Confessions of a basshead
I think that any red-blooded male with even a modicum of testosterone flowing through his veins has at least some level of fascination with bass.
I am fascinated with bass. Always have been, always will be. I love bass -- loud is good, and I am quite happy listening to a system whose bass is higher in level than could ever be considered accurate. It’s a prostate thing, I’d wager.
But that bass has gotta be tight. I can’t abide sloppy, woolly, slow bass. I’d way rather listen to a set of minimonitors than a system with poor bass. It’s not that hard for me to reconcile my bass preferences with my audiophile worldview -- bass is almost a separate component of music, one that augments and enhances the actual body of the music. It’s sort of like pepper in food: You can eat food without pepper, but it’s generally much nicer with a twist of the grinder. Add lots and it’s still fun.
I rarely use subwoofers for music, but there’s always one in my main system for use with movies. After reading, a few years ago, Jeff Fritz’s review of the Paradigm Reference Signature S2 v3 loudspeakers augmented by the Reference Signature Sub 2 subwoofer, I was intrigued. This was a system that I wanted to re-create in my home, albeit with a slightly smaller financial hit on my wallet -- something I mentioned to Jeff more than once. So when SVS offered for review their PC13-Ultra subwoofer ($1699 USD), Jeff thought of me.
At 47"H x 16.63" in diameter, the PC13-Ultra is a brute. True, with a subwoofer you can’t make many concessions to décor -- most subs are just big, honking boxes. With the PC13, SVS decided to put all their energy into the guts, and the result is an imposing column with a somewhat industrial finish. By dint of its cylindrical chassis, the PC13 can neutralize vibrations without heroic efforts or loads of mass. A cylinder is naturally resistant to flex, so only the top and bottom panels require much attention. Here the bottom’s no big problem, as it’s almost entirely taken up by a massive driver -- and the top panel is a nonissue because it’s broken up by three 3.5"-diameter ports, each of them flared at both ends.
That downfiring driver lurking at the bottom of the cylinder is a serious unit. Its 13.5" cone has an extremely long throw, is mounted on a cast-aluminum basket, and is backed up by a massive magnet (SVS doesn’t state the mass, but I’d wager it’s responsible for the stability of entire sub).
It takes big current to control such a driver, and SVS has crammed into the PC13 a 1000W class-D amp with two independent parametric equalizer settings. You can use these to tame two different frequency peaks, and independently adjust each for frequency and Q (width). The crossover is also independently adjustable for both frequency and slope. The EQ and crossover are accessed from an LCD panel and knob mounted on the face of the amp. At first the controls seem a bit fussy, but once you get the hang of the order of the menus, they’re quite easy to master.
At 90 pounds, the PC13 is actually light for its size. There’s no way to disguise its 4’ height, although the black fabric exterior reduces the sub’s visual footprint as much as, I guess, it’s possible to do. And keep in mind that the PC13 takes up only 1.5 square feet of floor space. My partner, Marcia, was not at all impressed by the PC13’s looks, and even less so when I stated that it just had to sit right in front of the living-room fireplace. It’s good to have fun with audio, no? But placed in the corner of our basement theater, the PC13-Ultra is at least somewhat unobtrusive.
SVS ships the PC13 with foam plugs that you can use to alter the tuning. I plugged two of the three ports, which put the emphasis on low-end extension rather than on maximum output. The PC13-Ultra is rated to play down to 19Hz, -3dB, under quasi-anechoic conditions with all ports open (even deeper with one or two ports plugged).
I first hooked up the PC13-Ultra to my Anthem MRX 300 A/V receiver and let Anthem Room Correction (ARC) sort out how best to integrate the sub into my room’s acoustic. I mostly used my own Dynaudio Focus 110 loudspeakers, though I did try a number of other speakers as they cycled through my system.
As I’d noticed in prior installations, ARC detected a very big hump at 40Hz, which the software managed to equalize out just fine. With the PC13 thus dialed in as if by magic, I sat down and played some bass-intensive movies.
For the past two years I’ve been using an HSU STF-12 subwoofer ($599), which has impressed me for its sound quality and its exceptionally high value. Still, I’ve always been acutely aware that the HSU was adding some overhang to the sound, blurring transients. Oh, it goes deep, does the HSU, but to my bass-addled senses it’s never sounded beyond reproach. The PC13-Ultra was in another league altogether. Of course, it should be, given that it costs almost three times the HSU’s price.
Still, there was no mistaking the reach, impact, and sheer volume the PC13 could generate. I found the bass, as calibrated and adjusted by ARC, somewhat lacking, and felt the need to juice the level a fair amount. I put this down to the fact that the PC13’s sound was just so bloody clean that its lack of overhang and distortion made it sound as if it weren’t contributing as much as a lesser sub. But I’m a basshead, right? I turned it up.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a fun, exciting, reasonably well-acted movie, and I enjoyed it immensely via the PC13-Ultra. Pick your battle scene: Whenever a cannonball ripped past, I felt a massive, concussive whomp right in my gut. What fun!
And we’re mammals, right? A small piece of our brainstem still responds to bass notes, to that bigger animal stalking us. I was acutely aware of the unseen threat in War of the Worlds (2005), when the crowd gathers around the cracks in the street prior to the emergence of the alien ship. I could feel the dread with each deep, subsonic note. With the HSU in the system, I was aware of this fundamental note, but it was accompanied by distortion and overhang -- disbelief was not suspended nearly as much as when the SVS portrayed the scene.
Despite turning up the PC13-Ultra way higher than ARC suggested, I never ran out of headroom while watching movies. Not once did the SVS complain, distort, or otherwise signal that it was anywhere near reaching its limits.
With music-only recordings, I tried the PC13-Ultra two ways: First, I used my Anthem MRX 300 receiver, switched to its Anthem Logic Music setting. Here I used a lower sub crossover to hopefully remove some of the upper-bass audibility from the sub.
Second, I unplugged the SVS from the Anthem and hooked it up to the secondary output of my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamplifier. The Dynaudios were now playing full-range, without benefit of a high-pass crossover.
Via the Anthem, the system had the benefit of surround channels, but the overall clarity, resolution, and just plain juiciness didn’t fulfill my rather demanding needs as well as my all-tube analog rig does. Still, I had some incredible fun. Théodore Dubois’s Les Sept Paroles du Christ, with Simon Fournier conducting vocal soloists and the Ville-Marie Radio Chorus, with organist Régis Rousseau (16/44.1 FLAC, Fidelio Musique) -- a true audiophile recording if ever there was one -- was recorded in the Église du Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus, a cathedral in Montreal. With the Anthem performing surround duties and the SVS digging down on the organ’s 16Hz pipe, I got a huge dose of ambience and atmosphere -- qualities at which a two-channel, no-sub system can’t even hint. Real bass -- subsonic bass, the stuff that lurks down below 30Hz -- is generally unrecognizable to anyone who’s experienced only vague hints of it via inferior subs. With the SVS in the system there was no lag or overhang to the organ. It was solid and deep, without any apparent doubling or distortion. The lack of artifacts meant that the accompanying music -- heck, even the squeaking of the organ pedals and pumps -- came through clearly, well placed in space.
I could feel that 16Hz organ note right down in the pit of my stomach, and it loaded up the room just great. The absence of artifacts higher in frequency eliminated the room-thrumming impact of lesser subs, which might make the uninitiated think -- wrongly -- that maybe something was missing from the music. But that deep note is hard to reproduce, and it’s even harder to move enough air to really feel it down in the stones. The SVS whacked it out with aplomb.
But organ music is kinda nerdy, don’t you think? I like listening to it once in a while, but it’s just slightly less uncool than playing test tones. Moving over to real-world music, I spent a fair amount of time evaluating the PC13 in my two-channel rig using my all-analog-and-tube front end.
It wasn’t that much harder to get a seamless blend of sub and mains than I’ve experienced with just about any full-range floorstander. I set the crossover to 50Hz, and used the SVS’s PEQ to once again remove that 40Hz hump, playing with the Q by ear until I still had plenty of impact in the kickdrum and low-E bass range, but without overeager room contributions. When I was satisfied, I sat back and gave a listen. I was extremely interested to hear how a large ported subwoofer would perform, given the audiophile blather about how, with a high-end system, you need a sealed box for the proper integration of subsonic frequencies into the sound.
Well, I’m calling BS on that one. I don’t want to hypothesize about what part of the PC13-Ultra’s design made it work as well as it did with my two-channel rig, but I can tell you that it did work well. How well? I spent some time listening to Temptation, Holly Cole’s album of Tom Waits covers (Blue Note/Classic 5003). This recording is very warm on the bottom end, and if there was a chance for the PC13-Ultra to slow down and thicken up, it was gonna happen in "Train Song." I was extremely pleased to hear that the low introductory bass notes were clearly delineated. While I had to futz with the subwoofer level a fair bit before I found the correct balance, once it was sorted, the bass was tight and rich, with the warmth that I know is on this recording, but no extra chocolate added. As I continued through Temptation, I also noted a little extra weight in the lower notes of the piano, and this additional sense of fundamental tone was most welcome. And I could hear no slowness or thickening of the music that I could lay at the feet of the PC13-Ultra’s ports.
I’ve always had trouble with one aspect of integrating powered subwoofers into my system. With music, I find it very difficult to find a single bass level that works for all music. Maybe it’s because I have the option of puttering with the bass level whenever the need -- or the illicit desire -- arises. With an all-in-one passive speaker, that option doesn’t exist. But I’ll happily write this off to my own fussiness. When I actively listened for the PC13’s contribution, it sounded just great. I felt no need to putter with the controls.
I heartily recommend the SVS PC13-Ultra. If you’re looking to add a subwoofer to a system that you use mostly for movies, but also want to use for listening to music without any drawbacks, I can’t imagine that it will disappoint you. If you’re looking for a music-only sub, the PC13-Ultra might well be overkill -- I doubt you’d ever use it to anywhere near its full capabilities. Then again, isn’t bass all about overkill? Me, I’d like to try two of these things.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog source -- Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable, Roksan Shiraz cartridge
- Digital sources -- Western Digital WD TV Live Plus, Sony BDP-S280 BD player
- Phono stage -- Aqvox Phono 2 CI
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifier -- Audio Research VT100
- Receiver -- Anthem MRX 300
- Speakers -- Dynaudio Focus 110; Definitive Technology: Mythos STS mains, Gem surrounds, Mythos 9 center channel
- Projector -- JVC RS20
- Speaker cables -- Nordost Frey, Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8, Belden bulk
- Interconnects -- Nordost Frey, Analysis Plus
- Power cords -- Nordost Vishnu, Shunyata Research Taipan
- Power conditioner -- Quantum QBASE QB8
SVS PC13-Ultra Subwoofer
Price: $1699 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
6420 Belmont Avenue
Girard, OH 44420