Another in a series of reviews I've undertaken in support of my budget subwoofers thread...Introduction
The subject of this review is the Pinnacle PS Sub 225
. The PS Sub 225 -- known simply as the PS 225 from here on, for the sake of brevity -- is a relatively small bass reflex (ported) subwoofer. Measuring in at just 14.25"w x 15"h x 15.75"D, and weighing 33 pounds, it's definitely not a large or heavy subwoofer.
The driver is front-firing, with a single 3" rear-firing port. The amp is rated at 225 watts, with no peak given. The quoted frequency response is 30Hz-150Hz at -3dB. There is a 2 year warranty on the amp, and 7 years for everything else. Pinnacle, as a company, has been in business for approximately 35 years, so they've certain been around for quite some time.Ordering
Pinnacle does not sell directly to the public, nor do they use many distributors it seems. I actually found it somewhat difficult to locate a company selling Pinnacle speakers, and even the ones I did find that carried them didn't have the the entire line. I ultimately got mine from meijers.com because they had a very good sale at the time of this review.
Ordering was nothing unusual, either good or bad. It was as you might expect; place an order, wait a few days for them to ship and then the box arrives. Pretty straightforward really.Unboxing
The unit came single boxed, which I don't consider sufficient given how poorly most packages are treated these days. That's meijers fault though, not Pinnacles. The subwoofer was held in place using blocks of styrofoam that covered the entire top and bottom. The styrofoam was fairly thick, providing approximately 1.5" of protection between the box and the cabinet. The subwoofer was in a sealed plastic bag too.
There were several pieces of documentation included; safety instructions, owners manual and a product specification manual. The latter was a listing of every speaker Pinnacle makes, along with the most critical specifications for each. I found that a rather interesting inclusion - were I looking to complete my entire system using Pinnacle speakers this would have proven very beneficial in helping me decide which were the most appropriate.
Pinnacle included a free RCA cable with a 90 degree bend on one end, which is a nice touch. However, it was very thin -- using what appeared to be about 22 or 24 gauge wire -- so to me it seemed woefully inadequate for the task at hand. I didn't use it during the evaluation.
There was also a small box which contained the brass cone feet. They were very heavy duty, and appeared to be quality pieces. There were no rubber feet though, so if you're going to place the PS 225 on a hardwood or tile floor you would need to purchase something to place under the cones, in order to prevent any damage from occurring to your flooring.Initial Impressions
The supplied documentation was above average for a budget subwoofer. It was clear, detailed and covered quite a bit. There was no indication of any translation issues either, which is often the case with less expensive subwoofers.
The cabinet is a fairly standard piece and somewhat nondescript, which generally typifies this class of product. The front portion of the top, bottom and both side panels does flare in at a slight angle though, which tends to make it look less bland. The frame for the grill is .5" thick MDF and was sturdy. The cloth covering it was properly aligned and securely glued. The grill sits flush, and fits very tightly. Perhaps too much so; after struggling to get it off a few times two of the four pins broke.
The rear-firing port is 3", so it's pretty large. It extends into the cabinet roughly 5-6", implying that it's not tuned in the traditional sense. The interior walls are lined with a damping material, which appears to be about .75" thick. The cabinet itself is constructed from .5" MDF, with no internal bracing.
One of the threaded insert for the feet was pressed into the cabinet at a slight angle. It didn't affect my ability to screw in the brass cone, which fit flush to the cabinet once tightened down. One screw on the amp wasn't in all the way, and several others needed about 1/4 of a turn to fully tighten, but overall the build quality was good.
The manual says the surround on the driver is butyl rubber, but in reality it was foam. The suspension wasn't very stiff, so moving the cone by hand was easy.
The power cord is permanently attached, which I consider a terrible design flaw. Who does something like that any more? What exacerbates that problem is the fact there is no power switch; the PS 225 turns on the minute you plug it in. Combined, those two strike me as poor execution. I travel for business frequently, and when I do I shut off a lot of my electronics while away. According to the owners manual when you encounter a situation like that you're supposed to simply unplug the subwoofer. "Simply" is a relative term however; for someone like myself -- who uses a surge protector located behind the entertainment center -- unplugging something becomes quite an arduous task. Is it really that hard to throw in a $1 on/off switch?
Astonishingly, with the lack of a power switch there's no auto-on/always-on switch either. Essentially your only means to control power is to plug and unplug it, which to me seems ludicrous. And to confuse matters even further the phase switch looks exactly
like a power switch, so it's very easy to be fooled by that. This all strikes me as one of those "what were they thinking?" situations.Setup
Setup is the same as pretty much every other subwoofer; connect the sub-out from your AVR to the line level input, adjust the gain, set the crossover and turn it on (which in this case means plug it in). There is no EQ or DSP so there aren't any surprises, good or bad, regarding how the PS 225 gets hooked up and configured.
You can't use a Y splitter for the input, which a lot of people do, because there is only one RCA connector. The PS 225 has no speaker-level inputs either, nor are there any outputs at all.
The gain (volume) only says Min and Max at the extremes, with no indication of what the markings in between represent. The crossover adjustment is similar; it says 50 and 150 at the extremes, but no clue of what the scale is otherwise. Hope you have good eyes too because the knobs for both only have a tiny dot-sized indentation on the face of the dial to use as a reference, so adjusting either the gain or crossover is often an exercise in futility. Being that the controls are on the back of the sub certainly doesn't make it any easier.Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 15 hours.
In general I found the PS225 to be crisp and detailed, not terribly common for a budget sub. The bass response was fairly quick with little overhang, and almost no embellishment. That last part may turn out to be a double-edged sword for some; whatever the quality of the source material the PS 225 mirror it pretty faithfully. If there was bass you heard bass, if not you heard none. If the source was clean so was the PS 225, but if it was marginal that's what it produced. More often than not this type of behavior is what I've experienced from acoustic suspension subwoofers, not bass reflex. If I had my druthers all subwoofers would behave in this manner, but I know there are people who would rather have flash instead of accuracy. The PS 225 is probably not for them.
I found the lower extension to be a bit lacking though. Pinnacles website lists the -3dB point as 30Hz, and I would tend to believe them for the most part. While audible bass is still produced below the measured -3dB point of any sub -- provided it has sufficient output, of course -- most people assume anything less than that means imperceptible. In the case of the PS 225 I believe it still had usable output into the upper 20Hz range, but probably no further. There was little in the way of "feel" during most of my testing. I did experience the occasional rumble in my chair, but I've grown accustom to a little more of a tactile experience from most 12" ported designs.
Speaking about the port... this is the first bass reflex sub I tested where port noise was nonexistent. I pushed the PS 225 to it's max output level and heard nothing from the port. This struck me as curious, because it doesn't appear there was much effort put into tuning the length. To me the port seemed like nothing more then an appendage, a 6" piece of ABS plastic tube stuffed into the back wall. Evidently there's more to it.
How could I tell my volume test was pushing the sub to it's limit? Very easily, as it turns out; the PS 225 has anti-clipping circuitry built into the amp, and I found that it works perfectly. You could turn your receiver volume up as much as you wanted, but at a given point the PS 225 simply stopped getting any louder. Lower extension didn't seem limited by it, but volume certainly was. I believe that's why I wasn't able to create any audible distortion from the driver either. It may have also helped to eliminate port noise. Don't mistake that statement to mean the PS 225 was unable to achieve loud volumes, because it can, it's just the anti-clipping circuit steps in and does it's job quite effectively. It's a really nice feature for a sub at this price point.
One peculiarity I noticed during my evaluation was the drivers cone doesn't really move all that much, at least not to the degree I've seen with other subwoofers in the past. During some of my tests it was oscillating pretty good, but for the most part the movements were rather subdued. Since I found the suspension to be less than stiff this struck me as a bit odd. It probably has no bearing on anything, but it seemed worth mentioning nonetheless.
On occasion I did sense a bit of ringing, and perhaps some cabinet resonance as well. This is fairly common on budget subwoofers, most often due to the relatively thin cabinet walls and lack of bracing. It was rarely offensive though, and for the most part the PS 225 maintained it's composure.Movies/TV
I'm not prone to watching at "reference level", so my assessments should be considered in that regard. I run each test scene twice; once while seated on the floor, within a few feet of the subwoofer, and a second time sitting in the normal listening position. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also ascertain if the review unit is straining even the slightest bit.
Like most people I have particular scenes I use when testing 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 ultra low-level rumble in portions of this scene. For a subwoofer to handle that properly it needs to be precise and capable of reaching very deep, otherwise that effect comes across as just an annoying rumble (and can easily bottom out a driver). The PS 225 handled itself pretty well, if not a bit unspectacularly.
When the rumbling effect kicked in there was no droning, mechanical sounds (like a driver being pushed beyond it's limit) or port noise. Part of the impact and depth was missing, but the PS 225 comported itself well. That's no small feet either, because this scene contains some very difficult bass. To me it seemed as if the amp knew some of the effects were beyond it's capabilities so it simply opted not to even try. Personally I would prefer that response to a sub that makes horrible noises while trying to blow itself up.
The Balrog's roar was produced and rich, with admirable clarity and distinction. The fire effect that also accompanies him (her?) everywhere was a little weak, but serviceable. When the staircase starts to crumble and fall, crashing down into the abyss, the bass was articulate and precise, if not a touch uninspiring. Most of the underlying impacts were balanced properly with the other sounds. During this entire scene the only place the PS 225 struggled was with the very low frequencies - above that octave it did a solid job.Collateral: Club Fever
- This disc has the option of using DTS or DD, so I test with both. The only significant difference is DTS most often has a bit of additional low bass, while DD seems to have a little more clarity.
Although this 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. The PS 225 was (mostly) in it's element during this test.
In DD the bass of the music score was perhaps a touch muted, but it was very slight. All the voices and musical elements blended smoothly, in both the foreground and background. Dialog was clear, even when they were talking in a hushed tone. I was able to have the volume higher with DD than when using DTS.
With DTS the driving bass was louder and more forceful, but a little less defined. Dialog was clear too. Surprisingly, some of the effects -- like gunshots -- were actually less intense than they were using DD. That's never happened previously; all the other subs I've tested had more pronounced effects with DTS then DD. With the PS 225 it was the exact opposite strangely.Avatar: Assault on Home Tree
- For those familiar with the movie this scene has low frequencies, ultra-low frequencies, explosions, gunfire, voices and enough other things going on to provide a good test of virtually every component in your system. The PS 225 was underwhelming here - it didn't convey any real sense of dynamics or strength.
As the gunships approach Home Tree you can almost feel the underlying intensity. Well, you should be able to anyway. The roar of the gunships engines, the sound of the rockets being launched, their explosions on impact, the crackling of the massive roots as the tree begins to list, and all the way to the point where it's toppled and crashes into the ground the low frequency was just not there to the level it should have been. Don't get me wrong -- there was bass -- but it came across more like just sound than anything else. This was the only test scene that left me a little disappointed; all the others I thought the PS 225 did pretty well with, but I didn't feel the same way after watching this scene.
After all the testing was finished I checked the amp for heat output -- as I'm wont to do -- and found it to be what I would consider average. It wasn't overly hot, nor was it cool either. However, one of my experiments made the amp quite unhappy.
On a whim I decided to take a bung I have from another subwoofer and plug the port to see what difference it made to the sound. Once plugged I repeated the movie viewing tests. The bass got even tighter and more precise, but the extension suffered rather dramatically. Not terribly surprising, to be quite honest. When I checked the amp this time it was actually hot. Apparently it really needs the port open for convection heat dissipation.
I sent an email to Pinnacle asking if this a normal condition, assuming the answer would be "no". To my surprise I was told the amp in the PS 225 was the same model they've used in acoustic suspension designs for years, so if I preferred the sound with the port plugged that would not be an issue. While I have no reason to doubt what he said it's not something I would advocate, because the amp did get far warmer than I think would be safe.Music
I use a combination of lossy and lossless material -- MP3's and CD's -- to see how musical a subwoofer is, and in both instances the PS 225 did very well. Whether the songs were bass heavy to begin with, or focused more on the upper bass region, this sub played them with distinction. Music lends itself to more critical listening, so if a manufacturer cuts corners it will often be conspicuous here. Based upon my experience it seems the PS 225 is more at home with music than HT, so it was here that it had the best showing. Although not a musical sub, in the strictest definition, the sound is clear enough to do justice to most types of music (with the exception of rap/hip hop perhaps).Support
I found Pinnacles support to pretty good; the majority of emails I sent were responded to in a timely manner. Only once or twice did I have to send a "reminder" message because my original went unanswered. The replies I received were often thorough, with only a single instances where I felt the person hadn't given me their best effort. For a budget subwoofer I would rate the support above average.Conclusion
At the end of my evaluation I came away with mixed feelings. On the one hand I liked the PS 225 and found it to have some very worthwhile features, while on the other hand there were a few head-scratchers. It doesn't look like a cheap unit, so it's appearance is not really that of a budget sub. It strikes me as better suited to music then HT though. Another potential use could be in a situation where volume and deep extension would be unwanted. For example, someone living in an apartment, or parents who want a sub for the kids and need one that protects itself from abuse. Of course, whether or not it works for you all depends upon what you can buy it for too; I've found the price varies widely at the few places that do sell them. Bottom line is that for HT it's OK, but the PS 225 would probably be a little better suited to music.
For those interested in my subject assessment it's that the Pinnacle PS Sub 225 is worthy of a conditional recommendation.