SVS PB13-Ultra Subwoofer Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 1 Old 01-16-13, 08:27 AM Thread Starter
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Texas
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SVS PB13-Ultra Subwoofer Review

If you have heard of SVS, chances are you know of their exceptional reputation for performance and customer service. This company has been offering home theater subwoofers with earth shattering performance at great prices for years now. Take a look at almost any model on their website and you will find dozens of 4 and 5-star reviews from happy customers. These guys are good at what they do, and people know it. I expected the flagship PB13-Ultra to be no exception. It has elements of their tried and true cylinder units, like the 13" custom woofer, tuning ports and integrated amplifier. So how far could it wander from the stellar performance typical of SVS subs? Read on to see how well it lives up to the name.

Design, Build Quality and Aesthetics
SVS gives you a few details about each of its subs by the selection of model names. The first bit of info they give you is the enclosure type, in this case, a ported box (PB). Alternatives offered by SVS are ported cylinder (PC) and sealed box (SB). Next, you will find the driver diameter in inches (13) although technically this one utilizes a 13.5" woofer. The 'Ultra' typically means you're getting the best SVS has to offer for a given enclosure type. In a nutshell: big, loud, deep bass. SVS has been designing subwoofers for a long time, and has developed some great components along the way. On paper, all of their models look great considering the price, and based on my experience, they always deliver. One of the great features offered by SVS is the ability to tune the response of most of their ported subs by including foam plugs. In the case of the PB13, owners have three different tuning options, each with a response curve optimized for different types of rooms or listening preferences. Combined with the built-in DSP, the port tuning makes these subs extremely flexible.

The first thing most people will probably notice about this sub is how massive it is. In this case, the term 'ginormous' is appropriate. It weighs well over 100lbs and takes up a substantial amount of real estate. A word of advice: find a strong friend to help you move this, and don't let him leave until you are certain you have it where you want it. Oh, and be sure to reward this kind friend with some pizza, cookies, beer, etc... whatever it takes. If you are looking to upgrade from a smaller sub, give some thought to your current arrangement of equipment and furniture and consider the fact that this beast will not be easily hidden. If you plan to install it with its back to the wall, expect it to extend almost 3 feet into your room with the grill on, and some breathing room for the connections to the amp. If you want this much bass (and let's face it, you definitely want this much bass), make sure you have room for it!

From the outside, the PB13-Ultra appears to be very well designed and constructed. As you would expect at this price point, fit and finish leave nothing to be desired, and materials and hardware are definitely high quality. The knob and connectors on the power amp module look and feel nice as well. DSP operation is smooth and responsive and I did not experience any performance or reliability issues during the review period. SVS even includes a handy flow-chart for the DSP functions so you can breeze through setup even if you have never used it before.

Our review unit has the beautiful piano gloss finish, and really stands out from the matte black or wood veneer options most commonly available for subs and speakers. It is smooth as glass - I could not find a single flaw. Although the piano gloss finish would probably not blend with the rest of my gear as well as a black wood veneer, I really love the look of it, and can appreciate the extra effort required to achieve it. As pretty as it is, the piano gloss is finish is probably not ideal for owners with pets or active, curious kids. I find myself wanting to polish it every time I deposit a fingerprint - a potential nightmare for anyone with OCD tendencies, but really stunning once you get it all shined up. If your HT contains more natural tones, or you just do not like the look of a big black box, SVS offers some attractive natural wood finishes as well.

The grill design is quite nifty, and really smart. The curved metal shield provides the SVS with a very unique look and much better than average protection for the driver. For starters, it is attached to the front of the enclosure magnetically, meaning no pins to line up, and no exposed grommets when the cover is off. If you are concerned about driver safety (and no, I'm not talking about texting behind the wheel), the steel mesh grill is tough to beat. It will likely handle most accidental bumps, kicks, jabs, scratches or pokes with ease while keeping that lovely Ultra 13 driver far from harm. SVS states that it is also non-resonant, so there is no need to worry about it rattling. I did not detect any added noise from the grill during any of my testing. A look inside confirms good sturdy construction, with solid bracing and dedicated internal support for that massive woofer. (see specs section for photos)

Setup and Operation
I decided to test this sub in my main living area for a couple of reasons. First, it is larger and more open than my HT and I wanted to get a feel for how it would perform in an open space. The dimensions of the living room itself are 19.5ft wide by 16ft deep and 18ft tall, with two walls almost completely open to other parts of the house. Realistically it is more like 26.5ft deep. The second reason I started with the living room was that I did not have anyone to help me carry it upstairs to the HT on the day I unloaded from the car. Moving this thing is a two-man job!

I initially slid it into the corner as shown below mostly to keep it out of the way while I got things set up. After scrounging around for some extra speaker cable in the garage and getting the small Paradigm towers and center channel hooked up, I ran some music and a few clips from Inception through it. Bass was fat and boomy and tapered off very quickly at the low end. There seemed to be a gap in response between the PB13 and my Paradigms and ultra low frequency response was non-existent. I was not extremely surprised considering the room size and shape, and the fact that I had not taken any measurements or done any kind of EQ yet.

I still had high hopes for the SVS though, and decided to try a few different positions and orientations. I tried facing it into the room, parallel to the front wall and then at an angle. Nothing helped. I had a feeling the two individual PEQ options within the DSP were the answer. I fired up the REW software and confirmed my suspicions of a peak and a dip in the room response below 60Hz. After a couple hours of fiddling with the PEQ parameters and several dozen sweeps in REW, I liked what I was seeing at a few different seating locations. I decided to get some music playing, and was immediately satisfied with the fruits of my efforts. VERY satisfied. In fact, I stopped tinkering on the spot and enjoyed about an hour or two of music from all extents of my collection. I was impressed by how well the Ultra blended with my speakers, and by how even the response was in different parts of the room (both standing and seated). Since I was using a basic receiver with no room correction program, I had to rely on the Ultra’s built-in DSP, and it did the trick.

I will note here that I took room measurements with the sub in both the 20Hz tune (all ports open) and the sealed tune (all ports plugged). The sealed tune ended up producing the best results in my room. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a DSP setting that must be configured for each port tuning mode. Simply inserting or removing the foam plugs without adjusting the tuning option may not produce the results you are looking for.

Here is a look at the initial sweep (20Hz, no EQ) compared to the response after some adjustments (sealed tune with some trim at 40Hz using the built-in EQ). Looking at the graph alone, there was more improvement to be had, but again this is without room treatment or correction. Overall the sub performed extremely well without a great deal of external intervention, considering the room response. Both curves were measured with the sub in the same location.

Measurement Graphs

Music Performance

Dave Matthews - Save Me (Some Devil, ALAC)
I have always found Dave Matthews albums to be very well mixed and recorded, and very satisfying to listen to on quality gear. The PB13 gave the bass in Save Me a very tangible quality but still blended very well with the detail of the electric guitar. It reached the deepest notes with ease, and was very crisp and clear the whole time, without getting muddy or boomy. Did I mention it was smooth? It was oh so smooth.

Zedd - The Legend Of Zelda (The Legend Of Zelda, 320kbps streaming)
I would not say this is typically the type of music I gravitate toward, but I must admit this one has been stuck in my head now for a couple weeks. It has a good blend of deep electronic bass notes and a driving thump that can be difficult for some subs to deliver in a controlled way. The Ultra did so with ease. And that is an understatement. Again, it blended very well with my mains here, and was never overpowering.

Bullet For My Valentine - Your Betrayal (Fever, 320kbps streaming)
This is a new one for me (thanks to Dale Rasco of The Sub Zone fame). It is a great track for revealing a subwoofer’s speed and accuracy, which is not necessarily a strength of designs using large drivers and enclosures. The Ultra keeps up perfectly with the fast-paced punch of the kick drum, while still cranking out a seriously heavy bass line. At no point did I notice it getting slow or sloppy. The PB13 makes songs like this really fun to listen to.

Genesis - Dance On A Volcano (A Trick Of The Tail, ALAC)
This is a bit of an oldie, but I love classic rock and Genesis is one of my all-time favorites. In typical prog-rock fashion, they employed a lot of synthesizers which gave their music a nice full, rich sound. Dance On A Volcano starts right off with a nice deep synth bass line. It is relatively subtle, but I know it's there, and when it's missing, the song is just not the same for me. The SVS nails it, delivering a perfect combination of depth and smoothness throughout the song. The PB13 does a nice job of providing an appropriate level of bass here without the need to crank the volume way up. Since I only listen at high levels occasionally, I appreciate speakers and subs that perform as well at low levels as they do at high levels. The SVS does just that, even in a large space.

Movie Performance

Matrix Revolutions (Blu-ray)
Whether or not you like the way this trilogy ended, all three Matrix movies have some great action, and are visually stunning in my opinion. A lot of the third film takes place in Zion where the humans must defend themselves from the machines. Throughout the battle scenes there are tons of gun blasts, humming hovercrafts, and huge structures crashing to the ground. The SVS does an excellent job of not only providing the audible thumps and booms, but also gives you that rumble you can feel. Toward the end, Neo and Trinity give us a picture of what the world looks like above the ground, and we hear the deep hum of the machine world. I found myself being absorbed into scenes like this, thanks to the Ultra's ability to produce such clear and tangible bass. The SVS never drew attention to itself, even while dealing with the most intense action sequences.

The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-ray)
Well I guess I was in the mood for closure, and needed to see another trilogy concluded. Like the first two parts of Christopher Nolan's Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises was an excellent film, accompanied by an incredible Hans Zimmer soundtrack. The explosive action combined with the percussion-driven music make this movie a definite favorite of mine for sub testing. Every time Batman flew "The Bat", the room shook as if it were literally hovering over my house. When Bane initiated the series of explosions which trapped Gotham City, I could actually feel my pants flapping a little from the vibrations. Every bit of thumping and rumbling made its way through the couch with authority. Throughout the entire movie, the thundering soundtrack was incredibly intense, and yet crystal clear. Again, The PB13 never drew attention to itself, and seemed as though it had plenty of power in reserve. This movie was a real pleasure to watch at home thanks to the SVS subwoofer. It sounded (and felt) exactly like I wanted it to.

Overall Value
With the amount of low cost, high performance subwoofers available, one should expect exceptional performance from a single sub with a $2000 price tag. In fact, you may already be thinking about subs that cost half or less and wondering how two (or more) of them would compare to a single PB13 for the same price. A major benefit of multiple subs is even distribution through the room. This can be very difficult for a single subwoofer to achieve, especially in larger or irregularly shaped rooms. During my evaluation, the SVS consistently did an excellent job of filling the room with even and well controlled bass, and had plenty of headroom to spare if needed. Every system and every room is unique, with its own challenges. The added flexibility of the port tuning options and built-in PEQ make the PB13 better prepared for such obstacles than most basic subs (even some others in the same price range). Sure there are higher priced options with better performance on paper, and for some, multiple cheaper units may get the job done. To me, the performance and features of the Ultra make it a good value in this price range. Another thing I have noticed about the brand is that, as popular as SVS subs are, I rarely see many for sale. I have to assume most people like them enough to keep them. For me, the added security of good brand image is another victory for this sub in the value category. I would find it hard to imagine spending the money on one of these and being disappointed.

Conclusion and Recommendations
As I stated earlier, I had high expectations for this sub based on my impressions of other SVS subs I have heard. One preconception I had developed, for whatever reason, about the PB13 was that it would be a brute-force, window rattling, blow-your-socks-off bass machine. And... it basically is. What has surprised me about it though, is its ability to maintain control while delivering the more subtle details. I love this sub for both music and movies. It looks great and offers some unique features. The only real complaint that comes to mind is the size, but if you want good bass, you have to go big!

I would recommend the PB13 to those of you with the budget and space for a sub that gives you a real movie theater experience. Looking for great movie and music performance? The SVS excels in both areas. If you have a large room or bad acoustics with limited EQ options, the DSP has you covered there too, with a fair amount of features to get things evened out at the low end. As with any sub, placement is critical, but once it is in that sweet spot, the PB13 will challenge you to find a single weakness.

Review Discussion Thread

More About the SVS PB13-Ultra
Product Site
SVS PB13-Ultra Subwoofer

$1999 from SVS


Exclusive Ultra 13 Driver
  • Expensive Finite Element Analysis (FEA)-optimized underhung motor technology for exceptionally low distortion.
  • Multi-layer flat-wound voice coil for ultra-high power handling.
  • Dual linear-roll spiders and stitched parabolic surround for extreme excursion capability.
  • Ultra-light and rigid Rohacell composite cone provides excellent transient response.
Sledge Amplification
  • 1000 watts RMS continuous power (3600 watts peak dynamic power).
  • Efficient, cool-running Class D power with 'green' standby mode.
  • Stereo line-level RCA and balanced (XLR) input/output connections for the ultimate in connectivity.
  • DSP control for the ultimate in refined behavior under all operating conditions.
  • Variable tuning with 20Hz, 16Hz, and Sealed settings to match any room.
  • Extensive menu options and digital crossover allows easy integration into any 2-channel system.
  • Intuitive and easy to use single knob controller with bright LCD display.
Efficient Performance and Versatile Tuning
  • Large cabinet provides efficient reproduction of the deepest bass notes.
  • Wide-flared triple 3.5" ports for maximum air-flow with no artifacts.
  • 20 Hz, 16 Hz and Sealed variable tuning accommodates all room sizes and deep extension requirements.
  • Curved metal grille with hidden neo magnet retention gives high-tech appearance.


Frequency Response (quasi-anechoic)
  • 20 Hz Mode: 19-150 Hz +/- 3 dB
  • 16 Hz Mode: 16-150 Hz +/- 3 dB
  • Sealed Mode: 26-150 Hz +/- 3 dB
  • Dimensions: 22.5" (H) x 20.5" (W) x 27" (D)Weight: 155 pounds
  • Rigid and braced Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) cabinet
  • Black gloss or full veneer black oak finish
  • Front-firing driver
  • Front-firing triple 3.5" high-flow flared ports
  • Dense foam port blockers (3) included
  • Variable 20 Hz, 16 Hz and Sealed tuning modes
  • Protective non-resonant steel mesh grille
  • SVS 13.5” extreme performance underhung Ultra driver
  • SVS custom-tooled die-cast aluminum basket
  • Flat-wire, 3” diameter, high-power, high-temp, 8-layer, aluminum voice coil
  • Polyimide impregnated fiberglass former/bobbin
  • Dual 9", composite layered, linear roll, extreme excursion spiders
  • Integrated tinsel leads
  • Nickel-plated high-tension spring terminals
  • Proprietary injection molded gasket and parabolic SBR extreme-excursion surround
  • Composite pulp/fiberglass press layered cone with stitched surround
  • Low carbon 1008 steel components, electrophoresis black plating
  • Finite Element Analysis (FEA)-optimized underhung motor structure for the lowest possible distortion
  • Copper shorting sleeve reduces gap induction and distortion, and enhances thermal conductivity
  • Dual Genox 8H/Y-35 high grade ferrite magnets
  • Oversized pole vent for greater cooling and low noise
  • STA-1000D Sledge with 1000 watts RMS continuous power (3600 watts peak dynamic power)
  • High efficiency cool-running Class D switching topology
  • Detachable power cord with main power switch and ceramic fuse
  • RoHS compliant, lead-free construction and world-wide safety certifications
  • Auto-On / On switch with "green" standby mode
  • Stereo line-level RCA and balanced (XLR) input/output connections
  • Normal and Hi input voltage switch
  • Customized EQ and DSP limiter settings specifically for the PB13-Ultra
  • Variable tuning with 20Hz, 16Hz, and Sealed settings to match subwoofer port settings
  • Fully adjustable (frequency and slope) phase-correct speaker/sub digital crossover
  • Intelligent Feature Control (IFC) with bright LCD display
  • Two (2) digital PEQs with adjustable frequency, cut/boost, and Q values
  • Room gain compensation control with adjustable frequency and slope
  • Adjustable digital delay on main speaker line-level outputs to time-align the speakers and subs

More About this Review
Peter Loeser (Archive)

Audio Equipment
Receiver: Yamaha RX-V530
Mains: Paradigm Cinema Phantom
Center: Paradigm Cinema CC
Subwoofer: SVS PB13-Ultra

Video and Source Equipment
Blu-ray Player: Samsung BD-D6500
Media Streaming: Apple TV
Media Server: Mac Mini Server

Last edited by Peter Loeser; 03-19-13 at 11:57 AM.
Peter Loeser is offline  
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pb13ultra , review , subwoofer , svs

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