Velodyne Optimum 12
By Dale Rasco
Velodyne is a name that every home theater enthusiast is familiar with. Velodyne Acoustics, Inc. has been an industry leader in subwoofer performance for almost three decades. The company resides in Silicon Valley and takes a lot of pride in creating products that represent the fusion of technical innovation and the art of beautiful industrial design. In 1983 David Hall, Velodyne’s founder and chief engineer, introduced a technological breakthrough in subwoofer design that revolutionized the reproduction of low frequency sound. The invention was the driving force behind the ULD-18. It incorporated a patented, accelerometer-based High Gain Servo System to control the woofer cone movement. The massive 120 lb. speaker system went lower, played louder and produced distortion levels that were 20 to 30 times less than anything else on the market. The ULD-18 garnered dozens of international awards and acknowledgments, including the 1984 Special Engineering Award. So, when I was asked to slip the Optimum 12 into The Sub Zone and perform a subjective review for the subwoofer, I was more than a little excited because I had yet to ever get my hands on any Velodyne subwoofer for any period of time. I have friends that own Velodyne subs and they would not trade them for the world, nor would they even consider any other brand when it comes time to replace their sub. What is it about these subs that command such a loyal following? Well let's see if we can figure that out together.
Packing and Contents
Packing is spot on for any top manufacturer. Double boxed, form fitted foam wrapped in a sheep cloth kept this unit solid, immobile and spotless when I took it out of the packaging. In addition to the sub, the box contained a remote control and setup mic for the auto-calibration function.
The finish on the Optimum 12 is a beautiful glossy piano black finish. I have passed a lot of subs through my hands in the past several months and this one does sport a gorgeous finish. The small foot print of the unit is another real eye catching feature measuring in at only 15.5”X15”X18.5” deep, let me just say that the SAF/WAF is very much in the Optimum 12’s favor. The unit also sports a small LCD up front for navigating the auto equalization features built in to the on board DSP.
You will have to bear with me as I get through this section as I was not overly impressed with the build quality of Optimum 12. For instance, the cabinet is made with ½” MDF versus the common ¾” to even 1” MDF used by most manufacturers. Additionally there was no internal bracing to speak of. Many of the other subs that I have reviewed lately have had an extremely hardy build, such as the PSA XS15, and the PSA is less than half the MSRP of the Optimum 12. As you can see in the photos below, the Optimum 12 is filled with an adequate amount of batting for dampening, but even that does not help keep the hollow cabinet from what I consider excessive ringing as seen in the spectrogram below. The driver is Kevlar reinforced, resin cone mounted in a die-cast aluminum baskets with a monstrous magnet assembly. The amplifier boasts 1200 watts of continuous (RMS) power and 2400 watts of dynamic power, at over 95% efficiency.
The first two images below are from the edge of the Optimum 12 after I removed the plate amp. You can get a clear view at the 1/2" MDF used for the cabinet. The third and fourth images are of the internals of the cabinet which you can see has no internal bracing.
Electronics and Setup
The on board DSP and auto EQ are fairly easy to use. All setup requires is for you to plug in the microphone and the system takes care of the rest. The best results came from running MCACC and then letting the auto EQ on the Optimum 12 run its course.
See how the Velodyne Optimum 12 tested in
In Room Response (Listening Position)
As you can see by the in room frequency response, the Optimum 12 on board auto EQ does a pretty good job with room correction on it's own as this response was taken connecting directly to the sub and only using the Velodyne auto EQ. I did not use Audyssey or MCACC when this measurement was taken.
In Room Response (Close Mic)
Subjective Listening Tests
Now I always have my old favorites such as War of the Worlds, Cloverfield and Transformers but for this review I wanted to step outside my normal boundaries and the new ‘Dredd’ seemed to fit the bill.
This is such a dynamic audio presentation and the bass can get downright RUDE! The Velodyne received a respectable workout and did not shy away from the lowest of lows however; I did feel that the response had a bit too much ‘boom’ in the LF range. The mid-bass on the other hand seemed to be pretty tight and accurate. The gunfire was very impactful and accurately represented by the Optimum 12 and the hard throaty explosions seemed to roll and rumble along just fine. It was not until a couple of the low sweeps, I would say sub 35Hz, went through that I could hear the boominess I mentioned earlier. I went so far as to turn off the mains and really listen to just the sub and there definitely seemed to be some cabinet ring going on.
- The Dark Knight Rises
Next up, the Dark Knight Rises, and once again I found that the Optimum 12 performed very admirably with regards to mid-bass but seemed a bit boomy when it really started to reach down low. The sound of ‘The Bat’ taking off was full throttle and gave a very nice rumble through the sub however the scenes where Bane’s goons begin blowing up the city were somewhat muddy/sloppy sounding. Once again I turned off the mains to verify and again I could clearly hear the excessive cabinet noise in the sub 40 Hz range.
By the time I got to Cloverfield I was pretty sure what to expect when the giant monster started stomping around the city and I was right. The Optimum 12 once again had a bit too much boom for me personally. The sound was again boomy in the sub 40Hz range and was just not very pleasant. That being said, the gunfire from the army as they try to take the monster down is very tight and impactful. It was actually a bit weird to get a nice tactical response combined with a somewhat sloppy low end.
So at this point I completely stopped the listening sessions and replaced the Pioneer Elite receiver with my Onkyo TX-NR3007 and ran Audyssey followed by the auto calibration for the sub and proceeded to listen to all of the same scenes again. Each scene produced the same cabinet ring that I mentioned previously and I could not seem to shake it no matter what I did. With that, I moved on to music.
Normally I would have started my listening reviews section with music and moved on to movies, however, something very odd happened when I switch to a 2.1 setup for music. This thing really came alive and had an incredibly tight and accurate response for the bass. I tried all of my favorites from Judas Priest Painkiller to Basstronics Bass I Love You and in every instance the Velodyne Optimum 12 really stepped up and performed admirably.
- Judas Priest Painkiller
Yes, for me it is always about the opening drums on Painkiller as Scott Travis’s thunderous and impactful introduction for the song can really put a sub to the test. The Optimum 12 handled the intro like a champ by delivering a tight and precise response with full authority. Once the rest of the band joined in the Optimum 12 was pretty much in charge of the situation. A solid and incredibly tight response for this brutal heavy metal classic.
- Dethklok Bloodlines
Another common staple for me these days is Bloodlines by Dethklok. I find the heavy bass and drums can really give a sub a workout and once again the Optimum 12 performed without failure and with great authority. Almost as if it were asking ‘Please sir, may I have some more?”
- Basstronics Bass I Love You
I do like using this song as there are several moments with powerful 30Hz range stuff in it. I think that the musicality of material masked the cabinet ring that I heard while listening to films and the overall impression of the Optimum 12’s performance for the particular piece of music was good.
So where does this leave me? Well, let me break down the pros and cons of the unit. It does have some very nice features such as a remote control, a DSP with a 7-band auto EQ room correction system, listening presets and night mode. I really enjoyed having the ability to turn off the sub via remote control as well as having the ability to move between presets with the touch of a button and it is something that more manufacturers should be looking into.
The unit really did do a nice job with music reproduction but just did not duplicate that same level of precision with regard to movies and I think the answer lies in the cabinet design itself. While auto EQ with room correction is nice, it cannot mask the deficiency inherent in the thin walls of the ½” cabinet design regardless of the amount of batting and EQ you throw at it. There just isn’t enough denseness to keep this thing from echoing (booming) in the sub 40Hz range and that is even evident in the spectrogram reading I posted above from The Sub Zone.
I think that Velodyne is close to having a hit on their hands with the Optimum 12, but in my opinion it just falls a little short in the movie department by today's standards due to what I can only describe as excessive cabinet ringing. When you couple that with the fact that you can get a tighter sounding and more precise response from subwoofer’s that have an MSRP of half of what the Optimum 12 costs, it just does not seem like that great of a value to me. Don’t get me wrong; I am not claiming that the Optimum 12 is a terrible sub by any means. I just feel that there are better sounding and performing subs out there for less. I mentioned the cabinet ring that I noticed, I think it is important to also point out that this sub does have one of the flattest responses that was available in my latest round of tests conducted in The Sub Zone.
In my opinion, the Optimum 12 is a good sub for a typical consumer or anyone that just must have a Velodyne however; the hardcore bassheads out there may want to think twice and do a bit more research before running out and picking one of these up. The Optimum 12 has an MSRP of $1899 and a general on line discount of around 30-40%. That being said I feel that there are other subs at the same price point as the Optimum 12 that can substantially outperform this sub. The Optimum 12 released in 2008 and it may be time for Velodyne to consider updating the design or even replacing the line with a new model line. That of course is just my opinion and I am certain there are many Velodyne Optimum 12 owners that would disagree. I can only report on what I heard and what I measured.
Please use the Velodyne Optimum 12 Subwoofer Review Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments!