Ported VS Sealed

Ported VS Sealed is like asking what the best sports car is. There is no “right” answer, it just depends on your priorities. The Nissan GTR, Ferrari F430, Lexus LFA, and Bugatti Veyron all offer unique strengths and weaknesses. Which is best? That’s hard to quantify definitively.

Sealed Vs Ported presents a similar challenge, there are strengths and trade offs with each design. Here are my thoughts on the issue in hopes that it will help you decide which is right for you. Even though I may prefer one, my impression may help you decide that you really want the other.

SVS was excited to send out their sealed 12″ SB-2000’s for my next review after I was finished reviewing the ported 10″ PB-1000’s. Sealed subs have a lot of benefits, such as deeper in room extension in medium and small rooms (In other words, normal rooms. Large = auditorium), faster transient response, and a smaller footprint. But would I be a convert? You might be surprised…

Keep in mind that I’m a layperson. Aside from this project, I have no audio industry background, and I’m still learning. I’m a consumer with my own personal “consumer” desires, and apparently a few limitations that influence my decisions. While I’d love to be the guy with the perfect eardrums, it’s just not the case, so keep this in mind for your own needs. If you are into purist listening, your desires could easily diverge from mine.

Some basic differences are the ways room gain affects the response of each style. At least in my room, the response of the sealed subs goes deeper than the rated response. So the sealed response is rated for 19 hertz, but it goes down to 10-11 hertz in my room. For those interested in purist listening and ultra flat response, the sealed SB-2000 has a pretty sexy curve.

Sealed SB-2000 (blue line) vs Ported PB-1000 (red line)
Sealed SB-2000 (blue) vs Ported PB-1000 (red)

As you can see from the graph, the sealed sub (blue line) delivers well below the rated response, as SVS has shaped that curve with their DSP to give a nice flat response that drops off around 11 hertz in my room. I can’t hear below 17 hertz or so.

Ported subs do not do this. The factory ratings are pretty reliable in terms of depth limits. Any ported subs will be pretty quiet under their factory rating, but a sealed sub will likely go deeper. People have asked me how I can disqualify a ported sub so easily, but it’s pretty simple. If a ported sub is rated for 25 hertz, it’s probably not going to reach 23 hertz with any meaning, while a sealed sub rated for 25 hertz could potentially hit 20 hertz or deeper. This tends to complicate the discussion.

See the graph below to get an idea of the deficiencies common in more typical ported subwoofers. Typical subs are “good” down to about 40 hertz, and when you spend a little more, down to about 30 hertz. The “Typical” sub in the graph (Purple line) was reliably rated for 28 hertz, but started to really fall off at about 29 hertz.

Quality Ported VS Typical Ported with notes
PB-1000 VS “Typical” Ported Subwoofer

The “Typical” ported subwoofer on the graph is not a cheap sub. It is a well-known name that retailed for $500, but given it’s age I’m not going to disclose the model. It’s not really important anyway, the focus here is on subs that perform comfortably under 30 hertz.

Unless a ported subwoofer has a DSP, the shape of the graph above will likely be pretty typical for your average ported sub. The “Typical” sub in the graph actually does better than most typical subs, but compared to any sub on The List, it’s pretty shallow. The difference in room is undeniable.

The whole crux of this site is about meaningful depth. Power and thunder, yet well-behaved in the process, so the sealed seems like the natural choice. Many enthusiasts will prefer the quicker transient response for music. I looked forward to trying the sealed especially after having read the Sealed vs Ported on the SVS site.

I can say that the SVS write-up is spot on. In a dual configuration there is plenty of output in my acoustically odd 24×24 mixed use room, though I listen at sane levels. For crazy loudness, ported are definitely recommended, or the SB13 Ultras. The graph does match up to the graph on SVS site (being flat below the rated response), understanding that rooms will cause the graphs to vary a bit. An anechoic graph will typically be smoother and flatter than what your room will produce, that’s almost a universal truth.

Reference vs Preference.

The SB-2000’s are great for those who want a purist 2.2 stereo setup, especially if flat response is your goal. I use the term purist instead of audiophile, because at the core definition, we are all audiophiles. We all want good sound, it’s just a question of sanity, economics, and personal flavor. My hopes are that the snooty attitudes that turn so many off to the industry will become a thing of the past, or at least get drowned out by normal people who just want to have fun.

The PB-1000 is what some would call a little “bottom heavy”. As it goes deeper, it gets louder in my room. The effect is not drastic, and I find it to be quite nice. This gives the impression of “bigger” sound.

Here’s the thing, apparently I really, really like a bottom heavy sub. I suspect it’s because deeper sound is a little harder to hear. Even though the sealed SB-2000’s go deeper, the ported PB-1000’s “sound deeper” because the room gain pronounces depth more. I can’t be the only one, based on the popularity of ported SVS subs. They are truly next level.

For sure, quality ported subs dominate cinema. The sealed SB-2000’s would trounce most “typical” ported subs in cinema, but the ported PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s have more slam when called for, and the depth is more emphasized than with the SB-2000’s.

But here is where I might diverge from the average enthusiast. I like the sound of the ported PB-1000 better than the sealed SB-2000 for music. Did your head just explode? That’s completely against the grain, and I urge you to be skeptical of my opinion.

There are 2 reasons for this, the first being that I like the more “pronounced” depth provided by the PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s. Getting a little louder as it goes deeper is my preference, and it’s a drastic departure from typical ported subs. This can be overcome with the sealed SB-2000’s with some form of external sub EQ, like a Mini DSP 2X4. The sealed SB 13 Ultra has an option like this built-in, although I haven’t heard it yet.

If you like a bottom heavy curve too, but you already have SB-2000’s, you can use the Mini DSP 2×4 to adjust the response. Fair warning, it does have a learning curve, and you need a good microphone like a UMIK-1 and something like Room EQ Wizard (free, but consider a donation to the guy who made it) to make it all happen. The same is true if you have a ported sub and like your response flatter. I felt no need to alter the SVS ported subs, but I could see the value in shaving the high end just a little on the SB-2000’s to match my own personal tastes.

The other reason I prefer a ported sub is pretty specific to me. I have sensitive ears. Not “I can hear a cricket sneeze 2 blocks away” kind of sensitive, but more of an “I can’t handle loud venues” kind of sensitive. My ears fatigue easily. I have a hard time going to concerts. Keep that in mind, as this is not a very common issue as far as I have seen.

My ears are a little fatigued from the sealed subs, though they did feel better after breaking in (or maybe I just got used to it?). The reality is that any sealed sub would likely produce the same result. I’ve heard this in box stores, but never long enough to pin it down. So it’s not an SVS characteristic specifically, it’s a sealed subwoofer characteristic. If you like sealed subs, the SB-2000’s make a LOT of sense. They sound beautiful, and they do indeed offer a purist sound.

Frankly, I find ported subs slightly more “comfortable” to listen to at higher volumes. I might have missed it had I not just heard the PB-1000’s, and then followed up by the PB-2000’s. I was never able to pin it down, but sealed subs never got me excited. Now that I have been able to identify what it is, it makes sense.

I found passive radiators more comfortable too, but I haven’t heard one I truly like, and at this point I couldn’t recommend them. However, the pressure issue is similar to a ported sub, as there is a degree of pressure relief. When the main driver moves out, the passive radiator moves in, thus keeping the pressure change to a minimum. With a sealed sub, there is no such relief. Again, this is all unproven theory on my part, and I could be completely wrong, but it makes sense to me.

My ears are overly sensitive. I identify as mild Asperger’s (never tested officially for autism, but it adds up) so that may have a LOT to do with it. The Fibromyalgia may also play a role here too. Normal ears probably won’t notice it much, if at all, and a LOT of people prefer sealed.

See the decision chart below to see which suites your needs better:

Ported VS Sealed decision chart

That pressure theory is purely speculation. This issue is pretty specific to me, but it brings me to the following recommendation: If you have sensitive ears in the house, like autistic ears, migraines, or dogs and cats, you may want to consider ported subs. I happen to find them more comfortable, but the difference might be difficult to perceive for most. That said, an autistic child or otherwise sensitive ears in the home would likely appreciate the consideration.

Certainly, I don’t think sealed subs should be avoided, especially if they suite your needs and desires.

I’ve come across some surprises with this project, and this is certainly up there. I fully expected to be a sealed subwoofer convert, based on everything I’ve read, and the comments I have received. Many enthusiasts prefer the characteristics of a sealed sub, and I absolutely get it.

Maybe I’m a little unsophisticated. Theoretically, I could retire to the study with a good whiskey to discuss world affairs in a chair with buttery soft leather. Something like hanging out with this distinguished gentleman. I imagine the conversation would be epic.

I could just as easily head to the garage with a good beer and shoot some pool with the guys. Both sound great to me, but shooting pool just sounds like a little more fun. No offense to Mr. Offerman or sealed subwoofers, both are class acts and have my respect and admiration.

I definitely see the appeal of both. I enjoy both, but I definitely prefer ported subwoofers at the end of the day. Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.

Ryan B.

12 thoughts on “Ported VS Sealed”

  1. I share your experience with sealed subwoofers and ear fatigue. So nice to read that I’m not alone, or crazy. 🙂

  2. Imagine how I felt posting this article! I’ve seen some threads where people were experiencing ear fatigue with really expensive subwoofers, and they were sealed subs, but the conclusion was never drawn. Hopefully this will save some people the trouble if they have sensitive ears. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I agree with sealed subs and ear fatigue. I just bought an SVS SB-2000 for 2 channel listening paired up with my magnepan 1.7s and I don’t like it so it’s going back. Too boomy, not muscial, it did not blend well at all with the magnepans…I have to say that I have a little Energy EWS-8 subwoofer and oddly enough it sounds spectacular with the 1.7s. When I first powered up the SB-2000 and made some adjustments I was very disappointed. I moved it around and continued to make adjustments but it still have that fatiguing boomy single frequency output.

  4. You may be dealing with a standing wave at a lower frequency than you are used to, which is best resolved with 2 subs. I’ve heard the SB-2000’s and know for certain they do great with music. They shouldn’t be boomy at all. You may want to check with SVS to troubleshoot if the ideas below don’t resolve it.

    What crossover are you running, what is the gain set at for the subwoofer, and what is the subwoofer gain on your AVR? What kind of room correction are you running? Try setting the crossover to 80 hertz or higher, with the Magnapans (along with anything else) set as small, and adjust the subwoofer level again, setting the sub gain at 50%, and turn the subwoofer trim down on the AVR, slowly turning it up until the music seems filled in. (Norah Jones’ “Heart of Mine” works pretty good for this)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if your crossover was too low (40-60 hertz) and the sub output was too high, which could make the sub seem overdone and unbalanced, coming on too strong only when it gets deep. Just a guess. If an Energy 8″ is sounding better, something is definitely wrong! Your perception could also be different with a good sub. You may be trying to adjust the sub based on a flawed response curve typical of most subs.

  5. Ryan: great site! I also watched one of your YouTube videos.

    Before I “pull the Plug” on an ELAC S10EQ Debut SerieS subwoofer, I was wondering if I can get your advice.

    This is for a 2-channel setup only, with a Rotel receiver RSX-1065 and a pair of ELAC Uni-fi UB5 bookshelf speakers.

    It is in my basement, an L shaped room 25′ by 20′, and 8′ ceilings. My music is mostly metal.

    I am trying to keep the price at $500. Those SVS PB1000 or SB1000 look good. I have a REL for my HT setup (old one), but the REL prices are so high now.

    Any advice for me?

    Thanks!

  6. Thank you!

    Well, I can tell you that music like Metallica absolutely rocks on SVS subs! Whisky in the Jar, The God that Failed, Nothing Else Matters, etc.. all sound amazing. My biggest piece of advice is to go matched dual. You’ll get a much better experience. If you went sealed, I’d stick with SB-2000’s over the SB-1000, more power and sealed subs are less efficient. I would have pointed you to the SB-12 NSD on Amazon but they only have 1 left and you really want matched duals.

    PB-1000’s will have a deeper impression than the sealed, even though the sealed will go deeper. I find the ported more comfortable myself, less ear fatigue, but the sealed are tighter. Dual PB-1000’s will fill up your room without question, and they are what I would go with personally. You’ll probably get 2 more for your HT. Impressive subs. I’d run your Elac UB5’s as Small at about 80-90 hertz with the PB-1000’s, or 60-80 hertz with the sealed.

  7. Thanks Ryan!

    I went ahead and ordered the SB-12 NSD from Electronics Expo through Amazon. At $400 and no tax seemed like a no brainer for me. Older version of the SB-2000 but half the price. I understand lesser / older design and 100 watts less power.

    Thanks again for your advice and good work in your site. I will come back once I get it if I have questions 😉

  8. Thanks Ryan.

    I don’t remember from your article and videos, do you have a preference as to what connection method you like for stereo 2-channel? Usual LFE or speaker / high level? Thanks again

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