SVSound's reputation for large subwoofers, is matched only by their customers desire for even larger ones. Even the rather large PB13-Ultra, which nailed the lid shut on the even larger coffin of the preceding PB12-Ultra/2 in performance terms, still couldn't stop fans of the marque slavering for a larger one. Some people!
And so it was when the original, deliberately compact, SB12-Plus landed. If it answered the prayers of those wanting to sample SVS subwoofery, without having to decide which piece of furniture had to give way, an equal number immediately started praying for a bigger one. They pointed at the range topping 13" Ultra driver and wondered when that was going to turn up in a smaller sealed box. Well, the needs of a sealed subwoofer are quite distinct from those of a large ported box, so a direct transplant of exactly the same driver was never on the cards, but it wasn't far short of what actually happened.
The SB12-Plus made way for the SB12-NSD we've previously reviewed, but it's replacement, the SB13-Plus reviewed here, comes closer to the Ultra-in-a-little-box than you might imagine.
The SB13-Plus arrived in my living room shortly after it's smaller sibbling, the SB12-NSD, which was handy for direct comparison. However, in that short period, the price of the SB13 was cut from approximately £1600 to approximately £1200. LSound.no, for they are the European importers of SVS, were keen that the smaller and frankly, big selling, SB12-NSD should be the first to get its airing on AVForums.com and in the light of what I experienced, they weren't wrong - It was a small and relatively low cost sub of amazing capability, as its award atests. But as a card carrying bass-o-phile, the SB13 was the one I had originally pinpointed as potentially the most interesting sub SVS have produced for some while and thus, it was always on the cards that I would capture my prey, sooner or later.
And here it now sits. As with all previous SVS subs, the density of the product is impressive. Given that the amplification is 'digital' and thus lacks a huge and heavy transformer, the not inconsiderable weight of 43kg, is achieved through a combination of the minimum 1" thick cabinet and sheer driver mass. As far as the cabinet is concerned, you can choose 'Black' as your finish. The high gloss side cheeks, sandwich the textured black front, top, bottom and rear panels. The finish on all parts is excellent, but I personally feel that at this price point, your chosen finish should be present on all faces of the cabinet. Subwoofers are a significant chunk of furniture in your room and I feel, that the lack of veneer on all faces is at odds with this. It does look very smart all the same. Fronting the cabinet is a curved and perforated steel grill, that I've now come to like and in this case it is held in place by very strong, invisible magnets. This gives a very clean look for those who like their drivers on display, but I did note that the protective rubber pads that give the grill traction on the cabinet and prevent rattling had moved in transit. Make sure they're repositioned to prevent the cabinet getting marked during use.
And it is worth removing the grill, because the 13" driver used is a fearsome bit of kit. The 'Plus' Series driver in the SB13 bears far more relation to the range topping 'Ultra' drivers than it does to the other 'Plus' drivers in the larger ported box and cylinder subwoofers. The cone, parabolic suspension roll surround, spiders and the basket are all identical to the Ultra driver. The pulp cone is fronted across it's entire diametre by a woven basalt glass-fiber composite dust cap, with subtle SVS logo in the centre. So subtle in fact, you can't see it when lit from some angles. The Ultra basket is a casting of considerable proportions, with the dual 225mm spiders being halfway up the basket and affording considerable venting behind them. The dual laminate ferrite motor is as per the standard Plus driver, but with an extra top plate spacer creating an overhung motor for greater Xmax (the limit of travel before distortion of greater than 10% sets in) capability. Aside from this spacer, the only other component unique to the SB13 driver is the voice coil which has longer and heavier windings than the PB13-Ultra unit, to cope with the extra excursion potential and also give greater thermal power handling - sealed subs soak up a lot more power than ported boxes and as air can't get in and out, tend to run hotter. Finally, a Faraday shorting ring is employed, which is used to reduce inductance in the motor and improve distortion at frequencies toward the upper end of the subwoofers pass band.
All in all, the driver is more like a Plus+, or Ultra Minus, depending on how you look at it and is an awful lot of driver considering the SB13's price point.
Motivating all of this, is one the new generation of SVS 'Sledge' amplifiers, in this case, the STA-1000D, which delivers a nominal quoted 1000W of power. This far eastern sourced unit, has had more than a bit of SVS design input and it's capabilities are very interesting. Stereo Balanced XLR and single ended RCA phono in and outputs are provided, but there is no speaker level input. The inputs have a sensitivity toggle switch that allows users to compensate for the higher line voltages used in the 'Pro' environment. Aside from the On/Off switch and a separate Auto/Always On button, the Sledge Plate amp is devoid of all of the normal buttons and dials. All of these other functions are handled by a blue (Grrrr!) backlit LCD display and a single rotate/push to select dial, that as a whole is called the Integrated Function Controller (IFC). Accessing the parametres in the menu is a fairly simple push once to enter, turn to adjust, two push clicks to exit affair and it quickly becomes second nature. Lucky that, because as this function is on the back of the sub, you'll spend a lot of time peering at it over the top of the sub and therefore, upside down - this is not a lightweight sub that is easy to up-end to see the rear.
Now, as all of the usual controls are handled by the SB13's IFC, there are more features and options offered than the norm. For instance the Low pass filter (often called the crossover) allows you to select frequencies of 31/40/50/63/80/100/125Hz, but also whether you would like the filter slope to be 12dbB or 24dB octave or defeated altogether. However, there is also a high pass filter option that affects the stereo XLR and phono outputs mentioned above. If you were using the outputs to daisy-chain additional SB13s, you would leave the high pass filter set to 'defeat'. However, if you are using a stereo pre/power amp, you can high pass the signal returned to the power amplifier. This has two benefits. One is that you can keep all of the difficult, high power requirements of deep bass inside the subwoofer that is designed exactly for that job. The other is that without all of this high power demanding, distortion inducing bass taxing your speakers, they have more dynamic headroom and increased clarity. The frequencies and filter slopes at which you 'bass manage' this division of duties are the same as for the inputs.
Whilst we're on the stereo only path, the SB13-Plus has a masterstroke of a feature - it can apply a delay to the signal returned to the stereo amp, to time align the sub with the speakers. Even in the bass managed world of AV receivers, the delay (or distance) applied to the sub is often woefully inaccurate as it's physical distance, as opposed to it effective distance, are two very different things. If you're in stereo land, there is no control at all. Get this delay/distance right and your soundstage just explodes in size. It's one of the few controls that's quite easy to tune by ear.
An additional feature, seen on SVS subwoofers for some while, is the room gain compensation, albeit this time it is now applied in the SB13s DSP, rather than with analogue filters. Depending on the size of your room, you will suffer (enjoy?) a free boost in bass output with descending frequency. The smaller the room, the greater the boost. The compensation allows you to bring the in-room frequency response closer to flat, or some point of preference in between the two.
Of course, tuning a subwoofer to give a smooth in-room response isn't just a matter of compensating or it's size - the room will contribute narrower bands of peaks and dips in the response as a function of it's individual dimensions. Further use of the DSP gives the user two parametric equalization (PEQ) filters to tune out the two worst peaks, albeit in a slightly more limited fashion than I had hoped. PEQ filters are not only variable in the amount of cut or boost they offer, but also in the range of frequencies affected and at which frequencies the effect is centered. My principle beef is not in the lack of boost/cut of filter widths available, but that the frequencies are restricted to 31/35/40/46/50/56/63/70/80/90/100/112/125Hz. Now, as someone used to filters adjustable in single Hertz steps, that restriction turned out to be less of an issue than I thought, but having a fairly large room, two of my biggest modal peaks are in the 20Hz range and it proved impossible to affect them (without making results worse elsewhere) using the PEQ alone.
To be fair, you will need an external method of measuring the in-room response in order to set the filters and in conjunction with the room mode compensation, it's possible to get some very good results, but I can see the less experienced struggling. At the end of the day, I should remind myself, that this is only a £1600 subwoofer and that this level of user adjustment is seldom found so I should a) be grateful and b) realize that there is a limit to the amount of number crunching power you can squeeze into the DSP of a sub at this price point.
One final note on the DSP front - as previously seen on the SVS SB12-NSD, the DSP has been programmed to extend the SB13's response at low frequencies, gradually rolling the depth off with increased playback levels and indeed, preventing the driver being over driven, or the amp clipped at any frequency. The result is a sub that never ever gets close to sounding like it's reaching it's limits and is as bomb proof in normal day-to-day abuse as it's possible to be.
So, duly tuned up and integrated with the system, it was time to sit down and terrorize the family, house structure and neighbours. It should also be noted that some of the listening was conducted partnering the non-too-small Tannoy Definition DC10T/DC8T/DC6LCR 5.0 system which streets at about £11k. The DC10Ts in particular are a 76 litre floorstander with two 10" bass drivers and are pretty damn capable down to the high 20Hz region in room. To survive in this company, it's quality of output, as much as depth/quantity, that is required and lest we forget, the SB13-Plus currently costs less than the Tannoy centre speaker.
Starting with music - it's the best test of system integration and bass quality in general - I spun up a few well hackneyed favourites. 'Tricycle', off The Best of Flim and the BBs, is an incredibly dynamic track, much loved as a hi-fi demo piece in the '80s. The irony is that, it's only in recent years that subwoofer technology has finally allowed it to display all of it's wide band dynamics. And the SB13-Plus was happy to oblige with punch and dynamic headroom. There's some deep and very loud piano, overlaying some seriously uncompressed drum strikes that can tie plenty of transducers in knots. It's a track that starts off very quietly, urging you to push the volume up and then, when all hell breaks loose in the middle, back the volume off again very quickly. No such trouble here. The SB13 was happy to underpin the big Tannoys at very high levels (92dB efficiency plus 300w/channel and 10" drivers, equals comfort at very high volumes) delivering a thunderously profound and controlled bottom end to the piano and massive impacts during the mid track drum solo. It's no slouch either, the drum solo being typical of the jazz breed that seems to have no inherent rhythm if your system isn't bang on the timing money. This is as much about setting the sub up right, to avoid undue overhang caused by room booms but even so, some subs are more nimble than others and the SB13 is one such.
I see from the pile of CDs dispatched during my longest music session, that the day started off with some serious, high level bass testers (Blue Man Group, Bassotronics, Gwen Stefani, etc) but quickly adjusted to simply listening to more normal stuff. Once you've heard a subwoofer do the fireworks, you want to see if it can paint the subtler picture of the bonfire in a realistic way, as that's what ultimately holds your attention for longer. How quickly this shift in attention happens, as well as the height of the pile of disks it generates, is as good a yardstick of a sub as I've found. That I'm staring at a pile including Frank Sinatra, UB40, Gary Moore (Blues AND metal), Eva Cassidy, Metallica, Nils Lofgren, Madonna, Alison Kraus, Dave Brubeck, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, JJ Cale, The Doors, Steve Earle, Harry Connick, etc, seems to indicate that I was more than happy in this regard. Hell, I even listened to a whole Michael Bubbly CD somewhere in the middle, although I will defend his rendition of Cry Me A River as a great track full stop. The satisfyingly fruity bottom end to the brass was lovely in it's texture and resonance, that alone being a good sign of how well the SB13 stops as well as starts.
It's one of the reasons I keep coming back to sealed subs, however much the hooligan in me likes a monster ported job - SVS make those too, apparently - Sealed subs just hit and disappear faster, etching bass texture more finely and ultimately, allowing you to forget there's a sub working at all.
But there is a hooligan in me and I do like a movie or two and it would be a shame to have an SVS in the room and not let it stretch it's legs. On paper, the SB13-Plus 'looks' to only have 'double' the output of the SB12-NSD that impressed me so much recently. It's got a slightly larger driver, with a bit more throw, in a slightly larger cabinet and admittedly a fair bit more power, but power disappears into the sealed black hole of compact subs real fast, so that can be misleading. Thus, I was expecting a bit more low down grunt and a bit more kick and expecting the jump up in driver spec to deliver the extra layer of finesse, that it has already proved to do, as the big advantage.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It sounds like a lot larger, lot more powerful sub than the SB12 and not by a small margin. I'll give an example; I've only heard ported subs, or very large sealed subs, manage the reference level room wobble that is 'Skadoosh' in the final fight scene in Kung-fu Panda and indeed, I tend to head to this bass moment first, to lay down a marker so to speak. There normally follows a 'not bad for a littlun' sort of conversation. With the SB13, I just turned it up some more. Staggering. It didn't quite make you feel like the house was moving, like my reference subs can (but they are double the size and there are two) but it certainly shifted the sofa to a greater degree than I would have thought possible from such compact dimensions. It's a huge effect and difficult, because it's sustained at very high level, rather than an instantaneous impact. Some subs have delivered the hit, but fail to back up the sustain, but the SB13 elevated itself to an elite class in an instant.
Time to, quite literally, break out the big guns and the original 'Transformers' movie was pressed into service. The sustained basso drop when the Autobot somersaults over a woman, having just loosed off two rounds into the ground is another mental bass moment. The kick of the initial shots was iron in its impact and the basso drop sustained at high level, in a fashion a small sub has no right to. Only the last second or so, failed to deliver the infrasonic pulsing that's on the LFE track, but right up to that instant, it was superb and Ive never heard a sub this size get that far before giving up. To put it another way, the only sealed subs I've heard do it justice, all cost at least four times the current £1200 being asked for the SVS or indeed, have been an SVS of the much larger ported variety. That is rarefied company.
- Class busting performance
- Comprehensive feature set
- Compact design
- Even better value with price drop
- You'd better like black
- Steel grill won't be conservative enough for some
- Required user input means many will ignore the benefits that can be wrought
SVS SB13-Plus Subwoofer
To be honest, the SVS SB13-Plus would have been 'Highly Recommended' at it's original RRP of £1600. Excellent all round performance, mated with a comprehensive set of system and room integration controls, means that top notch bass is on the cards. If you have the willingness to finesse the setup, with the controls supplied, the results are little short of astonishing. And it's time the stereo crowd got over the music/movie sub issue where SVS are concerned. This is the second sealed SVS I've played with, that is bang on the money with music. Indeed, it offers features specific to stereo, that even manufacturers who claim to major in this regard, don't, or can't, offer. That the SB13-Plus can flap your movie flares when needed to, is in no way detrimental to music - accurate bass is accurate bass and music isn't a special case.
Niggles are very few. Using a purely visual user interface on the rear of the sub is a bit of a bind, especially given it's gravitational resistance to being tipped up to see the display better. However, given that it's blue, the back is just fine! Seriously, it is part of the plate amp and so it is necessarily more complex and therefore, expensive to place it elsewhere on the sub. Let's face it, everything is possible if you throw money at it and as a subwoofers over riding criteria is performance, I'd rather the money was spent to that end.
As it is, the price drop to £1200 makes it a moments work to upgrade the result to an easy 'Best Buy'.
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