Hsu VTF-15H Subwoofer Page 2
So it was no surprise that the Hsu’s audible presence was inconspicuous with most music. That’s a good thing. You don’t want a subwoofer muddying up string quartets or solo vocals. The Hsu doesn’t. But when I threw on a pipe organ or a pop mix heavy on subterranean synthesizer, with the crossover performed by my Integra DTC-9.8 surround processor (both low- and high-pass at 80 Hz for all the subwoofer comments in this review), I clearly heard what the Hsu could do to upgrade the listening experience. The Hsu subtly improved the sound of a bass drum, which doesn’t extend much below 40 Hz. The relative timbre was the same with and without the sub, as was the initial drum stroke, but the subwoofer’s presence definitely enhanced the deep, rolling, reverberant tail generated within the performance venue.
When I substituted a small, modest pair of bookshelf speakers for the Revels, the sub/no-sub comparison became far more dramatic. The small speakers were Pioneer’s $149-per-pair SP-BS41-LR (Home Theater, June 2011). The Pioneers imaged exceptionally well and were well balanced with low coloration. But by themselves, they were clearly compromised at the bottom end—on most music, not just bass torture tracks. To be fair to the Pioneers, my setup put them well out into the room, with little help from the bass reinforcement that nearby walls offer. But when I brought in the Hsu, the combination rocked. It didn’t make more ambitious speakers seem irrelevant, but most listeners would likely be floored at how good this combination sounded.
Apart from a little bloat on the occasional very deep and prolonged bass line, the Hsu did virtually nothing wrong with music. Nevertheless, I dialed it in in the Audyssey room correction in the Integra processor with the Pioneer/Hsu setup just to see what it would do. At the top, it added a trace of brightness to the Pioneers that didn’t flatter what is obviously a decent but not terribly sophisticated tweeter. But they remained balanced and coherent, with fine imaging and depth. And the bass? It was as good as described above, with the added benefit of a small but significant tightening up of those previously difficult, prolonged bass lines.
I Feel the Earth Move
With the Revel F12s back in their places of honor and the Integra’s Audyssey again turned off, I settled in for some quality 5.1-channel Blu-ray movie time with the Hsu. I wasn’t disappointed.
As before, the Hsu didn’t intrude when it wasn’t supposed to. But when it did, the result could be earthshaking. I’ve experienced more expensive subwoofers that can provide as much extension, together with tighter deep-bass resolution. But often such subs seem to be on the verge of overloading at the high playback levels that many home theater fans demand. Not the Hsu. In its sealed-box mode in particular, it laughs in the face of such a thing. I’m sure there are users out there who can drive it into submission, but I don’t want to be in the room when that happens.
Tron: Legacy may be a bit of a stiff as a story, but as eye and ear candy, it’s exceptional. The soundtrack, in particular, is mind-blowing. It has almost too much bass, and as heard in my local IMAX theater (which has Warp 9 bass to begin with), it nearly blew me out of my chair. In my home theater, with the Hsu engaged, it more than equaled that experience, but in a different, more rewarding way. I don’t want to overstate this (this film’s sound mix is definitely more “shove” than “nudge”), but in the theater, I was swimming in a murky ocean of numbingly powerful but bloated bass. The Hsu projected less sheer power (I don’t have 30,000 watts at home—or whatever it is IMAX claims), but its bass was deeper, cleaner, more textured, and ultimately, far more impressively gut-wrenching.
The THX trailer Amazing Life doesn’t appear on many discs, but if you have a copy of Avatar or the new Blu-ray Star Wars box set, you’ve likely already seen it. If the bass in your system doesn’t get your attention here, you need a new subwoofer. The Hsu unequivocally puts it front and center.
Thor is a subwoofer killer from beginning to end. When Odin strikes his staff against the throne-room floor in the early Asgard scenes, it’s clear you’re not in Kansas anymore. The same for when Thor overturns the banquet table later in the same chapter, or when Thor and his companions travel through the Bifröst to Jotunheim.
But there’s more to Thor’s soundtrack than simply shock and awe. There’s subtlety as well, not all of it intentional. Starting at about 13:00 into the film (in chapter 2), there’s a deep thrumming in the background that appears to have no purpose in what is otherwise simply a quiet conversation between Thor and Loki. The sound is likely just cyclic low-frequency noise that even the mixers missed. While it’s not loud enough to be intrusive, with the Hsu you’ll perceive it.
Thor’s music also has its share of deep bass. While this isn’t the sort of thing that’s likely to knock you back on your heels, the Hsu definitely helps bring out the richness in the score, beautifully performed here by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Finally, for a Space Shuttle launch in all its grumbling glory, check out the second launch in IMAX: Hubble 3D—even if you only watch it in 2D. If this sequence (chapter 2, 18:20) on your present system doesn’t induce panic about a subwoofer-generated-damage clause in your homeowner’s insurance, you need a better sub. Like the Hsu.
I’ve had many subwoofers in my home theater, though not all of the more recent, pricier designs. Some of these, the heard and as yet unheard, might offer a more manageable size, built-in DSP, multiple drivers, or other refinements. Many clearly offer exceptional performance. But none of them sells for less than $1,000. It’s hard to visualize a subwoofer priced this low that needn’t apologize for the quality of its bass, its low-end extension, or its setup flexibility. But I can clearly visualize at least one. It’s sitting directly behind my center-channel speaker—the Hsu VTF-15H.