Hands On: Niles SW8 Compact Subwoofer
Niles’ SW8 proves slammin’ bass doesn’t have to come from a big box.
December 12, 2012 by Arlen Schweiger

Compact, design-friendly loudspeaker products are in vogue, but can you really get much low-end bang out of a small subwoofer? I was eager to see if Niles Audio’s SW8 could impact my living room surround-sound system with clear, crisp thump, as it teamed with KEF’s excellent T Series loudspeakers.

The handsome piano-black cabinet measures just 12 inches cubed, but packs an 8-inch active driver and two 8-inch passive radiators, which Niles says deliver a frequency response of 36Hz to 200Hz. A fabric grille, with a Niles logo badge, covers the front-firing woofer, while the dual-side radiators are exposed.

My sub placement is toward the back of a side wall, mostly out of convenience (coax runs down through the basement and back up to a Sony A/V receiver in front). I connected the power cable, plugged into the LFE ports and set the turn-on mode to “signal sense” rather than “always on,” for electricity’s sake. (Niles also accommodates Category 5 and wireless transmission on the SW8’s rear panel, for installation flexibility.) I set the crossover around 80Hz, just under Niles’ labeling of 100Hz as “normal,” and the phase control to 0.

After fiddling with the crossover and phase knobs, I settled back to the initial settings. The subwoofer, which Niles says handles 300 watts RMS and 1,200 watts peak, delivered tremendous punch for its size. I turned it on during an NBA playoff broadcast on ESPN HD, and it thumped hard as the home crowd clapped and cheered, intensifying the action and drama.

The SW8 does not need much gas. I began with the volume knob around 11 o’clock (not quite halfway between minimum and max) and found myself moving it to 10, and then 9. My Netflixstreaming Blu-ray player, for instance, comes across louder than cable broadcasts through my AVR.

While streaming HD Breaking Bad episodes via Netflix, the SW8 meshed well with the two-channel audio to bring nice fullness to Bryan Cranston’s baritone and extra thwack to the music of the opening and closing credits.

The bottom end added similar lush undertones to the 5.1-channel soundtracks of CBS’ The Mentalist and TNT’s Perception, creating greater prominence to the background music and a more complete, enhanced viewing experience of network HD broadcasts.

The SW8 does a good job of adding weight to round out music, without overwhelming it. On concert DVDs like Phish’s Live in Utica, the SW8 produced a firm, tight low end without bloating Jon Fishman’s kickdrum and Mike Gordon’s dark bass grooves.

The boom begins to muddy a bit at uber-loud levels, but in a modest-size room like mine there’s no need to crank it—several scenes in The Iron Giant, for example, such as when the robot cannonballs into the lake, shook plenty through the SW8. I only wish there was a remote so I didn’t have to manually adjust the sub’s fluctuations when switching sources. This sub has plenty of juice to handle larger rooms while maintaining clean, solid bass—and without compromising the room aesthetics.

Long-throw, 8-inch Front-Firing woofer Dual
Long-throw, 8-inch Side-mounted Passive Radiators
Amplifier Power of 1200w Dynamic, 300w RMS
Frequency Range of 36 Hz to 200 Hz
LFE & Stereo (L/R) Line-level Inputs
Unbuffered Stereo Pass-through Line Outputs, to Cascade up to 3 More Subwoofers
Cat 5 & Wireless Connection Options
Variable 0 to 180 Degrees Phase Adjustment
Piano-black Finish

Elegant, compact aesthetics Firm and clean low-end output Several connection options

Remote control would be a welcomed addition Might not keep pace with reference-level playback in dedicated theaters Grille design not extended to sides

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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