Review: TBI Magellan VIP Subwoofer

Category: Speakers

I recently purchased a pair of TBI Magellan VIP active subwoofers to use with my Supravox field-coil open baffles (a single Supravox 215-2000 on JE Labs-style baffles). I had read the reviews of these subs, of course, and was actually slightly skeptical that they would perform as described by professional reviewers.

For those not familiar with the product, the Magellan is a rather unusual subwoofer: it is tiny, roughly 18" square but only 6" or so high (without the included spikes), not very heavy, and what's more, there's no visible driver anywhere - the 6.5" aluminum driver is entirely enclosed! TBI employs some rather innovative proprietary (and patented) technology, it seems, some sort of quasi-TL enclosure that I, like the professional reviewers who've evaluated this product, am going to elect to leave to them for explanation (see the site).

What you'll read if you read the other reviews of these bass modules is that they are fast enough to blend with the fastest speakers in the world - with anything. One reviewer described how they effectively extended his Quads down to 20 Hz but without drawing any attention to themselves at all. Well, I will cut to the chase and report that that is entirely accurate. These subwoofers 'disappear' to an extent that is truly amazing, that I have never encountered before in a subwoofer, and they do it very readily, regardless of whether or not they're setup and positioned optimally.

I started out placing them behind the (large, ugly) JE Labs baffles, about 2' from the back of the baffle, putting the far corner of the Magellan about 6" from the corner behind them. I started with a crossover point of 50 Hz and the volume control about half way, feeding the subs with high-level inputs coming from the Supravox drivers themselves.

I was immediately impressed by the fact that they had added obvious weight but in listening to music you simply never, ever are given the impression that there is more than one sound source - period. Were the subs perfectly in-phase with the wide-band drivers? They could not have been, but they should have been close, and with wavelengths as long as they are at this frequency it doesn't appear to make much difference.

Because I raise my baffles up on short stands, they don't extend as low as they would otherwise. I eventually settled on a crossover of 70 Hz on the Magellan and the volume knob most of the way up. Now, this doesn't indicate the subs were being taxed for output, but just that there's a gain mismatch between the 97 dB/W Supravox drivers and the subs, I think.

On most acoustic jazz, the presence of the subs is hardly felt. They do add weight to the kick drum and the lowest bass notes. It is nice to have them there but, frankly, the baffles are close to full-range without them.

However, on music with any sort of prominent or artificial bass content, the subs make a world of difference. Take Pat Barber's Verse, for instance - I don't know what kind of kick drum her drummer is using on Pieces (and other tracks), but it seems there is a sub-harmonic being enhanced. If your speakers do not have punch below 50 Hz, you know it listening to this album! Well, the Magellan subs do add the necessary kick here - they do it perfectly. The bass is of the highest quality, with absolutely no bloat or overhang, never drawing attention to itself in any way. Once you have the subs in the system, it sounds completely natural - take them away and then something important is missing.

It's hard to stress how perfect and unusual is disappearing act. Even the $4000 REL subwoofer I once owned could not do this. It could not blend perfectly with very fast drivers and draw no attention to itself. It did certainly go lower, something like 3 dB down @16 Hz, and I'm sure it had the potential for higher output, but I don't need that.

There are several minor negatives I can point out with the product:

- Phase is settable to 0 & 180d only, not variable.

- The crossover low point is 50 Hz (-3 dB), meaning it would be difficult to blend these subs with speakers already reaching well into the 40s, I'd guess.

- The binding posts are cheap plastic and do not accept normal-sized spaded. This was an annoyance for me as I had to buy another pair of speaker cables with bananas to hook up the subs. (I will not use line-level inputs with a sub.)

Conclusion: This product is highly recommended for users of very fast, articulate speakers lacking punch in the low end. This would mean Quads and other panel speakers, single-driver back loaded horns, open baffles, etc.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Velodyne,ACI, REL