HTS Moderator , Reviewer
BIC Acoustech PL-200 II Review
By Jim Wilson (theJman)
The subject of this review is the BIC Acoustech PL-200 II. The PL-200 II is a 12" bass reflex subwoofer with dual front-firing ports. Measuring just 17.25"x15"x19.5" (HWD), it's rather compact for a ported subwoofer with a 12" driver. BIC uses a BASH amplifier rated at 250 watts RMS, with a stated peak of 1000 watts. Frequency response is quote at 21Hz-200Hz (+/- 3db). Weight is listed as 46 pounds.
BIC Acoustech is not an Internet Direct (ID) company, so they don't sell products to the consumer from their website. The PL-200 II is available from a number of well known distributors however - such as Amazon and Acoustic Sound Design - so you won't have any problem finding one come purchase time. There is no MSRP listed on the manufacturers website but a search of the internet shows you can find the PL-200 II for as low as $250. Warranty is very generous for an inexpensive subwoofer: 8 years on the driver and 5 years on the amplifier.
The PL-200 II came single boxed, which is the norm for an inexpensive subwoofer. Less typical was the fact they used some impressive graphics on the outside. Most subs, even pricey ones, come in plain brown boxes - with perhaps a few block lettered words and stick-figure like images being the only adornments - but this one had imagery equivalent to what you'd likely get on a flyer or sales brochure. As with the appearance of the subwoofer itself (more on that below), it's obvious somebody spent time on the design of the packaging to give a good impression.
Cradling the PL-200 II on both the top and bottom were custom molded blocks of 2" medium density foam. Protecting the hand-rubbed black lacquer top panel was a thin cardboard sheet, while the subwoofer itself was inside a foam bag. Accessories consist of an owner's manual and 2 prong power cord.
Almost without exception, modestly priced subwoofers have inadequate documentation. Writing good docs takes a considerable amount of time and effort, and frequently the ability to effectively translate. All that adds cost, which is no bueno when you're trying to keep the price of entry low. To some extent it's ironic as those who purchase low-priced subs are often the most in need of assistance because they haven't had much exposure to HT audio. Anyone who sees themselves in that group can thank BIC for bucking the trend because these folks apparently don't think skimping on documentation is appropriate.
The owner's manual that comes with the PL-200 II is not representative of what generally comes with a budget subwoofer as their 12 page handbook is, in a word, impressive. Expertly typeset, there are diagrams galore, an easy to read font, clear explanations and abundant detail. I hold a very special place in my heart for budget subwoofers - they are the reason I started publishing reviews in the first place - and what BIC provides with the PL-200 II is one of the best I have come across for a product in this price range. Two thumbs up for a company offering affordable products without skimping on the documentation.
For a ported subwoofer with a 12" driver the BIC PL-200 II is relatively small. It does have some depth to it, compared to the height and width, but overall the enclosure is not the least bit imposing. It isn't heavy either; BIC says the PL-200 II weighs 46 pounds but it felt lighter than that to me. For those looking to get a WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) friendly sub this one certainly fits the bill.
Construction quality is very good. The vinyl wrap was applied smooth and with even seams, all the screws were tight and everything was flush and square. In order to differentiate their offering from the sea of other modestly priced black rectangular subwoofers, BIC added a hand-rubbed lacquer top panel to the enclosure. I don't generally like reflective surfaces but I have to admit the appearance of PL-200 II is rather distinctive, and I do fancy things that are unique. I'm sitting here looking at it as I type this paragraph and I can't help but think "ya know, that certainly doesn't look like an inexpensive subwoofer".
Even something as innocuous as the grill shows attention to detail. Made from 5/8th MDF, it's sanded smooth and painted black. The fabric is transparent and was flawlessly applied to the frame. The dimensions of the grill are small, because the subwoofer is small, yet instead of using 4 of the ubiquitous pin/cup attachment points in the corners there are 5; 1 in each of the top corners and 3 along the bottom. The cutouts for the ports are chamfered, meaning the flared port lip that extends ever so slightly from the front panel nestles snugly inside ensuring a tight fit. There's also a half-moon arch which has been removed from the bottom center that perfectly frames an extension of the lower panel that contains silver block letters spelling out the Acoustech name. May I remind you this design facet is part of a subwoofer that sells for around $250. Ironically, it may be all for naught as some of you won't even use the grill. Why? The driver, of course...
BIC uses a driver that certainly doesn't look like it should be in a budget subwoofer, so I envision some owners putting that well thought-out grill back in the box so as not to obscure the view. The 12" poly-injected cone has a gold stain finish, flat dustcap and huge half roll foam rubber surround. It's housed in a stamp steel basket and motivated by a modest 1" ferrite magnet slug with a generous bump-out on the back. Sans grill the driver dominates the front panel, but not in a bad way.
The cabinet is constructed from 1/2" MDF all around. The driver mounting ring is the sole exception as that is made from 1" MDF. There are interlocking horizontal and vertical braces in the middle of the enclosure. 1" thick synthetic foam sheets are stapled and glued to every surface but a portion of the back wall. Poking out of the front panel, just below the driver, are dual 9"x2" ports. They're flared on both ends to minimize turbulence and noise. Completing the package are four round rubber feet measuring 1" tall by 1 1/2" in diameter.
Amplifier controls are fairly typical for this class of subwoofer, but BIC does an excellent job of labeling them so everything is easily identifiable. For power you will find the ubiquitous on/off/auto toggle switch, while a separate toggle switch handles the Phase; either 0 or 180 degrees. There's a dial for volume that shows Min and Max at the extremes, along with a crossover dial that goes from 30-90Hz in increments of 10Hz. The last control is a toggle to determine where the crossover setting is taken from, either the sub or the receiver. The latter works in conjunction with the signal source; the threaded speaker level in and out or the single RCA sub in.
The amplifier itself worked fine, but I did find the power standby function to have some rough edges. It takes more than a simple nudge to wake up, often requiring me to increase the volume higher than my normal listening level in order to get a response. The PL-200 II tends to fall asleep sooner than it should as well, something especially evident while viewing content like sports or nature shows which traditionally have soundtracks containing almost nothing but voices for 10 minutes at a time. Since I'm inclined to watch a lot of programs like that I ended up leaving the power switch in the 'on' position as the off/on cycling got a bit tiresome.
One thing you quickly learn about the BIC PL-200 II is that it doesn't fear volume. Whereas most budget subwoofers fall apart when pushed hard, this one almost savors it. I did experience a few instances where the overall sound quality tended to be chunky and not completely accurate, but you could frequently mitigate that by ratcheting up the volume a few notches. Yes, pushing it could sometimes ameliorate imprecision. I don't ever recall a subwoofer responding like this one does.
Another area where inexpensive subwoofers tend to struggle is how gracefully they handle limits, but not here. During my time with the BIC PL-200 II I never heard port noise, distressed sounds from the driver or any other irritating symptoms indicating I had exceeding its capabilities. There's no question I worked it hard, but there were no audible complaints in response. BIC has done an excellent job making sure you can't hurt their subwoofer.
Part of that is almost certainly due to the fact it doesn't try to plumb the depths, rolling off pretty sharply by about 30Hz. To compensate BIC appears to have tuned in some extra output in the 50-70Hz range, the area typically noted as being the one people describe with phrases like "kick you in the chest" bass. It's a smart move on their part as that range has a lot of content in most soundtracks. It could also explain the thickness I heard on occasion.
Long time readers know I have a soft spot for budget subwoofers, those costing $300 or less. That product segment is actually why I started publishing articles in the first place. It's the one part of the market that gets almost no attention, so I decided to feature them myself. I understand why they get no love; how many reviewers want to spend their time examining products costing so little? Well, I do. For a mere 3 Benjamin's you get an amplifier, driver, enclosure, warranty and 'free' shipping. For those struggling to make ends meet that's a bargain, but often what you get for the price has at least one glaring deficiency. Will the BIC PL-200 II follow suit?
Normally I beat the snot out of a subwoofer during this part of the evaluation, but some restraint must be exercised with anything selling in this price range. Expectations should align with cost, so you need to be realistic about performance. That doesn't mean inexpensive subwoofers exclude you from having fun, it just means prudence is in order when torture testing them (is it considered an oxymoron if you use "prudence" and "torture testing" in the same sentence?). I don't do restraint all that well unfortunately, so my selections do have some difficult scenes. One movie in particular is considered a performance barometer, and it's likely you will know which as you read further.
How come so many Tom Cruise movies end up in subwoofer reviews? They don't just appear in mine either, they're featured in many other evaluations. Tom either stumbles into them by accident or he deliberately aligns with engineers who create killer soundtracks. Regardless of how it happens, I consider several to be go-to test material. Collateral is among them, but not because it's a bass-fest. Quite the contrary actually, I opted for this one because the movie is not all about the LFE track. So what kind of subwoofer test doesn't feature a lot of bass? An evaluation is not just quantity, it's quality as well. A sub won't be pounding away constantly after all, it might have to simply augment a soundtrack on occasion. Knowing how it handles detail is also critical.
Scene 7 probably exemplifies that more than any other as almost all of the heavy lifting occurs during a fleeting shootout in an alley. "Shootout" might actually be a misnomer as the only one doing any shooting is Vincent, the character played by Tom Cruise. Here he confronts two street thugs who try to steal his briefcase. They are quickly dispatched with 5 shots, rapidly fired in succession (a 6th round pumped into one of the perps shortly thereafter ensures he never utters another word). The PL-200 II did a good job of isolating each shot from the next while simultaneously providing enough weight to get your attention.
Scene 16, Club Fever, is more of a traditional test as there are several things a subwoofer has to contend with, pounding music and multiple weapons chief among them. That's a tall order for a budget subwoofer, but the BIC PL-200 II performed well. While the music didn't have the punch you would get at a real club - something no 12" subwoofer could be expected to replicate no matter the cost - it was powerful enough to create a nice beat. When the gunfight erupts Vincent's pistol had a solid kick, as did most of the other weapons. Handguns, semi-automatics, even a shotgun, they all had sufficient distinction to make them uniquely identifiable. This was another instance where the little BIC seemed to relish the challenge of volume, remaining poised when I turned it up beyond the point where an inexpensive subwoofer should be comfortable.
Live in San Francisco, Joe Satriani (DVD)
Hey wait a minute, this isn't a movie it's a concert DVD. Yup, fooled ya! Readers of my past evaluations know I'm inclined to go off script, and this happens to be one of those times. While searching through my stack of movies, looking for a fitting candidate to use in this article, I stumbled upon an old favorite. If I recall correctly, this was the disc I bought when I got my first DVD player about 15 years ago. Are you surprised it was a live concert? Didn't think so. No matter, I dropped it in my OPPO to use as background music while I continued searching for a suitable movie. It didn't take long for me to realize I wasn't going to stop listening to it even if I did find something else, so I decided to consider this a movie and use it anyway. It has video so it sort of qualifies, right? I'll take that as a yes.
The first time people hear a Joe Satriani CD they think it must be overdubs and post-production magic that enables his guitar to sound like it does. Then you see him live and come to realize he actually can do that, seamlessly switching between totally different sounds. An expert in any field makes their craft look easy, and for sure Joe is an expert at his vocation.
This DVD has at least 2 dozen songs, all of which I know well, so initially I assumed it might be difficult to choose which I was going to use. I figured wrong; while scanning the set list House Full of Bullets immediately caught my eye. This is a head-bobbing tune from the Crystal Planet CD, something with a driving rhythm, so it's definitely my kind of music. The fact this is a live song means it's an ideal choice to test a subwoofer. In went the DVD and up went the volume.
The BIC PL-200 II seemed to really enjoy this one as it laid down the type of sound not unlike what you expect to hear at a real concert. It did well to replicate the heavy beat typically heard at a live show. While I tend to prefer a bit more definition then it was capable of providing, I was once again amazed at how it shrugged off volume. Budget subwoofers almost always stumble when pushed this hard, but the PL-200 II must not have gotten that memo. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it behaved when I wasn't doing the same. It remained composed when stressed, something few affordable subwoofers can do.
TRON: Legacy (Blu-ray)
When you saw this movie title did you guess it was the performance barometer I mentioned earlier? Yea, I figured you might. The previous two have some difficult parts, but this one has a lot of them. What's more, the soundtrack tends be saturated which can take a toll on a subwoofer pushed beyond its limits if the thing tries to play frequencies it simply shouldn't attempt. So how can anybody rightfully expect an inexpensive subwoofer to handle a flick like this? I'm certainly not averse to pushing a review unit in order to see what it's capable of. Better I find the limits than you do because I get to play, yet I don't have to pay.
Going in I assumed TRON: Legacy would be too much for the PL-200 II to handle, especially when the volume was cranked up, but as it turned out moderation wasn't really necessary. As I come to find, this little subwoofer wasn't afraid. While it couldn't play the deepest notes, it also didn't trip over itself and make me want to find a different movie to watch that night. The opposite proved true as the PL-200 II did a yeoman's job on some very tough material.
I jumped right to scene 5, The Games. Daft Punk's throbbing soundtrack rumbled to life and the PL-200 II played right along. As the disc wars battle rages young Sam Flynn ends up fighting for his life. The impact generated by the discs as they collided with barriers had enough weight to lend believability. That's not the only thing going on however as ominous sounds augment this scene, layered underneath the battle, yet despite the complexity of the material the PL-200 II adroitly played on. The lack of a stumble thus far impressed me, but I had more of a challenge in store for this little sub.
Inspired by what I had heard up to this point I quickly moved to scene 7, arguably the most difficult of the movie. The Lightcycle Battle has many things going on, the majority of which appear to be designed specifically to beat a subwoofer into submission, so what did I do? Turned up the volume naturally. It didn't seem to matter as the PL-200 II kept its cool; from the opening scene fireworks - which were surprisingly good - to the grumble of the Lightcycle engines, nothing came across sloppy or bloated. There wasn't any port noise, objectionable mechanical sounds from the driver over-extending itself or loss of control. That's quite an accomplishment given the material. The tradeoff for this composure was a lack of subterranean bass; it was rocking alright, just without much in the way of vibrations transmitted through the floor and into your seat.
After all the testing had concluded how did the amplifier handle my abuse? I'm happy to report quite well as the thing barely registered any warmth. No matter how long my testing sessions lasted, or how hard I pushed it, the amp never got hot. Frankly I didn't expect that as most low-cost subwoofers use drivers which aren't very efficient, and as a result the amp will often get really warm. Not so this time.
Music was a bit of a mixed bag with the PL-200 II; some songs were detailed and precise while others came across a bit vague and with a touch of overhang. I wasn't able to determine a pattern on what source material would produce which results, but it does seem to be sensitive to the quality of the input. I tried CD's, streaming, lossy and lossless files (MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc) during my time with the PL-200 II, so I did cover a pretty wide range. What I ultimately chose to use for this article were all songs from CD's, but don't read anything into that as it was purely coincidental and not deliberate.
Fell on Black Days, Soundgarden (CD)
RIP Chris Cornell. You know, I'm getting sick and tired of adding "RIP name_your_artist" to my reviews. In the past few years far too many people I consider gifted have left us, and sadly most have been by their own hand or due to an addiction of some type. In other words, totally avoidable. I routinely lament having no inherent talent - I can't act, sing or play an instrument - but I've begun to wonder if maybe that's not such a bad thing after all as "talented" is a synonym for "troubled" it seems. I may be unoriginal, but at least I'm still here. Your call on whether that's a good thing or not.
Fell on Black Days is the quintessential Soundgarden song; heavy, dark, brooding and with an odd time signature. This isn't a particularly complex arrangement - as far as the rhythm is concerned - but it does require a subwoofer with the ability to produce some power. Featuring Ben Shepard on the bass guitar and Matt Cameron on drums, this tune ultimately proves to be a relaxed affair for those two.
Of all the 'grunge' bands that came out of the Seattle area during the 1990's, Soundgarden was always my favorite. I know their music very well, having listened to it countless times, so any deviation and I'm likely to pick up on it instantly. For the most part the BIC PL-200 II was able to faithfully reproduce the vibe Soundgarden is famous for, but I did detect a slight drone on occasion. While the presentation was generally good, some of the notes weren't exceptionally sharp. That didn't detract from my enjoyment though as the PL-200 II kept things interesting.
Come As You Are, Nirvana (CD)
While writing this piece of the review I suddenly realized the songs I had chosen were an accidental theme, one featuring rock stars who have passed away (sadly, a group so large that it really wouldn't be hard for me to do an entire musical montage of them). It just so happens I was playing Nirvana's wildly popular CD Nevermind as background music while writing a section of this article. Come As You Are started as I got up and was heading into the kitchen to get a glass of water. When I sat back down I ended up listening instead of writing. Sidetracked by a song, yet again. It wasn't until I began converting my notes into what you're reading that I noticed the 'dead rock stars' motif - first Chris Cornell, then Kurt Cobain - so there was no way I wasn't going to use this song after realizing that. Me pass up a theme? Um, no.
Come As You Are has a torpid rhythm for the most part. The song opens with a lazy guitar riff before drummer Dave Grohl joins, an intro the PL-200 II played quite well. Like many Nirvana songs Krist Novoselic's bass lick is not particularly difficult, but it almost always plays off Grohl's more aggressive drum track brilliantly. Come As You Are is no exception; the PL-200 II made Dave's snare and kick drum snap to life, yet that never diminished Krist's contribution in the process. His bass was easily heard; blending with, instead of fighting against, the drums.
Light of Day, Joan Jett (CD)
Stick with me for a minute as this song eventually ties into the dead rock stars theme.
Joan Marie Larkin, aka Joan Jett, needs no introduction. As one of the original members of the quintessential all-girls band, the 1970's group Runaways, she is rock-n-roll elite. Her music has always been uncomplicated and straightforward, similar to what bands like AC/DC play. Just like the boys from down 'unda there is something about her songs that just works, simple as they may be. This particular tune is different for Joan however as it's the theme song for a movie of the same name (does that make this a dual theme then?).
In the 1987 movie Light of Day Joan Jett is Patty Rasnick, the guitarist in a local Cleveland band called The Barbusters. Her brother is played by none other than Michael J. Fox. It's a coming-of-age type movie, but if I'm honest it's not in the same league as Citizen Kane or 12 Angry Men. That doesn't really matter because it's the song we're talking about here. Light of Day can best be described using words such as "rollicking" and "energetic". This one has a bit of bubble gum pop feel to it, but since it was written specifically for a movie that isn't terribly surprising. I still like the song though because it's boisterous.
Light of Day - which was written by Bruce Springsteen - opens with a fairly universal rock-n-roll drum intro. The PL-200 II easily separated the tom-tom's from the kick drum, the latter having a nice solid presentation. As the song begins in earnest you quickly notice the track was recorded with a bottom heavy mix, which makes sense because it was designed to get you up and moving. Both the bass guitar and drums had their own clearly defined space to work in, yet they blended nicely to compliment the overall sound. This is the type of song the BIC PL-200 II was designed for, something that was easy to tell by how well it performed.
So how is Joan Jett associated to the departed musician theme? Because of her connection to Runaways drummer Sandy West (Sandra Sue Pesavento). Regrettably Sandy's life after the Runaways proved difficult; she struggled and veered off course, eventually becoming so lost that she ended up serving more than one stint in prison. A heavy smoker, Sandy died of cancer in 2006 at the tender age of 47.
BIC seems to be the master of economical subwoofers. The H-100 impressed me when I reviewed it back in 2014, and their F12 is a perennial best seller. Now they release a new PL-200, the model II, which is their top-of-the-line offering. Nothing this company sells is expensive, yet neither is it cheap (with "cheap" meaning shoddy or poorly implemented). This is the budget friendly company many people turn to first. They certainly have longevity in this industry - having been around since the early 70's - which means they must be doing something right. With a tried-and-true philosophy of low cost/high value products, the BIC PL-200 II continues that tradition and should be considered a good choice for those with limited funds.
These measurements were taken using an Omnimic. The BIC PL-200 II was positioned in the center of my listening room with the microphone 1 foot from the front panel, positioned equidistant from the driver and port in order to sum their output. The controls were set as follows:
- Volume: Max
- Crossover: 90Hz (maximum)
- Phase: 0 degrees