Subwoofer ratings by Widescreen Review mag

This forum receives a number of inquiries about "which subwoofer should I buy". There are a number of technical and practical (size, cost, etc.) issues which must be considered by anyone looking for a good subwoofer, but I don't intend to try to cover those considerations here.

Widescreen Review magazine conducted a series of subwoofer evaluations between 1997 and 2000 (which obviously leaves out some of the most recent models). I thought that readers might find a list of the "top twelve" subs rated by WR to be a useful starting point when contemplating the purchase of a new/used subwoofer. You will note that this list does not include the REL brand, since none of them were reviewed in this group of articles. The reviews, however, did include the Sunfire "True Subwoofer" Mk 2, which finished in the middle of the pack of the 50 subs.

The review articles rated 50 subwoofers for 12 factors, and scored them from 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest) on each factor. The rated factors were: music (ability to faithfull reproduce music); effects (ability to faithfully reproduce LFE); impact; tonal definition; overhang (tight vs. flabby bass, with tight being the desired property); rhythm and pace; midrange coloration; enclosure integrity; distress (how the sub performed under severe stress); subjective deep bass; ability to play at 105db or louder at 35 Hz; and ability to reproduce 25 Hz frequencies cleanly.

The highest possible score for a subwoofer would be a perfect 5.0. The subs are listed below, in alphabetical order:

Only one subwoofer had a perfect 5.0 score:
1. Linn AV 5150 (price: $4200)

The best group of subs had nearly perfect scores, with only a few factors rated less than 5, and none lower than 4.0. When looking at the average score, you should also note the price when making comparisons:
1. Bag End Infra-18: average = 4.92 ($2400-2900, depending on finish)
2. B&W ASW4000: average = 4.71 ($3000)
3. Earthquake SuperNova Millenium 15: average = 4.71 ($2000)
4. Energy ES-18XL: average = 4.875 ($1700)
5. Mirage BPS-210: average = 4.92 ($1700)
6. Mirage BSP-400: average = 4.71 ($1300)
7. M&K MX-5000THX: average = 4.83 ($2500)
8. M&K MX-700: average = 4.67 ($1400)
9. Vandersteen 2Wq: average = 4.83 ($1300) (this sub is specifically intended to be used in pairs, which would increase its average score to that of V2W)
10. Vandersteen V2W: average = 4.96 ($1300)
Very kind of you to compile and list the figures SD. I have the same issue and read it cover to cover in one day : ) Others that don't have that issue or never saw it should take into account the amount of work that SD put into this post, as he had to tally up all the scores and then average them out. In other words, he did a lot more than just type all of this... : )

Other than that, there were a few subs that i would have liked to have seen them review that didn't make it. It should also be noted that the subs are listed alphabetically and not by any type of preference. This can be seen by the fact that the Vandy's rank quite high yet are listed as if they finished in last place. SD also missed one sub that should have been on the list: the Bag End S-18E. It scored the same ( 4.92 ) as the Bag End Infra-18 and was on the same page, so it was an easy one to overlook.

Kind of makes you wonder about all of the other subs that have been raved about in other zines, huh ??? Especially since the reviewers actually mentioned and understand "rhythm & pace". To top it off, they also know that sealed boxes have the best transient response and aren't afraid to go against the grain in terms of NOT recommending "boomy" or "sloppy" vented pieces like most other mags. Out of the 12 that ranked the highest, 7 are sealed, 1 is Isobarik, 1 is ported and 3 are passive radiators. Like i've said before, "tight" bass typically means "sealed box". All this coming from a VIDEO based mag. Maybe there ARE some "audiophiles" in the HT crowd... Sean

Sean reflected what I felt reading your post last night in that you did a Great Service compiling this for Audigon. " Well Done ". As a REL owner I was hoping to see something but I already know by my ears what the rating is.

Very interesting read & thanks for sharing,

Thanx for all the info sd. I've been thinking about purchasing a sub to complement my martins aerius i and on the top of the list was the kinergentics sw800, but out of my price range. So my second choice was the v2wq used, mainly for music. Haven't found one to audition, but I almost bought one used for $650 here on adgon. Unfortunately it was sold. Thanx again for the info. Pete
i saw this, & was disappointed that vmps was not included. my retail $699 vmps larger sub (a bit more $$$ for their options, which i highly recommend), are so much better than what i've heard at even four times the price... w/vmps you need your own outboard x-over & amplification, but this is an *advantage*, imo - much more flexible, & better electronics.

my present subwoofer set-up set me back ~$2400, & this included two optioned vmps larger subs, a deluxe version of the marchand xm-9 x-over, & two adcom gfa555 amps (one purchased new back in '84). i wouldn't trade it for a pair of top-line velodynes or rels...

ymmv, doug s.

Thanks for the comments, guys. I own a pair of Vandersteen 2Wq's, and can say without qualification that they are an excellent and MUSICAL subwoofer. As Sean noted, the alphabetical list I compiled has the Vandy's listed last, whereas they would have been near the top of the list had I compiled the ratings based on scores. A caveat, however: the Vandy 2Wq's are really intended for use as a stereo pair, particularly if they are going to double as LFE subs for HT. Further, they use a special crossover between the preamp and the power amp, and to perform at their best requires the main speakers to be close to full-range, providing an octave of overlap both above and below the crossover point for the subwoofer. Hence, since the crossover point for the 2Wq subwoofer is 80 HZ, the main speakers should have flat response from 160 Hz (1 octave above the 80 Hz X-over point for the sub) down to 40 Hz (1 octave below the 80 Hz X-over point for the sub). This degree of overlap is necessary if the 2Wq is to integrate to best advantage with the main speakers.

As others also noted, it would be nice to see how the REL, VMPS, and other "audiophile" subs performed in these tests, but they weren't reviewed. What I did find interesting was that some of the subs rated highly by Stereopiles were NOT rated highly by WR mag. Most, if not all, of the subwoofer reviews in WR were performed by Richard Hardesty (formerly of Havens & Hardesty, one of the leading high-end audio dealers in the LA area before the partnership disbanded). Hardesty is generally known for honest, even blunt, commentary. He recently resigned his position as Equipment Editor for WR magazine, and now publishes an interesting online audio journal called "The Audio Perfectionist".
Great information. Sdcampbell, you mention that there are others that were rated highly by Stereophile but not by WR. I'd be very interested to know some of those since I don't subscribe to WR. Maybe you could list some of the highlights that really stand out to you as "shockers". It sounds like this was a very fair and balanced review...dare I say "objective"??
I'm on the same page as SD. I too found somewhat "contradictory" information jumping back and forth between the reviews in WR and in other audio based mags. Given the way that the WR reviews were handled, i think that i would trust their opinions a little higher than some of the others. It did come across as being a little more "controlled" or "even handed" in terms of the results. Keep in mind that they DID test the Sunfire's ( as previously stated ), a couple of Velodyne's and Paradigm's, Hsu's, etc... Quite honestly, i was pretty surprised by some of the results going by all of the other "reviews" that i've read.

Kind of funny how we were all disappointed about the same subs not appearing in the "subwoofer showdown"( Rel, VMPS, etc..). I would have also liked to have seen them test some Dunlavy subs as they use 4 drivers ( either 10's, 12's or 15's ) and are sealed with low Q's. Should be very tight with great extension and volume capacity due to all of the cone area. As to the VMPS, i've always heard that the sub was great but my listening experience with older full range VMPS floorstanders left me wanting. While the bass was extremely potent, it was also VERY muddy and lacking in definition. I wanted to see if Brian aka "Big B" had made any progress in that area. Tossing Bill Duddleston's "no way to get around displacement" Legacy subs into the picture would have been nice too. Oh well, you can't have everything handed to you on a silver platter : )

As to Hardesty's online efforts, is that a "public access" website or subscription only ? Got an address for us lazy folks ??? Sean
Great information. Too bad they missed the two subs generally considered audiophile faves, the RELs and the ACI Titan IIs. I'd also be interested in seeing a "comparison" against the opinions in Stereophile
Sean, and the address is...
Sd: Thanks from me too for posting the SWoofer info!
To make my final post on this thread, I'll respond to Danheather's request to know if there were any "surprises" in the WR reviews. Yes, to be honest, I was surprised that the Velodyne models that were tested did not earn high marks. I always had the impression, based on what I'd heard, that Velodynes were among the best of the best. WR tested the F-1800R ($2000) and it got fairly average marks on the first sample tested (4.13). WR then re-tested this model using another sample from the manufacturer, and it earned an average score of 4.55. The other Velodyne model that was tested was the HGS-12 ($2000), which earned an average score of 4.18.

The other two subs which were rated fairly highly were not familiar to me: the Triad In-Room Platinum ($2000), which earned an average score of 4.5; and the Polk PSW650 ($769), which earned an average score of 4.36.

If WR mag reviews any of the subs that are of interest, based on the posts above (such as REL), I'll insert a follow-up thread in the discussions forum.

You did a nice job compiling all those scores. I think the special sub issue of Widescreen Review is a good place to start when one is thinking about buying a subwoofer—it contains a lot of information. However, people should keep in mind that the reviewer, Richard Hardesty, like any reviewer, has very specific preferences. He admits that he has such preferences, and warns readers that they may have different preferences. In other words, the reviews are just one person's opinion.

For instance, he generally prefers sealed enclosures over ported ones, especially for music. He also strongly recommends two smaller subs in stereo over one large sub using a mono signal. Those are valid preferences--but not everyone shares them. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a small sub simply because it is easy and cost effective to add a second one and have a stereo set-up. You could very well end up with two subs that have limited output and are easy to bottom out. I also prefer my ported sub over my audiophile sealed sub hands down, for both music and movies. Those are my preferences but who cares? The point is you should always listen and decide for yourself what design works best for you.

Anyway, the sub issue does encourage buyers to listen more critically to subwoofers, and it provides criteria by which to judge them. That’s a good thing. I just think you have to keep the ratings in perspective.
Steel: I absolutely agree with your comments. Hardesty does have a stated preference for subs with sealed enclosures -- one which I happen to share, since my preference is for music over LFE/HT applications. Ultimately, it's a matter of individual taste, and any sub should be auditioned in the home listening environment if at all possible, since the way a sub loads the room will vary from sub to sub, and room to room (event the same sub in the same room will load differently when you move it as little as 6 inches).
A nice compilation of HT subwoofer info from widescreen and elsewhere can be found at:

google rules!
Since the time of the Widescreen Review articles, there have been some significant improvements in subwoofer technology implemented by a number of speaker manufacturers, the most noteworthy of which is parametric equalization. Companies like Vandersteen, Revel and Infinity now all offer such subwoofers. The most recent improvement is the introduction of software programs which assist the "audiophile" in both subwoofer placement and adjustments of the parametric equalizers. The Revel B-15 is especially flexible in this manner, with three such equalizers that are variable in terms of frequency, amplitude and bandwith, as well as variable phase--all well integrated with Revel's new LFE software.