Take SVS’s current subwoofer lineup. The comparison with the current Corvette lineup is eerily apt. The 1000 Series? They’re kind of your standard Stingray. Gobsmacking performance at a pretty amazing price. Probably more than enough subwoofer for large swaths of the general population. The 2000 Series is more like a Stingray with the full Z51 performance package–a bit of a step up if you need more room to breathe. The Plus Series? That’s your Grand Sport: a more serious performance machine that still manages to be practical for everyday use by your average enthusiast. The 16-Ultra Series gets way into ZR1 territory: a take-no-prisoners King of the Hill that’s honestly just too much of a machine for most people, unless you have the dedicated space to really open it up.
That positions the new 4000 Series as the Z06 of the lineup–a step up from the Plus Series and something of a taming of the 16-Ultra Series for practical purposes. Really, the three new subs in the 4000 Series represent the ultimate in performance, scaled back just enough to make them practical for a larger number of people.
Perhaps the most banal thing I could do in the introduction to a review of SVS’s new PB-4000 subwoofer would be to turn it into a car analogy. You’ll forgive me, then, for doing exactly that. This past summer, my dad handed me an exciting but difficult task: find the perfect seventh-generation Corvette for us to take on road trips together, as well as to car shows and cruise-ins at the local diner. He had only two requirements: it must be a convertible, and it must come equipped with the swanky 3LT interior package. The rest was up to me.
It’s not as easy a decision as you might suspect, if you’re not a Corvette junky. We now have three (soon four!) base models to pick from, not to mention tons of suspension, exhaust, and extras packages bearing different badges–all of which combine to create significantly different cars designed for very different drivers. In the end, we picked up a Stingray (geared more toward our desired purposes than the other, racier models), but that’s really completely beside the point. The point is that the wealth of choices facing consumers these days can be staggering. It’s a good thing, of course. Whatever you want, there’s probably a version of it tailored specifically for your unique needs and desires … but choosing between them isn’t easy.
But enough with the automotive comparisons. Let’s talk real specs for a minute. The PB-4000, the ported offering in the new 4000 Series lineup, is a replacement for the outgoing PB13-Ultra, and it measures in at a hefty 152 pounds and change, the bulk of which comes from its 49.6-pound, 13.5-inch driver and 44.3-pound motor, with its eight-layer, three-inch edge-wound flat wire aluminum voice coil. Much of the rest of that weight comes from its Sledge STA-1200D amplifier, which is rated (almost certainly in typically conservative SVS fashion) at 1,200 watts RMS and greater than 4,000 watts peak power. The amp also houses the sub’s balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) line-level inputs and outputs, as well as a 3v-12v trigger input.
At 23.4 inches tall, 20.5 wide, and 27.7 deep, the PB-4000 may not seem significantly smaller than its bigger PB16-Ultra sibling, but that space saving is enough to be the difference between cabinets that fit into my system and cabinets that don’t. It also weighs a good 20 pounds less than its top-of-the-line counterpart.
I’m making comparisons with the PB16-Ultra specifically, and not the outgoing PB13-Ultra, because the PB-4000 borrows all of its new technology from the PB16. Yet, at $1,899.99 (when finished in the standard black ash), it costs a hundred dollars less than the PB13-Ultra did (the piano black gloss finish will cost you $100 more). Better and beefier technology at a cheaper price? On paper, there’s certainly a lot here with which to be smitten.
Before we dig too deeply into the PB-4000’s connectivity and setup, let’s talk about my main listening room for a moment–because, all other things being equal, choosing between high-performance subs is mostly a factor of environment and desired impact.
My media room as a whole (shown below) is a little over 17 feet deep by nearly 19 feet wide, with my listening space limited to about 13 feet of that width. The left wall is a half wall leading into the kitchen. I sit about 6’7″ from my display, which puts me pretty close to the middle of the room. There are two spots along the front wall in which I can place subwoofers (marked by the Xs below)–one of which results in a null at my seat centered around 45 Hz, the other of which leads to a less egregious null a little above 80 Hz. As such, multiple subs are a must for me to achieve even bass response across my entire sofa. (For what it’s worth, what you don’t see in this rendering are numerous organic acoustic treatments comprised mostly of strategically placed bookshelves, movie shelves, and draperies. The fireplace is also closed.)
SVS was kind enough to loan me two PB-4000 subwoofers for the course of this review, but I did start by calibrating and running one by itself, merely to test its output. It proved plenty sufficient, so I plugged in the second sub and recalibrated my Emotiva XMC-1 via Dirac, with the subs set to dual mono and with filters applied independently to each. The bulk of the correction applied was to the nulls mentioned above. Aside from that, the subs left very little for Dirac to do.
Joining the pair of PB-4000s were my GoldenEar Triton One towers, SuperCenter XXL, and Triton Seven surrounds. Despite the bass capability of my main speaker system, I set the crossover point at 80 Hz for everything but the center, which I crossed over at 100 Hz (to avoid some slight resonances in my credenza).
As for specific setup functionality of this sub, of course it supports SVS’s excellent mobile app, which gives you access to all manner of features that are otherwise impossible or simply nowhere near as easy to tinker with via the front-panel controls or the included remote: setting up trigger control or signal sensing, for example, as well as things like dimming the blue LED displays on front of the sub. The app also gives you access to a room gain compensation tool, as well as three bands of parametric EQ, although you’ll have to do your own measurements if you want to tweak those. Other settings controllable via the app include volume, polarity, high-pass, and port tuning. The app communicates with the sub via Bluetooth and pairs in seconds.
I ran the left PB-4000 in standard mode (all ports open) and the right in extended mode (one port sealed) for all of my testing, with the exception of the CEA-2010 measurements detailed below.
One other thing worth mentioning about the sub is its design. Given the size of the cabinet, I assumed that my wife would walk into the room, take one look at these beasts, and immediately murder me right in my neck. Instead, she simply paused and looked for a moment, then asked, “Are you buying these?” When I reported that they weren’t in the budget at the moment, she paused and said, “That’s a shame. They’re gorgeous.” And indeed they are–mostly as a result of the curved and perforated floating grilles, but also due to little design elements like the Apple-esque sculpted recess that houses the controls, as well as the tight curvature of the top and bottom corners of the cabinet. It’s all a lovely melding of strength and grace that you’ll certainly be familiar with if you know the 16-Ultra Series. If not, try to see these subs in person instead of judging them by photos alone. The photos don’t do them justice, in my experience.
Going merely by conventional wisdom alone, I think most people would take one look at the new PB-4000 and assume that its strengths lie in its ability to crank out subterranean action movie bass, and that its weaknesses might lie in the realm of musicality, especially in the upper bass regions. So, of course, one of the first things I did after setup was throw some of the tightest, poppiest, bass-heavy music I own at the PB-4000.
“Suck My Kiss” from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Warner Brothers) quickly dispels any reservations about this sub’s ability to let rip some truly wonderful slap-happy mid- and upper-bass. Flea’s work on this track is all over the place, and yes there are opportunities for the PB-4000 to crank out some bowel-loosening bottom-end oomph; however, it was the sub’s ability to handle those rapid-fire attack transients that really impressed me. And again, for those of you who skipped the Hookup section, this isn’t with the subs in sealed mode. One sub was in standard mode; the other was in extended mode.
In addition to that deliciously slappy upper bass, one other thing that this track revealed was the sub’s exceptional integration with the rest of my system (again, crossed over at 80 Hz with my Triton One mains). Handoff from the speakers to the subs was utterly seamless in every respect.
“Bright Size Life” from Pat Metheny’s album of the same name (ECM) also gives the PB-4000 every opportunity to shine across its entire output range. The bassline here is looser than anything the Chili Peppers have ever released, so there’s not as much in the way of attack to latch onto. Here, what’s more impressive is the way the sub deals with the oftentimes speedy decay, especially in the passage that begins about 28 seconds into the song. It’s a quick release but a very natural one, a very elegant one. The song also presents what I consider to be ample opportunity for chuffing, of which I heard absolutely none from the PB-4000.
More than anything else, though, what the Metheny song reveals is the PB-4000’s utter consistency of output from bottom to top. A capacity for subtlety that’s surprising at times. Effortlessness combined with richness combined with nuance in such a way that the character of the instrument is conveyed beautifully and gracefully.
It’s probably safe to assume that anyone in the market for a ported sub of this size is more interested in cinematic performance; so, without further ado, let’s dig into that. To the surprise of exactly no one who knows me, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately at my local IMAX theater, viewing Star Wars: Episode VIII–The Last Jedi over and over and over again. That gave me a unique opportunity to compare the PB-4000’s performance not with an identical film, but with a very similar one: 2015’s The Force Awakens.
It’s rather stunning how well the PB-4000 holds up to a professional IMAX theater–not only in terms of sound pressure levels (again, that’s mostly a function of output vs. room size) but also in terms of the richness, consistency, and most importantly the cleanliness of its bass. Chapter five of The Force Awakens on Blu-ray (Walt Disney Home Video) offers up some of the most revealing differences between the SVS and IMAX bass experiences. Not that there’s an exact corollary between this scene and any sequence in the new film, but there are certainly similar moments from a sound design perspective. In IMAX, what I’ve noticed is a tendency toward on-or-off bass. Yes, there are those slam-you-in-the-seat moments (and yes, the PB-4000 replicates those well), but in the commercial cinema they tend toward being there or not there, without much in between. By contrast, take the PB-4000’s handling of the moment in which Kylo Ren freezes a blaster bolt in mid-air, and Poe Dameron is dragged past it. There’s not only a tangible weight to the bass as delivered by the PB-4000, but there’s also a definite sense of shape to it. The low frequencies build in intensity evenly along the path from deep, guttural murmur in the background to full-fury throbbing that’s sitting on your chest.
I hate to keep dragging my wife into this review against her will, but she made an interesting observation about this scene that drives home a point I want to make: “It’s like there’s less bass and more bass at the same time. Like, not as much wall-rattling, but more tummy-rumbling.” I think what she was trying to articulate here–and if so, I agree–is that the lack of distortion does make it seem like a less blatantly bass-heavy scene than we’re used to hearing overall. But it’s a more impactful and effective quality of bass that serves the experience well. All of which is just a wordy way of saying that the bass ebbs and flows organically. It’s far more than a mere rumble, which is what she and I have become accustomed to (to a certain degree) both at home and in commercial cinemas.
I worry to a degree that the preceding comment might leave you with the impression that the PB-4000 comes up in any way lacking with the big, dumb, all-up-in-your-face bass explosions you get from a movie like The Fate of the Furious on UHD Blu-ray (Universal Studios Home Entertainment). That’s far from the case. I found myself so viscerally impressed by the PB-4000’s low-frequency output with this movie that I kept cranking up the volume to see which of us (me or the sub) would cry uncle first.
In the end, I lost … and it wasn’t any of the big, dumb action set pieces that did me in. It was a scene in which Dom (played by Vin Diesel) pulls his ’71 Plymouth GTX up to a New York City intersection, revs the motor, then floors it into a right turn. At roughly six dB above reference listening levels, the bass cranked out by the PB-4000 in this scene literally made me physically discombobulated. My chest felt queasy. My heart went floopy. I had to bring the system back down to reference levels just for the sake of my own bodily comfort. At no point during any of that, though, did I hear anything other than perfectly clean, perfectly sustained, perfectly forceful and articulate low-frequency energy.
In other words, I gave out long before the PB-4000 did.
This is my first stab at performing CEA-2010 measurements, but it’s something we’ll be working to perfect for all subwoofer reviews going forward. Measurements were performed in my backyard, at least 38 feet away from all reflective surfaces, save for one: a roughly 13-inch tree about 17 feet away from my testing position. I relied on an Earthworks Audio M23 mic, paired with an ART Pro Audio USB Dual Pre interface, and performed all ground plane measurements from two meters. (Extrapolated one-meter peak measurements are also provided below).
For software, I relied on Room EQ Wizard’s CEA-2010 tone burst generator and RTA. In fact-checking my results, SVS’s Ed Mullen noted that my measurements are “reasonably representative of the subwoofer’s capabilities,” despite being a little low at 50 Hz compared with the company’s own CEA-2010 analysis. That’s likely due in part to a small null created by the tree mentioned above, but some of it may come down to differences in software. So, take these measurements for what they are: a good overall representation of the sub’s output capabilities that might be slightly low in the neighborhood of 50 Hz relative to the rest. My intention is to have the offending tree removed at some point in the coming year.
For the measurements listed below, if CEA-2010 output at a given frequency was limited by harmonic distortion, that harmonic is referenced in parentheses. All other measurements were limited by the amp’s circuitry, and did not exceed any CEA-2010 distortion thresholds. Averages were calculated by converting decibels to pascals and back.
Standard Mode (all ports open): 1M peak 2M RMS
16 Hz: 111.2 dB 102.2 dB (third harmonic)
20 Hz: 121.4 dB 112.4 dB
25 Hz: 123.3 dB 114.3 dB
31.5 Hz: 124.8 dB 115.8 dB
(20-31.5 Hz avg 123.3 dB 114.3 dB)
40 Hz: 125.4 dB 116.4 dB
50 Hz: 125.7 dB 116.7 dB
63 Hz: 126.4 dB 117.4 dB
(40-63 Hz avg 125.8 dB 116.8 dB)
80 Hz: 125.9 dB 116.9 dB
Extended mode (one port sealed):
16 Hz: 115.2 dB 106.2 dB (ninth harmonic)
20 Hz: 119.8 dB 110.8 dB (fifth harmonic)
25 Hz: 120.3 dB 111.3 dB (fifth harmonic)
31.5 Hz: 123.1 dB 114.1 dB
(20-31.5 Hz avg 121.2 dB 112.2 dB)
40 Hz: 124.4 dB 115.4 dB
50 Hz: 124.9 dB 115.9 dB
63 Hz: 125.8 dB 116.8 dB
(40-63 Hz avg 125.1 dB 116.1 dB)
80 Hz: 125.5 dB 116.5 dB
Sealed mode (all ports sealed):
16 Hz: 102.7 dB 93.7 dB (third harmonic)
20 Hz: 105.6 dB 96.6 dB (third harmonic)
25 Hz: 114.1 dB 105.1 dB (third harmonic)
31.5 Hz: 119.4 dB 110.4 dB (ninth harmonic)
(20-31.5 Hz avg 114.7 dB 105.7 dB)
40 Hz: 125.1 dB 116.1 dB (ninth harmonic)
50 Hz: 126.0 dB 117.0 dB
63 Hz: 125.8 dB 116.8 dB
(40-63 Hz avg 125.6 dB 116.6 dB)
80 Hz: 125.5 dB 116.5 dB
COMPARISON & COMPETITION
If you’re looking to stay within the SVS family and you have a larger space or desire more output, the PB16-Ultra, from which many of the technological innovations in the PB-4000 were derived, fits that bill. At $2,499.99, it is $600 more than the black ash PB-4000 ($500 more than the piano gloss finish), and it is a few inches bigger on average in every dimension. Going in the opposite direction, if you don’t need quite this much output or need to shave off a few inches of real estate, the PB12-Plus at $1,399.99 will also save you a good bit of money, but it is based on older technology, and its output isn’t quite as consistent as SVS’s newer subs.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something roughly equivalent in terms of design and technology, but smaller and punchier, the sealed offering in the new 4000 Series lineup, the SB-4000, might be more up your alley.
If you’re looking for something similarly tunable, the Hsu Research VTF-15H MK2 ($899 in satin black; $1,049 in rosenut veneer, plus shipping) offers similar ported and sealed modes and EQing options. Although it doesn’t match the PB-4000 in terms of output below 40 Hz, it does appear to deliver more output from 40 Hz to 63 Hz. [Editor’s note, the Hsu prices were originally listed as $1249 and $1399 and have been corrected.]
The Rythmik Audio LVX12 Direct Servo Subwoofer ($739 in black oak finish, $699 in black matte, including shipping) is another sub you might consider if you’re shopping around in this territory. I’m struggling a little to make direct comparisons in raw output; but, in terms of linearity, all of Rythmik’s subs appear to be very worthy contenders. They aren’t pretty, though, if that factors into your purchasing decision.
If there’s one conclusion to be drawn from my experience with the SVS PB-4000 subwoofer, it’s that this isn’t a product for the faint of heart. It’s a “go big or go home” bass-bringing beast that’s designed for mid-sized and larger rooms and for larger speaker systems. What’s perhaps most surprising to me is its capacity for subtlety and nuance. Should I be surprised by this, given my past experience with SVS subs? Certainly not. Still, there’s some level of incongruity involved in seeing and experiencing a sub with this much brute force that also performs so nimbly and even gently when the source material calls for it.
SVS has another undeniable winner on its hands here–one that outperforms its predecessor while delivering improved aesthetics at a cheaper sticker price. Assuming it suits your needs in terms of output, extension, and overall design, I could not give it a heartier recommendation.
By Dennis Burger | January 8, 2018