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PowerSound Audio S1800 Review


Picture courtesy of PowerSound Audio


PowerSound Audio S1800

By Jim Wilson (theJman)




Introduction
The subject of this review is the PowerSound Audio S1800 subwoofer. The S1800 is a new model from PowerSound Audio (PSA), first released in February of 2016. It's an acoustic suspension model consisting of an 18" front-firing driver in an enclosure that measures 20"x20"x22" (including grill). Couple the rather tidy dimensions with a weight of 77 pounds and it's not terribly difficult to move the S1800 around should the need arise. Stated frequency response is 17Hz-200Hz, +/-3dB. Amplifier duties are handled by an ICEpower class D module capable of 725 watts RMS.


Ordering
By now everyone knows who PowerSound Audio is so it almost seems redundant for me to say they're an ID (Internet Direct) company based in Ohio. Like all such companyies you purchase their products directly from them. Well, in North America anyway; they've recently branched out and now have several International distributors.

The S1800 retails for a single Abe Lincoln below $1300, which is $1299.99 for those of you counting. That price includes shipping. PSA offers the now ubiquitous 30 day in-home trial period. However, there's a twist; PowerSound Audio will foot the bill for return shipping if you decide the S1800 is not for you within that 30 day period (this feature is only available to customers in the continental US). Every component has a full 5 year warranty against defects in material or workmanship. As is the case with all PSA products, the S1800 is made right here in the US of A.


Unboxing
The S1800 came single boxed, but thankfully the cardboard PSA used was quite thick. Cradling each corner of the subwoofer were 2" thick medium density foam blocks, 8 in total (4 on top and 4 on the bottom). In addition, L shaped cardboard sleeves were laid horizontally across the top of the foam blocks. This serves the purpose of ensuring the box doesn't get crushed/compressed during shipping. The subwoofer itself was in a thick plastic bag. A Ziploc bag contained a 2 prong power cord and the owners manual.


Impressions
First thought was "PSA, all the way". This is actually the third PowerSound Audio subwoofer I've reviewed - I also evaluated the XS15 and the XS15se - so through experience I've come to know what this company is about. The S1800 doesn't stray from their established business model; expertly packaged, well-built sub constructed from solid components. It was all instantly familiar to me.

Something else that was familiar is being the first to evaluate a new PSA model. When the XS15 came out at the end of 2012 I was the first person to publish a review on it. Same with its successor, the XS15se, which arrived less than 2 years after. Apparently history is repeating itself again because with the S1800 this is also the first published review. It's becoming a regular occurrence for me.

The enclosure is not large for a subwoofer with an 18" driver. The corners have a gentle round-over, lending to a nice finished look. The exterior is coated in PSA's standard black textured material. It was applied flawlessly, without a single imperfection to be found. Keeping the whole thing off the floor are small 1" round rubber feet in all four corners.

Built entirely from 1" MDF, the cabinet feels stout. For the duration of my review I had the owners manual sitting on top, yet no matter how hard I hammered the S1800 it never moved an inch. The interior walls are lined with 2" thick sheets of damping material. All the screws securing the amp and driver were tight, while those holding the feet in place required 1-2 turns each to snug them down.

The grill is a hefty piece as well, constructed from the same 1" MDF. It's painted and finished surprisingly well considering few will ever see the backside of the frame. The cloth material is very transparent, yet it doesn't feel the least bit cheap or flimsy. There's a small PowerSound Audio logo tastefully applied to the center along the bottom. Metal pins firmly anchor it into rubber cups which are flush mounted to the front of the cabinet.

The driver is a proprietary 18" model made by the renown build house Eminence. It uses a die-cast aluminum frame and a 3" vented voice coil with Kapton heat shielding. The cone is constructed from a paper material that's been coated for extra rigidity. The suspension consists of a medium sized treated foam surround and a poly cotton semi-progressive, high excursion spider. On the back of the magnet assembly is a bump-out to prevent the voice coil from bottoming. It's held in place using machine screws and t-nuts.

Continuing on with the theme of best-in-class, PSA went with the celebrated amplifier builder SpeakerPower. This particular model boasts 725 watts RMS and utilizes a DSP (Digital Signal Processor) which enabled the engineers at PowerSound Audio to custom tune the response to their exact specifications. The amp comes out of standby easily but tended to go into sleep mode while listening at a low volume level or when watching sport, material which often has interludes where there's nothing but announcer dialog. Because of that I left the power switch in the On position for the majority of my review. Universal power modes are supported, so 110-240 volts and 50 or 60 Hz.

Inputs and controls are pretty typical for a subwoofer in this price class, with two exceptions; the inclusion of a Room Size adjustment and the lack of an XLR input. There are dials for Gain, Delay (Phase basically), Crossover and the aforementioned Room Size setting. There's a toggle switch for the power mode which consists of Off/Auto/On settings. You'll also find a pair of RCA inputs labeled Right and Left/LFE. Everything is clearly marked using a font that's easy to read. Only the extreme of each setting is labeled though, everything in between those two points is represented by little dots. I prefer more delineation myself.

The Delay control uses a slightly different terminology than the more conventional phase adjustment found on numerous other subwoofers. Instead of its range being designated as 0-180 degrees it uses 0-16ms. The end result is the same - you calibrate the output delay according to your needs - it's just that some people might get confused by the change in nomenclature. Same feature, different words.

The Room Size control is somewhat unique, and depending upon your situation could prove quite handy. In essence what it does is adjust the frequency response curve in the deep bass region (below around 25Hz). The designations are Small and Large at the extremes. Fundamentally what happens is the boost used down low can be decreased if your room is small because it will already be contributing gain in that region. If the room happens to be large, so the gain is naturally minimized, you can bring it back up to add a little extra "weight" to the overall sound. The idea is to point the dial at what best describes your room. The manual doesn't really indicate what constitutes a small or large room though, so you may have to fiddle with this one before getting it right. If you get stuck you can always reach out to PSA via email or phone. Historically they have provided a very high level of customer service, so you should be able to get your questions answered in short order.

Using room sizes to indicate this controls function seems logical, given the type of adjustment it makes, but it could be confusing for some. For example, if you only listen to music you may want to set this for Small regardless of your room size. Why? Very little music has significant content below 25Hz so rolling off deep bass early means the amplifier can concentrate on the actual frequency range of the source material. That increases its reserve capacity, which in turn makes available additional wattage to accommodate any wide dynamic swings in the music. Again, experimentation is key.

The owners manual is very well done. It covers 9 different models in this one volume, but where there's any significant difference between them - like unpacking instructions - PSA separates those into different sections. There's almost no topic they don't address; placement, installation, connections, controls, setup procedures, it's all there.


Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 ft^3), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 20 hours.

PSA seems to have gone a slightly different route when designing the S1800, at least relative to the XS15 and XS15se I've heard previously. Instead of a subwoofer with prodigious deep bass output you get one that seems more comfortable in the 20Hz and up range. Provided the majority of the content doesn't dip too far into the teens the S1800 will happily play at an elevated volume level all day long. However, once confronted with the dual-headed monster of extreme output and really low bass you might find the S1800 voicing some displeasure as you start to hear what I can only describe as a "flapping" sound.

I contacted PowerSound about that and they replied with the following...

When dialing in the DSP there's always a fine line between "bullet proof" and squashing dynamics. For example, we could cap scene XYZ and ensure no noise regardless of volume but that would led to the other 99% of scenes having their dynamics cut just a little too. Its nothing to do with the motor, just the suspension reaching its limit so there is so chance of damage.

Since no harm is being done to the driver there's no fear of anything detrimental happening, but if you're the type who likes to 'let it fly' (so to speak) you may encounter some noise which is not part of the original soundtrack. Consider that your warning to back it off some.

Clarity and detail were never an issue during my day-to-day usage; whether I was listening to music, enjoying a movie or simply watching TV the S1800 went about its business in a very controlled and easy manner. By that I mean there was no fuss of any kind - it supported the soundtrack just like a subwoofer should, which is to say it didn't draw attention to itself unless the source material warranted it. Bass was evident when it needed to be, yet at no point was it 'shouty' or obnoxious.


Movies
Due to the S1800's proclivities I opted to go with one extreme torture test movie this time around. The other two flicks I chose certainly have punishing bass, but it's in spots rather than being an almost constant barrage like some of the other movies I use. Ultimately this afforded me the opportunity to test the S1800 at both ends of the spectrum, while under duress and when precision was called for. Let's begin with the most difficult movie.

Lord of the Rings: Return of The King (blu-ray)
The third installment of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King finds the Ranger named Strider (Aragorn) reluctantly ascending to the throne of Gondor, which you come to find is actually his birthright. Of course there's the inevitable turmoil associated to an outcast going home again, but what I was more interested in are the epic battle scenes every Lord of the Rings movie has. I started with scene 35, Ride of the Rohirim.

The Morgul army, comprised mostly of Orcs and Uruk-hai, have surrounded the White City of Gondor. They've already breached the first level so the Gondorian fighters have retreated to the second level. Just as the Morgul horde start to break through Gondor's second level of defenses the Riders of Rohan appear on the horizon. The Rohirim, as they're known, have shown up with thousands of other troops, filling the entire horizon with men on horseback. And you probably know what that leads to, the quintessential stampede-style assault.

As the horsemen thunder toward the Morgul army the S1800 played along. I had hoped for a bit more of a visceral impact, given the 18" driver, but what it lacked in outright depth was made up for with clarity and accuracy. Whether it was the sound generated by thousands of hooves or the guttural snarls from the Morgul beasts, the S1800 resolved them all with exquisite detail. No part of the soundtrack washed away, regardless of how complex it was.

The fighting reachs a zenith in scene 37, Battle of Pelennor Fields. Pelennor is the area directly outside Gondor's walls, the place where the Orcs and Uruk-hai have amassed. Just when it seems as though the Rohirim are getting the upper hand Haradrim riding Mūmakil appear on the horizon. Mūmakil, often referred to as Oliphants, are mammoth-like beasts of immense proportion. In order to portray their sheer size correctly the soundtrack has to produce tremendous amounts of deep bass, which is really the only way to make them believable.

As the colossal beasts come lumbering toward Gondor their footsteps resonated throughout my living room, but in so doing it was evident they were unsettling the S1800 a bit. Depending upon the intensity of combat the previously mentioned 'flapping' sound could occasionally be heard from the driver. It became more pronounced when two of the Mūmakil collide and crash to the ground, at which point the S1800 seemed particularly unhappy with what I was asking of it. Bear in mind my modus operandi is to crank the volume above what I would normally consider acceptable for day-to-day usage. At more sane levels I might not have heard anything untoward.

The International (blu-ray)
The International is more of a character piece than the quintessential action flick. It stars Clive Owen as Interpol agent Louis Salinger, the man tracking a global conspiracy tied to the IBBC (International Bank of Business and Credit). The IBBC is involved in money laundering and weapons trafficking, and Salinger is trying to expose them and bring the cartel down. There really isn't a lot of subwoofer test material in this movie, with one exception; the shootout at the Guggenheim Museum.

The Guggenheim is at the intersection of 89th Street and 5th Avenue in NYC (in that part of Manhattan 5th Avenue is also called Central Park East). In an area dominated by classic turn of the (20th) century architecture is a uniquely designed building that looks like no other. Part of it is cylindrical in nature, with the interior walls containing a ramp-like structure that's used to effortlessly traverse from one floor to another. Think along the lines of a corkscrew or coil spring. This unusual feature plays an integral part during the shootout.

Salinger has followed an IBBC courier from Europe all the way to the Guggenheim. The courier is meeting a hitman there, giving him instructions on his next contract - which just so happens to be Salinger - but Louis is not the only one tailing them. One thing leads to another and suddenly all the parties realize what's going on and a monumental gun battle breaks out. It's pretty much just handguns and semi-automatics but the number of rounds fired makes for bedlam, and subsequently a good subwoofer test.

The first shots that ring out hit the assassin himself. I detected a hint of distress from those percussive sounds if the volume was turned up to an extreme level. From that point everything descends into near total chaos as the various factions do their very best to eliminate each other. Small arms fire rang out, semi-automatic gunfire popped with a crisp sound. Detail never lacked, in spite of the mayhem. The occasional ominous tone from the soundtrack merely added to the affect, and in all those areas the S1800 was a very worth companion.

Open Range (DVD)
Yes, this one is in DVD format. Why you may ask? Because the soundtrack on the blu-ray version neutered the dynamics, so you actually lose some of the audio performance that the 'lesser' format has. When it comes to scenes 14 and 15, my test segment, a crippled recording simply would not do.

Open Range is a bit of a throwback movie, the kind generally not made any longer. From a very early age I've been a sucker for the good ol' western. Realistically, what boy isn't? The wild west of lore is a draw for most males, myself included, and in that context this movie is done quite well. Other than being a little long-winded sometimes, Open Range is a very worthy modern day version of this classic movie genre. In typical fashion there's a standoff between the good guys and the bad guys, and usually it includes lots of gunfire. Open Range does itself proud in that regard.

Scene 14 opens with Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) and Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) discussing how they're going to repel the advances of the implacable land baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon). Baxter is the bad guy archetype, a merciless person who runs roughshod over the common folk. Charlie and Boss are having no part of that nonsense, so the unavoidable showdown looms large. The plan they hatch is rather simple, start shooting and don't stop until either the outlaws are dead or they are. The weapons each side had at their disposal are representative of the day; Colt 45 pistols, Winchester rifles and a 'scatter gun', which today is known as a shotgun. I focused mostly on the intensity level and whether each discharge had its own unique sound signature, which they should of course.

Once the gunfight begins in earnest there's a virtual cannonade of bullets. Both sides blasted away, and with one exception the S1800 did a remarkable job of representing them; that scatter gun. Spearman fires both barrels simultaneously at one of Baxter's men - right through a building wall no less - and when it went off there was a touch of distortion heard. Beyond that, everything was as it should be. All the firearms were weighted appropriately, even to the point that if you closed your eyes you could easily discern which type of weapon was being shot. No matter how hot and heavy things got the S1800 kept pace. Each percussive blast rang out in a sharp and distinct manner, none of which were ever overshadowed by the others.


After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten, but found nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn't really much warmer than I noticed during normal daily usage.


Music
This part of my evaluation is where I found the S1800 to be most in its element. I probably spent more time listening to music with the S1800 then I have with any test subwoofer in some time.

Don't Walk Away, Firehouse (CD)
What better way to start the party than with a pretentious song from a 'hair metal' band? Actually that's a bit of a misnomer because Firehouse had the majority of their success in the early 90's, whereas most of the true hair bands had their heyday in the mid-to-late 80's. Firehouse was often lumped in with them nevertheless, so I'm going to do the same. They were probably more glam band than hair metal, but how much of a difference was there between the two really?

Don't Walk Away has a lazy feel to it, highlighted by the pounding rhythm of drummer Michael Foster and bassist Perry Richardson. Both of these guys had their part of this song recorded on the hot side, which is the primary reason I chose it. Michael Foster's kick drum hit with a solid thud, irrespective of the volume level. Richardson's bass remained potent and forceful, never once subjugated to the background in favor of the drums. Ostentatious was the presentation, just like it was meant to be.

Eat the Rich, Krokus (WAV)
Continuing with the hair metal theme I chose something from Krokus (who often considered themselves a hard rock band, but frankly I don't feel they played that type of music). Compared to Don't Walk Away this song is boisterous, with much more energy in the rhythm. Eat the Rich is from the bands 1983 Headhunter album, which was their 7th studio release. Headhunter produced not only this one but Screaming in the Night, quite possibly the biggest hit this band ever had. Like pretty much everything on Headhunter, Eat the Rich was penned by bassist Chris von Rohr.

This tune almost obligates you to rock your head back and forth - with the volume cranked of course - which the S1800 had no problem with. Steve Pace's drums were precise, while von Rohr's bass lick glued it all together. The whole presentation was lively, just as the band had intended I assume. Everything sounded rich; not as in monied, which the song title implies, but in depth and texture. Hair metal at its finest, assuming one can make such a statement of course.

Dust Bowl, Joe Bonamassa (CD)
Time to slow it down, change gears from the hair/glam metal and go with something different. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy up-tempo songs like Eat the Rich, but then there's the other side of me. Were you to distill everything down to its essence, the core of all the music I listen to is inextricably linked to the blues (this past February I attended - for the second time in as many years - the Lancaster PA Blues Festival, where I saw 13 bands perform in two days). Every genre of music I love can trace its origins to the blues, and because of that I would happily listen to it all day. Those familiar with previous reviews probably don't need me to tell them that - and for sure you've seen Bonamassa's name appear in the Music section more than once - so I guess you can consider this a "here we go again" song.

Dust Bowl is the title track from Joe's eponymous 2011 album. The bottom end on this recording predominately features longtime collaborator Carmine Rojas on the bass guitar, someone who has worked with Joe for perhaps a decade now. Given that the drums have been deemphasized on this track meant I paid little attention to them. While that may seem to create an imbalance for a blues song it doesn't in this case - although customary to do so, not every recording has to feature the drums in a prominent role.

The simple and thick rhythm of this song lends itself to something that would play well live, so it was that volume level I decided to try and replicate. While no single 18" subwoofer could effectively achieve that much impact in my living room, I still pushed the S1800 toward it nonetheless. In the end it did a remarkable job; Carmine's bass was abundant and silky smooth, which contributed mightily to the slick beat. This became one of those "have to listen again" tracks, so I did just that.


Conclusion
For some there is concern a subwoofer with an 18" driver could be excessive. They fear it will be physically too large, or that it may overwhelm the rest of their system. While those worries might prove true in a few instances, ordinarily they're unfounded. Properly tuned, virtually any subwoofer - however powerful it may be - will integrate decorously. The PowerSound Audio S1800 is a perfect example of that; in spite of the large driver it's not physically imposing, allowing virtually any listening space to accommodate one. With a refined sound it should blend easily as well. It could perhaps benefit from a slight tweak of the DSP to soften the response when pushed to the edge, and maybe an adjustment to how sensitive standby is at low volume, but beyond that the S1800 hits all the marks. Throw in PowerSound Audio's now famous customer service and you end up with a winning combination.


Please use the PowerSound Audio S1800 Discussion Thread for questions and comments



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These measurements were taken using an Omnimic. The S1800 was positioned in the center of my listening room with the microphone 1 foot from the dust cap on the driver. The gain and crossover were at their maximum setting while the delay was all the way down. Room Size adjustment varied between 0% (Small), 50% and 100% (Large). Each graph's name reflects the percentage and is noted accordingly.

Overall frequency response, Room Size set for Small


Spectrograph, Room Size set for Small



Overall frequency response, Room Size set for Medium


Spectrograph, Room Size set for Medium



Overall frequency response, Room Size set for Large


Spectrograph, Room Size set for Large

-Jim

If you take yourself too seriously, expect me to do the exact opposite
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