2019 Editors’ Choice Awards: Subwoofers

Equipment report
Audiokinesis Swarm Subwoofer System,
GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X,
GoldenEar Technology SuperSub XXL,
JL Audio CR-1,
JL Audio E-Sub e110,
JL Audio e112,
JL Audio Fathom f112,
JL Audio Fathom f113v2,
JL Audio Gotham g213 v2,
Magico QSub-15,
MartinLogan BalancedForce 210,
Paradigm Ref Sig Series SUB 2,
REL S/5,
REL T7i,
REL Acoustics 212/SE,
REL Acoustics Gibraltar G1 Mk II,
Syzygy Acoustics SLF870
2019 Editors’ Choice Awards: Subwoofers

REL T/7i
A special round of applause is due this mini-sub for music lovers. The T/7i is even faster and tighter than its forbear, yet remains tonally supple, with well-defined timbres. It’s also remarkably potent for a single, forward-firing 8" driver augmented by a quick-reacting, downward-firing 10" passive radiator (and a smooth 200W Class AB amp). The sumptuous high-gloss lacquered enclosure with aluminum accents has inputs for high-level Neutrik Speakon (cable included), plus low-level RCA and LFE. A little classic.

Syzygy Acoustics SLF870
The wireless SLF870 offers a host of useful features including the ability to set up and equalize the subwoofer in your room via your smartphone. Once dialed in, it blends seamlessly with the main speakers. Very highly recommended and a great value.

GoldenEar Technology SuperSubX
Almost impossibly small but packing dual active drivers and twin passive radiators plus 1500W of Class D DSP-controlled power, the little X captures the realism of the concert hall, imparting a well-anchored foundation that extends into the low-30Hz range (even touching the upper 20s). Bass is full-bodied and controlled, and exhibits the requisite bloom and resonant sustain expected of a subwoofer in the bottom octaves. It will mate superbly with a wide range of compacts and smaller floorstanders and fit into almost any room. Home cinema anyone? You betcha. A subwoofer of estimable shock and slam and musical subtlety that’s also a bargain, to boot.

JL Audio e110/e112
$1550–$1750/$2000–$2200 (depending on finish)
Before he got the hefty little e110 with 10" driver (the e112 comes with a 12" woof), JV was anything but a fan of subwoofers, which always seemed to take more away in midrange transparency, tone color, and resolution than they paid back in bass-range extension, detail, and power. Crossed over at the right frequency—which is easy to do with the instructions that JL Audio provides and the unit’s manifold built-in controls—the e110 is the very first sub he’s heard that doesn’t screw up the sound of the main speaker. Rather it seems to extend that sound into the bottom octaves, producing the highest low-level resolution of bass timbres and textures from any transducer of his experience. Paired with something like a Raidho D-1 stand-mount it will give you everything (save for overall impact) that you pay the big, big money for in a massive multiway floorstander, and it will do so for a mere $1550.

GoldenEar Technology SuperSubXXL
Sandy Gross, the founder of GoldenEar, has crammed an astounding amount of technology into this fairly diminutive subwoofer, including a 1600W switching amplifier that is controlled by a 56-bit DSP device with a 192kHz sampling rate. Add two 12" long-throw active drivers and two infrasonic drivers and you have a recipe for a powerful, bone-crushing sub. No matter the source material—rock, pop, or classical—the XXL will deliver a deep and tuneful foundation that helps create an airier and wider soundstage. There are faster and more powerful subwoofers out there (at three to four times the cost) but the XXL will never produce less than satisfying performance in almost any audio system.

Audio Kinesis Swarm
$2500 (four subwoofers, one amplifier)
This system is based on the idea that the smoothest, most uniform bass response in a listening room is obtained by using multiple subwoofers in various (usually asymmetric) positions. The Swarm includes at a very reasonable price four subwoofer units and a 1000 watt amplifier. The subs are driven in series/parallel configuration so that the amplifier “sees” the impedance of a single speaker. This idea, says REG, is the answer to bass in rooms. The Swarm, with the subs suitably placed, produces bass down to the bottom and smoothly from there on up to where the main speakers take over, and not just at one position but over the whole room. The uniformity of response gives you a compelling impression of being immersed in the bass soundfield of the original venue in a way no single subwoofer can accomplish.

REL Acoustics S/5
The extraordinary thing about the S/5 is that it buries once and for all the idea that only small subs can excel off the line, and are less sonically detectable than their larger, more explosive, more ponderous cousins. Fact is the S/5 is big—a 12" woofer with companion 12" downward-firing passive radiator and 500 Class D watts to provide the fireworks. Its bass extension is terrifyingly deep, yet it has the delicacy and dexterity to become one with the music, from the deepest fundamentals on up, and to do so invisibly, without affecting the character and transparency of even the most highly resolved system.

MartinLogan BalancedForce 210
Before he discovered the 210s, reviewer SHo tended to eschew much of the bass-centric jazz and classical music that he really enjoys because of the inability to achieve realistic SPLs. Once he put the 210s in his listening room, his music—and not just music where bass was prominent—took on a whole new life. The 210s made a far larger difference in his system than any other component in a very long time—and that’s saying a lot. If you have a large room or really like low bass, the Balanced Force 210s are essential tools to getting the most out of your music.

JL Audio CR-1 Crossover
Designed to augment (rather than replace) the manifold controls already built into JL’s subwoofers, this all-analog crossover allows you to fine-tune the transition between your subs and your mains with a precision, subtlety, and effectiveness that JV has never before experienced. The result is a truly seamless blend that, as far as JV can see, can be achieved in no other way. A little masterpiece of truly useful audio engineering—and a must-try if you already own one of JL Audio’s larger subwoofers, such as the Fathom or the fabulous Gotham.

JL Audio Fathom f112/f113v2
These two subs—identical except for woofer size (12" vs. 13.5") and amplifier power (1800W vs. 3000W)—raise the bar in subwoofer performance with their unlikely combination of brute-force power and tonal and dynamic finesse. Capable of delivering high SPLs at very low frequencies without strain, the Fathoms are adept at resolving the pitches, dynamics, and timbre of an acoustic bass. Reference-quality performance at a reasonable price, and dreadnought build quality to boot. New Mk.II versions offer even higher performance with greater amplifier power, revised drivers, and a much more effective room correction system, now performed in the digital domain.

REL Acoustics 212SE
The REL 212SE was designed to offer clean, prodigious deep bass output at a reasonable price. In a beautifully finished piano-black cabinet, each 212SE houses two front-facing 12" drivers made of continuous cast alloy and capable of 2" linear excursion. The bass drivers are driven by an onboard Class D amplifier rated at 1000 watts. Each cabinet also contains a back-facing 12" passive radiator and a downward-firing 12" passive radiator, both made of the same alloy material. In use, the name of the game for this subwoofer is speed, speed, speed, with negligible distortion. Because of that speed, reviewer Don Saltzman found it was much easier to mate the 212SE with full-range loudspeakers.

REL Acoustics Gibraltar G1 Mk II
The powered G1 Mk II draws so little attention to itself that it may be the ideal subwoofer for those who heretofore have shunned subs. Sporting a 12", long-throw, carbon-fiber driver driven by a 600W amplifier, it offers substantial gains in low-end extension and impact, even when mated with full-range loudspeakers, and improves soundstaging performance by replicating more of the hall.

Paradigm Ref Sig Series Sub 2
The Paradigm Sub 2 may be one of the few subwoofers that can be properly mated with planar loudspeakers. Its lightning speed and ability to project front, rear, and sideways mean that its presence and positioning are simply impossible to detect. The Sub 2 features what Paradigm calls Vibration-Canceling Design Architecture, and the design clearly delivers the goods. The hexagonal cabinet can make it hard to install, but once in place the Sub 2 can deliver a crushing 112dB at 10Hz.

JL Audio Gotham g213 v2
This subwoofer really leaves former subwoofer-hater JV at a loss for words. It is so good at what it does—which is deliver power, clarity, color, texture, and sheer oomph in the bottom octaves—that he’s never heard anything that can beat it in the bass, either in a subwoofer or a full-range floorstander. Using its own controls and/or the CR-1 outboard crossover, the Gotham can also be made to disappear more seamlessly than any other sub, which is truly amazing considering its sheer size (two 13.5" woofers per side in huge rounded-off boxes) and 350-pound bulk. Thanks in part to its sealed-box loading, the Gotham has zero overhang, thickness, and bloat. Note that JL recommends deploying the Gotham in stereo pairs.

Magico QSub15 M-Cast
This massive (375-pound), twin-driver (two 15" woofers on either end of its sealed aluminum enclosure) subwoofer with internal crossover/DSP processor and built-in 2000W amplifier may well be the ne plus ultra of ultra-low-frequency speakers. Built, like all Magicos, to keep the sound of box-and-driver resonances out of the equation, it provides the cleanest, fastest, hardest-hitting, most highly resolved, three-dimensional, and fully extended low frequencies that JV has heard. Only the JL Audio Gotham competes at this level. An extraordinary transducer.

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