The asking price for serious bass has just been lowered
What is the P12-300SB?In theory, the direct sale model of retail should be all conquering. Why would you involve extra levels of distribution and cost when you can send the product straight to customer, work with them directly and offer the product at a price that conventional retail channels can't match? And indeed some categories of luxury goods have seen this model work extremely well.
The hifi and AV category has been a tougher nut to crack though. While there are some notable exceptions- Bose and Teufel spring to mind- the interconnected nature of an AV system means that direct sale doesn't always work terribly well. In these cases, the dealer is not always superfluous- they can ensure that the promise of individual products is met. Better to sacrifice some of the efficiency of the process be lost in favour of keeping the product out and in happy hands.
One noble exception to this has been BK Electronics. The
Essex based manufacturer has been operating very successfully as a direct retailer of subwoofers and accessories for over twenty years and has been a keen and consistent supporter of AVForums from the early days. The no nonsense recipe of sound design solidly executed with high quality components has been a winning one and we have positively reviewed previous offerings from the company. The latest design to break cover is the P12-300SB which mates a 12 inch driver to a 300w amp in both forward and downward firing configurations. Is the latest BK still a fit and forget masterclass?
DesignThe P12-300SB is not especially snappily named but the title gives you most of the information you need to work out what the device is all about. It is the only member of the new Platinum category of subwoofers from BK and it is available both as a 'DF' downward firing version as tested and also as a forward firing model. Both variants have the same basic construction. They are sealed designs with a single 12 inch driver powered by a 300 watt amplifier- hence P12-300SB.
These bald statements belie the fact that the BK is a fairly hefty piece of engineering. That sealed cabinet is made of inch thick MDF that has been assembled into a cube of immense solidity. Tap your knuckles against the side of the cabinet and it feels like it is solid rather than hollow. The driver also has a feeling of serious engineering prowess. The paper pulp composite cone feels immensely rigid and it is backed up with a magnet and coil that suggest that it will go very low indeed.
How low? Well, BK doesn't supply a full frequency response for the P12-300SB but does state that in a 'normal' front room you should see sub 20Hz on a +/- 3dB calculation and after some time spent with the sub in my fairly normal lounge, I don't think this is an optimistic calculation. Of course it is one thing to make a sub that goes low and quite another to make one that sounds good while it does it but the basic data seems very positive.
The amplification for the BK is a 300w 'Peak Discrete' amp. This means that unlike the bulk of rivals who these days are using Class D and Bash type amps, the P12-300SB has a visible heat sink and produces perceptible heat after a little time in use. This heat is nothing too significant and to aid the energy efficiency of the sub as a whole, BK has fitted it with an auto on-off function. Normally, my heart sinks a little when I encounter one of these that can't be turned off- as is the case here- but all credit to BK, the one they have found for the P12-300SB actually manages to start when you start the amp, and only stops again once the requirement for the sub has genuinely ended.
All of this is wrapped up in a box with a 40cm by 40cm footprint and an overall height of 46cm. This means that the BK is big but not unmanageably so and usefully smaller than the larger Monolith models as well as competition like the SVS lineup. It should be possible to fit the BK into most rooms and spaces without it dominating its immediate surroundings. The downward firing model has the slight advantage here as the downward firing driver is given the operating space it needs by being elevated above the floor while the forward firing one will likely need a little space to deliver the goods.
In terms of accessories and options, the BK is a slightly mixed bag. On the plus side, you are supplied two very good quality leads in the box. The first is a conventional RCA-RCA subwoofer cable which is always welcome. The second is a nod to BK's Hifi ambitions for their baby. It is a speaker connection to Neutrik connector for the easy connection of a stereo amplifier. As the P12-300SB has both LFE and high level Neutrik connector on the rear plate with volume controls for both, it is possible to use the BK in two systems at once- or at least it would be were the other amp not a Naim with limited means of connecting such plugs. There are other niceties like a constantly variable phase control rather than the more common two position switch as well.
What's good?From the moment that the sizeable box shows up, the BK feels like an awful lot of product for the money. The build, general engineering and the raw materials that have gone into the P12-300SB make it feel like a £600-800 sub rather than a sub £400 one. One of the more surprising positives is the finish. As I have to take photos of products, I was keen not to be sent a gloss model which can be a bit of a pig for reflections and the like. The unexpected upside of this is that the satin white model that was sent is truly lovely. Far from looking less expensive than the gloss, I'm actually of the opinion that it might actually be nicer.
From the moment that the sizeable box shows up, the BK feels like an awful lot of product for the money
What's not so good?The BK is beautifully designed and extremely well built but it also uses fundamentally straightforward engineering that has been done exceptionally well. This does mean that in terms of cutting edge technical accomplishment, the P12-300SB misses out on some of the more interesting developments in subwoofers. So the P12-300SB has no EQ settings or a remote control - something I've found to be useful of late - especially if using the sub in both stereo and multichannel situations. In terms of being connected to a relatively recent AV receiver, the BK will find itself included in the corrections for all the speakers but I know some people would rather EQ the sub independently of the receiver.
How was it tested?The P12-300SB was placed in the rear of the two sub positions in room as the testing schedule at present ensured that another product was present in the front position. As BK had been kind enough to supply a connecting cable, this was connected to a Yamaha RX-A3040. Source equipment included a Cambridge Audio 752BD Blu-ray player, Sky HD and a Panasonic GT60 Plasma, all connected to an IsoTek Evo Aquarius Mains filter. Partnering the P12-300SB were my standard complement of five Elipson Planet M speakers. Material used included Blu Ray, broadcast and on demand TV services, lossless and high res FLAC and streaming services like Tidal and Spotify.
Film and TV PerformanceAfter the BK was installed, the first piece of viewing undertaken with it in place was the mighty bass fest that is... The Great British Bake-Off. This seems like an unlikely place for the BK to leave a placemark for its performance but with five speakers that have a 90Hz crossover, a sub is always going to be doing something. What the P12-300SB does is effortlessly provide the low end that the Elipsons need and provide it in a way that is completely imperceptible to the performance of the speakers themselves. Often, powerful subs can sound rather obtrusive used in this manner but the P12-300SB is genuinely excellent.
Of course, the people behind the P12-300SB probably have higher ambitions for it than filling in the low end of a cake show and the even better news is that when you give the BK a bit of dedicated LFE to get stuck into, the result is truly impressive. I have tested some seriously powerful subwoofers in the same room from various parties and to be completely clear, the BK can't rival the sheer room loading awesomeness of the SVS SB13. What is does do is give a taste of the effortlessness that these subs have in really filling a room with bass energy.
This would be fairly impressive at the money but BK products have never been about bass for the sake of bass and the P12-300SB is no different. There is detail and texture to the information that sets it apart from many rivals at the price. The approaching locomotive in Super 8 is not a single sound but many distinct pieces of information- the exhaust, the sound of the wheels on the rails and the movement of air itself. The BK defines these sounds and gives them their own identities while managing to generate the sound pressure levels needed to make the moment of collision something deeply and unforgettably impressive. If you have the levels set at the truly demented, there seems to be a sort of soft clip built into the P12-300SB to ensure you don't break it but the only reason that I was able to reach this sort of level is that both sides of neighbours were on holiday at the time. For the most part, the BK will have all the headroom that most of us will ever need.
Neither is this limited to explosions and general idiocy either. The final demented drum sequence in Whiplash is fabulous- a visceral, all encompassing demonstration that percussion is not simply accompanying your fellow band members. The BK is able to keep up with the whirlwind of beats and not once does it sound slow or out of place. This is a usefully fast subwoofer.
How fast? Well, this speed gives you a little taste of what remains the most incredible sub I've tested in this space, the Eclipse TD520SW. To be completely clear, the P12-300SB can't match the near supernatural transient speed of the Eclipse but coupled with the Elipsons, the performance of the system gave a hint of the startling speed and directness of the Eclipse system. By the by, at the current introductory price of the BK, you could have almost eight of them for the price of the TD520SW so it should be expected that the Eclipse might retain the edge.
Music PerformanceAs the Naim Supernait 2 in residence here doesn't allow for a bare wire connection (at least not at the same time as you connect speakers to it), the music testing was carried out with the BK still connected to the Yamaha but given the 3040 is no slouch when used in two channel settings, it has been enough to show that using the BK as the sub in a 2.1 system is very satisfying indeed.
The performance of the BK in Whiplash had been enough to suggest that there was sufficient speed and grip to make it work for music and this turns out to be the case. The 24/96kHz download of Joe Satriani's Shockwave Supernova is everything that the P12-300SB needs to shine. The rapid drum work and impressive kick drum impact of the album is relayed with assurance and verve by the BK. Switching to the giant electronic rumbles of Boards of Canada's Music has the right to children saw the P12-300SB no less composed and assured. I remain a traditionalist at heart and would probably prefer to listen to a dedicated stereo pair of speakers but once again the BK sounds better than it has any right to at the price.
the BK sounds better than it has any right to at the price
- Outstanding performance
- Excellent build
- Extremely good value
- No remote or EQ
- Fairly large
BK Electronics P12-300SB Subwoofer ReviewWhen I review very expensive products, I don't have too much of a mental block when they turn out to be excellent and able to move my frame of reference as to what a product can deliver- after all, if you have spent a few grand, you probably shouldn't expect anything less. With more affordable products, when they deliver truly excellent performance, you can usually point to a sensible rung up the ladder where their performance can be surpassed leaving them king of their category but still within a frame of reference.
The BK is different. Had it arrived for review at £600 or even £800, I'd have been seriously impressed. It has the specification, the build and most importantly the performance to more than hold its own against equipment at this price point. The £379 price it is reviewed at here is an introductory one and I imagine it has to go up at some point but as it stands, this is the AV bargain of 2015. Nothing at this price or within £200 of it can hold a candle to the all round competence of the BK and it represents the new lower line of where truly great sub bass performance can be bought. The P12-300SB is an unquestionable Best Buy and a superb achievement from BK Electronics.
Value For Money10
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