REL HT/1003 Subwoofer Review
Plenty of sonic boom for your buck
What is the REL HT/1003?The REL HT/1003 is part of the manufacturer's new line of affordable and dynamic subwoofers, aimed specifically at the movie fan. The company has a long history when it comes to subwoofers, but until now they've been intended for movies and music. The new HT range is designed specifically for use in a home theatre set-up where watching films is the primary goal. These closed box, front-firing subs use lightweight CarbonGlas long-throw drivers and Class D amplifiers, combined with specially adapted home theater input filters that produce extremely flat bass down in the 20Hz range.
The HT/1003 is the entry-level model, which uses a front-firing 10-inch driver and includes 300W of digital amplification. The range also includes the HT/1205, which has a 12-inch driver and 500W of amplification. REL's naming convention actually denotes the main characteristics of these new subs, so the HT/1003 is a Home Theatre (HT) subwoofer with a 10-inch driver (10) and a 300W amplifier (03). The HT/1003 costs £499 as at the time of writing (August 2018), so it's certainly affordable, but let's see how this new subwoofer performs in terms of other important factors like performance.
DesignThe REL HT/1003 is a subwoofer, so no one should be expecting too much in the way of design flair when it comes to what is essentially a black cube. Having said that, REL appears to have gone for a decidedly old-school look as far as this particular sub is concerned; not that that's a big deal, given that the sub will probably end up being used in a darkened room. I actually like the honest simplicity of the HT/1003, and whilst many of the design choices are clearly intended to keep the production costs down, this no-nonsense approach results in a sub with a single-minded purpose.
The build quality is excellent, with the cabinet composed of a tough, high-grade, horizontally oriented line-grained composite that wraps all the way around. The sub sits on four large feet, which are composed of wooden blocks with the REL logo on them. The edges are curved, which not only looks nice but also means there are no sharp edges cutting into your hands, making the HT/1003 easier to move. The black wood finish is both innocuous and easy to keep clean, which means you don't have to deal with the messy fingerprints that always seem to cover glossy subs.
However REL hasn't gone for a completely basic appearance, and the top surface has been beautifully finished using five coats of hand rubbed lacquer. In the middle of this glossy blacktop surface, is the company's name 'REL Acoustics Ltd'. At the front, there is a removable black cloth grille, that uses physical connectors rather than magnets. The HT/1003 measures 318 x 347 x 351mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 12.7kg, so unlike other subs I've reviewed recently, it should reasonably easy to move and install.
The connections and controls are located at the rear, and REL has sensibly kept things to a minimum. So in terms of the connections, you get a dual purpose low-level stereo RCA or LFE RCA input, and a daisy chain low-level stereo RCA or LFE RCA output. The controls are fully manual and are composed of a dial for the level, another for the crossover, and a switch for the phase. The HT/1003 doesn't come with any kind of remote control.
There's a kettle style connector for the power cable, and an on/off switch. There's also an auto standby feature, which turns the sub on when it receives a signal. In a nice touch, the writing that identifies each control and connection is written normally and upside down, making it easier to read when peering over the back of the sub in the dark.
Well-built, simply designed and innocuous in appearance, this sub is all about performance
Features and SpecsThe REL HT/1003 uses a 10-inch (250mm) CarbonGlas long-throw driver that is both lightweight and extremely rigid. There is stiff carbon fibre over 60% of the driven surface, backed by lightweight glasfibre and high-quality natural butyl surrounds that can remain soft and pliable for decades. There's also an inverted carbon fibre dust cap and a steel chassis. REL claim low-frequency extension of -6dB at 24Hz.
To accomplish the goal of delivering deep bass from a compact cabinet, REL chose their NextGen5 Class D amplifier with a claimed output of 300W. This frees up interior space whilst also running cool, so there's more cabinet volume and that translates into deeper bass despite the HT/1003's modest footprint. The built-in amplification means there is always sufficient power for the driver, which ensures a high output, delivered via a long running and reliable design. REL have designed a specific inverse filter in the HT/1003’s input to permit the CarbonGlas driver to extend much deeper than more conventional designs.
The HT/1003 also supports a wireless connection, thanks to REL's HT-Air purpose-built kit that retails for £99, and is designed to deliver zero compression and maximum dynamics. HT-Air was developed to leave old fashioned Bluetooth-based systems in the dust, by delivering a latency in the 16-20 millisecond range. This permits owners to place their sub wherever it works best for them without having to resort to unsightly cables being strewn across their room.
Despite the budget price tag, REL hasn't skimped on the driver and amplification
Setup and OperationThe REL HT/1003 is extremely easy to set-up but a quick look at the back reveals a significant difference from the company's traditional subwoofers like the REL T/7i. Since its inception, REL has made subwoofers aimed at the audiophile community, which means they are designed to extend the low-frequency response of stereo systems. To achieve this, a high-level connection and a complex filter network is included, so the sub can take its input from the speaker terminals of the stereo amplifier.
The HT/1003 drops the high-level connection and accompanying filters, and instead only has a low-level LFE line-level input. The reason for this is two fold: firstly the new sub is aimed at the home theatre market, where the LFE input is the more important connector; and secondly it helps keep the cost down.
So in terms of connecting the sub you simply run the LFE cable to the HT/1003, using either a single cable or a stereo pair. If you're running two or more subs, you can connect them directly to your processor or receiver if it supports multiple subs, or you can daisy chain the additional subs.
You'll need to decide where to position the HT/1003, but given its size and weight that should be a lot easier. I placed my review sample at the front of the room, between my centre and left speaker in a spot that I knew was reasonably balanced. The sub's feet provide solid support but if you have wooden or laminated floors, you might want to unscrew them and use the provided rubber feet instead, or even spikes. Otherwise there's a danger your sub could go walk about if you drive it particularly hard.
REL assume that the majority of the sub's set-up will be done via your processor or receiver – things like gain, delay and any equalisation. So all you need to do is set the phase correctly, set the crossover to LFE and then adjust the level accordingly. The only other setting is the on/off switch for the auto standby feature, which I just left on.
The HT-Air wireless kit is an optional extra that REL kindly provided with my review sample, so that I could try it out. In the box you'll find the transmitter and the receiver, power adapters for the them both, and RCA cables to connect your processor or AVR to the transmitter and the receiver to the subwoofer.
Just like the sub itself, the HT-Air is very easy to set-up. You simply connect the transmitter to your processor or AVR, and the receiver too the sub. Then you just plug them in and the transmitter and receiver should pair automatically.
If they don't, there are pairing buttons on the transmitter and receiver so you can do it manually. Once paired, the LED indicator is on permanently. You should never use the HT-Air simultaneously with a direct cable connection between the sub and your processor or AVR.
The HT/1003 is easy to move (thank God), simple to set-up, and even has a wireless option
PerformanceThe REL HT/1003 impressed right from the start, with a cracking performance in terms of its bass presence. I was immediately impressed by just how much low energy this relatively small sub could generate. I have recently reviewed some much larger and far more expensive subs like the SVS PB-4000, but the HT/1003 held its own for a fraction of the cost. Yes it can't reach the subterranean depths of the huge PB-4000, but the REL certainly punches above its weight.
I started with a couple of bass classics, in the form of the opening few seconds of Edge of Tomorrow and Blade Runner 2049. Both these films start with really deep bass notes, particularly in the case of Edge of Tomorrow. The little HT/1003 handled them with skill, delivering the deep bass but remaining controlled and tight. The sub certainly has enough power for most rooms on its own, but I think a pair at the front could work wonders for any system.
The HT/1003 revealed a lightness of touch but was also extremely responsive, under-pinning the subtle audio cues of A Quiet Place and then suddenly springing into life when things get loud. The extensive use of LFE in a film like Fury, allowed the little REL a chance to really strut its stuff. There was a tautness to the bass that this sub delivered, adding greater impact to effects and extending way down into the frequency range.
This is the kind of subwoofer that immediately puts a smile on your face, especially if you're a film fan. While it may have been designed to augment the bass-heavy nature of modern soundtracks, given REL's heritage it shouldn't come as surprise to discover that this sub retains a lovely musicality. This was perfectly demonstrated on Whiplash, where the incredibly fast transients of this sealed sub are so tight, that you can't get a credit card between the drum beats on this excellent soundtrack.
The HT/1003 will not only upgrade the sonic performance of a multichannel system, but it can also boost the performance of a decent soundbar. The sub is fairly forgiving when it comes to placement as well, and this flexibility is enhanced by REL's new HT-Air wireless kit. This is a great addition to an AV processor/receiver or soundbar, allowing you to position the sub where you need to, without worrying about running cables across the room.
Try as I might, I couldn't perceive any latency when using the HT-Air, it did its job admirably and the bass performance was identical to using a wired connection. The HT/1003 is compact and affordable, making it the ideal choice for anyone wishing to enhance the bass performance of their multichannel system or soundbar. This winning combination of performance, value and fun, sees REL triumphantly return to the budget end of the market that they once dominated.
Impressive power and speed makes this sub the perfect choice for those on a budget
- Fantastic bass performance
- Easy to set-up
- HT-Air wireless accessory
- Good build quality
- Great price
- None at this price point
REL HT/1003 Subwoofer ReviewThe REL HT/1003 is an absolutely cracking little subwoofer that not only offers exceptional value but also punches well above its weight. This relatively small sub is well-made, nicely styled and discreet, which means it should be easy to install in your lounge or dedicated home theatre. The HT/1003 has been specifically designed for use with movies, so it drops some features normally found in REL's other subs, which are primarily intended for movies and music.
The set-up is straightforward, and the HT-Air is a useful optional extra that allows you to connect your AV processor or receiver to the sub wirelessly, thus eliminating the need to run cables across your room. The HT/1003 will seamlessly integrate into your multichannel speakers, adding serious depth to the low frequency presence of your system. REL knows how to make a subwoofer, which explains how they have managed to get so much power out of something so small.
However the HT/1003 isn't just powerful, it is also controlled, fast and responsive, making it an ideal sub for watching movies. If you're looking for a sub-sonic upgrade to your system, then this is the subwoofer for you. It's an affordable, compact and highly capable performer that will enhance any system or good quality soundbar that it's paired with. If you've got a bigger budget, you could go higher up the REL range, but the HT/1003 is so good that I'd suggest just buying two instead.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £499.00
Value For Money10
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