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Monitor Audio FB 212 Subwoofer Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 October 2003
ImageThe decision as to which subwoofer to buy is a difficult one to make for most AV enthusiasts. On the surface, they all look pretty much the same, cubed in shape, with a very common array of connections and adjustments. Sure, they vary in size, but not dramatically so for the most part. One problem is that you can go down to your local retailer and audition them solo, yet this evaluation is nearly impossible as, under these conditions, the subwoofers emit little more than a rumble that emulates a bad day on California’s San Andreas Fault. Most people simply purchase a sub as part of a package or one that the retailer says is the best match for their system, then go home and brag about the amount of watts that the subwoofer possesses, like a badge of honor. The fact is that size and watts provide little in the way of assessing the performance of a high-performance sub. Implementation and set-up in your room is the key to success. Some say you need a sub that is from the same manufacturer as your speakers. In some cases, this is a good idea, but it is far from the rule.

There are two basic configurations for subwoofers these days – mini-cubes and everything else. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Small cubes are easy to conceal and have small, long-throw drivers that move a lot of air and can really energize a room. Larger subs often have larger drivers that need to travel less distance and can therefore quicker and better match the speed of the drivers in your main loudspeakers. Once you take everything into account, the best sub for you is the one that provides great energy, integrates seamlessly with its information sounding like it’s coming from your main loudspeakers.
The Monitor Audio FB 212 is a large subwoofer that employs a less commonly utilized isobaric technology. The FB 212 has a footprint of 17 inches by 15-3/4 inches, stands 22-1/2 inches tall, weighs a mighty 110 pounds and retails for $1,850. It is available in a single black oak vinyl finish.

The FB 212 utilizes a compound isobaric, push-pull configuration. This system has been known to produce extremely high-energy bass. This technology is often overlooked, due to its need for high power and large, heavy enclosures, yet few dispute that, if properly implemented, can provide a serious wallop. The FB 212 uses two 12-inch, long-throw metal cone drivers with cast baskets. To drive these speakers, Monitor Audio uses 360-watts of class A-B power derived from a multi-bank of MOFET devices. The FB 212 provides common features, including both line inputs and outputs, a filter/direct bypass that can be used when connected to a Dolby Digital or DTS processor, a variable low-pass filter, a continuously variable phase control (an outstanding feature for better integration), a Q control allowing you to better match the speed (or lack thereof) in your main drivers and variable volume adjustment. For airflow control, the FB 212 incorporates a high-velocity porting system that better controls airflow and reduces destructive turbulence.

Music and Movies
The set-up of any subwoofer can be a painstaking adventure if you want it done absolutely right. The fact is that it is difficult to match the phase and speed of your main loudspeakers. Phase refers to the timing in which the bass reaches you, compared to that of your main loudspeakers. There is no easy rule other than trial and error, unless you happen to own elaborate speaker calibration equipment and have an acoustics background.

I placed the FB 212 on the long end of my room, opposite my main loudspeakers and began listening to music. I set the Q control to the lowest setting in order to best match the very fast speed of my Revel Salon’s bass drivers and set the volume level using an inexpensive SPL meter to equal the levels of the rest of my speakers. I then played with the phase until I could no longer locate where the sub information was coming from. This set-up blended the FB 212 very well. Acoustics expert Bob Hodas later optimized this set-up and confirmed that my phase was set perfectly. Although it is time-consuming, I urge you to play with the phase to optimize the sub’s performance. The proper phase match is imperative for excellent subwoofer performance. Even if you don’t have access to an audio guru, using your ears over a few listening sessions is a worthy investment in your audio.

Let’s delve in to some Disturbed from their Believe DVD-Audio release (Reprise). I jammed this recording at obscene volumes and the FB 212 blended fantastically with my Revels, while sounding extended and solid on its own. In the song “Prayer,” I was very impressed with its performance. The FB 212 had an abundance of power and energized my 12x20-foot room as much as it could handle. The FB 212 could easily overload my environment if not careful. I felt that the comparably-priced Definitive Technology SuperCube was a bit more refined-sounding overall, yet the FB 212 simply had more of the low bass that gets inside of you and makes you feel the music.

In the song “Urgent” from the DVD-Audio release Foreigner 4 (Rhino), the FB 212 could border on the boomy side, yet made me feel good. It lacked some control, but gave me that “live” feel, the kind you get when you’re at a rock ‘n’ roll show during a sound check and you can feel the bass drum so deeply in your chest that it almost makes your heart skip a beat. One thing that I experienced with the FB 212 on this cut specifically was its ability to overload the music. I found myself adjusting the volume more often than I did with other subs. This is clearly due to the volume of air that the FB 212 could move and the dynamic differences in recordings or even between songs on any given release.

While auditioning the Monitor Audio FB 212, perhaps my favorite demo was that of Metallica’s self-titled DVD-Audio release. The hit of the album “Enter Sandman” sounded nothing short of huge. The FB 212 provided more energy than any sub I have had in my system and was just what I was looking for from this record. The sub-bass sounded low and loud, what you would expect to hear standing on the side of the stage at a show. I felt like it was loosening the sheetrock screws in my walls. No one who has recently been to my media room failed to be impressed with this demo featuring the Monitor Audio FB 212.

Stepping back a few years to Montrose’s first and self-titled album (Warner Bros.), I cued up the song Rock Candy at 110 plus dB. The bass drum sounded pretty sold and lacked congestion. It rocked my world and sounded agile to boot. It made me want to turn the music up, which is possibly the best compliment that you can bestow upon a sub. Up it went with good control. Never did the sub feel like it was running on fumes or like I was overloading the cabinet. This classic drum intro was proof that the FB 212 could dance with the big boys.

“The Fifth Element” (Columbia Pictures DVD-Video) served up a mean dish of bass to challenge the Monitor Audio sub. In the scene where Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) is reconstructed (I selected this scene for no other reason that my infatuation for Jovovich), the FB 212 was tight but not drum-tight. It could get loose at times. Initially, I wasn’t sure that this was a symptom of tubbiness, or rather an overabundance causing resonance overload. I concluded that the FB 212 was at its best at a slightly lower volume than an equal calibration to the main loudspeakers. I felt that it was often capable of more energy than it could finesse.

The Godsmack Live DVD (Image Entertainment) served up a dose of musical energy that could make John Ashcroft want to get up and dance with a stack of speakers at a rave. The opening cut “Awake” was a great example of why every system needs a sub, regardless of whether or not your main speakers are full-range. My Revel Salons are full-range, but when I compared this DVD-Video with and without the FB 212, the FB 212 made the event sound authentic. It supplied pure ass-kicking power that I could not live without. Perhaps I have heard this video sound a bit tighter with other subs (or without a sub), but the FB 212 made the music sound unquestionably large and exciting.

Overall, I found the FB 212 to be one of the better subs that I have had in my system. It certainly could supply more abundant bass than anything that I have auditioned. It could easily take your system out of control, however. I found that it needed more volume adjustment than any other sub I had had at my home.

There are other subs in the Monitor’s price class that deserve comparison. The Definitive SuperCube Reference is one. This sub is said to pack some spank yet possess the agility of the original SuperCube that I so adored. You will also want to consider the new generation of subs from Velodyne, Revel and soon Sunfire, which have room-correction software and hardware to assist you in sub placement and overall room balance. Comparing subwoofers side by side, the best one is the one that is will best integrate into your room. Subwoofers with both equalization and room correction will soon become commonplace for this very reason.

The Downside
The FB 212 is large and heavy. It won’t conceal itself very easily for those looking for a tidy home theater room, as opposed to something more like a recording studio. To top that off, it’s only available in one finish – black. Other subs in this class can offer more stylistic options. Speaking of the competition, the FB 212, like all other good subs, requires a good set-up but, unlike comparably-priced subs from Velodyne and slightly more expensive subs from Revel (notably the B15 for $2,995), the FB 212 doesn’t offer you all of the best tools for a turnkey set-up. The new line of Velodyne subs actually give you a mic and have sophisticated software that tells you how to place the sub and which knobs to turn. The Revel sub also comes with software but no mic. The fact is, other subs in the FB 212’s class can get you closer to a “perfect” set-up in your room with less effort on your part.

The FB 212 is so powerful that it can easily over-saturate your room with low-frequency energy, causing a potentially negative listening experience. You will want to be very careful with set-up to assure that you can position it so that you can avoid sonic resonances. When positioned correctly, it can be fantastic, but if you plan to drop it in a corner and try to forget about it, you are likely to not love it as much as you should.

A subwoofer is there for one reason – to make you hear and feel the most important basis of your music and movies – and the FB 212 from Monitor Audio does just that. The FB 212 has seemingly unending power and it will give you that bass that will “wow” friends when set up properly.

There is no new ground-breaking technology to the FB 212, but then again, the only thing that counts at the end of the day is how your system sounds. The FB 212 was good enough to “kick it” in my pretty significant reference A/V system for close to a year, which is a vote of confidence as to how good it can sound. It is not lightning fast like other high-end subs, but sometimes quantity wins over finesse.

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