Vibe CBR 12” Active Subwoofer
Powered subwoofer enclosure systems are becoming increasingly popular as more and more new cars are coming fitted with improved standard sound systems that only really lack bass response. Vibe’s solution is the CBR12A powered 12-inch subwoofer system, which offers the unique ability to switch between sealed and ported alignments.
- Wednesday 10th March, 2010
Variable tuning is novel and works well. Great build quality and sounds pretty darn good. An all in one solution that takes the hassle out of adding bass to any car.
Why all the confusing power claims Vibe?
If you own a newer vehicle it’s entirely likely that you are largely happy with its sound performance and simply want to add some enhanced bass response. If so, then you’re probably looking for a simple solution that sounds great and is easy to self install. What you need is an integrated package that takes all the headaches out of the process, and all of these attributes describe Vibe’s CBR12A system perfectly. At an RRP of $699, the CBR12A combines an enclosed 12-inch subwoofer with an integrated mono amplifier that is fitted flush into the rear wall of the enclosure. Vibe also supply you with all the cables and fittings required to install the system, so it’s an all-in-one solution saving you the hassle of trying to correctly match all this stuff up by yourself.
Features & Specifications
My initial visual inspection reveals the CBR12A to be one of the most well thought out and well designed subwoofer system’s I’ve ever come across in all my 15+ years of reviewing. General fit & finish and attention to detail are excellent, and I like the unusual textured matt black ‘cracked earth’ finish applied to the front, top and rear of the enclosure. Vibe have fitted molded rubber side caps with integral lifting handles and rutted mounting feet. Since no formal way of securing the CBR12A is supplied these will do a decent job of stopping it flying around your boot. Indeed, after a few weeks of it living in the cargo area of my test vehicle it never budged an inch.
The front of the enclosure is fitted with a single 12-inch diameter subwoofer featuring a beautiful woven Kevlar cone and supple rubber edge surround. While it is stated as a BlackAir 12, the subwoofer does differ significantly from the BlackAir 12 that is shown on Vibe’s website as being sold separately. While they are indeed visually similar from the front, the subwoofer fitted to the CBR12A enclosure features a large step in the cone and uses a completely different basket and magnet assembly (as is shown by the images inside the enclosure). Also, the subwoofer in the enclosure is a single 4ohm voice coil model whereas the BlackAir 12 sold separately is dual 2ohm.
The power rating of the system also varies depending on where you look. On the label affixed to the underside of the enclosure and in the specification sheet it says 550WRMS. The specifications sheet also says power output from the amplifier at 14.4V is 300WRMS and that it is protected by a 35-amp fuse. Meanwhile, on the amplifier module itself it says ‘600 Watts’, while cast into the actual frame of the subwoofer is says ‘1600 watts’. So, which one is correct?
Here’s my take.
I think Vibe mean that the mechanical power handling of the subwoofer is 550WRMS, whereas the rated output of the amplifier is 300WRMS. Ohm’s Law states that a 35-amp fuse can flow 504WRMS into the amplifier at 14.4V, so assuming around 60% efficiency from the amplifier’s Class AB design that equates to a tad over 300WRMS of potential output power. Fair enough. Except the CBR12A I tested actually came fitted with a 25-amp fuse, and this limits power to around 215WRMS.
So, regardless of all those different claimed numbers, the true ‘output’ of this system actually is around 215WRMS - since that’s what the amplifier can produce through the bottleneck of a 25-amp fuse. In reality, what really matters is how much SPL the subwoofer can muster while still sounding controlled and fluent – but we’ll get to that in good time.
The key design feature of the CBR12A that impresses me so much is the variable tuning system it employs. The idea is genius, and I can’t believe that no one else has ever offered such a simple and elegant solution before. The CBR12A system comes supplied with two flared ports to allow the front wave of the bass energy to couple with that of the rear. That’s nothing new. What is new is the use of two different length port tubes, along with two foam plugs that can be used to block either or both of the ports. What you’re looking at here ladies and gentlemen are four distinct subwoofer tuning settings from the one enclosure.
With both plugs installed the system is sealed, offering the most linear system response but the lowest overall efficiency and therefore the lowest output in SPL. Remove both plugs and you now have a system tuned to deliver maximum bass at 50Hz. This is the boom setting for those who want maximum SPL.
Leaving just the bottom port open tunes the system lower down at 35Hz, offering a nicer overall tonal balance while still affording higher efficiency at 35Hz. Leaving the top port open, meanwhile, tunes down to the lowest setting of 30Hz. If you prefer the warmer sound of a ported system but still demand as much control as possible this is the setting to go for. The best news is that you can play around with the settings, which is exactly what I did after the installation.
Vibe has made the installation process of the CBR12A so easy that anyone could tackle it with just a basic set of tools. With the enclosure comes a quality pair of RCA leads, or you can connect the inputs to your car’s speaker level outputs (just parallel them to the rear speakers) via the supplied fly lead and plug. Vibe also kindly provide a five meter length of red 12-awg power cable with inline fuse holder and fuse, a meter of 12-awg black earth cable, and blue trigger wire. Everything you need comes with the system, while an optional remote level control module can be added if you need it. This allows you to vary both the low pass filter (variable from 40Hz to 200Hz) and the overall bass level from the front of the car, and is handy if you don’t have an aftermarket source with this provision.
My test car already had power, earth, trigger and signal cables at the rear so I adapted these across to the amplifier’s inputs instead of using the supplied cables. The amplifier module uses nice insert terminals for a secure connection, while the RCA inputs are joined with RCA outputs to daisy chain the signal onto further amplifiers. Input voltage range is between 250mV and 6V and there’s a small toggle switch to flick the output phase between zero and 180-degrees.
With the system all connected I sat back and made a couple of assessments before carrying on with the audition. First of all, placing the amplifier module at the rear of the enclosure will sandwich it against the back of the seat when rear loading the subwoofer, which isn’t ideal for cooling. Secondly, there’s no protection for that nice yellow subwoofer cone from flotsam in the boot. I also think there’s too much writing and other guff all over it and would prefer to see most of it removed. Having said that I think the CBR12A is a pretty handsome beast. There’s a nice little surprise too. If you peer into the top port there’s a spooky fluorescent smiley face staring at you that’s been painted onto the rear wall of the enclosure and is illuminated by a small LED.
The Vibe CBR12A was teamed with my main daily driver system. This consists of a Clarion multimedia source unit connected to a Clarion DPX2251 2-channel amplifier powering a pair of Focal Utopia Be Kit No.7 3-way components. The CBR12A replaced a brace of three 10-inch Response subwoofers powered by an 850WRMS Clarion DPX1851 amplifier.
Vibe warns in the owner’s manual that the CBR12A needs a few hours of work to run its suspension system in, after which the sound quality will improve dramatically. This turned out to be the case with the test sample, and my initial first impressions were of a slightly power-shy subwoofer that lacked a fulsome sound. Yet over the following few hours it began to run in (at one point I over clocked the volume and got some wayward smells in fact) and eventually began to reveal its truer – more accurate sounding – character. This is quite a warm and dry sounding subwoofer, which is clearly evident in the bass guitar tone it portrays. This gives it a more natural timbre compared to other subwoofers that sound more dynamic but less tonally accurate.
After carefully comparing the sealed and three ported tuned options I invariably settled on the lowest tuned ported arrangement. This gives the lift in efficiency but the capability of extending down nice and low as well. Over the few weeks I had the CBR12A installed it got to strut its stuff across the gamut of music styles. I listen to heavy rock and pounding bass lines from the likes of Rammstein, whereas the missus prefers top 40 tunes. My 10 year old daughter, meanwhile, decided I should also test the CBR12A with Lady Gaga and the RnB beats of someone named Jay Sean. While I cared little for her taste in pop the Vibe CRB12A did get the chance to show it could be flexible and suits any and all varieties of music styles. I did feel that there was a pretty clear limit on its output capabilities, and it is best suited to moderate volume levels as pushing it soon brings on the onset of clipping. If kept within its clean power band it sound very well balanced, and I also reckon a steeper low pass filter would be a worthwhile inclusion if you can manage this externally via the source unit.
If you can ignore the over inflated power claims you’ll find that the CBR12A can actually punch out a respectable SPL levels quite happily so long as you respect the circa 215WRMS real world power capabilities. Push it like it actually makes ‘1600-watts’ and you’ll end up with a smoked subwoofer in no time. All in all this is a beautifully crafted system that is as easy on the eyes as it is during installation, and the added convenience of the variable tuning means that it can be tuned to suit virtually any taste. I recommend the 30Hz tuning setting, as this offers the best balance between warmth and efficiency.
Vibe Audio is distributed in Australia by:
Phone: (02) 4647 0219
Fax: (02) 4733 8936