Velodyne EQ-Max 12 Subwoofer
What's in a name?
Whilst Velodyne will continue to be best known for the technical tour de force that are their Digital Drive subwoofers, they are underpinned by one of the most extensive range of subs, anywhere. Not many can boast a price range running from £385 to £6000, from a 225mm to 600mm cube, from 150 to 3000w and drivers from 150mm to 450mm. Once you've got your head around it there's pretty much something for everyone, even if the choice can seem a little confusing at first glance.
Under review here, we have the 300mm driver representative of the new EQ-Max range which is probably best characterized as the top of the budget ranges. The thing is, it's got 'Velodyne' on the grill and that is a name that requires living up to, so it's not going to get away with a budget performance, even at an RRP of £825.
I had great fun with the EQ-Max 12 but I won't and I don't think Velodyne would, claim that it has been designed with subtlety as it's foremost goal. But that's not to dismiss its pretty much all round ability, that will only leave the musical purists wanting something different. Of course, it's a moot point if most of that branch of humanity actually understands subwoofers full stop, but I digress. With mainstream music, it'll add plenty of depth and grunt with taut authority and with everything else, it will certainly add some scale and dynamic heft.
Its looks are also a bit marmite, with no lighter wood effect veneer options to soften the cubic impact. But as I found, that depends what it is sitting along side. The speakers that were used for much of the review period, made it look completely at home, with only the name on the badge to differentiate the EQ-Max as an intruder. Regardless, it's very tidily screwed together and operationally about as simple as they come, even with more than an average feature count. The auto EQ is more effective than I thought it might be and with one plug to connect and one button to push, is more likely to get used than some of the more complex propositions on the market. That most of these functions can be operated from the listening chair with the neat little remote control, also makes playing around less laborious.
The bottom line is that the EQ-Max 12, named as it is, promises a lot of performance in terms of output and depth and delivers it. It does so, with a fair measure of finesse and wraps it up in a package that isn't actually that large. If these are the boxes that need ticking on your list of priorities, then you'll find that as a package, the Velodyne EQ-Max 12 is extremely competitively priced for it's performance and well above the pack in additional features. That's makes it an easy 'Highly Recommended'.
It has to be said that a sharp edged cube, 450mm on each side, that is only available in black vinyl wood effect, probably isn't going to win any style awards. But with the EQ-Max 12, Velodyne are more intent on squeezing the maximum performance from the volume, rather than maximum style. It also helps that in all other regards, it's a very nicely built subwoofer. The grill that tapers toward the bottom, is chamfered on all sides too, thus helping to soften the face a little and upon close inspection, the black vinyl wood grain wrap is anything but black. It's a very subtle range of very dark grays and impeccably tidy under close scrutiny, so lets not be too harsh in this regard. In a delicious twist of fate, the EQ-Max's stay overlapped that of the KEF Q700 speaker package and in that company, the Velodyne was a perfect visual match, so it isn't alone out there!
So, moving on from the superficial, we should look at what makes the EQ-Max tick. Remove the plastic framed grill from it's chrome metal studs and it's the driver that catches your eye first. The reinforced fibre (fibre in this case being wood pulp, or paper if you prefer) cone, has a traditional convex plastic dust cap and beefy half roll surround. Interestingly, the roll surround is foam, a material that fell from favour for longevity reasons. Modern materials mean it is no longer susceptible to combinations of heat and moisture, so it's light weight and well damped properties, are starting to see it become more common again. All of this is motivated by about 3.5kg of dual stacked ferrite magnet acting on a 50mm, dual layer copper voice coil.
The driver is not alone on the veneered front baffle. Immediately above, is a dual digit LED display that, thankfully as it is blue, extinguishes after s few seconds. This displays various pieces of information, which we shall cover with their respective functions. To the left of the display, is the infra red remote control eye and to the right, a 3.5mm microphone jack. All are hidden by the grill, although the LED display is bright and clear enough to be read through the fabric with ease.
Before moving to the back, it is worth noting that the EQ-Max sits on 50mm high rubber feet, that serve to do more than just protect your parquet. They're there to provide adequate clearance for the brace of generously flared, 75mm reflex ports. This is a ported Velodyne, which serves to explain why the EQ-Max 12, is actually quite large - a ported sub is naturally roughly twice the volume of it's sealed equivalent and this gives it some advantages. The most notable advantage is efficiency. With twice the enclosed volume, the air contained consumes less power in the act of simply being squeezed, which increases output per watt. This efficiency, is further augmented by the 'free' output from the ports at the very bottom end of the subwoofers operating range. As the port output increases, the back pressure within the box increases, progressively restricting the travel of the driver, which reduces distortion. All good, but the flip side is that whilst output is increased across the frequency range, it drops off rapidly below the port tuning frequency. Secondly, as the port output starts to dominate with decreasing frequency, the phase of the output progressively rotates to be 180deg out of phase with the upper frequencies, which 'can' impact timing. So, the art is in designing a box big enough to be naturally deep in response and blending this with a port that doesn't try to over stretch the tune. Headline grabbing, sub 20Hz response figures are great on paper, but if there's a yawning gap between the box resonance and that of the port, you'll end up with a dull, thumpy, leaden sounding subwoofer. Velodyne have quoted a -3dB(SPL) point of 25Hz, which indicates a port tune a few Hertz higher, which is eminently sensible. With the help of your room's natural gain, the EQ-Max will still tickle the low 20Hz range with some serious, audible output.
Rebated into the veneered rear panel, is the plate amp. Quoted as 225w RMS/450w Dynamic power, it's of the digital switching variety and so is light, runs cool and consumes minimal power in standby. Stereo RCA phone and speaker level binding post inputs, are matched with similar outputs. These are high passed at a fixed 80Hz (6dB/Octave) for the speaker level connections and 120Hz for the line level. The three pin IEC power lead (switchable for 120 or 240V) has a separate 'On/Off' switch, which is in turn complimented by an 'Auto/Always On' switch. 'Auto' proved sensitive enough that the subwoofer didn't got to sleep inappropriately at anything other than the lowest listening levels. The final input is labelled 'IR Input' and is for use with an infra red extension, should the EQ-Max be positioned out of sight or at an awkward angle. Controls are limited to a continuously variable 40 to 120Hz low pass crossover knob, that bypasses at it's maximum setting. The instruction manual indicates that 'bypass' is in fact about 135Hz, so why Velodyne don't just label it as such, I don't know. The remaining control is a pair of up/down push buttons to control gain, the level selected being indicated on the front LED display. Don't discount these gain buttons, lest you need them when the palm sized remote goes missing down the sofa or, as mine did, gets placed in the mini me's 'tool' box.
All other functions are to be found on the neat, palm sized remote control and these extend beyond the norm. The Power, Mute and Volume buttons are self explanatory, the latter having a range of 00 to 80 on the sub's LED display. The absolute levels, or size of the steps are unimportant, as you simply get used to where on the scale you want it set. Default is 30. The light button is simply to set the LED display to always on, or to off a few seconds after the last button press. The 'Night' setting is simply a dynamic range limiter, to save significant others being awoken by late night explosion fests. Four buttons are reserved for the presets, nominally labelled Movies, R&B/Rock, Jazz/Classical and finally Games. Each uses a combination of a 3dB boost, centered on differing frequencies, in concert with a volume boost and a varying subsonic filter (high pass) frequency, to suit a predetermined notion of what each programme type will require. Blissfully, Jazz/Classical is left untainted by such novelty and is thus the nominal flat/bypass position. Your mileage may vary, but having pressed the preset buttons once, each in turn, I pressed Jazz/Classical and left it there. To my ears, the other alternatives simply curtail extension, decrease precision and generally make the EQ-Max sound like the subwoofer you probably upgraded from. This is not having a go at the Velodyne - such presets have the same effect on all subwoofers, so equipped, but as I say, your mileage may vary.
Fortunately, Velodyne resisted calling these presets 'EQ', because this would detract from the fact that all of the EQ-Max subwoofers have their own, on board, automatic room equalization. Plug the supplied microphone into the baffle mounted socket, mount the mic as close as you can to where your head would be at the listening position and press the 'EQ' button on the remote for three seconds. A series of test tone sweeps are emitted during which, the on-board DSP will move the five preset bands to tame the peaks and troughs in your room's response. It's not on the same level of complexity as the system employed in the Digital Drive subs, with less EQ bands and without the ability to target particular frequencies - It is a graphic, rather than parametric equalizer, but the result is measurably preferable and audibly even more notable, as the subwoofer sounds tighter, deeper and more controlled, with your room's contribution much reduced, if not entirely neutralized. Incidentally, it took a bit of digging to find out that if you want to cancel the on-board EQ, pressing the 'Presets' buttons in the order 1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1, does so. I didn't see this instruction in the manual. The DSP is also responsible for protecting the driver against over excursion below the port tune and amplifier clipping above it. This doesn't mean you can't kill the subwoofer, as nothing is proof against the most determined idiot. But it does mean that in practice, it's impossible to provoke it into any nasty noises and Velodyne are confident enough to offer a 5 year warranty on the electronics and three years on the driver.
Despite the automated nature of the EQ-Max on-board EQ, this is not carte blanche to dump the EQ-Max on the floor and expect perfect results. For starters, the EQ-Max only EQs itself, so the usual care has to be taken regarding positioning and system integration, before you even think about pressing the EQ button. In my room, it worked best not a million miles from where a succession of sealed subwoofers have, with just a little more clearance to the rear wall. Then the EQ routine was run, levels matched with the speakers and finally, the phase set (using the 0, 90, 180 or 270deg buttons on the remote) to give the most even transition between the EQ-Max and the main front speakers. The amplifier used was an Anthem MRX 700, it's EQ being initially disabled for the purposes of the review. The speakers were initially the KEF Q700/Q300/Q600c package and latterly, the Acoustic Energy Neo Compact package. It had no issues operating with these mini monitors at 100-120Hz crossovers.
If I may sum up what follows, then I think it would be fair to say, there may be slightly more subtle musical performers than the EQ-Max 12. Now, to qualify that, I should say that if your taste is more garage than chamber and more metal than woodwind, that isn't a bad thing.
The Velodyne goes low, very loud and isn't shy about doing so in an extremely tight fashion, the room EQ playing it's part here. It pumps out deep bass with a fearsome grip and is tonally adept, so it plays tunes well. Gwen Stefani's 'If I Were A Rich Girl' was absolutely splendid, the room pounded in a breathless onslaught, only surpassed by the rapid fire aggression of Metallica's 'Through the Never'. Such fun.
Moving to more sedate fayre from the jazz and AOR end of the spectrum and the lower frequencies maintained their tunefulness and impact, but perhaps loitered slightly on the timing front. This could result in wide ranging instruments like piano, sounding only slightly more pedestrian than I have heard the same pieces sound, but I'm here to pick holes. This should also be set against the fact, that a Velodyne DD10+ had just exited stage left, prior to the EQ-Max taking it's place. Thus, the budget sub found itself following a paragon of the timing art and I'm sure plenty of others would have wilted at such a challenge too. It's less of a blot on the EQ-Max copy book and more of a reminder why some subs cost as much as they do.
The natural stomping ground of a 12" ported sub, however, is with movies and here, the EQ-Max 12 needs no excuses. It's easy to forget, after a long run of sealed subwoofers, exactly how much output you liberate by poking holes in a box. Even though the Velodyne isn't a large sub in the ported scheme of things, it makes full use of it's ported advantage to deliver huge output off it's comparatively modest, quoted power. And like any good ported sub, it delivers it's output with a wanton freedom that has you scouring the shelves for increasingly silly bass moments.
Bottom end bass impacts are delivered with visceral crunch, with the EQ-Max 12, well able to back that up with meaty, sustained bass. All though not as overblown as some movies, the scene that starts with a giant Terminator attacking a house in Terminator: Salvation, is a good test of most parts of a movie system. It has a real mixture of deep, short, sustained and loud bass. Throw in dense passages of action and it's well able to test a systems ability to separate out and steer dialogue and effects when things get a bit busy - it's a fairly complete test in fifteen minutes. The Velodyne took it all within it's stride and shook the Williams sofa in a way that hasn't been done, for less than £1k, for some while. It was all, tight and well defined too, with no rumbly grumble to muddy the differentiation between one effect and another. Explosions, for instance, stayed quite distinct from the myriad of bass wooping and swooshing sounds emanating from the Terminator in the background.
Only the very deepest effects were off limits - Kung Fu Panda's 'Skadoosh' and the Autobot barrel roll from the first of the, increasingly silly, Michael Bay 'Transformers' movies found a bottom to the EQ-Max depths. At the same time, it should be noted that these limits were achieved entirely transparently, without fuss or nasty noises. Clearly, the internal DSP knows the subwoofer's limits well and sticks to them. They're still quite considerable limits though. In my room, I was getting serious output down to 20Hz, with only the trouser flapping infrasonics below this, missing. For those, there's the considerably larger and more powerful EQ-Max 15...
To cap this all off, there was good upper bass imapct, which is important if you're marrying up to smaller, or satellite type, loudspeakers. Gun shots are a nice test in this range and the requisite chest impact, the the upper bass departs to it, was present and correct. This gives you confidence to cross over to smaller speakers that little bit higher and if you do so, you won't find the EQ-Max 12 easily aurally locatable. This would seem to demonstrate that the the Velodyne can add a reasonably clean upper bass to it's list of attributes, otherwise it's presence would sound more obvious.
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Compact 300mm ported subwoofer
Velodyne EQ-Max 12
Suggested price: £825
Reviewed 23rd February, 2012 by Russell Williams
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.