Product Review

Canton AS 120 SC Subwoofer

Part II

March, 2006

Lee Hower


Listening Impressions: Movies

I auditioned the AS 120 with a combination of newer DVDs as well as some older standbys with challenging bass. In Apollo 13, the launch scenes of the Saturn V rocket thundered with clear, unmuddied impact. Next was Black Hawk Down, which features a number of slow motion scenes with low-frequency sounds of helicopter blades. While this review did not include instrument measuring of frequency response, there was noticeable roll-off with material that extended to the lowest frequencies. In particular, scene #4 "Irene" includes material that reaches to 18 Hz as the choppers leave the staging area and enter the city. The AS 120 did not reproduce these truly infrasonic notes, but otherwise handled the scene well with pulsating thumps which were modulated with clarity.

War of the Worlds, which received an Oscar nomination for sound editing, features a lot of low-frequency material, from explosions, to the structural groans of buildings being torn apart. I was particularly impressed with the AS 120's reproduction of the sound the alien tripods make. If you've seen the movie, you'll probably remember the sound to which I'm referring, but the best way to describe it is a wailing foghorn which decreases in frequency rather than being a single fundamental note. It's mastered at a fairly high level, no doubt to startle and instill just a little fear in the listener, and the AS 120 did just that with force and accuracy.

No subwoofer review is complete without a submarine movie, my personal favorite being Das Boot The Director's Cut. Though both the video and audio production quality are of 1980s vintage, to me this epic movie is still second to none in the genre. The output of the Canton subwoofer was never an issue, providing powerful bass throughout every depth charge-laden scene. Even when pushed to aggressive/loud playback levels, the AS 120 retained decent dynamics, but I noticed a moderate increase in distortion on the most demanding passages.

Listening Impressions: Music

So the AS 120 can produce low frequencies with some authority, but how'd it do with music material? Well I started with a CD that demands quite a bit of subwoofers, David Gray's White Ladder. Most of the tracks are a mix of male vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, drums, and very deep bass. From "Please Forgive Me" onward, there are a number of synthesized bass lines that go well down into the 20-30+ Hz range. I have listened to this disc with other subwoofers, and have been unfortunate to hear the dreaded "Clack" of the driver bottoming out as it reaches maximum excursion attempting to reproduce the lowest frequency notes. But, the Canton sub handled each of these tracks with aplomb.

Next up were some piano tracks, for which I chose a disc with piano concertos by Schumann and Dvorak. The multi-channel hybrid SACD (Channel Classics CCS-SA-17802) features pianist Paulo Giacometti with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michel Tilkin, though I listened to it in two-channel SACD mode. The lowest octave and a half of the piano (all below 80 Hz) and the deep orchestral instruments sounded natural and managed to blend nicely with the high frequency material.


The AS 120 SC acquitted itself well for this review. It is attractively designed, with very good build quality and fit and finish. It may not reach to the deepest depths with perfectly flat frequency response, but it certainly does not have an audible "hole" at the low end that I've experienced listening to some other subwoofers. I found placement to be a bit trickier than other subwoofers I have used, but this will largely be dependent on the characteristics of a given listening space, and the AS 120 offers users some welcome flexibility here with the room correction circuit. The ICEpower amp and Canton driver took everything that tough movie and music tracks could throw at them and provided enjoyable accuracy.

The market for subwoofers at or near the $1,000 mark is an extremely competitive one. Powerful amplification, sophisticated equalization capabilities, and even 15" drivers are available at this price point. Also, many companies sell to consumers Internet direct, which keeps overhead costs to a minimum. Conversely, Canton sells its products through a network of dealers and installers which adds overhead to the retail cost. So while the AS 120 may not represent the best performance/ value ratio in this price segment, it does offer good performance for its size, it has very high aesthetic appeal and great build quality, so I would not hesitate recommending an audition to prospective buyers.

- Lee Hower -

Associated Equipment:

Surround Processor: Sunfire Theater Grand
Amplifier: Sunfire Cinema Grand (5-channel)
Speakers: Custom two-way (Vifa 6.5" poly woofer, 1" aluminum tweeter)
Interconnects: Blue Jeans Cables (Canare/Belden)

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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