OK, after putting out the call for opinions & experiences with Under Seat SubWoofers and quickly realising no-one really knew anything about them I made it my mission to find out for myself.
As mentioned in my callout, all I'm after is an enhancement to the low frequencies of the stock audio system in my 2010 Corolla Levin ZR (which is still about 8 weeks away mind you). I'm not after mind-numbing boom, just a smooth & accurate enhancement to suit all types of music, not just doof. I also value my boot space and don't really want to deal with a boot sub each time I have to carry stuff around. I've built many subwoofers for myself and friends in the past (last one was about 10 years ago mind you) and know a thing or two about audio so I know that a tiny box squished under a seat containing a small driver with limited travel plus a small low powered amp isn't ever going to be a replacement for a basic boxed sub & amp combo in the boot. I also know that I could probably replace my front splits, treat the doors with Dynamat and add a small amp to give me much better sound too but I just wanted to know how good/bad those super-compact subs really were before going down that path. Well, I took the plunge and bought a few to test and here are the results so far...
1st Test Subject:
Response 8" Low Profile Active Subwoofer (CS-2286)
Jaycar - $159.00
- Solidly built 12mm MDF Enclosure (360x250x80mm)
- 8" Electroplated Polycone Woofer w/Dual Voice Coils (2ohm)
- Dual 55WRMS 2ohm Amplifier (2xTDA7396)
- Inline 10A Fuse
- Multi-pin Plug for Power & Speaker Level Inputs
- RCA Sockets for Line Level Input
- 40-280Hz Low Pass Filter
- 0-18db Gain Control
- Phase Shift Selector
- Low Price (making two easily affordable)
- Reasonable Low-End Enhancement
- Can pack a punch when required
- Suffers from Mobile Phone & Electrical Interference
- Produces Cabinet &/or Grille noises
- Gets overwhelmed easily
- Distorts easily even at mid volumes
- Continual level adjustment required (head unit or sub itself)
- Has difficulty producing true 'sub' freqs
Bought two of these just because they looked incapable but once I got them home and opened one up I was surprised to find a dual voice coil driver connected to a nice little power amp module with two separate amp ICs. Looking up the IC data sheet (http://www.datasheetcatalog.org/datasheet/stmicroelectronics/1512.pdf) these devices can output 45WRMS comfortably and up to about 65W if driven hard and at max voltage making this sub a genuine 90-100W performer but keep in mind these values are at 2ohms not 4 plus the distortion levels aren't the best either. At least they're honest so you've gotta give them that.
Putting it back together and connecting it up for its first test run I was a bit disappointed with the multi-pin plug and supplied wiring for the power & speaker level input. Nevertheless it powered up fine and started making some noise so it's effective enough I suppose. Keep in mind I'm testing these subs the most standard way I can (tapping into the rear speaker output of the HU, not using the RCA Line level input) so it's not the best but thought this would be the way most people would probably connect them up to a stock system so went with it.
Well, even though I was impressed by the technical side I was let down by the performance. The first thing I was faced with was electrical & mobile phone interference from nearby devices. Not a good start. I set all the levels to their mid-range setting, neutralised the head units bass & treble controls and played my 'test' CD containing a range of styles including classic punchy rock (AC/DC), jazz/pop/vocals (Kate Ceberano), cheesy dance (Bodyrox), smooth pop (Zero7), pop (Sia), oldskool metal (Metallica), neo metal/dance/industrial/pop (Pendulum), Rock (Living Colour & Dire Straits) plus a few others thrown in for good measure (Prince, Midnight Juggernauts, Cat Empire, Korn, Ravel, B-52s, VAST, Groove Armada, Cradle of Filth, Polyphonic Spree, Led Zepplin, Lenny Kravitz, Evanescence, Stevie Wonder, Tool, Nine Inch Nails & others).
The sub started to make sub type noises but I couldn't help but hear the cabinet & grille making noises of their own. Again, not good however the 2nd unit seemed to be a lot better so maybe it was just a one-off and I'm sure Jaycar would swap it for another unit (within 7 days of course). Realising one wasn't going to be enough I connected both up together and went for a drive. I had to pull over a few times to get them 'tuned' as best I could but once I had them about as good as I could get them I still couldn't get them sounding right for different types of music. They were producing low freqs sure but not low enough (as expected) and they seemed to be artificially peaky at times. They seemed to resonate at about the 60-70Hz mark and dropped off sharply after that giving them that awful 'cardboard box' sound and really screwing around with the recorded material. The bass control on the HU had to be continually tweaked as each track played to prevent too much cardboard box 'boom' sound from being generated.
Turning them right down to make them undetectable (as all good subs should be) was good but then they had to be turned back up again to get any benefit anyway so it was very 'catch 22'. They performed quite well with AC/DC and other punchy type rock music but were just terrible when wanting to get as much 'doof' out of them as possible in dance music. They sounded pretty bad when fed with nice smooth lows and just got overwhelmed when things got a little bit complex. They also started distorting easily even at mid-range volumes.
In saying all this however you've got to keep in mind that I was testing these in a 2001 Corolla Levin that has 6" speakers in the front & rear doors plus the tweeters up the front. The problem here is that the stock 6" woofers can actually reach down quite low (but only at reasonable volumes) so the subs had to go lower to be effective. This could mean that these cheapie Jaycar subs could work quite well in an older car fitted with only 4" speakers. You would have to experiment with this yourself of course but it might be worth a try.
Summary & Score:
Surprising to find dual VCs and dual amp ICs but performance isn't great. Good peaky boom sounds at times but falls short of being good 'all-rounder'. Would probably suit an older car fitted with only 4" speakers. Considering all these factors I'm giving these an overall score of 3/10.
2nd Test Subject:
Fusion Reactor 8" Super Slim Active Subwoofer (RE-SS18)
Wow Sight & Sound - $269.00 on sale (normally $299.00)
- Very solid Aluminium Enclosure (330x245x78)
- 8" Polycone Woofer (4ohm)
- Monoblock 100WRMS 4ohm Amplifier
- Line & Speaker Level Inputs
- Dual 15A Socketed Fuses (Parallel Config)
- Large 8GA Terminals for Power Input
- Multi-pin Plug for Speaker Level Input
- Gold Plated RCA Sockets for Line Level Input
- Gold Plated RCA Sockets for Line Level Output
- Remote Level Control
- 40-120Hz Low Pass Filter
- Gain Control
- 0-12db 45Hz Bass Boost
- Phase Shift Selector
- Mid-priced but one is quite capable by itself
- Good Low-End Enhancement
- Nice smooth lows but can also be punchy
- No Mobile Phone Interference
- No Cabinet or Grille Noises
- Can handle complex lows without fault
- Once level set only limited adjustment required (remote makes it easy)
- Fits like a glove in the 'well' under the ZRE front seats (see pics)
- Can produce true 'sub' freqs but can't go all the way
- Can distort when being driven hard
I only purchased one of these because I had a demo in-store and thought it was good enough by itself. Difficult auditioning a low-powered small sub in a huge open shop but from what I could tell it seemed OK. Got it home, ripped it apart and found it to be quite different. The 8" driver had a single 4ohm voice coil connected to a very decent looking amp PCB. This is in a completely different class to the Jaycar subs as it contained a quality amp containing all the same general componentry found in most standard car amps. They had just cut it down to the essentials and squished a shallow driver into the same box. Good design, solid as hell and looks good too although I think I might paint the grille black as I like my equipment to be as dull & boring as it can be ... love the Stealth look.
Putting it all back together and connecting up the power wiring was a breeze thanks to the chunky 8GA screw-down terminals. I used the speaker line inputs (via the supplied fine yet perfectly acceptable little plug-in adaptor) to keep the comparison fair & accurate plus used the same test CD I used on the Jaycar subs too. The Fusion sub had a few extra features including a 'Bass Boost' (@ 45Hz) as well as a gain control plus it also came supplied with a wired level controller to mount somewhere up-front for easy adjustment on the fly (although you don't have to connect this). After tuning it up for about 60 seconds and being quite happy with what I was hearing I took it out for a test drive. All I can say is WOW ... but I'll continue going on about it anwyay :P
This thing crapped all over the two Jaycar subs running together. It was reaching down to all the low freqs and it didn't seem to get flustered in any way when things got a bit 'technical' and complex. Stopping only once to tune it a bit further and pull the crossover frequency down to about 60Hz I went through more tracks and it just kept getting better and better. At mid-high volumes it still held itself together well and added that essential kick to most types of music. It even doofed a bit when playing dance music ! Very impressive. It treated smooth lows really nicely (sounding nice & caramelly) but did start struggling when they got super-low when the wick was turned up. It didn't make any of its own noises and perfectly complemented the Corollas stock audio equipment without just adding the dreaded 'cardboard' sound as the Jaycar subs did.
Still no alternative to a 'real' boxed sub in the boot of course but the Fusion exceeded my expectations and I can't wait to add a 2nd unit to see how a pair of them sound together.
Summary & Score:
Amazing sub for its class and at a decent price plus fits so perfectly under the ZREs front seats. I doubt it could compete with a standard boxed sub of the same value but very decent nevertheless. Will definitely buy a 2nd unit and run both together to allow better handling of those true sub freqs. So, if you're after an inexpensive way of enhancing your stock car audio system with the added benefit of the occasional bit of punchy doof then the Fusion is the go for sure. Overall Score is 8/10.
Coming soon ... I'll review the $200 MBQ 10" jobbie available on eBay. I'd also like to go to the other end of the scale and eval the 8" Focal version to see what the extra $300 gets but I'm not sure I could be bothered blowing that kinda cash now that I've heard the Fusion. Hmmm, will have to think about it. Keep your eyes peeled ...