This thread is the next addition in my frequency response graph reviews series. Today, up for review is the Polk PSW10 subwoofer. I'm borrowing this subwoofer from a friend, who I've given more than a little grief to in his subwoofer search and consummate ill-advised Polk Audio
subwoofer purchase. My friend paid $80 on sale, and my own recent experience with $80 subwoofers was an utter disappointment.
So, truly I wasn't expecting much from this subwoofer. I've come to affectionately call his sub a subpar
woofer, before even hearing it. Judgmental? yes -- sorry - I suppose I've become a bit of a subwoofer snob after hearing so many different pieces of high quality equipment in the last couple years. Here is my current rap sheet.
Yet you know what? I found my friends assertion generally correct when he says this sub is good enough for someone who doesn't otherwise know what they are missing.
Previously in this review series, I've measured the Klipsch RW-12D, the BIC F12 and BIC V1220, the Pioneer SW-8, and the Crystal Acoustics TX-12SUB.
Of course I've measured a LOT more than just these prior listed subs in the multiple audio meets I've attended and hosted, but many of the other measurements, even those taken in my own room for the 2011, and 2012 subwoofer meets, weren't taken under the same conditions (not measured with the same placement, crossover, levels etc) and thus weren't apples to apples comparisons as these sub measurements are.
I measured this Polk PSW10 in the same way I measured the aforementioned Pioneer SW-8, the BIC F12, BIC V1220, the Klipsch RW-12D, and the Crystal Acoustics TX-12SUB. I turned off all external EQ in my Onkyo TX-NR 1007 receiver (no Audyssey, no Dynamic EQ, mains crossover set to 100hz, sub LFE set to 120hz) and then proceeded to measure the sub in my 3500 cubic foot room using Omnimic. Distance calibrations for the sub in the Onkyo receiver were accurately set. The frequency response graphs were all taken with no smoothing but averaged over 10 captures each from my main listening position. I unhook the mains and attempt to get the spl levels of the sub into at least the mid 90's and then capture a frequency response from a like microphone and subwoofer placement in the room. The Omnimic is located in my main listening position, and the sub is placed in the traditionally optimal spot in my room to display a flat frequency response (front left wall - 1/3 of the way in - driver facing front left corner). Each driver's associated frequency response may be able to be optimized a bit from this standardized location, but for the purposes of like testing I've tried to keep the placement and facing as identical as possible. In most cases the frequency response capture does not exhibit max clean volume - in this particular case the frequency response captured in the graph was beyond max clean volume, but not to max overall volume. I was definitively hearing port noise while taking the frequency response using the omnimic track 2, but the sub had exhibited no compression in frequency response. The entire bandwidth of frequency response was rising in parallel to the arbitrary stopping point in the mid 90 dB range where I aimed to try to mesh with the other reviews so far. (sans the pathetic Pioneer SW-8 review unit)
I initially played with some test tones and found that I could not hear a 20hz test tone at all from this unit. (I definitely can hear this test tone with a capable sub - IE the JTR Captivators play a 20hz test tone with visceral brutality - they can very nearly control your breathing) I could only faintly hear a 25hz tone and as I increased the test tones up in 5hz increments to try to find the port tune. I realized during this process that this subwoofer is pretty severely under ported - typical of most budget subs. I could hear port noise clearly up to about 50hz. 50hz test tone had no port noise, 45hz test tone had port noise. So take from that what you will. The volumes for this test were 80-90dB range. You could still hear the tones lower than 50hz - the purity of the tone was just lost somewhat due to port noise. The average consumer for this product is not listening to sine wave test tones - and in real world use the port noise is far less obvious. In fact, in real world use the bass, while not especially clean, is surprisingly plentiful. The sub driver really gets moving, and when the mains are engaged you can enjoy spirited subwoofer listening to about the 90 or 95dB level c weighted in room as you edge towards to top end of the sub's clean playback spl levels. You can go louder - but the sub starts huffing, and the sound becomes increasingly unpleasant. It is more than I would have expected from the little 50 watt powerplant. (100watt peak) I will say this sub is significantly superior to the Pioneer SW-8 I own and have reviewed (also rated at 50watt). The Pioneer couldn't do half of what this sub was doing in my theater room. I'm starting to agree with my friend. This sub would suit the average Joe non audio enthusiast just fine. It's something my uncle or cousin who just wants something to fill in the bottom end would likely be most pleased with. Listening to dubstep most of the music is okay at the 90dB level. Listening to top 40 type music you can approach the 95dB level. Especially bass heavy music will need be backed off a bit. The sub is most comfortable in the <90dB range for bass heavy music.
When you try to turn this sub up above 95dB or thereabouts you can quickly begin to see why ported subs have a bad reputation to the general public. All the flaws rear their ugly head, port noise, boomy sloppy sound. These are design tradeoffs. What you get with a ported sub alignment is more output to port tune, which allows the vendor to effectively double the 'deeper' output on the cheapest of driver and amp components, and then below port tune - well you get sloppy mess. This is a budget sub. Don't take it that loud. Just back off the volume and begin to enjoy it again. If you buy this sub and it sounds sloppy, then YOU didn't buy enough sub. There is nothing wrong with 'ported' sub design - especially among the higher priced, more capable ported subs. Don't go spreading that nonsense.
This subwoofer has a decent limiter mechanism, as I never bottomed out the driver in normal listening, not even when playing Bass I Love You with it's 15 and 7hz notes. The driver excursion went wild (to no real audible effect or tactile feel) but on the bright side I didn't hear a clank or other bad noise when playing back at ~ 85dB levels. What are you missing with this sub? Well - volume, pant leg flapping capability, depth of note. Listening to Dallas Wind Symphony - The Vikings
, the pipe organ low notes do jack crap. Contrast that with my Captivators which shake the foundation of my home, and the gelatinous liquid in the back of my eye sockets at the same volumes in their depth of note. But then the Captivators cost $3K for a pair of passive + a 5000 watt amp cost, and this sub cost $80 on sale.Value?
Yeah this sub is easily worth $80 for a casual audio setup. I've definitely heard much worse - I OWN much worse. Hey Mike, you want to try that little runt of a Pioneer SW-8?
Then maybe you'll forgive me for giving you such a hard time about buying this unit. Sad thing is - The Pioneer SW-8 and this unit both have 4.5 and 5 star ratings most anywhere you look. Dozens of reviewers can't be wrong right? Well -- they aren't necessarily wrong --- they just don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes. How about relative to other budget subs???
The BIC F12 is superior in sound quality, volume capability, frequency response, and exhibits less port noise -- but it costs twice as much. The Klipsch RW-12D is a significant step above the BIC F12, but it is 3x's the cost at the current Newegg closeout. For $80 - $100 this sub just became my recommended bare budget recommendation. I've updated my list. It won't do everything right - but it does enough right to be enjoyable in a small to medium sized room. I'd expect it'll best most medium tier "home theater in box" subs. Keep your expectations for reasonable playback levels in check and figure the price in with your rating and this truly is a "good" subwoofer... ... ... for those that haven't heard better.
Honestly --- It has my recommendation for the hardcore budget buyer.
Omnimic Frequency Response Graphs - 2dB spacing on Y axis. (Note for the FR capture with port noise, I was just attempting to capture a FR response to align with the BIC F12 and Klipsch RW-12D subs in the mid 90dB range. The $200 BIC and $300 Klipsch do not exhibit port noise at these volume playback levels --- though the $750 Crystal Acoustics sub DID exhibit port noise at these volumes) The second FR graph at a lower level is about the PSW10 sub's max capability without exhibiting noticeable port noise from my main listening position about 10 feet away from the sub.
These are the same Omnimic Frequency Reponse Graphs with more typical 5dB spacing on Y axis.
Here is the Polk PSW10 compared to the superior BIC F12 with both subs playing at comfortable volumes with no port noise.
Here is the Polk PSW10 compared to the inferior Pioneer SW-8 with both subs playing into port noise and distress