Adam's SVS SB13-Ultra Review

Discussion in 'Subwoofers' started by Adam, Sep 5, 2012.

  1. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    SVS SB13-Ultra Review
    by Adam Wood

    Summary
    Product Name: SB13-Ultra Subwoofer
    Manufacturer: SVS
    Performance Rating: 5/5
    Value Rating: 5/5
    Review Date: September 05, 2012
    MSRP: $1499 preorder pricing / $1599 regular pricing (Shipping Included)

    [​IMG] [​IMG]


    The SB13 represents the smallest and least expensive of SVS's Ultra line of subs. It is reasonable for you to expect the SB13 to be outperformed by the significantly larger, ported, and more expensive PC13 and PB13. While it should be outperformed at high output levels in large rooms, at least in my room and with my listening habits (and with music and movies cranked much louder than normal to review it), the SB13 is on par with the PC13 that I have had for five years. The SB13-Ultra makes use of a proprietary 1000W class D Sledge amplifier and 13.5” cone driver in a relatively small sealed cabinet, and the result is well-controlled and...when called upon...gut-wrenching bass. My initial reaction of surprised wonder was only reinforced during my weeks of using this fine new addition to SVS's top line. Highly Recommended.

    Okay, now on a less formal note – I love it. LOVE it. It gives me the same performance that I’m used to from my PC13-Ultra, and it’s a lot smaller. It also has more power and settings (including a second band for the PEQ) than my PC13 with the older amp. This thing cranks, and I consider it a bargain at the introductory $1499 (including shipping). I am very grateful to Audioholics and SVS for letting me preview this sub and allowing me to share my experience with you all. I will be happy to answer any questions that you have. Feel free to PM me or start a new thread so that everyone can participate.

    Pros
    - Outstanding performance, especially given the size (17.4” cube, not including the grille)
    - Very similar performance to the much larger PC13-Ultra in my ~3800 ft³ great room (with openings to other large areas)
    - Dual-band parametric equalizer (PEQ)

    Cons
    - Limited finish options (textured black oak and polished black)
    - No flush-mounted grille options (metal grille adds depth and increases footprint)


    Video Overview
    This video is meant to supplement the text but does not contain the full review. It shows the physical size of the sub (as well as it compared to a PC13-Ultra), my listening room, and operation of the amplifier. (Sorry for the lack of catchy background music.)

    Note: At 4:38 in the video, I refer to an amplifier switch as being for input level “sensivity” - I should have said “voltage.”




    Unpacking and First Impressions
    The SB13 arrived double-boxed and well protected. Inside the inner box, the subwoofer box and separately packed metal grille were individually wrapped and sandwiched in between top/bottom packing trays. Mine didn’t come with a “how to unbox” sheet on top, but I’ve done it enough times to know how, and Ed Mullen of SVS said that those instructions are normally included. I only mention this because there may be others of you who, like me, can’t left a 92-lb cube out of a box. :) Right on top of the packaging is a quick start guide to help set up the sub. Also included is the power cord.

    [​IMG]

    Upon unpacking the sub, I was greeted by the black oak finish. I had hoped for the piano gloss black because the shiny finish catched my eyes in photos, but I quickly learned to love the black oak (more later). The fit and finish are top notch, and the SB13 just exudes quality. Had I plunked down my hard-earned money for this, I would not have been disappointed.

    Design Overview
    Size (W, H, D): 17.4” x 17.4” x 17.4” (20.4” with grille attached)
    Weight: 92 lb.

    Finish options: Gloss black and black oak
    Grille options: None. All come shipped with the metal perforated grill

    The SB13-Ultra is a 17.4” cube (without grille). There is a metal grille that attaches to the front using four posts and adds about 3” of depth overall. Either finish is applied to all six sides, and the bottom surface has four conical rubber feet that screw in.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    While I originally had hoped for the gloss black finish, the black oak turned out to work very well in my room. I placed it in a corner, and it was much less obtrusive with the black oak because the duller finish didn’t have hardly any reflections off of it. I’m not sure which I’d buy, but I’m leaning towards the black oak now that I’ve had a chance to try it.

    The one thing that I don’t love about the design is the metal grille. While it isn’t actually dirty, the finish always makes me feel like something is rubbing off on my fingers when I touch it. Also, the four posts are a bit difficult to push into the box because the grille folds inward at those locations. It does look good, but the added 3” of depth was too much for where I wanted to place it, so I left the grille off. A flush-mounted grille would be my preference, but there are no grille options at this time.

    Because it was difficult to move around on the carpet, I removed the four feet and placed four furniture slides under it. With that, it slid around really easily.

    After my first impressions of how closely the SB13 performed compared to my PC13, I asked Ed Mullen how he thought the designs compared. He was nice enough to send me the following:


    Listening Tests
    For all of my listening tests, the SB13-Ultra was located in the front right corner about one inch from the walls. My listening position is approximately 15 feet away from the sub, and it's where I placed the mic for MCAAC and where I placed the SPL meter for my measurements. The overall summary is that the SB13 performed very, very well. It blended extremely well with the other speakers, and only rarely (very rarely) could I localize it. I listened to a lot of different material, and below are some of the highlights.

    Blu-Ray: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
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    One of my test scenes for subwoofers is the desert scene where the two "Smiths" are out to kill Tank. It has John riding through the desert on a dune buggy, and the scene where he jumps over a hill has quite a thump when the buggy lands. After that, the scene where he shoots the Widowmaker at the hill is quite impressive, as is the shortly following detonation of the explosives. When I first got my PC13-Ultra, I couldn't stop grinning when John jumped that hill and I felt that buggy land - I'd never, ever felt that with my previous sub. It's just an awesome ride with the right sub(s), and I was very happy that the SB13 gives that same experience! Really impressive for such a relatively small sub.


    Blu-Ray: Transformers
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    If you've seen this movie, then either you are really familiar with the scene at roughly 1h56m10s when one of the Autobots pushes off the ground by firing his weapons then lands and jumps over a screaming woman...or you need a better sub. :D That bass sweep is in other movies, but I like that scene. I really like that scene. That bass just reels me into the movie. The PC13-Ultra handles it with no problem - and so does the SB13. The SB13 didn't break a sweat.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2014
    Adam,
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  2. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Blu-Ray: The Fast and the Furious
    [​IMG]
    A solid performance from the SB13 throughout the movie. Bass was solid throughout the movie, but the only specific scene that comes to mind is the Race Wars scenes out in the desert when the dance/techno music is playing. The bass in those scenes just seems to wrap around me. It was impressive - not overpowering or muddy, just clean and tight.


    SACD: Depeche Mode - Violator
    [​IMG]
    The surround mix on this SACD is, in my opinion, outstanding. With a combination of dance and pop music, there is plenty of bass. The SB13 provided a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable experience over the whole album. I never once could localize the sub or felt that the bass didn’t blend well with the rest of the music. I started playing the music to test the sub, but ended up just sitting there listening in complete enjoyment because it sounded so good.


    SACD: Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
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    This is another SACD with a great surround sound mix. The SB13 provided excellent integration between the bass and higher frequencies. While I could slightly localize the sub during “Money for Nothing,” I couldn’t on any of the other songs. The bass always sounded clean.


    CD: Yes - 90125
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    I chose this disc because there are plenty of passages with no low frequency that then transition into the sub playing, and it helps me determine how well the sub integrates into the rest of the system. The SB13 did an outstanding job. I couldn’t tell when the sub was playing or not unless I switched off my other speakers. To me, that’s how it should be. I don’t want to be able to pick out the sub from the rest of the speakers, and I couldn’t. With the other speakers off, I could tell just how cleanly and quickly the SB13 was playing the notes. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was nice and clean with plenty of sub usage, “Cinema” has fairly fast transitions and sounded great, and “Hearts” really showed off to me the perfect blending of the SB13 into the system when the drums started in around the one minute mark.


    Measurements
    As mentioned above, the SB13 was located in a corner for these measurements. I took measurements after running the MCAAC calibration routine on my Pioneer Elite receiver. I used a CD with test tones to generate constant frequency signals, and I used a Radio Shack analog SPL meter to measure the SPL. I also used correction factors for the meter, which were similar to but slightly different than those in SVS’s spreadsheet available online. I set the volume level to -32.5 dB to keep the volume of the test acceptable in my living room.

    [​IMG]

    My top level take away is that I was very happy at the response that I was able to get down to 16 Hz (the lowest frequency on my CD).

    The results are shown in the two charts below. I only show results up to 80 Hz because my receiver’s crossover was set to that frequency, and there was a noticeable slope above that point. The top chart shows three separate tests:
    1. Measurements taken after running MCAAC but before enabling the sub’s PEQ
    2. Measurements taken after using the first PEQ band to smooth out the peak around 30 Hz
    3. Measurements after rerunning MCAAC to readjust the sub level after decreasing the output with the PEQ

    These results were achieved in very little time on my part. If I were going to continue to use this sub in that location, I would have enabled the second PEQ band and adjusted both bands to smooth the curve out even more.

    [​IMG]

    The second chart below shows the final settings (from item 3 above) along with +/- 3dB bars around the average. Overall, fairly smooth given that I didn’t work too hard at it.

    [​IMG]

    For comparison, the frequency response shown on SVS’s product page is shown below.

    [​IMG]


    Conclusion
    It has been a real pleasure using and reviewing the SB13-Ultra. I was a bit surprised that the sealed design with significantly less volume could hold its own against my PC13-Ultra, but it did. It did on everything that I threw at it. Granted, that is in my room and applies to my listening habits (which aren’t at 100+ dB), but my room isn’t necessarily small at ~3800 ft³.

    Five years ago, I chose the PC13-Ultra over the PB13-Ultra for three main reasons: smaller footprint, lighter weight, and lower cost. I couldn’t fit the PB13 where I wanted it, I almost surely wouldn’t be able to move it (it weighs more than I do), and it costs a good bit more. The new SB13-Ultra has the same weight advantage and nearly the same footprint advantage as the PC13, and it’s not nearly as tall, and it’s less expensive. Had it existed back in 2007, it might very well have been my choice.

    [​IMG]

    While the slightly limited number of finishes (two) and lack of grille options make the SB13-Ultra less than perfect for me, the fact that those are the only negatives that I can think to mention about a $1500 subwoofer should speak volumes about this design. $1500 isn’t chump change, but it just might be one of the best bargains around. I highly (and I’ll repeat – highly) recommend that you consider this sub if you are in the market for a sub at this level.

    Again, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. Thanks for reading!
    Adam,
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  3. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

    Irvrobinson
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    Nice review. I enjoyed the video.

    The corner placement you chose... I can't believe that's really optimum placement, sound-wise. Did you ever listen to the sub with a more central placement, like in front of the video monitor? I'd bet you would get a better blend in that location.
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  4. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Thanks!

    I haven't try the sub in a different location, yet. Years ago, I did try my PC13 in various locations, but always in places that I'd actually put it for everyday use. My view on AV equipment is - I want it to be able to work around my life, not the other way around. (Gasp, right? It's like I'm an Audioholic fraud. :D) In the end, that corner was the best out of the locations that I tried. So, I gravitated towards testing the SB13 in that same corner. I also wanted to give myself the best chance to do an apples-to-apples comparison against the PC13. I forgot to mention that mentality in my review, but I was very happy that it gave such a good response with minimal effort when placed where I wanted it.

    Although I didn't show it, I did measure the frequency response with the speakers and sub both on, and it's really flat from 80 Hz and up. I do get interactions at some lower frequencies, but I think that the dual-band PEQ would help a lot with those.
    Adam,
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  5. pbc Audioholic

    pbc
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    Great review Adam! I agree, the SB13 seems to give out output that belies its size! I think the limiters are so darn good in the sub that even as it hits its limits we don't notice because the sound is so subtle you don't hear a difference.

    Look forward to watching the video once I get home tonight!

    Steve
    pbc,
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  6. pbc Audioholic

    pbc
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    Great review Adam! I agree, the SB13 seems to give out output that belies its size! I think the limiters are so darn good in the sub that even as it hits its limits we don't notice because the sound is so subtle you don't hear a difference.

    Look forward to atching the video once I get home tonight!

    Steve
    pbc,
  7. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Thanks, Steve! I also look forward to watching your videos when I get home from work (haven't left for work, yet...but I gotta get going! :)).

    I think that everyone wins with contests like this - us lucky reviewers and people reading the reviews. I hope that AH has more like this. You and I did some things similarly in our reviews, but others things differently, and I'm sure that eugovector will have even more info for people. I think all these reviews will help people learn about this new sub, and hopefully spark interest in it.
    Adam,
  8. TheWarrior Audioholic Field Marshall

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    Thanks for the review! And yes, I just got the email this morning about the intro offer on these subs, but I am still content sticking with the PC 12's.

    What program did you use to create the FR graphs, was that something you had or SVS/Audioholics provided for you? And I assume a USB mic to your computer?

    (just found the answer, nevermind)

    Assuming that setup is not ridiculously expensive, I'd love to try that myself. Tinkering is a hobby, and this does not involve torque specs an thousandths of an inch, so I'd be in nirvana!
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012
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  9. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Thanks!

    I see that you found the answer, but I'll expand because I didn't say everything. I put together an Excel spreadsheet years ago, and SVS happens to have a similar one already put together that you can download - that's the link that hopefully you found in my review. I have a CD with test tones (different constant frequencies on each track), but you can also download those tones off of the internet. I just play a tone, measure the level on my SPL meter, type it into Excel on my laptop (I used to write them down and then type then in later, before I got my laptop), and then move on to the next tone. It's pretty inexpensive (tones can be found free, and an SPL meter is about $50), and very easy to do.
    Adam,
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  10. 3db Audioholic Overlord

    3db
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    Nice review Adam. :) Congrats on the new sub.
    3db,
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  11. majorloser Moderator

    majorloser
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    Really nice review! Even included a video, nice touch.

    But the best part was the Twister screen :D
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  12. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Thanks! It's been a real pleasure being able to audition this thing. I'll be sad when it goes back. :( :)
    Adam,
  13. Adam Audioholic Jedi

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    Thanks, Dave! I'm glad that someone noticed that. :D My little homage to the crew. :p
    Adam,
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  14. ParadigmDawg Audioholic Overlord

    ParadigmDawg
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    Very well done Adam.

    A few things I would change:

    1. I would mask the Emo gear, just plain black electrical tape would do.

    2. I would have included more video shots of you during the review; to prove you have clothes on. I have a feeling you were necked during the review .

    3. I would move Nikki's water and food bowl closer to her bed. Why should she get up to eat or drink?
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  15. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Thanks, Greg!

    1. But, the amps look good. :D I feel compelled to say something for all the new people who might be reading this thread because they came here to read about the sub. :eek: I really do think that the amps look good and they perform very well - that's why I keep them hooked up - but a lot of you know my hassles with them.

    2. I tell you what - I cut my hair, shaved, and wore a lot nicer clothes (note - "nicer", not "more" :D) than I normally do an a weekend just to be in the video. It was a combination of not being able to frame the videos correctly, and...well...my natural fear of being on camera that kept me out of the shots.

    3. Are you kidding? That's about the only exercise that she gets anymore. I'll sprinkle salt by her just to make her thirsty enough to move to the water. (J/K, any new people. :D). Actually, if you watched her eat, you'd probably get a kick out of it. When I first got her, I put food in a bowl, but she'd always tip the bowl over so that the food was on the ground, then she'd lay down and eat it. Now, I put a towel down on the carpet and put her food on it, and she plunks down and eats it. :)
    Adam,
  16. 3db Audioholic Overlord

    3db
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    Oh frig.. here I thought you bought it. Oh well. at least you got to play with it...erm the sub that is. ;)
    3db,
  17. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    Well, I do need to send this one back - but I'm seriously considering buying one if I don't win. The sub really is that good, and the smaller size is tempting me.
    Adam,
  18. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

    AcuDefTechGuy
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    They should just give it to you or at least let you keep it for 75% off MSRP. :D
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  19. Adam Audioholic Jedi

    Adam
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    I did think about asking if I could buy it at a discount, seeing as how it would at least save them the cost of having it shipped back. :) But, they never mentioned that, and I tend not to push things. Well, that and despite knowing that the black oak is better for me...I can't help craving the gloss black. My preciouuuus.
    Adam,
  20. Matt34 Moderator

    Matt34
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    If you don't, I'm going to ask them if I can buy your demo as long as you sign the back of it.
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