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The Tale of Two Subwoofers Edit
by dsrussell Combined Rating: 4.1
It wasn't all that long ago that I never even considered a subwoofer. But I now own two of them...
Pros Cons
  • Impressive performance on LFE content.
  • Nice finish.
  • Reasonably priced.
  • Solid warranty. Includes free one-way shipping.
  • Large for a sealed design.
  • Music capability is good but not exceptional.
It wasn't all that long ago that I never even considered a subwoofer. But I now own two of them (actually three, not sure quite what to do with my old BIC). This is not really a full subjective review. This will be a fairly quick synopsis (quick for me, at least) of my impressions of my newest subwoofer, the PSA XS30, and how it compares to my SVS SB13-Ultra that I auditioned almost four months earlier.

Disclaimer #1: What I like in sound fidelity versus what someone else will like can be polar opposites. I can only talk about how these subwoofers performed in my home environment with the equipment I have for various movies and music that I like to showcase. How either of these subwoofers will perform in your home environment could be quite different, since environment and equipment play an important role in sound reproduction. I will also state that I am far more critical about music reproduction than I am about movie LFE.

Disclaimer #2: I'm not a home theater enthusiast. I don't own 5.1 anything. Other than movies, I don't watch much TV. My home entertainment comes mainly from music (at least a 4 to 1 ratio over movies, and probably higher). I also don't have to worry about sound from a subwoofer covering multiple seats, and while my rooms aren't small, they aren't cavernous either (approximately 3500 cu. ft. each and not closed off).

Disclaimer #3: I don't listen to movies or music at what is referred to as "reference levels". I assume reference levels means 100 dB (peak concert level) to 115 dB (peak rock concert levels). I will usually bring ear plugs to indoor rock concerts. I rarely push past the lower 90 dBs on peaks in my home and closer to the mid to high 80 dBs on most peaks. I consider that extremely loud. And guess what I found out? One doesn't need 100 plus dBs to shake the walls to silly putty. Actually one can shake walls at surprisingly low dB levels. For instance, on Poulenc's Organ Concerto in G minor, Tempo Introduction, Largo (a very low volume piece of music on my Saint-Saen's Organ Symphony SACD), the two minutes of sustained low pedals at or near 16 Hz rumbled with silent authority throughout the house rattling any and everything not nailed down. My dB readings on this piece averaged upper 40s to low 50s dB. And yes, it did indeed pressurize several rooms, and enough so that one would have to yawn to "pop" the ears. A weird sensation.

End of disclaimers.

While I purchased the SVS SB13-Ultra to enhance my stereo system, I also tested the Ultra on movies and was extremely impressed with its LFE capabilities. I thought it might be time to consider upgrading my current subwoofer that I use in the TV room with something that has a lot more bite. Unlike my stereo setup, the equipment for watching movies is rather meager, but certainly suitable for my needs:

1. Samsung 42-inch LCD
2. Zvox 550 platform speaker system
3. Oppo BDP-83 blu-ray player
4. BIC V1220 12-inch down-firing ported subwoofer (which the XS30 replaced)

Equipment in music room:

1. 19-inch Samsung LCD (for displaying DVD-A content)
2. Magnepan 3.6 Planar-Magnetic floor-standing speakers
3. Oppo BDP-95 blu-ray player (used only for music)
4. SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer
5. McIntosh MC2205 Amplifier (yeah, it's 37-years old)
6. McIntosh C48 Preamplifier (just replaced the venerable C28 last year)
7. dbx 3BX Dynamic Range Expander (for vinyl only)
8. JVC Quartz Lock Turntable with Shure V-15 Type IV cartridge
9. Yamaha TX-350 Tuner
10. BIC Beam Box FM-10 (Indoor FM antenna)
11. VPI HW-16.5 Record Cleaning Machine

I've auditioned the following sealed subwoofers:

1. JL Audio F212 Fathom (in Covina)
2. Paradigm Sub 1 (in L.A.)
3. SVS SB13-Ultra (in-home audition)
4. Hsu ULS-15 (at the Anaheim Hsu Research facility and in-home audition)
5. PSA XS30 (I'm in the last week of my in-home audition)

All of the above, except for the PSA, were subwoofers I had auditioned for my music system. While I didn't care all that much for the Hsu's musical capabilities, I was very impressed with its movie LFE capabilities and decided that it would be a great subwoofer to use in my TV room, especially considering its fairly compact size. However, things didn't quite work out as planned and I returned it to the Hsu's facility just prior to the ending of my 30-day trial. This is where PSA comes in.

Music (Ultra = solid 10 out of 10 / XS30 = marginal 7 out of 10): Music and movie LFE are two completely different animals. One looks for subtleties as much as the more visceral elements in music. One also needs the subwoofer to completely disappear and never call attention to itself. The Ultra performed wonderfully on every CD, SACD and DVD-A that I have played. Just as importantly, it didn't add anything unwanted. The Ultra is a clear and easy choice and it does an incredible job in enhancing my music system.

Like the Hsu ULS-15, the XS30 performed very well on some music, but not quite as well on others. The worst offender was the music from Mike Oldfield (pretty much any CD -- Mike loves his ultra deep synthesized bass). One particular track, "Shabda" from "Music of the Spheres" clearly showed the XS30's inability to reproduce this with the solidity needed on these powerful, wall-shaking passages (although I rate it above the Hsu). I did get the XS30 to perform much better on that track, but by doing so it exaggerated the underlying bass on Oldfield's other music. The XS30 did its finest job with the SACD of Saint Saen's Organ Symphony, which I found quite impressive, and it reproduced those 16 Hz pedal notes with wall-rattling ease. I consider the XS30 only slightly better than the Hsu ULS-15 for music in general. However, if you don't listen to Mike Oldfield, the XS30 performs well to very well on most music (so did the Hsu), at least on the limited number of selections I tested it with. After all, the XS30 is my movie LFE subwoofer, not my music subwoofer.

Movies (Ultra = 8 out of 10 / XS30 = 9 out of 10): In movies, one looks for the visceral far more than the subtle. If it doesn't shake walls, your seat and you, it's not doing its job. Both the Ultra and the XS30 are impressive for movie LFE (as was the Hsu). I feel the Ultra is a hair more detailed in its presentation, but for pure aggressive brute force and deep rumbling impact, the XS30 is my subwoofer of choice for movies and I'm very happy with its performance. One scene in particular had me searching for rattles everywhere, and I thought I had taken care of all the rattles when auditioning the SVS and the Hsu. It's the scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Fox's trailer descends underground and comes to rest where they had stored a nuclear fusion device. I thought the sound would bring down the walls -- everything was banging and rattling.

But every movie I have played seems more impressive. There are many top LFE movies, but Battlestar Galactica continues to be one of my favorites. Between the deep rumbles inside ships, the rapid explosions and the heavy drum beats … and all going on one after another or at the same time, it's a subwoofer's dream or nightmare. If a subwoofer is going to cough, it will be on Battlestar. The XS30 has sailed through everything I placed in front of it with apparent ease. This surprised me because I don't consider a 725 watt RMS amplifier a powerhouse considering we are talking about it moving two 15-inch drivers.

Aesthetics: The Ultra is relatively small and quite elegant in its piano black finish. I also really like its stylized front metal grill. It's unique, bold and makes a statement. The XS30's black sand-textured finish is a whole lot nicer than the photographs indicate. I'm quite pleased with the finish. Unlike the Ultra, which comes in only piano black or black oak, the XS30 comes in several different wood grain finishes (along with the sand-textured black, but alas, no piano black). However, the XS30 is much, much larger than the Ultra and has the ubiquitous standard black cloth grills. I'm still not use to such a big, black rectangular box, and I've tried to hide some of it with a large plant on top (I think I'd need closer to a forest). And while I am now just beginning to make peace with its size, I much prefer the Ultra's aesthetics.

Amplifier controls: No contest. The Ultra wins hands-down. It comes with a digital panel with a lot of control options that are far more exact and easier to use when dialing in your sub. It also has balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs. The XS30 has the basic controls one would expect, but that's it. Also, there are no balanced inputs / outputs, and like the Ultra, no high-level inputs / outputs. And other than hash marks, there is nothing to delineate settings on its basic controls. Guessing is the name of the game here. I don't quite understand why numbers couldn't be silkscreened on, unless the linearity of the controls are so inaccurate that numbers would have little or no meaning (but then neither would the hash marks). However, I had very little problems setting up the XS30, so the controls turned out to be a non issue for my situation.

Summary (Ultra = solid 9 out of 10 / XS30 = marginal 8 out of 10): I feel I have precisely what I was looking for. I have an elegant and superb subwoofer for my music in the SB13-Ultra (I rank it as one of the top 10 subwoofers produced today), and a surprisingly impressive LFE subwoofer for movies in the XS30. Different brands in different rooms performing different tasks. The XS30 is significantly less expensive than the Ultra, but one can easily see and hear where SVS spent the extra dollars, and I consider both subwoofers to be a bargain. Both SVS and PSA offer best in class 5-year warranties (with SVS the leader because of all their other perks).

Final note: There are a lot of excellent subwoofers in the market these days, so it is not at all easy to make a choice. And just because I may think that the Ultra and the XS30 are outstanding in their categories, it doesn't mean there aren't better subwoofers available, because obviously there are. Trying to find them within the same price ranges is another story. I had intended to audition the Rythmik F15HP-SE, but there is a 6 month back order on this model in piano black, so sadly I had to drop Rythmik as an option (Rythmik has a great reputation and undoubtedly makes great subwoofers). Funk Audio (a true custom subwoofer shop) was also on my list, but I decided to go with a more price-conscious approach.
Comments
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khactuyen 12-22-2014, 08:05 PM

Thanks, HGS15 worked fine but the amp fail (i had to replace the new amp from Velodyne USA, it is very expensive: $285 for repairing amp + $130 shipping two way), so i will sale (i will never buy velodyne sub in future, Velodyne Dealer in Viet Nam is very bad).
I like the new sub with full warranty.

dsrussell 12-22-2014, 06:42 PM

I'm a bit surprised that the Velodyne isn't doing it for you and you're looking to replace it. That was a well rated subwoofer in its day and still has impressive specs today. It's even servo controlled. Are you sure you did the subwoofer crawl test when positioning this sub? I would expect its performance to pretty close to the SVS and PSA, so just make sure it IS your sub and not just a bad location in the room. If it's a poor location, then changing subs and placing it in the same spot won't change anything.

As far as what is the best option, only you can decide that. I have a feeling something else is going on. Either your Velodyne isn't located properly or your room is open to other rooms (a subwoofer sees all that volume). If your room is indeed open to other rooms, then you'd definitely need two subs. And since you already own the Velodyne, if you get either the SVS or PSA (XS30se or XS15se), also test it with the Velodyne to see if that fills the room(s). Of course you could sell the Velodyne and help pay for your new sub or subs.

khactuyen 12-22-2014, 05:33 PM

Thanks Dsrussell,
I have be chatting with TomV, He said that if amp or driver (i think only amp) will go wrong, i only ship it to US and he charge a new.
the last sunday i listen SVS SB13U, some heavy bass movies it worked very hard, strong and deep.
I think SB13U is tronger and harder than Velodyne HGS15.
I'm going to upgrade from HGS15 to SB13U or XS30Se or Dual XS15SE, the best option?
/// i used HGS15 for about 3 years.

dsrussell 12-22-2014, 02:09 PM

When buying something so expensive, I'd usually opt for the longer warranty. Let's face it, anything can happen and if you only have a one-year warranty, that doesn't feel like much protection. However, you have an SVS dealer that is close to you, so that is a big plus. You might want to talk to Tom about shipping charges on amps and drivers just in case something unforeseen goes wrong. Tom is great to work with.

That's an fairly steep price on the XS30se with shipping. The black sand-textured finish is $1250 in the U.S., so there would be a normal up-charge for wood veneers (probably $200 or more). You might check with Tom on the cost of the black finish. That's a good price on the SB13-Ultra (mine cost $1600). The piano black finish on the Ultra is very nice, but it's a dust and fingerprint magnet. Just have a microfiber cloth handy and lightly dust it off regularly (don't use circular motions). The sand-textured black on the XS30 (I like just fine) is much easier to take care of, and so would the wood finishes. It's up to you which would go best in your home and decor.

As I mentioned before, the XS30se will be more impressive for movies, but that doesn't make the SB13-Ultra a slouch. I have a single XS30 in my 3,400 cu. ft. (96.28 cubic meters), which is rather open to other rooms and it's very powerful in that room. My Ultra is in a similar size room and works very well with music and is powerful. The Ultra is a lot smaller, but it's built like a tank and weighs 92 pounds. The XS30se weighs around 110 pounds. Just remember that the subwoofer itself tells where you must place it, so it's a good idea to have several areas available to locate a sub. The worst thing is to have only one place to locate your sub. That rarely, if ever, works well.

As far as adding a second sub down the line, that is usually the case if you have bad nulls or peaks at the listening position (which you shouldn't have if the sub is placed properly), or need a larger area for smooth bass response at multiple seat positions. And the XS15se may be better if used with the XS30se, but I don't know this as fact.

khactuyen 12-22-2014, 01:01 AM

Thanks Dsrussell.
In my country SVS has one year warranty (from SVS dealer) and PSA has not a Dealer. I should be shipping from US (but full 5 years warranty, TomV said that).
SVS SB13U: $1550
PSA XS30SE (cherry, B stock): $1650

Infuture i can add one sealed sub for dual, PSA XS15SE will a good match with XS30SE? (XS15SE cost about $1000 shipped) or SB13U?
I like Piano black on SB13U.

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