SpeakerCraft V12 Subwoofer Review
The subject of this review is the SpeakerCraft V12. The V12 is a bass reflex subwoofer which measures 19.75"x15"x15.75" (HWD) and weighs 46 pounds. The 12" driver is front firing with dual ports, also front firing. The ports themselves are 2.5"x9.75" and have flares on both ends. The amp is rated at 250 watts RMS with no peak listed. The quoted frequency response is 28Hz-200Hz. There's a 2 year warranty on the entire unit, including electronics. The V12 carries a retail price of $899 and is only available through authorized SpeakerCraft dealers.
The review unit came double boxed, with the sub inside a plastic bag. At the top and bottom of the inner box were foam blocks attached to cardboard sheets, so the V12 was protected pretty well.
The manual could best be described as spartan, barely covering the basics. If you're in need of "subwoofer 101" the V12's manual will probably confound more than help you. There are no cables, adapters or accessories included other than the power cord. The shallow rubber disk-style feet were already attached to the bottom of the cabinet, so there's no need to install them yourself. Carpet spikes are not included.
Once unpacked and sitting on the floor, with the grill in place, the first thing that came to mind was how nondescript the V12 looked. It presents itself simply as a vinyl wrapped box with square corners. The material used for the grill is virtually the exact same shade of black as the vinyl wrap -- which means it matches perfectly -- but that also makes it fade into obscurity. I actually left the grill off for the duration of the review because the front panel is covered in a nice silver vinyl, which broke up the monotone appearance quite effectively.
In all fairness SpeakerCraft specializes in architectural and in-wall speaker systems, so disappearing into the environment is probably something they strive for when designing speakers. That ideal doesn't necessarily work as well for a stand-alone subwoofer though. Ironically, it seems SpeakerCraft put a lot of effort into the grill I didn't end up using. It's made from .75" MDF and very sturdy. It fits like a glove too, with not even a 32nd of an inch play anywhere. The material appears transparent and was perfectly applied. There are a lot of other subwoofer manufacturers that can learn something from SpeakerCraft when it comes to constructing a grill.
All the screws securing the amp and driver were nice and tight. The knuckle rap test returned a somewhat hollow sound, which I suspect was due primarily to the use of some pretty thin damping material to line the interior. The cabinet walls are .75" thick with a 1.5" support brace running both horizontally and vertically attached to the inside walls. The front panel is 1" thick, but where the driver mounts about half of that is cut away to make it sit flush. Since the driver is secured using just wood screws -- instead of t-nuts or threaded inserts -- it doesn't seem like it would be sufficient.
Speaking of the driver... SpeakerCraft says it's made from treated paper, but it looks and feels more like polypropylene. Regardless, it seems to be a pretty stiff material, as does the suspension in general. There's an inverted dust cap with a pressed-in company logo and thick butyl rubber surround. On the front the mounting screws are passed through a decorative plastic frame cover, giving a nice finished look (and providing another reason to leave the grill off). The business end of the driver doesn't appear all that special; the frame is stamped steel with a somewhat smallish magnet. The voice coil is vented, and there's also a bumpout on the back plate, but beyond that it's pretty average.
The amp contains just the essential features. It has a phase switch with settings for 0 and 180 degrees, the power switch (on/auto/off), a dial for the crossover and three RCA connectors; left and right line input, along with LFE. That's it. There are no speaker level inputs or outputs and no XLR. No PEQ, no DSP, not even a volume knob - that's located on the top, and continues the spartan theme. It has no markings whatsoever, just a small indent for your finger making it easier to turn. The one benefit to simplicity is the V12 is about as easy to hookup and configure as you could ever hope for in a subwoofer.
All the silkscreening on the amp is very legible and easy to read. The crossover knob only shows the lowest and highest settings; 45Hz and 150Hz, respectively. There are several dashes in between the extremes, but no indication what they represent. A quick calculation lead me to believe each is approximately 10Hz, but it would be nice to have some indication. The amp itself is isolated in it's own housing, which I always like to see. However, in this case it might prove to be detrimental; this amp gets hot when in use. It's warm virtually all the time -- even when in standby or turned off -- but when pushed it generates noticeable amounts of heat.
I did use that concern as my test of SpeakerCrafts support. They confirmed their amps do run hot, but claimed it's not an issue. I have no reason to doubt them, but I also have some reservations about that. I find the level of extraneous heat rather curious too; SpeakerCraft does a lot of business with custom installations, so there's the potential the V12 could end up being mounted in a cabinet. Just to be on the safe side, I would suggest you ensure proper ventilation if you install it in any type of enclosed space.
The manual doesn't mention if the V12's crossover is bypassed when using the LFE input, nor is there any indication if using a Y adapter on the left and right line-in connectors would increase output. The latter turned out to be true -- the Y adapter did increase output -- and it's a good thing too, because I had the gain up to about 75% when using just the single LFE in. With the Y adapter I was able to lower it to around 50%, which is far more manageable.
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 15 hours.
The V12 has a distinct personality; instead of any schizophrenic tendencies, or unpredictable behaviors, the V12 was pretty much the same no matter what the source material. That's both good and bad however. While I found it could hit pretty clean and sharp, without much sluggishness, it was somewhat lacking in dynamics and richness. Variations and nuances were not as well defined as I would have liked, and the output came across sometimes as lacking a bit of distinction. Bass sounds tended towards the thick/heavy side when a 100Hz crossover was used. It was especially pronounced on music and voices. At 80Hz and below it was better, so if your mains can go at least that low then it probably won't be an issue for you.
One very noteworthy feature is SpeakerCrafts anti-clipping circuitry, which can be summed up rather succinctly; it was practically flawlessly. If the extension was too much the V12 simply skipped it, if the volume was too high it stopped getting louder. The V12 almost steadfastly refused to let the driver self destruct or the ports make any unwanted noises, just like you would hope. On occasion I did hear a little port chuffing or driver distress if I was really pushing it and was sitting very close, but I had to try hard before I was able to trip it up. My notes don't contain a single instance where I mention hearing anything unpleasant at my listening position, so under normal circumstances I doubt anyone else would either.
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level.
Like most people I have specific movies and particular scenes I use when testing subwoofers, all of which I used here. Each individual test is listed below in the format of Movie: Scene.
Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom - There is an ultra low frequency rumble in portions of this scene, as well as significant amounts of impact generated by numerous structures crumbling. For a subwoofer to handle all of that properly it needs to be fast, precise and capable of reaching very deep, otherwise a lot of it comes across as nothing more than annoying resonance. The V12 was missing some of the lowest notes, but for the most part it did well.
At the beginning of the scene, when the really low notes create that foreboding rumble, the V12 didn't quite have the depth to produce the sensation adequately. It was more distinct then some of other subs I've heard in the past, just not as deep. This was one of the rare instances where some port chuffing occurred, albeit minor. I also had to be right on top of it to hear the noise - at my listening position it wasn't evident. As the staircase crumbles the sound was pretty clear and precise. There was only the slightest hint of any physical sensation though, without which this scene feels somewhat incomplete.
My favorite part to play around with is the Balrog's roar. There's an instance when you see it for the first time that I just love to crank way up. He jumps out of a cavern and lands right behind the Fellowship with a thud, and then lets out a fire-breathing roar (I really enjoy seeing how loud it will play). That part of the scene was rendered quite well, with the appropriate amount of weight. The Balrog's footsteps as he chases after everyone were short of ground-pounding though, but volume was not an issue. This was one of those instances where the limiter seemed to work brilliantly; as I increased the volume on my AVR the V12 just kept getting louder, until it's limit had been reached. At that point it simply refused to get any louder. No disturbing noises, no awkward sounds, just a soft limit. Nicely done.
Collateral: Club Fever - 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, especially if it lacks clarity and speed. Because of that articulation is crucial. The V12 did good with this scene.
The club music sounded as it should, and the gunshots were clear. They could have been a little more percussive, considering under most circumstances they tend to sound somewhat exaggerated anyway. As usual, loud volume was not an issue. I did notice that the crossover needed to be at 80Hz for the voices to retain clarity; at 100Hz they weren't clear enough for me.
Avatar: Assault on Home Tree - For those familiar with the movie this scene has low frequencies, ultra low frequencies, explosions, gunfire, voices and enough other things going on to provide a good test of virtually every component in your system.
As the gunships approach Home Tree you can almost feel the underlying intensity. The roar of their engines, the sound of the rockets being launched, the impact of each explosion, the crackling of the massive roots as the tree begins to list, and all the way to the point where it's toppled and crashes into the ground the low frequency was a bit muted, from an intensity standpoint, but it was clear.
As with other scenes the V12 didn't portray the complete dynamics, but it produced enough detail to satisfy. I also watched Battle For Pandora and Ewya and the results were very similar. Because of a touch of heaviness in the midrange -- vocals in specific -- I dropped the crossover to 80Hz and left it there for the remainder of the review. This definitely helped; there was an increased sharpness to the bass which improved the detail.
War of the Worlds: The Machine Emerges - The archetype... perhaps the most recognized subwoofer test scene of all time comes from a movie that's almost 8 years old now. The depth and volume of bass that occurs during a several minute span in this scene is simply amazing. If you want to see what your sub is capable of this scene can certainly be used as a barometer. With subterranean vibrations, exploding pavement and collapsing buildings you have ultra low, low and mid-bass frequencies pouring out of your subwoofer. One of the most punishing combinations there is, and an excellent way to really push something to the brink. The lack of appreciable tactility hurt the V12 here.
This scene requires a certain degree of physical sensation in order to provide realism. The V12 had the clarity, just not sufficient punch; it was mostly sound, with little in the way of feel. To an extent that's to be expected from a subwoofer with a lower frequency response of 28Hz. There were virtually no unpleasant noises emanating from the driver or ports during this scene; even when cranked the V12 pretty much held it's composure, which is a remarkable feat with this movie.
The Heat Ray scene sounded wonderful, with great definition. During Escape the bridge destruction was powerful, even with a lot of volume. At The Window was very clear, but could have benefitted from additional depth.
10,000 BC: Mammoth Hunt - During this scene there's either ultra low bass or mid-bass, with very little in between it seems. The V12's only real shortcoming here was it's inability to play the really deep parts with authority.
When I see mammoths I want to feel the earth shaking, within reason of course; a single 12" driver is not going to knock pictures off the wall. But I want to feel something in my chair, and I didn't really get that sensation with the V12. The impact of those huge feet sounded crisp and clear, but gave little in the way of vibration.
After all my normal testing I did throw in a few different movies, just to see how the V12 fared with some other tortuous movies. Tron: Legacy and Ironman were similar to the other scenes - pretty solid articulation, but not quite enough depth. Underworld Awakening, which is almost cruel to a subwoofer, was the only other movie I found that generated some unpleasant noise. It was faint, but perceptible. To be fair, that movie is brutal and will trip up a lot of more expensive subwoofers then the V12.
Once the testing was complete I checked the amp for heat output and found it was very warm. I don't recall at any point that the V12 amp wasn't at least warm, even when in standby (or off), but this was borderline uncomfortable to the touch.
I use a deliberate combination of lossy and lossless material -- MP3's and CD's -- to see how musical a subwoofer is. For someone who occasionally listens to music, and uses a crossover below 100Hz, the V12 will probably be fine. I wouldn't really call it "musical" though; it seems geared more towards home theater use then in a 2 channel system. It's fast enough for most types of music, so it should be able to keep pace with just about any genre, but the dynamics are somewhat compressed and tended not to produce all the subtleties that most music demands.
On the title song from Johnny Lang's Lie To Me the kick drum had some presence, but the impact didn't have sufficient punch to properly portray a kick drum. The bass guitar was rather muted and sat in the background a little too much for my tastes. On Darker Side things got better, with more clarity and distinction from the bass guitar, but the kick drum still didn't quite have enough substance. Still Wonder and Hit The Ground Running were the best tracks on the CD, delivering the most accuracy and depth. I had both of those turned up pretty high because I liked how they sounded. Volume generally helps increase the "punch" sensation you get from a subwoofer, but it also improved the sharpness with the V12; it seemed to enjoy playing loud more then it did playing softly. Depending upon your personal preferences, and the type of music you enjoy, that could prove to be a laudable characteristic.
I also tried some electronic music, most of which came from a Bass Mekanik CD. On Welcome Stranger, Lock On Target, Bass Station and the title track - Bass Mekanik - the V12 pressurized the room pretty good. Some of those tracks have bass sweeps and you could clearly tell when the limiter kicked in, but it did so in a gracious and smooth manner. The bass itself was surprisingly clear and clean, with no audible driver or port noise. In a few instances the V12 surprised me by producing more depth then I expected, given that it's only rated to 28Hz. I even played it louder than I probably should have, just to see what would happen, and it still refused to over-extend itself.
The track Funky Annihilating Bass has more depth then the V12 was able to summon though, so that one sounded off. I also played two tracks from Bass-o-Tronics; Sub Bass Excursion and the granddaddy of all such test tracks, Bass I Love You. The V12 struggled to produce on both of them, due primarily to the fact that they both contain extraordinarily low bass notes. I chose to stop the testing at this point because the amp had gotten too hot to touch. I figured that was probably a sign the music tests should be concluded.
I found SpeakerCrafts support to be good. I used the heat generated by the amp as my test question to judge their response. My email got answered the next day, was complete and to the point. The person conceded that the amps do tend to run on the warm side -- a refreshing bit of honesty -- and said as long as I purchased from an authorized dealer any issues would be covered.
The SpeakerCraft V12 presents an interesting dichotomy; for every good feature there seems to be one that's the opposite. Styling is a matter of personal preference -- so you have to judge that part for yourself -- but it's appearance is a bit too anonymous for my liking. I feel the V12 could benefit from a little better dynamics, and some additional lower extension would be nice as well. Although to SpeakerCrafts credit they do appear to have properly rated the V12's frequency response (28Hz-200Hz), not something most other subwoofer manufacturers can say. One thing there's no questioning though is the anti-clipping circuitry; it's really nice to see a subwoofer ardently protect itself from abuse, and try as I might it simply would not allow me to over do it. It's rare someone gets that feature as right as SpeakerCraft did. The V12's list price does seem a bit on the high side for what you get, but perhaps you can work with the dealer on that (the SpeakerCraft products are available exclusively through independent dealers).
The frequency response graph below represents the SpeakerCraft V12 measured at three different positions:
- Green Line - Driver only; microphone pointed at the center of the driver, with the tip flush to the edge of the cabinet
- Yellow Line - Ports only; microphone pointed at the spot which constituted the center of both ports, 12" away
- Blue Line - Driver and Ports; microphone pointed at the spot triangulated by the driver and both ports, 12" away