|Velodyne Digital Drive Series DD-12 Subwoofer|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers|
|Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.|
|Thursday, 01 April 2004|
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Unlike some subs that have a potentially peaky response, adding boom at the expense of definition, the Velodyne is quite the opposite. It is capable of delivering true low-end power, and at the same time articulate enough to produce the resonance and warmth of acoustical instruments with low frequency extension. An excellent example of this is the dynamic acoustic bass line in the cut “Ode to Billy Joe” from Patricia Barber’s Café Blue (Blue Note Records). Before tuning the Velodyne to the main speakers, it provided much needed extension and power, but the sound was somehow not fully integrated. After careful adjustments, the dominant bass line flowed with a clean, linear frequency response through all of the lower registers. The integrated low-end support allowed Barber’s vocals to float effortlessly, while mid-bass impact was tighter than ever because of the lessened demand on the main speaker’s bass drivers. Decreasing the load and increasing the dynamic capabilities of the main loudspeakers is one of the most compelling arguments for adding a subwoofer to any system.
I spent a weekend integrating the Velodyne with the excellent but not well-known JBL TK10s, which have a glorious midrange and soundstage, but are a bit challenged dynamically throughout the low frequencies. The JBLs were much more capable of playing loudly and more dynamic once I successfully integrated the DD-12. Getting the subwoofer to blend with the TK10s seamlessly was matter of effort and perseverance. It took the better part of an afternoon and evening to get it in the ballpark. If you want to do a subwoofer right, don’t just throw it in the corner and call it a day. Try lots of things, such as varying placement and facing, phase and polarity, and subtle adjustments to volume level, crossover points, and slopes. Even with the powerful tuning capabilities of the Velodyne, it is not necessarily a one-day process, but more an ongoing journey. Before equalization, the DD-12 added extension and increased dynamic range, but lower frequency integration was nowhere near what it was using the TL10s full range by themselves. After a substantial amount of fiddling, I was able to obtain a very cohesive soundstage, with the subwoofer not identifiable as a separate source.
I witnessed numerous examples of the power and foundation the DD-12 added to various systems throughout my evaluation period, such as while viewing Bonnie Raitt’s concert DVD, Road Tested (Capitol Records). Her outstanding rhythm section of drummer Ricky Fataar and bassist Hutch Hutchinson tunefully and powerfully punched the cut “Love Letter” forward. Hutchison’s dynamic plucking in particular made this a perfect tune to dance and rock to. I listened to “Shake a Little” in two-channel mode to test the subwoofer’s capabilities in a non-surround system. With the DD-12’s additions, it was surprising how large and encompassing the sound field became, almost emulating a surround sound environment. This is important to those who have not adopted a 5.1 configuration, but are still interested in enhancing their movie and concert viewing experience.
In addition to working with musical content, a subwoofer worth its salt must also provide muscle for movie soundtracks. I tried numerous blockbuster action and war movies with the DD-12 to test its rafter rattling capabilities, including some of the traditional blockbuster soundtracks. The pod race scene from “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” (Lucasfilm Ltd.) is an often-requested demonstration DVD by family and friends, never failing to slam listeners in their seats, and put awestruck smiles on their faces. Another demanding test DVD for subwoofers is “Blown Away” (MGM), which follows the battle of wits between a bomb squad expert (Jeff Bridges), and his former mentor, a terrorist bomber (Tommie Lee Jones). Needless to say, a rocking subwoofer is a necessity to pull of this type of action film, and the Velodyne DD-12 provided the required bone-jarring impact and horror of the numerous explosions.
The adjustable servo control gain allows the user to somewhat flavor the taste from more articulate and accurate to a rounder, fuller characteristic. Note that the differences I observed while adjusting the servo gain were not normally dramatic, often hard to even determine unless the source and volume level were extreme. With maximum servo gain, the level seemed to drop a little at times, as the manual stated might happen as distortion is lessened. Bass guitar seemed a little more separated from the rest of the music. This was more noticeably evident while listening to “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket” from the White Stripes’ exciting 2003 release, Elephant (BMG). Jack White’s growling and purposely distorted bass line adds an interesting and essential tension underneath Meg White’s gentle, innocent-sounding vocals. The highest servo setting created a tighter grip, giving a slightly leaner and more separate bass guitar line, while the lower setting was slightly less defined, but at the same time had a bit more visceral, romantic quality to it. On this cut, the best setting was a matter of user preference. Discussions with Velodyne suggested that even the lower servo gain settings maintain minimal distortion levels, and indeed may be the preferable setting for everyday use. I kept the servo gain near the lower end throughout most of my listening, and never noticed distortion creeping in while enjoying the full and impressive output level capability of this powerful subwoofer.