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B&W PV1 review

An active sub designed to emulate a diving bell

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Our Verdict

An expensive, designer choice for those who want their bass duties performed by a smarter looking subwoofer

As it happens, Jacques Cousteau is one of my all time heroes, right up there with the awesome Mr Ray Dolby. Where one was the father of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus and all things marine, the other remains the patriarch of world-dominating de facto superior sound processing.

At first glance, it's difficult to see what the two have in common. If you are a keen film fan, you'll maybe own The Abyss and Titanic. You might even have caught James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss, in which the director travels to the seabed to pay his respects to the Titanic wreck. How appropriate then to combine things marine and movie, with this weird and cunning product, the B&W Pressure Vessel One (PV1) - an active sub designed to emulate a diving bell.

Two clamshells of aluminium enclose a pair of serious metal cone woofers with long-throw and oddly skinny suspensions. A massive half kilowatt amplifier lives inside and there's a phono mono input, matching mono output and a high level speaker input system which uses an American RJ11 computer/phone style socket and plug. We are not told if both methods may be used at once, like models from Rel and M&J can.

The sides are held together and off the floor by a solid rubber moulding that acts as the central assembling point for the clamshells and controls. You get an on/auto/off knob as well as crossover point to select between 40Hz and 140Hz, plus Volume. You also get a 180 Phase Flip switch that looks like the other thumbnail rotary controls and an EQ curve switch to allow flat, fatter or fattest bass response, depending upon your room, tastes, and setup. The amplifier inside is rated at 500W and is described as an 'Ice Power' type, although B&W doesn't let on what this means beyond calling it a Class D switch mode device.

The inherent solidity of this spherical concept makes for a wonderful uncoloured, full and tight bass output. Its sheer power means that room filling experiences can be had, although it is a tad limited when it comes to ultimate profundity.

Sure, the PV1 can do near subsonics, but it struggled when fed my reference Telarc disc full of 15Hz notes. I also noticed a mid-bass thrum note (Eigentone) that can be heard to be a bit louder than the rest of the output when the PV1 is being driven hard. However, under normal drive levels, this beast sings like a sperm whale calling for a mate.

After some music and the inevitable DTS test of ultimate low extension down to 15Hz and below, my resident Energy Veritas speakers had a go at a movie soundtrack supplemented by the PV1. In spite of the sub's small proportions, the weight and feel of the underpinning bass track was sufficient to keep up with the large enclosures in the rest of the system. Impact/slam is excellent as the the unit's powerful amplifier can really deliver a slap to the cones.

Overall this is an expensive, designer choice for those who want their bass duties performed by a smarter looking subwoofer. Gorgeous.