Kurlo 3

Audio & Video Lifestyle Issue 132 November 2003

‘Heavy and fragile’ were the stickers plastered over the most recent box to grace my lounge room. The box was largish and cube shaped. Yes - yet another subwoofer had arrived and was ready to be opened and tormented. This time the subwoofer was from the stable of respected Australian speaker designer Dr. Rod Crawford.

His company Legend Acoustics has been making speakers since 1995. Dr. Crawford had previously spent four years working for Linn in Scotland as senior design engineer and has had anumber of well-regarded designs under his belt from both companies. The Kurlo 3, like all his other speakers made under the Legend name, is a term for Kangaroo. I'm not a linguist but I understand that he need not fear of running out of different names for his speakers as there are far more Aboriginal words for Kangaroo than the Inuit have for snow!

The Kurlo 3 was part of a whole surround suite reviewed back in AVL128 by Sian O'Neale. The speakers are designed and built wholly within NSW/ACT and the Kurlo 3 comes in two standard real wood finishes of Jarrah and Black, although other custom finishes can be ordered at a premium of $200-300. The quality of the wood finish is, like that of many other Australian speakers, quite high. No one expects a $1,699 subwoofer to be finished like a work of art, but if you like the look of good Australian timbers then this sub is definitely not an eyesore and is ahead of much of its opposition at this price point.

The Kurlo 3 comes with a very stretchy cover for the driver that you can fit onto the front of the sub yourself. I at first doubted this approach but once I had put the `sock' on it looked totally professional and it has the practicality of being easily removed for cleaning or replacement. This is a great idea as several times before I have seen the waiting times for manufactured speaker grilles to replace broken ones.

I started to get the impression that this sub was not simply a ‘me too’ design. I have played with a very large number of subwoofers in recent years, and a lot of them are pretty predictable and similar in the way they have been designed and constructed.

The Kurlo 3 has a fairly compact enclosure for your $1,699 but boy at 32kg is it heavy. This sub is well built! Some printed material provided mentioned about the extensive bracing employed in the subwoofer's construction. Plenty of wool wadding has been added internally to dampen things as well. The result when one raps ones knuckles on the cabinet is-a very dull thud.

The Kurlo 3 comes with a full suite of line level-inputs and outputs as well as speaker-level in and outs. There is a phase control for keeping the woofer in phase with your main speakers so there is no cancellation, especially around the crossover frequencies, and there is a low pass filter to determine how high in frequency you would like the Kurlo 3 fo operate. In addition there is a there-position switch that either puts the sub in signal sensing mode (recommended for general use), always on, and off. About the only thing of note missing is a crossover bypass switch. To approximate that simply turn the low pass filter all the way to max to use the filter inside your surround receiver or pre-amp.

One of the first things you notice when you look at the front of the sub is the serious looking 12" (300mm) driver with the big rubber surround. Not all drivers are equal and Dr. Crawford states that the unit used is a heavily modified model from high grade Scandinavian manufacturer Peerless.

The second thing you notice is that there is no port. If you have read some of my earlier articles on subwoofers, or those from other writers, you will know that ported designs can produce a fair bit of output over a certain range of frequencies but they rarely sound as tight and clean and there is always the matter of noise issuing from the port when the sub is rumbling away in earnest.

Dr Crawford is a strong believer in the sonic qualities of the sealed enclosure and although there are some drawbacks he believes that they are outweighed by the better performance of sealed designs when it cornes to very deep bass and musicality. The 250 watts (continuous) amplifier used to drive this woofer has also been beefed up considerably. It is not a stock standard product and has had its current reservoir more than doubled in size to ensure a good supply of juice to the thirsty driver.

My first impressions were immediate. From the very first note it played, even before adjusting any of the controls - it was obviously very clean and tight. Very few subs start making an impression so early. After I had (with the help of the Video Essentials set-up DVD and a sound meter), adjusted the volume control of the sub so that it was balanced with the rest of the system, I settled down into some serious listening.

Lollipop Man from the dance album There Will Be No Armageddon by Union Jack was first with its tight and deep pulses of Iow frequency energy. Wow - this was as clean a presentation of this piece as I have ever heard from a subwoofer at any piece! There was no overhang after the transient - it stopped just as quickly as it started. There was no bloated bloom that some subs add that makes the piece sound richer than it really is. I turned up the wick and the sub did not change the character of its presentation until the volume level became what most would consider domestically unacceptable.

I was impressed. I was further impressed by what this subwoofer did on the title track to the same album where there is a deep synthesizer bass that every few seconds slides from around 50Hz to into the sub 30Hz region. Few subs can produce the last second or so convincingly as the note plunges into the more physical nether regions.

Trying a different piece I played the music from the main theme to the film. The top-flight recording, made by Telarc, has their typical rich and deep bass drum. Its fullness and weight was convincingly reproduced but without the loose overblown waffle which often accompanies smaller ported subs.

I then movd to a very difficult test -Telarc's Great Fantasy And Adventure Album. The last track Jurassic Lunch features the approaching subsonic thumps of a T Rex. Its first footfall in the distance, 12 seconds into the track, is ultra deep with all the bass content under about 25Hz. A friend of mine who had the same CD did not even know it existed on the recording. Normally that first footfall (before thé more obvious higher frequency ones) is not even attempted by most subs in its price bracket. However the Kurlo 3 reproduced it with the clean thump in the chest that reminds me why I like playing with subs!

I then played some test tones and that showed thé sub did descend to around 22Hz and cleanly, with ability to play at volume starting from around 28Hz. This is a true sub.

I listened to a selection of pop music with thé Kurlo 3 including Blondie's Best Of album, Dare To Be Different from Tommy Emmanuel and music from the soundtrack to the film Studio 54. The Kurlo 3 has great rhythm and pace, and its virtues of cleanliness and tightness of reproduction served themselves very well here and led me to the conclusion, after I had finished off with some Wagner, that this is a fantastic music subwoofer.

All its virtues described above carried on into movie watching. It sounded great on the vast majority of movies. I enjoyed its performance on the execution scene in Monsters Ball and throughout Monsters Inc. and Gladiator. It did however have a tendency to bottom out on the most demanding of passages such as the crash landing on Pitch Black, or the notoriously challenging The Haunting when played near reference level in my large lounge room. Up to its own limits I could rot fault the Kurlo in the quality of its reproduction. The sub at no time rattled nor in any way produced anything apart from good clean and deep bass until it was pushed beyond its limits.

Some subs play quite loudly and sound impressive with movies despite modest construction and componentry but this is often because they are not even attempting the fundamental of a passage but merely the upper harmonics. Many don't even pretend to go deep. Amongst those that try in my expérience, many make so much in the way of unwanted noise (such as chufûng or rattles) that the fundamental frequency they are trying to reproduce is effectively obscured. In these cases the overall sourd is far from clean or pleasant.

The Kurlo 3 is a great music subwoofer and a great movie sub for those with less than enormous rooms. If you like loud action movies and have a big room you can always buy two. This is one of the cleanest, tightest and most musical subs 1 have heard. It goes very deep for its size and price and is well built. The marketplace is well served by 'me too' loud trashy sounding,subs that don’t play very deep or sound very nice. The Kurlo 3 is most definitely not in this camp.

AVL Ancillary Equipment: Rotel RCD-965BX Discrete CD player, Celestion A Series loudspeakers, KEF Q2ds dipole surround loudspeakers, Toshiba 46WH08 rear projection Widescreen Television, Nordost Flatline loudspeaker cables.

Gavin Womersley