B&W PVI £950

1st Feb 2005 | 00:00

A subwoofer that dares to be different

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Great as a hi-fi bass, but movie fans should stay away

Viva la difference! While most subwoofers are basically big square boxes, B&W's PV1 is genuinely different.

It looks like an oversized bowling ball, and sits on its input and mains terminal.

What's more, the strangeness isn't only skin-deep - the PV1 is designed from first principles and breaks many of the rules of 'subwoofing'. The 'PV' part of its name stands for 'Pressure Vessel', and each side of the speaker is taken up with 170mm polished metal dishes with 200mm bass drivers behind them.

The 200mm drivers sit back-to-back and are mechanically linked together, to cancel out any stray vibrations. And this really works - for once, there's no need for speaker spikes, even with a built-in 500W amplifier. You can play the sub flat-out and all you get is bass output, with the bowling ball itself completely free from resonance. Of course, the 20.5kg weight and the solidity of the unit probably help in this area, but it's still deeply impressive.

The PV1 isn't the easiest model to set up however, as it adds a three-position EQ setting to the frequency, level and phase controls. These are accessed at the back of the machine, and have buttons that you have to use a coin to turn, which means the subwoofer is less likely to be accidentally tampered with. It also comes with a CD-ROM featuring demonstration tones and set-up advice.

Hi-fi hero

The PV1 is by far the most musical subwoofer of this test. When correctly set up, it adds octaves to the bass response of a good hi-fi speaker system (especially when used with the speaker level connectors supplied). It is as fast and as responsive as most hi-fi speakers, and seems to have no frequencies where it overplays its hand. It is subtle, controlled, delicate and precise, yet capable of delivering a lot of power. Most of all, this is the cleanest-sounding subwoofer of the pack. In fact, it's possibly one of the cleanest subwoofers at any price...

This is the start of the problem when it comes to using the PV1 as part of a home cinema. If you are after the sort of exciting, impressive bass that should be obtained from most movie soundtracks, you won't get it from the PV1 sub. Cerebral, articulate bass that improves the lot of any speaker setup, yes; gut-churning, pin you to the seat with a smile on your face bass energy, no.

Ultimately, it all depends on what you want from your subwoofer - a 'grown-up', deep and controlled sound... or something a bit more exciting. If this were a hi-fi magazine, there would be no question - the B&W PV1 would be the best subwoofer of this group test by a significant margin, thanks to its absolute fidelity to fast, precise and faithful bass.

So, if you are building a system that focuses on hi-fi, the PV1 should be top of the list. But the rest of us movie fans may crave a bit more excitement from our bass.

SpeakersHome cinemaHi-Fi/audio
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