If you’re an audio or home-theater enthusiast, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Paradigm, based in Ontario, Canada -- one of the largest speaker manufacturers in the world. With the introduction of the Series 7 Monitors, an extensive line of bookshelf, tower, center-channel, and surround models, it’s only natural that Paradigm would also include a new line of subwoofers, and they have -- the Series 7 Monitor Sub 8, Sub 10, and Sub 12, the model number in each case indicating the diameter, in inches, of the sub’s single driver. Although I reviewed the Monitor Sub 12 last February, in my review of the Series 7 Monitor 11-based surround-sound system, I wanted to more fully explore the Sub 12. I asked Paradigm for a second, additional review sample, their Perfect Bass Kit (PBK), and their PT-2 Wireless Transmitter. They enthusiastically obliged.
The Series 7 Monitor Sub 12 ($999 USD) is a 12" polypropylene driver in an MDF cabinet measuring 15"H x 13"W x 14.5"D. Unusually for a mid-priced sub, the Sub 12 is an acoustic-suspension design: its enclosure is sealed, with no ports to speak of. A port increases the output, or sound-pressure level, that a loudspeaker with a cabinet of a given size can produce. If the cabinet is a sealed box, it needs a more powerful amplifier and a more robust driver to produce the same SPLs as an otherwise identical ported speaker. The Sub 12 delivers on both the power and the driver fronts: its class-D amp has a peak rating of 900W (300W RMS), and its 12" driver has a cone of rigid, carbon-loaded polypropylene with a Non Limiting Corrugated (NLC) Santoprene surround. This surround, which appears as the driver’s outer rim, is ribbed, which allows the driver to move a full 1.5" at full power. High power plus high excursion equals big sound.
As with today’s better-designed subwoofers, the Sub 12 uses DSP processing to ensure that its frequency response is flat, with low distortion. According to Paradigm, this is done by monitoring the input current and voltage and fine-tuning the output to precisely match the input signal. The result is a flatter response than if the amplifier monitored only the output. The frequency-response curve of the Sub 12 taken in my room looks more like a plateau than a mountain, the latter of which is typical of subwoofers that lack DSP processing.
Although the Monitor Sub 12 has the same Black Ash finish that I noted, in my February review, as lacking pizzazz, I’m willing to cut the Sub 12 some slack -- most subs at or near this price have the same finish. The matte look definitely helps minimize screen reflections in a darkened room; when I watched movies with the lights off, the Sub 12s more or less disappeared.
PT-2 Wireless Transmitter
Like all of Paradigm’s latest subwoofers, the Series 7 Monitor Sub 12 has built-in wireless capability. To make this work, however, you need the PT-2 Wireless Transmitter ($149), which connects to the subwoofer output of your processor or receiver (L/R line- or speaker-level inputs are provided), and transmits the signal to up to four Paradigm subs. Since the wireless transmission protocol is proprietary to Paradigm, it won’t connect with other manufacturers’ wireless subs. The PT-2 operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band from as far away as 50’, and has just two controls: Latency (adjustable) and Sync. The Latency switch can be used if you experience dropouts; the Sync button is used to establish communication between the subwoofers and the PT-2.
Using the PT-2 was dead simple. Once it’s installed, unplug all your subwoofers and hit Sync. When the PT-2’s blue LED starts flashing, plug in the subs; when the PT-2 finds them, the LED will glow a steady blue. With the two Sub 12s each placed about 20’ away, the PT-2 worked flawlessly in my room.
PBK, the Perfect Bass Kit
Another great addition to Paradigm’s subwoofer line is the Perfect Bass Kit, or PBK ($99). Much like the Anthem Room Correction (ARC) system used in Paradigm’s Anthem receivers, the PBK is a room-correction system, but for only the bass frequencies. Included are a calibrated microphone and stand, a CD containing the software, and two long USB cables: one runs from your computer to the USB port on the Series 7 Monitor Sub 12, the second from the computer to the mike.
The PBK optimizes the in-room frequency response of the subwoofer(s) to match an ideal room curve. The mike is used to measure the subs’ response, and the software then calculates a correction curve that matches, as closely as possible, the actual to the ideal response. When the measurements and calculations have been completed, the correction curve is uploaded to each sub. The result should be more accurate in-room bass response than if you’d set up the subs by ear alone.
As with the PT-2, setup was dead easy. After connecting the USB cables and installing the software on my computer, I set up the mike at my listening seat. I ran the test tones from the minimum of five positions (the maximum is ten), the software prompting me each time to change the mike’s position. The whole procedure took about five minutes per subwoofer.
I’ve been using two subwoofers for a while now, primarily to even out my room’s bass response, which fluctuates widely from seat to seat. The bonus of using dual subs is that two can play louder and more effortlessly than one. I placed the two Series 7 Monitor Sub 12s where my own Definitive Technology SuperCube II subs normally go: one in the room’s front right corner, the other along the front left wall, both about 14’ from my listening seat.
After calibration and setup, it was finally time to sit down to hear -- and feel -- what two Sub 12s could do in my room. First up was an older but bass-heavy action comedy on Blu-ray: Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. This film contains numerous explosions, and none better than at the beginning, when Cody (Danny McBride), the pyrotechnics director, blows up a jungle. The explosion is vast and wide, and one of my tests is whether or not the walls shake and the light fixtures rattle. The two Sub 12s passed the shake’n’rattle test with flying colors. With the two subs and the PBK, the bass was deep, tight, and well controlled. I tried the same scene without PBK calibration, and while the walls still shook, the sound was much more loose and boomy, and so loud and resonant that it gave me a headache. Those of you who like headaches can give the PBK a pass; for the rest of us, it’s a must.
For bass transients, a mark of a good sub is whether or not gunshots sound abrupt and distinct, or if they wallow and meld into each other. The Sub 12s passed this test, too. The Blu-ray of Underworld contains some great gunfight scenes between Vampires and Lycans. Each gunshot was distinct and tight through the Paradigms, which upped the realism quotient a few notches. This isn’t the case with lesser subs, especially small ported designs, which tend to moosh together the gunshot thuds.
For hitting the lowest notes, I like to use a scene in the DVD edition of Superman Returns, in which Lex Luthor releases an electromagnetic pulse by immersing in water a crystal from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. With the best, most expensive subwoofers, I feel the pulse in my body more than I hear it. The pulse was strong through the Sub 12s, but they couldn’t go quite as deep or as impactfully as those pricier subs.
I compared Paradigm’s Series 7 Monitor Sub 12s with my Definitive Technology SuperCube IIs. Each DefTech ($899, discontinued) has a single 8" woofer and two 8" passive radiators. Its enclosure is smaller -- roughly, a 12" cube. The SuperCube II is a bit dated, lacking a number of the Sub 12’s features: no room correction, no wireless operation, no DSP.
While I found the two models to be very close in almost every performance parameter, the Paradigm Sub 12 was slightly better in most respects, such as deep-bass output and transient response. When I pushed the subs to the max, the Paradigm overloaded gracefully, while the DefTech got noisy from distortion. However, I preferred the SuperCube II when I listened to music. I think this is due to subjective speed of that 8" woofer, which offers up musicality in spades. This was especially evident with double bass, as on Ray Brown, Christian McBride, and John Clayton’s SuperBass 2 (SACD/CD, Telarc 83483-25). In this multichannel recording, each of the three virtuoso bassists plays in one of the three front channels. The SuperCube II blended better with the main speakers, the small 8" driver of the DefTech subs keeping up with the nimbleness of the basses better than the 12" drivers of the Monitor Sub 12s.
On its own, without the Perfect Bass Kit or the PT-2 Wireless Transmitter, Paradigm’s Series 7 Monitor Sub 12 was a reasonably good subwoofer that performed as well as other subs in its price range; I have no reason to dissuade you from buying one. But two Sub 12s with PBK and PT-2 made an exceptional combo. The depth of bass, the transient performance, and all the features such as wireless transmission and room correction put it in a higher class, and that makes it one of the best options at the price available today.
. . . Vince Hanada
- Receiver -- Anthem MRX 500
- Speakers -- Paradigm Series 7 Monitor 11-based home theater, Definitive Technology SuperCube II subwoofers (2)
- Source -- Oppo BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player
- Cables -- Sonic Horizons Hurricane speaker cables and interconnects, Analysis Plus Blue Oval in-wall speaker cables, Analysis Plus Super Sub interconnects
- Display device -- Sanyo PLV-Z5 projector with Grandview LFM-92 tab-tensioned motorized screen
Paradigm Series 7 Monitor Sub 12 Subwoofer
Price: $999 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726