When I started getting into home theater, research led me to making my first “real” audio purchase: a subwoofer. After reading tons of reviews and analyzing performance specs, I drove to a boutique store in San Francisco and bought a big, fat, 15-inch driver model that could rattle windows and vibrate furniture.
Today, the subwoofer remains one of the most important components of a well-designed home theater system, providing the impact, depth, and emotion to the movie-watching experience. A good subwoofer elevates that experience to the next level and can raise the quality of any speaker system. And a great sub adds that all-important third dimension: feel.
Bass performance is where a sub lives and dies and, without qualification, the SB16-Ultra definitely goes to 11.
Since the company’s founding in 1998, SVS has steadily carved out a reputation as a manufacturer of high-performance/high-value subwoofers and speakers. Frequently, SVS models are compared with other components costing significantly more. Initially sold to consumers via its website, SVS now has direct dealer relationships and is a serious player in the home theater market.
At CES last year, I lingered outside the SVS suite after sitting through the company’s demo talking to company director of brand messaging, Nicholas Brown. Then, another door to a “secret room” opened up, and out walked company CEO, Gary Yacoubian, talking hush-hush to someone. I overheard the phrase “16-inch driver” which piqued my curiosity, but Nick swore me to secrecy and offered little more than, “We’re working on a new flagship, but it isn’t ready to show or talk about…yet.”
Fast-forward to this year’s CES, and SVS unveiled not one but two new flagship models, both incorporating the massive 16-inch driver and featuring similar groundbreaking technology. Similar to many SVS designs, the new subs are offered in sealed and ported cabinets. The pros and cons of both designs have been the subject of much discussion and debate on forums, but, in a nutshell, sealed designs are generally smaller in size and produce tighter bass that can be a bit more accurate for music listening, whereas ported designs feature larger cabinets that provide maximum dynamic output in the 18-36Hz range with higher SPL levels.
Now, I would never be described as a shrinking violet when it comes to audio gear, but the ported, PB16-Ultra measuring 25x21.7x30.9 (HxWxD) and weighing a hernia-rupturing 174.5 pounds was just too massive for me to consider in my room. Fortunately, the sealed SB16-Ultra was downright svelte in comparison, measuring “only” 20x19.5x22.9 and 122 pounds, and I found the demo so impressive I told Nick to send me a review sample as soon as one was available.
While the pros of using a large driver are the ability to produce tons of output at the lowest frequencies, the drawbacks can be flabby, boomy, bloated, and non-musical response. A big driver is more difficult to control, principally to start and stop, meaning that large subs often sacrifice accuracy and speed for depth. SVS overcame these challenges with major two new developments.
The first is a massive 8-inch edge-wound voice coil on the 16-inch driver– the largest ever utilized on a consumer subwoofer. This massive voice coil, along with four incredibly heavy toroidal ferrite magnets, allow for massive excursion to deliver huge SPL at low frequencies while retaining incredible control over the massive driver. The entire woofer assembly is 56 pounds (48 of which is the motor!).
The second major innovation employed is SVS’s new Sledge STA-1500D amplifier. This Class D amp delivers 1,500 watts of continuous power with a staggering 5,000 watts peak, when needed. This mighty beast of an amp is coupled with a 50MHz Analog Devices Audio DSP with 56-bit filtering to harness and unleash the right amount of power when needed.
The sub is offered in a gorgeous-looking piano gloss black finish as well as a more traditional black oak veneer. I opted for the gloss black, which looks terrific next to my Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L tower. You start to get a sense of the sub’s power when you heft the steel mesh grille, the size and weight of which would make it a suitable substitute for a Spartan shield.
Connection-wise, the SB16-Ultra has you covered with both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR left/right inputs as well as outputs. There is also a 3V-12V trigger input and a detachable power cord. In an age where companies routinely send owners to a website for a manual, SVS includes a well-written manual that explains all of the sub’s settings and features as well as placement recommendations.
Controlling the sub is done in one of three ways: front-panel buttons using the integrated LED display, IR remote, or an innovative Bluetooth SVS Mobile app available for both iOS and Android. The two-way app will likely be the preferred control method, as it allows easy access to all of the sub’s features and settings. Beyond simple things like volume adjustment, there are three user-adjustable presets–Movie, Music, Custom–as well as three parametric EQ filters perfect for taming those pesky in-room peaks in bass response.
Bass performance is where a sub lives and dies, and without qualification, the SB16-Ultra definitely goes to 11. No matter the material I threw at it, the sub delivered bass that was massive yet tight and lightning fast.
The SB16-Ultra is completely genre agnostic, performing equally well with jazzy double-bass notes, to big electronic hip hop synth bass, to massive film explosions. The SB16-Ultra had no problem energizing the air in my large family room, producing tactile bass that hammered my chest, and delivering next-level bass realism, letting you feel the soundtrack and experience the action more deeply.
Reviewing the SB16-Ultra was one of the most fun times I’ve had with a product, as it gave me an excuse to re-watch some of my favorite bass-heavy, dynamic scenes from movies. I spent hours scrolling through my Kaleidescape movie collection, picking scenes and sampling a few minutes here and there, each time marveling at the infrasonic information that the SB16-Ultra was able to squeeze from a scene, turning each viewing into something new, and making everything you watched that much more exciting.
If I have one complaint with the sub, it’s that it doesn’t include any kind of auto setup room equalization. Granted, most receivers feature this, but at $2,000–and with all that DSP on hand–being able to have the sub dial itself in for the best bass performance would be icing on the cake. Also, its monumental bass output will lay bare anything in your home that isn’t screwed-and-glued, producing rattles and buzzes that you hadn’t known existed.
Are there subs out there that might outperform the SB16-Ultra? Perhaps, but they do so at a cost of up to six times what the SB16-Ultra sells for. The SB16-Ultra is a force multiplier, improving the performance of any system you add it to. I give it my highest recommendation.
Massive, visceral, ultra-powerful bass; terrific app control; user adjustable presets
No auto-setup; exposes every loose/rattling item in your home
► 16-inch driver with massive 8-inch edge wound voice coil
► Sledge STA-1500D DSP amplifier delivers 1,500 watt continuous power output, with 5,160 watts peak dynamic power
► Apple iOS and Android two-way control app
► 16 – 460 Hz +/-3 dB
► 50 MHz Analog Devices Audio DSP with 56bit filtering
► Inputs: RCA stereo, XLR stereo, 3.5mm trigger; Outputs: RCA stereo, XLR stereo; detachable power cord
► Dimensions: 20 x 19.5 x 22.9-inches (H x W x D), 122 pounds