Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

In a July 2019 feature for SoundStage! Access, “Integrating a Single Subwoofer into a Two-Channel System for Beginners,” I discussed the basics of that subject, and in August expanded on it in “Integrating a Single Subwoofer into a Two-Channel System . . . for Those Unafraid to Take Measurements, Fiddle with Filters, and Apply EQ.” In that second piece I mentioned Anthem’s STR Integrated Amplifier and Preamplifier, both of which include Anthem Room Correction Genesis, and are turn-key solutions for bass management and room correction.

Lately I’ve been busy churning out reviews for SoundStage! Access and SoundStage! Hi-Fi, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process. While listening to, evaluating, and comparing audio gear comes naturally -- I’ve been involved in the hobby for 25 years -- I’m relatively new to reviewing that gear, and in the past year I’ve learned a lot about how to write reviews. As a career public servant working in the sciences and regulatory sectors, I’ve done my fair share of technical writing, and that’s helped me in writing the technical sections of my reviews -- but I continue to sharpen my skills in describing, in the Listening sections, what I hear.

When, in June 2019, I reviewed SVS’s SB-3000 active subwoofer for Soundstage! Access, I liked it enough to buy the review sample -- and we gave it a Reviewers’ Choice award. I noted that in my room, the sealed-box SB-3000 ($999 USD in Black Ash, $1099 in Piano Gloss Black) effectively equaled the quantity and quality of sound produced by my reference sub, SVS’s own sealed-box SB-4000 ($1499 in Black Ash, $1599 in Piano Gloss Black). The following July, the SB-3000 earned a slot on the Recommended Reference Components list of SoundStage! Hi-Fi.

Anthem is as well known to enthusiasts of two-channel stereo as it is to fans of surround sound. Anthem was formerly a subbrand of Sonic Frontiers; Paradigm, a speaker manufacturer founded in Canada in 1982 and headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside Toronto, acquired Sonic Frontiers and Anthem in the late 1990s. Many of Anthem’s electronics are now made in the same Mississauga factory in which Paradigm builds their speakers, but they’re designed in the Paradigm Advanced Research Centre (PARC), in Ottawa, Ontario, not far from where I live.

Last month, in “Integrating a Single Subwoofer into a Two-Channel System for Beginners,” I wrote about the first steps of that process. This month I go deeper, into various ways of using a high-pass filter with your main speakers, and the advantages of taking more measurements and using equalization (EQ), aka room correction.

Although I’m now a big fan of using a powered subwoofer or two with a stereo pair of loudspeakers, as I explained in a May 1 article on this site, I’m a recent convert to the practice. It’s only in the last year or so of my 30-year audio journey that I’ve realized two things: 1) The sound produced by all but the most expensive and extreme speakers will benefit from the reinforcement provided by a subwoofer -- few speakers of any stripe can produce useful output down to 20Hz, the lower limit of human hearing. 2) Dollar for dollar, the quality of bass produced by a good subwoofer easily outclasses the quality of bass from a good or even a great speaker. This is due not only to the fact that subs are designed to reproduce only the low bass, but also because their placement in a room can be much more easily optimized to serve their intended purpose.

SVS is well known to two-channel-loving audiophiles and home-theater enthusiasts alike. Founded in 1998, the company began by producing subwoofers that quickly earned critical acclaim. In 2012, SVS added loudspeakers to its product line, and in 2015, cables, footers, and wireless products. Today SVS offers 12 subwoofer models, ranging in price from $500 for the SB-1000 and PB-1000 in standard Premium Black Ash finish, to $2500 for the flagship PB16-Ulta in Piano Gloss Black (all prices USD). They offer a total of six bookshelf and floorstanding models of passive loudspeaker, ranging from $270/pair for the Prime Satellite to $2000/pair for the Ultra Tower in Piano Gloss Black. There are also center-channel and surround models, to flesh out full surround-sound arrays.

Home-theater enthusiasts have long extolled the virtues of using two or more subwoofers. The advantages over a single sub are many, and include increased bass output with less compression, and better blend of the subs’ sound with the sound of the main speakers (that is, it’s more difficult to identify the subwoofers as the sources of the lowest frequencies). However, the biggest advantage of using two subs in a home-theater system is the mitigation of bass peaks and nulls, to produce a smoother, more consistent overall bass response audible at a greater number of listening positions.

My mission was to scour the halls of the Hotel Bonaventure Montréal, the venue for the 2019 Montréal Audio Fest, looking for affordable products to report on. That turned out to be fun but not all that easy -- most exhibitors were showing off their five- and even six-figure systems. But among all the audio bling, a few manufacturers and distributors displayed some gear that was indeed affordably priced. (All prices in Canadian dollars.)

Henry Kloss (1929-2002) was one of the pioneers of North American hi-fi. He studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before dropping out to embark on a career in which he founded several storied audio brands, including Acoustic Research, Advent Corporation, Cambridge Soundworks, and Tivoli Audio. Along with patent-holder Edgar Villchur, Kloss helped design the first commercially available sealed-box loudspeaker, the Acoustic Research AR-1. Kloss is probably best remembered for KLH Research and Development Corporation, which he cofounded, with Malcolm Low and J. Anton Hofmann, in 1957 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. KLH -- the name was formed from the initial letters of the founders’ last names -- produced several innovative electrostatic loudspeaker designs and electronic components, but by 1967 Kloss had moved on. KLH thereafter changed hands several times, and quickly fell off the hi-fi map.