SVS Subwoofer FAQs
- Do I need an SVS speaker or subwoofer?
- What are some important things to consider when buying speakers or a subwoofer?
- What if I already have speakers or a subwoofer?
- What's best for me? Cylinder or Box SVS subwoofer?
- I like your cylinder subs, what model and size should I get?
- How many SVS subwoofers do I need?
- Where do I put my speakers or subwoofer?
- How do I use a sound level meter to calibrate?
- What are some great movie and music demos?
- What does (fill-in-the-blank) mean?
- How do SVS products differ from other brands?
1) Do I need an SVS speaker or subwoofer?
That is a good question. Let's be clear. Not everyone needs speakers or subwoofers as good as SVS makes. But heck, not everyone "needs" a home theater or music room either. If you and your "significant other" are content watching movies at low level, or you primarily watch VHS tape or cable TV, one of our subwoofers or speaker packages might be “more” than you need or want. Despite affordable prices, this is serious sound in terms of both quantity and quality. Nearly anyone hearing products we build will quickly appreciate why they cost more than less expensive models, even those from “big” brands. Still, if you have laserdisc, HDTV, or DVD you probably do want speakers and subwoofers like ours. We build them specifically to make your favorite movies and music sound just as the director or musical artist intended. If you call the place you watch movies a "Home Theater" you almost certainly can appreciate the truly deep bass and natural highs SVS can bring you.
But why would you want real, deep and ultra powerful bass no matter what brand speakers you might have? Simply stated --- to capture the theater experience at home. With the advent of DVD movies and Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound-tracks, such sound is finally possible in your home. Again, that's theatrical sound in both quantity and quality, or concert-like music. Surprisingly, while there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of great choices in full range audio speakers (for your main, center, and surround channels), the number of subwoofers which can affordably supply both deep and accurate theatrical sounding bass are fairly slim. In fact, such bass is downright rare at prices most people can afford.
Most importantly, true, deep powerful bass is critical to realistic home theater sound. If all the surround sound was icing, bass is the cake. Some feel it's the foundation upon which the theatrical experience rests. The ".1" of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is usually dedicated to subwoofers for a good reason. When an explosion rips, the tanks roll, or the pipe organs rumble, it's your subwoofer that makes the difference between "good sound", and sound you can feel too. And it should feel real.
Very few people have heard what an honest sub-woofer can do for their audio system. Those that have can't live without one. All SVS subwoofers will blend perfectly with your brand speakers. And of course if you start out with an SVS surround sound speaker package, you know every aspect of design, even the finish will be a perfect match!
2) What are some important things to look for when buying a subwoofer?
For many years SVS specialized in subwoofers so many customers them even to pair with other brands of speakers they might have owned for some time. So what’s key in a sub? First and foremost, you, the customer must enjoy the subwoofer. It doesn't matter if the "numbers" or "specs" say it's perfect... if you don't like the way it sounds...what good is it? However, at SVS we do feel a subwoofer should meet some basic verifiable performance goals if it's going to perform well subjectively and objectively, for the majority of HT enthusiasts. In no particular order...these goals include:
- Low distortion (THD)
- Low GD (group delay) to subsonic levels
- Flat frequency response
- High output capacity
Something to consider in terms of performance...if a subwoofer can produce 110dBs (very loud) with low distortion at 40hz, we feel it should produce as close to that output as possible, right down to its low frequency extension limits. This is called "flat" or "linear" response. Unfortunately, the vast majority of commercial subwoofers are very NON-linear in this regard. It's not uncommon for a subwoofer that produces 110dB at 40hz, to only have the ability to produce 90dB at 20hz. (or less, often much less). Keep in mind this means such a subwoofer produces roughly 6 times more acoustical energy at a relatively high bass frequency, than it is capable of doing down low.
Wonder why some subwoofers are said to sound "boomy and unnatural" when you turn them up too loud? Well, right there is a large part of the answer to that question. While it is true that there are far more instances of 40 Hz bass in most modern movie soundtracks (and music) than there are at 20 Hz, or probably even 30 Hz, we feel strongly that both should be handled with equal ease, and portray the levels and emphasis on different bass frequencies that the movie’s makers intended. Needless to say, the preponderance, or overemphasis, of mid-bass is not something most manufacturers are interested in talking about.
And “flat” frequency response is only part of the picture. Flatness at the sound pressure levels (SPL) commercial theaters are capable of (adjusted for smaller HT rooms of course) is what you should be after. We adhere to the point of view that the two most important aspects of HT bass are headroom, and ensuring subwoofer placement and calibration so each seat is optimized to have as smooth a response curve as possible for that listener/viewer.
Many folks don't realize that the bass requirements for true Dolby Digital (DD) standardized reference level movie sound is actually quite difficult to achieve (or could previously only be done at a very high cost). If you listen to reference levels, Dolby Labs ® requires minimum of 115dB with limited distortion at each seat...down to the lowest frequencies on the DVD (usually about 15-25hz). Most reasonably priced subwoofers don’t provide more than a small fraction of this sort bass requirement.
Furthermore, if you use bass management to reroute some deep audio from the main speakers to the subwoofer (say you are using relatively small main speakers)...your audio “headroom” needs are increased to the 121dB range! That's 121dB/at the seats/down to 20hz or lower. In a typical room...you'd need a pair of corner loaded high-end subwoofers (typical examples costing well over $3,000 each) going full throttle to approach this. To be fair, even one of our largest subs (the 20-39PCi) can’t provide such powerful bass, but a pair of them, or one of our dual driver box subs can in most rooms. As stated earlier, not everyone wants or needs true movie theater level realism, but for those that do want it, or for those few that already have it, you’ll be drawn into movies like never before. That’s what to look for in a subwoofer system... realistic sound reproduction, no matter what volume you prefer.
3) What if I already have speakers or a subwoofer?
If you have a subwoofer or speakers already, and find them perfectly adequate, there might not be much argument for upgrading. But, consider this…most "subwoofers" are really nothing more than mid-bass "woofers" that support relatively small satellite main or surround speakers. And many speakers? Mass produced at the lowest possible cost with little regard to achieving concert or theater realism. Now, there is nothing wrong with the concept of inexpensive speakers, but few customers truly desiring realistic sound will spend less than $1,000 for a full 5.1 surround sound system. We consider this to be about the lowest cost most OEMs can produce a genuinely quality set of speakers with deep sound as part of the package.
For music only, inexpensive systems can perform quite well since they will rarely be required to touch the first octaves of audio. The usual "Sub-Sat" arrangements generally do a fine job of providing relatively low levels of mid-bass (which we'll put in the 120Hz to 45hz range). This however is not true bass, and it's far from what's required for reproducing today's movie soundtracks the way they were intended.
True, deep bass, from roughly 20-45hz is what you hear, and feel, when you go to a first rate commercial theater is needed to balance out the mid and high frequency audio (which is generally easier to produce from the standpoint of the physics involved in). For convincing theater sound with today's DVD movies you need effortless bass that extends to 20-25hz or even a bit lower. Many commonly available commercial subwoofers manage to squeak out a few dBs in this range, but very few can provide adequate levels of low-distortion, high-power bass at the levels you'll hear, and feel, in the theater. This limitation applies to the vast majority of subwoofers, even those sold to augment home theater systems. Yet, those that can reach true bass levels are frequently well over $3,000, and that’s for ONLY the subwoofer.
If you've drilled down from our Subwoofer Page, you already know how affordable SVS subwoofers and our first speaker packages are, but integrating a subwoofer or even the speakers alone (say you have a perfectly adequate subwoofer already) into your existing system is very easy to do. This is especially true if you watch DVDs and your sound system is equipped with a Dolby Digital receiver or surround processor. Our user friendly owners' manuals and on-line technical support will walk you through the process from unpacking to calibration. We are so certain that adding one of our subwoofer, speaker or full system packages will make a radical improvement in your home theater and music enjoyment that we offer a 45 day money back trial period.
4) What's best for me? Cylinder or Box SVS subwoofer?
Like so many things in life... it depends. Some folks like the cutting-edge, unique and understated elegance of our cylinder subwoofers, others value the more traditional but likewise slick simplicity of our box designs. In fact, aesthetics ... how you want your sub to look ... is probably the most significant consideration in your decision here. Still, there are some other "pro's and con's" to consider, and even the question of "looks" isn't as straightforward as it might seem at first. How you weigh these issues is clearly a personal call.
Executive summary: In short, cylinders tend to cost less, are noticeably taller, but at the same time lighter and easier to move. They take up far less precious floor space too. Boxes tend to have considerably more "heft" (requiring more "grunt" to place them), have nice flat tops you can put things on, yet cost a bit more than the closest performing cylinder equivalent. Want further discussion on this eternal question??? Read on.
The original SVS subwoofer designs were all cylinder-based for some very good reasons. First and foremost it's a very efficient audio enclosure from a number of perspectives. The internal pressures of a subwoofer of this class can be intense! Ever wonder why cylinders are used to contain compressed gasses?? They can't stretch easily, and tend to resist forms of wall distortion that boxes must combat. In short, a box wall must be many times thicker and heavier to equal the strength of a simple cylinder. This affects several things in turn...
Weight: For a equal level of performance and enclosure space (the key to getting deep and powerfully clean bass) a cylinder will be lighter, and that means easier to move around your room, or from house to house as you go through life. One example. Our PB12-ISD weighs in around 78 pounds. The smallest powered cylinder, the 25-31PCi is virtually identical in performance, but weighs in a relatively light 55 pounds. Now, 23 pounds might not sound like much, until you haul one up to the top floor of a dorm room, or nudge one into a tight spot in a basement. Most our cylinders you can sling on your shoulder, most our box subs are decidedly "two-person lift" entities. Now we know that for some customers weight is good, it connotes quality and value. If you fall into this camp, then the relative light weight of a PCi isn't an advantage. In practical terms most folks will find 55 pounds quite enough!
Floor space: Because our cylinders go "up, not out" they can contain prodigious amounts of internal volume that would make for a huge box "foot-print". While a round cylinder base-plate can't snug into the very corner of a room like a box can, our cylinder subs still tend to take up less floor space than a box equivalent.
Finish/looks: All our cylinder subs are finished in a tough knit velvet-like black fabric we sourced from a high-end architectural supply company. Its light scattering properties means even our tallest cylinder subs practically disappear in a dark room corner. We've had reports of spouses that didn't even notice a surreptitious SVS upgrade until it was pointed out to them. As a result of the understate design we’ve sold countless thousands of them and most folks love their look.
Some don't. They prefer the harder, more conventional edges of a box and fine textured finish or wood veneers. While our entry level box finishes are a similar shade of black, the fact they are not fabric covered enclosures is a plus, and we're not one's to argue. We developed high-performance SVS box subs precisely because folks asked for a more traditional design as an option.
Cost: Because the cylinder design is so efficient and relatively simple to manufacture, an equivalent box subwoofer will tend to cost more. Not much, but for some folks every audio budget dollar counts. To use the PB12-ISD as an example, it performs virtually the same as a 25-31PCi subwoofer. The PCi is $549, the PB12-ISD costs $599. Now, you might light Cuban cigars with $50 bills, but if per chance you don't, at least you understand that a box design can cost a bit more up front. Shipping naturally adds costs too, and depending on where you live you can expect a 25-31PCi to cost roughly $15-$25 less to ship than its PB12-ISD cousin. Our larger box subs will also cost more to ship (though all will be quickly calculated based on your location before you place an order so you can check). Our shipping rates are still amazingly low no matter how price sensitive you are.
So cylinders have it "all over" boxes, right? Not exactly. Even though we engineer audio solutions for demanding buyers, there is nothing quite perfect (to our way of thinking). Cylinders have their advantages, and so too do their box brethren.
Size: While their designs are similar in nature (using common woofers, amps, ports etc) SVS box subs tend to strike some folks as less visually obtrusive. All while taking up more floor space. Why?? Box subs tend to be able to tuck tightly into a corner (you still need a few inches for the rear firing ports to breathe) and are naturally much shorter to boot. A PB1-ISD is a mere 20" tall including its integral base-plate, while even our shortest cylinder sub is a little over 35" tall.
Performance: If enclosure volume is about the same, there are no significant disadvantages, in terms of raw performance, due to a box shape versus a cylinder. But (there has to be a "but" right??)... boxes do lend themselves to multi-driver configurations that are simply not practical in a cylinder design. The PB1-ISD has single woofer so as you might expect, it's virtually identical to a 22Hz tuned version of our 25-31PCi subwoofer (especially since it shares all the same parts as the PCi subs). If you are with us so far then, you already know that when we release a PB1-Plus later this year (Powered Box, with one "Plus" woofer and three way porting) you can expect it to perform much like a 25-31PC-Plus.
More performance considerations. You need look no further than our killer PB12-Ulra/2 to understand that SVS is already pushing the limits of box design to a new level too. Two of our massive Ultra woofers in an even more massive "box" enclosure means performance that would take several of our world-class entry level cylinder subwoofers to match. Just keep in mind this is a custom-built, bruiser weights almost 200lbs. Keep in mind too that even one of our PCi cylinder subwoofers can run with some other $2,000 15" woofer box subs. So a sense of perspective is important.
Another example?? What about a "PB12-Plus"?? This is our single driver mid-range “Plus” subwoofer set to that’s the equivalent of the 20-39PC+ mid-sized cylinder. Is the PB12-Plus also big and heavy?? You bet, but in terms of sheer power and sound quality the two subs are virtually identical. So where single woofer subs line up, the cylinders and boxes are sonic clones essentially. But box subs allow multiple woofer designs more easily with related weight, cost and size considerations going along.
Cost: Any single woofer box sub from SVS we'll offer will tend to cost about 10% more than its closest performing cylinder equivalent due to more costly enclosure construction. Yet considering even the lowest cost SVS box subs, like the PB12-ISD already outperforms most subs costing from $200 to $1,500 more than ours, we don't think that's much of a premium.
Finish: Again, some folks like boxes, others hate them due to their relative commonality in the speaker world. Regardless of how you feel about that, the tough cured-poly finish of the textured black, the beautiful woods or the elegant piano gloss box subs are all stunningly attractive and still durable enough to live in the real world. Textured black is probably the most forgiving of tough rooms, where kids and pets might rule the day. Even the sexy gloss black has been specifically developed to avoid the fragility of lesser versions of this finish. Customers who actually own top brand pianos have commented that their SVS is actually better in the level of depth and quality we offer. The woods are unmatched on our powered boxes. You would have to look long and hard to find any premium quality furniture with workmanship so meticulous or materials this fine.
Practicality: There is not much more practical than a simple box (as long as you have plenty of floor space. You can put it in a corner, put a plant on it, put a lamp on it, put Granny's picture on it (as long as you understand Granny might be moving around a bit during the pod-race scene in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). A sub like our PB1-ISD will be impervious to your kids' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it'll be immune to the most vicious house cat (though to be fair, we've not had one owner report any defeating our tough cylinder subwoofer fabric either). Plants, your best friend's bottle of beer, and that 50 lb. bust of Beethoven are all very bad things to put on top of our cylinder subs by comparison. Their tops must be un-obstructed as their top-firing ports are protected by a relatively light-weight mesh grill. If this matters to you, the box SVS's gain another point in their favor.
5) What size SVS cylinder sub should I get, 25-31 (small), 20-39 (medium) or 16-46 (large)?
Regardless of whether you go with a self-powered "PC" type sub, or a passive "CS" model (there are several), each of our sizes (let’s call them the three "series" of subs) has its strengths and might work better for some customers than others. Truth is, for most programming played at typical listening levels you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the largest and smallest SVS. But these subs aren’t made for "most listeners" and we know many customers that go well over "typical listening levels". We’re talking theater at home here!
If you looked at either the various PC or CS subwoofer pages you saw the three series (sizes that is) --- The 25-31, the 20-39, and the "biggun" the 16-46. Each of these might be either a PC or a CS model, but what makes them different? First thing to note are those numbers themselves. The first two digits of each series is the subwoofer’s "tune". That is, the frequency at which the subwoofer output begins to drop (by design). The 25-31 series is tuned to 25Hz then (more on this in a second). The second half of the series number is the physical size of the sub rounded to the nearest inch. So the 25-31 is…31" tall from floor to top grill. The 20-39 then is tuned to 20Hz, and is about 39" tall; while the 16-46 is tuned to a ultra low 16Hz and is 46" tall.
But why "tune" the subs to different frequencies? Why not one size?
Well, while one size does NOT fit all…size DOES largely determine the nature of what a sub can do, because size changes to the internal volume of the sub itself. You see, the greater the sub’s size and internal volume the longer the "port". And that port works with the custom SVS woofer to determine just how low a sub goes in the bass spectrum. Note here that SV Subwoofers are fantastically efficient because they eschew the equalization and megawatts of power often used by other brands to make up for a puny enclosure. SVS’s still require precise tuning to make sure they are tailored to their users though. So each size SVS has a port precisely designed to optimize efficiency for its given internal volume, which is in turn optimized for those different kinds of users we mentioned before. What are those kinds of customers?
First are those that are looking for the max bang for the buck, in the smallest enclosure possible. They want a sub that absolutely raises the roof with both quantity AND quality bass. The sub must reach down low enough to do justice to all but the lowest bass on today’s DVDs and laserdiscs.
The SVS 25-31 series is it. This mighty midget (midget by SVS standards!) can actually kick out the greatest sound pressure level (SPL) in the most common home theater bass range before hitting the excursion limits of the driver (also known as "bottoming" where the driver physically hits hard limits of travel). Above 25-30Hz the 25-31 series takes a back seat to NO subwoofer in this price class, including other SVS’s! So while this sub doesn’t go super low, it does go super loud (and ALL our subs are always super accurate, or else they wouldn’t be SVS’s!). If popular music (which is nearly all above 25Hz) is your main source of pleasure the 25-31 is probably your best choice. The fact it’s the smallest and least expensive SVS too is a plus for many on a tight budget too.
But there is bass, rare, tactile and downright menacing bass, on a small but increasing number of DVD’s that goes even lower, into the 20Hz range. That’s 1/3 octave deeper than the 25-31. This is where the switch hitter of our lineup takes over…the SVS 20-39 series. With these subs you get the same flat performance up high, but at the absolute limit just a dB or two less max output (in those common HT bass regions) before the 20-39 hits its excursion limits. In return however is a good bit more depth, with several more dBs useable response in the absolute depths of HT bass. Laserdiscs of The Phantom Menace, DVD’s of "Super Speedway" and some other insanely low bass soundtracks will shudder you in ways you never knew were possible. Nearly no DVD low frequency effects (LFE) go lower than what the 20-39 can reach. Again, a bit max capacity is given up in higher bass but it would rarely be an audible difference in your HT. Then again, the lower bass that the 20-39 can reach is rare too. We never said this was an easy decision! Keep in mind here that at 20Hz this series is producing as much energy as several high quality subwoofers. This is ground that few subwoofers tread on, and many that do tiptoe, instead of stomp like a good sub should. So you trade a dB or two relative to the 25-31...but you get extension down to 20hz.
That leaves us with the real bottom feeder of the SVS arsenal, the 16-46. It gives up a bit more total SPL capability above 25-30Hz before hitting its woofer’s excursion limits. In this case though you are talking about a sub that is still VERY strong in regions of bass that are quite literally subsonic. This SVS will extend down to 16hz (anechoic), and down to 10-13hz in most rooms. If you like Pipe organs---this is probably the model to get. However, (as above) to realize true 16hz extension, you're trading off another dB or 2 in the more common bass frequencies. If you want your bass both super low AND super loud a pair of 16-46s might be advised. For more typical viewing though even one 16-46 is more bass than many people need.
With either one or two 16-46s we are talking about bass so low you can no longer reliably hear it, you can only FEEL it. In your bones, in your teeth. Bass that, when present in your music or the very rare DVD, can almost blur your vision. You can count the number of subs which can hit respectable SPL below 15-20Hz on one hand. Those that you can afford? Take a few fingers away. So with the 16-46 series you trade a few dBs at gonzo levels of typical 30Hz bass and in return you have a sub that will go to the limits of human hearing, and beyond. Sure it’s bigger, and it costs a bit more. But for folks that simply must know they are getting ALL the bass, no matter what they listen to (pipe organs to nuclear detonations) the 16-46 is worth its nominal compromises.
No matter what series you select, if you like to "take it to 11" and run your movies (or just demos for the friends) at full Dolby Digital movie theater level, or you have a large, open and otherwise challenging home theater, then a pair of SVS’s is strongly advised. Reaching true reference level bass is far more difficult than most enthusiasts realize, we just like to think we’re more open about the challenge than some other sub makers. More about that under "do I need dual subwoofers?".
6) Should I consider dual SVS subwoofers?
Absolutely! Getting real theater levels of accurate, deep and powerful bass if far more difficult than most people realize. Though whether you really need dual subwoofers depends on a few fundamental issues… primarily listening habits and room size.
First things first. How loud do you listen to your movies and music? Do you find that relatively modest levels are more than adequate when watching a movie? Maybe you live in an apartment and can’t really turn up the volume that much? If you are in a constant battle of keeping the volume low enough, then one SVS is almost certainly enough. In moderate sized rooms even one SVS subwoofer will greatly extend the bass performance of nearly any audio system, and will provide even better bass than most HT enthusiasts have ever experienced. But despite the fact SVS sub perform as well (and usually better) than subs costing far more, there is a limit to what they can do. A matter of physics really.
This is particularly true in very large rooms, or HT areas that open up into other areas of your living space. Creating effective bass requires a sort of pressure (from sound waves, propagated by moving air). Essentially, the larger the room, the more difficult it is to reach the levels of smooth, deep bass you will find it a top-rate commercial movie theater (which if top-rate can reach Dolby Labs reference levels for clean bass; or 115dBs right to the lower limits of the bass track. That’s a LOT of bass!). So if you are the sort that simply MUST be able to "take it to 11" with bass so deep and powerful you’ll think the theaters are lacking (especially if you have a large room), then we strongly urge you to plan on getting a pair of SVS subs.
What can you expect with dual subs then? If you are able to co-locate two SVS subs in a common corner of your HT, you can expect (regardless of which size sub you have) roughly 6dBs increased "headroom" throughout the sub’s response. 6dBs might not sound like much on paper, but it translates to about double the acoustic energy (as you would expect). So where one SVS sub might be straining to produce the deepest bass of your DVDs at high levels, dual subs can often just coast along, with accordingly less distortion too. When dual SVS subs go to the limit you’ll begin to fear for the structural integrity of your HT walls!
If you are continually giving demos of all your favorite DVDs, to all your favorite friends and family, dual subs are probably the best way to ensure your bass system is up to the task. Given the exceptionally difficult task subwoofers have to attain true reference levels of bass, and the relative affordable nature of SVS subs, we make it easy.
We often tell customers: "One of our subs will drop your jaw with deep, accurate bass. Two will keep it on the floor permanently." With twin subs, every movie will remind you this is what theaters aspire to sound like, we do know this is more than many folks need or want though. What sort of movie/music fan are you? If you are wondering if your room will require dual subs to hit the mark Dolby Labs has established contact us with the dimensions of your HT (and just how low and loud you want to go)… contact us
7) Where do I put my SVS subwoofer?
You might have noticed. SVS subwoofers are sometimes big (yes, it's one of those instances when size does matter). There are a lot of very good reasons for this. Still, most our customers find these subs very elegant, understated, and stylish. Their svelte cylindrical design also takes up little floor space (which is frequently not true of the typical "black box" subwoofer). Even in a tight corner they'll usually fit well. And corners are where you want them.
Many many theories abound regarding subwoofer placement. Their sound is essentially omni directional, and they are difficult to locate by ear. Yet for the lowest extension, and the greatest natural reinforcement of the bass sound pressure level (SPL) corner placement is nearly always best in nearly every shape room (and regardless of the brand of subwoofer).. Wherever possible, avoid placement where the sub is adjacent to openings into other rooms such as hallways, and open doors. A closed corner, relatively near the prime listening position in your home theater is nearly always ideal. Just be certain to recalibrate (set the playback level) as you move your sub to different locations. Moving even a foot or two (say from a wall to a corner) can have a radical impact on how the bass sounds in your listening position. Just think of your room as another part of your speaker system.
If you have particular concerns regarding integrating an SV Subwoofer into your room contact our tech support department. Fax or e-mail us a sketch of your current HT arrangement, and well be happy to make recommendations on sub placement for best performance.
8) How do I use a sound level meter to calibrate?
The essential Radio Shack (TM) Sound Pressure Level Meter.
Proper calibration of your surround sound system, including your SVS subwoofer, is not only easy, it's downright critical! On the left is a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter; using one is akin to checking your car tires with an air pressure gauge. If you don't have one (the SPL meter that is), by all means stop reading this now and get one! Heck, click here and you can buy one direct from sonicboomaudio.com at a low price of $59 CDN without shipping costs (if ordered with your subwoofer). We prefer this model to the digital display SPL meter due to the analog version's ease in getting spot-on adjustments (though either can work well).
Why is calibration of the levels of your surround system so important? Well, think of it this way...in the old days you could just adjust the "Balance" knob on your stereo and get that center image (of the singer, or various instruments) "just right". Try to imagine doing that with 6 channels of a digital surround sound system for a minute! Get any of those channels out of balance by a few decibels (dBs... something all but certain without a meter) and the complex realism of the soundstage DVDs and the new high resolution music formats are capable of goes right out the window.
Start by playing your receiver's internal test tones so you have something to measure with your SPL meter. Or better yet, a calibration disk, like Ovation Software's "Avia" available from sonicboomaudio.com. A test disk’s calibration tones ensure your entire signal path, from the DVD player to your speakers, is set correctly.
Make sure your receiver/processor master volume is set at "00 dB" or other easy to remember level, it will become your "reference level", one very close to that intended for home theaters by Dolby Labs. And finally, set your subwoofer amp’s volume control. Note here, if you have a "PC-type" subwoofer put the volume/gain knob to no more than 1/4th to 1/3rd of the way up. If it's a separate pro-type amp (like the Samson amps we sell) for a CS-type subwoofer, run the gain FULL UP (it's a different sort of amp design after all and expects to be set up this way). It’s a good idea to check the subwoofer level control of your receiver before you begin the test tones. Keep the receiver's subwoofer output control to about 25% up or lower than "0 dB" (or say -6dB given a typical receiver channel limits of –12 dB to +12 dB) . This will allow your amp to work with the cleanest signal possible from your receiver, while still leaving plenty of downward adjustment you can use from your viewing position (using the remote). As the tones start, alternating, speaker to speaker (watching your sound meter now) set each speaker’s volume to 75 dB or 85dB (depending on your tone source), using the receiver’s channel controls. Not all test disks or receivers are the same when it comes to calibration tones however, if using a test DVD like Video Essentials should allow you to calibrate reference level at 75dB. Ovation's "Avia" DVD is recorded at a higher level to improve signal to noise ratios during calibration, so you need to measure instead to 85dB for all channels if you use it and not Video Essentials (discussion below, regarding a "boost" to your LFE still applies but you simply add the bump you want above and beyond 85dB, vice 75dB).
What to set the sub to? You might find that a higher level, relative to your main speakers is preferable. In other words, set to a bit higher than 75dB, or 85dB, depending on your calibration tone source. Tastes vary and so do movie soundtracks, but your SV Subwoofer is capable of tremendous levels of low distortion, low frequency bass. Take advantage of this, especially if you like action movies with lots of ".1" channel low frequency effects (LFE). Keep in mind too that the human ear is relatively insensitive to low frequencies. This, coupled with the fact most folks don’t watch movies at Dolby Digital reference level (loud!), means tweaking the bass up a few dBs usually yields a better movie sound experience.
Many of us with SV Subwoofers run a +2 to +6dB setting on the LFE or ".1" channel, but much depends on your room's acoustics whether you have one or more subs, and your typical listening level. With a setting like this, the VE test tone will peak about 81-83dB for the subwoofer portion of the calibration run. Because the Radio Shack sound meter is relatively insensitive at very low frequencies you'll actually be set several dBs higher than what's read. Important Note: Use a "boost" like this only if you are watching at relatively modest levels. If you ever hear your sub bottom out (where the driver reaches its physical limits) you are set too high, at least for that movie and at that volume setting. Naturally customers with dual subs will enjoy far more "headroom" with regards to what is "too high".
As you continue to calibrate you’ll briefly need to rotate the sound meter level dial to the 80dB setting to get a good reading on the subwoofer if you go beyond the level of your main speakers as we recommend. Don’t forget that most modern surround sound receivers allow completely different subwoofer level settings, depending on the listening mode you are in. With "DVD" as your "source" use the above calibration routine. You may well find that "CD" (music) calls for a lower bass setting for the best balance in your home theater (try setting this by ear with music you are familiar with). The above is a guide, experiment!
Now if you got this far, and consider yourself an advanced user, you might want to delve a little deeper into the use of the SPL meter to flatten out response peaks in your room (using an external equalizer like we offer) or maybe just using one of the popular test disks out there to check and see just how well your subwoofer is performing. If so, you'll want to use a handy "compensation chart" to adjust the readings of your SPL meter. Its sensitivity down low is NOT uniform, but it's easy to make up for this slight flaw in this great too. This chart is ONLY good for the Radio Shack SPL meter pictured above. If your subwoofer seems to be measuring poorly with low frequencies, this chart is CRITICAL to making sure you know what's what.
9) What are some great bass demos?
Wow, have you come to the right place! Not only do we have one of the most comprehensive lists of great subwoofer movie and music demos, you can see this bass graphically depicted as well, with attached "waterfall" charts. Start strolling thru the scenes below (after you've calibrated your sub into your surround sound system of course!) and hear what a real subwoofer sounds like!
If those charts linked to each movie scene are a bit confusing, read a bit about how to read and interpret them. And you thought bass was just sound?
Chapter stops for Dolby Digital DVDs are shown, with movie time in hours: minutes: seconds. And look for the asterisk (*
) for those scenes recorded with new high resolution color instrumentation!
What are you waiting for? Just hit PLAY! Movies are just below. Jump to music passages here.
Has all the key SVS demo standards ready for you!
So, want to grab one or more of these great "gotta have" demos without further delay?? You can simply click on the name of hyperlinked titles below and you'll zap straight to the amazon.ca listing for them. We're making it easy for you to build the collection that'll make your SVS shine.
- "3D Atom Bomb" Big booms, atomic style. Prepare yourself, and your sub.
- "15 Megatons", Chap. 4 (0:50:01)
- "Aliens" Not just another modern sci-fi horror classic, this one rocks from intro to final scene.
- "THX Intro" *
- "Express elevator to hell", Scene 9 (41:20) *
- "Awakenings", Scene 15 (1:12:52)
- "Marines we are leaving!", Scene 15 (1:19:45)*
- "Drop ship explodes", Scene 17 (1:24:49)*
- "Alien v. Predator" The end of a franchise, or rather, two. Lots of great bass, just don't plan to get cozy with the protagonists, or even figure out who they are.
- "Laser Beam Mining", Scene 5 (00:13:40) *
- "Lift Off", Scene 27 (01:27:35) *
- "Alien 4" Call it curse of the sequel(s) it has some cool bass, so we'll watch it anyway.
- "Betty Flies In", Scene 5 (13:09)
- "Antz" Another good family movie, though not perhaps for small children. Extremely loud bass above 30 Hz.
- "Terror from Above", Scene 17 (51:48)
- "Apollo 13" Moving story, with some surprisingly subtle, but revealing, bass where it counts.
- "Lift off", Scene 13 (35:12)*
- "Re-entry", Scene 53 (2:05:20)*
- "Apocalypse Now" Making This Vietnam war movie, Francis Ford Copolla nearly went crazy...imagine what it'll do to your subwoofer!
- "Chopper ride" Scene 2 (0:19:47)*
- "ARC LIGHT" Scene 4 (0:26:02)*
- "Grenade launch" Scene 12 (1:27:58)
- "Attack of the Clones" Follows in the deep, off the map bass of Phantom Menace.
- "Ship explodes", Scene 3 (0:3:19)*
- "Backdraft" One of the first DVDs out, with smokin' bass
- "Dad", Scene 1 (4:30)
- "Check that door", Scene 10 (1:19:05)
- "Basketball Diaries" Thunder that should sound and feel real.
- "Thunder", Scene 8 (37:53)
- "Blade" Not one for the kiddies, but loaded with deep bass.
- "Footstep", Scene 4 (7:15)*
- "Pinned", Scene 4 (9:05)*
- "Invitation?" Scene 17 (41:20)*
- "Door blown" Scene 20 (50:05)*
- "Blue Man Group" The Boys in Blue, with characteristically dynamic bass that has to be felt to be believed..
- "PVC", (IV: 0:9:50)*
- "Braveheart" Mel Gibson directs himself in this brutally realistic depiction of war and intrigue, and not a little bass!
- "Knocking on the Door", Scene 12 (1:39:30)
- "Cavalry Charge", Scene 11 (1:26:50)
- "Broken Arrow" Another "military out of control" flick, but lot's of deep stuff.
- "Underground explosion", Scene 13 (1:08:50)
- "Butterfly Effect" Creepy "what if" story that twists and turns right to the end.
- "Opening sequence", Scene 1 (0:01:05)*
- "I'll come back...", Scene 11 (0:54:55)*
- "Contact" SETI with a (bass) twist or two along the way.
- "Bombing", Scene 28 (1:36:30)
- "Space truckin", Scene 33 (1:55:56)
- "Fahrenheit 9-11" Politically incorrect, and unabashedly biased documentary about the "war on terrorism". Surprising bass passages.
- "Fireworks", Scene 1 (0:00:30)*
- "Credits", Scene 4 (0:13:46)*
- "Bombing begins", Scene 16 (01:09:30)*
- "The Incredibles" Typical Pixar Studios animation perfection. Adults, kids, anyone can watch this DVD and have a great time. Some well done, heart-stopping bass. Recording levels uneven during previews and movie intro. Sound is right on feature however.
- "Building comes down", Scene 6 (0:22:59)*
- "Syndrome", Scene 13 (0:52:01)*
- "Ouch", Scene 15 (0:58:15)*
- "Sticky balled", Scene 16 (01:02:30)*
- "Jurassic Park III" After the the second "JP" expectations were low for the third in the series. Better than the second, by far, but still short of the original. Splendid bass however.
- "T-Rex Lunch", Scene 6 (0:26:30)*
- "Dueling dinosaurs", Scene 6 (0:26:49)*
- "The Matrix Reloaded" Baffling yet still intriguing story of future.. real, cyber, and quasi-religious sci-fi all mixed up. Any surprise there's some intense bass in there?
- "Door to the source", Scene 26 (1:38:23)*
- "It's the hammer", Scene 34 (2:05:15)*
- "Minority Report" Tom Cruise carries this future sci-fi thriller and uses loads of believable technology to do it. Worth the rental even if only for the stellar "factory scene".
- "Pulse gun in the factory", Scene 9 (0:52:29)*
- "Monsters Inc." Masterful PIXAR animation. Great story for kids or adults and one of the new reference DVD's on audio too.
- "Ted walks to work", Scene 5 (0:09:01)*
- "Sock detonation", Scene 12 (0:18:33)*
- "City block decon", Scene 12 (0:28:23)*
- "Boo laughs", Scene 13 (0:30:39)*
- "Predator" The Arnold thriller with an unbeatable plot twist (and the Governor of Minnesota like you've never seen him).
- "Jesse's Gun", Scene 12 (47:43)
- "Resident Evil" Something of a cult classic, end of the world, seriously bad germ flick. If you didn't get enough of Milla Jovovich from The Fifth Element, well, here you go.
- "T-bone car wreck", Scene 1 (00:05:21) *
- "Rocket Launcher", Scene 10 (00:38:05) *
- "Five Kilotons", Scene 24 (01:17:37) *
- "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" The epic finale of the famed Lord of the Rings trilogy. If your sub can handle this DVD it really is "precious"
- "Green light" Chapter 11 (0:41:40)*
- "Undead King" Chapter 27 (01:27:22)*
- "Shelob" Chapter 33 (01:51:40)*
- "Olephant charge" Chapter 42 (2:12:48)*
- "Mount Doom" Chapter 53 (2:40:50)*
- "Ronin" Still more plot twists, and some of the wildest car chases put on film. You can see the the graph "anvil" in the 30-45hz range about halfway down the chart. This indicates the signal was so loud at that moment that it went off the scale. Maybe not the lowest bass around, but this has some of theloudest 30-50hz bass on any DVD.
- "RPG Launch", Scene 13 (44:31)
- "Soldier" OK, so it's not on the AFI "Top 100", but it'll make your subwoofer stand up and salute!
"Spy Game" And easily overlooked thriller with action set in China. Some great work by Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. That there would be some demanding audio might be expected.
- "Dumping The Trash", Chap 6, (0:19:25)
- "Windstorm" Chap 6 (0:19:25)
- "Planet Killer" Chap 28 / 1:29:54
"Stargate" A great Sci-Fi DVD, with Kurt Russel as you've seen him many times. Bad to the bone.
- "Chopper crash", Scene 4 (0:25:54)*
- "Explosion", Scene 17 (1:33.33)*
"Super Speedway" Hanging out with Mario. Bass at the track you can FEEL.
- "Space Traveling", Scene 11 (30:10)
"Thirteenth Warrior" Didn't get enough "Antonio"? In the first scene, the top section is the opening...as camera rolls in synch with lighting. You can see most of the bass slopes off....and then the thunder clap hits hard about 8 seconds later (the bottom surge)---the thunder has monster signal at 30hz:
- "Bump At Speed", Scene 10 (0:16:56)
- "F1 Closeup", Scene 7 (0:12:45)
- "Title: Burnin", Title
"Terminator 2" Arnold couldn't be a bad buy two times in a row! He did bring some bad bass with him to this killer sequel however.
- "Opening Storm" Scene 1 (0:0:30)
- "Ambushed" Scene 7 (0:38:27)
"Titan AE" Fantastic science fiction animation with unreal bass, don't rent this one, buy it!
- "DVD Intro"
- "First Footstep" Chap 2 (0:01:40)
"Titanic" You love it...or you hate it. Regardless of which side of the ship you sit, this flick does some serious rumbling for you:
- "Ship flyby" Chap 10 (0:36:10)*
- "Ship engine roar" Chap 10 (0:36:44)*
- "Drej" Chap 10 (39:50)
- "Ice Field Part 1" Chap 16 (103:45)*
- "Ice Field Part 2" Chap 16 (1:04:55)
"Toy Story 2" A modern animation classic, and one of the few sequels ever to rival the original movie. More deep bass than we've seen in a while. Serious stuff well below 20Hz! "Monsters Inc."also has a "trailer" prior to Toy Story's start, don't miss it!:
- "THX Intro"
- "We can’t leave him" Scene 22 (2:21:50)
"The Phantom Menace" OK, maybe you hate "Jar Jar Binks" too, but this disk is the KING of killer bass. If you thought you might only want one SVS, you might reconsider after spinning this one. Bass so big it got its own web page! TPM --- Advanced Bass Analysis. Lesser subs don't even try to reproduce most of the bass in this movie. Some highlights:
- "Door knock" (Monsters Inc. trailer)*
- "Dog growling" (Monsters Inc. trailer)*
- Opening logo Chap. 1 (0:00:55)*
- "Aliens explode" Chap. 2 (0:02:30)*
- "Game over" Chap. 2 (0:04:21)*
- "THX Intro" *
- "Ambush" Chapter 3 (0:05:12)*
- "Pod race tunnel exit" Chapter 20 (1:01:40)*
- "Unbreakable" Another Bruce Willis, "what-the-heck-is-going-on-in-THIS-movie?" Sixth Sense-like thriller. Mixed in is the sort of truly disturbing bass that almost by itself creates foreboding tension you have to experience to understand.
- "Train ride" Chap 1 (0:08:35)*
- "Walk in the rain" Chap 23 (1:22:55)*
Bass Demo Music
You thought maybe all the good bass was in movies? Think again. Some of the newest, and some of the oldest
music you are likely to run into can have prodigious bass that'll put many action flicks to shame! Check out some of these selections below, and feel free to forward any you feel out to be on the list. We'd be happy to measure and add them someday. With SACS and DVD-Audio hitting the mainstream finally, you can find clean and inspiring bass in all sorts of places. Yes, even in the lowly CD!
Since we know you're wondering, we did the low class scandalous stuff first. Finally, we've addressed some of the more well know classical and "pipe organ" music. Just because we know who the "Beastie Boys" are doesn't mean SVS hasn't been caught enjoying Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D minor! Wonder what sort of bass it takes for music to sound real? Look no further than the below torture tests, and we dare you to admit you have delved into both sections... "Classical" and "Head banger".
The below selection are from Michael Murray's "Organ Blaster CD" sampler
- Johann Sebastian Bach "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" the quintessential organ bass classic. All below time selections from the Skinner/Schilicker organs, First Congregational Church in Los Angeles:
- Andre' Campra "Riqaudon from Idomeneo" Aeolian-Skinner organ, Church of the Advent, Boston:
- Charles Marie Widor "Toccata from Symphonie No. 5, Opus 42", Aeolian-Skinner organ, Symphony Hall, Boston:
- Antonio Soler "The Emperors Fanfare", Aeolian-Skinner organ, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City:
- Cesar Franck "Beaucoup from Grande Piece Symphonique, Opus 17, Cavailli-Coll organ, St. Sernin Basilica, Touloose France:
- Oliver Messiaen "Dieu Parmi Nous from La Nativite", Ruffatti organ, Davies Symphony Hall:
- Josef Rheinberger "Finale fro Concerto in F Major, Opus 137", Willis organ, Royal Albert Hall, London:
- John Cook "Fanfare", Willis organ, Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury England:
- Camille Saint Saens "Maestoso from Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Opus 78", Church of Saint Francis de Sales, Philidelphia:
Head banger ball!
- Metallica "Cunning Stunts" has been something of a head-banger bass standard for some time. See why here:
- "Enter Sandman" (cannon shot)* Disk 3 Track 3 (0:10:05)
- "One" (opening gunfire)* Disk 1 Track 7*
10) What does that mean?
Home theater (HT) terms. They can be confusing, and make no mistake, even the old hands will debate the meaning of some of them until exhaustion. We keep things simple but will seek to cover all the terms you are likely to run into while at SVS. The list is already big enough for its own page, so take a deep breath! We're just scratching the surface so far.
11) How do your subwoofers differ from other cylinder- based subwoofers?
It’s true there are other subs based on a cylinder designs, and loads of box subs, but there are probably more differences than similarities with SVS. We own some of these other subs, and have built more than a few "Do It Yourself" (DIY) subs ourselves too. But we would not be making SV Subwoofers if were not confident that we offer significantly better value for most customers. In short, we feel SVS provides a better made and better performing sub at very competitive prices.
What’s better about SVS Cylinder Subs?
- Most importantly, from a sonic standpoint, is significantly greater internal enclosure volume than most other subs (yet still in a well proportioned cylinder). This allows us to make our products tremendously efficient. Some subs require equalization to run strong down low, often about 6dBs below 30Hz, sometimes many times more than that! There is nothing wrong with this approach to producing good bass, but it does significantly cut effective amp power. Each 3dB boost of broad-band bass roughly halves the effective power of any given amp. So with a 6dB boost down low, a 500-watt amp acts very much like a 125-watt amp. If you are starting with a 150 watt amp? Well, you can do the math. This explains why many commercial subs need megawatts to perform well. Again, our subs run very flat to their tuning points with no equalization, (though it can be added if you want to tweak your SVS's too). In short, if you use a 300-watt amp with a CS sub you get 300 watts used, with no power spent in an effort to flatten or lower the response of the sub. Looking at this another way, if you own a sub using this much equalization you must push its driver with a full 500 watts of power (with the accompanying heat and stress on both driver and amp) to equal 125 watts with an SVS design. Needless to say 125-watt amps are relatively inexpensive and plentiful compared to 500 watt ones. And to a limited degree, the more clean power an amp can deliver the greater the bass impact. As little as 100 watts with any of our SVS CS "passive" subwoofers will drive most folks out of a room if you're so inclined! No wonder our 300 watt-ish PCi subs blow HT critics away with so "little" power.
- Higher quality materials and assembly with SVS. Our fabric covers in particular are expensive, Architectural-grade material stitched like top-grade upholstery. Take one look up close and we think you'll agree it’s the stuff of high-end home theaters. In a similar vein, all of our subs use "end-caps" made from durable and rich looking black polymer finished materials. Either high-tech and fantastically strong 1" wood strand composite, or cold-laminated 1 1/2" Baltic birch plywood, both selected specifically for their "low void" characteristics, and all made in the USA to our specifications (ask some other OEM's where their enclosures come from). Some makers use 1/2" or ľ" MDF, or sometimes even cheaper "particle board". Thicker end-caps provide greater "heft" to our subs, and help keep them extremely stable even at extreme bass levels. The intense internal pressures of our higher line subs demanded these sorts of materials. Finally, our custom-made black polymer-wrapped enclosure tubing is the densest and thickest we know of. All this adds up to a sub that has a look and feel of audiophile equipment, yet still at very affordable prices.
- As mentioned, we are aware of some very good bass performers out there. We tested most of them and found all of them lacking in some way. Our custom made US drivers are second to none in performance, often adding extras like cast aluminum baskets, competition style gold-plated terminals and a super-heavy rubber mounting gaskets. Other touches you might see on your SVS include CNC’d flush mounted ports and semi-flush mounted driver baffles. Do all of these things add to the performance of SVS? No. Some are just "nice to haves" that we felt were worth the additional effort and often nominal costs. It all speaks to an attention to detail customers seem to like. Why not include more than the customer expects at every opportunity? That's the sort of philosophy which dominates SVS.
- All our subs include a downward firing woofer down low, protected by an integrated base plate that also helps to cancel out reactive forces. This design was not easy to pull off, but it leads to a stylish, minimalist, modern look with a very low center of gravity. In contrast some cylindrical subs are very easy to tip over because the driver is perched way up top. In contrast, you would practically need to tackle an SVS to get one to fall over.
- We include a hard-to-find, 15" mesh speaker grill which include an innovative damping arrangement, nicely concealing our custom ports. With some other makers? You get to schlep on down to Radio Shack and buy your own grill, and then figure out how to adapt it to your sub. After spending over $300 on a subwoofer we don't feel you should need to protect your investment at further cost with some sort of "add on".
- SVS includes a base plate insulated disk array which works very well for either hard floors or carpet mounting. Some subs only have spiked feet on them, which can cause an awful racket if you have hard floors. You need to put a rug or something soft under it if you have a hard floor with these other subs, not with SVS's. They'll immediately find a perfect place in your home theater.
- Because of paragraph "a." above, you can use nearly ANY amp with SVS, one we sell, or one you already have, and get the best performance out of our subs. With some subs you must use relatively expensive amps tailored to that brand, or else add an equalizer to add that needed boost down low. With SVS, even using old stereo amps or receivers you will get very flat and accurate room-rattling bass. Flyweight amps which can cope with intermittent 4 ohm loads (most can) will rock your entire house!
- We offer a powered cylinder (the SVS PC line) that offers the looks and performance of a cylinder sub, with the all-in-one convenience of a self-powered. No one else in the HT industry has yet figured out how to do it! If you want a "plug and play" sub that provides the efficiency of a cylinder design, there is only one place to go... SVS.
We should restate that there are some other excellent subs out there. If anything about SVS doesn't fit your bass needs, we'd be happy to recommend one of these to you. We don't pretend that our revolutionary designs are for everyone. Still, for the same money, SVS offers a better value and more performance, but by now you probably already know that. We know of no price point where we fail to achieve this lofty goal. Opinion? Sure, but opinion founded on thousands of hours of objective testing, subjective comparisons and fresh, creative thinking about cylinder based designs. Increasingly, critical reviewers in the enthusiast press
agree...there is no better value in home theater bass than SVS.