Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - Best of Awards 2017
The Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer matches or exceeds the performance of the best subwoofer I’ve previously owned to date, the (now discontinued) Definitive Technology Trinity.

With performance to well below 15Hz in my room, and with smooth blending with the satellite speakers, the Power Sound Audio S3601’s performance is almost impossible to conceive of until you’ve actually heard it.

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer

Highlights

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer

  • The Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer has the most inert cabinet I’ve encountered
  • ICE plate amplifier has more than sufficient power to energize even large rooms
  • Dual 18” drivers provide low distortion bass with excellent pitch control
  • A Room-Size control knob allows the subwoofer to work in a wide variety of room sizes
  • DSPeaker room equalization is available from Power Sound Audio
  • Remote-controlled trim is not offered
Introduction

The Power Sound Audio S3601 subwoofer is primarily for those who want to not just hear the bass but also feel it. I’ve owned a multitude of subwoofers over the years, including this new Power Sound Audio S3601, and the majority were just fine down to 25Hz or so. But very, very few subs have had the ability to offer honest output below that frequency. The few that could (with one exception) actually doubled the frequency and that was with high distortion.

POWER SOUND AUDIO SUBWOOFER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Dual 18” drivers:

With 1.75” surrounds for greater excursion

CNC (Computer Numerical Control):

Machining on the subwoofer cabinet that is also heavily-braced

Assembled:

In Ohio

1700-watt continuous-power (4300 watt-peak) :

Class D, ICE amplifier with Digital Signal Processing control

137 pounds of subwoofer weight:

With a sealed-box configuration

Dimensions:

20 x 28 x 24 inches (D, W, H respectively), including grills

A 5-year warranty:

Against manufacturing defects and workmanship issues

Price:

$1,999.99

SECRETS Tags:

2017, subwoofer reviews, Power Sound S3601, Sealed box, subsonic, Subwoofer Reviews 2017

The Power Sound Audio company of Mineral Ridge, Ohio is owned and operated by bass fanatics Tom Vodhanel and Jim Farina. For the past six years, their Internet-only company has grown mostly by word-of-mouth. Although they offer a wide variety of subwoofers (and other equipment), the subject of this review, their Power Sound Audio S3601, is near the pinnacle of products offered.

Links
Design

The Power Sound Audio S3601 is a sealed-box design with dual 18” drivers mounted on opposite sides of the enclosure for vibration control. Like most modern subwoofers, the unit is self-powered with its own plate amplifier.

So why would anyone WANT a subwoofer at all, much less a monster like the Power Sound S3601? My reasons were as follows:

Although speaker manufacturers are increasingly adding powered subwoofers to their tower speakers, the location where speakers image best is rarely if ever the location where the subwoofer should be. Having full-range speakers in their optimal imaging position often results in boomy bass that not even electronic room correction can repair.

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Having a subwoofer placed in a location that sounds best and excites the fewest room resonances almost always results in cleaner, tighter, and deeper bass. In most rooms, this location may vary from “away from the corner” to “out in the room.” But my room is unusual in having all four corners vented to other areas of the house. This allows me to place the Power Sound Audio S3601 close to the corner where it seems to perform best.

Removing the requirements of excessive bass excursion from the main speakers virtually always results in less distortion and greater detail. This is NOT a trivial advantage. In many cases, it’s like getting a new (and much more expensive) pair of speakers for free. Offloading bass demands to a self-powered subwoofer also reduces the stress on your main speakers’ amplifier.

Now all this said, if your sole use of a subwoofer is for movie explosions and pop music, you may never appreciate how good this one is. And make no mistake, this is a very good subwoofer.

The Power Sound Audio S3601 uses a sealed box design. In such subwoofers, the bass rolls off more gradually and, unlike ported models, equalization can be applied within reason without the potential of damaging the driver through excessive excursion. In a sealed-box design, the air inside the box acts as a spring to prevent the actual speaker coil from bottoming out on its suspension.

Vented or ported subwoofers, in contrast, use the resonance of their box to add some volume at the lower end of their response. Clever designers often engineer the cabinet to provide a peak in bass response close to the port tuning frequency. This can provide the impression of more bass, but the frequency response then drops abruptly below the port tuning frequency. The phase of the bass output also varies wildly at and below the port tuning frequency. One rarely gets truly low bass from a ported design.

The anechoic frequency response of sealed subwoofers usually extends slightly deeper than ported designs. Sealed boxes also typically provide less distortion, better phase behavior, and no frequency response peak at port resonance. The Power Sound Audio S3601 is a prime example of these advantages.

Setup

This is NOT a component that you’d want to move or unbox by yourself, unless you had to. The Power Sound Audio S3601 alone weighs 137 pounds, and with the box and packing, it is both bulky and heavy. That said, a single person (of my size and musculature) can unload and unpack the subwoofer provided you use good lifting technique and unload on a carpet by upending the sub carefully. And although I lift weights and exercise daily, I still had some soreness for a few days after unloading this one. Get some help with unloading if possible.

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The sub has rubber feet on the bottom, and since the drivers are on the “sides” of the box, there is no bottom-clearance issue as there can be with downward-firing subs on heavy carpet.

My (immediately) previous subwoofers were Power Sound Audio XV-15s, themselves most excellent performers. But being ported, they lacked the lower frequency response that this sealed-box S3601 provides. For 99% of movies and music, the XV-15s were not only adequate, but actually quite impressive. Their only shortcoming was with true sub-sonic (below 20Hz) program from pipe organs, electronic synthesizers, and organic sounds such as thunder.

Power Sound Audio is generous enough to provide a trade-in program, and I availed myself of it to return my two XV-15s toward the Power Sound Audio S3601 purchase. I know of no other subwoofer companies off the top of my head that offer such a trade-in option. I commend Power Sound for being customer-oriented enough to allow trade-ins.

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer Cutaway

I must also comment on the reliability and robust construction of the Power Sound Audio S3601. This is the most inert subwoofer cabinet that I’ve encountered. Its weight is indicative of extensive internal bracing. Although the crinkle-black finish isn’t too high on the interior decorating scale, keep in mind that it would be simple to paint in more room-friendly colors.

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer Corner Placement

In Use

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT:
MacBook Pro running jRiver Media Center 21 software
OPPO UDP-205 used as a CD and video-disc player and occasionally as a DAC
Emotiva XDC-1 DAC
AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC
Emotiva USP-1 preamplifier
Emotiva BasX A-300 solid-state stereo amplifier
Emotiva UPA-2 solid-state stereo amplifier
Emotiva UPA-1 mono block solid-state amplifiers
Vacuum Tube Audio M125 mono block tube amplifiers
Heathkit 12-watt custom-modified mono block tube amplifiers
Tekton Pendragon loudspeakers

The S3601 surprised me in ways that my previous subwoofers had not. It seemed to have unlimited deep bass extension in my room, and that was BEFORE I boosted the bass by 4dB at 15Hz with my parametric equalizer! Having such a deep-sounding underpinning makes almost ALL music sound significantly more real. Even on pieces that lack deep bass content, the presence of the subwoofer gave the music greater dynamics.

I used the subwoofer in two different configurations. With electronic bass-management available, I rolled off the main satellite speakers at 70Hz using a 24dB per octave Linkwitz-Riley high-pass filter. The sub was rolled in using an identical low-pass filter. The results of this were significant. The main speakers (Tekton Pendragons), now relieved from the burden of handling deep bass, became more lively, more dynamic, and seemed to have significantly more midrange detail. The transition between the sub and the speakers was completely inaudible.

Having achieved success, I (as usual) couldn’t leave well-enough alone, so I tried running the Pendragon speakers full range and using the subwoofer’s plate amp controls to attempt an equivalent sub/satellite mix. Initially, my efforts were unsuccessful due to a +5dB peak in the Pendragon’s response at the 35-40Hz port frequency (the crossover sounded boomy). But I then stuffed the Pendragon’s ports with some socks, to reduce their contribution to the bass sound. This attenuated the speakers’ bass peak sufficiently that I could achieve a blend with the subwoofer.

All the benefits that the Pendragons received from active bass management stayed with the “full-range blend” method. The speakers sounded significantly more dynamic, with greater detail and coherence. With the speakers being fed a full-range signal (and their ports restricted), the subwoofer’s settings became far more critical. The smallest change in subwoofer amplitude, delay (phase), or crossover frequency made huge differences in the sound.

In my 3500 cubic-foot listening room, I set the subwoofer’s room adjustment to Large to achieve maximum low bass. Despite this, the bass remained both clear and punchy with very good pitch definition. Exactly the things that a good subwoofer SHOULD provide!

And this is a good time to mention the Power Sound Audio S3601’s controls, they vary slightly from industry conventions. From top to bottom, the subwoofer’s plate amplifier offers:

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer Plate Amp

Power switch – Positions: Off/Auto/On – Auto turns the sub on or off depending on whether a signal is present at the inputs.

Gain – This knob adjusts the subwoofer volume independently of the satellite speaker volume.

Delay – This knob is normally labeled “Phase” on other subwoofers I’ve seen, but it serves the same function. At zero, the subwoofer is in phase with the satellite speakers (assuming the satellite speaker amplifier is non-inverting). At 12 milliseconds (maximum delay), the subwoofer is 180 degrees out of phase with a 40Hz signal.

Crossover frequency – The sub low-pass can be set anywhere from 40 to 150Hz – all at a slope of approximately 24dB/octave. Note that at the 150Hz end of the range, the high-pass filter is effectively bypassed.

Room size – This is another control that was new to me. In its Large position, the subwoofer is undamped and allowed its maximum bass extension. As the knob is turned toward the Small position, the subwoofer is progressively restricted in its lowest frequencies, and the damping is increased. This allows the subwoofer to be matched to the room for tighter bass.

Input jacks – Two RCA jacks are available (mono bass effects only with the top jack alone, or stereo right/left with both jacks used). Note that the subwoofer’s gain is virtually doubled if both jacks are used. So even if you’re running a monophonic bass effects channel from your processor, using a RCA-splitter to power both of the subwoofer’s input jacks will provide more bass volume for the same input-signal voltage.

To test the capabilities of the Power Sound Audio S3610, a variety of program material was used. In all listening cases below, the Emotiva USP-1 preamplifier was used as a bass-management device. For test listening, all crossovers (both low and high-pass) were set to approximately 100Hz.

Don Dorsey

Don Dorsey “Bachbusters”

First, the Don Dorsey classic “Bachbusters” was tried. This CD has solid 16Hz content at high volumes. A subwoofer should be able to produce bass that is not only heard, but also felt in the diaphragm.

Without any equalization, the hoped-for visceral effects were reduced in amplitude by the natural roll-off of the box sufficiently that there was not much diaphragm effect. But with a 4dB boost at 15Hz (inserted via the jRiver digital signal processing suite), the pedal tones were there in their glory. Remembering that every small equalization boost requires significantly more power from the amplifier, I wouldn’t recommend boosting the bass much more than 4dB, but that bump makes the subwoofer sit up and take notice!

Jennifer Warnes

Jennifer Warnes “The Hunter”

The track “Way Way Down Deep” from the Jennifer Warnes CD, “The Hunter” is also a fine test track for evaluating bass pitch-definition.

With both drums and low-frequency electric bass guitar, the sub should allow one to hear clear differences between drum strokes and guitar notes. With the Power Sound S3601 in the system, the differences are clear.

Big Bands

BBC Big Band “20 Best of Big Bands”

The BBC band’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” is a classic that presents drums and brass in a well-recorded venue and with excellent musicianship.

Once again, the drums and low brass should be clear, pitch-perfect, and not blend into each other. This recording basically begs to be listened to at louder levels and the sub should not distort or smear despite the volumes. The Power Sound S3601 maintains composure even when the music becomes very loud AND very dense.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga “Dance In The Dark”

The Lady Gaga cut “Dance In The Dark” is one of the toughest for any sub to survive.

The intro teases the listener into increasing the volume, and then when the bass drum underpinning beat comes in (drum with some synth augmentation, sounds to me), the sound can turn to either a loud roar or undifferentiated mush. The Power Sound S3601 can avoid both of these shortcomings, but to do so, the subwoofer-to-satellite relative volumes must be VERY carefully matched. Too little sub volume? The song sounds emasculated. Too much sub volume (even a little) and you’ll be rushing to turn the volume down as quickly as possible. But get the match just right, and the song sounds apocalyptic (as intended) with a clear and potent bass underpinning.

On The Bench

The following measurements were taken one meter from the subwoofer using a calibrated UMIK microphone and FuzzMeasure software for Mac:

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer Frequency Response

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer Waterfall Chart

These measurements were taken at a height that centered the microphone to the subwoofer’s drivers. The frequency response curve shows a generally flat and broad response. This means that there will be no “one note boom” from this subwoofer, as so many inexpensive HT subs are prone to deliver.

Conclusions

Power Sound Audio S3601 Subwoofer

I consider THE POWER SOUND AUDIO S3601 one of the best quality and most versatile subwoofers that I’ve ever encountered. VERY highly recommended!

Likes
  • Better low bass response than the vast majority of subwoofers on the market
  • Better phase performance than ALL the ported subwoofers on the market
  • Extremely solid and acoustically-inert construction
  • Strong ICE amplifier performance with more than sufficient power
  • Room-size control to optimize the subwoofer to any sized listening room
Would Like To See
  • Remote volume control for in-seat volume-matching adjustments
  • XLR input for associated equipment that has XLR sub outputs
  • Choice of spikes or rubber feet to work better on thick carpet
  • Slightly larger cabinet for lower bass response without equalization

Despite the unusual nomenclature of the back-panel controls, the Power Sound Audio S3610 is a world-class subwoofer. It provides two significant virtues that most vented subwoofers just can’t, uncompromised phase response that doesn’t muddy the bass, and a slower roll-off of ultra-low frequency material.

The ICE amplifier panel has more than sufficient power to tolerate some bass equalization without overloading, and the dual 18”-diameter drivers allow for a huge acoustic output with very low cone-movement and equally low distortion.

All I can say is that if you’ve never heard a really good sealed-box subwoofer, you owe it to yourself to do so. Even if you opt for a smaller sub than this one, the sealed-box technology is too good to ignore. Power Sound Audio also makes:

  • a dual-driver 15” subwoofer (the S3000i)
  • a single-driver, sealed-box 18” subwoofer (the S1801)
  • a slngle-driver, sealed-box 15” subwoofer (the S1500)
  • a larger-cabinet, single-driver, downward-firing sealed-box 15” model (the 15S)

They also make an industrial model with four 18” drivers (the S7201), but for home use, the S3601, under review here, is about the largest box that I’d want in my room.

Keep in mind that if you (as I) are planning to move in the future to a potentially smaller room, that the PSA S3601 has the futureproofing feature of the room size control. With that adjustment, one can tune the sub to optimal performance in just about any environment. In fact, with that room-size control pot, I consider the Power Sound Audio S3601 the most versatile subwoofer that I’ve ever come in contact with.

  • kevon27

    The review made me feel sad because I’m poor and cannot afford this sub. I need my safe space.

  • Javan Pohl

    When’s the rest of the review coming out?

  • Cynthia Johnson-St Denis

    The review is published. You are reading it.

  • vneal

    Good review. The room size control is interesting. I wish I knew what it is actually adjusting. Top tier sub woofers usually come with some sort of ARO ( Automatic Room Optimization) with the addition of this it seems to be a challenger to the better subs, Without it you need a lot of manual adjustment.. I would also normally want a Low Pass Filter control of 0-12db and 24 db.

  • vneal

    One other point maybe I missed it, but how many watts does the ICE Amp put out and although bass is non directional than the highs or mids from a loudspeaker I think I would prefer one woofer facing me Vs two not. Where as this design has one woofer sending out sound waves normally at your speakers first reflection point

  • Boomzilla

    Hi, vneal –

    I thought I had that power information in the review – maybe it got edited out? The PowerSound site says that the amp produces 1700W RMS (4300W PEAK).

    I also agree that the “trade-up program” is generous and (to my knowledge) unique.

  • Boomzilla

    Hi again, vneal –

    As I understand it, the room size dial DOES room optimization, but not automatically. As the dial is turned from “large” to “small,” the sub’s low frequency extension is slightly curtailed while the damping is increased. This is intended to maintain an articulate bass line without being boomy or bloated.

  • Boomzilla

    Hi kevon27 – Start with a less-expensive PSA model? The company allows “trade-up” so when you aren’t poor, you’ll be able to return your affordable sub & apply the credit toward a bigger one. But I’m predicting that even the entry-level PSAs are good enough that you won’t feel any need to upgrade for a long time.

  • Troy

    Good review and I just had the saddest revelation: Tom and Ron must have parted ways from SVS and started individual companies. I had one of the original cylinder subs years ago (CS-16), I think even before the company was official. Used to participate with then on the forumss over at AVSForum. Wow, never knew that, but I did wonder why the name change from SVS to SVSound and this is the first I’m hearing of Power Sound audio. Just from an aesthetic perspective, I’m liking the SVSound line, looks a little more polished.

    On a separate note, professional reviewers don’t record portrait video…EVER! That’s a major taboo, turn your phone horizontal, as it should be, for the next video. Please and thank you.

  • Boomzilla

    Landscape, not portrait video – Got it Troy – THANKS!

    SVS is an excellent sub maker as well. Good news is that there are a bunch of great sub makers on the market. PSA’s definitely one of them. Thanks for the info!

  • Johnathan Hammil

    Their sealed subs are great, but their ported subs are chuff monsters. They start chuffing at 30hz and the chuffing is louder than than fundamental tones. You can’t shove a huge 18″ driver in a small ported cabinet and get stellar results. Also why are these expensive subs coming with cheap foam surrounds? SVS still looks like much higher quality.

  • Boomzilla

    Hi Johnathan –

    I’ve owned not one but two of PSA’s ported subs (XV-15 models) and I didn’t find any of the chuffing (or port noise) that you describe. That said, I didn’t drive them to maximum excursions, either. And none of the drivers from PSA seem to have foam surrounds. Mine appear to be butyl rubber.

    I can’t deny that SVS makes very good subs also, but could you clarify your PSA ported-sub comments, or at least describe the conditions that caused you to experience such bizarre port noise? I have at least one close friend who also has ported PowerSound Audio subs (18″ versions, i think) and despite the fact that he likes his music MUCH louder than I do, he’s never told me about any port noise from his either.

    Cordially – Glenn Young

  • drhstl

    In this day and age, built in ARO is unnecessary. PSA offers the outboard DSPeaker for optimization, and most modern AVR’s or processors have some sort of ARO such as Audyssey or Dirac. These solutions are generally more advanced than what subwoofers have built in.