Boom Go the Big Subwoofers at CES 2013

Big subwoofers are still alive and well, evidenced by Focal, MartinLogan, Revel and others at CES 2013.


The author and Revel's Rhythm2 subwoofer

We’ve written a lot over the past few years about audio manufacturers tweaking traditional subwoofer design to accommodate aesthetics. We’ve seen subwoofers made for in-wall installation. Subs that go in ceiling, or under the flooring hidden from view but with sound coming from grilles that look like air conditioning ducts. We’ve seen super slim designs that allow homeowners to conceal subs under sofas.

But at CES 2013 in Las Vegas, I saw some massive, superbad subwoofers that blow the doors off of the latest trends in aesthetically pleasing subwoofer design. So yes, you can have big bass, and you can have it in a two-channel listening room or a home theater, even if it takes up a good chunk of real estate.

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I only visited a fraction of the many high-performance audio rooms at the Venetian on the first day of CES in Las Vegas, but from what I gathered, speaker manufacturers still have pretty good faith in music enthusiasts’ yearning for deep, soulful sound that can also rattle some walls when asked.

My first stop found the passive Subwoofer Utopia EM from Focal, which was shown at last year’s CEDIA Expo and is shipping this year.

It features a 13-inch woofer and can handle up to 1,000 watts. During the demonstration, in which you can get an idea of its size against the Diablo Utopia speaker to its left, the sub was being used with 400 watts and delivered a really nice, clean, warm sound on some tracks from The Black Keys, Jack Johnson and more. The crazy thing is that it’s actually stackable, up to three subwoofers tall if you really want to shake the room. And manufacturers are certainly betting that people will pay for such deep bass in their music systems too — the Sub Utopia EM goes for $12,000.

On the other end of Focal’s spectrum, it also had on hand the new Sub Air, which is a wireless, flat subwoofer that can even be mounted to a wall. It’s an 8-inch woofer design that handles 150 watts, and fits in with the company’s Bird satellites as a $649 individual purchase but also available in a sub-sat bundle.

“People want to have small satellites, but still have that subwoofer,” notes Simon Cote of Audio Plus Services, which distributes Focal in the U.S. “So we have our most expensive and our least expensive subs here.”

That’s not to say the big subwoofers on hand at the Venetian eschewed aesthetics, either. Take MartinLogan, a company known for its unique-looking electrostatic towers.

Though the electrostats ooze a sense of grace, audiophiles will still complement their output with some low-frequency boom, and MartinLogan addressed this with its new BalancedForce 210 and 212 subwoofers. The SKUs signify that they include dual 10-inch and dual 12-inch woofers, respectively.

And wow, are they stunning. The company demonstrated them placed by their flagship CLX speakers with a pair of BalancedForce 210s in a walnut finish. A more traditional black-veneer finish for the product was also on hand, but the walnut models were striking. The 210s can handle 800 watts of high current, and the new subs also incorporate Perfect Bass Kit (PBK) room correction technology borrowed from sister company Paradigm. They feature a top panel that pops up to reveal the adjustment knobs and more. I didn’t get word on pricing.

The biggest and baddest subwoofer I saw is the one I’m pictured with above, to give you some perspective.

It was in the Harman Luxury Audio Group room and is the Rhythm2 from Revel. It features a gut-punching 18-inch woofer as well as high-pass room EQ technology to truly dial in the sub as part of a full home theater system.

The subwoofer, which lowers the boom to round out Revel’s Ultima line, employs a 2,000-watt amplifier that can reach 4,000 watts peak power. During the demo, two Rhythm2′s were actually used to provide some uniformity in the Venetian room for a system driven by Mark Levinson amps to Revel’s Salon2 tower speakers. It doled out tons of thump to the upright bass in Diana Krall’s “I Used to Love You” and kept on delivering powerful, but super clean, low end on “Poem of a Chinese Drum” plus the jazz-funk “Trans-Island Skyway” from Donald Fagan.

The Rhythm2 runs a cool $10,000 and measures 24.6 inches high by 27.9 inches wide by 28 inches deep. You cannot hide it under a sofa — you cannot even hide it behind a sofa. But it could make a nice coffee table, as long as you don’t mind the drinks you place on it Bond-style, shaken and not stirred.


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