SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Review
By Chris Heinonen on
While many AV components, like TVs and Blu-ray players, keep getting smaller, subwoofers keep getting bigger. A decade ago a 12” subwoofer was considered large but in the world of 15” and even dual 18” drivers those now seem quaint in comparison. In 2016 SVS joined the world of larger subwoofers by introducing models with a 16” driver. The SVS SB16-Ultra is a sealed 16” subwoofer that includes room correction features and Bluetooth support. With a powerful 1500 watt amplifier and a beautiful piano black finish, the SB16-Ultra delivers more than enough deep, powerful, tight bass for all but the largest rooms.
Brand New Driver
At the heart of the SVS SB16-Ultra is a brand new 16” driver. With an 8” voice coil the driver alone weighs 64 lbs. As you can imagine, a driver this large leads to a subwoofer that is heavy. The driver offers 78mm (over 3”) of peak-to-peak excursion which you can see in action when you turn the volume up. The amplifier is 1500 watts with 5000+ watt peaks offering plenty of power for when that driver needs it. All this is inside an MDF cabinet that in a black oak or glossy piano black finish. In the end the whole package weighs 122 pounds once you get it out of the box.
One feature that sets the SVS SB16-Ultra apart from other online subwoofer companies is the control built into the amplifier. You can control the SB16-Ultra with the included remote control or with your iOS or Android phone over Bluetooth. The apps and remote give you full access to controls including volume, crossover, phase, room gain, and a 3 band parametric EQ. The 3-band EQ allows you to make 3 adjustments with frequency, boost, and Q-factor for all three. Most subwoofers don’t include EQ unless you spend much more than the $2,000 the SB16-Ultra sells for.
Despite the weight, I was able to unpack and setup the SB16-Ultra in my home theater room by myself. I placed it in a front corner where it fit well, connected it to the Anthem MRX 1120, and then used RoomEQ Wizard to configure the parametric EQ. I focused on cuts to frequencies instead of trying to boost nulls in the room. In the chart below you can see the difference, as the post-EQ frequency response is much flatter in room than before. You can also see the predicted room response based on the room size and locations from RoomEQ Wizard and how the SVS response lines up with that.
Once put into place, the SB16-Ultra is a serious subwoofer. The only subwoofer I’ve used that I can compare it to for construction quality and finish are the JL Audio Fathom models. Those look very similar with their piano black finish and front mounted controls. The rear holds inputs, both RCA and XLR, and RCA and XLR outputs for a master/slave setup. One thing that is absent are speaker level inputs for analog systems without bass management which some prior SVS subs have included. For most people this won’t be an issue as your receiver or processor will handle this.
Power to Spare
For testing out a subwoofer, the first movie that goes on is Tron: Legacy. The bass during the introduction to the arena scene should completely fill the room and it does here. As Clu descends the staircase and fireworks go off in the background, the door to my theater rattles and the room fills with bass. The SB16-Ultra sits here at -15dB on the volume control, with plenty of power left in reserve if I have a larger room. I only have around 1,100 cubic feet to fill, and the SB16 is more than capable of doing so here.
The old standby for movie bass is Master and Commander, with an opening ship attack scene. Cannonballs fly around the screen and I feel their impact with the ship from the SB16-Ultra. I almost have to retrain my brain about what it is listening for with the SVS SB16-Ultra. There is no overhang here, or excessive rumbling from an ill-behaved woofer port. It is clear and completely clean.
When Stephen Hornbrook reviewed the JL Audio f112, the car and motorcycle chase scene from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation was our favorite demo content. Firing up the SB16-Ultra with the same scene I wasn’t disappointed. As the BMW goes down the stairs until it crashes, the SB16-Ultra provides a huge low-end boost. It doesn’t completely disappear or impact you in the way that the JL Audio subs do, but that setup costs almost 4x as much as the SVS.
More impressive to me than the SB16-Ultra’s performance with movies is how it does on musical tracks. I’ve recently been listening to a list of test tracks for speakers put together by the engineers at Cambridge Audio. “Walk on the Wild Wide” from Lou Reed has a recognizable bass line that goes through the whole song and it sounds even better with the SB16-Ultra. It’s tight and controlled, blending in with the front speakers. The SB16-Ultra disappears as much as a 122-pound box can and adds that extra reinforcement that the bass line needs. My in-wall speakers now sounded like they were gigantic tower speakers with 8” or 10” woofers.
“Get Lucky” from Daft Punk is on the playlist as well, as the track is so well recorded that it should sound amazing from any speaker. Once again the SB16-Ultra vanishes but the bass line through the song is deeper and better defined than from the speaker alone. “Angel” from Massive Attack brings across the ability of the SB16-Ultra to provide that low, guttural bass that speakers cannot. While the speakers handle most of the bass line , there’s a low, muffled growling line that builds in the background. The room energizes as the song builds, and the SB16-Ultra presents a soundstage that didn’t exist before. Take away that low rumbling bass and the sense of creeping dread that is present in the song fades away. Without a subwoofer like the SB16 to bring that out, you’re missing half the song.
Everyone knows the opening heartbeat from Dark Side of the Moon. Listening on the SB16-Ultra it actually sounds less like a heart and more like the drum they used to record it. It’s clean and almost too detailed compared to when I’ve listened to the track countless times before. Instead of bass distortion, which gives you that more muffled heartbeat sound, you get a clean bass that sounds too realistic. When I read what Brent Butterworth wrote about the SB16-Ultra, that it might be too accurate for certain sounds, I wasn’t exactly sure what he had meant. After listening to Pink Floyd, I knew what he meant.
My main complaint about the SB16-Ultra comes down to the implementation of the PEQ in the system. While having three bands to correct is very useful, it’s beyond the abilities of most people to do it well. When ELAC has $500 and $700 subwoofers with automated room correction systems use the iPhone, I’d like to see a $2,000 subwoofer offer the same feature. Integrated EQ is one of the things that sets the SVS apart from some of the 15”-18” subwoofer competition, but it is hard to use. I imagine most people will use their receiver to EQ the sub, though many receivers don’t EQ below 63Hz. Those people will not experience the full performance the SB16-Ultra offers.
A Musical Stand-out
After using the SB16-Ultra for many weeks, I’m still amazed by how well it blends in when listening to music. Lower bass and drums are fantastic through it, and it is almost too resolving when listening to certain tracks. With movies it does a wonderful job, but I do wonder if the PB16-Ultra would give me more of that “Oh shit!” response when watching films with extremely deep bass tracks. The SB16-Ultra never disappointed with movies, I know there is another bit of oomph that can be had by even larger, more expensive subwoofers.
Everything considered the SB16-Ultra is a fantastic subwoofer. It has me considering making some small changes to the front of the room so I could accommodate a pair of them to get better bass response in the room. Outside of spending almost four times as much, I haven’t use a subwoofer that is more musical in my system or vanishes as well. The SVS SB16-Ultra is a fantastic performer and one of the best built and best sounding subs you can find today.
Impeccable build quality, fantastic integration with speakers for musical bass, more than enough power to fill a normal sized room.
Integrated EQ should be automated.
SVS has done a fantastic job with their first 16" sealed subwoofer. The SB16-Ultra is a powerhouse with loads of power but remaining completely in control. It integrates flawlessly with the speakers in my room and provides phenomenal bass for movies and music.