One’s second review in any given product category can be even tougher, though, because of the tendency to compare it to the first, irrespective of considerations like price, ergonomics, value, and the like.
That’s the situation I find myself in with Niles Audio’s SW6.5 6.5-Inch Powered Compact Subwoofer. I’ve only recently become intimately familiar with the micro-subwoofer phenomenon firsthand, by way of Sunfire’s ATMOS subwoofer, which I reviewed for Residential Systems a few months back. Like the SW6.5, the ATMOS features six-and-a-half inch drivers. Their form factors and level of fit and finish are remarkably similar—both subs are quite simply gorgeous, well-built, boast plentiful connections, and oodles of tweakability.
That said, there are any number of differences. The ATMOS boasts 1400 watts of peak power and 300 watts RMS into two powered drivers. The SW6.5 on review here includes an amp capable of 800 watts dynamic output and 200 watts RMS, with only one active driver (and two passive radiators) to push. The ATMOS weighs 32 pounds; the SW6.5 only 11. The ATMOS costs $2000; the SW6.5 only $500.
So is it fair to compare the two? Perhaps not, and you should take that in mind while reading this review. Because fair or not, I can’t help but compare them, given that the one came out of my secondary home theater system to make room for the other, and given that they ostensibly fall into the same broad product category—itsy bitsy subwoofers that more than hold their own with big black boxes four times their size.
I’ll say this, though: hooking up the SW6.5 and putting it through its paces went a long way toward ameliorating my fear that it wasn’t a fair comparison. Because despite weighing a third as much and costing only a quarter what the ATMOS costs, it’s most certainly not merely a quarter or a third the subwoofer. Maybe it lacks the ATMOS’ raw output. And yes, its usable bass output cuts out at about 12 Hz higher than the ATMOS. But in terms of real world performance, the SW6.5 is one helluva little performer that most certainly stands on its own.
The first demo scenes I threw at the SW6.5 were from Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones. Once situated properly and tweaked and balanced with Anthem Room Correction, the opening sequence of queen Amidala’s decoy ship roaring through space lacks virtually nothing through the SW6.5 The bass is exceedingly satisfying—rich, deep, enveloping, resonant (in the good sense of the word). Skip forward a few chapters and the asteroid chase involving Jango Fett and Obi-Wan (another favorite subwoofer demo, despite its sonic ludicrousness) absolutely lacks for nothing via the SW6.5. I’ve heard much larger sub struggled when cranked during this scene. Is the SW6.5 the most raucous? No. Is it the deepest? No. Its effortless output is laudable, though, and its performance with the scene is utterly satisfying.
Not surprisingly, the ultimate showdown near the end of The Incredible Hulk—the same sequence I found slightly lacking with the ATMOS—fairs a weensy bit worse with the SW6.5. I need to stress, though, that this is because I’ve played that scene to death over subwoofers capable of strong sub-20 Hz output. Taken in isolation—that is to say, if the SW6.5 were the only subwoofer I’d heard the fight pumped through, I daresay I wouldn’t find it lacking in the slightest. Every punch, every kick, every body-pounding smack and HULK SMASH slap is delivered with more than sufficient punch and power.
The SW6.5 also sounds really much better than I would have expected with most music. It wonderfully avoids that one-note tendency that plagues so many subs, especially ones in this price range. With most bass-heavy music, even, this little fellow provides plenty of kick. It wasn’t until really digging into music with particularly-deep-but-not-particularly-loud bass that I felt myself wanting a little more from the sub—Björk’s Post album in particular, and more specifically the track “Hyperballad.”
I’ve had a lot of fun listening to the likes of Beastie Boy’s Paul’s Boutique through the SW6.5, though—only “Hey Ladies” felt at all lacking—and with good old-fashioned rock and roll like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on DVD-Audio, this is seriously the Little Sub that Could.
Ignoring its size for a minute and focusing purely on price, I can think of a few subwoofers off the top of my head that I like a little better purely in terms of sound. Paradigm’s Cinema Sub comes instantly to mind, and GoldenEar’s ForceField 3, as well. That’s merely in terms of sonic performance, though. The thing the SW6.5 has on both of those subs (and on the ATMOS to whose size it’s most comparable) is its utter flexibility in terms of placement. Given its light weight, and the pre-drilled mounting bracket holes spaced perfectly for OmniMount’s 30.0 ST-MP mount, you can even stick the SW6.5 on the wall with no problem. That has to be taken into consideration when tallying up the pluses and minuses.
Even if you don’t plan on wall-mounting the SW6.5, though, it has a lot going for it—even if you don’t take its value into consideration. It’s a wonderfully performing little sub that bravely and admirably stands toe-to-toe with much larger subwoofers, and unless you spend a lot of time listening to subwoofers capable of pumping out strong brown notes and ludicrous volumes, you’re not likely to miss the very lowest subsonic frequencies the SW6.5 isn’t capable of pumping out. It also has some really neat features, like the ability to accept audio via Cat5 (which does require a sold-separately balun from Niles, but still–that’s undeniably cool for installations that require a longer cable run).
If you’re seriously short on space or don’t like the aesthetic of larger subs, can’t go with an in-wall alternative, and don’t have the two grand to shell out for the Sunfire ATMOS, I see absolutely no reason that you wouldn’t be incredibly happy with Niles Audio’s SW6.5.