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2023 Editors’ Choice: Subwoofers Under $5,000

2023 Editors’ Choice: Subwoofers Under $5,000

GoldenEar ForceField 30

$900

The ForceField 30 brings the build and sonic qualities of GoldenEar’s own elite SuperSub Series into the sub-$1k market. Driven by 1000W digital amp, the forward-firing, 8″ long-throw driver is enhanced by a downward-firing passive radiator. Response drops into the upper twenty-cycle range with conviction with little in the way of overhang artifacts or “slowness.” Dynamic impacts exit as cleanly as they enter—a tribute to the effective controlled tuning of the passive radiator. Beyond the visceral impression of deep bass response, the FF30 also helped to complete the ambient sonic landscape. A serious musical achievement, not to mention a flat-out blast. NG, 335

REL T/7x

$1099

A special round of applause is due this mini-sub for music lovers. The T/7x 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. NG, 265

JL_Dominion_d110

JL Audio Dominion d108/d110

$1100-$1200/$1300-$1400 depending on finish

The E Series subs used to be the least expensive offering from JL Audio. Both Robert Harley and Jonathan Valin reviewed them and were impressed with their high level of performance and moderate price. Though less costly, the Dominion Series shares much of the design technology and all the philosophy of JL’s more upscale models. What differentiates the Dominions from the slightly more expensive E’s? First the E Series subs have more sophisticated electronics. Second, the Dominion drivers don’t use the dual-spider technique of the E subs, and their baskets are not as deep. These differences aside, the sound is very much the same, which is to say outstanding. SS/RH, 313

GoldenEar SuperSub X

$1750

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. NG, 286

JL Audio e110/e112

$1900–$2100/$2500–$2700 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. JV, 244; RH, 252

GoldenEar SuperSub XXL

$2750

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 operating at 192kHz. 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. JHb, 264

REL Acoustics S/812

$3299

The heir to the extraordinary S/5, REL’s latest is not just a step forward, but rather a sonic leap into a different class. The bar has been raised on every feature that made its forbear an affordable reference. Yes, it retains the forward-firing 12″ woofer and companion 12″ downward-firing passive but adds carbon fiber backing for strength and accuracy. There are new sets of custom filters, while the power of its NextGen5 Class D amplifier has been bumped up to 800 watts. Thus, it plays deeper and faster with greater transparency, and reproduces spatiality and the dimensional outlines of a soundstage with a precision normally reserved for the headiest of flagship efforts. NG, 308

M&K Sound X10

$3499

From the folks who cut their teeth designing some of the first top-notch sub/sat systems comes the X10—a 350W, 62-pound box of serious intent. It sports dual, push/pull, long-stroke, 10″ drivers (with a total surface area equivalent to a single 15″ driver) in a sealed (acoustic-suspension) enclosure. As a THX-certified subwoofer, cinema-level output, room-rattling extension, explosive dynamics, and power handling were never a question. Paired with M&K’s S150 compact monitor, the X10 casts a seamless, dimensional soundfield as good as NG has attained in his listening room. This formidable combination was never at a loss for thrilling musicality. NG, 326

MartinLogan BalancedForce 210

$3499

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. Spencer Holbert, 252

JL Audio CR-1 Crossover

$3500

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, but will work with any subwoofer. JV, 254; RH, 283

AudioKinesis Swarm

$4000 (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. REG, 252

Wilson Audio ActivXO

$4900

The ActivXO subwoofer crossover is an updated version of Wilson’s long-standing WATCH Controller. The all-analog ActivXO is a dual-channel unit, meaning that it can control two subwoofers with independent fine-tuning of each. These adjustments include the crossover frequency and slope, as well as continually variable phase for each sub. Balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs are provided. The ActivXO can be operated as a high-pass filter and a low-pass filter in those systems where high-pass filtering the main speakers is desired. Alternately, the unit can low-pass filter the signal driving the subwoofer amplifier while leaving the signal driving the main speakers unfiltered. RH, 308

Tags: AWARDS EDITORS' CHOICE SUBWOOFER

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