Velodyne Optimum-10 Subwoofer Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Thursday, 12 November 2009

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of someone who has too much money. It seems he had an acquaintance who was planning on upgrading a home theater system and wanted to jettison his old gear quickly. Instead of trying to sell it – or even donate it – he was just going to push it all to the curb and let any interested party have dibs. The first to go was a Velodyne subwoofer that had nary a blemish. When my buddy heard the news, he soon paid a visit and came away with a sweet subwoofer and not a dollar lighter. That same speaker has been proudly pumping out the bass for more than three years in its new home. Oh, were it always that easy to “adopt” speakers. When I received Velodyne's Optimum-10 subwoofer, I thus viewed my duties as akin to providing a temporary foster home, where the sub and I could share some good times before going our separate ways. Little did I know how attached I would become.

Features & Setup

Velodyne's Optimum-10 is the first substantial subwoofer I've had the opportunity to audition. Armed with a 1,200-watt Class-D switching amplifier and 10-inch long-throw front-firing driver, the 43-pound Optimum-10 is a heavyweight among subs. Its range extends from 24 to 120Hz and can be fine-tuned via presets, phase control and low-pass crossover. It's not just brawn, either, the speaker is outfitted in either a glossy black piano finish, like my review sample, or in a striking cherry cabinet. Ear and eye candy, I say.  

Subwoofers have become linked with home theater and surround sound, as part of the “.1” in 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 and beyond surround systems. Certainly subwoofers can make action and adventure films even more gripping. Explosions are more explosive, and so on. But subs are not just for surround; they can fill in the often large frequency gaps left by bookshelf speakers or floor-standers. If, like me, you've been wondering what's missing from your music, add a subwoofer and find out.

Lower half of the Optimum-10

First stage of business is letting the Optimum-10's microphone perform an acoustic “sweep” of the room, referenced from your listening position, which allows the speaker to “adapt” to its environment through equalization. Connect the microphone to the speaker, press “EQ” on the remote and sit back as it sweeps 12 times. The Optimum-10 offers several connection options: line and speaker level inputs, along with line level outputs. With Marantz's PM8003 integrated amplifier and SA8003 SACD/CD player already on hand for review, I chose to test the Velodyne alongside the Marantz gear and connected the Velodyne to the PM8003's pre-out jacks. Also on hand were a pair of Davone RITHMs (which will have their own reviews here soon).

The RITHMs are an arched floor speaker, with an unusual coaxial driver, where a 1-inch tweeter is placed in the center of a 7-inch driver. I had already listened to the RITHMs for a bit and was impressed by their overall presentation. But with a range of 50 to 20,000Hz, the RITHMs could use some help at the lower frequencies. Velodyne recommends adjusting the low-pass crossover until the transition from the sub to the main speakers is seamless. Smaller speakers with limited low-frequency response will benefit from higher crossover than larger speakers with greater low-frequency capabilities. The low-pass crossover's default setting is 80; I started with that and then backed off until I found the sweet spot, which with the RITHMs was in the 65Hz range.

Listening

The Optimum-10's front panel boasts an interactive display that responds to and displays commands from its remote control. It comes dialed in with four presets (R&B-Rock, Jazz-Classical, Movies and Games) for different music styles and/or applications. The R&B-Rock setting covers not just those two genres but country-rock, dance and DJ, heavy metal, latin music, rap and hip-hop. The Jazz-Classical setting is for music settings where clean, low-distortion bass is desired and is suggested for “soft country,” folk, alternative rock, blues, Broadway, gospel, new age and opera.

Optimum-10 Top Panel

To use a baseball analogy, adding the Optimum-10 to the system described above was like bringing together Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols onto one team. Suzuki is the finesse hitter, spraying singles across the field or dropping a bunt down the third base line; Jeter can beat you with his bat or defense; Pujols provides the power to knock it out of the park and clear the bases. Likewise, pairing the Optimum-10 with a pair of equal but differently skilled performers makes a formidable audio playback team.

I've never used the phrase “no brainer” before in writing, but a meaty subwoofer seems not just natural but necessary for heavy metal or hard rock. Hearing the low end at its sludgiest and rawest makes bone-crunching fare such as Black Sabbath's “N.I.B.” and Metallica's “For Whom The Bells Toll" even tastier. And the Velodyne rocks with more than metal. One of my favorite experiences with the Optimum-10 was hearing Kansas' “Lonely Street.” Bassist Dave Hope plays a sinisterly creeping blues in 11/8 time against Rich Williams' gritty guitar riff. Jimi Hendrix's “Manic Depression” was even more manic with the Optimum-10 pumping Noel Redding's looping bass to the heavens. Even greater was the impact the Velodyne had on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's “Birds Of Fire,” which blazed with a searing intensity unlike I had experienced before. Truly stunning.

No survey of bass-driven rock would be complete without a couple of tunes from Yes. I picked “Heart Of The Sunrise” from Yes' The Word Is Live. This in-concert performance from 1978 features plenty of glorious Rickenbacker moments from bassist Chris Squire and a fiery performance from drummer Alan White. I loved hearing the opening riff – with the ascending line played in unison by Squire and guitarist Steve Howe. Always throttling, through the Velodyne the instruments had even greater impact. From the same collection, the epic “Awaken” rode on even broader shoulders via the Velodyne. Squire's bass had sustain that carried on and on, and White's forceful drumming was bruising.

Is there a better live band than Phish? Their sprawling Hampton Comes Alive is a funk-ed up rock celebration, with plenty of bounce from Mike Gordon's bass. The cover of Bob Dylan's “Quinn The Eskimo” is just one tune that's energized by the low-end boost from the Optimum-10.

Hatfield & The North's The Rotter's Club is a classic in the jazz-rock pantheon, and has the smooth, detailed sound associated with the Canterbury, England, progressive rock scene. Hearing this through the Velodyne was a revelation: Richard Sinclair's bass and Robert Wyatt's kick-drum receiving their deserved spot in the mix. Such listening is addictive.

Great for jazz-rock, and just plain jazz, too. The Optimum-10 is the perfect enhancement for such classic jazz moments as the beginning of John Coltrane's immortal “A Love Supreme,” where the bass line introduces the song's main theme 30 some seconds after the fiery entrance of 'Trane's sax. Or what about Charles Mingus' bass on his sublimely mournful “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”? Or the incomparable Jaco Pastorius' fretless bass on Pat Metheny's sparkling “Bright Size Life.” Hearing these monumental works with a good subwoofer added immensely to my enjoyment and gave me a greater appreciation of the overall scope of the music. It's enough to go back and re-examine my entire music collection.

Danish composer Carl Nielsen wrote a set of six, now-lauded symphonies, with the 3rd first to achieve some critical success. Known as “Sinfonia Espansiva,” the 3rd bursts with life from the opening bars, pulsing with strings and percussion. Its visceral rhythms had concert-hall energy with the Optimum-10 – I could picture the cellists running bows across the strings and the mallets rolling on timpanis. Just another example of the impact this sub had on everything I threw at it. Never muddy or slow to respond, the Velodyne made music more exciting, more real and just plain fun.

I'm not a gamer, so I can't comment on the sub's use in that capacity; however, it sure brought a wallop to movies including Casino Royale, Braveheart (stunning rumble in the battle scenes), Star Wars (the roar of the Millennium Falcon!), the nonstop ride of Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark or the menacing soundtrack of Jaws before the first shark attack. This is a sub that brings out the chills and thrills of any adventure flick.

Final Thoughts

No matter what I heard through the Optimum-10, I came away feeling refreshed and wanting more. It was like the feeling I had when I was in my teens and discovering dozens of great bands and hearing them for the first time. The Optimum-10 continually rounded and filled out thin- and rich-sounding recordings alike, with vibrancy and grace. Going forward, it's likely we'll be riding the dual-subwoofer wave, as many manufacturers and consumers are turning onto two subs for even fuller low-end reproduction and better handling of musical peaks. I can only imagine two of these bad boys working in tandem. Until then, the Optimum-10 is a singular solution for those looking to dive deeper into the wonderfully rich world of low frequency. There's magic lurking in your music and movies, just waiting to come out.






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