PSB’s SubSeries 450, the company’s latest sub, is a 12″ subwoofer that promises to deliver DSP-controlled low-distortion bass all the way down to 20 Hz thanks to a design that incorporates dual 10″ passive radiators.
Subs are a critical part of any home-theater sound system, and they provide a fantastic tool for getting the most out of a stereo. But anyone who has shopped for a 12″ subwoofer knows there are plenty of designs, brands, and models to choose. Moreover, even if you trim your options to 12″ subs costing around $1500, you’ll find a large selection. The question is, what sets this subwoofer apart from the competition? Read on to find out.
Features and Specifications
The SubSeries 450 ($1500) relies on a robust 12″ cone driver equipped with a 2.75″ voice coil, 6″ spider, and 75-ounce magnet. It works with twin, dual-opposed 10-inch passive radiators to create deep bass from a modest-sized 16.25″ (wide) x 15.75″ (high) x 16.5” (deep) cabinet.
Power comes from a class-D amplifier designed by NAD. It’s rated at 400 watts RMS (1000 watts peak) and features a high damping factor, which is a measure of how well an amp can maintain control of a driver.
A look inside the SubSeries 450. Graphic by PSB
The use of DSP gives this sub a flat frequency response from 20 Hz to 150 Hz (+/-3 dB). In addition, it provides a DSP-based crossover with line-level inputs and outputs. As a result, the SubSeries 450 can sit between a preamp and an amp in a 2-channel system and provide its own bass management. Of course, you can bypass the built-in crossover by using the LFE input when using an AVR or processor that offers bass management.
When properly integrated, a great subwoofer will complement a speaker system rather than overpowering it. The goal of sub integration is to seamlessly extend bass response to depths many speakers cannot handle.
For this review, I used the SubSeries 450 in a 2.1 configuration with a pair of PSB’s flagship T3 towers. I placed the towers four feet from the front wall and two feet from the side walls, with seven feet of space between them. I put the sub in the front right corner of my room, which features an open floor plan and measures 11′ x 36′ x 9′ (3565 cubic feet). You can read more about the setup and first impressions by clicking here.
PSB SubSeries 450 12-inch subwoofer unboxing.
A Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR served as the pre/pro in the review system, and the primary source was a Bluesound Node 2 streaming uncompressed tracks from Tidal. A miniDSP DDRC-88A provided Dirac Live processing for time-alignment and room correction, and a Classé AMP5 amplifier (200 watts/ch) supplied power to the T3s. For the duration of the review, I used an 80 Hz crossover with the PSB SubSeries 450.
The SubSeries 450 struck me as both nimble and precise, with a penchant for rendering micro-dynamics that make listening to it a physically involving experience. The tactile nature of the SubSeries 450’s bass output is superior in quality—as opposed to quantity—compared with what I have encountered from numerous lesser subs.
As part of the evaluation, I listened to pure sine waves ranging from 10 to 100 Hz. The idea here is to listen for any distracting mechanical noise or harmonic distortion. Even when pushing the excursion limits of the driver, the SubSeries 450 remained composed and generated a pure, clean tone.
It’s not easy to extract impactful quantities of 20 Hz bass from a sub with 0.77 cubic feet of internal volume, but the dual passive radiators did their job and pumped enough air to make the low tones rumble. Not only did the SubSeries 450 pull off playing that 20 Hz tone for an extended period, it did so utterly transparently—without the audible distortions I have heard from some other subs.
By the way, don’t try playing sine waves for extended periods at home. It could be considered abuse, potentially voiding your warranty, and it serves no constructive purpose for a subwoofer owner. But for reviews, playing sine waves is a handy tool, so I do it.
Long story short, from 20 Hz on up, this sub is clean and musical.
There are limits to what a single 12″ subwoofer can do to plumb the infrasonic realm, no matter how well designed it is. Here, output rapidly rolls off below 20 Hz. There are faint signs of life at 16 Hz, but other—typically larger—subwoofer options are better suited to exploring those depths.
A white paper published by PSB notes the sub uses a sixth-order (36 dB/octave) high-pass filter under the 20 Hz mark, which is consistent with the behavior I observed. But the PSB SubSeries 450 truly shines when playing within the audible realm of 20 Hz and above.
I evaluate speakers and subs using a growing list of tunes in a Tidal playlist chosen to highlight various aspects of a speaker system’s performance—including bass.
This sub’s micro-dynamic finesse is great for reproducing the sound and feel of live instruments. It delineates textures that might be smoothed over by less agile designs. The SubSeries 450 also does justice to electronic bass in music. Delving into dubstep tracks like Datsik’s “Get Back”—from the album Darkstar—revealed that the sub has what it takes to handle the genre’s meticulously crafted warbling bass lines.
When exploring the tense and cacophonous—yet oddly lush—industrial soundscape of Skinny Puppy’s “Circustance,” plus the follow-up track “Download” from the album Last Rights, PSB’s newest sub showed it could handle dense, complex bass tones and tease out detail that a more brutish sub might mask. Overall, I was happy with how the SubSeries 450 handled all the music I tossed its way.
The sub also did well with movies, but unlike its performance with music, I think AV buffs with serious surround systems might find that the output of a single SubSeries 450 is not enough to satisfy their cravings.
I recommend deploying more than one sub in any surround system with home-theater aspirations. Not only do you get 6 dB more output with two subs, you also gain the benefit of a smoother in-room response. Please note, I’m a known bass addict, and I’ve had four or more subs in my AV system for years, plus dual subs in my stereo since 1993. My threshold of what constitutes enough bass tends to be a bit higher than most folks I meet.
Perhaps the SubSeries 450 loses a few dB of output and a few Hz of extension compared to a design with a larger cabinet. I’m certain that’s a trade-off many critical listeners are glad to make, including those who must overcome spousal barriers to subwoofer adoption and can’t get approval for a ported behemoth.
It may look large in this photo, but the SubSeries 450 is quite compact considering its capability. Photo by Mark Henninger
The SubSeries 450 offers extension and dynamics often associated with larger, high-performance subs. But if you are a bass lover who seeks maximum displacement per dollar and is willing to live with a huge box—or you’re DIY-inclined and long to build your own subs—the SubSeries 450 is not for you.
However, if you seek a sub that looks good, fits into your decor, transforms your stereo or surround speakers into a true full-range system that can hit 20 Hz with authority, and disappears as it does its job, then consider the SubSeries 450. It offers finesse to go with the power it possesses.
Pioneer SC-85 AV Receiver
Bluesound Node 2 streaming Tidal
miniDSP DDRC-88A Dirac Live processor
Classe Sigma Amp5 amplifier
PSB Imagine T3 Speakers