Velodyne DD10+ Subwoofer Review
Just like the big ones, but smaller.
With the stay of the Velodyne DD15+ fresh in recent memory, a review of the DD10+, it's pint sized sibling, may seem like money for old reviewer's rope. Indeed technically, there's much that can be repeated verbatim, so I make no apologies for the obvious similarities twixt this and the previous review. However, a 10" subwoofer, is a proposition quite distinct from a 15" example. The physical reality is obviously quite different, as are the expectations upon performance. A fifteen incher can be expected to move your world and indeed, the dimensional displacement of your boot cut jeans is a fair measure of it's success. With a 'mere' ten inches to play with, success is measured in the percentage of the full scale experience delivered. In this context, a mere twitch of the turn-ups, should elicit knowing nods that a goodun' is at hand. More than this and expectations are being exceeded.
This presupposes that all subwoofers are bought to do little more than trouble the structural integrity of your abode. This is not so. It is simply a happy side benefit of the real job a subwoofer is employed to do which is far more simple to state, than it is to execute, namely extend bandwidth and low frequency headroom, with minimal compression and distortion. Certain types of programme material and listening circumstances demand less of sheer headroom, but are if anything, more exacting in terms of distortion - bandwidth being more of a function of listening levels.
For these people, music is probably the driving force and indeed, Velodyne's importers in the UK (Redline Distribution) were keen, that I should give the DD10+ a whiz, whilst making an effort to try it in more stereo orientations. I did, but without wishing to pre-empt what follows, keep the DD10+ on your 'must demo' list for movies, because this thing is epic.
The holy grail of subwoofers is a quart, or rather a gallon in a pint pot. That ideal encompasses the aural and tactile reality of a large, ported subwoofer, in a box that only takes up a foot square of your carpet real estate. Some subwoofers have made a damn good stab at it, with high tech drivers, sporting massive peak to peak travels, that can shift the volume of air required to elevate these deepest of frequencies to audible levels. The Velodyne DD10+ is one of these subwoofers, but it manages to add a sense of ease, a lack of restraint, that endows it with the quality of actually being a much larger subwoofer.
This may largely be down to the servo control and the way it keeps distortion in check. At deeper sub bass frequencies, the human ear is insensitive to surprisingly large amounts of distortion, but this distortion still forms part of the aural clues as to how hard a sub is trying. Quash distortion and the sense of strain disappears with it. The DD10+ takes this a stage further, with control over how tightly the servo keeps a grip on proceedings. Back the servo off for movies, where shaking the room is more important than the last once of accuracy and then turn it up for music, where texture and control is favoured over outright SPLs and depth. The choice is yours and with the phenomenally configurable presets accessible by remote control, you will use them.
Indeed, the stereo music boys may prefer the slight curtailment in the bottom end as it will sound subjectively ‘quicker’, a term that I neither like, nor agree to be technically accurate. Nonetheless, it suits that purpose to a tee with blistering subjective pace and a raft of DSP tools on board, to ensure sonic integration with even the most stubbornly stereo speakers. Once tuned, the pitch definition is reference class, which will almost certainly be an order of magnitude in advance of the speakers employed with it!
Sure, if you’re a subwoofer virgin, the manual setup is someway up a very large learning curve. Scale it and the peaks in performance this neutron star dense subwoofer can deliver are astonishing. For this reason, I find the DD10+ to be a far more impressive subwoofer than the DD15+. With that sub, peerless performance in all roles can and should be expected, but with a mere 10” driver on offer, your attendant expectations drop. The stroke the DD10+ pulls off, is in being oh so close to it’s bigger brother 90% of the time. The other 10% are those rare moments with the family out, or when grape induced bravado rules the remote control. Then, of course, the extra cubes of the 15” sub makes itself, quite literally, felt.
It is for this reason alone, the Velodyne DD10+ stops short of being reference class, as that implies the ultimate level of performance in all duties. As it stands, it only really comes up short in those lofty terms with movies. In all other respects of it’s performance, plus build, finish and features, the Velodyne DD10+ is one of the best subs you will ever hear. For most of us, it is probably the only sub you will ever need. Strongly recommended.
As mentioned, refer back to the DD15+ review for a full dissertation on what makes Velodyne's Digital Drive Subwoofers unique, but a potted version would be this - low distortion is simply the drivers ability to move as an exact, but much larger amplitude, representation of the signal that is fed into the subwoofer, by whatever connection method you deem appropriate. Any deviation in the shape of the recreated waveform, is distortion. Simple? No, not really, because pretty much the only time a loudspeaker is not distorting, is when it's not moving. The more it moves the greater the potential for naughtiness to spoil fidelity and bass, above all else, requires a LOT of movement. However, bass has one advantage and it's that these large movements are comparatively slow and that in itself, deep bass has no such thing as transparency, nor any real tonal character. This lends deep bass to a solution that can monitor and modify it's progress on the fly, or in real time if you prefer. Velodyne, if not the first to realize this fact, were certainly the first to effectively employ a DSP based solution to the subwoofer art and have, ever since, lead the field.
Their solution works, because it monitors the movement of the driver's cone and thus takes into account everything in the reproduction chain, right up to the interface with the air that we hear it's output through. A tiny (patented) accelerometer attached to the cone, feeds information back to the DSP of the subwoofer and corrections are applied to the power amplification signal, in order to ensure the cone's motion matches that of the input signal. Velodyne can thus programme the DSP to keep distortion under a predetermined threshold at all frequencies and volume levels. This means that as frequency drops, excursions increase and therefore the output of the subwoofer is capped, to keep distortion in check, far below the output levels the subwoofer could actually manage, if one was less exacting in this requirement. But if you're less exacting or to put it another way, you want precision with music, but are willing to tolerate more distortion if it allows your room to wobble with movies, then Velodyne provide a facility to take the brakes off, within reason.
As with all of the DD+ range, the new Rochacell-fibregalss laminate cone is derived from that used in the DD1812 Signature, rather than the Kevlar weave of the older subs. This is suspended from a massive roll surround, for far greater travel. This, in turn, is controlled by an entirely new motor structure, the old long coil, short gap, replaced with a short coil, long gap underhung motor structure built around a larger magnet - 13kg v 10kg. The 1250W continuous, 3000W peak, 'Class D' amplifier in raw specs, is unchanged from the earlier generation in quoted output. This leads one to suspect that maximum output is also unchanged. However, as maximum output was always limited by the distortion limiting Servo - and the new driver offers the potential for much lower native distortion - the raw figures are actually somewhat misleading. In practice, the DD+ Servo's influence has actually been cranked up harder to quash distortion further, but the superior limits of the driver push this tightly defined envelope to higher levels before its influence starts to limit proceedings. It should also be noted that the Servo makes it, in all practical senses, impossible to overdrive the DD+. The imposed distortion limits happen long before the physical limits of the driver and/or amp, thus rendering the DD+ all but bomb proof.
The DSP offers further features, with respect to integrating the DD+ subs into their environment and these features are split into two sets, which can be either displayed via a composite video output on your TV or via USB on your computer desktop. The latter provides the number crunching brains for the full monty automated setup. The first is a screen that looks, on initial acquaintance, a bit baffling but reveals the unparalleled level of user tweakability. It allows you to set gain level, high and low pass filters with variable filter slopes and frequency cut-offs plus a contour curve at a selectable frequency and level and, finally, the level of the applied servo control. This set can be applied to a global setting and then each parameter can also be varied across one of six presets. These presets are (along with all of the above parameters) can be accessed from the comprehensive and, once you're used to it, intuative remote control. Each preset is nominally called 'Movie', Rock', 'Classical', etc, but it's ultimately up to you how you configure them.
The second screen shows the eight parametric EQ filters used to tune the subwoofer's in room response. These can be adjusted manually, using the on screen graph which is accompanied by a continuously sweeping test tone so you can see the effect of your adjustments on the fly. As with the first screen of parameters, you can adjust a global set and further tweak the tuning of the individual presets. If you like manual tuning, and I do, this is still the most fully featured set of user controls ever fitted to a subwoofer. The new suite of tuning options only comes available when you drop a test tone CD in your silver disk spinner and plug your computer into the mini USB socket hidden behind the front grill. Incidentally, this is where you also plug the measurement microphone responsible for measuring the results of your ministrations. A small gripe here is that the standard XLR female socket of the DD Series has made way for a mini-XLR for no reason I can fathom. I prefer the bulk and strength of the full sized version which would be more resistant to knocks, but if you do kill a cable, the mini jacked version can still be bought from Pro Audio outlets for remarkably little.
Back to the USB connection; this brings into play the new PC suite of number crunching software that mirrors the functionality of the on-board controls, but adds a little extra. If there was one feature of the original DD Series that was a bit lame, it was the 'Auto' EQ. This simply adjusted the eight PEQ filters up or down, with no attempt to vary filter frequency or Q (filter width) to match what was actually going on in your room. This made it little more than a graphic equalizer and about as much use. The new software now does the job properly and takes into account the response of the speakers the DD+ is being asked to integrate with, going as far as applying a little extra low pass filter if required, adjust phase, filter frequencies and filter Q. It works very well and allows you some manual adjustment once the job is done, if you feel it's needed. Once happy, you upload the results to the sub's DSP, unplug your cables and you're off. It's a very effective system and one that, for stereo only listeners, can introduce a level of integration, and tuning, lesser featured subs would struggle to match.
All of this technology is wrapped up in a cabinet of absolutely flawless finish. The DD10 tapers gently toward the rear and this example, was finished in real wood ebony veneer, that will have sandal wearers visibly sweating. In the case of the larger DD+ subs, this gentle taper goes some way to disguising the bulk of what can, in 15 and 18" forms, be a rather large box. However, the tiny DD10+ just sits on your carpet like an exquisite, slightly malevolent jewel. This impression is somewhat off-set the moment you try to move the DD10+, which is probably the single most dense mass I have tried to move since the mid 80s Class A amplifier wars. I kid you not, this thing is such a densely packed mass, Professor Brian Cox will be seen near one, staring into infinity, in an up coming TV series dealing with gravitational lensing.
The grill locates on solid chrome pins in rubber cups, which also hides the mic and USB connections, plus a blue LED display that displays the preset number upon start up, or the gain level should you adjust it. Mercifully, this turns itself off after a few seconds and the grill does much to take the heat out of this intrusive colour.
Turning to the rear brings the plate amplifier into view and a very comprehensive set of connections, if not controls, as they are mostly reserved for the on-screen menus. There is an input level sensitivity control, used mainly to ensure the maximum output of your amplifier doesn't clip the input of the analogue to digital conversion that must be performed to allow all of the DSP to be applied in the digital domain, but that's it for knobs. The connections comprise the usual line level stereo RCA Phono inputs and are joined by not only a pass-through output for daisy chaining additional subs (how rich do you feel?), but high pass outputs for stereo users wishing to feed a bass managed signal back to their power amplifier. There is a toggle switch for selecting either a 80Hz or 100Hz for the high pass signal. This is a real plus in my book, because not only do you remove the onerous, distortion laden task of bass from your speakers, you also get to apply the EQ of the DD+ to a wider range of the generally affected bass, which has a massive impact on bass quality. These In/Thru/Hi-Pass outputs are mirrored by a set of balanced connections and joined by speaker level inputs to complete as fully featured a set of inputs as you will see on a domestic subwoofer.
Custom install is covered by not only a 12V trigger but an infra red extender input (should the infra red remote control 'eye' on the front be obscured), plus R232 in/outputs for integrated system control. Finally, there is a Ethernet port to facilitate firmware updates. Phew! It's finally time to let the DD10+ stretch it's legs.
With the DD15+ fresh in recent memory, it was going to interesting to see what you really give up, by deleting 5" of cone diametre. The answer, is that within the limits of day to day listening levels, you give up practically nothing. Whilst my room for all it's irregularity, isn't the bass nightmare it may look like, it is quite large and can therefore soak up a far bit of bass output. However, at anything up to moderate levels, there really is no clue that you're suffering a compact subwoofer, neutered bottom end. This makes the performance advances of the new DD+ range, more apparent than they are in the large models, simply because the distortion boundaries are pushed sooner in smaller subwoofers. Ultimately, when the volume is pushed seriously north, there isn't and can't be the same, subterranean levels of room wobbling bottom end output, but blimey, it don't 'alf 'ave a go. It's all relative, but whereas the DD15+ causes you to grin and give a knowing nod, the DD10+ is in giggle territory, because expectations are lowered by the lack of real estate occupied on your carpet.
Lets step back from bass fest test CDs and Blu-rays for a moment. The UK importers - Redline Sound Solutions - were keen that I spend time with the DD10+ in 'pure' two channel systems. This, apparently, is not so much where the DD10+ is aimed, but people buying for music use, tend not to need 20Hz, 100dB+ outputs, so the smaller subwoofers tend to find a more natural home in this role. There is of course no intrinsic reason why a smaller sub is better for music, beyond established hi-fi dogma, that is. Smaller subs are not faster, nor more 'musical' and that is especially true of a subwoofer that controls distortion and has a DSP shaped response. The sound of a DD10+ with music at moderate levels is, to my ear, all but indistinguishable from the larger sub, with the sole proviso that it perhaps doesn't quite feel the same. There is something about the way a larger driver moves air in response to transients, in a more naturally tactile way, but I'm splitting hairs here - the difference is subtle in this case.
What the DD10+ does, is dovetail underneath any speaker you care to mention and deliver tight, effortless extension, the only limit being whether you choose your speakers to match your room well. If you went for what your wanted, rather than what was actually appropriate, then the DD10+ will delivers a taut, dry bass that could be over shadowed by the bloated speaker bass above. That wouldn't be the fault of the Velodyne though, so there are no marks to be deducted here. It was no surprise to this bass-o-phile, that the best results were achieved with good sized stand mounts, allowing the working range of the DD10+ to be extended and control a lot more of the room's impact on bass quality.
Either way, adding the DD10+ swells the soundstage markedly. This is as apparent with small scale chamber music as it is with a church organ, as there are real dimensional acoustic clues at wavelengths below those of the instruments themselves. It allows you to hear the shape of the room/hall, even before the first note has been struck. Cello and double bass are rendered in a far more sonorous and textured fashion, the bottom notes gaining an authority that all but the largest speakers are incapable of. The dynamics of electric bass guitar are delivered with far more impact, picking out the plucked leading edge to a note with precision, driving the music with greater rhythm and pace. Kick drum gains a real thud and punch, which really drives a beat, rather than thumping along in the background. Try as you might, there is little chance of finding a way in which adding a well set up DD10+ does not improve your music.
Movies of course, push the bottom end of a subwoofer far harder with sustained low Hertz output. It one thing to hit hard low down, but it's another to keep that pressure going as frequencies drop. Predictably and because the servo tends to curtail output as excursions increase, the limits of the DD10+ become more apparent. Profound bass drops fall off a little earlier than it's big brother, but not as early as you might expect - you can still feel quite a lot happening within the room. However, if it's pure room wobble you want, it's worth diving back into the Digital Drive setup screens - but the ones available from the subwoofers video output, rather than those used during PC tuning. There is a setting for the servo that is set to maximum control, that can be backed off. This allows a few extra ponies to be released at the bottom end, at the expense of increased distortion. The effect is a slight softening of the lowest notes with music, but the increase in sheer output with big movie effects is quite profound. It's almost like having turned an additional subwoofer on and the extra pressurization it delivers in room is stunning. The bonus is that you can have both 'tunes' running at once - Simply wind the servo up on the Music preset and back it off for the Movie preset. Thus, flicking between the two is only a button press away.
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High-end compact subwoofer
Velodyne DD10 Plus
Suggested price: £3,300
Reviewed 29th April, 2012 by Russell Williams
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.