Right up front I want to say that I am aware of the emotional intensity in many SVS vs. HSU forum threads and I do not want to stir up anyone's anger nor come across as bashing one of these brands - I still believe they are both excellent and worthy of audition and the customer service from both has been top-notch for me. I'll also say that the SVS PB12-NSD remains a solid buy at the $599 price point and offers a type of sound (at least in my room and to my ears) that may be preferred by some to the HSU I received today and have been listening to. I also fully admit this is not a totally fair comparison because the non-promo shipped price of the HSU VTF-3 MK3 with Turbo is about $256 more than the shipped PB12-NSD, so the 3MK3 is competing more with SVS's Plus (or possibly even Ultra) series. So what follows is simply one man's opinion in his room...
My first observations were overwhelmingly positive just from unpacking this beast - the care and protection that has gone into HSU's packaging is inspiring and it was without a doubt the most fun I have ever had opening an item I've purchased. Suffice it to say it would be exceedingly difficult for one of these to incur shipping damage the way it's protected. Build quality seems good, with the SVS being possibly a bit nicer with no visible lines on their rounded corners compared to the HSU capped look. With Turbo mounted the 3MK3 makes for an imposing figure but the testosterone in me thinks it's way cool looking in person
I placed the new 3MK3 in the exact position that had been occupied by the PB12-NSD (10' from listening position at the front left, 3' from side and 3.5" from front with driver facing wall, turbo facing right) and used the same settings I'd been using - crossover at 80hz in my H/K 340 receiver (sub's crossover bypassed) to my L/R main Ascend CBM-170 SE's and center CMT-340 SE and crossover at 100hz for my two L/R back side-mounted surrounds, Ascend HTM-200's. Sub EQ switch was set to Max Extension and Turbo was mounted, and phase was set to 180. After pink noise calibration with Avia at 85db the sub's volume control is at about 10 o'clock (1/3rd of max) and the receiver's sub level trim set to -7 (out of a possible range of +/-10). The home theater room as described earlier is 3450 cu.ft. with a 4' wide x 9' high opening on one side to another room of 3350 cu.ft. and on the other side an open stairwell to the 2nd floor, so pretty difficult to drive to high levels.
I first popped in the classic Dave Grusin CD, Mountain Dance, and listened in 2-channel stereo. This is a warm natural recording and features lots of electric bass and kick drum...WOW! I have never heard this favorite album sound so musical in my home - the bass lines were very smooth and clean, the drums had impact but no boom, and I was able to follow the underlying bass lines through each track like never before. It basically sounded like well-recorded music should - very natural. I had just sampled this disc through the PB12-NSD right before I moved the HSU into place and while it was pleasant, the bass was much thicker and even bloated, with less sense of the actual instrument being played.
Next I listened to the first track on the included HSU test CD, an excerpt from the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony (and I had also listened to this on the SVS before hooking up the HSU). I was struck by how much more low-level ambience I was hearing through my system compared to the same track on the PB12-NSD - there was more sense of the recording venue. When the organ got going with an ultra-deep 16hz pedal tone, it was much cleaner than on the SVS with more of a sense of being at a concert with a real organ playing. The PB12-NSD actually seemed to play the 16hz louder/fuller, but to my ears with more distortion which may be where the extra sense of volume was coming from.
The first DVD to go in was Star Wars AOTC at -10db, the opening scene with ship passing by and landing and soon after the explosion. Ok, I knew immediately that my new investment was paying off in terms of massive power and headroom because I heard and felt the deep frequencies like never before and for the first time in my large room I finally experienced an explosion that carried the full weight and dynamic range! I asked my wife to sit and watch a few scenes and we went to ch. 7 Speeder Chase - the 3MK3 was startling in how clean and clear it played, never thick/congested/boomy like I had been hearing a bit with the SVS, and the whole system was now singing so well that my wife quickly became totally immersed in the movie and was annoyed when I stopped it after that scene (that is a good thing!). Next was ch. 40 The Arena and again the HSU amazed me with it's clean, agile output.
The pod race from Star Wars TPM at -8db was a revelation - for the first time I felt like I must be hearing nearly everything in the bass as it was encoded on the DVD - there were entire new frequencies, textures, and tonalities that I had never noticed in the dozen or so viewings of this same scene through the PB12-NSD over the last few months. Where the SVS had a tendency to make LFE effects all sound the same, the HSU was delivering nuance. You might say that the SVS in my room paints in broad brush strokes, whereas this HSU is drawing its outlines with a pen. And just as startling to me as the clean textured bass was the transformation in all my other speakers - possibly because of lower distortion in the crossover region and beyond, I noticed a level of precise imaging and clarity to a degree I had not heard before with the Ascends. It seems the 3MK3 is more articulate in the upper bass which has strengthened my entire soundstage.
I'll try to sum up by saying that further DVD viewing/listening to parts of Flight Of The Phoenix, Jurassic Park III, and Toy Story II have all conveyed the low-distortion, clean, detailed, accurate, musical qualities of the 3MK3 - basically revealing more subtleties in all kinds of bass instead of a tendency for it all to sound similar, and also a sense of authority and power I did not think a single sub could give me in this room - the way this sub controls the room and effortlessly reproduces the full weight of very loud dynamic bass passages has literally left my jaw wide-open during these sessions! I will try to experiment with placement and get some basic test-tone measurements for frequency response in the next day or so.
Some people may prefer the sound of the PB12-NSD because it comes across as fuller and thicker/fatter, compared to the HSU's cleanness possibly seeming a bit lean for some tastes. But for my ears this accuracy and nuance is just what the doctor ordered, and along with the incredible power and dynamics it's a sound that pleases me greatly
. Even my wife who has no interest in the subtleties of the audio/video hobby readily acknowledged the HSU's apparent naturalness.
Now it's time to take some Christmas cookies over to the neighbors and apologize for what was probably not a very pleasurable experience for them