HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Dayton Audio SUB-1200
The subject of this review is the Dayton Audio SUB-1200. Dayton Audio is the "house brand" for the venerable electronics company Parts Express. PE -- as they're often referred to -- has thousands upon thousands of parts and accessories. They are the go-to company for virtually everyone in the DIY (Do It Yourself) crowd. They sell manufactured speakers and subwoofers from other companies as well. Dayton Audio has there own website which lists the same products that PE is selling -- no surprise there, given how they're linked -- but what is surprising is the fact that everything costs more if you purchase it from Dayton Audio.
The SUB-1200 utilizes a bass reflex design with a 12" front-firing driver and a down-firing port. It's certainly not an imposing unit, measuring just 16.75"x16.5"x17.75" (HWD) and weighing a mere 42lbs. The stated frequency response is 25Hz-140Hz, while the amp is listed as 120 watts RMS. No peak output number is given.
The list price for the SUB-1200 is a paltry $129 plus shipping. There's a 1 year parts and labor warranty included. Since the SUB-1200 is less expensive at Parts Express it might be wiser to purchase from them instead of Dayton Audio.
As mentioned previously, PE is a distributor of all things electronic. They do have a storefront, but my guess is they sell the vast majority of their products through the internet. That means for most of us the SUB-1200 is just a few mouse clicks away.
The SUB-1200 came double boxed. No, that's not a misprint; PE actually considers a $130 subwoofer worth protecting. I don't say that because I think they shouldn't, but because that was my first reaction. I've received review units costing 4x what this one did and some of them were single boxed. Already I'm impressed.
Covering the entire top and bottom of the inner box were soft foam blocks. These were a bit on the thin side, but the bottom one had an interesting twist; custom molded indentations for the feet. Pretty slick. The SUB-1200 was wrapped in a mylar bag too.
No accessories were included, save for the owners manual.
My first impression was of how light and small the SUB-1200 is. The former is to be expected -- after all, this is a very budget minded subwoofer -- but the latter was a bit unexpected. Most bass reflex subwoofers utilizing a 12" driver are going to be larger than this one, so unless your room is very small it probably won't stand out. The MDF used is almost .75" thick, while the front panel has not one but two additional .5" layers. There's 1" damping material glued to the left, right and top panels. Construction on the inside was impeccable; everything was clean and tidy, with no indication of shoddy workmanship.
The second impression I got was that Dayton Audio put some effort into differentiating the SUB-1200 from the sea of bland square boxes that make up the genre called inexpensive subwoofers. With its rounded vertical edges and distinctive grill there's a very unique appearance about this one. OK, the hard plastic spikes are an obvious concession to hit a price point, and the grill is held on by little velcro squares, but that's really about it for the evident 'cost cutting' measures. Even the vinyl wrap was applied quite well, with nary a flaw. The only manufacturing imperfection I noted was a very slight dent by the right front foot, but even that wasn't terribly obvious. Somebody remind me, how much does this thing cost again?
The owners manual is pretty spartan and amounts to little more than a small booklet. Every control and function is explained, albeit briefly, but it's probably sufficient to get most people where they need to be setup wise. Realistically, the amp doesn't contain all that many switches and dials so getting everything adjusted is not a complex task. Speaking of the amp...
The one Dayton Audio uses is a class D (which is good), but it's only 120 watts (which really isn't). There is a Phase switch with settings for 0 or 180 degrees, along with one for power that has On/Auto/Off positions. There are two dials, one for the gain and the other for an adjustable crossover that can be set to anything from 40Hz-140Hz. The dials themselves have a prominent white plastic insert with a slight protrusion making it extremely easy to see exactly where they're pointed. Why doesn't everyone do that? There are dual RCA and high level inputs, the latter being very uncommon at this price point. There are also high level outputs, so you can legitimately use the SUB-1200 with a stereo receiver that doesn't inherently have bass management. Oh yea, and did I mention there's also an orange sized torrodial transformer powering this thing? Are you sure this is a subwoofer that's less than $150 delivered?
Another item I commend Dayton Audio on -- which is a pet peeve of mine actually -- is the fact that each hash mark on the crossover dial represents exactly 10Hz. Logical and simple. There have been too many times while setting up a subwoofer where I had to drag out a calculator to divine what each hash mark represented. Note to other companies; do what Dayton has, make every mark 10Hz and be done with it. Quick, straightforward and efficient.
Two things I'm not a fan of though are the permanently attached power cord and the Standby mode, which really doesn't function all that well. It wakes up from the Off state with little prompting, so that part worked fine. The problem is it goes back to sleep far too quickly, sometimes within a mere 30 seconds of the audio not having any significant bass. That made watching sports, which I do a lot of, an exercise in futility. Hitting the mute button for even a single minute would also cause the amp to shut itself off. Thankfully it doesn't get warm if left in the On position all the time so I did that for the duration of my review.
The driver cone is made from a thick and heavy paper-based material with an inverted dust cap and large rubberized foam surround. It's housed in the typical stamped-steel frame. There's a good sized single slug ferrite magnet with a slight voice coil bumpout on the back, along with a .5" vent. It feels light, but appears to be well made. The port is bottom-firing and is flared at both ends, measuring 7" long by 2.5" wide. Measurements indicate it's tuned around 27Hz.
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.
When the price of this subwoofer is considered I can honestly say I have no significant complaints. Sure, the dynamics are a bit compressed and it won't dislodge your fillings with low bass, but given the cost you wouldn't expect it to anyway. What the SUB-1200 does best is excel at doing everything well, just nothing really exceptional. While that probably comes across like a luke-warm endorsement it's anything but. Dayton Audio must have spent a lot of time tuning the SUB-1200 because I was never able to trip it up. No matter the volume level or depth of bass, this thing simply refused to do what it was unable to. There were no bad driver sounds from over-excursion, no port chuffing, no disturbing noises of any kind. It was a willing partner 100% of the time, regardless of the circumstances. Think rescue dog; not particularly exotic or exciting perhaps, but eternally faithful.
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.
Since the SUB-1200 seemed virtually impervious to deleterious behavior I decided to push it with some of the most demanding blu-rays in my collection. To my utter surprise it held its head high and said "no, I will not falter". Most of the really torturous movies I watched weren't quite as fulfilling as they've been with some other subwoofers in the past, but this 'cheapie' never put a foot wrong. In retrospect I probably should have chosen different test material; gut-wrenching bass is not this subwoofers forte, yet I treated it as though it was. To a certain extent it almost became a quest to see if I could make the SUB-1200 lose composure, but I was ultimately never able to do that. It's almost bullet proof in that regard, and I tip my hat to Dayton Audio because of it.
War Of The Worlds (blu-ray)
OK, let's start with one of the penultimate subwoofer torture tests. WOTW's has been a staple of virtually everyone's arsenal since it was released, and with good reason; some of these scenes are nothing short of brutal. The granddaddy of them all is the one where the machine emerges from its underground lair, so I started with that.
The SUB-1200 rendered it with surprising clarity, but there wasn't quite enough depth to make me think the earth was opening up beneath my feet. It never once came unglued, nor did I hear any port noise, but the tactile sensation necessary to fully engross me wasn't quite there. When the Machine starts blasting people with its Heat Ray the sound was spot on, with pretty solid pitch definition.
As Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his family attempt to escape the onslaught they make their way to the Hudson Ferry. Just as they're about to board several alien machines come at them from behind and start terrorizing the crowd of people. Their bellows and foot stomps were only mildly intimidating, so they didn't exactly instill fear in me, but still no bad sounds from the SUB-1200. When the ferry gets capsized by a submerged machine the overall effects were strong, and you could hear all the carnage. This time there was enough sensation and presence to draw you in.
After beating up the SUB-1200 with WOTW what did I do for an encore? I queued up a movie that has recently become famous (infamous?) for deep bass. Cloverfield is the fictional account of an alien beast -- notice a pattern here? -- that descends upon Manhattan and terrorizes the city. Naturally all manner of chaos ensues during its assault, which translates into a lot of work for a subwoofer.
The 'hero' of this movie is Robert Hawkins, a 20-something about to leave NYC for a new job opportunity in Japan. During his going away party the alien strikes Manhattan, with its first appearance coinciding with Robert and a few friends hanging out on his fire escape talking. The initial explosion was crisp and distinct, but could have been a little more tactile. Shortly thereafter the Empire State Building is obliterated by the beast, collapsing in a heap. The SUB-1200 got the sound right.
The scene I consider my "go to" for testing a subwoofer though is when the hapless quartet of friends first encounter the alien face-to-face (so to speak), as they're navigating the streets of NYC trying to reach an injured friend. When they inadvertently stumble upon the beast it just so happens to be at the same time the military is closing in on the thing, trapping the four of them in the middle of an intense fire fight. The artillery launched by the ground forces sounded crisp and precise, but the explosions and repercussions were a bit less than convincing. Same for the beasts footsteps; clearly evident, but somewhat lacking in overall impact.
Underworld: Awakening (blu-ray)
It was about this time that I started feeling guilty for choosing some of the most difficult movies I have while reviewing the least expensive subwoofer to ever cross my path. OK, having said that I now feel better. Let's resume the punishment!
Underworld: Awakening is not for the faint of heart, subwoofer wise, and it was here that the SUB-1200 most revealed its humble pedigree. The essence of this movie revolves around dark, brooding themes replete with some extremely deep bass. This sub absolutely played its heart out, but wasn't quite up to the challenge.
There's an epic underground battle that takes place between vampires and Lycans, savages beasts with werewolf-esqe features. Just prior to the battle a half-breed child named Eve can be seen repeatedly cutting her arm, fascinated by the fact that she instantly heals (a characteristic of the vampire race). Accompanying this part of the scene is foreboding music that heralds the confrontation which, while deep, wasn't quite sufficiently to make me tremble with fear. Ditto for the ground-shaking thuds of the approaching Lycans; close enough to keep me engrossed, but I didn't feel compelled to turn the lights back on. Was I expecting too much? Probably. I've gone out on a date and spent more for dinner then this subwoofer costs.
After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten, and what I found wasn't much really. There was some warmth, but it didn't feel hot.
Here's where the SUB-1200 surprised me the most. Music performance is usually the first thing sacrificed to achieve a low selling price -- and in this case, a really low selling price -- so I didn't expect much when I got to this portion of the evaluation. While I wouldn't exactly call it musical, in a general sense anyway, the performance exceeded my expectations. It rarely struck me as too slow or imprecise, a fact borne out when I took some measurements afterwards and saw what the spectrograph showed. People spending this little on a subwoofer usually aren't looking for musicality anyway, but the SUB-1200 will almost surely sound better than anticipated. It's not afraid of volume either, so what it can do it can also do loudly.
Mcauley Schenker Group - Eve (CD)
Michael Schenker started this group, which isn't the first time he's done something like that; he also founded the band UFO and another called The Scorpions (along with his brother, Rudolph Schenker). Needless to say, in the rock-n-roll genre this man is a legend. MSG, as the Mcauley Schenker Group was affectionately known, certainly has a respectable pedigree behind it. Interestingly, (confusingly?) there were two versions of MSG; Mcauley Schenker Group and its predecessor, Michael Schenker Group. Bewildered? So were those of us who followed the band.
Michael is synonymous with two things; a Flying V guitar and songs that tended to be a little simple. Just like AC/DC and Judas Priest some of MSG's music was less than complex, but every once in a while they just nailed it. For this type of music Eve was often considered the latter.
If nothing else Eve has a lot of energy, which is undeniably my type of song. Oddly enough MSG's self-titled album, the one which contains Eve, was the third offering they released (eponymous albums are generally the first a band records, so Michael did things a bit out of order with MSG). Eve is the opening track of the album, so it starts things off in a rollicking fashion. James Kottak's drums were recorded on the hot side, specifically the bass pedal. The SUB-1200 did justice to that fact, but there was a slight lack of definition when things got very fast. Bassist Jeff Pilson -- who has played with Dokken, Foreigner, George Lynch and Ronnie James Dio -- was never really allowed to unleash his full prowess, so it was a little difficult to focus my attention on him (trivia answer; Pilson was the actor who portrayed the Steel Dragon bassist in the 2001 Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star). In spite of the fact that Jeff's bass wasn't very prominent in the recording the SUB-1200 did a yeoman's job of making certain he wasn't forced too far into the background.
Joe Bonamassa Live From The Beacon Theater - Walk In My Shadows (CD)
I've been to the famous Beacon Theater in NYC to see shows before, most notably the Allman Brothers who play for the entire month of March almost every year. (TIP; the seats on the lower level and the first balcony are good, but that upper balcony is not where you want to be). The Allman's always have special guests and surprises, so I love going to their shows. Seems like Joe took a page from the Allman's book because in 2011 when this CD was recorded none other than Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) showed up and sang on a few songs. I absolutely love it when bands do that; the collaboration between disparate musicians often brings about some of the best music. It's always fun to watch.
I was never really much of a Bad Company fan -- I viewed their music as a bit too simplistic -- but I did always like Paul Rodgers voice, so when he teamed with Joe I thought it might be worthwhile. Turns out it was. One of my favorite parts of a live show is the gut pounding bass resultant of the multi-thousand watts of amplification, along with the wall of speaker cabinets, and this track captures it pretty good. While the SUB-1200 wasn't quite up to the task of creating the sensation that is a full-on live show it got close enough that I found myself swaying back and forth during Joe's solo. Paul Rodgers timeless voice certainly didn't hurt; how can someone sing for 40+ years and still sound the same?
Symphony X - Domination (CD)
I was turned on to this band by another HTS admin, but to be completely honest most of their songs are just on the edge of what I normally listen to. Symphony X plays music that could be best described as thrash metal, which isn't necessarily my favorite genre, but this type of music is frequently a good workout for a subwoofer. Domination is from the Paradise Lost CD, one of the more highly regarded Symphony X offerings. It's loosely based upon a John Milton poem of the same name.
The overall production quality of this CD strikes me as a bit compressed, so the SUB-1200 may not have had the best material to work with here. I opted to use it nonetheless because of the very difficult rhythms, replete with staccato kick drum work and frenetic bass guitar licks. Jason Rullo and Michael Lepond (drums and bass, respectively) go out of there way to abuse your subwoofer. The manic energy these two guys produce caused the SUB-1200 to fall a little behind on occasion, but it never really lost composure. Given the frenzied pace these two set that's laudable.
The Dayton Audio SUB-1200 is a 'bottom line' subwoofer -- meaning the people who are most likely to purchase one are interested in the price, first and foremost -- so I'll skip directly to my bottom line (as in what I think about it); buy one. Better yet, buy two. At this price you can almost certainly afford a pair. How is it even possible for a company to sell something with an amp, driver and enclosure for less than $130 and still make a profit? Usually it's a piece of junk, that's how. Dayton Audio has managed to hit that price point alright, but without the last bit; the SUB-1200 is not a piece of junk. Quite the contrary actually. Forced to describe the SUB-1200 using a single word it would absolutely have to be "value". It's often said DIY (Do It Yourself) is the least expensive way to get a good subwoofer. In a lot of instances I would concur, but not in this case. I don't believe anyone could build something capable of doing what the SUB-1200 can for the same price. If you're on a tight budget, and can do without the very lowest octave of bass, this is the subwoofer to own.
Please use the Dayton Audio SUB-1200 Discussion Thread for questions and comments
Dayton Audio SUB-1200 Pictures
Dayton Audio SUB-1200 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