Another in a series of reviews I've undertaken in support of my budget subwoofers thread...Introduction
is a small bass reflex (ported) subwoofer designed for home theater. Measuring in at only 13.75"w x 15"h x 15"d it utilizes a single 12" driver and weighs approximately 22lbs. Obviously that's very light for a subwoofer, but interestingly it actually weighs more then the website says it does. What I've generally found is the stated weight is higher then the actual weight, but in this case it was the exact opposite.
The driver is front-firing, while the port is down firing. I'm not a big fan of this configuration because I believe a port firing in that direction is not ideal due to carpeting. In my experience this is how most people have their HT room setup -- with carpet -- so you could argue my environment does indicate a normal configuration. As you'll see later on, that does prove to be a hinderance.
Technical Pro's website lists the amp as 1000 watts, highly suspect and optimistic as it turns out. I was able to confirm that it's 250 watts instead, which still seems generous to me but at least it's not beyond comprehension.Unboxing
The unit came single boxed, which I consider a significant liability because of the way shipping is done today by the likes of companies such as UPS (Universal Package Smashers). While it's expected that some corners must be cut in order to maintain a price point I don't think shipping protection should be one of the casualties. Foam packing around the actual unit was somewhat sparse as well, so the prospect of damage is high.
The finish is typical low-budget veneer. I actually saw it mentioned on one website that this subwoofer was constructed using "shelf paper over particle board". Not true. The unit is .5" MDF with a fairly standard veneer finish. It looks pretty generic, but not unpleasant. It also doesn't appear to match the website completely. For example, the pictures on-line almost make it look as though the unit is a bit ungainly, not terribly deep but wide. I didn't find that to be the case at all; the proportions seemed right to me. Technical Pro does, inexplicably, have a picture that shows a crooked nameplate on the grill. That turned out to be prescience, sadly.
The front of the enclosure also has a bit of a taper to it, which does make it appear a little better then most of the other budget subs I've looked at. The unit was covered in dust, and the driver and port were no exception. It looked as though it was built in a less then ideal location.
There was a glob of some unidentifiable material on the inside of the grill, which was perhaps the most flimsy and ordinary grill I have ever seen. Interestingly, the mounting pins had a substantial amount of movement built into their mounts. Initially I thought they were just falling off, but upon closer examination it became apparent they were designed not to be rigid. I suspect that's to keep rattling down to a minimum, but I don't know for certain. What I do know is that it wasn't the first time I found something that could potentially qualify as insightful engineering in what turned out to be an otherwise bland product.
I wasn't encouraged to see that the Technical Pro nameplate had fallen off even before I pulled the thing out of it's plastic bag though. I assume at one point it was glued to the grill, but it sure didn't survive long that way.Initial Impressions
As mentioned, the bass reflex port is down firing. It's right in the center of the bottom panel, and amounts to nothing more then a small plastic cup. It may be 4 inches long, tops, so calling it "tuned" seems likely to be an exaggeration.
The driver itself is a fairly nondescript paper element, in the typical ubiquitous stamped steel basket, but the surround appears to be larger then most in this price class. I also found the suspension to be quite stiff, which is uncommon in this class of product. Generally speaking, inexpensive subwoofers have a suspension system that is weak and inadequate, but this struck me as rather stout.
I observed that one of the screws securing the feet was loose. Most of the screws holding the amp in place needed about 1/4" turn to tighten, and one of them was crooked. Based upon some of the other budget subwoofers I've looked at this isn't out of line, so I don't consider this to be abnormal.
The feet need to be taller for this unit to be used properly on carpet. I found them to be simply too short, and the port ended up very close to the carpet. I ultimately placed the SW1202 on a 12"x12" sheet of luan to ensure the port had sufficient room for it's output. Well, for part of the testing anyway. More on that later...
Another feature I did find of particular value, and exhibited forethought on Technical Pro's part, was the fact the amp is housed in a separate compartment. This is a very smart bit of engineering that allows the amp to be isolated from the backwave of the driver. The only thing common between the amp compartment and the rest of the cabinet are the + and - speaker wires, and even those have a dollop of silicone ensuring the seal between the two chambers remains intact. Very impressive for such an inexpensive subwoofer.Setup
The "manual" was meager at best, with just a few pages that contained little information. That's pretty typical for a budget subwoofer. If you need some assistance with setup you probably won't get much help by looking in the documentation supplied with the unit, you'll have to go elsewhere.
The unit does have both line and speaker level inputs, as well as speaker level outputs. The remaining controls are all pretty standard; gain, phase switch (0-180 degrees only), crossover frequency knob, auto-on/always on switch and the ubiquitous LED that shows whether or not the sub is in standby mode. There is no crossover defeat switch, so if you're using an AVR you should probably turn the dial all the way up so it doesn't interfere.
Auto on proved a bit finicky, but I'm not 100% certain that's the fault of this sub. I've had the same issue in the past with other subs, so it may very well be the AVR instead.Listening
It was a bit of a challenge to get the output right; it was almost as though you had either too much or too little. The former made the sound rather boomy and thick, while the latter tended to make it weak and thin. No matter how you dialed it in there was little in the way of low end punch, so impact was somewhat lacking. The cabinet has neither damping material nor bracing, so it tends to ring and sound uncontrolled if you push the gain too far.
Oddly enough, the response was almost too quick at some points. There were times that the overhang was virtually non-existent, which made the sub produce some articulate sounds. Other times it was indecipherable, and that speed was nowhere to be found. Very bizarre. I never quite figured it out, but it almost always seemed like "something" was amiss.
After what seemed like endless fiddling with the sub-out level on the AVR and the gain I finally came face-to-face with the reason why I don't particularly like bottom-firing ports; they simply trap too much of the sound. I cut a small square of luan and placed the sub on top of that, which allowed the port more breathing room (while sitting directly on the carpet the port had virtually no space because the feet, which are too small to begin with, sunk down and almost closed off the port entirely). Having the sub on the piece of luan improved the sound, but only marginally. I then placed the SW1201 on it's side, so the port was at the 3 o'clock position if you were facing the driver. That made a noticeable different in both the output and depth. I left it oriented like that for the remainder of my testing.
I also experimented with the crossover, using 100Hz and 150Hz. At 100Hz things weren't too bad, from a clarity standpoint, but you definitely don't want to cross this sub much higher. At 150Hz voices sounded heavy and lacked much in the way of definition. If you have smaller satellites that require a high crossover I'd strongly suggest you look elsewhere.
I know that adding damping can help tame a recalcitrant subwoofer, and potentially eliminate a multitude of negative sound issues. To that end I actually tried it on the SW1201, lining all the interior walls with foam sheets
from Parts Express. I can say, categorically, that the sound did indeed ameliorate. It was less resonant, and struck me as more rich and full. It was noticeable to the point that I imagine it would be identifiable while doing a blind A/B test. The SW1201 definitely sounded better afterwards.Movies/TV
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. I'm also not prone to watching at "reference level", so my assessments should be considered in that regard.
Like most people I have particular scenes I use to test speakers. A few of my favorites are Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom, Collateral: Club Fever and Avatar: Assault on Home Tree. All three were used for this review.Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom
- There is an almost persistent low-level rumble at certain points in this scene. For a subwoofer to handle that properly it needs to be crisp and have low extension, otherwise that rumble comes across as just an annoying sound. The SW1201 struggled here; I heard evidence of the driver hitting it's mechanical limits, and it was an ugly sound. Little to no port noise was observed though.
The Balrog's roar was produced with some strength and power, but sounded fairly weak quite honestly. The fire effect that also accompanies him (her?) was merely a sound, and offered little in the way of depth. When the staircase starts to crumble and fall, crashing down into the abyss, the bass was again mostly MIA, which took away the essence of the scene.Collateral: Club Fever
- This disc has the option of using DTS or DD, so I tested with both. The only significant difference I observed was DTS has a bit of additional low bass, while DD seemed to have a little more clarity. Neither impressed me much with the output.
Although the Club Fever scene doesn't contain a tremendous amount of LFE information it does have a driving musical soundtrack, and over-emphasized gun sounds. The music portion I've found can cause trouble for a subwoofer because it does tend to drown out the voice track in certain spots. Because of that an articulate subwoofer is critical.
With DTS the bass was actually not bad and came across in a similar manner to what one might expect to hear in a club, minus the deep impact unfortunately. But the SW1201 didn't do to badly here. With DD the gun effects were slightly less pronounced, but the speech was still intelligible. Using DTS I walked away feeling less unfulfilled then I did when testing the LOTR scene, but something still wasn't quite right. The power of the gun fire, and the driving bass of the music, were less then what I've come to expect they should be.Avatar: Assault on Home Tree
- For those familiar with the movie this scene has low frequencies, ultra-low frequencies, voices and enough other things going on to provide a good test of virtually every component in your system.
As the gunships approach Home Tree you can almost feel the underlying intensity. And just like in the LOTR, the driver started protesting. While the missiles were being fired at the base of the tree I was getting as much sound as I was noise it seemed. Engines roar, missiles fire, explosions occur and the SW1201's driver was having none of it. Articulation was in short supply too - the individual sounds weren't as distinct as they should have been.
As the tree begins to crumble and fall the ultra-low effects become evident, and surprisingly the sub was handling it better. During this portion of the scene I started to hear some port chuffing, as well as a bit of mechanical limits being reached.
All movie scene tests are run twice, just to validate my impressions. Once completed I check the amp for heat, and the SW1201 was generating some. Not a dangerous amount, but you could tell the amp was working hard.Music
I use a combination of lossy and lossless material to see how musical a subwoofer is. My personal choice in music is primarily heavy metal, with a little Pink Floyd thrown in there for contrast. Much to my surprise the SW1201 wasn't all that bad. You could make the case it was due to the fact the sub wasn't trying to reach much below 30Hz, so it was more in it's element. I wouldn't argue that, but either way I was surprised it did actually possess some musical ability. Bass notes and kick drums were reproduced with a reasonable degree of accuracy and detail. It could also play quite loud, more so then I would listened to at this point in my life. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was musical, but it held up better with music then it did for movies.Support
The support -- if you can even call it that -- it essentially nonexistent. In order to gauge this I always contact the people I buy it from (and/or the manufacturer) and ask some inane questions to judge their response. I always know what the answer is already, so I'm not likely to be baffled by anyone's BS.
I purchased this unit from audiosavings.com, and they proved to be less then knowledgeable about the subwoofer. Or much else, for that matter. The person who replied to me generally did so in a reasonable time frame, and was always cordial and polite, but seemed to know little. They did take back the subwoofer at the end of my 30 day eval without much fuss, so I give them credit for that.
I was even less enamored with Technical Pro's support. The person who I corresponded with was not only terse, but seemingly disinterested as well. That's a bad combination. He didn't even know that the unit was bass reflex, telling me instead it was acoustic suspension. I suppose that's not too surprising, given the price of the unit. Besides, any company that uses over a dozen exclamation points on their website when describing a $200 subwoofer should be considered suspect to begin with.Conclusion
So what's the bottom line? Sadly I would have to say this is a sub you should probably pass on. There are several reasons for this.
The first is I'm not convinced it's a good choice for HT; I just found too many shortcomings during my testing. Support is a challenge as well. But even more disturbing is the numerous complaints about the amp.
I frankly wasn't able to find a lot of information about the Technical Pro subwoofers anywhere. What little I did find though seemed to be centered around a very disproportionate number of complaints regarding amp failures. They constituted a staggering (frightening?) percentage of the comments. While mine never failed to work it did start to make a humming sound just before the evaluation was over, a noise which was not present at the beginning so it wasn't a ground loop issue or anything like that. Very disconcerting.
For those interested in my subject assessment it would be the Technical Pro SW1201 is not recommended.