REVIEW: SVS SB13-Ultra 13” Sealed Subwoofer
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From the get-go two things stand out about the SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer. It sounds superb on music and movies, and Lord be praised, it’s easy to integrate into existing speakers and a room’s acoustic space.
Over the last decade plenty of subs have gone into my system. Models from REL, Definitive Technology, B&W, Sunfire, JBL and several other brands were all noteworthy for their contribution to good sound.
Most paired fairly seamlessly with my existing gear. But others from mass market brands priced to sell at the Kia end of the market, refused to “disappear”. Drawing attention with wallowing sounds and flatulent bass, they were the stuff of audio nightmares.
Which is why after spending far too much time with the feet up enjoying the review “loaner” from Australia’s SVS distributor, Final Link Audio, I can say, hand on my heart if you haven’t heard about US brand SVS Revolution, park your doubts and surf the Net. SVS has a well earned and growing reputation for well-priced, Cadillac class, wonderfully equipped subs with a distinguished sonic prowess.
Bass & Scale
After long listening sessions with music albums and movies that never fail to please me, it’s as plain as the nose on your face: an SB13-Ultra, tuned in to your existing speakers and room acoustics, will give your movie soundtracks loads of tight, informative trouser flapping and skirt lifting amounts of bass, and your music a greater sense of scale.
Putting aside that none of us knows what a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s paws pounding the ground really sounds like, or for that matter, what the difference is between the sound of a Gluck or a Biretta wreaking havoc. But, there is universal agreement that the sound of a quality sub-woofer increases the level of realism of the home movie and music experience.
Especially if your speakers lack a little low end wellie. If they do, rest assured: replaying movies with a decent quality subwoofer like the SVS is much more enjoyable than the same movies heard without it.
Moreover a well tuned sub seems to liberate your speakers’ potential not only opening up the midrange, adding loads of informative, rhythmic lower wallop, but seemingly opening up the midrange and enlarging the sonic envelope as well.
As for system integration, we all have our own way of achieving a seamless blend between a subwoofer, speakers and a room’s acoustics. Some are happy to use their AV Receiver’s semi-automated speaker setup feature for the bulk of the work before tuning in the sub by ear, aided by an SPL meter.
Point is, there’s no single agreed route to subwoofer integration. So don’t beat yourself up if at first you don’t succeed. You will with time, patience and more than a little advice and help from your audio buddies.
The SVS website also offers their ‘Merlin’ wizard feature which contains a database of the world’s most popular loudspeakers. Selecting the right SVS subwoofer for your existing speakers is made easy with Merlin. Give it a try for yourself.
The SB13-Ultra slotted in without difficulty within a couple of hours of fiddling, reinforcing the notion that high-quality subwoofers are easier to integrate than cheaper models. A process as simple to verify as dawdling to your closest SVS stockist for a loaner, assuming you’re a potential subwoofer buyer.
The SVS was installed in a system comprising Wilson Audio Sophia mains, Mission Centre Elegante 8C and Dynaudio 1.3 rears all driven by a Denon AVR 3808 receiver. Wiring included Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables. Signal source used was a PlayStation 4 and Mac Pro 4.1.
Musically, the SB13-Ultra whipped up an acoustic storm playing the Stone’s Let It Bleed album on CD. Love In Vain, one of my five album tracks took on added scale with a soundstage studded with life-sized performers.
The Sophia’s are not a speaker I regard as lacking satisfying bass. But gosh, Keith Richard’s insistent bass was more defined and informative, with extra body and verve with the SB13-Ultra in the system. Switching it out of the system and sure enough the Sophia’s rendered the same bass patterns with authority and slam. But missing was a greater sense of scale and definition.
It’s also worth pointing out the SB13-Ultra’s dynamic slam-and its contribution to my system’s overall musicality. Yes, we acknowledge the dynamic capabilities of a quality subwoofer, but musicality? Trust me, good subs thanks to their working dynamic response, rhythmic drive and detail retrieval are satisfyingly musical.
Album after album, track after track and with each improved, I had to surrender to the charms of the SB13-Ultra.
Box Office Bass
Moving on to movies, the family dipped into the opening scene of War Of The Worlds where the SB13-Ultra and our speakers gave us a ‘’backs against the wall’’ experience as the alien pod emerges.
The senses reeling from the sounds of things smashing and the terrain torn asunder, we simply had to pare back the volume level.
It was more of the same hair raising sensation with Jack Reacher as the car chase scene involving Reacher putting the pedal to the metal of the Chevy Chevellle SS, and the sound of its V8 at max revs, reverberating through our listening room.
No sub session is final without playing the opening scene of Gladiator and watching the Roman legions flaying the barbarians. Whilst the scene has plenty of midrange and high frequency bite courtesy of the sound of swords and sandals, there’s tons of gut wrenching low frequency havoc as well.
The SB13-Ultra is compact, but dam heavy. It measures just 17.4 x 17.4 X 17.4 (W X H X D, inches) but weighs a back breaking 48 kgs.
Connections include RCA/XLR line level inputs and outputs plus an LFE crossover bypass. Frequency response, says SVS, is 20Hz to 450 Hz. Woofer used is a quality 13.5” model. Available in either a ported (PB-13Ultra) or sealed enclosure. My sample was the sealed model (SB-13Ultra).
As for power, there was plenty of output at 35Hz at 105 dB in the family listening room thanks to this model’s 1000-watt RMS digital plate amplifier (STA-1000D).
Setting up the SB13-Ultra is also made easy via a small alphanumeric display screen equipped with one rotary knob that can be turned and pushed in to make volume adjustments, set the high pass filter, select high pass slope and frequency for low frequencies. Suffice to say, the SB13-Ultra has a comprehensive range of user adjustments to make system integration a bit of a pleasure rather than a chore.
Price of the SB13-Ultra is $2999, and about what I guessed it would be without being told. Finish is exemplarity and my sample was turned out in piano gloss black. I’m told it’s also available in black oak.
The family will miss the SB13-Ultra when it inevitably leaves the building. It’s been in use since it was set up and calibrated for our room and our system. Whilst it’s done most of its work with movies, entertaining us with its value-added low frequency slam, dynamics and enhanced soundstage scale, it’s contribution to the enjoyment of our music albums can’t be underestimated.
Judged by sound quality and ease of setup, the SB13-Ultra is close to the best, if not the best subwoofer for the money I’ve auditioned in the last decade. If you've been reading StereoNET for some time, you'd know we don't hand out awards lightly.
SVS is distributed in Australia by Final Link Audio.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.