Hands-On: Syzygy SLF-850 Subwoofer Scores High on Sound Quality, Calibration
Fred Harding reviews a 10-inch Syzygy SLF-850 Subwoofer that uses calibration circuitry to match the subwoofer to the room and its location within the room.
Syzygy is a new brand on the market producing subwoofers. Obviously several questions need to be answered immediately.
It’s pronounced siz-a-gee, and it means “a pair of connected or corresponding things."
The lineup consists of four models; two 8-inch subs, a 10, and a 12.
I’ve had the good fortune to audition a pair of the 10-inch models, the SLF-850’s. Like many quality subwoofer products, this is an acoustic suspension design, featuring a long throw woofer, with a high power amplifier.
The amplifier on board the models I worked with was 1,000 watts, using a class A/B design and regulated by a class D circuit.
In and of itself, those ingredients will yield a good subwoofer, as the market indicates. What makes the Syzygy subwoofers interesting is the addition of calibration circuitry to match the subwoofer to the room and its location in the room, as well as a wireless transmitter/receiver combo built into the package of the top three models.
Calibration Circuitry Makes Placement Easy
Folks who have been in the audio business for any length of time at all understand that placement of speakers and subwoofers is critical to the sound results. Place a sub in a corner, for example, and you’ll get markedly different results than if that same sub is placed in the middle of the floor. Try it at home sometime if you’ve not heard the difference.
Where the challenge lies, of course, is that we can’t always get the optimal location we want for the subwoofer in an installation. It’s easy to pick on the interior decorator, but the reality is that placement of subs in most situations is not the primary concern.
The Syzygy subwoofers all come with some nifty hardware on board that allows the installer to easily match the sub in its current location to the room, adjusting phase, EQ and volume automatically.
This is accomplished by using a smart phone to download an app, either for iOS or Android, and using low power Bluetooth technology to communicate with the subwoofer. Essentially, the user holds the smart phone about a foot or so from the subwoofer and pushes the on-screen analyze button. The sub then performs a series of tests, using the microphone on the phone to take readings, and adjusts the subwoofer appropriately. Or very appropriately, even spectacularly, in the tests I ran.
Using the built-in wireless receiver on the subwoofer, it’s a matter of two button pushes to synchronize the transmitter and receiver. When a bright blue light shines on transmit and receive, you’re done.
In the event of a power failure, you don’t have to resynchronize. And you can communicate simultaneously to up to eight subwoofers for large bass applications.
Manual adjustments can be done for those in the know, and a hardwired connection on the sub affords a traditional RCA style hook up. But if the secret sauce is intelligent room matching technology, why not try it?
The subwoofers do not come with speaker grilles. They do, however, allow the installer to put the isolation feet on one of two surfaces on the sub. That allows you to downfire, or load it into a cabinet and front fire.
I tested both ways at home, and was happy in either case with the sub directly on its feet on the floor. For the purposes of testing, I used the smallest satellites I had in house, a pair of M&K K5 speakers.
The Listening Test
Over the past five years, I’ve been doing live sound mixing at a local community venue that seats 125 people. We bring in acts from all sorts of musical disciplines, from jazz, to Klezmer, to Americana, to thirties era, to horn loaded rhythm and blues bands with Hammond B-3 organs and much more. I’ve had the opportunity to work with very talented bass players, and know what they want their instruments to sound like.
For this review, I used CD’s that several of the bands gave me to compare what I remember to what was recorded. It’s not a direct A/B test by any means, but it helped form my opinions.
I started with a band called Patty and the Buttons, which features an accordion player who sings, a clarinet, guitar and stand-up Bass. I went to high school with Keith Boyles, the bass player, and he was kind enough to give me time before sound check to optimize his instrument through our PA. The band plays songs from the thirties, and they swing. Their CD “The Mercury Blues” was used for this test.
I listened to the great Dexter Gordon’s live album “Homecoming,” which features Gordon, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Louis Hayes on drums, Ronnie Mathews on piano, and Stafford James on acoustic bass.
I played a number of classical tracks, including Bach’s Cello Sonatas with Mischa Maisky on cello and Martha Argerich on piano.
For a more Memphis-oriented approach, I auditioned using Al Greens CD “Your heart’s in good hands.” For rock and roll, I used Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Bands version of “Fire.”
The subwoofer killed it. Articulation, depth, detail, power, control, tightness, funkiness… you get the picture. I was able to discern the warmth of Keith’s bass, just like when I was running it through the PA system. The punch of Garry Tallent’s line on “Fire” hit you in the chest. Al Green’s entire record sounded like soul records are supposed to sound, with a bottom end you could dance to. Classical music sounded exquisite, with definition.
I could go on, but you get the picture. I have no doubt movies would have sounded fine, but for this review, I strictly used the subs for music playback.
Doubling up the subs only made it better, providing more uniform coverage wherever you were in the room.
Calibrate by Ear ... or Automatic?
After listening for many hours, I killed the auto and started to calibrate the sound by ear. Installers can go in and adjust low pass filtering, phase, delay, and play with a parametric EQ. After playing with it for some time, I realized that the box was smarter than me, and reverted back to automatic.
It was too easy to have the calibration done for me, and the results were too good.
This technology combination of wireless transmission of signal plus room acoustic calibrations is going to solve a lot of problems for installers and end users who have real world room related issues.
You can’t always get a signal wire to the appropriate or permitted location, and even if you do, that’s not always going to deliver optimal results. Syzygy says up to 50’ range, and I have no reason to doubt that. Your mileage may vary, so test appropriately.
As for the aesthetics, Syzygy did not make these out of imported yak yak wood. The cabinet looks nice, it should be noted, but these subs are designed for someone with a love of musical reproduction who isn’t a bazillionaire.
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