By Dale Rasco
It has been an incredibly busy time here at HTS. Yes, the fall season is alive and in full motion and what better way to kick it off than to give all of our members a full review of the brand new SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer. So with that, let's jump in and get this party started.
When Ed Mullen from SVS reached out to Home Theater Shack about reviewing the all new SB13-Ultra, there was no way that I was going to sit idly by and let it go to someone else. I am a big fan of SVS products but for some reason or another I have never been in a postion to actually review a piece of their gear. Of course SVS needs no introduction here at Home Theater Shack, but just the same I think it is worth mentioning a couple of quick and interesting things about the company.
SVS was founded in 1998 by a group of audio enthusiasts seeking to develop a better alternative to the under-performing and over-priced subwoofers flooding the retail market. Now, nearly halfway through their second decade, the name SVS has become synonymous with words like quality, performance and value. SVS's experience and commitment to delivering dynamic and precision gear to the home theater and audiophile masses puts them at the top of the list where very few other companies ever make it. However; SVS's commitment to customer service propels them into a league of their own.
The Ultra 13 driver has been optimized for a sealed box.
- FEA-optimized motor with copper shorting sleeve to reduce gap induction and distortion.
- Unique and optimized bifilar wound, 3" diameter, ultra-high-power aluminum voice coil.
- Unique gap extension plate for additional linear stroke and reduced distortion.
- Dual linear-roll spiders and stitched parabolic surround for extreme excursion capability.
- Ultra-light and rigid Rohacell composite cone provides excellent transient response.
- 1000 watts RMS continuous power (3600 watts peak dynamic power).
- Efficient, cool-running Class D power with 'green' standby mode.
- Equalization curve optimized for enhanced transient response and to complement room gain.
- Stereo line-level RCA and balanced (XLR) I/O connections for the ultimate in connectivity.
- DSP control for the ultimate in refined behavior under all operating conditions.
- 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.
First let me say that the SB13 Ultra is physically a very deceiving unit. I honestly did not expect it to be as heavy as it is. It is a 17.4" cube and weighs in at a hefty 92 pounds. By way of comparison, my much larger EP800 weighs in at 110 pounds and has two drivers so that should tell you something about the Ultra 13 motor assembly. The piano black finish is gorgeous and fits nicely into the company's recently launched Ultra Speaker Series. The metal grate that covers the driver adds a very aggressive flair and is a stark contrast to the elegant piano black finish. As if to say; "I like to look my best when I start shaking things apart."
The SB13 is as solid as they come. As you can see in the pictures below the cabinet is heavily braced and the driver is a monster with a motor assembly that helps the driver account for 43 of the SB13's 92 pounds.
Setup and Placement
Finding the right place for the SB13 did not take too long as I know my space inside and out and where a particular sub will be most effective. Setup was a snap and even using the room correction features of the DSP was considerably easier than I was expecting. It is a fairly intuitive interface, which is surprising on a small LCD using a knob to navigate the menus and while the parametric EQ is not as granular as a DSP1124, it is robust enough to tame the wildly out of whack frequencies.
See Measurements and Graphs in The Sub Zone forumhttp://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/sub-zone-subwoofer-testing/62090-svs-sb13-ultra.html
The testing options really explode with a response frequency of 20Hz - 460Hz. There are just so many more options with that type of response and I took full advantage of it by seriously raising the crossover of my receiver, plugging directly into the SB13 and unleashing a sonic onslaught of low end goodness. I realize that most of us would never need a subwoofer that tops out at 460Hz, but it speaks volumes to the overall value that SVS has added by being able to use the SB13 as a mid-bass module if necessary.
Bass Boy: Blinded by the Bass (FLAC)
I do not listen to a lot of bass laden music such as 'Blinded by the Bass' because quite honestly I just do not care for it. The only exception to that rule is when I am testing or demonstrating subwoofers and that is about it. That being said, I know that a subwoofer must be very special indeed if it is able to reproduce the bass in a song such as ‘Blinded by the Bass’ in a clear and precise manner. The SB13 knocked it out of the park. By utilizing the built in parametric EQ for room correction I was able to get a smooth yet authoritative response from the SB13 that never sounded compressed or distorted while playing back this excessive and taxing low frequency monster of a song.
Dethklok: Bloodlines (FLAC)
Brandon Small’s Metalacolypse series on Cartoon Network is a very odd show and what I have found is that most people either love it or hate it. I am personally not a fan of the show but being the huge heavy metal fan that I am, I have to say that at least some of the music appeals to me very much. ‘Bloodlines’, from the 2009 Dethklok release Dethalbum II, is a quick and brutal song with plenty of mid-range bass that demands precision. For this particular song I ran a digital coax directly from the sub-out on my PC soundcard directly into the SB13 and raised the manual crossover on the DSP. This ensured I would be getting all of the bass, a little of the guitar and most of the drums through the SB13. What I heard surprised me as the double bass pounded accurately and not muffled like I had expected.
Basstronics: Bass, I Love You (FLAC)
And I love you Basstronics for this song. This quick little bass laden diddy is one that I have really grown to like very much. The haunting piano in the beginning is very quickly accompanied by thunderous bass that grabs the listener and does not let go. It is an excellent instrumental for testing low frequencies because it never goes off the deep end but rather uses the low frequency to relay a very despondent and polarizing emotion. The SB13 handily reproduces the low end with clarity, precision and perfect fidelity.
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (Blu-ray)
I really enjoyed this movie and a large part of my enjoyment came from the awesome audio presentation. The final battle on the train has some of the most dynamic and substantial VLF I have heard in a very long time. Sweeping moans as the bridge collapses and the impactful thumps as the railcars crash to the ground actually had me concerned over the punishment my house was taking testing the SB13. There was also a lot more low end nuances that I do not recall hearing before that, which I have to admit speaks to SVS claims that the SB13 “will reveal subtle textures and nuances lesser subs simply ignore.”
War of the Worlds (Blu-ray)
When it comes to subjective subwoofer listening tests, there is no better scene, in my opinion of course, than the emergence and first attack scenes from 2005’s War of the Worlds. So how does the SB13 handle this low frequency basshead staple? Magnificently. I have listened to this single scene from beginning to end probably more than any other scene from any other movie and I have to admit that I have never heard it reproduced with as much accuracy as I have with the SB13. This is an extremely dynamic low frequency audio presentation with rumbles, sweeps, impacts, thuds and thumps (there is a difference you know). What I found to be nearly jaw dropping is that when the tri-pod stands almost fully erect there is the low frequency drop that I have heard and felt many times however; as the tri-pod raises it’s head there is actually a second frequency adjustment that I have never heard before. I was dumb founded and played it several times to make sure I was not losing my mind. Again, I have to go back to SVS’s claim about how much more articulate the SB13 is over lesser subs.
Another favorite of the basshead community is Cloverfield. While not nearly as dynamic as WotW or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Cloverfield is arguably one of the most brutal low frequency audio tracks available. I mean this thing is relentless in the way it just pounds you into submission. And it came as no surprise to me that the SB13 once again chewed it up and spit it out as if to say ‘Please sir, may I have some more?’ What I found most satisfying about this particular listening session was how accurately the bass was reproduced. I know this may sound contradictory to some but I am going to coin a new descriptive phrase for the SB13; Refined Brutality.
Since I have started reviewing subwoofers back in 2010, I have had an opportunity to get my hands on and play with a lot of great products. This year alone I have had seven different units in my hands and even several in the new Home Theater Shack Sub Zone. Each one of them has their strengths, weaknesses and a unique place in the market. It is for this reason that I personally always try to refrain from comparing manufacturers to one another because more often than not there are far too many variables, personal preferences and other opinions to consider.
The SVS SB13 Ultra is a completely different animal all around. It is not only a gorgeous piece of hardware but it performs like no other sub I have ever heard. While the ground plane test and published specs may be on par with other manufacturer products, at least on the low end, there is no way to measure articulation. The real story for the SB13 is not how it stacks up to competitors but rather how will other sub manufacturers possibly reach the bar that SVS has set with the SB13 Ultra. It is not just the aesthetics. It is not just the power. It is not just the precision and it is not just the level of detail that can be heard in the VLF range. It is all of these things combined that make the SB13 Ultra my Sub Zone Reviewer’s Choice. There is simply no better performing subwoofer in its class. Knowing that there is a subwoofer that can reproduce incredibly dynamic bass with as much clarity, precision and 'Refined Brutality' for less than $2K ($1599 with free shipping to be exact) is a testament to the commitment of the SVS team and they should be applauded for it. Job well done!
Please use the SVS SB13-Ultra Subwoofer Review Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments!
How would you like to win one of these subs... brand new and shipped from SVSound? Stick around... we plan to give one away the first part of 2013!!!