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June 2019
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review
Purchasing this subwoofer is money well-spent.
Review By Tom Lyle

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

  On the SVS website there's a section titled "Why go dual subwoofers?". Their reasons are simple: Two small subwoofers can fit were one large subwoofer can't, more listening position options, greater headroom, stereo bass which will improve soundstage, plus, the bass frequencies are more difficult to localize. SVS even has a video explaining why two are better than one. For quite a while I only used one subwoofer in my system. This was mostly because I didn't have enough space for two, and please, I am not saying that two subwoofers are mandatory, as I was very happy using only one subwoofer in the corner of my listening room.

Thanks to our new home having a dedicated listening room it allows for greater positioning options, and so I was able to fit a second subwoofers. I can attest to the benefits of having dual subwoofers, and I think that SVS might be understating the benefits. The sound quality has more than merely doubled by adding the second sub. And this is why SVS sent me two of their SB16-Ultra subwoofers to audition in my system. But I hope one doesn't think that only one subwoofer is only half as good as two. As I stated, I used "only" one subwoofer for quite some time. And I was very happy with the sound.

The Ultra series is at the top of SVSound's line. SVS claims that the reason why the Ultra series can be considered their best is the use of the "massive" 16-inch driver which was designed by SVS and built to their specifications. With its "unprecedented" 8-inch edge wound voice coil -- which they say is the largest ever deployed in a consumer subwoofer, it offers lower distortion, more control at higher volumes, more output, and lower frequency specifications. It also delivers more "accuracy" in these low frequencies, and also offers a quicker transient response.

 

How Low Do You Want To Go?
I asked SVS why they use a 16-inch woofer rather than a 15-inch woofer, which I had always assumed to be the industry standard. Their answer made perfect sense. When balancing out every aspect of the design of this sub, they wanted to make sure they could maximize the best possible performance while at the same time meeting all the other system requirements. And since they had already designed and built their all-aluminum frame and the new suspension parts to handle the 8-inch voice coil, they used this as an opportunity to increase the size of the cone and radiating surface area as much as possible. This enabled them to increase the driver size past the "standard" size to a larger woofer with, in their words, "greater performance capabilities".

The Ultra subwoofers uses four toroidal ferrite magnets that "are the heaviest ever used in a consumer subwoofer", and so they are able to generate "unprecedented levels of magnetic force" to drive the "highest levels" of excursion, SPL, and low frequency output. The cone is made from a "rigid but lightweight" fiberglass resin composite "that never flexes" and is able to "convey subtle and room-shaking low frequency effects with equal aplomb".

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

Power Up
The sub is powered by a more than sufficient 1500 Watt, highly efficient, Class D amplifier. SVS says that their MOSFET output of this internal amplifier "offers far superior power handling and tighter control when compared to the integrated circuit output stage found in nearly all other Class D subwoofer amplifiers". Its amp uses what SVS calls an active Power Factor Correction (PFC) regulator to "smooth" input current to a "clean and steady" 360V DC, and results in using much less energy than a subwoofer than doesn't use PFC.

Although the SVS SB16-Ultra comes with a small remote control, and all of the sub's adjustments can be made from pushbuttons on its front panel display, I found by far the best way to set-up and make changes was with SVS's app. It can be downloaded in both iOS and Android versions, and is far easier to use than the small remote that comes with each subwoofer. On the front of the sub is the angled display with large 8-character blue LED display that can easily be read from across the room.

With the slanted top portion of the SVS sub's cabinet and the front-firing 16" driver, some have commented on the internet that it resembles a front-loading clothes dryer. I never thought of that, but I in a way, I guess it does. But, with the SB16-Ultra's metal grille in place, that attaches to the front of the cabinet with four cleverly shaped metal dowels, this subwoofer takes a very contemporary, and rather stylish appearance. The grille adds a few more inches to the front of the cabinet, which might make it a bit more difficult to position in some listening rooms, but there is no question that its looks are top-notch.

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

Entering The Deep End
I set each sub behind the pair of my reference Sound Lab Majestic 545 electrostatic speakers. The only option for connecting the speaker is with unbalanced RCA cables or unbalanced XLR, there are no speaker posts, so that's what I did. I ran each to the preamplifiers output, as there is no subwoofer output on the high-end preamplifiers I was using, either the vacuum-tube Nagra Classic Preamp, the Merrill Christina Reference, or the Mark Levinson No 523. Most who use these subwoofers for a home theater set up will likely be using a home theater receiver with an output which is specifically used for subs, and if so, and this receiver can set the subwoofer with automatic controls it is very easy to shut off the internal crossover of the SVS SB16-Ultra.

Instead of using any external measuring devices I used my ears. Setting up the SVS subs was easy and fun, as I tried all sorts of different parameters before I settled upon what I thought was the best sound. I left it this way for most of the review, only tweaking the settings slightly every once in a while. The low pass frequency was set at a rather low 55 Hz, as the low frequency specification of the speakers are claimed to be 35 Hz. To me, it sounds as if the usable low frequency of these electrostatic loudspeakers is more than a bit above that measurement, but still, that low frequency is awfully god for a pair of electrostatic speakers that aren't especially large.

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

The power amplifier for the entire review period was the Pass Laboratories X350.5. The digital front-end of my system remains for the most part a computer-based music server that feeds via USB a EMM Labs DA2 digital-to-analog converter. The occasional silver disc is spun on an OPPO UDP-203 Blu-ray player, which is essentially a universal disc player, so its digital output is connected to the DAC, but when playing SACDs its signal is sent directly to from its analog outputs to the preamp. The analog front end has also been in my system for a while, except for the phono cartridge, which since only a couple of months or so ago has been an Etsuro Urushi Bordeaux that I reviewed recently. The Bordeaux is mounted on a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm, which itself is mounted on a Basis Debut V turntable. The power cord coming from its AC synchronous motor is connected to a PS Audio Power Plant P300 AC Regenerator which acts as a power supply and speed controller.

Much of the equipment was supported by an Arcici Suspense equipment rack. All of the interconnects, power cables, and digital cables were made by Wireworld (review forthcoming), and the power cables of the front-end equipment were connected to a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery power supply. The subwoofer's power cords were connected to a Chang Lightspeed ISO 9300 power conditioner, as was the power cords from the Sound Labs speakers. The power amp's power cable was plugged directly into the wall receptacle, which was one of two manufactured by Virtual Dynamics, and two dedicated power lines were wired directly to our home's circuit breaker box in the basement.

The listening room was treated with acoustic treatment panels on its back, side, and front walls, and additional acoustic absorption was provided by shelves filled with LPs that lined the walls, and the commercial grade wall-to-wall carpeting. The listening room is painted with Sherwin Williams "Sky Fall" blue indoor acrylic-latex paint. This blue is a lighter blue, chosen because indoor walls painted with darker blues can evoke feelings of sadness, claims the website.

 

Time To Swim In The Deep End
The improvements in sound quality in the deepest bass tones was not only that there was "more bass". More doesn't necessarily equal better. At first, I noticed improvements in the sound of the system's soundstage, and this was noticeable regardless of how much low-end was in the program material. I'm not knowledgeable enough to be able to explain what the reason for this might be, other than, again, using the earlier description of the design and workings of the SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofers. When entering the settings of the subs on the SVS app, I was able to shape the sound using many parameters that were previously unavailable to me using the older subs. Perhaps that was part of the reason why the soundstage was better? I'm not sure. But there was more distance between each of the voices and instruments that were part of the huge soundstage, as well as sharper outlines drawn of each of these instruments and voices that made up this soundstage.

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

You might be more interested in how low this subwoofer's bass was able to go. The specifications that SVS provides claim that the SB16-Ultra can reach down to 16 Hz, plus or minus 3dB, which is certainly more than respectable for a subwoofer this size and at this price point. One night I was spinning both the CD and the vinyl version of Kraftwerk's early Minimum Maximum, available in a two CD set, and when it was first sold, a four LP box set, a document of their 2004 world tour. On the suite from their album Computer World, which starts out with "Numbers" and ends with "Home Computer", I was not only impressed with how low the bass went on the coda of the last track on the side, but the quality of the sound of the bass.

I've been listening to this box set ever since it arrived at my doorstep, and I have been happy with how the bass sounded. But with the SB16-Ultras in my system, not only was it as if I could feel the sub-sonic tones on the surface of my exposed skin, but I could swear I could feel my loose shirt sleeves vibrating against my arms. The bass tones I heard during this track were wide enough where I could hear the timbre of the bass-synth, as well as sub-sonic resonances of this bass sound. I realize this may sound as if I am exaggerating. I'm not.

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

Not all program material has to contain extremely low bass to enjoy the benefits of a well-made subwoofer like the SVS SB16-Ultra. Even though I realize many will be using these subwoofers for home theater systems, and with that in mind they might often be judged on how much realism they can inject into a scene where a helicopter crashes into a high-rise building and then plummets to the street below, crushing a parked mini-van. With that in mind, I played my favorite string quartet record, the Borodin Quartet playing Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 paired with the headlining String Quartet No. 2 by Borodin originally released in 1962 on Decca, my copy a "Super Analogue Disc" reissued in Japan on London Records. I rarely listen to the Borodin side of the record, the Borodin Quartet's version of the Shostakovich Eighth is famous for being one of the first times Dimitri Shostakovich heard the piece played live.

Just for kicks I played the quartet with and without the SVS SB16-Ultra in the system, and even though there weren't any very deep bass frequencies to be found, the difference in the sound quality between the two was significant. As I predicted, this difference was largely in the spaciousness of the soundstage. With the subwoofers in the system it was as if I could "see" the room where they made the recording, the placement of each member of the quartet was easier to visualize, and the soundstage was deeper, wider, and I could even hear more height information. The upper harmonics are the frequencies that are usually discussed when talking about string instruments, but there are lower harmonics, too, and it seems obvious that they are contributing to the overall sound of this recording.

After playing some blockbuster demo records. I spin this LP for guests visiting my listening room. The looks on their faces usually indicate that they are just humoring me, but 99% of the time, afterwards they thank me. Not only did I turn them on to a very cool piece of music, they could hear how a full range system can add sonic benefits to a record like this, and it sounds wonderful! The SVS SB16-Ultras had no trouble demonstrating these qualities, and did so much better than I've ever heard before.

 

SVSound SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review

 

The Deep End
Some might think that I spent too much time describing the technical aspects of the SVS SB16-Ultra, and perhaps this took away some space describing how it sounds. The equipment geek in me found it amazing how a company can manufacture what is essentially a very large woofer in a large box, and then have it perform with such precision. I've heard much larger, more expensive subwoofers that did not sonically behave nearly as well as the SVS SB16-Ultra. Perhaps it is because their sealed cabinets match so well with my system and main speakers. Or perhaps that's not the reason why. Whatever the reason, as far as I'm concerned, purchasing this subwoofer is money well-spent.

Purchasing a pair of them, if the funds are available, makes even more sense. This subwoofer is not the best sounding subwoofer on the market, nor it is it the best I've ever heard. But a better sounding subwoofer with a driver this size is going to be much more expensive than the SB16-Ultra's asking price. Nor is this subwoofer meant for everyone, because the SB16-Ultra is a rather large subwoofer, with its grille in place it is almost two-feet deep. But for those who have the money, and enough room, and desire more than a full-frequency range high-end system I think spending more than the SVS's very reasonable price might not make much sense. Highly recommended.

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

 

Specifications
Type: Active subwoofer system
Driver: SVS 16" Ultra-series driver with ferrite magnets and aluminum basket
8" diameter, high-power edge wound voice coil
78mm peak to peak Xmech excursion (65mm Xmax)
Finite Element Analysis (FEA)-optimized motor structure
Dual shorting rings used to reduce gap induction and lower distortion
Nomex spider to improve linearity and driver control at extreme drive levels
Dual 24-strand copper and Nomex composite high-temperature leads to provide electrical connection from the amplifier to the voice coil
Amplifier: Sledge STA-1500D DSP amplifier with 1,500 Watts
Class D topology
50Mhz Analog Devices Audio DSP with double precision 56-bit filtering 
Active PFC (Power Factor Correction) 
Inputs / Outputs: Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA stereo 
Protective, non-resonant steel mesh grille
Rear-mounted amplifier
Front-mounted display with subwoofer controls and 8-digit LED display
Subwoofer Control and Bass Management Smartphone App for Apple and Android Devices
IR Remote Control
Three user adjustable parametric EQs
Screw-in rubber feet
Cabinet Dimensions: 20" x 19.5" x 20.1" (HxWxD without grille)
MDF Cabinet: Black Oak or Piano Gloss Black finish
Weight: 122 pounds
Price: $1999.99 each

 

 

Company Information
SVSound
260 Victoria Rd.
Youngstown, OH 44515

Voice: (877) 626-5623 
Website: www.SVSound.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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