Since the Edison wax cylinder and every loudspeaker transducer since, the effort of extracting sound from a system has been about fighting the laws of physics. To work properly, a speaker must both weigh a theoretical 'nothing', so that the acceleration and deceleration of its cones is instantaneous, yet have limitless strength so as not to bend under drive.
Ever since the invention of the moving coil loudspeaker, material science has helped designers fight the logarithms of the world of physics and make increasingly better loudspeakers.
When it comes to active subwoofers for home cinema use, success typically comes from cramming a quart into a pint pot. To make loads of bass from a small space, you need a driver with a huge magnet and an amplifier of monstrous proportions.
You can also port or transmission-line load your driver to get some acoustic gain. For this big Velodyne, though, we find that the oldest adage of 'you can't substitute cubes' has been adhered to - the Signature Digital Drive 1812 is very large indeed.
Super, smashing, crate
Despite having a fairly small footprint, the Signature 1812 extends vertically a long way and it weighs a tonne (well, 175kg). The all-wood transit crate it is shipped in looks like something out of Jurassic Park and should have a brace of small velociraptors inside.
Held down by two world-touring grade butterfly clips on each side, you (and a big mate) undo the massive box lid and lift it off to reveal an upright enclosure with smooth flanks and a serious grille on the front, bristling with connections on the rear and with a chunky mains lead marked, 'Not intended for domestic use. Industrial use only. Do not use in standard socket.'
It is serious. So serious that instead of testing the beast in my own home, I came to the Home Cinema Choice offices in London to use the resident listening room. Simply getting the unit into place was a trial, as we had to move it on a barrow, wrapped in swaddling clothes until it could be connected up and played.
The HCC room is equipped with a Lexicon processor, Cinepro amplifier, Arcam DVD deck and M&K speakers as standard. The M&K sub was disconnected and the single phono LFE feed was inserted into the correct socket - of which there are quite a few on the back panel.
These can take phono inputs or feed outputs and include EQ-out as well as a brace of composite video output sockets used to route the sub's onscreen display to the TV/display screen of your system. There are balanced XLR three-pin inputs for both the microphone and bass (if you have a balanced LFE output from your front end).
The grille is large and a well made dedicated injection moulding, and allows the large blue LED-lit Velodyne logo to shine through. I removed this to see the 18in and 12in carbon fibre cones (hence the 1812 nomenclature) in action.
Each driver gets its own 1,250W RMS heater, courtesy of two patented Energy Recovery Switching Design amplifiers. Together these two transformerless, direct-line, Class D switching amps provide an astounding 2,500W RMS, making a total dynamic possibility of wellie on boom as an insane 6,000W.
The box is sealed. It is huge and perfect for housing the two drivers. I would judge there to be at least five cubic feet of space within.
The idea is that one driver plays lower than the other, with the 18-incher reaching down to snake's belly, fear-zone subsonics, while the 12-incher takes care of business from around 50Hz and upwards, to provide snap, attack and rapid transient response. Like the Velodyne DD18, it has its own onboard EQ and ships with a mic to tune the box to the room.
Bass Bottom Boom
Once connected, I experimented with the fabulous onboard EQ system. The equaliser employs eight adjustable bands between 20Hz and 100Hz, plus pre-settings called Action/Adventure, Movies, Pop/Rock, Jazz/Classical, Custom and EQ defeat.
This last preset allows you to hear only what you have achieved in setting the equaliser, as well as using the microphone-measured output, shown in real time every few seconds via the onscreen display graph.
Having decided on a setting, I proceeded to throw every test track in my armoury at it. It loved everything I tried. So to push it to its limits, I pulled out a politically-incorrect CD with an illustration of some bloke holding his ears with blood spurting out of them, called Bass Boom Bottom from the extreme car scene.
It reaches down to single figures in Hertz. This got chewed up and spat out whole. This Velodyne effortlessly delivers over 100dB at 16Hz.
At all times, the sub remained in control, playing smooth and musical bass that grasps you and sort of jags you about a bit. In every respect, the 1812 is a phenomenon. It's so clean and powerful you can wick it up without over-blowing the sonic effect.
My only disappointment came when I had to stop playing - it transpires that the beast was preventing the entire office from doing their job. The whole building shook, coffee quivered and a stream of incredulous colleagues came in and out to experience the sheer absurd might of this signature product. The statement it is making to the rest of the subwoofer world? That's simple, it's two words and the first begins with 'F'.
In every conceivable way, this Velodyne is a masterpiece of sonic engineering - stupidly powerful yet pure of heart and both supremely versatile and amazingly musical. Spend a few minutes in its presence and you feel honoured to have had the privilege of the experience. Two of these and Tchaikovsky wouldn't have needed the artillery.