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Published June 15, 2003


Paradigm PDR-12 Subwoofer

It seems that the $419-USD Paradigm PDR-12 has been on the subwoofer scene for almost as long as I can remember. I first heard the PDR-12 over five years ago, which is an eternity in the speaker business. The fact that it’s still on the market and is selling well is a testament to the strength of its original design.

What really struck me as interesting, even before I unboxed the PDR-12 and started listening to it, was the fact that I’ve never heard anybody speak poorly of it in all that time. Yeah, people will say this subwoofer plays louder, or that one goes deeper, but there is always a note of acknowledgement that the Paradigm is still the reference. It’s pretty impressive stuff that the old-timer of the group is still considered by the most critical consumers of all not only to be still in the game, but also to be a key player.


The PDR-12 is the very definition of the 12" subwoofer. It features a single 12" long-throw woofer in a rear-ported cabinet that’s a little over 16"H x 14"W x 19"D. The PDR-12 weighs in at a respectable, but not exactly hefty, 41 pounds. On the back you’ll find an internal amplifier that produces 110W of continuous power and 330W of peak power. The non-detachable line cord seems a bit light, but never gets the slightest bit warm to the touch, so I must therefore assume it’s not a limiting factor. The PDR-12 also features auto on/off -- with an indicator on the bottom of the grille to let you know it really is on -- variable crossover frequency, and level control.

Probably one hint at its age is the lack of a phase control, which is something that has become a standard feature on most subwoofers in recent years. The lack of this feature can make subwoofer integration more difficult; however, I’ve rarely found a great difference between various phase settings in my own system. There are provisions for left and right line-level inputs, as well as spring-clips for speaker-level connections. The cabinet is wrapped in the same attractive cherry laminate as the Paradigm Esprit v.3 speakers I reviewed a few months ago. The non-removable black grille covering the entire front of the sub completes the simple and pleasing aesthetic picture.


During the course of this review I used the PDR-12 in two rooms with no fewer than five different pairs of main speakers. It first held court in my largest room after my own do-it-yourself sub fell victim to a three-month stay in a storage facility (the climate caused minor damage to the cabinet and warped a circuit board that eventually failed). Providing the underpinnings for a relatively high-end system in a large room, the PDR-12 faired well. With the sub located a few feet from the right front corner of the room, it produced enough output to keep up with all but the most insane requests.

I used the PDR-12 in a more realistic environment, too, with a 100Wpc Onkyo receiver driving a variety of moderately efficient speakers in an average-sized room. In these surroundings, the Paradigm was capable of providing prodigious amounts of bass with virtually everything I threw at it. I installed the Paradigm in what’s become my standard location along the right wall about four feet from the front corner of the room. This has proven to provide smooth bass response with every sub I’ve had in the house, and avoids some boominess at the primary listening position that I’ve experienced with subwoofers positioned closer to the corner. As with any subwoofer, placement is paramount to providing a seamless blend with the main speakers while still maintaining good definition, and the PDR-12 is no different in that respect. In fact, the PDR-12 seems a bit more susceptible to boominess associated with corner placement than some other subs I’ve had in-house recently. While I tried it in the corner location, it very quickly retreated back to its previous resting spot along the side wall. I also noted that it sounded much better if I turned it so the ports weren’t pointing directly at the wall.

In all the shuffling of speakers I’ve done in and out of my system lately, I found the Paradigm PDR-12 incredibly easy to blend with just about any main speaker. It was, of course, a natural fit with the Paradigm Esprit v.3s, requiring little more than adjusting the level and using the internal crossover in my receiver. However, the Mirage OMNI 50s took a little more fiddling with, though this had much more to do with some placement sensitivity of the Mirages than with the PDR-12.


One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Joan Jett’s Fit to be Tied: Great Hits by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts [Mercury/Blackheart 314 536 440-2], preferably played at levels that might draw the attention of the local gendarme. It just so happens this CD has plenty of butt-kicking bass and is a nice workout for a good subwoofer. In this case, I had a pair of Mirage OMNI 50s in the system. On "I Love Rock & Roll," the PDR-12 pounds out every note with satisfying authority while still maintaining the tight backbeat that provides the musical foundation for this track. The kick drum that dominates the opening of "Little Liar" literally shook the entire room with its intensity, and blended perfectly with the Mirages.

The Paradigm also fills in the bottom nicely on "Find Him" from Cassandra Wilson’s New Moon Daughter [Blue Note 32861], blending well with the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170s in this case. Bass was again tight and nicely controlled. This was not so much the case on "Love is Blindness" and "Death Letter," where the bass was somewhat warmer and looser than I’m used to. However, I noticed none of this on any other tracks on this CD and, to be fair, these two tracks have been problematic for a number of more expensive subs I’ve heard them played on.

The PDR-12 did exceptionally well on large-scale organ works such as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (E. Power Biggs [Sony 46551]), giving the full impact of the organ as the opening notes descend into the lowest octaves. The low rumble shook the floor convincingly and actually set off a slight rattle in a nearby window. The PDR-12 lacks a bit in definition in direct comparison to the larger and more expensive subs I have on hand, but it does a very good job at roughly half the price of the other subs.


Having also used the PDR-12 in two home-theater systems, it seems only appropriate that I report on how it did with movie soundtracks. In a word: terrific. During the opening sequence of Ice Age, there’s a low rumble as the glacier starts to break apart that I was almost able to sense, as well as feel, with the Paradigm sub in the system. When you want rumble, the PDR-12 accommodates with plenty of floor-shaking bass.

Lately my acid test for subwoofers has been U-571, so I felt compelled to run the same test with the PDR-12. It’s during the depth-charge scenes in chapters 15 through 18 where you separate the men from the boys, and the Paradigm exceeded my expectations throughout this sequence. When pushed to volume levels that I could only tolerate for a minute or two at a time, the PDR-12 did strain, but did so gracefully without clattering loudly as the driver approached its limits. More importantly, it didn’t fold under the strain, indicating to me that this sub can take a lot of abuse, including whatever garbage your kids might throw at it. At realistic volume levels, the Paradigm was completely up to the task on the same chapters, providing enough gut-wrenching impact to make me as uncomfortable as the actors on the screen, which is the whole point.


I had my own subwoofer, a large sealed design with a 200W amplifier, and a Hsu Research VTF-3 (the subject of a future review) on hand for comparison. While both are twice the expense and size of the Paradigm, there are still valid comparisons to be made. First, there is size, and it’s pertinent to note that the PDR-12 performs its task in roughly half the volume of space of either my sub or the VTF-3. This brings me to my second point, and that is spouse acceptance factor (SAF). While my sub has an attractive, custom oak finish, the VTF-3 settles with a black crinkle paint finish that’s simply not very appealing. The PDR-12 is wrapped in a very attractive cherry-colored vinyl laminate -- that, combined with its much more décor-friendly size, makes it the clear winner on the SAF front.

Performance, of course, is a different matter, and the PDR-12 can’t quite match the definition and sheer output capabilities of the larger subs. The VTF-3 was the winner with music, producing clean, tight bass on every track, but when the time came for a lot of rumble following an explosion on a movie soundtrack, the PDR-12 was right in there with the Hsu sub. As a matter of fact, in some cases, the bass from the Paradigm seemed a bit more believable than the output of the VTF-3, proving that when it comes time for a fight, you can never count the little guy out. The PDR-12 actually plays about 10Hz lower before it starts to roll off than my own home-brew subwoofer, which was designed primarily for music. The PDR-12 is also much more graceful as it approaches its limits, distorting, but never bottoming loudly, as mine has on rare occasion.


Providing a little care is taken in placement and setup, as should always be the case, the Paradigm PDR-12 presents an excellent value in the subwoofer department. Yes, there are others that will outperform the PDR-12 in one area or another, but the Paradigm is a nicely balanced sub that performs admirably with whatever you might choose to throw at it. While it’s not the smallest subwoofer I’ve had in the house, it’s still compact enough that it shouldn’t present any inordinate difficulties in placement. Overall, the Paradigm PDR-12 is a strong contender and should be on the "must hear" list of anybody who is searching for a subwoofer in this price range.

Price of equipment reviewed

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