BIC Acoustech H-100II Subwoofer Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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BIC Acoustech H-100II Subwoofer Review

BIC Acoustech H-100II

By Jim Wilson (theJman)




Introduction
The subject of this review is the BIC Acoustech Cinema Series H-100II, a 12" bass reflex subwoofer. The H-100II is relatively small for a ported sub, measuring just 17.25"x14.75"x17.75" (HWD). It's not terribly heavy either, weighing a mere 33 lbs. The BASH amp is rated at 150 watts RMS, 500 watts peak. Stated frequency response is 24Hz-200Hz +/-3dB. BIC, an abbreviation for British Industry Corporation, was conceived as an American firm specializing in British products. They're a well established company that has been making speakers since 1973.


Ordering
BIC sells their products through a multitude of outlets including Amazon, Best Buy, Overstock and Newegg (to name just a few). Bottom line is you can buy the H-100II from quite a few different retailers. The list price is $499, but you can find the H-100II for about half that with no effort whatsoever. The warranty is generous for a budget subwoofer, with 2 years on the electronics and 7 years on the driver.


Unboxing
Credit BIC for their packaging because the H-100II came double boxed, not what you normally see with a $250 subwoofer. The inner box was noticeably smaller than the outer so BIC used hard styrofoam wedges between them to prevent the inner one from moving around. The H-100II was suspended by soft foam blocks in all 8 corners, with the bottom four having circular cut outs tailored specifically for the feet. It was wrapped in plastic and there was a thin sheet of foam over cardboard stock to protect the gloss finish of the top panel.

Accessories included a power cord and owners manual.


Impressions
The first thing I noticed was BIC took some pains to differentiate the H-100II from the rest of the budget subwoofer field. The most prominent feature is an acrylic top panel covered in gloss black lacquer, finished with smooth edges all around. It does look distinctive but it also reflects light unfortunately. There's a matching strip of acrylic across the very bottom of the front panel that houses an Acoustech badge in a semi-circle, an understated touch that effectively serves to break up the all black appearance.

The enclosure is constructed from 1" MDF on the front panel, 5/8th's everywhere else. The front, back and both sides are wrapped in black oak vinyl with a subtle grain pattern. The two rear vertical edges have a .25" roundover, making for a nice finished look. Securely stapled to the interior left, right and top panels are 3" sheets of acrylic damping material. The overall sense about the inside is neat and tidy, with everything in its place and no huge globs of glue evident. The attention to detail is apparent in little ways as well, such as the driver leads being wrapped in damping material to ensure they don't make any sounds. The reflex port measures 2.5" wide by 7" long and is flared at both ends, something which should keep chuffing to a minimum.

The cabinet isn't all that large, nor is it particularly heavy, so as you might expect the knuckle rap test returns a somewhat hollow sound. In spite of that it doesn't transmit a lot of vibration; placing my hand on the top or side during bass heavy movies didn't reveal much pulsating. Keeping everything off the ground are 4 pretty substantial round rubber feet.

The grill is cut from 5/8th's MDF and feels sturdy. The fabric BIC uses is transparent and was applied very well. The whole thing is held on by long plastic pins. The aforementioned top panel and strip containing the Acoustech badge jut out .5" past the front panel, meaning the grill has to fit between them perfectly in order to sit flush. It does, and goes on with a solid 'clunk' to boot.

Like the enclosure, the driver's appearance is unique. The cone is made from a poly-graphite material and finished in gold. There's a large black dust cap and a massive half roll foam surround. The wood screws securing the driver needed maybe a 1/4 turn to snug down, while those holding the amp were already tight. I can't say the look of it ever really grew on me, in spite of the fact I'm generally drawn to things that are distinctive. The contrast between the gold and black struck me as a bit stark, and the foam surround is more of a deep gray, so you end up with three different colors. I would imagine most people will keep the grill on anyway, so perhaps that's all moot.

BIC uses a stamped steel basket to hold it all together, fairly commonplace with budget subwoofers. The single slug magnet is slightly larger than customary and there's a voice coil bump out on the back to facilitate the driver's long travel suspension. Helping to keep everything cool is a 1" vent for the voice coil.

BIC opted for a BASH amp, which is a hybrid between Class AB and Class D. Among audiophiles AB amps are considered to have a higher level of fidelity, but they're very inefficient and produce a lot of excess heat. Class D have far greater efficiency, so less heat, but they aren't believed to have the fidelity of AB. Combine the best of both amps, however, and what you end up with is BASH. This one has 150 watts RMS -- which isn't much by subwoofer standards -- but BIC claims a 90dB sensitivity rating for their driver so a lot of power shouldn't be necessary to motivate it.

This amp diverges from the norm somewhat when it comes to inputs, so be sure to read the manual when setting it up. For one thing there are 5 way connectors for speaker level in and out, not something you find on most subwoofers in this price class. Seems as though BIC envisions people will use the H-100II in a 2 channel music system, a bonus for sure. The only other input is a single RCA, but it actually serves a dual purpose. Under normal circumstances you'll find two sets of RCA inputs on a subwoofer amp; one designated as LFE, which uses the crossover setting from the receiver, and a 'regular' input which utilizes the low pass filter setting on the subwoofer. That second connection gives you the ability to use the subwoofer's crossover setting in conjunction with the one from your receiver to further aid in configuring the crossover range, essentially creating a much steeper slope (which makes is so the speakers and subwoofer "get out of each others way quicker", so to speak). Instead of having separate inputs for each function what BIC did instead was add a switch called 'Receiver Type' that changes the function of the sole RCA input. One side, labelled 'Digital Receiver', disables the crossover knob on the subwoofers amp. That means the setting in the receiver is used exclusively, like the typical LFE style input works. When you flip the switch to 'Pro-Logic Receiver' the crossover knob is then enabled, allowing you to set that as well. The doubling of the crossover slope can often make the interaction between the speakers and subwoofer more seamless, and in turn improve the sound quality. The vast majority of the time that's precisely what I do, use a subwoofers low pass filter in conjunction with the crossover from my receiver. Should you also choose to do that BIC makes it simple, clearly delineating where the knob needs to be pointing in order to use a crossover of 40Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz or 150Hz, by far the most common settings. Why doesn't every company make it this easy?

Most of the remaining controls are pretty standard. There's a switch for the power mode that has on/auto/off settings, along with a toggle switch for 0 or 180 degrees of phase (which is more like a polarity reversal than a true phase adjustment). The volume knob breaks from tradition by being labeled 0-10, effectively making it 1-11. Is it possible one of BIC's engineers is a fan of the movie Spinal Tap? If so, kudo's to them for having a sense of humor. And last, but certainly not least, the auto on feature worked flawlessly - the sub came on when it should have and never once went into standby when it wasn't supposed to. Thank you for that.

The manual initially appears to be on the short-n-sweet side, because it's only a few pages in total, but once you start looking a little further you come to realize BIC did a fantastic job. Concise, yet not terse. It's very well written, replete with diagrams, placement options and connection details. There are clear descriptions of all the controls and switches as well as explicit details on the advantages/disadvantages of the various placement options. Everything is clearly labeled and written in a font that is easy to read. If you're unfamiliar with how a subwoofer works, and what the best methods are to set one up, this manual will be your friend.

One of the placement options BIC discusses is in a corner of your listening room, a suggestion that you should heed if the option presents itself. Close mic measurements indicate a port tuning of around 30Hz, which means solid output to around 25Hz is what I was seeing with my mid-wall placement. Situating the H-100II in a corner may improve upon that.

One final thought: I'm not big on rumors -- I simply have no desire to waste time chasing ghosts -- but one I've seen mentioned several times is that BIC enlisted the assistance of Dr. Poh Hsu when designing the H-100. You're probably acquainted with the name due to his eponymous ID company, Hsu Research. Dr. Hsu is renowned for wringing a lot of performance out of modest underpinnings. I was not able to corroborate the rumors however; my contact at BIC would neither confirm nor deny his involvement, citing a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). I found that a curious stance given the fact they more than allude to his involvement at this link on their own website. That page is for the H-100 though, not the H-100II, which may prove to be a critical distinction.
{UPDATE: after this review was published BIC contacted me regarding Dr. Hsu's involvement with the H-100 subwoofers. He did indeed assist with the original H-100, but that product was discontinued in 2012. As I surmised there was a critical distinction in the two models - Dr. Hsu was not involved with the H-100II. Subsequently, the page I linked to above has now been taken down.}


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 15 hours.

In general I found the bass from the H-100II was quite pleasant with good detail, just not terribly authoritative when called upon for output in the low 20Hz range. The vast majority of the time it remained very composed, and never did I detect any objectionable droning (one note bass), it just wasn't able to plumb the depths with tremendous force. I did sense what sounded like the driver complaining once or twice when being pushed hard, but never any audible port noise during those instances.


Movies
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level, which is slightly above what I would normally use on a day-to-day basis.

Hurt Locker (blu-ray)
One of the few movies I use for subwoofer testing that I actually watch from start to finish, instead of playing just a few select scenes to punish the unit in question. As a matter of fact there are long stretches where the subwoofer contributes little to this particular soundtrack, so it's definitely not the prototypical movie in that regard. Lots of down time in the action meant the director was free to flesh out the characters completely, and it's perhaps this aspect which attracts me the most. Coupled with brilliant acting in general and what you have is a winner on your hands.

Hurt Locker is primarily about Sargent William James, an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) expert stationed in Iraq. James is an absolute master at defusing all manner of bombs but he seems to be descending into madness from the pressure cooker world he lives in, and as he looses his grip on reality he's become more and more reckless. Sargent James is replacing Sargent Matt Thompson who was recently killed by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Thompson's squad consisted of Sargent JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge, so James is now assigned to work with them. All three are 'short' by about 30 days, meaning they only have a month left in their tour. Sanborn and Eldridge have switched into uber-cautious mode, merely trying to get out in one piece. James is intent on pushing the limit though, so naturally there is a lot of friction between the men. Probably my favorite portion of the movie are scenes 8-10, and it's that part from where the majority of my notes were derived.

While on a scouting mission in the desert our trio ends up helping a team of mercenaries whose vehicle has a flat tire, but before long they end up in a gun battle with rebels. The interaction between the various characters is uncanny, making it very easy to get drawn into their plight. So realistic are the actors portrayals that their lips are actually cracked from dehydration, and at one point Sargent James -- who is manning the scope while Sargent Sanborn fires a 50 caliber rifle at the insurgents -- ends up with some flies walking across his face. Shows just how far these actors were willing to go while filming. What that intimates, in a graphic way, is were any of them to lose their concentration for even a split second, and focus on something other than trying to stay alive, they would all end up in a body bag. The brilliant acting isn't the only thing these scenes are good for though, there is also a lot of gunfire.

The H-100II gave the M16's a nice snap, which became more evident the faster they squeezed off rounds. The 50 cal might have been more convincing with a touch more oomph, but it was still pretty solid nonetheless. Underpinning the chaos is a soundtrack intent on creating an ominous tone, and the H-100II complied by pumping out enough bass to generate a bit of a tactile rumble. To fully engross me would have required a little more kick, but never once did imprecise or sloppy bass detract from the action. Things were as they should have been, proportion wise.

The International (blu-ray)
Clive Owen stars as an Interpol agent named Louis Salinger who is trying to expose a high-profile banks role in an international weapons ring. His partner is NY District Attorney Eleanor Whitman, skillfully played by Naomi Watts. The financial institution, called the IBBC (International Bank of Business and Credit), is neck deep in money laundering, arms trading and the subsequent destabilization of governments around the world. It's a very well done movie, and like Hurt Locker one I actually watch even when not testing speakers and/or subwoofers, but when evaluating the latter there's one scene that rates a 'must'; the shootout at the Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim Museum is a Manhattan landmark, located at 89th and 5th (which is also called Central Park East). Having been to NYC literally hundreds of times -- no exaggeration -- means I know vast swaths of the island like the back of my hand. The Guggenheim stands out like a beacon due to the buildings very unique architecture. Basically, it looks like a huge white spiral in a sea of far more contemporary buildings. You could realistically call this section of NYC 'museum row' because about a half dozen blocks south sits the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- commonly referred to as The Met -- which is located right in Central Park (one of the few buildings actually situated inside the park walls). The Museum Of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium are a 5 minute jaunt from The Met if you take the 85th street Transverse across Central Park, so they're all really close to each other. But I digress.

Setting the stage... Salinger and Whitman are following an IBBC courier who is meeting a hitman in the Guggenheim, but they aren't the only ones tailing the two of them. Suddenly everyone realizes what's going on and an epic gun battle breaks out. Most of the weapons are handguns and semi-automatics, so you won't find any large caliber munitions like RPG's during this battle, but the unbelievable number of shots being fired by so many people makes for sheer pandemonium. And, as you might expect, this is a good subwoofer test.

Everything I heard from the H-100II was clean and precise, with nothing muddled or indistinct. Regardless of how rapidly the shots were being fired none of them stepped on the others. I would have preferred the various guns be characterized by having a bit more difference in their respective tone, but honestly that might be nit picking for a subwoofer that costs a mere $250. BIC should be commended for going the articulate route, as opposed to boom for the sake of boom.

Battle: Los Angeles (blu-ray)
Thus far I had let the H-100II off rather easy, choosing movies with more dialog and content than LFE, but it was high time to remedy that and go for something ruthless. Battle: Los Angeles certainly fits the bill. If you want to test your subwoofer this movie needs to be on your short list. The fact that it's watchable is simply a bonus.

It's 2011, and what initially appeared to be a huge meteor shower turned out to be the beginning of an alien invasion. All over the globe these intruders are wiping out major cities, intent on annihilating everyone on earth in order to have unfettered access to our water supply. In Los Angeles a squad of Marines, led by Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, have been deployed to rescue several stranded civilians located in a police station that was overrun by the aliens. In the process of extricating them they encounter heavy resistance. During the multitude of battle scenes there are bombs exploding in the foreground and background, along with an almost ceaseless amount of small arms fire. Add to that the alien gunships and their weapons and what you end up with is a cacophony of sounds that push your subwoofer harder and harder, resulting in quite the workout.

The H-100II had no problem with the intensity of this movie, pumping out all the battle sounds with good authority. Some elements, like the bombs, could have used a touch more brawn, but at no time did they seem to be lacking. All the gunfire was clear and precise, with pretty distinct sounds given to each caliber of weapon. Helicopters blades had a healthy 'whoosh' to them as they hovered overhead, but the engines on the alien gunships -- which are recorded with very deep bass in some parts -- were not as convincing as I would have liked. All-in-all though, a pretty solid performance on some very difficult material.


After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp and found it was rather warm, as in I really wasn't able to keep my hand on it for too long. BASH amps generally run cool, relatively speaking, but this one was putting out appreciable heat.


Music
Overall I would say the BIC H-100II produces bass with good texture, differentiating the various instruments well. A lot of budget subwoofers could be described using words like "murky" or "loose", but not so here. No subwoofer costing what this one does will ever be described by me as musical, but I suspect BIC was targeting precision more than sheer output with the H-100II. In that regard I think they did themselves proud.


Littleworth Lane, Joe Satriani (CD)
Every so often you encounter a musician who seems as though they were born to play a particular instrument, and ultimately we all benefit when said person finds their niche. Beethoven had his piano, Stanley Clarke has his bass, Neal Peart was probably born with drum sticks in his hands, the list goes on and on. When it comes to the guitar Joe Satriani is one of those rare people; even after seeing the man live I have a hard time comprehending how easy it is for him to play such complex and difficult passages, yet he does it without breaking a sweat.

Littleworth Lane is a smokey blues tune on Joe's 2010 release called Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards, a nonsensical title if there ever was one. But that's Joe, so you learn to embrace it. This is the 13th studio CD he has released, a remarkable achievement when you consider that 95% of his songs are instrumental. Not exactly appealing to the mainstream music audience but someone, other than myself of course, must be buying them. As is his custom Joe plays the guitar, keyboard and bass on this CD. Oh yea, he also does the engineering and production. I alternate between being annoyed and amazed at people who can do that much.

This track has a different mix than the rest of the songs on the CD, having a decided emphasis on the bass guitar. Perfect for a subwoofer test and as I soon came to realize the H-100II really liked this one, playing with conviction and authority. You won't find any of Joe's typical lightning quick fret work here, but what you will hear is the type of song that makes your head sway back and forth (assuming you're a fan of the blues like I am). While writing up this part of my review I must have played Littleworth Lane half a dozen times -- with a few of those at a volume best described as annoyingly loud -- yet I never tired of what I was hearing.

Hocus Pocus, Gary Hoey (CD)
If you're similar to me you aren't afraid to buy a CD from an unknown artist. The intent, of course, is to uncover a hidden gem. Frequently I end up spending money on something that doesn't last too long in my music collection, or has just a song or two I truly enjoy, but I remain undaunted because every so often I strike pure gold. For me Gary Hoey (pronounced hoe-ay) is just such a find. Even though I like several of his CD's, nothing he lays down in the studio comes close to seeing him in person - you just simply have to attend a live show in order to understand what this man is capable of.

Some people know Gary from his series of tongue-in-cheek Christmas CD's called Ho! Ho! Hoey (which are then numerically sequenced, so 1, 2, 3, etc.) where he covers all manner of classic Christmas songs, albeit in a very unique manner. Yet even though that seems to be his claim to fame I was interested in something a bit more traditional, so I broke out my copy of Animal Instinct and queued up the tune that introduced me to this man about 20 years ago; his cover of the old Focus song titled Hocus Pocus.

Virtually everyone in their 40's or 50's remembers this bizarre anthem because of the idiotic yodeling which, like most undesirable sounds, gets stuck in your head for days. Thankfully Gary forgoes that part entirely and instead uses his guitar to emulate it. He also turns up the intensity, which is also to my liking, so what you end up with is the infectious rhythm minus the annoyingly vocals. Much better, all around.

The bass guitar is not recorded with much authority, so the H-100II had little to work with there, but the kick drum is another story; that was recorded with... well, a lot of kick as it turns out. Even as the volume increased -- and rest assured I did crank this one -- the H-100II never missed a beat (no pun intended). Whatever I asked for it complied with.

Trivia question; who played the drums on the Animal Instinct CD? None other than Frankie Banali, who was also a member of Quiet Riot, W.A.S.P., Dokken, Billy Idol and Steppenwolf (a later incarnation, not the original lineup).

I Know A Place, Joe Bonamassa (CD)
Joe Satriani and Gary Hoey; since I was already on a guitar virtuoso kick, why stop now? Enter Joe Bonamassa. I wouldn't characterize Joe's prowess with an electric to be quite on par with what the other two are capable of, but when it comes to an acoustic he has few rivals. Other than Tommy Emmanuel I don't know of any other person who is as fluid and smooth 'unplugged' as Joe is. He plays the thing with an effortlessness that defies logic. Anyone who has ever picked up an acoustic knows just how difficult it really is, when done properly anyway, but apparently Joe Bonamassa never got that memo. Check out some of his videos on youtube; the instrument appears to be an extension of the man himself. He doesn't play the acoustic on too many songs during his live shows, so I went with one of his notable electric performances instead.

Joe's Live From The Beacon Theatre CD is near and dear to me because I have been to this hallowed venue to see bands perform. Virtually every year during the month of March the Allman Brothers basically take over the Beacon, playing close to 20 shows. One thing you can always count on is that someone different will jam with them on any given night. That's why I love going to see those shows, you just never know who is going to take the stage. Joe ripped a page from the Allman's playbook and on the night he recorded this CD none other than John Hiatt accompanied him for a few songs. Even if John's name doesn't ring a bell the songs he wrote certainly will; his music has been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Three Dog Night, Buddy Guy, Jeff Healey, Joe Cocker and who knows how many other famous musicians. Most people have heard at least one of John Hiatt's songs in some form or another, even if they didn't know it at the time.

Part of the reason I'm so addicted to live music has to be the full body sensation one gets from the ferocious bass, something that can only be achieved with tons of volume, lots of amplification and stacks of PA cabinets. From a music standpoint this is perhaps where I punished the H-100II the most, cranking it to the point of distortion and then backing it off ever so slightly. What I found was a subwoofer pretty capable of handling the volume, but not completely able to create the total sensation.

To be fair the H-100II played its heart out, and was unperturbed by my attempts to recreate the intensity of a live performance, but it wasn't quite able to match that level of force or depth. No $250 subwoofer ever will though, so don't fault BIC for that. What it did do was create a rich and potent sound field which belied its modest selling price. A pair of these may have been up to the task, so if you like to immerse yourself consider buying two. At only $250 each you certainly can't go wrong.


Conclusion
The words "inexpensive" and "cheap" are often considered to be synonyms, but is that always the case? I don't necessarily believe so, for if they were every inexpensive subwoofer would sound bad. The H-100II sits in the middle of BIC's product line -- with the F12 below and the PL200 above -- yet it offers a lot of value for the money. My experience with this subwoofer suggests BIC didn't design it to rattle your fillings loose, but what they did seem to want was a product which costs next to nothing yet didn't sound that way. They succeeded in my opinion. Throw in a unique appearance and the H-100II is a subwoofer the budget minded consumer should consider when deciding where to spend their hard-earned money.


Please use the BIC Acoustech H-100II Discussion Thread for questions and comments


BIC Acoustech H-100II Pictures




BIC Acoustech H-100II Measurements
These measurements were taken using XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro. The unit was indoors, physically positioned in the center of my listening room with no other speakers running.

This represents the individual performance of the driver (green trace) and port (blue trace)


This represents the Spectrograph of the driver by itself


This represents the Spectrograph of the port by itself

-Jim

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

Last edited by theJman; 07-28-14 at 06:29 PM. Reason: Clarified Dr. Hsu's involvment with the H-100II
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