Power Sound Audio (abbreviated to PSA for the rest of the review) started small, manufacturing a couple of solid 15” subwoofer models in their Mineral Ridge, Ohio facility. Despite just launching it didn’t take long for co-founders Tom Vodhanel and Jim Farina to begin working on bigger things. The sealed XS15 and vented XV15 were soon followed by the XS30 and XV30, the sealed variant of which was reviewed by yours truly here on HTF last year. It was around that time when Jim and I were on the phone discussing the XS30 and I mentioned my desire to see PSA produce something that could compete with the really big boys. Without letting the cat out of the bag, Jim let me know that they had bigger things in the works, and that was all he would say.
Fast forward a year, and PSA has launched a really compelling line of speakers at an unbelievable price point and have just recently lifted the veil on a really big, really badass behemoth to crown their subwoofer lineup, the T-18. All those adjectives aren’t for play, as this subwoofer really doesn’t hold back in any aspect. Featuring three 18” custom designed drivers in a hexagonal cabinet, a 4000W RMS / 8000W peak plate amp with custom DSP (the same amp in the Seaton Sound SubMersive HP+), and a CEA-2010 rated output of 121.7dB between 20 and 31.5 Hz and 135.7dB between 40-63Hz, it’s hard to overstate just how ridiculous (in a totally awesome way) this sub is.
Being the lucky (and slightly crazy) guy that I am, I managed to convince Jim and Tom to ship me one of these beasts to play with. When I say beast, I mean that this thing arrives via freight on a pallet, and weighs 170lbs with grills on. Yeah, that kind of beast.
Design & Build Quality
The T-18 is without a doubt among the most solid subwoofers I’ve ever reviewed from a cabinet perspective, heavily braced and absolutely uncompromising in every aspect. The three grills weigh close to 5 pounds each and certainly do a good job of protecting the drivers.
The finish on the T-18 I reviewed is the standard base black, which I would compare to any black matte sub finish on the market. A little like truck bed liner but not quite so rough, it’s high quality, thickly applied and withstood my standard scratch/scuff test without issue (sorry Tom & Jim).
On the aspect of design it bears mentioning that if this subwoofer has a downfall, it is the amount of floor space it requires. With three high excursion 18” woofers in a hexagonal cabinet, there’s no getting around the internal air volume required for the sub to perform. The longest dimensions on the cabinet are 30.7” and 26.7” respectively with grills on. That means you’ll need a solid 3’x2.25’ area to put this sub in while leaving room to move around it. In my 12x18 room that resulted in some slight challenges but ultimately didn’t pose a massive problem. For those with picky spouses or limited space, please ensure you measure first and use something like a large box to simulate the size of the sub to ensure you’ll be happy with it. There is no question that the size is worth it for the performance delivered, but you’ll want to ensure you can live with it none the less.
Setup & Calibration
After the slightly hazardous job of moving the subwoofer into my theater room and unboxing it (seriously folks, phone a friend for help), I placed it in the rear of my room about 2/5th’s of the way along the wall, which happens to be one of my subwoofer sweet spots and began to dial it in.
The task of setting up a subwoofer properly which seems so much like witchcraft when you’re new to it, eventually becomes second nature. Armed with my laptop, a copy of REW and an iSEMCON calibrated EMM-8 earthworks microphone, I ran a few sweeps to verify frequency response in my primary seating position and set levels using my Galaxy SPL meter (c-weighting, slow response). The T-18 features two DSP modes that the user can select between, one for rooms larger than 5000 cubic feet, and one for rooms smaller than this. If you use the larger room mode in a smaller room, you will notice greater bottom end extension and better room gain. In my case, I chose to go with the small room setting as I have a lot of room related issues below 15Hz.
Below, I’ve included an unequalized response from my listening position with the sub in place. As you can see – a very correctable result with plenty of headroom considering the volume on the amp was only at 9 o’clock and the AVR was quite low.
I used Audyssey Pro to perform my calibration, and netted an extremely flat response after the hour spent taking measurements. Finished with calibration, I proceeded to confirm my bass management settings and started with the listening tests.
When seeing what a subwoofer can do, I have a go-to list of about five tracks that I always use. I always start off with Bass I Love You from Bassotronics which is great for “feeling” the amount of ULF reproduced. I then move on to the Ultimate Bass Test an old but reliable mp3 I have laying around with some extremely intense mid-bass. I’ll follow this up with the Tron Legacy soundtrack which has excellent pressurizing bass content from Daft Punk, and end with Global Drum Project by Mickey Hart and The Very Best Of by Acoustic Alchemy.
Starting with Bass I Love You and Ultimate Bass Test, it was obvious that the T-18 could handle ultra-pressurizing subsonic content with ease as well as deliver a huge amount of impact. Turning the volume anywhere close to reference level had my room rattling in ways I never thought possible. Even with such impressive output capacity, the T-18 was remarkably dynamic also, delivering intense bass without being rude about it.
The Tron Legacy soundtrack was a treat with The Grid hammering at me almost as impressively as Rinzler, each track again showing the capacity of the T-18 to play low, deep, loud and still retain the tight and controlled response one would expect from a smaller sealed sub.
Moving on to the fidelity tests, I began with Global Drum Project. Mickey Hart’s placement of both intense and delicate percussive elements in his music is masterful, and a true workout for any system 2 channel or otherwise. Even so, it is possibly the ultimate test of subwoofer and main integration to listen to Hart’s music in a 2.1 setup particularly when a sub is capable of so much output, ensuring that it seamlessly supports the mains.
In the case of the T-18, it was extremely impressive how little apparent directionality the bass had. Despite the sub being behind my listening position, the attack of each note was tight, localized and extremely coherent. Deeper content from larger drum instruments such as Japanese Taiko drums and African dundunba was authentically reproduced at every listening level but not ever to the extent that the bass overwhelmed any part of the music.
There are a lot of movies that have great bass, but I usually limit my testing to a handful of titles that I know very well. In part because it’s easier to compare the same material across different products, but also because it’s a great time saver. With the T-18, my test material consisted of Dolby’s The Sound of HD3 demo disc and The Edge of Tomorrow on Blu-ray.
Dolby’s demo disc is a fantastic resource because it fits so many clip sized segments onto an easy to access menu. I usually use the Art of Flight demo, the Dolby Spheres Demo, and the Star Trek (2009) final battle scene for my testing.
The T-18 demonstrated in the Art of Flight demo that it can easily make pant legs flap and shake the couch, in addition to delivering some brutally clean bass. The music that plays during this short demo is an intense dubstep bassline that is a great subwoofer workout. There are a variety of “drops” in the track that give a solid sense of impact and demonstrate how well a sub can pressurize a room.
Moving on to the Spheres demo, I was really impressed by how low the T-18 was able to play and by the sheer volume of air moved. Even compared to other monster subs like the SubMersive HP+ (my sub), the amount of visceral bass impact from the T-18, especially with a near field placement is truly outstanding. You won’t need buttkickers with this sub.
For those who aren’t aware, The Edge of Tomorrow has some truly insane sub-20Hz ULF content during the opening half minute or so that can esily destroy lesser subwoofers. This segment is hard to ignore on a well calibrated and capable sub and when reproduced properly is jaw droppingly awesome. With the T-18 properly dialed in, the experience was the most intense home theater bass reproduction I’ve ever encountered from a non-DIY sub. The sub-20Hz content can be felt throughout your entire body and if you’re anything like me, this will induce a giddy grin that’ll be hard to wipe off your face.
The internet direct subwoofer market has lost some well-known names over the past few years (Epik), but has thankfully added newer players like Power Sound Audio who know their business very well. While most internet direct players produce a subwoofer at the top of their line capable of extreme output, the only real competitors to the T-18 at $2999 are the $2695 Seaton Sound SubMersive HP+, and the $3299 JTR Captivator S2. In the retail space, Paradigm’s $8999 SUB2 is definitely a good comparison to the T-18 but plays in a different price range.
Having reviewed the SUB2 and owning the SubMersive HP+, I’ll do my best to give you a solid idea of where the T-18 stacks up to both of these. To start off, PSA has their own comparison chart showing CEA-2010 data for some of these:
Starting with the SUB2, there is no question that the T-18 is actually an even more powerful subwoofer. While the SUB2 may have a very small edge in musicality for 2 channel critical listening, there’s really no contest between these two subs unless you are hoping to save a few inches of floor space as the SUB2 is a bit smaller.
The SubMersive HP+ is a really interesting comparison to the T-18, as they both use the same amplifier, are both sealed designs and both compete in a very similar price range. In my room it was very clear that the T-18 had the greater output capability of the two subs, though I couldn’t take advantage of that without hearing and structural damage. In terms of sound quality for 2 channel listening, it’s a really close contest. My ears have grown pretty accustomed to the HP+, and it is a really musical sub with a different design than the T-18 that requires less floor space.
If you’re looking for premium finishes or floor space is a concern, I personally think the SubMersive HP+ is likely to be the better choice. If you’re after high output, low frequency extension and floor space isn’t a worry, there is no contest at all. For anyone who wants insane visceral bass, a high quality cabinet and the best value in high end subwoofers, the T-18 is the sub to buy. Highly Recommended.