Steve was a gracious host in offering up his place to do this sub comparison. Mark (Huff) and Asher (the Bogg) were also great companions. The cold cuts and red wine took the edge off my wife asking why I was lugging 250lbs of subs to Richmond Hill, 25 miles north to be indoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
One of the first things I try to do before every new listening session is get a feel for room acoustics which as we all know contributes greatly to sound. Steve's room is 13' x 17' x 9' with 2 door openings with a carpet on a wood floor and a cloth sofa/love seat. It was a bit more resonant than I am used to which I attributed more to the subs/speakers resting on the wood floor with no decoupling mats or feet and a lack of acoustical treatments and bass traps. The leaky room though was offset by the smaller volume so I didn't think we lost much
After PMing all last week we needed to make some compromises if we were going to get through all the tests. The first one was to not equalize any of the subs so we turned of all filters, ARO etc. but yours truly overlooked that the DD-18 defaulted back to my HT equalization settings when the power was disconnected. It was too bad as in my HT I felt the DD-18 and JL113 were very close sonically with slightly more output going to the Fathom but slightly more definition going to the Velo. I had been looking forward to comparing both subs more intently.
We decided to spare ourselves the work and time of physically moving all the subs so we lined them all up in front of the room. As can be seen from the picture all the subs look attractive though the Servov2 enclosure looked less refined and finished. I was quite impressed with the fit and finish of the Ultra13 in rosenut. The enclosure was much larger than the old Ultra and twice the volume of the large DD-18 but would not be out of place in a large HT or in end table mode at the end of a couch as Steve had set it up.
We level matched all the subs at 80db to Steve's very nice sounding Mirage speakers, plugged all the ports on the Ultra and started playing some music. Our listening positions were all nearfield some 6-8 ft from the subs. We physically moved the RCA input cable and power cords as we went from sub to sub.
We kicked off the session playing Yuri Honing Trio's version of Walking on the Moon because it starts with that slow deep bass riff, familiar to Police fans and then builds into a crashing crescendo of drums and bass. Very good for testing how well a sub (or speaker) responds to loud transients and fast dynamic abrupt changes as well as deep bass resonance. Its also a good one to start getting everyone acclimatized with new subs in a new room. When listening to subs of this calibre it takes a while to focus on the nuances which distinguish each. They all sounded very good except for the DD-18 being decidedly bloated and lacking resolution owing to my default custom equalization. In light of that problem, as Steve did, I too will make comments on only the Servov2, Ultra13 and FL113.
Where I first detected a difference in resolution and detail was in Patricia Barber's Ode to Billy Joe, from her Café Bleu CD, a piece with just voice and full deep acoustic bass. Lots of deep notes and wood resonance make it a good choice for listening for pitch and detail. The Jl113 strutted its stuff on this one. Listening closely you could hear the resonance of the wood instrument and the detailed pitch of notes. What
surprised me was how well the Ultra performed and though it wasn't as resolving as the Fathom, it was right there with the Servo, a fine sealed sub by any measure. After putting up with the lack of articulate mid bass in my old Ultra, I smiled that SVS had finally fixed their frequency response problem.
Served next was loud percussion jazz piece by the Ozone Percussion Group from the Manger CD test disc. I listened closely for the attack and decay of the kick drum and again the JL113 seemed to rise and get out the way with less overhang than the other 2 subs. On this one I thought I detected better transient response in the Ultra than the Servo but a tad behind the Fathom.
Having gotten a feel for the sonic character of the subs, we played the opening minute from Eric Clapton's Sessions with Robert J DVD, an excellent recording of Clapton in the studio doing modern versions of old Robert Johnson blues numbers. Bassist extraordinaire Nathan East plays some very aggressive bass riffs for 40 seconds at the start of this DVD which makes it a great test for clarity, pitch, resonance, attack and decay. Again the FL113 was a touch better in replicating the "you are there" feeling in the studio with Nathan but it was that fast riff which confirmed to me what a big step up this Ultra was in design. It was taut and responsive lending a fuller fatter sound to the guitar than the Servo. But in the deepest notes it sounded like it had an edgier quality to the Servo and Fathom which made me think of the higher odd order distortion from the AVtalk graphs.
I listened more closely for that edginess on the next two tracks from Chesky Records Guide to Critical Listening, the Bass Resonance test--another 30 sec acoustic bass with a bow playing long drawn notes. Again the Fathom was more resolving of pitch and detail while the Ultra had more edge to the low notes. But I found myself preferring the fuller sound of the Ultra over the Servov2.
The next track was a test for transient response, another fast percussion attack. By now the pattern had been established and I found myself admiring just how much SVS had accomplished with this ported sub. It may not have kept up with the Fathom but it had distanced itself from the
Servo. For what is essentially a large ported alignment, it presented as close to a sealed sub sound as I have ever heard from a vented sub. While plugging ports cannot turn the alignment into a sealed one, SVS has managed to tradeoff enough design parameters to make it work. At this point I said to myself that the Ultra 13 was the most musical ported sub I had heard, surpassing what I have heard in the HSU or Axiom lineup for example.
Turning to HT we went through a few of the usual reference scenes including Master and Commander, Flight of the Phoenix, Open Range, House of Flying Daggers and War of the Worlds. It was time to unplug the Ultra and open up the power of the ports. The big sub really shone with the cannon broadside of the French frigate
in M & C. The cannon recoil could be felt in the chest which is what you are looking for for extra
effect in an HT. I didn't expect the sealed subs to match the Ultra in output but once again the JL seemed to have more texture and detail in its version of this scene. This difference played out again in the shotgun blasts of Open Range. Where the FL113 surpassed the visceral experience of the Ultra was in the Palace scene in House of Flying Daggers where the princess responds to beans being thrown at large musical drums. The deep bass drums are very loud in the recording and the extra definition, less overhang, and faster attack and decay was quite noticeable with the Fathom.
By this point my impressions had solidified with the Ultra providing that high output reasonably
detailed representation of the 28hz laser blasts in WoTW while the JL though not as high in output was just a bit more articulate and textured. The Servo did not have close to the output of the other 2 subs and surprisingly was struggling to show better definition or transient response than the Ultra.
All was well until the amp fuse blew in 10hz mode while playing the Pods emerge scene. The other subs performed as expected while the Ultra conked out which was a surprise seeing how we were plying at only 5db below Dolby reference. In light of that blowout and other reports of amp problems it appears SVS still needs to work on solving a very important design flaw. While the designers hoped to get away with a larger enclosure for more efficiency, the sub could have benefited from a more powerful amp than the Indigo 750w BASH amp that was chosen IMO, especially given what it is aiming for in fully
plugged mode. Its a criticism I had of my old Ultra and which continues to this version. Though not directly comparable because of alignment, the other subs fielded a 2500w Class D in the Fathom, 1250 Class D in the larger DD-18 and 1200w Class d amp in the Servov2.
For the price the Ultra has broken new ground at its price point. It is one helluva capable HT sub which will perform better than most subs with either movies or music. Between the Servo v2 and the Ultra its no contest for the Ultra. As I mentioned I can't think of any ported subs that it can't surpass in overall performance. But the Fathom is the better sub for music applications and does not give up much for HT performance. For those looking for an excellent under $2000 sub the Ultra13 would be an outstanding choice or two for almost the price of one Fathom assuming SVS fixes the amp problem. For others not budget minded and willing to play the diminishing returns game, or looking for high WAF, the Fathom remains the best overall performer especially with music at under $3500. Its no surprise to me that Stereophile just named the Fathom Jl113 a Class A component joining only 2 other subs to be so designated, one of
the others being the Velo DD-18.
In light of my folly with the DD-18 and all the fun we had we tentatively set up a date for a more rigorous session, this time with full equalization in my HT.