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  1. #1
    pbc
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    SVS PB13-Ultra Subwoofer Indepth User Review

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    www.svsound.com


    So a bit of background. I’ve owned the SVS PB13-Ultra since it was introduced back in 2007/2008. Before buying that sub, I had researched a TON of subwoofers, Axiom, Paradigm, HSU, you name it. I came close to purchasing the new HSU VTF-3 HO at the time, with its ugly “turbo” option. But decided to wait to see what SVS had up its sleeve with their new Ultra-13, and boy was I glad I did. I picked up a rosenut (or was it called rosewood?) version of the sub with its 750 watt BASH amp, 4 tuning possibilities (sealed, 10hz, 15hz, 20hz) and at the time 2 grills (metal grill and fabric grill) and it gave me years of incredible bass. I had the chance to demo that sub against the likes of the Fathom JL113, Paradigm Servo 15v2, Velodyne DD-18 in my room, and in a friends dedicated HT, those subs along with the Axiom EP600 and Axiom EP400 (duals). Again, the PB13 more than held its own and in my opinion and others outclassed the other offerings in particular for Home Theater, and was rated a “tad” behind the F113 for “musicality”.

    Fast forward to late 2009, and I was getting bored, and decided to build my own sealed subwoofers just to see if I could. They turned out marvelously if I may say, with each box having 2 Acoustic Elegance AV15H 15” drivers powered by a QSC RMX-5050 amplifier. But I just couldn’t bring myself to sell my “old” PB13 and ended up using it in sealed mode to “fill in” some room modes I still had and flatten my response (almost shameful to use such a performer in that way, I know!).

    What happened to the old adage of “don’t fix what ain’t broken”?
    Many other competitors have come on strong in the subwoofer Internet Direct (ID) realm since then. HSU came out with a nice looking sealed sub (ULS-15) and recently a 15” ported VTF-15H, Epik has offered its dual opposed sealed Empire and Legend offerings, Rythmik has several interesting boxes (that I'd LOVE to get my hands on), eD, Outlaw, JTR upped the ante on things with its behemoth 18” Captivator, and a subwoofer “genius” known as Mark Seaton came out with his dual opposed Submersive and later on a 2400 watt amp powered “HP” version of the same sub. The ID world has really expanded since the mid-2000’s when it seemed everything was a “HSU vs SVS” argument on what to buy.

    SVS’s flagship however, didn’t really change much. My understanding is that they added a bit of protection to the first BASH amp to make sure us nuts out here weren’t blowing it up, but other than that they focused on other offerings during this time, including a whole new sealed sub line up and speakers.

    Recently they switched from their Indigo manufactured Bridged Amplifier Switch Hybrid (BASH) amp platform to a “Sledge” amp platform which was DSP based and offered more power, and I managed to get my hands on one of these amps to try them out in my PB13.

    Specs

    The specs on the SVS PB13-Ultra are quite impressive:
    Subwoofer:
    Dims: 22.5" (H) x 20.5" (W) x 27" (D)
    Weight: 155 pounds
    Black gloss or full veneer black oak finish
    Front-firing triple 3.5" high-flow flared ports
    Variable 20 Hz, 16 Hz and Sealed tuning modes
    Protective non-resonant steel mesh grille

    Driver Specs:
    SVS 13.5” extreme performance underhung Ultra woofer
    SVS custom-tooled die-cast aluminum basket
    Flat-wire, 3” diameter, high-power, high-temp, 8-layer, aluminum voice coil
    Polyimide impregnated fiberglass former/bobbin
    Dual 9", composite layered, linear roll, extreme excursion spiders
    Integrated tinsel leads
    Nickel-plated high-tension spring terminals
    Proprietary injection molded gasket and parabolic SBR extreme-excursion surround
    Composite pulp/fiberglass press layered cone with stitched surround
    Low carbon 1008 steel components, electrophoresis black plating
    FEA-optimized underhung motor structure for the lowest possible distortion
    Copper shorting sleeve reduces gap induction and distortion, and enhances thermal conductivity
    Dual Genox 8H/Y-35 high grade ferrite magnets
    Oversized pole vent for greater cooling and low noise

    Amplifier Specs:
    STA-1000D Sledge with 1000 watts continuous into 6 ohms nominal
    High efficiency cool-running Class D switching topology
    Detachable power cord with main power switch and ceramic fuse
    RoHS compliant, lead-free construction and world-wide safety certifications
    Auto-On / On switch with "green" standby mode
    Stereo line-level RCA and balanced (XLR) I/O connections
    Normal and Hi input voltage switch
    Customized EQ and DSP limiter settings specifically for the PB13-Ultra
    Variable tuning with 20Hz, 16Hz, and Sealed settings to match subwoofer port settings
    Fully adjustable (frequency and slope) phase-correct speaker/sub digital crossover
    Intelligent Feature Control (IFC) with bright LCD display
    Two (2) digital PEQs with adjustable frequency, cut/boost, and Q values
    Room gain compensation control with adjustable frequency and slope
    Adjustable digital delay on main speaker line-level outputs to time-align the speakers and subs
    http://www.svsound.com/subwoofers/po...&category_id=7
    Last edited by pbc; 11-09-2012 at 12:28 PM.

  2. #2
    pbc
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    So what’s changed?

    Fundamentally, what has changed in terms of features from the Original?

    - 1000 watts vs 750 (probably good for approx. a 1 to 2db increase at varying frequencies).
    - DSP with much more functionality (more on this later)
    - No more 10hz tune and the 15hz tune is now a "16hz" tune
    - No more rosenut offering (replaced by American Cherry)
    - Eliminated the fabric grill


    I recall reading Ed Mullen, Director - Technology and Customer Relations of SVS, stating early on that they felt the 10hz tune was underported with the original SVS PB13 and really sacrificed too much in that tune vs the 15hz or 20hz tune. Likely why SVS never bothered continuing with that option (see more on this below). Other than this, the real change has been the price, it’s gone up substantially from the original offering and pricing this sub north of $1,500 has put it into some stiff competition with the likes of the Seaton Submersive, passive JTR Cap and dual versions of subs like the HSU VTF-15H, Epik Empire, etc.

    Signal Shaping Galore!

    So the real reason I wanted to get my hands on this new amplifier was, well, I love tweaking things and this amplifier delivers in spades via its integrated function controller knob, or IFC for short.

    Yes, SVS has replaced all these knobs on the former BASH amp …

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    With a single IFC knob that controls all of this and so much more …

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    Let’s see:
    - Volume (dB), -100 db to 0db in 1db increments
    - High pass filter adjustment (disable/enable, frequency, and slope). If enabled, frequency choices include 31, 40, 50, 63, 80, 100, and 125Hz with either a 12db or 24db per octave (2nd or 4th order) selectable slope
    - Low pass filter adjustment (disable/enable, frequency, and slope). If enabled, frequency choices include 31, 40, 50, 63, 80, 100, and 125Hz with either a 12db or 24db per octave selectable slope.
    - Phase setting (degrees) from 0 to 180 degree in 15 degrees increments
    - High pass delay (0 to 10 milliseconds). Pretty cool function that allows the sound from the main speakers to be delayed if you have no ability to time align your speakers via your AVR (most will).
    - Room compensation (disable/enable, frequency, and slope). From the manual ” The Room Gain Comp (Compensation) Function allows the subwoofer to be set to compensate for the increase in low frequency sound based upon the size of the room if it is felt there is too much bass. Small rooms will have a greater increase in low frequency sound than larger rooms. There is no need to use this control unless it is felt there is too much low frequency energy being generated in the listening environment. This function operates by setting a corner frequency of 40Hz (small size rooms), 31Hz (medium size rooms), 25Hz (large size rooms) or Disabled (no compensation), and allows a target slope of either 6 dB per octave (first order) or 12 dB per octave (second order) roll off from the selected corner frequency.”
    - Subwoofer tune (sealed, 16Hz, 20Hz)
    - Parametric EQ (PEQ) 1 and PEQ 2 (frequency, level and Q for each). Available center frequencies are 31, 35, 40, 46, 50, 56, 63, 70, 80, 90, 100, 112, or 125Hz with +3db to -12db trim level.

    Can anyone name a subwoofer for me that has all of the above functionality on the amp? Changes from the original BASH platform includes 1 additional PEQ, the high and low pass filter and slope selection, and the ability to select a slope for the room compensation control.

    Interestingly, the old BASH amp had variable knobs for the PEQ which I guess permitted more center frequencies than the fixed ones noted above. But as I always found, using it was a real pain as you had to “guess” what frequency you were adjusting as there were no easy to read markings, and take frequency response readings to ascertain what center frequency you were adjusting, same with the Q adjustment. The DSP is much easier to use in this regard.

    Inserting the Sledge Amp

    Removing the BASH amp and inserting the Sledge amp wasn’t overly difficult. After removing the screws holding the BASH amp into place, it did take a bit of time to get the BASH amp off the box as it has been stuck there for several years and the seal was stuck to the MDF quite good. But some gentle prodding eventually got it off. It was then just a matter of hooking back up the wires connecting the driver to the amp and screwing the SLEDGE amp back on.

    Here you can see the inside of the PB13 and just make out the back of the Ultra’s massive driver:

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    While I didn’t remove the driver, I did have a picture I took with my Blackberry phone a few years back when I as at Sonicboomaudio.com’s warehouse (the Canadian distributor of SVS). In case you were wondering, this puppy weighs in at something like 50 or 60lbs!

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    Finally, here are the two amps sitting next to each other. The Sledge on the left and the BASH on the right:

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    Last edited by pbc; 11-09-2012 at 12:24 PM.

  3. #3
    pbc
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    REW Frequency Response Measurements

    I pulled out my newly delivered Cross Spectrum Labs EMM-6 microphone calibrated to 5hz, my M-Audio MobilePre USB sound card and laptop and started measuring using Room EQ Wizard (REW) which is a great free tool. For frequency response, I measured the sub close-mic’d as follows: Put the sub into the middle of my modest 1700 cubed room, and for the sealed tune kept the mic on a tripod at a 90 degree angle with the mic 0.5” from the center of the driver; for ported modes, I kept the mic on a tripod at a 90 degree angle with the mic point centered between the center port and main driver approximately 6” from the subwoofer. Given that once Josh Ricci reviews a sub (as he did over at Audioholics) there isn’t much left for anyone to bother measuring, I was more curious to see whether this method gave similar response curves to his much more accurate 2M Ground Plane outdoor testing.

    Measuring in Sealed Mode:

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    Measuring in Ported Modes:

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    Tuning Modes

    The new Sledge amp “only” has 3 tuning modes (sealed/16hz/20hz) compared to the 4 that the BASH amp had (sealed/10hz/15hz/20hz). However, per some emails I recently exchanged with Ed Mullen, he did say “The sub can still be run with two ports plugged and the tune mode to Sealed and it will yield a very similar FR as the 10 Hz mode shown in the graph. I don't recommend it though, as the sub is underported with just one 3.5" port.”

    Below is what I achieved with the close-mic measurements. I have to say I was very surprised as how well these seemed to track to both SVS’s own website and Josh Ricci’s 2M Ground Plane testing from tuning to about 150hz or so. It’s nice to see a subwoofer that doesn’t grossly over-rate its specs, in this case, the specs were spot on!

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    As you can see, the sub is pretty flat in the various modes and out past 200hz, indicating it’s a great sub that can be crossed way up high if/when needed. The ported modes did not track exactly to what SVS and Josh showed in their reviews, and when I asked Ed about how best to close-mic a ported sub, he responded ” I don't close-mic a vented subwoofer, because of the problems associated with summing of the outputs from the woofer and ports at such a close distance. 2 meters ground plane outdoors is the minimum distance required for complete summing of the sources, so an accurate FR can be obtained. As an aside, a sealed subwoofer can be close-mic'd (about 1/2" from the center of the cone) and it will provide virtually the same FR as ground plane outdoors or free space.” This likely explains the small discrepancies between my measurements and Josh’s and Ed’s (and, obviously, I'm using much lower end measuring equipment!).

    Note: For the remaining tests I put the sub in 20hz tune (as it would just have taken too long to show these in all the various tunes!)

    Room Compensation Controls

    One issue people can run into with ported subs that are tuned so low is that in rooms where you have substantial room gain below 30hz or so (such as mine), with a ported sub tuned down to 20hz or 15hz you can actually end up with a rising in-room response down low (i.e., the FR rises substantially as it closes in on its tuning). The PB13 has a handy little “Room Compensation” adjustment whereby you can select what appears to be a high pass filter that can be set at 25hz for “large rooms”, 31hz for “medium sized rooms” and 41hz for small rooms, and then you can select whether you want the sub to roll off at 6 or 12db Octave from that point to Tuning. I used the 20hz tune to show a few of these options:

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    Low Pass Controls

    Though most will use the low pass functionality (cross-over) inherent in their processor or AVR, you can also low pass the sub itself at 31, 40, 50, 63, 80, 100, and 125Hz with either a 12db or 24db per octave selectable slope. Below you can see a few of these options and the impact on the Frequency Response:

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    PEQ Controls

    The last adjustment I measured was the PEQ controls. The old BASH amp came with 1 PEQ, whereas the new Sledge amp came with 2 PEQ adjustments available, with available center frequencies of 31, 35, 40, 46, 50, 56, 63, 70, 80, 90, 100, 112, or 125Hz with +3db to -12db trim level, and Q range from 2 to 14.4. Interestingly, the old BASH amp allowed adjustment down to 20hz whereas the new one only allowed it starting at 31hz. I asked Ed Mullen about this as well and here was his response. “The primary purpose of the PEQ control is to correct for room modes to the extent possible. While there are exceptions to every rule and room, generally the system will transition from a modal response to a pressure response somewhere in the 30 Hz region in most mid-size rooms, and most of the need for PEQ type corrections will occur in the modal region >30 Hz.”

    Below are a few examples of what can be done with the PEQs (there are so many I only graphed a couple).

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    As you can imagine, combining all of the various possible tweaks above allows for an incredible amount of shaping of the final frequency response to assist getting as flat a response as possible.
    Last edited by pbc; 12-24-2011 at 01:36 PM.

  4. #4
    pbc
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    Subwoofer Setup

    So I pulled out my AV15H dual opposed sub that flanks my front right corner and moved my PB13 into that spot (this wasn’t easy given the dual opposed AV15H weighs in at over 120lbs or so and the PB13 at a whopping 155! Thankfully I put on carpet sliders to assist sliding them around!).

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    I plugged my Audioquest Sidewinder RCA cable into the Low Level RCA Input on the Sledge amp, put the PB13 into 16hz tune (one port blocked and adjusted the IFC knob properly) then pulled out my Galaxy CM-140 SPL meter and set the volume of the sub using the IFC knob until and the test tones of the AV7005 processor until the meter read 73db or so. Interestingly enough, even though the scale on the Sledge amp is -100 to 0 db, I had to set it at -16db. I found this odd as with my BASH amp I was only about ¼ to 1/3 of the way to max on its gain control. I asked Ed about this as well and his response was ” This is due to two things: a different input sensitivity (which is defined as the amount of input voltage required to drive the amp to full power at various gain settings) and also a different control scale. It is perfectly normal for the Sledge to require a gain setting of somewhere in the -15 to -5 range to achieve the desired calibration level in a given size room. The input sensitivity and the relative gain setting required to achieve the desired calibration level really have zero bearing on the amp power rating - it's still a 1000W amp.”

    Once that was done, I ran REW and realized I had a huge hump from 15hz to 25hz due to the room gain my small room was providing. So I fiddled with the Room Compensation Control in the IFC while running REW sweeps, and settled on the 25hz setting and a -12db slope, along with using a single PEQ control to tame another 12 to 14db peak at 38hz due to a room mode (set the PEQ to 40hz, -12db trim and a Q of 3.6).

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    I likely could have used a more aggressive room compensation and another PEQ, but for the sake of time decided this was flat enough.
    Last edited by pbc; 12-24-2011 at 04:53 AM.

  5. #5
    pbc
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    Listening Tests

    All of the below tests were done at reference levels unless otherwise noted. I.e., my Marantz AV7005 processor’s volume control was set to ‘0’ db after the final EQ was done with Audyssey.

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    Pulse - Computer Lab Scene
    This scene is centered at 16-18hz or so, so right around the tuning point and a real killer. The PB13 handled it in my room with out issues and cleanly. If there was any port chuffing, I certainly didn’t hear it, neither did it appear that the subwoofer was in distress at all. I can’t say I recall any difference between this and when I had the BASH amp, or, more impressively, between the pressure I felt with the dual DIY AV15H setup and the single PB13. Meaning my room simply isn’t large enough to reap the benefits of the dual AV15H’s plus PB13 sealed setup I normally run, and/or that the scene doesn’t have enough content below 15hz to really notice the difference as the PB13 is a monster near its tuning point in terms of SPL.

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    War of the Worlds – Pods Emerging Scene
    Again, the PB13 didn’t appear to have any issues here at reference levels in my room. However, I didn’t seem to get the same feel I recalled with my AV15H’s here which provided a bit more pressurization/feel near when the road starts to tear apart and when the sink hole drops before the Alien comes out.

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    Flight of the Phoenix – Plane Crash Scene
    Basically this scene rocks with the PB13. When the plane is spinning and they show the passengers, there is an intense “under water feeling” you get as if you’re there experiencing the immense G-Force that must happen in that sort of situation (well, that sort of likely entirely impossible situation!). Again, I recall a bit more head pressure with the triple sub setup that almost gives you a nauseous feeling, but I can’t say I was “wanting” for more at all.

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    Open Range – Gun Shot Scene
    This scene is full of “slam in your chest” gun shots, starting with where Kevin Costner blows a hole through Kim Coates head and culminates in several very nice shot gun blasts. Much of the scene is heavy in the 20hz to 40hz range, though it does get below 20hz at points (and even close to 10hz) with authority. Again, the chest slams were incredible with the single PB13 in my room. They sounded very articulate and not muddy at all. This is one scene where I really notice the difference in SQ between the AV15H aluminum drivers and pretty much any other sub. I recall hearing the same when I listened to another AV12H driver based ported sub vs the HSU VTF-15H in another friends place.

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    Transformers – Ironhide Jumping over the Woman Scene
    I should just start copying and pasting comments at this point. The PB13 in 15hz tune had no troubles with this intense scene and never faltered or made any unwanted noises. This was probably one scene where I recalled the biggest difference between my triple sub sealed setup and the single PB13 in 15hz tune. The triple sub setup simply had more “feel” to it when Ironhide jumps over the woman seated on the ground.

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    U-571 – Depth Charger Scene
    Again, the PB13 in 15hz tune was impressive here. But it seemed to lack the feel of some of the explosions vs my sealed setup. I’m guessing this is because some of what happens is well below 15hz where the PB13 is rolling off considerably in my room.

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    Roy Orbison – Pretty Woman – 5.1 DTS Demonstration DVD #4
    Again, the PB13 simply blended in perfectly with my front stage as if I was running a full range setup. The bass in this song (from Roy's Black & White Night DVD) was perfectly clean, no overhang that I could note. Unfortunately I find I simply have to turn this song down to -5db at most as the high’s are just painful to listen to (plus I have a bit of tinnitus so I tend to be a tad more cautious when I something is harsh on my ears!).

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    Eagles – Hotel California – 5.1 DTS Demonstration DVD
    Probably one of my favorite songs to play on my system as you get all the channels going and there is some great bass hits that give you a nice slam in the chest feeling. One thing I immediately noticed is how well the PB13 was blending into my bookshelf setup crossed fairly highly at 120hz. I even tried upping the cross over to 150hz to give that a go. There was zero localization what so-ever and having a sub that you can confidently cross that high is a great selling point IMO, especially for people who have speakers that you really don’t want to cross much lower than 100hz or so. At 150hz the bass actually felt a bit more present than at 120hz, not sure if that was because the PB13 is handling more bass into the 100hz territory with its 13” driver vs the smaller 7” drivers of my mains. 150hz is where I typically cross my triple sealed sub setup as the AV15Hs are known for their SQ and low inductance with the ability to be relatively flat out to well beyond 200hz.

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    Eric Clapton – Broken Hearted – 5.1 DTS Demonstration DVD #7
    I really enjoy this song from Clapton’s “Music from Montserrat” DVD. The guitar riffs played beautifully through the PB13. I went up to feel the driver moving just to make sure the 13” woofer was playing at one point as it seemed so seamless. I then tried the song with my fronts at a 40hz cross over, and there was a small difference, but if anything I found I preferred the scene with the PB13 crossed at 150hz and taking on more of the 40 to 120hz frequencies in this scene.
    Last edited by pbc; 12-24-2011 at 05:10 AM.

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    Conclusion

    Well, it was a fun couple days of listening and measuring this technical tour de force by SVS. I can’t sit back and say “wow, I noticed a huge difference with the new amp platform vs the old BASH platform”, as a matter of fact, I can’t really say I noticed anything in terms of a difference in SQ. In my size room, any additional headroom provided by the additional 250 watts won’t be noticed, and I had never really managed to push the original sub beyond its comfort zone even at reference levels so the new amp was no different in that regard. As per Ed, “The Sledge STA-1000 has more power output and a more sophisticated limiter/compressor, which improves behavior at the limits and reduces the potential for audible overdrive artifacts.”. As mentioned several times, in my “small-ish” room the sub never came close to reaching it limits, but in a larger room no doubt this limiter would help keep the sub in check. What I will say is that the new Sledge platform is an incredible performer in my opinion. The amount of customization should allow anyone to get a flat response in room (save any nasty nulls/peaks). There were many times I looked over at my DIY dual opposed boxes which have 4 15” Acoustic Elegance AV15H drivers powered by a QSC RMX-5050 amplifier and Behringer DCX2496 thinking “the single PB13 really was more than enough for my room”!

    SVS took a sub that is at the top of the heap of the $3,000 and below active sub market (save possibly the Seaton Submersive HP and JTR Captivator) and simply made it that much better with the addition of the Sledge amp platform. It’s an amazing feat that a subwoofer which debuted back in the summer of 2007 is still basically the one that every other sub is compared to. Just take a look at the forums and you’ll know what I mean. It may not be the cheapest sub on the market, but it’s certainly one of the best at under even $4,000.

    In the last 9 years I’ve gone through numerous changes in components and speakers. On my third set of speakers, 5th processor/AVR, 2nd amplifier, 3rd or 4th bluray player, 2nd TV, and third subwoofer system. Reality is, no single change brought a bigger smile to my face than when I swapped my old Mirage OM200 dual opposed 8” driver ported sub for my SVS PB13-Ultra. While some changes have been a marginal improvement, going from that $1,000 Mirage sub (think it was CAD$1400 at list back then) to the PB13 was simply night and day different, it was that good. Comparing it to the JL Fathom F113, Velodyne DD18, Paradigm Servo 15v2 and Axiom EP600, confirms just how good the PB13 really is.

    So yes, it's not "cheap" at $1,999, but with the addition of the Sledge amp with its DSP tweakability and addition of sophisticated limiters and 30% more power, you'll spend your money knowing you've got the best out there at that price and never have to wonder "what if I had splurged a little extra on the PB-13".


    Pros:
    - Fit and finish is impeccable
    - Incredible, bullet proof driver up there with the best
    - Simply couldn’t get the subwoofer to call mercy even at reference levels with some really tough material
    - Great sound quality (and I've compared it to some of the best in my room and in other HT rooms)
    - Plummets about as low as a ported subwoofer could be asked to without being much, much larger
    - DSP tweakability is second to none

    Cons:
    - Boxy Design may not be for everyone (oh, and it's damn heavy!)
    - The extra amplifier controls are best used with measuring tools (i.e. if you want to use the PEQ's, room gain comp, etc.) and are relatively complex for a "newbie".
    - The IFC knob on the back of the PB13 made it somewhat difficult to make adjustments having to pull the sub out of its place to see the little screen. Having it on the front would make this a lot easier.
    - Price – at $2k, one starts to consider other options like the dual HSU VTF-15H’s, Epik Emipres, Rythmik FV15HP etc, which may provide a smoother in room response (due to spreading out two subs) so the value proposition isn’t quite what it once was when it was closer to $1500-ish. There is also much stiffer competition at this end of the market with the Seaton Submersive HP, passive JTR Cap, JL Fathom F113 (if you can get it discounted), etc.
    Last edited by pbc; 12-26-2011 at 11:08 AM.

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    Reserved7
    Last edited by pbc; 02-19-2012 at 06:28 AM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member David Vaughn's Avatar
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    Steve,

    Awesome review.
    David Vaughn
    Technical Writer/Blu-ray Reviewer
    Sound and Vision Magazine

  9. #9
    pbc
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    Senior Member pbc's Avatar
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    Thanks David.

  10. #10
    Administrator Jim_S's Avatar
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    Agreed. Great write-up Steve!!

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