My PB16-Ultra review
Several weeks ago I appeared in this forum to discuss my desire to audition a quality large sub without actually making a purchasing decision right at this time. After discussing this with a few people over PM, I decided to audition a PB16-Ultra via SVS's 45 return day policy, using a sub from the outlet store so it wouldn't be a brand new unit. It's been in the house for about 36 days and I have some opinions now.
To recap my situation...I have a "theater" in my bonus room, which has many compromises from a dedicated space. First, the space is 18'x22'x12' where the ceiling is a barn style. There is a short 4'x4' hallway to the kitchen passing a door which leads downstairs to the garage. The opposite side of that hallway is a laundry room which carves out some space of the room so it's not quite rectangular. There is also another exit (french doors) leading to our kids playroom and then the kitchen. Total cubic feet...about 4300. The room is carpeted. There is also a fireplace (not used) and two windows.
I've been making a number of equipment upgrades recently since originally buying stuff 15 years ago. The current inventory is:
LG 65E6P OLED TV
AV123 Rocket RS750 speakers (four) + RSC200 center channel.
Marantz 7703 pre-pro
McCormack DNA 0.5 two channel amp
Room correction: Audyssey + Audyssey iPhone app. Crossover at 80 hz. Subwoofer set to +3 dbs over calibrated setting.
The Denon 3805 was the original receiver and now serves as an amp for the Marantz until I get budget for more dedicated equipment. The McCormack amp drives the front mains, the Denon, center and surrounds. I'm also using two cheap monitors pointed at the ceiling for Atmos until I get budget for real equipment (crossed over at 200 hz)
The original sub was an AV123 UFW-12 (sealed design) that was purchased over a decade ago. It's amp has failed (again) and I don't want to put more money into it. The UFW-12 when it was working never was able to pressurize the room very well for movies (it sounded fine for music). It pretty much didn't have much extension under 28 hz. I'm well aware of the current best practice of going with two subs versus one, but I was wondering whether I could convince my wife to go with two units right now versus one larger unit. And then there's the problem of where to put two subs. The room also has my office desk and computer, a treadmill and other stuff.
The other decision was whether to go with an 16" SVS unit or a 18" unit from PSA or JTR. Again, the SVS audition process made this a very easy choice which led to the order. After a snafu with the shipping company, the unit arrived and I went through the arduous task of getting it out of the box and into the theater room. My plan was to audition the sub in two different places over the month and also trying different profiles (all ports open, two ports open, or sealed). The first of the two locations was in the front between the center channel and right tower. Although the sub spent 2.5 weeks in that spot, the biggest problem with this configuration was the size of the PB16. Let's face it...this this is a complete beast. It dominated the spot and probably wouldn't pass the WAF test although my wife was trying to bite her tongue on this. The second spot was near field, just to the right of the MLP couch with the driver pointed just behind the couch (the couch is 24 inches off the rear wall). In practice, this is a MUCH better solution for aesthetics if nothing else. And while there are presentation differences, I have to say that for the main purpose, having the sub near field is preferable.
Both spots were very good in dealing with potential nulls since they are both centrally located to the room. Corner placement in my room is almost impossible due to existing furniture. But I really couldn't see any problems in any of the listening positions with my Radio Shack meter.
Once I had sub working, configured and had Audyssey balance the room, I went to the THX "Eclipse" demo since it seemed to be a quick way to just the sub would make an immediate difference. I cranked up the volume to reference level and played the demo file through the Oppo 205. This demo had also sounded nice with the RS750 speakers running at full but those speakers rolled off at about 38 hz. The PB16 Ultra promised about 13-15 hz and I'd never really had that kind of a sub in the house before. How would this perform?
The Eclipse demo begins soft and then comes in light a freight train with THX's signature "deep tone" at the end. I could see the plastic packaging of the sub flapping in the breeze of the ports. Objects on my desk began to rattle. My couch began to rumble. And the room was filled with incredible, loud but awesome bass.
OK, now I get it.
So to answer my first question, could a sub of this class pressurize a room of this size by itself? Yup, I'd say so. Could it benefit from two subs? Sure. Could I ever get two of these beasts past my wife? Maybe not. (Dual placement would be a problem too).
At this point I went to my movie collection for some old favorites and new titles, some of which I'd gotten for the occasion. One of the more obvious titles was Blade Runner 2049 (4K, Atmos mix), which I saw at the local IMAX theater and knew it was going to be great subwoofer material. In a home theater setting with the proper equipment, only then did I realize that this movie is a sound engineer's subwoofer porn. Even the Warner Bros. logo is introduced at nearly 100 db. The first minute is ear assaulting bass. And the flood-fight scene at the end of the movie is just relentless as the waves keep crashing over and over again. All the while the PB-16 keeps going with nary a complaint. No bottoming, no port chuffing that I could tell (though one spot in BR2049 in the beginning is real close).
During the calibration process, I kept coming back to AVSForum to learn a bit more about proper sub calibration. During Audyssey, the PB16 in the front of the room was happy with a -25 db setting on the main panel which translates into a -5.5 db calibrated setting in Audyssey. I eventually pushed that up 3 dbs to -2.5 db in Audyssey and felt I liked this better, as many other listeners in these pages do. The difference is not during the loudest of passages...it's hard to tell the difference in most cases. But the difference is noticeable in softer places where the extra oomph is appreciate. With the sub in near field position, the sub is set for -22 dbs which gets Audyssey to nearly the same calibrated/adjusted settings. Also, I spent nearly all of the sub in the front position with open ports, only changing to 2 open ports toward the end. One thing I've noticed is that while the sub can certainly do 120+ dbs, I can't think of too many times I really need that much volume. Most movies I'm at a volume where I never exceed 115 dbs in the loudest scenes. So I decided to close one port and chase lower extension by a db or two. In near field position, the sub has always had one port closed.
Another movie that had been recommended was the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (4K, Atmos). I had purchased it but not watched it until yesterday. My wife and I had also recently watched the Blu-ray of the 4th Pirates movie so I had that for a comparison. The soundtrack of the 4th movie is actually quite light for bass compared to the 5th movie. The 5th movie have cannon fire that shakes you and extra effects in certain places to move you. The boarding of Barbosso's ship by Capt. Salazar had lots of these extra effects punctuated by the extra deep landing of Salazar's feet on the deck. You're not getting that effect running without a sub.
There are other recent releases that had a similar effect....Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Ghost in the Shell which all have their extra bass moments. But it's a lot more fun going back to older titles on Blu-Ray that I remember people talking about years ago and finally getting the complete experience. The Lord of the Rings "Ring Drop" moment....Darla tapping the fishtank in Finding Nemo, Masters and Commander cannon fire and the recent Star Wars movies....all made better with a proper sub.
I haven't said much about music. There is one specific focus on music I want to comment on....pipe organs. I don't have much of it in the collection but it says a lot about what a good sub can do. I gave my wife for Christmas a copy of the Magnificat BD-audio release from 2L and it's one of her favorite recordings. Even though the emphasis is on the choral singing and accompanying orchestra, the music is performed is in a cathedral with a pipe organ at the ready. And I point to track 3 as an indicator or when a good sub changes a piece of music. The listener is enchanted by the melancholy strings of the piece but a single very low organ note is played in the background. It's tough to hear and better properly felt. And playing this track with the PB16, especially near field reminds the listener of the place where the piece was recorded. Anyone who has spent anytime in a church or place with a pipe organ knows the feeling of very low notes transmitted through your backside by the vibration of the pew you're sitting in. And this is the kind of transformative effect a good sub can do for music. The tower speakers were always good at representing most music thrown at them. But every now and then you need to go deeper, and it's appreciated when that is available to the listener.
One other piece of music I had to come back to was surprisingly disappointing...the famous 1812 Overture by the Cincinnati Pops orchestra SACD. It's not like the PB16 isn't good at it...far from it. But I learned that much of the cannon fire of that recording are higher frequencies that were coming through the front mains anyway (I made sure the Marantz was doing DSD->PCM conversion for the sake of proper bass management. I was expecting more but the recording is more demanding on loudspeakers than subs.
So now I have some answers but there are still a few more questions. For example, the PB16-Ultra with 2 ports is giving me pretty good extension down to 14 hz or so before significant drop-off but I don't have a room corner to help me. Do I declare victory and just prepare to buy this sub when my budget allows in the few months or do i continue looking through the 18" crowd looking for 10-12 hz performance? Is it even really necessary? I know the answer this crowd will give....hell yes! But this is an SVS group so I'm sure the answers are going to be for sub placement rather than a different product. But one thing I'm convinced of is that the PB16-Ultra has certainly set the bar for what I want in my house. It's a solid, well made product that rattles the room (and the house) with authority. My wife is getting used to it being here (especially in the near field location). And it's going to be a sad day in a week when it goes back to SVS.