Product Review

Hsu Research VTF-3R Powered Subwoofer

January, 2004

Yongki Go





Woofer: 12", Magnetically Shielded
● MFR: 18 Hz - 125 Hz 1 dB in Maximum Extension Mode, 22 Hz - 125 Hz 1 dB in Maximum Output Mode
● Auto-On, Soft Clipping, Subsonic Filtering, and Variable Tuning Frequency

● Crossover Frequency: 30 Hz -90 Hz, 24 dB/Octave Low-Pass
● Input Impedance: 10 kOhm (line), 1 kOhm (speaker)
● Inputs: Stereo Line Level and Speaker Level (Full-Range Signal)
● Outputs: Stereo Speaker Level
● Amplifier output: 250 W RMS
● Power requirements: 115/230 V AC, 350 W
● Size: 22" (D) x 20 (H) x 15" (W)
● Shipping Weight: 93 Pounds
● Finish: Rosewood Veneer with Glossy Black Top
● MSRP: $1,150 USA


Hsu Research


Dr. Poh Ser Hsu of Hsu Research has been in the business of making subwoofers since 1991. Everybody who is in this audio/home-theater hobby pretty much knows or at least has heard about Hsu subwoofers. They are known to be one of the best bargains in the subwoofer world. Hsu Research gained its reputation in the early days by its vintage cylindrical subwoofer products. In fact, those were the only type of subwoofers that Hsu made until about four years ago. While performance wise, cylindrical subwoofers might have some advantages over the box-type ones, aesthetically, they are not the easiest to accommodate. And that is not even considering the spouse-acceptance-factor (SAF)! Therefore, it was only natural that Hsu expanded its product lines to include the box-type subwoofers.

The first box-type subwoofer that Hsu made, the VTF-2, has gained many accolades from reviewers and audio critics everywhere. Based on the VTF-2 success, Hsu created the VTF-3, which is also of box-type, but bigger and capable of going deeper in the low frequency region than the VTF-2. However, even though the VTF-2 and VTF-3 depart from the cylindrical shape, in my opinion they won't increase the spouse-acceptance-factor by much. They are still relatively plain-looking, as with previous Hsu products. So even though they might not break a room décor, they would not augment or improve it as well.

The VTF-3R subwoofer reviewed here marks Hsu significant departure from the plain-looking mold. In fact, it's so significant that I bet you wouldn't be able to guess it's a Hsu subwoofer have you not known it before. Technically speaking, the VTF-3R is based on the VTF-3 with some modifications; the most obvious one is the location of the driver (VTF-3R has a downward-firing driver, while VTF-3 has a forward-firing driver). However, aesthetically, the VTF-3R is many times more gorgeous than the VTF-3. On the SAF, no doubt that this subwoofer would score very high. It is the kind of product whose presence could improve your room appearance.


When you open the VTF-3R box, you immediately notice something different than the customary packaging of subwoofers in this price range. Instead of using a plastic bag to wrap the subwoofer, Hsu uses white fabric cloth. Not only that fabric cloth is softer for the delicate finish of the subwoofer, it also can function as a dust cover when you plan on not using your subwoofer for a long time. I like this kind of double-function packaging, and I'm happy that more and more manufacturers do it in this fashion.

The VTF-3R subwoofer utilizes a 12" downward-firing driver powered by 250 W amplifier. It measures 22"x20x15" (DxHxW), so it is quite big, but not so big such as to dominate a typical living room. On the introduction page in the subwoofer manual, Hsu mentions that this subwoofer can double-function as an end table. Apparently, Hsu has designed the height of the VTF-3R carefully to match the average height of this piece of furniture.

All the controls of the VTF-3R subwoofer are located on the rear panel. This subwoofer can accept low- as well as high-level inputs. Only high-level outputs are provided. There are two knobs for volume and variable crossover control and three small switches for phase polarity, bass extension mode, and crossover bypass. The main rocker power switch is located near the power cord terminal (power cord is detachable). The sub has an undefeatable auto-on circuit. On the rear panel, you will also find a small LED status indicator: it is green when the subwoofer is on, and red when the subwoofer is in standby-mode.

The VTF-3R utilizes a bass-reflex design and has two ports on the back. A unique feature of the VTF-3R (as well as other Hsu VTF series subwoofers) is the capability to adjust its tuning frequency by plugging or unplugging the right port (as you look from the back) of the subwoofer (the foam plug is provided). You can choose between maximum bass extension and maximum output mode with this adjustment. For maximum extension mode, the right port should be plugged up and the bass extension switch should be flipped to the 20 Hz position. For maximum output mode, both ports should be left open, and the bass extension switch should be flipped to the 25 Hz position. According to the manual, the maximum extension mode will generate a flat response down to 20 Hz with useful output down to 16 Hz, while the maximum output mode will generate a flat response down to 22 Hz only, but with higher output in the 22 Hz - 40 Hz region. The manual further suggests that if the program material played does not extend below 22 Hz, using the maximum output mode will yield less distortion for the same sound level and tax the system less.

The build quality as well as the finish of the VTF-3R subwoofer are first rate. As I have alluded to in the introduction, this subwoofer is a thing of beauty. I like everything about the look of this subwoofer: rosewood finish all around the sides, high gloss black with rounded edges on top and bottom, and golden-brass cone feet. Hsu really got it right with this subwoofer in the appearance. While your taste might be different than mine, you still would agree on one thing with me: the craftsmanship of this subwoofer is excellent.


OK, I have declared that the VTF-3R subwoofer is handsome, now how about its performance? First, let me explain on how I evaluate this subwoofer. Finding the right location for the subwoofer to get the best performance in my room was relatively easy. I already had that spot, occupied by my current subwoofer, the trusty but oldie KEF AV1. So I just moved the KEF and put the VTF-3R in the same position, which is near one of the front corners of my room (relatively large room: more than 400 square feet with several openings to adjacent rooms). I made various small adjustments to its location during the course of the evaluation to make sure I got the best from it. I broke it in with various bass-heavy program materials for many hours before starting my serious listening. Evaluation included matching the subwoofer with various speakers, playing test tones, and, of course, playing some program material. Most of the time, I let my surround processor handle the crossover, although my trial with the built-in subwoofer crossover indicated that I could achieve the same result with it (a testament that the built-in crossover was as good).

My matching test showed that the VTF-3R can be matched seamlessly with various types of speakers, either bookshelf (NHT M6, Rocket RS-250) or floor-stander (Rocket RS-750). Once its crossover and volume level were adjusted properly, I didn't notice any separation between the speakers and subwoofer sound. The VTF-3R was equally adept whether it was used to augment bass-shy speakers or just to fill-in the bottom octaves.

In terms of frequency response, I can safely say that the specifications that Hsu published do not lie a bit. In my room with the maximum extension mode, I got relatively flat response down to 20 Hz with still plenty of energy down to 16 Hz (about 3 dB down). With the same volume setting and in the maximum output mode, I got louder output with usable response down to about 20 Hz (3 dB down). These responses are better than most subwoofers in the same or higher price range than the VTF-3R. My KEF AV1 for example, which retailed for $3,500 when it was new eight years ago, can manage usable response down to 20 Hz (3 dB down) but not lower than that.

The ability of the VTF-3R to play loud while still maintaining control was also impressive. The VTF-3R is not THX-certified, but I think it could easily pass the THX level test as it could play as loud if not louder than my KEF AV1, which is a THX-certified subwoofer.

As impressive as its technical specifications are, what matters most is still how the subwoofer performs with actual program material. I played various music and movies during the evaluation, and I'm glad to report that the VTF-3R passed the tests easily. If your taste of music is into bass-heavy recordings, this subwoofer will let you enjoy the music more. Listen for example to "Saint-Sans: Organ Symphony", the excerpt of which is included in the Hsu test CD that comes with the VTF-3R. Dr. Hsu noted that this recording has the cleanest and strongest 16 Hz that he has ever encountered. Listen to it without the subwoofer first, and then listen again with the VTF-3R. It was enlightening! The presence of sheer energy at the very lowest frequencies really helped me sense the grande of the music.

For speed and attack, I tested the Hsu with music containing heavy kick-drum or acoustic string-bass, such as from Christian McBride's CD, "Number Two Express". Again the VTF-3R impressed me with its excellent speed and believable attack. The bass produced always had clear definition with enough punch and was never bloated.

For home-theater application, I never felt the VTF-3R was lacking in any department. It was capable of delivering room-shaking bass when called for, yet it was able to also deliver delicate bass on the movie soundtracks with ease. In this application, I tried both the maximum extension and the maximum output mode. I found that I could live with either mode just fine. The maximum output mode might give me slightly cleaner output at loud volume, but the difference in the maximum extension mode was not easily noticeable with most program materials.

Throughout this evaluation, I used my KEF AV1 as a sparring partner for the VTF-3R. How did the two compare? For home theater, they both perform equally well, so no clear winner. For music, my expensive AV1 was surpassed by the VTF-3R, even if it was not by a significant margin. In my opinion, the VTF-3R was slightly more musical than the AV1. The AV1 sounded a tad slower and had less attack in comparison to the VTF-3R for music applications. Also, the AV1 didn't have the frequency extension to accommodate organ music that the VTF-3R did. Don't get me wrong, the AV1 is a good subwoofer by itself, but it was just designed more towards home-theater than towards music. Well, you know what it means as a result of this comparison, the AV1 may have to surrender its spot permanently to the VTF-3R.


Hsu has a winner in the VTF-3R. This subwoofer possesses a killer look and downright impressive performance that belies its $1,150 price. If you've been looking for a true subwoofer that could play down to 16 Hz with high spouse-acceptance-factor and won't break your wallet, this is it. Kudos for Hsu for making such a great value product that I'm sure will make many audiophiles and home-theater enthusiasts happy! Very highly recommended!

Note: Dr. Hsu informed me that starting in January 2004, the VTF-3R will be updated with a new and more powerful amplifier. Also, it will be available in piano black finish. The new version will carry lower retail price as well, $799 for the piano black finish and $899 for the rosewood finish.

- Yongki Go -


Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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