If most “AVS’ers” are anything like me, they appreciate and even seek out product user-reviews. Beyond just the entertainment value they provide to our hobby, they many times provide a wealth of knowledge, insight, and usage tips that can be critical when considering a new A/V component for our own homes. I know I have personally taken quite a bit away from them and I’m thankful to those who have taken the time to author them.
In my mind, these assessments have become especially beneficial during the last half-decade boon of the ID (internet direct) subwoofer/speaker companies. These outfits, while enjoying of course their own dedicated web-sites/forums and other www outlets such as AVS, suffer from a critical lack of venues where prospective buyers can audition their products…and even more crucially, those where a buyer can compare and contrast at least some of the competing product- something we may have taken for granted with the some of the larger boutique brick and mortar stores that have disappeared over the last 5 years.
With ID’s, if one desires a good once-over, they’ll either require a residence within reasonable proximity of the ID manufacturer, a plane ticket to the aforementioned, or need to reside nearby another forum member who also happens to be kind enough (and available) to offer up their own home and time for a trial. Unfortunately, even if you’re able to partake in any of the above, none of the experiences will really yield a result that will detail how the sub or speaker will sound in YOUR room.
There is of course another option with some vendors, and that is to take advantage of a trial program, where you have “x” number of days or weeks to audition a subwoofer in your own home before making a decision on whether to purchase.
These avenues, while generous and almost certainly well-intended, are still not optimal for some, however. Competently-constructed subwoofers are generally heavy. High performance/output subwoofers tend to weigh as much as an average human…ok, in this day and age of burgeoning waist-lines, let’s say the average female.
With that being the case, a good number of folks are simply not compelled enough to consider (or cannot even entertain the idea due to physical limitations) potentially having to RE-pack and RE-ship a box half the size of a refrigerator. This reality, coupled with the fact that they will (most times) bear the burden of return shipping costs AND its inherent liability- neither of which are terribly attractive during the current state of economic affairs this country is wading through- is enough for many to forgo the opportunity altogether. I for one have had personal sub shipping tragedies myself. Ouch.
So, with most (or all) of the above options off the table, the personal testaments to these products become invaluable for many. And in that vein, here’s my effort to assist my fellow subsonic man.The JTR Captivator (passive version): A User Review
Getting the 160lb "toy" in the house...
Out of the CRV!
Will these stairs support 400+ lbs?!
Without running a single watt into it, one could reasonably define “The Cap” (as affectionately referred to by many an owner) as a serious subwoofer. There are larger subwoofers. There are subwoofers that appear very straight-forward. There are however not likely to be many that accomplish both feats as quickly and thoroughly as the Captivator.
A cabinet the size of a dorm fridge housing an 18” driver and two menacing-looking (exposed) ports is not something that will go unnoticed, and if you think you’re going to get away with using it for an end table you had better own furniture that possess the world’s highest arms, as its 30” height will preclude it from being much of anything of use elsewhere in your living room.
Still though, straight-forward isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in the right environment, it can even appear appropriate. Now, if this matter-of-fact-look is unsuitable to you, go ahead and doll this beast up in some veneer (oak, cherry and walnut are available) at an extra charge and you could then have something that’s nearly acceptable to other humans not of our insanity…I mean ilk.
And duh, since I value my marriage, I chose black oak, and it is excellent, since you asked.
If you’ve read/heard others rave about JTR’s cabinet work, I can attest that the praise has been well-earned. The rounded corners appear symmetrical and uniform. The grain is true and predictable throughout. The driver opening edges on the cabinet are seamless and nary an imperfection can found.
Essentially, the cabinet appears as one would expect from a piece of fine furniture. Not much more you can ask out of a big black cube, as far as I’m concerned.
Adjustable feet (or at least threaded inserts that would accept them) would be nice, but it’s not a deal-breaker. If you’re really hot after them they’re easy enough to add or perhaps you can convince Jeff (JTR’s owner) to add them at a nominal cost. For my application, I constructed a simple, black, padded, riser for under $20. It works quite well, actually.
Simple (if not monstrous), gold plated binding posts adorn the back of the cabinet. They look like mega-thick gold poker chips to me for some reason. Needless to say, they are substantial and perhaps only slight if you were attempting to power a light standard at a football stadium. It appears to me they would accept at LEAST 8 gauge wire if you felt so compelled, as they accepted my 10G stranded variety without complaint. If these do not strike your fancy, I believe “speak-on” receptacles are also available if you so choose.
Overall the appearance and construction of the cabinet is first rate. If you’re looking for a subwoofer with ultra high WAF (wife acceptance factor) you probably won’t be looking at a sub nearly 3 feet high and 2 feet deep to begin with, so its lack of museum-like curves is largely a non-starter as far as I’m bothered. The availability (and competent application) of fine veneers is more than an acceptable middle ground for a subwoofer of this nature.
Looks great with the balance of my system...PERFORMANCE:
Having both auditioned and owned high performance/output subwoofers, my expectations were high for the Captivator…as they should be. It is not an inexpensive product- arguably even less so at its “new” price-point of $1800 (veneered) when contrasted with many other ID offerings- so it is perfectly reasonable to expect an output and composition of bass that is commensurable to the price-tag.
Before I discuss the sub’s performance though, a quick word about my music and movie “tastes” as well as expectations of a sub of this stature.
First, as far as my personal music/movie “preference”: although a quick peek at my 11 channel DSX array would seem to indicate a primary focus on home theater, my main love is still music. Simple as that, really.
Crucially though, from a sonic standpoint I really do not make the (in my view) ocean-wide distinction between well-produced theatrical and musical bass. Poor bass response is poor bass response. Average bass response is average bass response. Fantastic bass…you get the idea.
Does that mean all
subs perform equally well in every room to everyone? Of course not.
While some are (seemingly to me anyway) really after the pronounced (even boomy), overly-robust bass that seems to make a great “home theater” sub (usually/automatically large, ported/bass reflex designs to many, it appears to me), others seem to be able to really do without substantial output capabilities in order to secure the “tight”, “responsive”, and “punchy” bass offered by a great “music” sub (which happen to be smaller, sealed, designs, on many occasions).
But I say: why not simultaneously retain as much quality and quantity (without the boom and bloat, of course) as you can afford?
Even more simply: as far as I’m concerned, a subwoofer in the $2k range should be able to fill a large room with plentiful, musical, and muscular bass, with no significant
sacrifice in any
area. I think the expectation is a reasonable one for such a monetary expenditure and space allowance.
So then… after first placing the Cap in the identical position I’ve had my last three subs, hooking up my Crown xs900 amplifier and Behringer MIC 2200 PRE/PRO (with only a 17/18hz HPF engaged), and running the Audyssey XT32 (8) position auto set-up on my Denon 4311 AVR, I began rifling through some of my most familiar “bass-laden” music…
Starting with Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”: who isn’t familiar with the bass line during the bridge of this classic? But don’t forget about the abundant percussion throughout…the great bass drum, especially so during the intro. Their tones were precise, palpable, and notably, lacked the wee bit of muddiness I sometimes encounter with even the best subs in my room. Now in all fairness, my SVS PB Ultra and HSU UL15 never saw the benefits of Audyssey XT 32, so I cannot say how much of this muck was cleared up by it, but my Definitive Technology Trinity DID yield the fruits of XT32 and I simply do not recall it delivering the veracity of attack with a distinct lack of coloration at similar volumes that was readily identifiable with the Captivator.
Moving on, I happily heard more of the same with Sade’s “No Ordinary Love”. The bass I was hearing (and feeling) was not that of which some would anticipate out of a large, vented, box. Even at 90db + volume levels, the character of the response changed little to not at all; very smooth and controlled. It just kept getting louder and increasingly physical if there is such a thing. It was clear it (volume) could continue to rise, but what for? I’m no longer 16 and rock concert levels are more than enough for me, thanks.
Further auditions with the Tron Legacy soundtrack, John Mayer, some straight ahead rock with accomplished drumming (Foo Fighters, Rush), and more electronic selections (Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk) continued to affirm the realization that this subwoofer delivers measured, authoritative, deep bass without an ounce of strain when the content demands it. Pointedly, I was pleased (and a bit surprised) at a near complete lack of port chuffing, even at extremely high levels. Although I’m certain it’s not an accident (given the sheer size of the dual ports), it was a very welcomed change from the vast majority of ported models I’ve auditioned, nonetheless.
Onto movies, I again proceeded to some of the usual suspects within the "bass genre", including War of the Worlds, The Incredible Hulk, Master and Commander, and a newcomer, Tron: Legacy.
And in the most convenient terms: hello Captivator, look out home.
Very infrequently have I been fearful of rotating my volume dial, but the Cap turned such a rarity into a conscious habit…all the while not running a decibel “hot”, mind you.
Waves upon waves of room-pressurizing bass. I would add that this was occurring in a space not exactly the size of a broom closet (my living room is ~1800^3, and it is directly open to an 850^3 dining room as well as a hall way and kitchen nearing 1500 ^3, combined). Quite a bit of volume to still feel like you could have a spontaneous bowel movement on your couch. Cannon shots were coming from the back yard and the Tripods were in the front if you know what I mean.
My aim is hardly to appear flip here, either. If you happen to be privy to the video that emerged from the recent Kansas City subwoofer get together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCR9iCsVWCM
I can assure you that the Captivator can indeed double as a $1500 room fan, if need be.
I always felt the SVS Ultra moved about as much air as one could imagine out of a cube this size between its ports and single driver, but I’d now liken it to a sneeze when contrasted with the Captivator. It really needs to be felt to be believed. I’ve hit ~125db peaks in my room before (verified with a RS SPL meter), but this was simply a different ballgame- truly a visceral caning at times. Colossal.
In the end, while I won’t (and really, can’t) say the Captivator offers the pinnacle of subwoofer performance; I will say it delivered the most accomplished all-around exhibition of any subwoofer I’ve auditioned…certainly in my room anyway. And although I feel very sure-footed regarding my overall estimation of its capabilities, I’d advise those taking my every word to heart to tread lightly, as my comparisons between the Captivator and former subwoofers are obviously derived from my recollection, which we have come to learn can be flawed in this hobby (although still not without some real value, in my mind). In this particular instance, I feel my comparisons of the Captivator to the aforementioned offer considerable validity if only because I am very familiar with both them
AND their performance in my
room. As I’ve yet to enter the arena of REW and more precise (and useful) measurements, I’d heed (as always): your mileage will vary.
Overall though, if I were to asked to draw a parallel between what I’ve owned/heard in the past and the Captivator, I would attest that it delivers a sound quality to what I would expect a hybrid of my HSU ULS-15 and SVS PB-13 Ultra to sound like: very controlled, accurate, deep bass, while still having the goods to deliver the prodigious amount of home-shaking output that I vividly recall emanating from my DT Trinity (and most certainly, even MORE SO with the Cap- and even more certainly: a brand of it that I would call more “aggressive” for lack of a better descriptor).
And at the end of the day, I suppose a combination of the finest attributes of those heavy-hitters represents the highest compliment I can bestow upon JTR’s offering.VALUE:
As the text below my username implicitly states, value is the name of the game to me. And I fully realize it’s most times in the eye of the beholder. Keeping that in mind, I can only really attest to what the Captivator means to me
from a value POV.
First, it doesn’t take long in this hobby to understand that you can spend a fantastic sum of time and (and more crucially for most) money chasing the final (if there is such a thing, lol) few percentage points of audio/video performance.
Subwoofer sound quality and output is certainly not immune to such a reality.
I realized early on that if I really wanted to reach the pinnacle of bass reproduction I would not necessarily be on the wrong track implementing MULTIPLE high quality drivers in MULTIPLE sealed enclosures, driven by MULITPLE high (read: HIGH) power amplifiers, while re-orientating my room to make the aforementioned possible in the first place.
But (sadly, lol), like the vast majority cruising these boards, I am not currently in the position to do so.
Not monetarily, for the thousands of dollars it would demand. Not from a living space scenario, for the physical footprint it would require. And last, not from a time perspective, where it would surely demand a more concerted effort to have everything purchased (and/or built?!), arranged, and integrated.
With my first little lass
on the way
, I required a process that was at least somewhat expeditious, space-conscious, and affordable for me.
Keeping all those variables in mind, I am supremely confident I made the right, high-value decision for me. In the interest of full-disclosure, it needs to be noted that I ordered my Captivator just before the price bumped up $300, so I was in at about $1900 for an oak-clad Captivator, amplifier, and EQ/HPF when it was all over. I had to do a bit of searching for a deal on an amplifier, but I can attest very competent units can be had at a reasonable price if you’re willing to do the leg-work.
Onward, since I realize this review is really centered around the passive version of the Captivator, I think it’s only fair to include the total costs of getting a unit up and running when you consider that much of its similarly-priced competition come powered/plug and play, right out of the box.
And while on the subject, a quick note on my choice of a passive Captivator over a powered unit: it simply came down to a personal, perceived value-based choice on my part.
Right off the bat, it’s important to understand that the supplied amplifier with a powered Captivator is not some mickey-mouse trap, but a fully configured DSP, 4 kilowatt power house that’s capable of 7200 watt bursts. Now undoubtedly, this would yield greater output (likely, 3-6dbs) over my Crown xs900 (verified @ ~2,000 RMS watts into 8 ohms, peak output not known), as well as potentially offer improved sound quality, but I had to weigh those benefits against an additional $1400 (powered, veneered units were ~$3300, my total was ~ $1900 for the subwoofer, EQ, and amplifier).
Imperatively though, while the increase in output is all-but a given, the assumed increase in fidelity was not necessarily a guarantee for me, as I’m VERY happy with the results I receive(d) from Audyssey XT 32.
In the end I obviously made the decision to pocket the $1400.
And while I’m confident that one could surely make a different (read: powered) choice and be perfectly content, I can attest that, when contrasted against my ~$1800 SVS Ultra and similarly “street priced” DT Trinity, along with +/- 20% offerings from Seaton Sound, Chase, ED, and others(which are outstanding values in their own right) the passive Captivator cannot be viewed as anything but a thoroughly superb product at a price-point that would be at or near the top of its class.
And that is not to say (and stress) of course that there are not others, as I believe there is room at the top for friends, but in my mind it would be a grave mistake to not strongly
consider this subwoofer if you’re in the market for serious, authoritative, low-end reproduction and desire to stay in the $2k ballpark.
I can assure you that it delivers top-flight performance in spades…and at times, breezes.Report Card (note: all listening was done in "20 hz" mode with both ports open. The Captivator can also be run with one port plugged, yielding a tuning point of 15hz with a slight reduction in output ~ 20hz):
Craftsmanship/Build Quality: A
Thanks for reading and I hope some of this was helpful!