The Art of Sound Tycus Subwoofer
A Recipe for Mid-price Excellence
15 July 2003
10" heavy duty cast basket woofer with matching 10" passive radiator.
Frequency response: 16hz to 150 Hz
Power Output: 300 watt RMS (600 watts peak) amplifier.
Heavily braced cabinet.
Dimensions: 16.5" H × 17"W × 17"D.
Weight: approximately 40 lbs.
Option finishes: oak, maple, mahogany and cherry.
Other wood veneers available at additional cost.
Art of Sound
Jacksonville, FL 32239-0124
Telephone: (904) 762-0100
" … I promise to love, cherish, honor and respect you, from this day forward, for better, for worse, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live."
This is the premise of the perfect "made in heaven" marriage, no doubt about it. Another great coupling, thanks to the popularity of hi-fi home theater, is that of subwoofers and home theater. Today, subs and home theater systems go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, Bubba and Gump, children and Scooby-Doo. No matter the price, size, sophistication, or lack thereof, subwoofers have turned into a "must-have" for home theater enthusiasts. Unfortunately, recent trends reveal that quantity, more times than not, outweighs quality. The prerequisite for the ultimate subwoofer appears to be, the bigger the box-and what's in it-the better. Problem is, these sonic BOOM boxes are often too big and slow to keep up with the music's pace, and have had the most difficult time finding their way into to the rarefied air of a true two-channel audiophile rig. Every movie has an ending, and when the projector's turned off, the screen gets pulled, and those "extra" channels are quieted. In most cases, you turn off that sub too, don't you?
If you can recall an article written in Stereophile some years back, featuring the buff model Fabio, sporting Krell Reference Standard amps and the huge four-piece Genesis loudspeakers, it will certainly bring to mind why the trend continues. Here was a state-of-the-art setup that boasted thousands of watts gushing through perhaps a dozen twelve-inch woofers that, much to my amazement, made some listeners literally sick to their stomachs! Now don't get me wrong, very few things can massage the male ego as well as a couple of well placed subwoofers, while watching great war flicks likeSaving Private Ryan, U-571, or Black Hawk Down, on a big screen. I would love to pass a couple of 17Hz notes through some of my boys and watch 'em run and kneel before that porcelain altar.
Few companies have accomplished the rare task of handling both the dynamic demands of bass-heavy movies and the delicacy of a cello's string. REL Acoustics has, and so has Talon Audio. Wilson's latest sub impressed the heck out of me at CES 2003. Unfortunately, none of these are what most of us would qualify as affordable. Needless to say, I was quite delighted to find the subject of this review, the $1803.00 Art of Sound Tycus subwoofer, deserving of this distinction.
Head honcho and chief designer Dave Craig believes that building subwoofers for movies and sound is " … easy to master if done correctly." "I know the inner workings and I've been involved in and around audio, in one form or another, for well over twenty-years," he said. Armed with good audio instincts, a knack for building things and a degree in mechanical engineering, Craig set out to build the best subwoofer, using the best design available. In building the Tycus, Craig uses dual 10" Peerless woofers: one active, one passive. A specially designed, built-in amplifier, which boasts high-grade toroidal transformers and discrete Mosfet output devices, provides a very realistic 300 watts output and comes standard. There are a variety of inputs, including a "speakon" connector which allows a secure connection from the main amplifier outputs, for the high-level input, to the subwoofer panel amp (a popular pro sound method that is used in Europe and is somewhat slow in catching on here in the states. REL uses this connector). Phase, crossover setting (from 30 to 150 Hz), balanced (!) and RCA inputs, high and low-crossover controls complete the Tycus' physical layout and make this quite a versatile and well thought-out design.
It's obvious that Craig takes great pride in designing Art of Sound's products, and the Tycus is no exception. Physically, the Tycus appears well-made and attractive, especially when compared to most of the competition's standard, boring, matte-black-only-approach. My review sample arrived in beautiful dark grain Mahogany-a near perfect match, in terms of wood finish, to my custom-built Zoethecus equipment rack. In terms of WAF appeal [Wife Acceptance Factor], the Tycus is an easy choice if you're planning to blend it into a room's décor.
A good portion of my listening impressions were done in a home theater environment, using both a Sampo 34" 16:9 monitor, as well as the new and exciting 46W1 46" Plasma from newcomer BenQ (pronounced Ben-Q). Musical Fidelity's HTP pre/processor, five-channel amplifier as well as their DVD player were used throughout the review process. Home theater loudspeakers were the BMB Custom monitors, while two-channel-only loudspeakers started with the tiny Xavian Mia, and the handsomely elegant German ELAC 310i JET mini-monitors. The larger Rosinante Dulcinea monitor, a long-standing reference for what monitors could-and should-do, and the only American loudspeaker in the bunch, paired with the Tycus and sounded gorgeous. Full-range loudspeakers were the Tanagra Signatures ($6500) from the new French manufacturer Apertura, and the $10,000, Isophon Europa, a transducer I've really grown to love for its amazing clarity and seductive midrange. At the end of these sessions, one thing stood quite clear: no matter the price, setup or configuration, a subwoofer of the Tycus' asking price can enhance not just the performance of a home theater setup, but can take various monitors and floor-standers to the next level.
"Spectacular gun battles!" says Richard Roeper, of Ebert and Roeper fame for the underground sensation DVD, Equilibrium. This movie stars Christian Bale (American Psycho), Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) and Taye Diggs (Brown Sugar) in a film whose storyline mimics The Matrix, albeit with a sloppier plot. Futuristic and a bit slow throughout, with a somewhat kooky, thought-provoking theme, the battle scenes are well worth the price of admission, and should make you glad you bought this sleeper. The Tycus also thanked me for this DVD's great surround effects: its low-end energy was convincingly real throughout and never got out of hand during the heavy fight scenes. Never did the Tycus lose its excellent ability to remain invisible. With the volume only modestly loud, an extraordinary sense of balance overtook the BMB speaker system, creating not just greater low-energy information, but providing a sense of realism to this action-packed flick, as well as enhancing the authenticity of the movie's overall mix. The ability for a subwoofer at this price to blend so effectively with the rest of the system, creating a near seamless match with entirely different loudspeakers, was quite impressive to say the least.
Another great action DVD and torture test for any subwoofer is the savvy James Bond film, Die Another Day. Of course, what makes this movie such an eye-catcher is sultry spy Halle Berry's hip-huggin', slo-mo Cuban beach shot (a female Bond in full bandwidth. I knew the Tycus was working, but this scene had all the boys woofin'!). Few movies offer as much of a stress test as a good Bond flick, and this, his latest, doesn't disappoint. The scene where Bond attempts to escape via a hovercraft, with a militia in hot pursuit, took the Tycus on a dynamic roller coaster ride that it seemed to enjoy more than we did. With the Tycus disengaged, and driving the BMB's full-range, there is an obvious difference to this movie's overall dynamics and impact. Cannon blasts, explosions, engines revving, planes flying overhead, were diminished greatly in what I would describe as the "real-life" quotient. It appears that though many loudspeakers can handle a movie in full-range mode, no matter the driver compliment, there seems to be an advantage to using a dedicated sub. Movies simply sound better with a sub rather than without, irrespective of the setting on your surround sound processor. In this case, score two points for the Tycus!
Switching to music only for example, while listening to Parker's Mood[Verve 314527907-2], the music of Charlie Parker by the Steven Scott Trio, featuring Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride, really shows how brilliant Parker was, and in our case, how slow a sub's start/stop time can be. Pick your poison, any track from this wonderfully recorded CD will do. I personally like them all, but tracks one through six are stupendous recordings, as bassist Christian McBride really shines in his pursuit to keep up with the wizardry of trumpeter and bandleader, Roy Hargrove. In doing so, he excites his instrument in a way that is quite exquisite. Because there are no drums on this track, McBride serves as a human metronome, keeping time, rhythm, pace and harmony so perfectly well, that he unleashes all the reasons why he's such a great and sought-after bassist. This also makes this CD an audio reviewer's dream because of its ability to determine the effectiveness of speed and musicality in low-end transducers like subwoofers. The Tycus simply fleshes out more of McBride's instrument, going octaves lower, while keeping up with the BMB's note for note, with a cohesiveness that sounded alarmingly smooth, while remaining undetectable in its location. It simply disappeared while making the BMB's perform like full-range loudspeakers.
Another extremely good CD to hit only recently is the Brazillian Entre Amigos featuring Rosa Passos and Ron Carter [Chesky JD247]. This hauntingly sophisticated duo brings memories of Antonio Carlos Jobim right up to the surface, with the remake of Desafinado. If you've never heard of Rosa Passos then this disc will allow you to never forget her. Ditto Ron Carter, the bassist who exemplifies what a jazz bassist is all about. Combine these two ingredients with the Chesky brothers and you've got yourself an instant classic. Audiophile-wise, this disc is magnificent for determining what your system is and isn't doing. No matter the track, the Xavian, as well as the Elac 350's, paired with the Tycus, took the music further in the areas of dynamics and full-range qualities. With the Tycus set at a reasonable 50 Hz, the sound of the Xavian was very impressive. The Elac didn't hesitate to show off the amazing ribbon clarity their tweeter's well known for. In both instances, each speaker soundedmuch bigger than they had any right to. It's no mystery to many of us here what the real advantages of fast and accurate subwoofers can be, after spending many months with the Talon Roc 12. The Tycus serves as a reminder-at half the price.
The Tycus excelled in all areas of importance, particularly speed and power, though it does give up some location only when pushed too hard. When played within its boundaries, the Tycus played the lower notes (50 Hz and below) of McBride's bass right along with the Elac 350 mini's, Rosinante Dulcinea's, as well as the tiny Xavian Mia's with absolute aplomb.
The Tycus allowed the full-range Isophon's, employing dual 9" woofers of their own, to produce an even bigger sound. The Tycus did not exaggerate the low-end nor did it give the appearance of being "placed" into the system. It blended in only to solidify the bass, much like the Talon Roc does, without overstating it. The Tanagra Signature, on the other hand, due to its warm overall tonal balance, didn't seem to appreciate the Tycus as much as the other, more neutral sounding Isophon's did. The Tanagra is another one of those midrangy types that exemplifies male and female voices. That said, it also seems to really possess bass that may appear too plump in some applications. Not a bad thing when you don't have a sub like the Tycus around to help out. I would pass on purchasing the Tycus with a loudspeaker of the Tanagra Signature's characteristics. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with this extremely flexible and incredibly priced subwoofer.
This high-level playback quality is what all subwoofers should perform at. But more often than not, most low to mid-price subs miss the mark. Fewer are ever judged so extensively. The Tycus actually enjoyed being compared to the mighty Talon Roc 12. The Roc will play louder and go deeper, but at double the price-it damn well better be. The Tycus, thanks largely to its speed, kept up in the area of seamlessly blending itself into the fabric of whatever loudspeaker it was coupled with. The Tycus also plays very quiet. Enough to virtually hide its identity no matter the placement. And lastly, the look and build of the Tycus is attractive enough to make it an easy choice in aesthetically demanding environments. Highly recommended.
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