Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Adam Rayner finds that the power behind this sub belies its cute size

If you have a copy of Men in Black II or even Stuart Little II on DVD then you have the 2001-2002 Academy Award-winning animated short, The ChubbChubbs. Its stars are some impossibly cute, fuzzy things that look like ducklings with noses like piglets – yet they turn out to be scary monsters with huge teeth and a terrifyingly large appetite.

And so it is with Velodyne’s SPL-800 Ultra subwoofer. Our sample looks gorgeous in its white finish (there’s a black one, too), sweet and unassuming with a cute remote control. But, once up and running in this case with Paradigm’s MilleniaOne satellites, it delivers real might, weight, power and grip.

Demure aspect

It is a Mighty Atom by design, with a small cabinet gently tapered so it doesn’t look totally ‘1990s Volvo’. The grille is a pale grey fabric and there’s a polite blue LED display and up/down buttons for volume on the front where the driver plays from. And thanks to the IR input you can have full remote control by means of a wired infra-red ‘eye’. This means you can put the woofer in a hidden-from-view location, such as under a table, and still have full control of it from your sofa.

That remote has four presets – Movies/Rock/Jazz/Games – and, although the manual offers advice as to which setting to use for each kind of music, it isn’t made too clear exactly what the EQ curves of these settings are. Also the ‘Night’ setting remains largely unexplained, but appears to be a volume/dynamics limiting setting that caps output.

And then there’s that transducer. A 6.5in dished-inwards item, this is almost certainly supported to the rear by a conventional cone assembly. What isn’t standard is a huge fat surround that means this driver is really an eight-incher (as sound does come off the surround), and to learn it has a huge motor and handles enough power to toast four slices of bread at a time.

You put the SPL-800 Ultra where you want it, plug in the tiny mic, place it where you sit and then press the EQ button on the handset. It then emits a dozen long bass sweep tones, listening to itself and setting a room equalisation curve according to the internal DSP. Simple.

Even better was my discovery that, as I spun up some 5.1 tunes and then multichannel Blu-ray soundtracks, the sub had racked the whole system up four notches.

Don’t get me wrong, the MillenniaOne sub from Paradigm ought to win awards but is limited in power to hit the price point for the whole system. This SPL-800 Ultra subwoofer comes from the folks who make the DD18+, which broke things in my living room. So it’s made to be a full-bore Velodyne, but engineered to be housed in rooms where just the looks of a DD18+ would be grounds for divorce.

Handle with care

Owners of the SPL-800 Ultra may still need a divorce lawyer on standby, though, as the level of sound it generates is mind-boggling. On the Blu-ray of Blade Runner: The Umpteenth-But-Now-Ridley’s- Favourite-Cut, the gunfire in the interview took the room apart.

Rich and melodic with fabulous strength and power when used for music, the sub utilises that long cone excursion a treat. It does need careful setting, though, just because it is so potent and you want to get everything out of it. The mic-assisted setup helps, as does having the ability to alter it and adjust crossover, as well as level, from the sofa. The SPL-800 Ultra also reaches down a long old way right into the fear register, without ‘purring’, which is incredible in a subwoofer of this size. Delicious and pretty, and then suddenly able to turn into a growling monster. Just like the ChubbChubbs.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Potent output; room-filling; even picky loved ones will hardly be able to object
Lows: This level of engineering to stretch audio physics ain’t cheap
Performance: 5/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 5/5

Specifications

Drive Unit: 1 x 8in multi-layer Kevlar reinforced resin cone in die-cast aluminium; two-layer, high linearity ‘Dual-Tandem’ voice coil Enclosure: Sealed, trapezoidal to avoid internal reflections
Frequency Response: 16Hz-240Hz in-room
On-Board Power: 1,200W RMS Class D
Dimensions: 280(h) x 267(w) x 356(d)mm
Weight: 33Kg
Connections: Stereo LFE line-in and line-out on paired phono sockets and speaker level inputs on screw down posts. Also 3.5mm sockets for 12V trigger and IR input. Microphone socket (3.5mm) on front