Edited by JimWilson - 7/11/12 at 7:15pm
XTZ is a Swedish company formed in 2003. They are what's commonly referred to as an ID (Internet Direct) company because they don't have any dealers, nor do they sell through retail chains. Their product line consists of speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, cables, stands, a room analyzer and a PC multi-media system. For a company that's been in business for only 8 years they offer a rather impressive array of products.
XTZ is well regarded in Europe, but until September of 2011 they had no presence in North America. That's all changed now; they've opened a distribution center in Chicago, and are now selling products in the US and Canada. At the moment they're still ramping up, building their US stock gradually, so the Europeans have twice the number of products available to them. That's constantly changing though, so in the not too distant future the products should be commensurate.
The NA and corporate websites are listed in the first post. Currently, the NA site is a bit rough; prices are listed with a comma instead of a period, there are a few links that go nowhere, some words didn't get translated properly, etc. They're working on those issues now, but I have no ETA for when that will all be rectified.
The subject of this review is the 99 W10.16 subwoofer. It houses a 10" driver in an enclosure that can either be bass reflex or acoustic suspension (how is that possible? read on to find out). The amp is rated at 300 watts RMS, while the frequency response is listed as 25-250Hz (+/-3dB). XTZ offers a 3 year warranty and a 30 day in-home trial, which is pretty standard for ID companies.
Why does this subwoofer have such a unique name? I'm not sure, actually. It seems like most of their speakers come with interesting names, replete with some type of numerical designation. The .10 portion at the end is easy, because it has a 10" driver, but the rest I'm not certain of.
Purchasing from XTZ was easy, for me anyway. Since I was the first person to buy something in the US my dealings were directly with the CEO of the company. At the moment payments are done through PayPal. Since PayPal does accept credit cards it's not too much different then how you would pay for something from any other ID company, but I have discussed with the CEO about accepting direct payments as well.
My subwoofer was shipped the day after it was ordered, arriving just three days later. Considering the overall weight the charge for shipping was quite reasonable, about half what I estimated it would be.
It seems most companies double box subwoofers these days, but not XTZ; mine came triple boxed! I have never received a piece of electronic equipment that was in so many boxes. There were styrofoam sheets on all 4 vertical sides, as well as molded styrofoam ends on the top and bottom. The subwoofer was hermetically sealed in a film of plastic, and then it was placed inside a plastic bag. There was even a thin sheet of foam between the grill and cabinet, to ensure no rubbing damage occurred. All-in-all the packaging job was excellent.
I did notice that the inner box had been opened previously. When I inquired as to why that was the CEO told me it was because every subwoofer is checked before it leaves their facility. In essence, that means each of them is verified to be functioning properly before it gets shipped to the customer. I find that level of QC highly unusual, but very impressive. I'm not aware of any other company that goes to that extreme to ensure their products work correctly before they're sent to the customer.
Most of the XTZ subwoofers are available in 3 finishes; gloss black, matte black and white. I much prefer the matte black but they were not going to be available in the US until late November, so I opted for the gloss black instead.
One of the first things you notice is the weight; this subwoofer tips the scales at a hefty 56 pounds! For those keeping score that's what an HSU VTF-1 weighs, yet the XTZ is considerably smaller. It's about a dozen pounds heavier than an Emotiva X-Ref 12, and 20 pounds more than an SVS SB12-NSD. Needless to say, this is one stout little subwoofer. The cabinet is made from 1" MDF, which is thicker than the .75" most other subs in this price range use. That's thicker than subs costing far more, to be honest. If you're a person who equates substantial weight to high quality -- which most of us do -- than you'll like this one. It definitely feels solid.
All the screws used to secure the driver and the amp were completely tight, and none were stripped. The construction of the grill was absolutely flawless, even how the fabric was stretched. If you peer into the ports you'll see the cabinet walls are lined with damping material. The bottom has no damping sheets, but it's coated with some type of sprayed on sound deadening with the consistency of sand paper. Also visible is a huge Toroidal transformer on the amp, easily the size of an orange.
The high gloss finish is very nice, but there are some hazy "spider web" like scratches that can be seen if you know what to look for. I should perhaps qualify that statement; for several years I detailed -- not washed and waxed, but detailed -- very expensive cars as a side job. As such, I can spot flaws and imperfections most others probably can't. If you use a camera flash, or place the subwoofer directly under a florescent light, you can see the haze. Sitting in a room that uses normal lighting, or for those with far less discerning eyes, you might not even be able to see them. But I can, so I thought it was worth noting.
There's also a slight blemish on the top panel, in the back right. It's under the paint, as though the cabinet may not have been fully sanded in that one spot before the paint was applied. This is probably another thing that most people would be unable to notice though, because I had to look hard before I saw it.
Overall, the appearance is very appealing. The design doesn't break any new ground, but it's quite pleasant nonetheless. The rounded corners are a nice touch too. Virtually everywhere you look it simply exudes quality. It's evident XTZ takes a lot of pride in how they put things together. The only glaring exception would be the toggle switches on the amp; they look like something you could have gotten at Home Depot. Other than that minor quibble I have no problem with XTZ's quality, or the materials they used.
The driver cone is paper based, which is my preference; I happen to like the "warmth" that a non-metallic subwoofer driver imparts. It's a proprietary XTZ design, as is the amplifier. They do use OEM drivers -- like Peerless -- in some of their other speakers and subs, but this one is a custom design.
OK, this is weird; the manual that comes with the subwoofer is only in Chinese (at least I think it's Chinese). You can't get the English manual at their US website either, you have to go to the Swedish website to download it. The English manual is in PDF format thankfully.
There are, of course, the standard low level RCA inputs. If you use a Y adapter (dual male to single female) it yields a +3dB increase by utilizing both inputs, which is how I have it hooked up. The line in (speaker level) connectors are huge, and very solid. They could easily accept banana plugs. There's also a balanced (XLR) input, which is very uncommon for sub in this price range. The power supply is switchable as well, so 120 or 240 volts can be selected by the flip of a switch.
For the most part the manual is good. The translation leaves a little to be desired, but it's clear enough so anyone with even a modicum of experience and common sense can follow along. But make sure you read it because one area this subwoofer eclipses the competition is in it's virtually unprecedented level of configuration possibilities, and knowing what all of them do is of paramount importance. Frankly, I'm hard pressed to think of another subwoofer in this price range that has the myriad potential combinations of the XTZ, and that's a good thing.
For starters, you have to decide whether to configure it as acoustic suspension or bass reflex. How many subwoofers costing less than $500 allow you that level of flexibility? Not many, that's for sure. The 99 W10.16 has dual front ports, and includes bungs to plug either one or both of them. Since the individual port runner length is different the sound can be tailored by using one or more bungs to close them off. That means you instantly have 4 potential combinations; both open (bass reflex), both closed (acoustic suspension), right open (neutral) or left open (deep bass). That's a lot of flexibility, and makes configuring this subwoofer very easy, but it doesn't stop there.
You also get two toggle switches that boost specific frequencies. EQ1 raises the output at 25Hz by 7dB, while EQ2 raises 50Hz by 7dB. I found these two options to be of significant value as I was tailoring the sound to my particular room and preferences. Want to add slam to everyday TV? Turn on the 50Hz boost. Does LFE in your room lack that heavy hit you crave? Turn on the 25Hz boost. Really want to rattle your windows? Turn them both on.
There's even a sub-sonic filter. When enabled, the very lowest notes are attenuated in order to mitigate certain room modes. If you have a situation where low bass makes things "drone" enabling this feature might eliminate that.
If that's still not enough configuration for you then you can always play with the adjustable Frequency dial. Unfortunately, this one is a bit of a mystery; the manual doesn't really explain what it does all that well. For most of the subwoofers I'm familiar with this is essentially the crossover setting, but it appears as though that might not be the case here. There's no "defeat" switch for the crossover, which is what's commonly used when the AVR is doing bass management. In the absence of such a defeat mechanism I've become accustom to simply turning the crossover dial all the way up and being done with it. However, it doesn't seem that's how it works.
I have my AVR crossover set at 100Hz because the satellites I use are fairly small. If you turn the Frequency dial all the way up there's a bit of heaviness in the lower midrange, which I didn't expect. The scale is 40-250Hz, but the dial is not marked as such -- it only says "low" and "high", with dashes to delineate the levels in between -- which makes it difficult to know exactly what it's set for. Based upon that I assumed cranking past 100Hz would have no affect, since the AVR crossover was set at 100Hz. However, as I adjust the dial higher I can definitely hear a difference in the sound. Either my AVR is a piece of garbage, and isn't cutting of the output to the sub at 100Hz (not out of the realm of possibility) or this dial isn't doing what I assume it should. I'm still fiddling around with it, but it's true function has proven a bit elusive thus far.
The remaining controls are all pretty standard; gain, variable phase (0-180 degrees), auto-on/always on and the ubiquitous LED that shows whether or not the sub is in standby mode. In this case the LED is blue for on and red for standby. I happen to like that - I've seen subs where the LED is the same color and intensity, regardless of the mode.
Minor quibbles notwithstanding... the 99 W10.16 has an almost unparalleled amount of configuration possibilities. You should be able to eliminate virtually any room modes or "dead spots" you might have. While the sheer number of potential combinations might be intimidating for the novice anyone who likes to tinker, or has a problematic room, should be able to tailor the sound to be exactly what they want. The only drawback that I see is you can potentially over do it, something which I was able to do.
While familiarizing myself with all the adjustment possibilities I enabled the +7dB boost for both the 25Hz and 50Hz range, as well as inserted a plug into the right port for maximum bass extension. Configured that way I could overwhelm the driver playing heavy LFE scenes at an elevated volume level. For the most part, simple common sense should tell you to refrain from such a thing -- after all, it is only a 10" driver -- but since it can be configured that way I tried it. What ultimately happened was I hit the drivers mechanical limit, making it "bottom out".
Personally I think the two EQ switches are an excellent idea, but it may have been taken a bit too far. Instead of a +7dB boost, which is huge, I suspect XTZ would have been better served by making it more modest. Perhaps half of what they have now, say 3-4dB. I think it would have made the EQ feature better, and potentially less dangerous. At least for the 10" driver, anyway. I believe the reason they do that is because the amp is identical for the 10" and 12" subwoofers, so it's more cost effective. The bottom line is so long as you exercise a little caution, and refrain from trying to make it sound like a sub with a 15" driver, you should be fine. The adjustments can lead to an extraordinary amount of bass from a small cabinet and driver, but be mindful that there is a practical limit to what you can achieve.
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. For the vast majority of my testing I enabled both EQ1 and EQ2. I also placed a plug in the left port, which is designated as the "neutral bass setting" in the owners manual. The gain was set around 1 o'clock. I ran it a little hotter than I normally would only because I wanted to see what happened if I pushed it. Under normal circumstances I would probably turn off EQ1 (25Hz boost) or plug both ports (acoustic suspension). This might take away a some from the lowest notes, but would provide some additional accuracy.
While leveling the subwoofer I noticed the feet seem a little flimsy. You can adjust the height of each individually, but there's only have about 1" of travel. I'm not certain they're as well engineered as the rest of the unit is -- they don't seem quite as stout to me. My unit is basically sitting on the carpet now, even though I have the feet extended about as far as they'll safely go. The threaded inserts are a universal size so you could easily swap out the standard feet for longer ones, or even carpet spikes for that matter.
The manual says the break in time is 50-100 hours, which seems long even for a subwoofer. Before I wrote this review I used it for approximately 50 hours. To me it sounds as though it's settled in about as much as can be expected, so I feel it's fully broken in. And what a sound it is...
My thoughts now are how full and rich the bass is. As I mentioned earlier I'm a fan of paper based drivers, and this subwoofer is a shining example of why. There's a certain richness to the notes and sound that it produces. It also can hit with surprising authority, which becomes quite evident during movie LFE effects.
Like most people I have particular scenes I use to test speakers. A few of my favorites are Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom, Collateral: Club Fever and Avatar: Assault on Home Tree. All three were used for this review.
Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom - There is an almost persistent low-level rumble in a good portion of this scene. For a subwoofer to handle that properly it needs to be crisp, otherwise that comes across as just an annoying sound. The 99 W10.16 did very well here, but at times displayed a hint of heaviness. I'd still rate the sound as very good, but you could tell the sub was working hard when the volume was cranked.
The Balrog's roar was produced with good strength and power, and sounded well balanced with the fire effect that also accompanies him (her?) everywhere. When the staircase starts to crumble and fall, crashing down into the abyss, the bass is delivered powerfully and with great detail. The impact was balanced with the other sounds in a well controlled and precise manner.
Collateral: Club Fever - This disc has the option of using DTS or DD, so I tested with both. The only significant difference I observed was DTS has a bit of additional low bass, while DD seemed to have a little more clarity. The XTZ performed very well either way.
Although this scene doesn't contain a tremendous amount of LFE information it does have a driving musical soundtrack, and over-emphasized gun sounds. The music portion I've found can cause trouble for a subwoofer because it does tend to drown out the voice track in certain spots. Because of that an articulate subwoofer is critical.
With DTS the bass was just a touch over-powering for the dialog, but it was still intelligible. With DD the gun effects were slightly less pronounced, but the speech could be heard better. In either case I really enjoyed the overall sound. I did test a few other scenes and found that DTS brought out the best in this subwoofer, so that's what I would choose when watching the entire movie.
Avatar: Assault on Home Tree - Of all the scenes I use for testing this is perhaps the best I heard the XTZ perform. For those familiar with the movie this scene has low frequencies, ultra-low frequencies, voices and enough other things going on to provide a good test of virtually every component in your system. The 99 W10.16 did not disappoint.
As the gunships approach Home Tree you can almost feel the underlying intensity. Realistically, a 10" subwoofer is not going to give much -- if any -- physical sensation of impact, but it came awfully close. While the missiles were being fired at the base of the tree all the elements were distinct; the launch, the sound of propulsion and the delivery of payload. As more and more started to strike the tree the intensity picks up, and the XTZ kept perfect timing.
As the tree begins to crumble and fall the ultra-low effects become evident, and for a 10" driver the sound was very solid. From the crackling and explosion of the roots as the weight from the tree starts to shift, all the way to the final massive thud when it smashes into the ground, the bass sounds are all well portrayed. However, with both the EQ1 and EQ2 enabled (25Hz and 50Hz boost) I did sense a bit of distress and port chuffing when the volume was up high. To be fair, I was listening at a volume much in excess of what I normally would, so for me at least this is not a problem, but if you like to listen at high volumes you may wish to consider turning off the 25Hz boost. I would still give this sub two thumbs up for how well it did with this difficult scene though.
The amp, which has some of the biggest heat fins I've ever seen, barely got warm, in spite of how I pushed it. There were times I cranked the volume and left the room -- because it was too loud for me to tolerate for any duration of time -- only to come back an hour or so later only to find the heat fins were hardly warm. I suspect it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to overheat this amp.
I use a combination of lossy and lossless material to see how musical a subwoofer is, and in both instances the XTZ performed well. Whether the songs were bass heavy to begin with, or focused more on the upper bass region, the 99 W10.16 handled it with aplomb (no matter how many times I say the name of this subwoofer it just never roles off my tongue).
When I changed the setup to acoustic suspension, by plugging both ports, I actually liked it less on music then if I only blocked the left port. I found this to be curious, since I'm much more of a sealed sub fan than I am ported. However, in this case I tended more towards bass reflex. The overall tonality was a bit warmer, yet it was still clean and quick enough to work well with music. Since I also found that to be the case with HT I opted to leave it configured that way.
So what's the bottom line? Put it this way; the XTZ 99 W10.16 is the fifth subwoofer I've tested, and it's the first one I'm keeping. Aside from a few minor complaints about things like feet that could be a little more sturdy, or bargain bin toggle switches, virtually everything else about this subwoofer is top notch. From a construction standpoint it exudes quality and heft, the sound is excellent and the configuration options are perhaps unsurpassed for this price range.
Based upon my exposure to this sub I'd say there's another excellent ID company to choose from. XTZ deserves strong consideration from anyone looking for a quality product that delivers exemplary sound. This subwoofer is a winner in my book.