For starters, rather than the standard separate volume and frequency controls found on most powered subs, the $450 ASW500 has a volume control only. You'll need to rely on your receiver's crossover control to properly blend the sound between the sub and your main speakers.
We were also disappointed to find spring-clip speaker-wire connectors. If you need to run the audio from your amp into the sub, then to your speakers (if, for instance, your amp doesn't have a separate subwoofer output), you'll want to choose a sub that has more secure connections. Finally, the ASW500 lacks an autosensing power supply, which means that you have to remember to turn off the sub manually or you'll waste electricity. On the other hand, we did like the built-in cone-shaped feet that elevate the ASW500 about 1 inch off of the ground. The air space helps disperse the sound from the downward-firing 10-inch driver.
Soundwise, the ASW500 didn't live up to what we expect from B&W. While the ASW500 did a very good job of providing tangible rumble for action sequences such as the pod race in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, it sounded a bit uncontrolled. As a result, the sub tended to somewhat muffle the midrange and dialogue emanating from the B&W 300 Series satellite speakers with which we tested it.
For comparison's sake, we plugged a Paradigm PDR-10 into our system instead. We listened to the opening few minutes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While both subs did a great job of shaking the room, especially during the liquid-metal THX trailer preceding the movie, the bass from the ASW500 had a more ponderous feel. The abandoned swing sets creaking in the wind were heard more clearly with the PDR-10.
Listening to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," we noticed that the ASW500 couldn't quite follow the melodic bass line. It tended to blur one note into the next. However, the electric bass on Fleetwood Mac's Rumours DVD-Audio disc sounded much tighter.
The ASW500 isn't a bad subwoofer, but there are better options available. Paradigm's lists for $350, $100 less than this B&W model. And for $499, you can pick up Infinity's , which earned our Editors' Choice award.