SVS PB16-Ultra 16″ Ported Subwoofer Review

SVS PB16-Ultra Cutaway

The PB16-Ultra, a 16″ ported subwoofer from sub specialist SVS Sound, is the company’s flagship. This is a sub designed for AV enthusiasts who want the ultimate in home-audio bass from a polished commercial product.

When the review unit arrived back in October 2016, I published an unboxing video on AVS Forum’s Youtube page and many first impressions. In the months that followed, I used the sub with a variety of speaker systems and listened to a lot of music. I checked out video games on the PS4 Pro and watched movies, including some on Ultra HD Blu-ray with Dolby Atmos sound.

This review is not focused on CEA-2010 measurements or regurgitating every single spec and technical detail. It’s about living with a subwoofer of tremendous ability.


Features and Specifications

SVS publishes accurate, unvarnished specs for its products. The company says the PB16-Ultra will deliver a frequency response from 15 to 280 Hz (+/-3 dB) in its Standard mode (three ports open), 13-280 Hz (+/-3 dB) in Extended mode (one port plugged), and 14-360 Hz (+/-3 dB) when completely sealed. With this sub, not only can you have your cake and eat it, you get a scoop of ice cream on the side.

These numbers are not only notable for the deep extension into the infrasonic realm they describe. The ability to hit 280 Hz in either of the ported modes—and 360 Hz when sealed—is also impressive.

The PB16-Ultra provides 1500 watts continuous and 5000 watts peak output from the new Sledge 1500-D amp. The amp drives the 16″ woofer with an 8″ edge-wound voice coil, which is the star of the show here. SVS touts this extra-large voice coil as a key reason this sub delivers the goods in terms of both output and accuracy.

SVS Amp for PB16-Ultra
Close-up of the PB16-Ultra’s amp. Photo provided by SVS Sound.

The sub is large and heavy—necessary qualities when you want to generate bass at extreme decibel levels. It’s ported, and SVS supplies three foam inserts that plug the vents. Extended mode is notable because it delivers more infrasonic bass—9 dB extra at 16 Hz per the CEA-2010 test—than using all three ports. This comes at the expensive of just one or two dB output at higher frequencies and is the configuration I preferred.

You can run this sub sealed, but there’s a general loss of low-end output versus the ported modes. The bass it creates in this mode is impeccable, so if you prefer a sealed sub for music, you can do that.

For movies and music genres that demand it, the PB16-Ultra will offer a lot more power at 16 Hz when running in Extended mode. If you are buying a sub of this quality, cost, and ability, you want it to handle the deep stuff at output levels you can feel and that provoke goose bumps.

The PB16-Ultra measures 25″ (H) x 21.7″ (W) x 30.9″ (D) and weighs in at 174.5 pounds. SVS offered a peek inside the enclosure with a cut-open sample at CES 2016, and there’s no doubt it’s well-braced and features some impressive plumbing for the ports. Plus, the driver’s motor is a thing of beauty—like the engine of a hot rod.

SVS PB16-Ultra Cutaway
The PB16-Ultra = big driver, big motor, big vents, big amp, big enclosure… for big-time deep bass. Photo by Mark Henninger

This sub sports balanced stereo XLR inputs and outputs. This is perfect for use with high-end 2-channel systems wherein the subwoofer’s DSP takes care of bass management and for longer cable runs like you might find in a home theater.

The SVS app, which connects to the PB16-Ultra through Bluetooth (no network needed), is a major new feature and beats working with the rear-panel interface of older SVS subwoofers.

While the PB16-Ultra now features a control panel on the front of the enclosure—itself a huge economic improvement—the new app is the star of the show. The sub also comes with a small remote for quick adjustments.

PB16-Ultra front display and grill
Here’s a close-up of the front panel as well as the metal grill. Photo by Mark Henninger

With the SVS app, you can set parameters for the sub’s volume, low-pass filter, phase adjustment, polarity, parametric EQ, room-gain compensation, port-tuning mode, user presets, and system settings. You can also use the app to contact SVS support, and it offers tutorials for making connections and using features.

One thing you cannot do with the PB16-Ultra is auto-calibrate; it does not come with a mic, and the app does not offer such a feature. Instead, you’ll want to rely on the setup routine of your AVR or pre-pro, or you can use a measurement mic with software such as Room EQ Wizard (REW) to profile the bass response of your room. With that info in hand, you can fine-tune the sub’s in-room response using parametric EQ, room-gain compensation, and the port modes.

SVS PB16-Ultra app
The SVS app offers users a lot of control over the PB16-Ultra, including programming its parametric EQ. Photo by Mark Henninger


Unboxing and Setup

Check out this post to see the unboxing and read first impressions of the PB16-Ultra. Here’s the video, where you can witness the “Magic Carpet” effect as the sub literally levitates my living room rug.

Unboxing the SVS PB16-Ultra. Video by Mark Henninger

Over the three-plus months I had the SVS PB16-Ultra, I used it with several different combinations of electronics and speakers. With PSB T3 towers, GoldenEar Triton Fives, B&W CM6 S2s, Definitive Technology BP-9060 towers, Klipsch RP-160Ms, and SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers, I found it easy to integrate the sub with results that were consistently spectacular.

Using a miniDSP UMIK-1 and Room EQ Wizard, I could correct for the usual peaks and dips caused by room interactions. And when I let Dirac Live handle the EQ duties, the result was a very smooth and extended frequency response at the main listening position.

Deploying multiple subs makes it possible to get even smoother results with less need for EQ. But if you optimize for the main listening position, then a single PB16-Ultra and either room correction or built-in parametric EQ can handle the adjustments needed to give a linear in-room response.

While the result will not mimic the ruler-flat graphs posted by hardcore home-theater junkies with systems containing eight 18″ subwoofers, this sub has enough power to support large EQ adjustments needed to flatten out the response in problematic rooms.

Packing and returning the sub was easy; it took 20 minutes with the help of my wife Danya.


Performance

This subwoofer always remains composed. It knows how to stay within its performance envelope while pushing right to the edge of what it can deliver when asked to do so.

Based on my own informal tinkering, I saw no reason to doubt the conclusions of other reviewers who went through the hard effort of lugging such a heavy subwoofer to a place where you can do proper measurements at frequencies this low—AKA the great outdoors.

Here’s the thing—I never need as much bass as this subwoofer produces. I’ve never been able to say that about any one subwoofer I’ve had in my home.

This one sub is enough for me; if I lived in a larger home than a Philly row house, maybe I’d find a use for two, but in my current digs—an 11′ (W) x 34′ (D) x 9′ (H) open floor-plan living room and kitchen—it’s overkill. I use twin JL F112s as my bass reference, and it’s clear that the single PB16-Ultra can out-muscle that duo (not that it makes the F112s any less awesome, they are true “luxury” subs).

PB16-Ultra and SB13-Ultra
This is not a subwoofer for the space-challenged. On the right is an SVS SB13-Ultra sub for comparison. Photo by Mark Henninger

Once I got the subs dialed in, I found it was impossible to hear the difference between the single PB16-Ultra and the twin JLs. Both systems produce more than enough impeccable bass to suit my needs and the needs of any rational human being. (Of course, I know bassaholics whose love of deep oscillations knows no rational bounds.)

It might cost a few bucks more (give or take a few grand), but you can use multiple PB16-Ultras to get the same effect as a monster DIY rig. I don’t want to fixate on value judgements, except to say you get a lot more oomph per dollar with the PB16-Ultra than with subwoofers marketed as high-end. For most subwoofer shoppers (except the DIY inclined), anything SVS makes offers a great price/performance ratio versus many competitors.

None of the music or movies I own need a subwoofer with deeper extension than what the PB16-Ultra offers. When I built four DIY subs so I could make music that includes infrasonic bass, I tuned those subs to 14 Hz. I composed some of those tracks—under the name Dub King—with deliberate inclusion of ultra-deep tones.

The way the PB16-Ultra handled the Dub King tracks sealed the deal. The bass in compositions like “The So Low Project” and “Funkenspelunkin Dub” came across as I envisioned when I created the tracks. Since I’ve been assiduous about calibrating my system for years, it’s the result I expect, and when a sub can’t deliver the goods—the physicality and the sense of space that tight, deep bass gives—I notice. You can read added impressions of how the PB16-Ultra handles Dub King bass tracks in the pre-review thread.

I listened to tons of music from other artists as well. It aced my stress-test tracks like Tron Legacy’s “Disc Wars” and Danny Brown’s “Way Up Here” from the album Old, which features a bass line that is a movie-like bass sweep that bottoms out deeper than the Pacific Ocean.

The PB16-Ultra handled the 16 Hz and 20 Hz pipe-organ notes in John Rutter’s Requiem: Pie Jesu with confidence, creating the requisite sense of awe that these deep notes evoke.

This sub is also perfect for movies. It can move lots of air, so you feel the impact of explosions. I was blown away by how 13 Hours sounded through the PB16-Ultra. That movie features a lot of shooting and explosions, and the sub’s contributions made it all the more harrowing to watch.

The same holds true for video games; the power and depth of the bass this sub produces makes AV experiences more visceral and therefore more believable. Given the choice between having a PB16-Ultra in a system and not having one in a system, I would always choose the former.

In fact, there was never an instance where the demands of what I listened to exceeded what the PB16-Utra could deliver. Not once, and not at any volume level I can stand for any extended period.


Conclusion

For bass addicts, the PB16-Ultra can handle the most demanding content. This is the most powerful sub SVS makes, and the company has described it as the most important product introduction in its history. Based on the accepted metric of CEA-2010 measurements, it offers output that puts it in the top tier of single-driver subs.

Is the PB16-Ultra the right subwoofer for you? It’s flexible in terms of how you can configure it. However, it’s also large and heavy, which precludes it for some applications.

SVS PB16-Ultra Subwoofer
Front view of the PB16-Ultra subwoofer.

The advances SVS has made in terms of usability—particularly the app and the controls on the front—complement the increased performance offered by this beast. The ease and flexibility with which you can configure and program it to do your bidding using an app is a significant leap forward for SVS.

If your wallet and your listening room are both big enough to accommodate the PB16-Ultra, it’s worth serious consideration and an audition. The SVS PB16-Ultra is one of the best-performing, highest-impact subs I have heard, and it’s a worthy flagship for a company that made its name building awesome subwoofers and speakers at a reasonable cost.

SVS PB16-Ultra subwoofer
All good things must come to an end. Fedex freight taking away the PB16-Ultra.


Review Gear

Electronics
Pioneer SC-85 AVR
Classé Sigma SSP pre/pro
Classé Signa Amp5 amplifier
miniDSP DDRC-88A Dirac Live processor

Speakers
PSB Imagine T3
GoldenEar Triton Five
Definitive Technology BP-9060
SVS Prime Bookshelf
Klipsch RP-160M