And away we go...
Of all the posts I've made in HT forums to date -- which, counting every one I participate in, has got to be around 7,000 by now -- this one topic has generated more interest then perhaps anything else I've commented on. What started out as a very simple post by me, that I own both an SB13U and E15HP, has absolutely taken on a life of it's own. To be frank, I completely underestimated the number of people who must be contemplating the purchase of these two subwoofers. I also didn't realize I was perhaps one of the few people who actually had the opportunity to hear them both, but either way the attention this topic has focused on me is off the hook. It's as though I opened Pandora's box or something; I have been inundated with PM's and emails from people who want to know which of these two subwoofers I'm going to keep. There are even people subscribing to this thread from other forums! What on earth did I get myself into? Maybe I should learn to keep my mouth shut.
Unfortunately it's too late for that now, so I have no choice but to forge ahead and make a decision. Before I disclose which subwoofer I'm going to keep it seemed appropriate to give everyone an idea of the testing criteria employed, along with some general thoughts I compiled along the way, so what follows was extrapolated from my notes.
When writing one of my standard reviews I always live with the product for a week or two without doing any really critical listening. A) I want to ensure it's fully broken in and B) this allows me to gauge the true essence of what something can/can't do by using it just like everyone else does. Only after my initial notes have been taken do I start performing the finical movie and music sessions. That has been a tenet of mine since the very beginning, and I have no intention of changing how I go about doing things now, so I followed my typical pattern with these two subwoofers.
Bottom line is you can't go wrong with either. That might strike some as a cop-out of sorts, but having heard them both for an extended period of time convinced me it's anything but. SVS and Rythmik should be commended on how they bent the laws of physics. Neither company is able to break those laws of course, but these folks eked out incredible performance from boxes that -- by subwoofer standards -- are on the small side. Each went about their business in a unique manner, so while they have similarities they also diverge in a few key areas.
Before I start rattling off specifics though I want to make one thing abundantly clear; this was not a stereotypical shoot-out between subwoofers
, so I won't be denigrating either during the ensuing paragraphs. I will provide some insight as to "I liked this better than that", but I won't be directly comparing the two for the most part. This exercise was done strictly so I could decide which of these works best for me
. YMMV. There was no "loser" to be had, only a subwoofer that was better for my particular set of circumstances and preferences. Again, YMMV. With that said...
Overall I like the appearance of the SB13U better than the E15HP. The latter just looks too plain, unimaginative even. The E15HP's veneer pattern is less distinct, the grill strikes me as bland -- without so much as a company emblem -- and the enclosure shape is ho hum. Even the corner round-over on the Rythmik is almost invisible. The SB13U has a much more pronounced round-over, the cabinet is smaller (which I like) and the veneer stands out more. The same could be said for the SVS's grill too unfortunately. I don't like it. Reminds me of the face mask on a football helmet. The metal they use is pretty thick, and it certainly gives the subwoofer a unique appearance, but it just doesn't do anything for me.
Both are heavy, relative to their size, and seem well built, but the SVS feels more stout. Whereas the E15HP is very sturdy the SB13U almost feels solid. By that I mean one complete piece, not hollowed out with a driver and amp on the inside. The Rythmik sounds relatively inert when you do the knuckle rap test, but the SVS just goes 'thud'. The veneer was applied perfectly on both of them and all the screws were snugged down properly.
In the amp department the Rythmik comes out on top, with an unparalleled level of flexibility (I ordered mine with the H600PEQ3). You can tailor many different things, providing a level of configurability no other company offers, which definitely plays to the adjustment junkie side of me. Rumble filter, lower extension, Q, crossover slope, PEQ, you name it. Everything is switches and dials too, which are quick and effective (I ultimately settled on a 14Hz/Mid/Rumble Filter Off/no PEQ setting for the majority of my testing). If you can't find a workable configuration for your environment with this amp you should probably consider moving. When pushed hard it will get warm though.
SVS takes a completely different route with their Sledge amp, eschewing knobs and switches for digital and electronics. For me wading through a serial menu to change one simple setting got old. The LCD display is bright, and can easily be read regardless of the lighting, so if this is your type of system you'll surely like this one. It's pretty intuitive as well, making the learning curve almost no curve at all. The amount of things you can change pales in comparison to what Rythmik provides, with one exception; SVS gives you two PEQ's, so you should be able to more finely tune the output of the SB13U if you want to go the manual route. One glaring omission, for me anyway, was no USB port. Any updates to the firmware would require you to ship the amp back to SVS to get reflashed. Seems like a pretty big omission in this day and age. The amp does not get warm, even when pushed.
Both subs have very impressive looking drivers, clearly engineered to survive abuse over the long haul. The E15HP uses Rythmik's top of the line 1510. It's a 15" driver with a spun aluminum cone, large dual-stacked magnets, heavy butyl rubber surround and lots of usable excursion. Then there's the Pièce de résistance; servo control. Rythmik explains it in great detail on their website, so if you're unfamiliar with how it works you should definitely check it out. I know for a fact that Brian Ding, Rythmik's owner/engineer, is a music fanatic, so for him precision and accuracy are of the utmost importance. He's all in on the servo technology too, so who am I to argue its merit.
The SB13U has a smaller driver, measuring in at 13.5", so numerically at least it's half way between a 12" and 15" driver. JL Audio also uses drivers of this size, with those two companies representing the lions share of the market. It utilizes a Rohacell cone with a huge rubber surround, packed into a frame that appears as though it could be used to jack up my truck. It too has a ton of excursion, perhaps even more so than the 1510 does. When viewed in person the SVS driver looks beastly, in comparison to the Rythmik's which merely looks stout. Did you ever think "stout" would be the adjective used to describe a driver that wasn't visually the most impressive? Both are definitely fit for purpose.
During everyday use the SB13U had a dual personality, being either subtle or barbaric. It had no problem hanging back when not needed, but when called upon it would spring to life and pounce. When you take into account the size of the cabinet the amount of bass this thing can produce is simply amazing. It was generally sharp and crisp, which definitely plays to my tendencies, but there were times the sound became a bit too full bodied for my taste. By that I mean a slight loss of definition, where transients could have been better. This is a bit of nitpicking though, because I doubt too many would be dissecting the output to the level I was at this point.
In contrast to the SB13U the E15HP almost seemed weak at times but it was just stealthy, providing a more distinct and clear sound for the most part. I could have "thickened" it up some by choosing the Low tuning configuration, but I chose not to. You could tell a music connoisseur designed this one, because the accuracy and precision were uncanny. Not to imply the SB13U was sloppy -- not by any means -- it's just the E15HP took it up a notch. The Rythmik did need to have the gain turned up a little after I level matched it, which the SVS didn't.
For movie testing I pulled out all the stops and put both of them through a punishing gauntlet of brutal content. The torture included How To Train Your Dragon, Underworld: Awakening, Cloverfield, War Of The Worlds, Tron: Legacy, Lord Of The Rings and Battle: Los Angeles. When doing my normal evaluations I play movies somewhere between -20dB and -15dB, but this time it was -5dB to 0dB. I was not only looking for obvious limiter compression and signs of overt stress, but I also wanted to see just how much they had to give. Turns out both of them can handle volume and deep bass surprisingly well, without so much as a whimper. Neither made a single unpleasant sound or produced a noise that would indicate they were struggling. In this regard both SVS and Rythmik should be commended; they take their respective designs as far as they safely
(key word) can.
The SB13U growled menacingly during a few scenes, like The Bridge Of Khazad Doom when the Balrog starts to terrorize everyone. I thought the impact when the dragon Red Death crashes head-long into the ground towards the end of HTTYD could have used a bit more punch, but by the same token during The Machine Emerges (WOTW) my chair was rumbling right along with the buckling roadway. During the multitude of combat scenes that rage in Battle: Los Angeles the SB13U held it's head high and effortlessly pounded out every explosion and gunshot with authority. The grunting and snorting from the huge Lycan in Underworld: Awakening was easily one of the better renditions I've heard. Even the beasts over-embellished footsteps thundered to life. To my surprise though Cloverfield didn't have as much earth shaking bass as I had anticipated it would. When the Empire State Building crumbles to the ground it didn't quite rock my world.
The E15HP went about its business in a more low-key manner, but it was no less potent. Deep bass was sneaky; just as you start to think it could use a bit more oomph you realize that the floor is vibrating. An example would be when Red Death plunges back to earth. The E15HP didn't seem to be as dramatic as the SB13U did during the preceding aerial battle, but upon impact the sensation of the earth moving was more pronounced. Same with Cloverfield, where the collapsing Empire State Building had a greater tactile sensation. Every scene I played in Underworld: Awakening so impressed me that I would have to say the E15HP produced one of the best renditions of this soundtrack I've heard to date. Subterranean rumbles sure are nice to have during a battle that occurs underground. All the mayhem during The Grid (Tron) never caused the E15HP any discomfort, in spite of the waves of bass being sent my way. Interestingly, my notes say the SB13U was probably more satisfying with this scene due to its more conspicuous output.
As was the case with the movie tests, I cranked the music far louder than customary. Audible distortion is the result of pushing a subwoofer to the brink, so that's where I wanted to go. In order to better focus on this portion -- which is critical for me -- I stuck to just three CD's (well, two CD's and one SACD). I chose Tony McAlpines eponymous disc, Jonny Langs Lie To Me and Dark Side Of The Moon. Represented in these CD's are lightning quick bass transients, huge dynamics and a spacey classic with especially deep bass in parts. All are excellent recordings as well.
On the SB13U the kick drum triplets in Tony McAlpines Serpens Cauda were clearly defined, with solid impact and no overhang. The Bass in Dream Mechanism should be rich and powerful, with notes so low you can almost feel them. That's precisely what happened. On the title track of Jonny Langs Lie To Me I felt a good punch from the kick drum, same as with Good Morning Little School Girl. The latter actually produced a bit of physical sensation, which increased proportionally as I twisted the volume ever higher. Pink Floyd opens Dark Side with that legendary heartbeat, a pulsing which was made palpable by the SB13U. As On The Run opens Roger Waters plucks a snarling open 'e' on his bass guitar, which exploded out at me. The crash at the end of On The Run didn't quite hit me as hard as I would have liked, but Time made up for it; the bass lick was powerful throughout, with a bit of physical sensation thrown in for good measure.
The personality differences between the SB13U and E15HP were well known by me at this point so I wasn't shocked the SVS had a little more texture and depth when it came to music. But as before the Rythmik had a sharper sound, with more clearly defined transitions. The E15HP handily spit out the drum triplets of Serpens Cauda, albeit with a bit less overall impact than the SB13U mustered. Dream Mechanism's driving bass line was just a touch shy of guttural, but the kick drum was crisp and clean and wasn't subjugated by the bass guitar (which has happened with other subwoofers). From the very first note of Lie To Me, until the last one from Good Morning Little School Girl, the E15HP made me smile. This was one of the few times I cranked it to 0dB, and when I did the only thing that happened was the music got louder. No drama, no strain, just pure unadulterated music. The bass guitar from Darker Side facilely poured out of the 1510 driver, all the while maintaining excellent pitch definition. The heartbeat in Speak To Me had a crisper sound, but wasn't quite as impressive depth wise. The crash at the end of On The Run was noticeably more potent though. During Time there are some pretty substantial dynamic swings, evident only if your subwoofer can produce them. The SB13U did an absolutely wonderful job but the E15HP took it up a notch, at one point hitting a note with such authority that my thermostat rattled.
My notes encompass more than what I've written here, because as a matter of course I do take quite a few, but the rest are essentially immaterial. I suspect by now everyone has a reasonable understanding of what my feelings are regarding these excellent subwoofers. And make no mistake, both are indeed excellent. As I said at the top, you can't go wrong either way. So for those who took the time to read this entire post... think you know which one I chose? I had to pick one, so there's a 50/50 chance you'll guess correctly.
Before I reveal which of these subwoofers I kept I wanted to reiterate that there is no winner here, for if there was that means there's also a loser. That's not the case at all because the SVS SB13 Ultra and Rythmik E15HP are both exceptional subwoofers, either of which I would be happy to live with day in and day out. This decision was harder than I expected it to be, even though I never thought it was going to be a piece of cake. In the end though my proclivity for articulate sound, and desire to configure things however I please, tipped the scales in favor of the Rythmik E15HP. For me the SVS SB13 Ultra was a 9, but the Rythmik E15HP was a 10. They were literally thisclose
in my mind.
Rythmik E15HP in 14Hz/Mid/No Rumble Filter/No PEQ tune
SVS SB13 Ultra - all options disabled
NOTE: the Spectrographs clearly demonstrate why the bass is so clean from both of these. All they do is make a sound and stop on a dime. Very impressive showing.