Hookup options on the SDS-12 are pretty basic. You get a pair of RCA line-level input jacks, but there are no speaker-level inputs for a direct connection to an amplifier. A pair of RCA-jack outputs lets you also connect the SDS-12 between your stereo preamp and power amp, though its fixed high-pass crossover means you won’t have much range to fine-tune the blend between speakers and sub.
My SDS-12 came with Sunfire’s optional wireless adapter ($75), which consists of a small transmitter about the size of a box of kitchen matches and a similarly size receiver that sits near the sub. It can transmit a mono signal up to 40 feet, making it easier to experiment with different subwoofer positions without having to worry about a long interconnect.
Controls on the SDS-12 include volume, an infinitely variable phase adjustment, and a low-pass crossover that can be adjusted between 50 and 150 Hz. Like many lower-cost subwoofers, the SDS-12 doesn’t let you bypass its internal crossover with a switch, so in hookups with a pre-filtered LFE signal (i.e., most of them) you are simply instructed to turn the crossover control to its highest setting. This approach has always seemed like a bit of a kludge to me, but it should theoretically put the crossover point outside the range of frequencies you’re getting from the preamp.
I tried the SDS-12 in the various spots where subs tend to work well in my room, eventually settling on a front-left corner placement with the driver facing directly towards the listening position. This setup delivered the maximum amount of room reinforcement, along with a response that was free of excessive peaks and troughs.
Some efforts by Sunfire’s copycats to make a cheaper mini-sub have involved skimping on power, and the result has often been sloppy, tuneless performance. Naturally, something had to give when Sunfire decided to make a sub that costs 75% less than its TS-EQ12. But instead of compromising on bass quality, the brief for the SDS-12 seems to have been to scale back somewhat on its big brother’s massive output capabilities.
Starting off with two-channel music, I listened to the slap bass lines on The Awakening by The Reddings, which sounded as funky as ever, with plenty of clarity and punch. Having satisfied myself that the agile SDS-12 was no one-note boomer, I decided to check out its sheer air-moving abilities. For this I cued up a high-rez download from Explorations in Space and Time by percussionists Jamey Haddad, Mark Sherman, and Lenny White. As I had anticipated, the striking immediacy of drum heads being struck, along with subtle pitch variations, remained intact, even if the SDS-12 couldn’t quite deliver some of the ultra-low frequencies that I know exist on this extraordinary recording.
The plane crash scene in Flight of the Phoenix is one of the all time greats for testing your subwoofer’s mojo. The SDS-12 had no trouble keeping up with the increasingly loud bass impacts as bits of the plane started to fall off, and its output was pretty impressive for such a small sub. Even at full tilt, the bass remained well controlled and free from overhang. I suspect that Sunfire uses a limiter to prevent overextending the sub’s driver, but even when fully cranked I never got the impression that dynamics were being squashed.
Sunfire’s subs have always managed to squeeze a gallon’s worth of performance from a pint-size pot, and the SDS-12 is no exception. Given its very reasonable price, the SDS-12 delivers an impressive dose of tuneful, hard-hitting bass in all but the very largest spaces. And when you add in the wireless hookup option, the resulting package can be tucked inconspicuously away in a corner where a décor-conscious spouse won’t even notice it.
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