RBH SX-1212P/R Powered Subwoofer Reviewed
Over the past year or so, I’ve gained a newfound respect for subwoofers. It’s not that I feel as if I undervalued them in the past; I’ve just come to understand them better as I’ve focused more on items such as setup and parametric EQ rather than driver complement and amplifier power. The truth is that both a sub’s driver complement and amplifier matter little if your understanding of acoustics (i.e., placement) and EQ aren’t there. As with anything, simply focusing on a product’s spec sheet is possibly a great way to impress your friends, but it’s also a good way to go broke in the process. It’s only when everything is working in harmony that spec sheets “come alive.” As with anything in life, but especially in regards to AV, the more effort you’re willing to put into something, the greater the reward. This is doubly true for subwoofers. Half-ass your subwoofer setup, and you’ll wonder where your entire system’s performance has gone. Go the extra mile, and you’ll swear you’ve upgraded every component you own – yes, the difference can be that dramatic. You might discover, as I did, how a subwoofer like the SX-1212P/R can quickly become the most important speaker in your system.
• Read more subwoofer reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s writers.
• See more reviews in our Floorstanding Speaker and Bookshelf Speaker sections.
• Explore pairing options in our AV Receiver Review section.
The RBH SX-1212P/R (kind of a silly name) is the flagship subwoofer for the manufacturer’s Signature SX Series of loudspeakers. It comes in a variety of different configurations, from non-powered to powered. In its non-powered configuration, the SX-1212 starts at a little over $2,000, and the fully loaded SX-1212P/R reviewed here retails for $5,300. While $5,300 may sound like a lot, compared with the subwoofers it squares off against – for instance, JL Audio’s Fathom f212 ($6,200) and Gotham ($12,000) – it can be viewed as a relative bargain. While value is in the eye of the beholder, what I wanted to find out was if the SX-1212P/R was any good.
The SX-1212P/R is a beast of a subwoofer, arguably the largest I’ve encountered in my travels, at nearly 18 inches wide by 39 inches tall and 22 inches deep. It isn’t light either, tipping the scales at a whopping 130 pounds. The cabinet, although large, is rather elegant in its design, featuring rounded edges that, when viewed from overhead, give the sub a somewhat oval shape. The standard finish is a sort of matte black; however, as with all RBH products, custom finishes are available for an extra charge. The SX-1212P/R’s height includes pre-installed chrome legs or feet; further stability can be achieved by screwing the included spikes into the bottom of said feet. If you have hardwood or tile floors, you may wish to simply go with the attached feet au naturel. There is also the option of rubber tips that can be screwed into the bottom of the attached feet, which may also work for those with hardwood or tile floors. The front face of the SX-1212P/R features two large twelve-inch aluminum woofers, which are silver in color, an RBH trademark. The standard grille that covers the two woofers does a good job of shrouding their color, but it does not completely eliminate their visibility.
Around back, you’ll find a large, elongated plate amp that is mostly heat sink with but a few input and control options. Working top to bottom, the first option you’ll find on the SX-1212P/R’s plate amp is its volume or level control. Below that is its input, which is balanced only, and its output, also balanced. To the left of the XLR input/output options, there are two small buttons: the top mutes the amp, while the bottom selects one of the two pre-loaded DSP programs. With the button pressed in, a low-pass filter at 80Hz will be enabled. When the button is left out, the low-pass filter will be defeated. There is a PS/2 port below the XLR input/outputs that allows the SX-1212P/R to be connected to a computer, presumably for integration purposes. Along the bottom you’ll find a Neutric-style input (very pro of RBH) for the SX-1212P/R’s included power cord, as well as an additional Neutric-style power output. Throw in a master on/off switch, and you’ve got the SX-1212P/R’s plate amp all sewn up. What you won’t find are controls for items such as phase and crossover, as those duties are designed to be handled by your AV preamp or receiver, at least as far as the SX-1212P/R is concerned.
In terms of its specifications, the SX-1212P/R has a reported frequency response of 17 Hz to 180 Hz, thanks in part to its 2,400-watt internal amplifier driving the two twelve-inch aluminum cone woofers. Since crossover and such are handled outboard via your AV preamp or receiver, the SX-1212P/R is dependent upon the other hardware’s performance rather than its own in those regards.
Installing the SX-1212P/R (or should I say un-boxing and moving the SX-1212P/R) is a job for at least two people, maybe even three. I managed to un-box the monstrous subwoofer myself by opening the bottom of the box, then gently flipping it over and letting the SX-1212P/R slide out. However, muscling it upstairs to my reference theater was definitely a two-person job, which my wife helped me with, albeit begrudgingly. Once upstairs, I was able to walk the SX-1212P/R into its final resting place, which is approximately seven feet off my front wall and along my left side wall. In this location, the SX-1212P/R was approximately a third of the way into my room and approximately six feet from the center of my primary listening position. For the record, this is where most subwoofers that I review go, as I’ve found it to yield the smoothest response from about 35 Hz on up to 120 Hz – provided the subwoofer in question is up to snuff, that is. From about 25 Hz to 35 Hz, I have a noticeable dip of about six or seven dB, which is due largely to the nature of my room and its configuration, and is something that I combat with EQ. From 15 Hz to 25 Hz, things tend to be more linear.
With the sub in place, I went ahead and connected it to my nearby power receptacle, as well as my Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro (BFD) via a 15-foot XLR cable from Monoprice. The BFD sits in my rack above an Integra DHC 80.2 in the adjacent room. I use the BFD as a parametric EQ for my subwoofers, while relying on the Integra for adjustments like distance, level and crossover point. To this end, the SX-1212P/R’s simplistic plate amplifier served me well, as I typically bypass any and all controls that are usually found on most subwoofers in favor of those afforded me by my Integra or BFD.
The first step of any subwoofer review, for me, is to measure its response in my room. I do this by connecting my laptop to a Behringer UCA-222, which is a USB interface with both input and output capabilities. The UCA-222, when used in conjunction with my RadioShack SPL meter and the free program Room EQ Wizard, allows me to send test tones to the sub in question to measure its in-room response. With the SX-1212P/R’s plate amp set to zero, the resulting volume of the Room EQ Wizard’s test tone was a whopping 105 dB. Typically, with a subwoofer’s volume set to “Reference,” the out-of-the-box output will register somewhere in the neighborhood of 72 to 85 dB, not 105. With no other way to dial back the SX-1212P/R’s output, I had to make some adjustments within Room EQ Wizard itself, as 105 dB is just too loud when having to take multiple measurements. Once I got the SX-1212P/R’s volume to around 90 dB, I measured a full 15- to 120-Hz sweep. In my room, the SX-1212P/R managed 18 Hz on up through to 120 Hz with no problems. Between 25 and 35 Hz, the dip I referred to earlier was present; however, from about 35 Hz on up to 120 Hz, the SX-1212P/R’s response tracked very linear. What do I mean by linear? No peaks or dips were greater than three dB, with the largest peak being somewhere in the vicinity of 2.3 dB. Even from 15 Hz to 25 Hz, the response tracked true. Impressive, to say the least. I expected low-end grunt, but not quite the level of top-end refinement that I got.
With initial measurements out of the way, it was time for Room EQ Wizard to create some filters in order to match my target curve. To minimize the naturally occurring dip in my room’s response, I adjusted my target curve accordingly, thus reducing it to a dip of three or four dB, instead of six or seven. With the rest of the frequency response adjusted accordingly, Room EQ Wizard created a series of five filters that I dumped into my BFD. I then re-measured the SX-1212P/R’s frequency response in my room. The results were not only more linear, but decay times had also improved dramatically. In truth, post EQ, I haven’t gotten a sub to look this good on paper … ever.
With the SX-1212P/R’s EQ procedure out of the way, it was time to integrate it with my other speakers via my Integra DHC 80.2. First I set the crossover point, which for this review was 80 Hz, since the EMP Tek E5Bi bookshelf speakers were what I had on hand. Next I set distance, which as I stated before fell around six feet, give or take a few inches. Lastly, I level-matched the SX-1212P/R inside the Integra to match the other speakers. Keep in mind I still had the SX-1212P/R onboard volume set to zero. With the onboard volume at zero, I still had to turn down the SX-1212P/R’s volume inside the Integra an additional 10 dB in order for it to measure 75 dB in my room and thus seat nicely with the EMP Tek speakers. Obviously, the SX-1212P/R is designed to move a lot of air in large rooms, but that isn’t to say it can’t also be enjoyed in smaller rooms. Minus the filters created in Room EQ Wizard, no other form of equalization (automatic or otherwise) was employed on the SX-1212P/R or any other portion of my system for this review.
Read about the performance of the RBH SX-1212P/R subwoofer on Page 2.
I began my evaluation of the SX-1212P/R with Dave Matthews Band’s album Under the Table and Dreaming (RCA) and the track “Dancing Nancies.”
I use “Dancing Nancies” a lot as a bass demo, due in part to the impact of the opening kick drum. Through the SX-1212P/R, the kick drum had not only a visceral presence but also a nuanced one. It’s not that the recorded drum is altogether deep, as in plunging to even 20 Hz; it’s that, along with the sudden impact, a good sub should also capture the incoming strike and resulting recoil of both the mallet and the skins, which the SX-1212P/R did brilliantly. It even managed to resonate, in a good way, higher up the frequency range than others before it, creating for a more seamless blend between loudspeaker and subwoofer. But above all, with this demo, the drum sounded real, which is to say that it was the appropriate size and possessed true organic weight and thus interacted with the room accordingly. More impressive still was that all the bass came from the back center of the soundstage rather than along my left side wall where the SX-1212P/R itself was located. While bass is omni-directional, that doesn’t always mean a sub’s location is hidden from view. With the SX-1212P/R, it was, which was quite a feat, given its sheer size.
Next I cued up “The Best of What’s Around” off the same album, only this time I focused on the bass guitar. Through lesser subs, this can sometimes turn into a monkey’s breakfast. Again, not so with the SX-1212P/R. The bass guitar was not only speedy (okay, plucky even), it possessed real audible depth and weight. Moreover, while electric, there was a sense of resonance and vibration present in the strings of the bass guitar that were then amplified by, well, the amplifiers used in the mix. This level of inner detail, while perhaps present at some level through my other subs, was presented with greater clarity, focus and detail via the SX-1212P/R. While all this was going on, the track’s drum kit and low-frequency elements were rendered with the same attention to detail and fervor, thus giving the whole track several new layers of dimension. Impressive, considering this album has been with me for nearly 20 years and I heard things I never knew were present until the SX-1212P/R’s arrival on the scene.
Satisfied with the SX-1212P/R’s two-channel performance, or “musicality,” I dove right into movies, beginning with Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray (Paramount). I went ahead and skipped to the climactic battle sequence where Iron Man and War Machine square off against a literal army of mechanical drones. Via subwoofers that can plunge low but with little finesse, this sequence can quickly become overpowering and plodding. Via the SX-1212P/R, it was as dynamic and dimensional as the visuals unfolding on the screen. Bass was not a one-note affair, but rather as complex as the rest of the frequency range. Each machine’s unique low-frequency signature was captured, presented faithfully and with zero editorializing and/or bleed-over from the other low-frequency elements. Just because something has mass and strikes another object with force doesn’t mean the resulting sound should simply be that of a boom; everything resonates differently, and the SX-1212P/R captured and thus reproduced each brilliantly. Even more exciting was the SX-1212P/R’s movement of air, which may seem like a silly thing to note, except that when a shockwave on screen is actually accompanied by a small, literal shockwave in one’s room, it’s very exciting. It elevates one’s viewing experience from mere engagement to visceral real quick. That really is the best way to sum up the SX-1212P/R’s performance on Iron Man 2 – visceral.
I ended my evaluation of the SX-1212P/R with another fine Blu-ray disc, James Cameron’s Titanic (20th Century Fox). I skipped ahead to the film’s many boiler-room scenes and set my system’s volume to reference. Under these conditions, every subwoofer, regardless of price, that I’ve reviewed since Titanic’s release on Blu-ray has bottomed out and cried uncle. Every single one except the SX-1212P/R. Not only did the SX-1212P/R not tap out, it plunged lower and struck harder than I think I’ve heard anything do to date. Additionally, the resulting pressure generated inside my room by the SX-1212P/R’s sheer movement of air again added that extra layer of dimension and presence to the entire performance. When Cameron cuts to the ship’s mighty props, it was that same movement of physical air that gave the visuals a sense of liquid weight and aural dimension. The image simply ceased to be a mere projection on a screen, becoming rather a contained facsimile of what it must actually look, sound and feel like a few meters from a ship’s prop. It was incredible. Even my wife commented that the whole presentation felt more alive than when we had watched the film previously. It wasn’t as if the SX-1212P/R was straight blunt force trauma; it too possessed a delicacy that no sub before it has been able to match. It was simply sublime.
The biggest drawback to the SX-1212P/R has to be its size; it’s simply huge. That being said, as big as it is, I’m not certain I’ve heard a more nimble and articulate subwoofer. So while its physical presence may dominate the visual space, depending on where you’ve placed it, the sonic presence, when necessary, is miniscule. Of course it can shake your house off its very foundation, but it’s still shocking to me that something as large as the SX-1212P/R can sound so effortless and small at the same time.
As great a value as I believe the SX-1212P/R to be, even at $5,300 as reviewed, I feel the unpowered version is even more so. Not only is it more affordable at a little over $2,000, an appropriate amplifier wouldn’t even put your over the $3,000 mark while potentially also affording you even greater control. For example, a SX-1212 in its non-powered configuration mated with, say, a Crown XLS 2000 or 2500 amplifier would set you back less than $3,000, while giving you (roughly) the same power output and also giving you control for DSP, crossover, etc., inside the amplifier itself.
I don’t like that the SX-1212P/R is always on, meaning it doesn’t have a standby mode or a signal-sensing switch. This, in my opinion, is a gross oversight.
Lastly, the fact that the SX-1212P/R features only XLR-style inputs may limit its ability to be integrated into a wider variety of systems, although adapters can be purchased to combat this issue at minimal additional cost.
Competition and Comparison
Prior to the SX-1212P/R’s arrival, my subwoofer of choice was the SVS SB13-Ultra at $1,599. For just under $1,600, the SB13-Ultra is silly good and arguably all the sub anyone truly needs. It can play to 20 Hz with authority and possesses the requisite speed and accuracy up top to make it musical, too. That being said, at a little over three times the price as configured, the SX-1212P/R is just that much better and more sublime in its sound.
The SX-1212P/R is aimed more at subwoofers like JL Audio’s Fathom f212 or even Gotham subwoofer. Both JL offerings cost far more than the RBH, yet both boast similar driver complements and power. Neither can hit the reported frequency response of the SX-1212P/R. With regards to these two JL subwoofers, the SX-1212P/R represents the better value, if not the better performance overall.
Other notable competitors would be Bowers & Wilkins’ DB1 subwoofer ($4,500) and Paradigm’s SUB1 or SUB2 ($4,499 and $8,999, respectively). While the DB1 is less expensive than the SX-1212P/R, it’s easy to spend more, as is the case with Paradigm’s SUB 2, which really does put the RBH somewhere in the middle of what is “reasonable,” but still a far cry from insane. For more on these subwoofers, as well as others like them, please visit Home Theater Review’s Subwoofer page.
At $5,300 retail, the RBH SX-1212P/R isn’t cheap, but it’s far from the most expensive subwoofer you can buy, even within its own class. No, what the SX-1212P/R is, for me, is a last stop. Expensive enough that I couldn’t just pop off and buy one on a whim, but not so expensive as to relegate it to being a thing of pure fantasy – you know, like unicorns. The SX-1212P/R is, for lack of a better descriptor, all the subwoofer anyone (including me) would ever truly need, thus making it potentially the last subwoofer a potential customer would ever own.
In terms of performance, this subwoofer is hard to fault. While the SX-1212P/R may be large and may lack a few modern amenities, for those like me who like their components to be somewhat specialized, it’s near perfect. In truth, the only knock I have against it is that I feel its unpowered sibling, the SX-1212N/R, may be the greater value and even more flexible in terms of integration. Still, regardless of which SX-1212 subwoofer you choose, you’re arguably getting one of the very best subwoofers available today. Say hello to my new reference.
Read more subwoofer reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s writers.
See more reviews in our Floorstanding Speaker and Bookshelf Speaker sections.
Explore pairing options in our AV Receiver Review section.