-fi and multi-channel home theater are also available.

The setup
  The SB13-Ultra was installed in my home cinema room, which is equipped with Westlake home theater front L-C-R speakers (two Westlake LC8.1s and a LC 2.65 center channel) and two original NHT Ones for rear surround. I placed the SB13 Ultra about seven feet from my listening position near the left side wall, the same location as my Paradigm Sub15 subwoofer.
  This long and narrow room has nearly perfect bass response with its tile over concrete floor and solid pine panel walls. Thus, all I needed was a simple balanced connection from the AudioControl AVR-3 receiver. I bypassed all the filters, utilizing the 80 Hz low-pass enabled from the receiver. The sub handled all the LFE bass duties from 80 Hz down and the low bass from the surround channels. The fronts were all set up for full range.
  Associated equipment included an Oppo BDP-105 universal player, Kimber speaker cables and, Wireworld balanced and unbalanced interconnects. Power cords and power strip were courtesy of Essential Sound Product’s Essence Reference II Series. I made all measurements with an AudioControl RTA and test microphone.

SVS uses a custom driver for the SB-13 Ultra

  Playing test tones down to 16 Hz, my SB13-Ultra measurements were similar to the factory graphs. At 25 Hz to response flat compared to a 60 Hz tone, and I easily hit 100 dB. The response started to dip under 25 Hz, but was still only 4 dB down at 20 Hz. There was some felt response at the 16 Hz tone, but the RTA does not visually indicate lower than 20 Hz. Still, the 20 Hz performance was excellent. My Paradigm is flat at 20 Hz and relays a bit more felt 16 Hz bass, but it is, after all, a $3,000 subwoofer with a 15-inch driver.
  I also set up the subwoofer in my audiophile listening room, using Legacy Studios HD bookshelf speakers, powered by a Pass Labs XA-30 or Rogue Audio Medussa and set up on Apollo speaker stands. I played various genres of hi-res music from download, SACD, my own guitar 24/192 recordings. Playback was via the Oppo BDP-95 connected to a Mytek Stereo 192 DSD and Benchmark DAC2 D D/As. The DACs were connected to a Coda high-current preamp with one set of RCA jacks feeding a Rogue Audio Medusa hybrid amp and the other feeding the L-R inputs of the SB13-Ultra.

The audition
  I sampled the home theater set up first, and immediately I was impressed with the SB13-Ultra’s performance. Like the Paradigm, it is tight, fast and clean. The audible 80z to 30 Hz bass had no coloration or excess bloom, and the extension below 30 Hz was excellent for a sub-15-inch, single, acoustic-suspension driver.
  On the Monsters Vs. Aliens Blu-ray, the beginning sequences contains some deep LFE effects that extend under 25 Hz. The SB13 Ultra shook the room and rattled the window, similar to the Paradigm’s output, not quite as filling at the loudest levels, but close. I repeated the scene at a very high level (1 kHz audio was at 99 dB, with me wearing shooter’s air protection so I could isolate on the low-end to audibly confirm if it stayed clean. The SB13-Ultra sub indeed was clean. The spectral analysis of my RTA of the scene’s audio showed quite a bit of level at under 25 Hz, though it was down a bit at under 20 Hz compared to the Paradigm. Still, for half the money, this is top-tier subwoofer performance.

 On the Monsters Vs. Aliens Blu-ray, the beginning sequences contains some deep LFE effects that extend under 25 Hz. The SB13 Ultra shook the room and rattled the window

  On the WWII action movie BD, U571, based on actual events, the depth charge scenes contain intense, relentless dynamic expositions that give a subwoofer a workout. Cheap subs will audibly chafe and make all sorts of nasty noises as the amps clip and the woofers move uncontrolled with the movie’s fast-occurring explosion effects. Subs that cannot reach the depths at loud levels are simply way low in level. Good subwoofers like my Paradigm and the SVS SB13-Ultra can kick out the low end, audible and subsonic, cleanly at loud levels. The blast successions shook the room with the SVS. My side window was vibrating at several of the bass crescendos.
  In the dirty bomb scene in the The Sum of All Fears BD, the sub-audible bass extension below 25 Hz also was transmitted with quick, thunderous SPL. This sub definitely compares to good 15-inch subs, and with the high-power amp, it does not run out of gas.

For finer bass listening
  In the audiophile mode, the sub excelled at all kinds of music with demo-quality low bass. On the 2003 reissue of Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms, Money for Nothing has real tight, but deep kick drum extension. With the Studios flat low -end to 40-42 Hz. The extra low bass provided by the SB13-Ultra gives the song a completeness, and a more accurate sonic portrait of the low end of this recording. Those bass whacks at 94 dB were full, fast and I could feel the whomp in my chest.
  Ditto for Tom Jung’s DSD transfer of Flim and the BBs - Tricycle, a now classic recording that is, unfortunately, not available on SACD anymore. The SB13-Ultra completed the kick drum extension of the Legacys, making the recording much more live like. For 16-bit, that recording sure is dynamic. My high-res pipe organ classical SACD recordings benefited from the subwoofer’s 30 Hz and under power, as did the Telarc classic Frederick Fennell — The Cleveland Symphonic Winds (Holst: Suite No. 1 in E-Flat, Suite No. 2 in F / Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks, Bach: Fantasia in G)  CD with those great tympani rolls.

 My high-res pipe organ classical SACD recordings benefited from the subwoofer’s 30 Hz and under power, as did the Telarc classic Fredrick Fennell The Cleveland Symphonic Winds CD with those great tympani rolls

  Based on its pop and classical low end performance, I predicted that Jazz — with electric and acoustic bass, plus kick drum would be rendered just as effective on the SB13-Ultra. Indeed, I was correct. The throbbing Hammond B3 organ’s lower register runs and the kick drum from the Anthony Wilson - Our Gang SACD got a full sonic portrayal from the SVS SB13-Ultra — without excess bass overhang or any added dirt to the already dirty sound of the Hammond tube amp.
 Overall,  the SB13-Ultra performance is so good, and its quality build and price so impressive, I have absolutely no negatives. And as a bonus, It has a lot of DSP adjustments features for tailoring it to problematic rooms, or just tweaking to get it just perfect. I especially like the piano gloss black finish, which always seems to be sold out on the web site.
  If I had a big room with small tower or stand speakers, I would definitely consider having two of these subs. An extra sub would increase the bass coverage, allowing the main speakers to deliver more cleanly. Even if you have expensive speakers, the SB13-Ultras could only help them sound better.

The verdict
  For under $1,600, the SVS SB13-Ultra gets you a high-performance, acoustic suspension subwoofer that can handle about all the serious bass of a multi-channel or stereo speaker system. Add in the extra DSP features, big-power internal amp, and you have got to consider the SB13-Ultra if you are shopping for a high-end sub. I have no problem recommending it for an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

 John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

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