My HIGHLY Technical Subwoofer Comparison Test

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by EdNichols, Feb 3, 2005.

  1. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    As a preface to my test I would like say how much I admire and appreciate the work that some of the HTF members do to test subwoofers so that the rest of us can make educated decisions on what we should purchase. I realize that their work requires many hours of charting, listening, testing, and data summarizing. But I thought it would be fun to take a totally illogical and subjective view to see how one subwoofer might fare over another. So, for those of us that have trouble knowing the difference between a THD and an SPL I offer the following HIGHLY technical subwoofer comparison test.
    So are you………….


    READY TO RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE??!!

    The Contenders:

    In Corner #1! Weighing in at 85 pounds with a dimension of 20” wide x 17” tall x 27” deep. We have a VMPS New “Original” sub. This passive sub. has a front firing 12” driver called a megawoofer which is a carbon fiber cone with a rubber surround and a floor firing 15” passive radiator. It has 1” thk. cabinet walls and is finished off in a light oak laminate with a black fabric speaker cover. It is powered by NAD 216THX amp bridged at 400 watts. I bought this sub. about a year and half ago as my first “real” sub. I had considered many brands and decided on the VMPS since so many were talking about well it sounded with music.

    In Corner #2! Weighing in at 60 lbs. With a dimension of 15 ½” wide x 19” tall x 21 ½” deep we have the new SVS PB-10. This sub also is front firing with an ISD 10” driver and a 3” flared port. This active sub is powered by a built in 300 watt BASH amp. Its cabinet wall thickness is 1” and it is finished off in an attractive black textured finish. I just purchased this sub. about 4 weeks ago after reading all of the rave reviews I just had to see for myself what all the hype was about.

    In Corner #3! Weighing in at 35 lbs. With a dimension of 12”wide x 13”tall x 17”deep we have a Kenwood H-130. This sub is also front firing with an 8” driver and since the fabric cover is not removable an unknown port. This active sub is powered by a 100 watt amp. It is finished off in a nice black laminate and a 5/8” thk. MDF cabinet. This little guy was my first sub. and has been sitting in a closet for about a year. I have placed in a couple of garage sales but most yard salers don’t know what a sub. is, so I still have it. I bought it not knowing anything about HT except that subwoofers go boom, boom. It served it purpose pretty good but thanks to HTF I have been educated by what a sub is supposed to do. Anyway, I digress. Back to the test.

    The Ring
    My family/living/gathering/dance/play/entertainment room is 16’ wide by 20’ long with 9’ ceilings. The floor is hardwood with an area rug in the middle. The entertainment center is center stage on one of the long 20’ walls with 5’ archway type openings to other rooms on either side. On the opposite 20’ wall is a couch and two end tables. To the right of the couch near the corner of the room is yet another opening to a bedroom that can be closed off. Finally, on one of the 16’ walls is a fireplace and two windows, and on the opposite 16’ wall is two high back chairs and a table in-between. For this test, I crammed all three subs side by side along this wall between the two chairs. I used a double “Y” cable to connect each sub to the source only requiring a flick of the subs power switch to change from one sub to the other during the test.

    The Judges
    Many reviewers and critics alike preach about how effective (or ineffective) a double blind test is when reviewing components. I thought I would do one better and offer a TRIPLE blind test. That is to have 3 HIGHLY qualified judges to rate the SOUND, not volume, and not pants flapping ability, of these subs.
    For this test, I employed the best judges that money can buy…… well, my money anyway. That being the case, the following is the best my money can buy:

    Judge #1;
    My wife, high school English teacher. Highly qualified critic in the literary arena, Enjoys any type of music from Kenny G to Led Zepplin. Her audio/video abilities include being able to turn on and off the TV without assistance and sometimes the stereo as long as the source is the CD player.

    Judge #2;
    My oldest daughter, junior in high school, and highly qualified in the arena of boy friends. She enjoys the “new stuff”, Usher, Creed but also enjoys some of the classic rock that her mom and I play at times. She is somewhat more adept at the remotes than judge #1. She still hasn’t mastered recording a TV show but she can play a CD or DVD.

    Judge #3
    My youngest daughter, 8th grade gymnastics extraordinaire, highly qualified in tumbles, back flips, cartwheels, and moves that I can’t even name. Her music tastes and technical abilities are similar to judge #2, and she is the movie watcher in the family. She will buy a DVD and watch it a minimum of 50 times or until she has it memorized word for word, whichever comes first.

    The Rules

    To satisfy even the harshest critic I thought I would verify the “blindness” of the judges to prove that they have no bias in the choosing of the subwoofer sound they think is best. I did this by asking each of them two questions at different times and in different rooms so their answers would not be swayed by the other.

    Question #1
    “What is an SVS?” (Asked before the SVS box arrived on my door step)

    Answer:
    Judge #1 “A car part”
    Judge #2 “ A car”
    Judge #3 “A car”

    Question #2
    “What do you think a subwoofer should sound like.”

    Judge #1 “ Clear, with deep sound”
    Judge #2 “ Like thunder”
    Judge #3 “ Low and deep, like boom, boom, boom”


    I am sure I could have asked a third question about what a VMPS is and would get the same answer as in question #1, even though that sub. has been sitting in the family room corner for a year and half.

    The Music
    I asked each judge to choose two songs in which there would be quite a bit of bass so we could compare the subs.

    I provided a grading sheet for each judge with the songs listed on the left hand margin and 3 columns labeled “A,B,C”. I asked each of them to rate the SOUND of the sub by grading it either with a 1,2, or 3 with 1 being worst sound and 3 being the best. On the right margin was a column for comments based on there opinion of the sound. To aid in the comments I provided a list of adjectives to help them describe the sound they heard. Some of these were: boxy, boomy, muddy, dull, mushy, slow, bright, clean, tight, fast. I played part of the song until each judge felt they had a good sense of the bass sound for that song. I then immediately switch over to the next sub and replayed the same section of the song. When switching subs I went through the same motions appearing as though I was turning one sub on and another off each time so that even if the judges were watching me they couldn’t tell if I was switching the sub on or off. They recorded their scores and comments immediately after hearing the third repeat of the song.

    Each sub was calibrated to the same level with a Radio Shack SPL meter using the receiver’s pink noise. In addition, I also used a Rives Audio Test CD with a built in correction factor to assure that the volume levels for each sub was the same. The volume was agreed upon by the judges( -15 db below reference)before the test and was not changed during the test. The overall sub. setting was below the mains by 3db. Each judge was seated side-by-side on the couch which was approximately 6’ from the subs.

    The Results
    I tallied the results of each judge and summarized them based on the number of 1’s(worst) to 3’s(best) . I then multiplied the number of 1’s, 2’s & 3’s by the number if times that each judge scored that sub.

    SVS 11-1’s, 6’-2’s, & 12 -3’s ….. Total 29 points
    VMPS 6-1’s, 10-2’s & 7 – 3”s …. Total 37 points
    Kenwood 3-1’s, 10 – 2’s, & 5 – 3’s ..Total 38 points

    THE WINNER by a nose………. Kenwood!!

    Do I agree with this? No. Even though I was one who knew which sub was playing I could immediately tell a big difference in the sound with the Kenwood vs. the other two. The judges I think are like the vast majority of people. They think that loud boomy bass is better bass. That is also why many people who switch from an el-cheapo brand of sub. to a better brand are initially disappointed in the sound.


    Movies
    Just for fun I also played the LOTR “The Fellowship of the Rings”(daughters DVD) and forwarded to the Bridge of KHazad Dum section. I raised the volume to -10 db below reference and the overall sub setting to 0 db from the mains and had each judge rate the “WOW factor” of each sub based on how much the couch rumbled during this scene. The scale was also 1, worst, meaning the cat could fall asleep next to the sub to 3 being best, shake the floor, pictures, & couch.

    I again played this section three times and had the judges record their results.

    The VMPS … … 3 points
    The Kenwood … 6 points.
    The SVS …… 9 points

    Did I agree with this? No. The Kenwood bottomed out and started making clacking sounds so to me it should have been disqualified. I didn’t listen to the other two close enough to determine a winner for movies.

    Now it’s my Turn.

    I didn’t bother to include the Kenwood in my listening test since I knew it would be boomy and easy to tell it vs. the other two. I showed judge #3 how to switch between the two subs. I then selected one of the previously played songs and then left the room so even with my eyes closed I could not tell by sound which sub she was turning off or on. When she had the subs switched she would come and get me. I would enter the room with my head down so I could not see which sub was on. She would play a passage and I would score which sub. I thought was the smoothest and tightest and least boomy. I would leave the room, she would switch the subs, and I would return and listen again. After each of the three songs I would look up and see which sub was playing.

    My results.

    Song #1 Winner - SVS
    Song #2 Winner – SVS
    Song #3 Winner – VMPS

    Even though I did not know which sub was playing I had a pretty good suspicion because I had been comparing the two for the past few days so I had an idea of how each sounded. I did note that the SVS sounded more boomy on song #3 but what I determined after my judging was that the VMPS was actually rolling off due to the music having bass in the 20-30 hz. Range making the SVS sound louder than the VMPS.

    So there you have it. my HIGHLY technical subwoofer comparison test. No THD , no FR, no GR, no decay, no hours of listening tests, just plain ole subjectiveness by highly qualified judges.

    I now will go stand by the phone and wait for “Sound & Vision” call me for that job offer.
     
  2. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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    Despite the fact that you meant for this post to provide a little humor along with its information, its a damned good review in my opinion!
     
  3. Mike^S

    Mike^S Stunt Coordinator

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    That was great! I loved reading it. What's a SVS? A Car!!! LOL! [​IMG]
     
  4. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    Yeh, I thought about sending the idea to Cadillac so they could call their hotrod SUV an SVS to go along with the STS.
     
  5. Aaron_Mum

    Aaron_Mum Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks, great review! Kenwood rulz [​IMG].
     
  6. Ilkka R

    Ilkka R Second Unit

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    Are these correct?
    I think not.

    SVS 11+12+36=59 points
    VMPS 6+20+21=47 points
    KENWOOD 3+20+15=38 points

    Correct me if I didn't understand you calculating process.
    Why did different subs have different number of listening times? SVS 29, VMPS 23, KENWOOD 18.
     
  7. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    Remember, this was a HIGHLY technical test so even the scoring is confusing.

    SVS 11 points total from the 1's (or 11-1's), 6 points total from the 2's (or 3-2's)and 12 points total from the 3's (or 4-3's) 11+6+12 = 29
    VMPS 6-1's, 5-2's(10), 7-3's(21) grand total 37
    Kenwood 3-1's, 10-2's(20), 5-3's(15) grand total 38

    I should have made that clearer. Thanks.

    Each sub has 18 scores.
     
  8. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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    I wonder if you can infer that the SVS is actually better than the VMPS since is scored the lowest by your family and beat the VMPS 2 out of 3 for your test [​IMG]
     
  9. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    Actually the judges rated the VMPS second and the SVS last. I rated the SVS better than the VMPS but I don't have trained ears like they do!!
     
  10. Ilkka R

    Ilkka R Second Unit

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    Some subs have total points and some not. Very confusing. You should edit that first post.
     
  11. Eric Hargrove

    Eric Hargrove Stunt Coordinator

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    Too funny. Probably the only "review" we'll ever see an 8" Kenwood HTiB sub trounce an SVS. Or for that matter, the VMPS. I guess it's back to the drawing board for a couple of manufacturers.[​IMG]
     
  12. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Is Kenwood a public company? [​IMG] their stock is about to go up. LOL.
     
  13. LeonM

    LeonM Auditioning

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    Great post. I've been tempted to try something like this with my family members.
     
  14. steve nn

    steve nn Cinematographer

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    And just to think! I gave that very same Kenwood sub to a friend years ago. I think I'll ask for it back!

    Seriously though> Very nice read and fun to boot!
     
  15. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    In all seriousness that Kenwood isn't a bad little sub. It would do pretty good in a smaller room.
     
  16. Greg Bright

    Greg Bright Second Unit

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    Actually their responses to your question:

    “What is an SVS?” (Asked before the SVS box arrived on my door step)

    Answer:
    Judge #1 “A car part”
    Judge #2 “ A car”
    Judge #3 “A car”

    were not far off the mark. Subaru once made an odd car called the SVX. Close enough.

    Greg
     
  17. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    This is quite funny and enlightening.

    Some of us like to think that HT mag is a good mag, right? (For the most part, I do like them.) They did a sub comparison a few months back, and I can't remember all the details, but I remembered one. In multiple S&V tests, PSB subs get really high scores for "consistency of bass response." Flatness of freq response, for the most part. The PSB did *not* get well reviewed in the HT mag comparison specifically because it wasn't boomy in the 30 - 50 Hz range. I remember more than one reviewer saying that it just didn't stand out enough. Morons. [​IMG] I wrote them a letter to the editor explaining the issue, but never heard anything in reply.

    Whenever I go over friends' places with my trusty SPL meter and test discs, after set up without fail, every single person has said: "I can't hear the sub." Then I have to explain that that's the way it's supposed to be. The sub is *not* supposed to be noticeable by itself. It *supports* the content in the rest of the system.

    The other day, and I can't remember this reference and I wish I could, I came across some verbage that the proper way to adjust sub level is to adjust the volume so you can hear it distinctly, *then* slowly drop the volume until it just disappears. Right on. [​IMG]

    The travesty? I bet *some* submakers specifically make their subs with a peaky response, because that's what some buyers want. Luckily for us, SVS and some other makers do *not* believe in this. [​IMG]
     
  18. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    There is some really great insight in the middle of all of this.
    This part in particular


    Ed,
    Your review was really realistic to a bunch of us including me. I could easily see myself in that situation. Now since you praised an SVS in a review like this, your review will likely be mentioned in othre comaparisons and they'll likely just call you another fanboy. Sad but true.
     
  19. EdNichols

    EdNichols Second Unit

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    Your review was really realistic to a bunch of us including me. I could easily see myself in that situation. Now since you praised an SVS in a review like this, your review will likely be mentioned in othre comaparisons and they'll likely just call you another fanboy. Sad but true.

    They can call me whatever they want. But I call it like I see it(or hear ir for that matter). As a matter of fact, I bought the VMPS last year because I didn't want to be another SVS person who created a new thread that said "HEY I just got an SVS and I can't believe what it can do!!!. Then when you read the thread you find out that the person went from an elcheapo sub, like my Kenwood, to a REAL sub. and of course it is going to sound better. The VMPS is a very good sub but, this year, after all the write ups about the PB-10 being so good, I just had to try one for myself. So I did and with MY system it blends and sounds better than the VMPS. Is that the case for all systems? Probably not. Do I like the SVS? Yes. Is it the best value out there in the $400 range? As far as I know, yes. Are there better subs? Sure. Will it be my last sub? No.
     
  20. qualen

    qualen Agent

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    Great review! Thanks for taking the time and sharing.
     

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