written by Mike Shea on 21 November 1999
I was giving my boss a demo using Godzilla one day when a brand new Energy e:XL-S 8 subwoofer first showed up at my door. Frankly, I couldn't have picked a better time to hook up a sub. When first opening the box I was surprised at its small size. To quote the ad for Godzilla, "Size does matter". Anyway, it is only about two inches wider than my main speakers. After battling it out of it's foam packing and digging for the Audio Quest cable I bought with it, we just plugged the sucker in and fired it up.
First some statistics and basic features. This is an 8" 100 watt (400 watt peak) sub. The rear controls include a high pass filter with springclips for hooking up the sub speaker outputs from a receiver. It does not include the outputs to go to a set of speakers though meaning you can't filter out the bass going to bookshelf speakers. I can't ever recall using the high pass filter, so I wasn't too worried about this. The low signal inputs included a mono jack to the cross over and gain control of the subwoofer, and a bypass input which removes all control from the sub as to what signal it crosses over and what the gain is. This input works very nicely for a Dolby Digital system with an LFE connection since the Dolby Digital controller usually handles all crossover and gain control. I played with both jacks and ended up using the one which uses the subs internal crossover because it was easier to tweak the output during setup. Later on I ended up connecting it through the crossover bypass of my Yamaha DSP-A1. I set the low frequency crossover all the way up and told the receiver to send everything 90 hz and below to the sub. I ran my mains, center and surrounds as small, sending everything 90 hz and below to the sub and anything 90 hz and above to the speakers. My speakers probably can handle everything down to about 60 without a problem, but unfortunately this isn't an option.
I started off with the Godzilla and it was obvious that the sub needed some tweaking. While the base was certainly present, it was a bit boomy for my modest tastes. I really didn't have time to jack with the controls since my boss was trying to understand the detailed plot twists in Godzilla and dodge my cat's sharp claws at the same time. Later that evening, I set up the base output from the receiver, the crossover on the sub, and the output gain on the sub using Video Essentials. I even went so far as to set the sub on the couch in the listening position and crawl around the room looking for the best spot to place it (don't laugh, I learned this trick from the pros). It ended up being just fine where it was, between the right speaker and center.
To start a more controlled review, I stuck in a home theater demo staple, Desperado. I have been using this movie for demos ever since started with home theater so I am pretty familiar with how it sounds. For the first scene I was disappointed that it didn't really rumble as our hero moves from under the light, but after some tweaking it came in just fine. The twin shotguns blasted away, and you could feel every body hit the doors, walls, and tables. I skipped ahead to the Navajo attack, and every knife sinking into his target had an extra little punch. Then on to the rooftop fight, but was disappointed when the grenade blasts didn't knock my drink off of my futon armrest.
I hammered it further with Face/Off on laserdisc and Terminator 2 on DVD. Both of these movies I am also quite familiar with and do very well in the bass department. What I heard was the sub filling out the full range quite nicely but not really giving the movie that extra punch you get with larger subs. I tested the speaker settings, switching between small and large while looping the infamous car scene (track 3) on Face/Off. It came up sounding best when the speakers were set to small and the sub handled all the extra base on top of the LFE track.
I decided to go ahead and try it with music, grabbing Madonna's Ray of Light CD. Now I finally know what a sub is supposed to sound like with music. A very controlled very reasonable sound really warmed up "Substitute for Love", making it full, but far from boomy. The base was easily adjusted to give the song just enough range without calling attention to the base. The same was true with "Ray of Light" which I always found to be too boomy when running my 602s full range. Now I know what it is supposed to sound like.
I stuck in Loreena McKennett's "Book of Secrets" for the track "The Mummer's Dance" with similar results. Later I stuck in Alanis Morresette's "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" and Jewel's "Spirit". Once again, the sound was good and full without sounding the least big uncontrolled or overstressed. Both of the other subwoofers I previously owned, an Advent 10" 100 watt and a Definitive PF12, were way to boomy to even use with music. They just pounded painfully, dwarfing the sound coming from the mains.
I originally bought this sub figuring that for apartment life this is about what I would need. I have to say that it fit this job perfectly. I don't get the huge blasts that you would get from a $2000 sub, but I do get a nice unstressed full range sound from my home theater system. For $300 this is one of the best investments I have spent on my home theater. If you are looking for a small affordable subwoofer, look no further.
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