Before we talk about the ultra-affordable new SVS PB-1000 subwoofer, let’s chat for a minute about one of my favorite subjects: beer. Because friends of mine who are new to the world of fine ale often ask me what I mean when I talk about a brew’s complexity. It’s a good question, because it sounds like one of those pretentiously wishy-washy words thrown around by snobs to make you feel like they understand something you don’t. And I’m definitely a beer snob (guilty as charged), but to me, complexity in a beer is something that literally anyone can appreciate, whether they particularly enjoy it or not.
It’s the way that, from such simple ingredients, a fine beer carefully and interestingly balances the mixture of malt sweetness and hop twang with the right level of carbonation and the right viscosity, calling your attention to its disparate elements, yet making them feel like a unified whole. It’s the way that a well-crafted ale’s flavors and mouth feel change as it warms up, revealing different aspects in different degrees at different times. It’s the exact opposite of the way a corn-filled American adjunct lager runs the narrow gamut from tasting like contaminated water when it’s cold enough to tolerate, to something that begs to be put back in the horse the instant it approaches room temperature. And right about now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with a review of the new SVS PB-1000 subwoofer.
There’s definitely a connection, though, and it all goes back to complexity and wishy-washy words. Finding several hundred words to write about a subwoofer isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, you can talk about the form factor—and we’ll surely touch on the PB-1000’s design in a bit—and if a sub is particularly small, or oddly shaped, or incredibly powerful, or incredibly expensive, that gives you a bit more to write about.
The PB-1000 is none of those things. It’s only small if you compare it to the rest of SVS’s subwoofer lineup (and only if you used the word relatively), it’s conventionally boxy shaped, it only boasts 300 watts of RMS power (720 watts peak)—although its ported design lends it an efficiency that gives it far more output than any sealed sub with equal amplification—and the only incredible thing about its price is how low it is: just $499 for an incredibly well-engineered 10-inch sub capable of reaching down to an astounding 19 Hz.
Given that the value of the sub pretty much speaks for itself, that just leaves me mostly with the bass performance to discuss, which—again—isn’t easy. Or at least it usually isn’t. In a quest to differentiate speakers whose sole purpose is to deliver the bottom 80 or 100 Hz of the 17,000 or 18,000 Hz or so we can hear, some of us audio writers are guilty of relying on descriptions that, quite frankly, make me feel like my less beer-savvy friends. I honestly haven’t a clue what the heck “fast bass” means, and don’t know if it applies to the PB-1000. I’m not even really sure what “tight bass” really means, although I’m sure I’ve used that descriptor before when otherwise at a loss for words. I could go on with the language in subwoofer reviews that positively baffles me.
The thing is, though, that isn’t to say that there’s no complexity in bass. After all, when you’re tallying up Hz, the subwoofer’s contribution may look minimal, but think more in terms of octaves, and a good sub is delivering three out of the roughly ten octaves of sound we can perceive. And a subwoofer like the SVS PB-1000 dips ably into a fourth. Reproducing these deeper octaves means that subs have to move a lot more air—increasingly more, the deeper you go—so there’s quite a bit of complexity in the way subwoofers are designed, and in the way they work, but it’s a complexity that’s lost on most people.
Even that, though, isn’t really the complexity I want to talk about in terms of the PB-1000, because in most aspects, this is a very simple sub. Instead, let’s talk about the complexity of sound delivered by this sub, and let’s define what I mean by complexity, so there’s no danger of wishy-washiness. If you have the new Amazing Spider-Man Blu-ray, pop it in and cue up Chapter 12, the showdown between Spidey and the Lizard in the sewers. Crank your system, and start paying attention when the little lizards start walking across Spidey’s webs. Once the Lizard pounces, does everything we would normally describe as “bass” sort of turn into a shifting series of single notes? When there’s a pounding hit or kick, does the pulsing beat of the score get overwhelmed for a moment?
If so, what you’re hearing is not very complex bass, and I would encourage you to check out the PB-1000 to hear how deliciously rich and intricate the audio is in the range between 20-ish and 50-or-so Hz—the way this sub artfully juggles the beats of the score with the booms of the brawl, the way the low rumble of wooshing water doesn’t muddy either of those elements, the way the subterranean frequencies sound less like they’re coming out of a single box, and more like a row of instruments, each tuned to a particular note, each carefully balanced to play at exactly the same loudness to an astonishing degree of precision. The way the bass doesn’t pull your attention in any one particular direction, but instead envelops you in a web of nuanced sound that evokes a skilled dancer, deftly shifting her balance and center of gravity with unparalleled grace, and then coming out of nowhere with a right hook that would lay George Foreman flat on his ass.
Because in all that talk about complexity, nuance, balance, and deftness, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the PB-1000 is capable of kicking ass. The thing is, the source of this sub’s complexity is simple, really: the fact that it’s tuned to deliver, with incredibly low distortion, an incredibly flat frequency response across the entire spectrum of sound it’s capable of creating. And that spectrum digs mighty deep for a sub with only a ten-inch driver.
The climactic battle in The Incredible Hulk is a great example of just how low this sub can reach without breaking a sweat. Now, granted, I’ve listened to a lot of subs fully capable of delivering every hard hit, every smashing impact of the battle between the Green Goliath and the Abomination in a way that’ll rip your face right off your skull. But the PB-1000 is one of the few I’ve experienced capable of delivering the ultra-ultra-low-frequency rumble that permeates the scene, even between hits. Likewise, back at the end of Chapter 10—where the Hulk is assaulted by sonic cannons in the park—is a wonderful demo scene for any number of subs I’ve reviewed. But the PB-1000 reveals, again, a complexity to the bass that few others are capable of delivering. Yes, there’s the sucker-punch of bass waves ripping through the scene, but when listening through the PB-1000, the overlapping notes of the sonic cannons really shine through, and there’s a deeper, richer quality to the bass here that you don’t so much feel in your chest, but rather down in your naughty bits, in a way I haven’t experienced since I spent a day at Wisdom Audio putting its 5000-watt, 350-pound STS subwoofer through its paces.
I could spend all day talking about favorite bass demo scenes and how revelatory they are through the PB-1000—the way, for example, the flyover of the queen’s ship at the beginning of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones is accompanied by a precise, effortlessly clean, descending low-frequency growl that leaves you thinking, “My dog, that’s a gigantic ship,” not, “Wow, that subwoofer is doing a pumping out a lot of bass”—but I’m almost running out of room to talk about music. And yes, I put the sub to the test with all of my musical bass favorites (you know the score: Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique”; Björk’s “Army of Me”; yadda yadda yadda), but none of those really surprised me after hearing what this sub is capable of with movies. The track that really shocked me was the Eagles’ “Hotel California” on DVD-A, the bass line of which was simply startlingly even-keeled, yet ever-so-rich.
Of course, I’m doing things completely backwards here by talking about setup last, but if all of this talk of deep, complex bass has you whipping out your credit card, there are a few caveats that need to be discussed. Not concerns. Not criticisms. But things you need to keep in mind. For one thing, the PB-1000 is rather plain looking. There’s no gloss, hardly any curves, and it’s a bit gangly, if you’ll excuse me for being blunt. I’m not saying you should buy a subwoofer based on its looks, but if you do—well, there’s that.
Also, while—in the right room—the PB-1000 boasts more than enough sound output, it’s not as loud as you might expect from looking at it. I have an embarrassing number of subs sitting around the house that fall into the price range of the SVS PB-1000, all of which I’ve tested in my secondary media room system. And so my initial inclination was to hook this one up in there, too, despite its size (and again, this may be small for a sub of its capabilities, and especially when stacked against SVS’s other beasts, but at 18.4 inches tall and deep, and 15 inches wide, it definitely doesn’t fit into the “mini sub” category). Quite frankly, though, upon hearing the PB-1000 perform, I found its bass extension, clarity, and musicality (if not its pure SPL output capabilities) much more in line with the $1999 Paradigm SUB12, a pair of which makes up half of the subwoofer array in my main media room. (Incidentally, the PB-1000 doesn’t come with anything similar to the SUB12′s Perfect Bass Kit, so you’ll need to bring your own bass management, which in my case was Anthem Room Correction both in the main and secondary media room.)
Anyway, as much as I wanted to plop the PB-1000 in place of a SUB12 and see how it really stackeed up, total peak wattage of the sub system in my main media room is 9500 watts, and when I put the PB-1000 into that mix, it got a little lost. Which, granted, any one sub would in this room. I’d love to hear what four of these things would sound like in that space (two would almost certainly suffice for sound output alone, but the room really needs four subs for even coverage and to combat a few nasty nodes), but alas, most speaker manufacturers aren’t in the habit of shipping four subs for the purposes of review.
In the end, one PB-1000 on its own ended up being a much better match for my 13-by-15-foot secondary theater, so I moved it back there for virtually all of my testing. In fact, it’s the perfect match, given that a single PB-1000 in that room delivers great coverage and ample SPLs, with absolutely no strain, at a volume setting of about 80%. If your room is that size or smaller, if you have room for the PB-1000, and if you only have the budget for one sub in the $500-ish price range, I would seriously encourage you to take a gamble on SVS’s generous 45-day return policy and give it a try. If your room, or your budget, is a bit bigger, I would recommend a pair of PB-1000s over any single $1000 subwoofer that I can think of off the top of my head—again, assuming you have the space.
Unless, of course, you simply prefer booming, Budweiser-esque subs that simply assault you with SPLs. In which case, I’m definitely judging you right now.