Sunday, March 26, 2023

RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R Powered Subwoofer Review

I love watching movies. It’s a good way to get away from the daily stress. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy watching movies. The picture is only half of the experience. And when it comes to the sound, a big part of it is from the subwoofer. One of the best companies out there for your surround sound needs is RBH Sound. Up for review today is a subwoofer from their best of the best Signature Reference line. It’s their RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R powered subwoofer.


Features and specs:

Model Name: 1212P-SF/R

Series: SF Series

System Type: Powered Subwoofer

Subwoofer: (2) 12" (305mm) Aluminum Reference Drivers

Amplifier Power: 2400 Watts with customizable DSP

Frequency Response: 18Hz-180Hz ±3dB

Cabinet/Color: High Density Fiberboard (HDF)/Phantom Black

Grille: Black Fabric

Dimensions: 15-3/4" W x 35-15/16" H x 18-1/16" D (Includes feet and grille) (400mm W x 913mm H x 459mm D)

Weight: 104 lbs. (47.17 kg)

Warranty: 5 Years/3 Year* (Extend Your Warranty)


The RBH Signature Reference 1212P-SF/R arrives securely boxed and wrapped. At over 100 pounds, it is a beast and extra care was taken. After unboxing and unwrapping, I could see that the same extra care was also taken in its construction. This is a top-of-the-line product and it shows. This model came with either black or silver aluminum drivers. We were sent the silver driver version. The materials used in the construction was aluminum for the drivers and high-density fiberboard (HDF) for the enclosure. Quality of the materials used in the construction as well and the fit and finish, was excellent! Also included was the power cord, XLR to RCA adapter, network to USB adapter, and manual.


When it comes to surround sound systems, most people don’t realize how critical the subwoofer is to the sound. I’ll explain it with an analogy. Years ago, I was making breakfast and one of my young kids wanted to help. I gave him the task of making the orange juice. I told him to make sure to add the water and read the can. I didn’t supervise. As I was at the stove, I heard him adding the water and mixing. He used the can, but didn’t READ the instructions on the can, for how much water to add. He added way too much water. When I poured my glass and I saw the color, I knew. Tasting it, it was really bland.


The same can be said for surround sound systems. When you are watching a movie and there’s an explosion, without the subwoofer, the sound will be just…bland. If you don’t have a subwoofer, you will be missing so much. Having a surround sound system without a subwoofer, when those scenes in the movie come up and there’s no life to the explosions, it’ll be obvious. It’ll be…bland.


You can get any sub to fill the void that you heard without one. But how well will it really do the job? After all, if you’re looking for steak, you can find steak in the all you can eat buffet at Golden Corral. But it’ll be more like rubbery chicken compared to the melt in your mouth Filet Mignon found at a 5-star steakhouse. Subwoofers are also, not all created equal.


RBH Sound has been providing high quality sound for almost 50 years. They have multiple speaker lines.  Their top of the line is their Signature Series.  And this sub is from the top of the top, their Signature Reference Series.  They have a ton of experience on their belt, and have clearly used this experience in the design. I love the design of the RBH Signature Reference 1212P-SF/R. It’s two front firing 12-inch drivers one on the top of the other, with dual large ports on the bottom of the front face. The rear panel houses the amp and controls, and the bottom four rubber feet which works for both hard flooring and carpet. The finish is in satin black. 


The enclosure itself is made with HDF. While many may feel that HDF over MDF is overkill, RBH chose to use the best. HDF is still more inert, less susceptible to vibrations, coloration, and thus distortion. The panels are thick, with internal bracing. The ports go back into the enclosure, and then turn up into the cabinet cavity to give the ports the needed length for the desired tuning. It is rated down to 18 Hz at -3 db.  I was able to see an enclosure without the drivers installed.  So I was able to see the build quality first hand, and just how well it was internally braced.  This will prove critical once you hear what bass this enclosure will be forced to deal with.  If you want a special finish reach out to RBH, as that appears to be an option as you can see in the photos.


The drivers are also designed for the task. Being able to get my hands on the driver and see it for myself, I was impressed!  They feature an aluminum cone with large rubber surrounds to allow for exorbitant amounts of excursion. Massive double stacked rear vented magnets not only allow for extensive power handling, but also precise motor control with the precision that would impress a surgeon. The cast aluminum basket is quite beefy, and also helps against resonances of the driver.  The tinsel leads are sewn into the spiders.


The back panel holds the built-in amplifier. At 2400 watts, each driver gets 1200 watts. That’s plenty of power for the driver to perform it’s best and provide the best resolution and output. And with that kind of power the motor structure has excellent control of the cone, to provide reference level dynamics, and output. The amp also has built-in DSP, with preset settings for Max Output, Max Extension, and Custom. With the use of a laptop, you can also make adjustments for its response.


With its design and build quality, the RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R is already impressive leaving other subs in the dust.  But RBH takes it to a whole other level with their built-in amp with DSP featuring 24bit/96kHz resolution.  There is a connection at the back of the amp for a networking cable to connect to a laptop, to make adjustments to the software settings.  This is where things get really special.  When doing the installation, measurements can be taken for the response of your room.  Knowing the bass response of your room, the peaks and valleys can be seen to make the needed adjustments in the software, for a more linear response curve.  There are 31 bands of equalization on tap that can be completely adjustable at 1hz steps.  So in other words, you could program all 31 bands down to 1hz steps and control from 18hz-49hz, if you so choose. 


If you put 2 and 2 together, you may realize that all of this precise control and customization can really get the sub dialed in for your room.  And with this realization, you could be smiling from ear to ear.  But this realization could have another effect.  If you do NOT know what you’re doing, you could REALLY mess things up!  So, accessing the software with a laptop and making custom changes should only been done by a trained professional who knows what their doing.  Otherwise, this amazing sub could end up sounding bad and get damaged.  Yet, if you want to just keep things simple, it does have the preset settings for Max Output, and Max Extension.  In which case….no customization of the settings is needed.


RBH Sound appears to have a special product on their hands. Not only does it look amazing, it has the design, power, and build quality to get every ounce of detail from that soundtrack to you. Being able to play down to 18 Hz, that’s bass you won’t hear, but will feel. And when T-Rex comes, not only will you be able to hear him coming, with that much power on tap you should definitely feel him coming as well. Let’s see how it sounds.


For the listening test, I wanted to turn to scenes that would be a challenge and really test the reaches of the sub. Based on the design of the sub, it appeared to be up to any task. Having dual twelve-inch drivers with stiff aluminum cones, a large rubber surround, and 2400 watts on tap, the subwoofer seemed to be able to provide gargantuan amounts of bass. Let’s see if that is the case.


First, I turned to one of my new favorite movies. Ready Player One: the race scene. Next, I turned to a classic, Lord of the Rings- Fellowship of the Ring: The Balrog scene. And lastly, I turned to another classic, Lord of the Rings- Return of the King: the final battle scene. All of these scenes provide not just deep bass, but copious amounts of it. I will talk about the performance and output. Then I will talk about the sound quality the sub is capable of.


Ready Player One is such a fun movie. And it’s 80’s music soundtrack is Epic! The race scene is a favorite. Right off the bat from when the road appears and drops down, I knew this was going to be fun. With all of the mayhem from the cars crashing into each other and other objects, bass was plentiful. Then came the wrecking balls, swinging into cars and buildings. Not only was it deep with tons of authority, it was so life-like! And then comes Kong, who takes it to another level, as he jumps down from the Empire State Building, takes out the road, and then chases after Parzival. It had such great dynamics with punch in the chest level of impact.  And low-end foundation shaking depth that I could feel it vibrating the couch around me where I was sitting.


Next is the Balrog scene from The Lord of the Rings- Fellowship of the Ring. Although many may also refer to it as the famous “None shall pass!” scene. There’s a lot of intense bass leading up to the fellowship crossing the bridge. First with them running out of the great hall and away from the Balrog demon, followed by them climbing down the steps to get to the bridge. As the section of the rock falls apart around them, the rumbling is deep and loud! And it was the same with the Balrog. With the Balrog chasing after them as the fellowship is crossing the bridge, each step the Balrog takes is an assault. It is a dynamic shake the foundation impact that you feel not only in your chest, but also in the chair you are sitting in.  And rattles the walls of your room!


Last but not least is the final battle scene form The Lord of the Ring- Return on the King. Towards the beginning of the battle, it shows the dynamics. As the city is catapulting huge rocks at the enemy, one of them falls just feet from the enemy leader’s feet. It’s impact as it hits the ground is powerful yet a tight punch that you feel in your chest. And then when the elephants come, each step was thunderous in its impact!  Again, my walls rattled, paying the price for what was dished out by the RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R.


When it came to movies, the RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R gave a truly epic performance! It proved worthy to be the reference subwoofer for any great home surround sound system. Just how epic you may ask? For starters, it plays thunderously loud! I measured it at 1 meter up to 124db! And if you don’t have a frame of reference for how loud that is…I’ll explain it this way. My reference room is my theater room in my basement. And my kids are used to a good amount of bass. Afterall…I am a bit of a bass-head, and I have a subwoofer system in my truck as well. Well, as I was testing the subs limits, my 19-year-old daughter comes into my theater room and complains that it’s vibrating her room, and her room is on the 2nd story!


So yes, the RBH Sound Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R can play loud, reference level loud. Most won’t need it that loud, but it’s nice to have the headroom. And it was also really clean playing that loud. Due to its high output and really low extension, there was a bit of port noise/turbulence, but that’s only expected. Distortion however, was non-discernable. This was in part thanks to its beefy cast basket and HDF enclosure. And with as much stress that I put this sub under, I did not hear the driver bottom out, even when I managed to get my receiver signal to clipping.


That was one of the things that surprised me about the driver’s design: no bumped pole piece. That is when the very back of the magnet of the driver is bumped out, or sticks out more. This gives more room internally in the magnet, which allows the voice call to go deeper so it doesn’t bottom out during high excursion. I met with Shane, who is RBH’s Technical Director, and Head Engineer. We went over the enclosure design, with all the internal backing, and amp, and driver.  In looking at the driver, I saw all the things I like to see in a driver…stiff cone, beefy surround, cast backet, but wait…no bumped pole piece. Shane advised me that with the double stacked magnet, there was sufficient depth for the voice coil to keep it from bottoming out. After torture testing the sub, Shane appears to be right.  And the sub is rated at over 120db in output, and I managed to get 124db output in Max Extension mode. I must admit though that my reference room being in the basement with concrete walls on 2 sides, room gain could have helped some in the output.  But the performance in cone movement and control, and sound quality are top notch regardless. 


And with movies, the sub sounded the way I expected it. There are scenes where it was nice and tight with great pinch. And then there were scenes where a long-sustained bass note played as it should and was smooth, powerful, yet clean. The strong double stacked motor structure mated to a powerful amp, provided the power needed to not only give huge amounts of output, but to also provide excellent control of the motor structure. This provided an excellent level of precision for clean bass true to the source material, free of noticeable coloration.


Next it was time to test it for music. I started with an old school classic: Techmaster PB: Time to Jam. It was clean, it played deep, and again…124 db. So yeah, it was loud! But to test real sound quality, I turned to different tracks. Also Sprach Zarathustra, performed by Berliner Philharmonic: the beginning starts with an ultra-deep sustained note from the pipe organ that is sustained through most of the song. It is extremely deep, yet smooth and well controlled. The pounding of the tympani was extremely dynamic, with excellent resolution of the mallet striking the pad. Then there was also the bass drum and contrabass, that also added to the deep bass smorgasbord. UBC Symphony Orchestra performing Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries: the contrabass had great resolution revealing the texture of the bow sliding across the strings. I wasn’t expecting the sub to be this musical, or provide this level of resolution!


I then put the sub in Max Output mode.  In the speaker level settings of my receiver, the sub level is usually set at -9db.  But for these tests, to test the output capability of this sub, I increased it from -9db to 0db in the settings.  You typically get more output, when switching from Max Extension to Max Output.  I then went back to the Balrog scene in The Lord of The Rings, which provided the max output levels. But the 124db max output did not change.  Which makes me think I managed to get the sub to its limits.  You’ll get higher output in the Max Output setting, when the sub isn’t pushed to its limit. And I was impressed by how good the sub sounded even at its limit.  Yet even at this limit, I watched the sub work, and it was still really well controlled by the massive amp power and motor structure, and still did not bottom out, not even once!


I must admit, that I knew of the quality of their speakers. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with the epic performance of the RBH Sound Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R. Having reviewed several of RBH’s products in the past, including their in-wall reference series speakers in recent past, I had a feeling of the kind of performance I was about to partake in. Being a part of their Signature Reference Series, the RBH 1212P-SF/R had a reputation to uphold in name sake. The juggernaut of a subwoofer provided a colossal performance that delivered for its Reference Series name sake in spades.


In the end after all of the listening, I feel like Ferris Bueller after driving the Ferrari GT California. The RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R performed so well with movies. Yet it is also so musical, it has the resolution and finesse to do excellent for music as well. So in the words of Ferris Bueller, if you have the means, I highly suggest it. Based on its design, features, quality and performance, the RBH Signature Reference Series 1212P-SF/R has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.rbhsound.comReference gear used: Onkyo TX-RZ920 Receiver, Outlaw Audio 7000X amp, Emotiva BasX A-500 amp, RBH Sound SI-663R fronts, RBH Sound SI-760R surrounds and back surrounds, SI-615 in-ceiling height channels, Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD transport, Sony Bravia true 4K front projector, Elite Screens EZ-Frame screen.