When I was younger, I had limited cash to spend on my hi-fi addiction and was extremely careful how I spent what little I actually had. The shop likeliest to take my money was the one that had lots of speakers wired up to a comparator that ran off the same amplifier; you could switch between each pair in seconds.
I was not alone. Many people back then bought hi-fi speakers on the back of this crude reviewing process. But it was fun. I bought a pair of Mission 70s from KJ Leisure Sound in Harrow in the seventies.
They went louder, cleaner and deeper than the others in the shop, and I thought they were all the best for what they did at the price. Efficiency was part of my buying equation; I wanted as much sound pressure and headroom as I could afford. Had SVS been offering its products in a similar fashion back then, I would have felt sorry for the competition.
The brand's PB10-ISD is a brilliant example of a product made to sell to a pernickety person of impecunious pocket. This subwoofer has been stripped down to the basics, yet it's richly equipped where it has to be. SVS has made it to a standard yet kept it as affordable as possible.
The lore of subs is that you make them flexible, so that they can slot into a simple stereo system or a home theatre rig at either speaker or line level; this typically translates to rakes of speaker connections and slews of phono sockets. Also, they all generally have a set of crossover controls with a settingfrequency knob as well as volume or gain knob. High-end subs even have EQ systems - some of them very sophisticated indeed.
The SVS PB-10, however, has literally none of it. No ins and outs, just one single phono plughole. This is marked simply 'LFE.' It knows where it belongs - and that's in a 5.1 system. It hooks up to the LFE output on your receiver or amp. Connection is no more complicated than that. You get a second on/auto switch as rider to the main power switch and you do a get a gain knob and sweepable phase knob, but that's it.
When it comes to construction, the speaker is an honest paper cone job with an inverted dome and the massive fat foam surround.
The box is not especially small and is ported in the same plane as the face of that very wobbly long-throw subwoofer cone. This port feels solidly-mounted. It's safe to say that while there are ported boxes and ported boxes, every now and again you get one in which all the right parameters combine to create what Americans term a 'Magic Box'. Polk in particular have proved adept at making small ported subwoofer boxes that seem to get a quart into a pint pot (to use another Americanism), but it seems that SVS is taking them on at their own game.
Build quality is generally good; the grille is the only part I feel could be improved on. The box is made of a serious slab of MDF, cut out and with grille cloth stretched over it. A soft-to-the-touch SVS vinyl badge is stuck to the cloth and looks as if it could be easily caught and peeled off by accident.
Overall, it's big and bulky and ugly as hell. There are no sexy veneers available for design conscious consumers, no attempts to offer it in a woody look to match the majority of your cabinetry. It comes in Henry Ford Black. End of story.
The supplied manual is mostly about the brand and has no single specification printed in it - but it does give you an education in how to set the sweepable phase control. A feature not found on some rather more expensive products, but one that SVS obviously thought was more important than including a crossover for users with perfectly good LFE filters in their front end.
Interestingly, SVS gives buyers a list of 'bassy demo scenes' from various movies to trial, and while I found I was not always in agreement with the list as to the exact moment described, there are some wicked sequences available for users to trial their sub with. As well as my DTS music and profundity test, I ran sequences from Aliens and Contact (Aliens: Scene 9, 39:45sec 'ship drop' and scene 15 1:13:29 'awakening' and Contact: Scene 28: 1:36:30 'bombing' and Scene 33 1:55:56 'space trucking').
The output of this bullish sub is rich and full, but it can also be very musical. The six rubber dot feet hold the box very solidly on the deck and the result is a phenomenal level of bass. The sub goes loud, but it's powerful and without falling short in terms of a deep-bass extension.
I actually measured it plunging way down to 20Hz at a measly -3dBs. It's not as trouser-flapping as the £2,500 REL I use as reference but for one fifth of the cost, I often found it nothing short of astonishing.
On massively overblown sequences, if you show scant regard for sense and neighbours, you can actually find the limit of the onboard 300W BASH amplifier; but you need to stretch to offensive, hooligan levels before this happens. And when pushed hard the box has a tendency to reveal the monotonic tuned frequency of the port, but this a minor criticism given the price.
The SVS brand is not particularly well known in the UK, but on the strength of this outing, there's some genuine class in the brand. The PB10 will reward esoteric shoppers with a low-frequency fun and a level of musicality that hints at the big league, for little league money. Worth hunting down for an audition. Adam Rayner