Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviewers' ChoiceI recently reviewed Paradigm’s Premier 100B minimonitor loudspeaker, and came away very impressed by it for its price of $798/pair USD -- though I thought the little speaker’s 5.5” midrange-woofer could have used some help with the lower octaves. What should happen next, before I’d even packed up the Premier 100Bs to send them back, but Doug Schneider asking me to review Paradigm’s Defiance V12 subwoofer ($649) -- a happy coincidence.

Description

Of the subwoofers offered on Paradigm’s website, their Defiance models seem designed to augment and mate with the models in Paradigm’s Monitor and Premier families of speakers. Paradigm’s costlier lines, Prestige and Persona, each includes commensurately priced subwoofer models.

Paradigm

The Defiance subs comprise two subseries, the X and the lower-priced V models, each with a built-in class-D amplifier (all wattages RMS), the model number denoting the driver’s diameter, in inches: the X15 (900W, $1499), the X12 (650W, $1299), the X10 (300W, $999); and the V8 (75W, $399), the V10 (120W, $549), and the subject of this review, the V12 (120W, $649). Because only the drivers of the X models sport Paradigm’s Active Ridge Technology (ART) surrounds, as in the Premier speakers, I hazard a guess that Paradigm has aimed the X subs more at Premier owners, the Vs at owners of Monitor models. Paradigm claims that the ART surround lets its cone achieve greater excursion, for a 3dB gain in output and a 50% reduction in distortion.

The Defiance V12 measures 18”H x 16.5”W x 17.9”D, weighs 42 pounds, and is available only in Satin Black (actually a dark, textured gray). This finish is perfect for home theaters, where a highly reflective high-gloss finish is a no-no, but the V12 also looked quite nice and at home in my two-channel system. Paradigm specifies a low-frequency extension of 18Hz and a frequency response of 23-200Hz, ±3dB. A port is neatly concealed on the sub’s underside.

As on most powered subs, the V12’s inputs and controls are on its rear panel. The Setting Control toggles between Local and App. Being a guy who embraces new technology and its convenience and occasional frustration, I chose App. Paradigm’s sub-control app is available for free in the iTunes App Store (iOS), and at Google Play (Android). Below the Setting Control is the Level dial, active only when the Setting toggle is flipped to Local. Under this is a Micro-USB port for a calibration microphone, for use with Anthem Room Correction (ARC), and a Power Mode switch. With this last set to Auto, the subwoofer turns itself on when it senses a signal; set to On, the sub is powered up at all times. There are also line-level (RCA) and speaker-level (banana) input jacks for the left and right channels. At bottom left are an AC power inlet and a USB Type-A connection for an optional Bluetooth transceiver, to avoid making any wired analog connections to the V12.

Paradigm

It’s obvious that Paradigm expects most buyers to use the app to control the V12 -- phase and low-pass filter frequencies are adjustable only via the app. Also noteworthy is the absence of analog outputs. Though these may not be useful in a home-theater system, this 2.1-channel enthusiast prefers to send the preamp output straight to the sub, then out of the sub and on to the power amp. Otherwise, I need a preamp with dual outputs, or have to use splitter interconnects. But Paradigm isn’t cheaping out here; even their top subwoofer, the Persona Sub ($6500), lacks analog outputs.

Setup

The Defiance V12 was easy to unpack -- I had no trouble pulling its 42 pounds from its box on my own. Included are an instruction manual, a detachable power cord, and, in its own box, a grille. I then had to decide where to place the V12, and how best to compare it with my reference subwoofer, an SVS SB-4000 ($1499.99).

My listening space is a dedicated, sound-isolated, windowless room measuring 15’L x 12’W x 8’H. It’s carpeted wall to wall over concrete slab, and treated with broadband absorption at the first sidewall reflection points, and on the front wall between the speakers. Bass traps stand in the front corners, and there is some diffusion along the back wall, just behind my high-backed recliner. My SVS SB-4000 sub sits to the right of the left speaker, along the long wall, precisely 5’ from the left sidewall. I use a miniDSP DDRC-22D room-correction processor running Dirac Live ($725 including UMIK-1 microphone) to correct the SB-4000’s bass response and seamlessly blend it with the output of my two Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers. The DDRC-22D operates only in the digital domain, so when I’m playing music from an analog source (which is rare), I use a different preset on my SVS sub, in which, to the best of my ability, I’ve manually corrected my room’s low-frequency peaks and nulls using a combination of measurements and the SB-4000’s built-in parametric equalizer, controlled via SVS’s app.

A subwoofer’s bass response can change significantly depending on the sub’s position in the room. The fairest comparison between the V12 and the SB-4000 would be to place them exactly in the same position, match their levels at, say, 30Hz, use the same low-pass filter setting, and swap back and forth while listening. Of course, the practical limitations of attempting such a comparison should be obvious: first, my poor back, and second, the time it would take to make the swap would be longer than I trust my aural memory. So I decided on the second-best option: I placed the V12 to the left of my right speaker, exactly 5’ from the sidewall, mirroring my SB-4000’s position. My listening room has very good left/right symmetry, so I felt this was the best option for a fair comparison.

Paradigm

My SB-4000 is connected to my McIntosh Laboratory C47 preamplifier via balanced (XLR) interconnects, and the SVS sub’s balanced outputs feed my McIntosh MC302 power amp. Thankfully, I didn’t need to touch these connections, because my C47 has a second set of switchable outputs (Output 2), to which I connected the V12’s left/right inputs with single-ended (RCA) interconnects. This made switching between the subs quite easy: to listen to the SVS, turn it on and switch off Output 2 on the C47; to listen to the V12, vice versa.

My listening plan had three steps. The first two steps involved listening to the Defiance V12 with the Paradigm Premier 100Bs, vs. my SVS SB-4000 with its built-in parametric equalization engaged, with (step 1) and without (step 2) ARC applied to the V12. The third step was to mate the V12 to my B&W 705 S2s, perform a full Dirac Live calibration, and compare its sound to my reference setup of 705 S2s with SB-4000. To establish a volume setting for the V12, I measured its SPL at my listening position using a -20dBFS, 30.5Hz warble tone, and matched the V12’s volume (-11dB) to my SB-4000’s volume (-24dB), the latter already configured to blend with the 100Bs. I used an 80Hz low-pass filter (LPF) on both subs.

I then needed to apply ARC to the V12. This can be done with either a calibrated USB mike specified by Anthem (not included with the V12), or with the mike in your smartphone. Of course, the results are likely to be more accurate with the calibrated USB mike, but I had to make do with my Samsung S9 phone. I’d already installed Paradigm’s Subwoofer Control app on my phone. If you choose to perform ARC using this app, the phone will take you to the Google Play store to download the ARC app.

Once the ARC app is installed, the calibration process is quick and easy. First, you’re prompted to calibrate the mike in your phone. This you do by placing the phone in a specific orientation on the floor, just below the logo on the front of the sub. The app then directs the sub to generate test tones. Then you’re prompted to place the phone at five different positions around the main listening position with the mike facing away from the seat; the app measures the sub’s reproduction of the test tones at each position. That’s it. The user can then toggle the ARC filter on and off. For the ARC calibration, I set the volume to -11dB and the LPF to 80Hz.

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I won’t go into all the details of full calibration using Dirac Live, but it involved using my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone with the Dirac Live calibration software on my Windows 10 laptop, and taking nine measurements around the listening position. To give Dirac Live more headroom to work with, and to increase the likelihood that the applied filters would attenuate instead of boost audio signals at specific frequencies (always better), the V12’s volume was upped to -8dB, and the LPF was set to its maximum setting of 120Hz for the calibration. For comparison, my SB-4000’s settings for Dirac Live are a volume level of -20dB and an LPF of 150Hz, with all parametric equalization switched off. I used the same two Dirac Live target response filters I use under normal circumstances in my reference system. My target curve(s) can be characterized as following the Harman target response: +4dB from 16 to 50Hz, then a ski slope down to +1dB at 200Hz, then 0dB at 1kHz, then a gentle slope down to -2dB at 16kHz. The second curve, which I don’t use unless I’m listening to hip-hop, is identical to the first, but with a boost of 6dB instead of 4dB at from 16 to 50Hz relative to 1kHz. Below, I refer to these curves as the +6dB DL target and the +4dB DL target.

Paradigm Premier 100Bs with Defiance V12 (with and without ARC) vs. SVS SB-4000 (with built-in EQ)

I first listened to “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” from Drake’s Nothing Was the Same (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Cash Money), with the 100B-V12 combo, toggling back and forth between ARC enabled and disabled. No doubt about it, with ARC on the bass response seemed smoother, with a bit more definition and perhaps slightly more extension. My in-room measurements confirmed this. Using my calibrated UMIK-1 mike, I saw that the V12 was +2.2dB at 20Hz relative to 1kHz, and -6dB or so at 16Hz, with or without ARC; however, ARC definitely smoothed out some peaks, including a nasty one at 50Hz. Overall, with ARC engaged, the V12 generated full, articulate, well-defined, room-filling bass, with excellent slam and low-end extension. I was impressed with what I’d achieved using only a smartphone and two free apps.

Comparing what I heard/felt when listening to “Hold On, We’re Going Home” with the V12 with ARC vs. my SB-4000 with built-in EQ, it was difficult to declare a winner -- remarkable, given that the SVS costs more than twice as much as the Paradigm. The V12’s reproduction of this track’s sustained low-frequency pulses may have been more satisfying -- fuller, with slightly more guttural presence -- than with the SVS. This effect might have been a result of the V12’s ported cabinet vs. the sealed design of the SB-4000.

Paradigm

I next cued up some well-recorded, hard-hitting rock: “Like a Stone,” from Audioslave’s Audioslave (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony Legacy). With this recording I preferred the SB-4000, which reproduced the kick drum with a bit more control and slam -- the bass felt tighter. The V12 wasn’t far behind, but with the SVS the pressure waves I felt in my chest were slightly more intense, and felt a little “faster.” Again, was this the result of a ported vs. a sealed cabinet?

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s with Paradigm Defiance V12 vs. SVS SB-4000 (both subs with Dirac Live)

Although the above comparison is useful, variations in the bass response at the listening seat due to different, if symmetrical, subwoofer positions may very well have had a greater effect on my attempts to equalize the two responses using ARC (for the Paradigm Defiance V12) and manual parametric EQ filters (for the SVS SB-4000). A full Dirac Live calibration, using a calibrated UMIK-1 mike to take readings at nine different positions for each sub, should provide a fairer comparison. I should underscore here one performance difference between the two subs. I mentioned earlier that my Dirac Live target curves include a boost of 6 or 4dB (relative to 1kHz) from 16 to 50Hz; however, only the SVS SB-4000, which can play flat to 16Hz and below, can actually produce these boosts. The Paradigm V12 can play flat to 20Hz, but its output then rolls off, and by 16Hz is a few dB down. To accommodate this, Dirac Live altered my target curve slightly when calibrating itself for the V12.

Once I’d taken all mike measurements for the B&W-Paradigm combo, I loaded the new filters into my miniDSP DDRC-22D, which permits simple changes via remote control. I had two filters for the V12, following the +6dB DL and +4dB DL target curves mentioned in the Setup section, and the existing filters for the SB-4000, following the same two target curves. I also made sure to match the levels, relative to 1kHz, of the V12 and SB-4000 filters, which differed by only 0.5dB -- conveniently, precisely one detent on the volume control of my McIntosh C47 preamp. All of this meant that switching between the subs involved little more than a series of button presses, all accomplished within ten seconds or so.

The first track I played, “Thunderstruck,” from AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge (16/44.1 FLAC, Atco), has no artificial bass, so I expected to hear no differences in low-end extension between the two subs, and I heard none. The SB-4000 came out on top by a slim margin, courtesy a kick drum conveyed with more impact -- the thumping in my chest felt a bit tighter and more pronounced -- but it’s important to emphasize that the difference was relatively small. Had I not been making direct comparisons, I’m sure I’d have found the Paradigm-B&W-Dirac Live experience completely satisfying. The V12 was more than up to the task of delivering powerful, taut bass that filled my room.

Paradigm

Next up was “All or Nothing at All,” from Diana Krall’s Love Scenes (16/44.1 FLAC, GRP). I focused on the reproduction of Christian McBride’s double bass -- both subs did a great job, and with either one I could feel each plucked note throughout my body, all well defined and distinct in pitch from the other notes. Again, I give the edge to the SB-4000, which sounded a bit more nimble than the V12; through the latter, plucked bass notes seemed to overhang just a bit longer than through the SB-4000. The SB-4000 exerted just a little more control over the start and stop of each bass note.

“Hotel California,” from the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over (16/44.1 FLAC, Geffen), is a great track for evaluating bass reproduction, and neither sub disappointed. I felt this track’s opening bass notes in my chest, butt, and teeth, as the Defiance V12 filled my room with tight, deep, well-defined bass that perfectly blended with the rest of the audioband. The experience was exhilarating. Once again, the SB-4000 squeezed out a bit more slam and chest pressure than the V12, as well as a bit more low-frequency extension. That extra extension, however, seemed to come at a small price: the pace and rhythm of the bass were a bit slower overall than with the V12. The extra few dB in the lowest extremes of the audioband provided by the SB-4000 seemed to give the bass a character of extra “pulsing” that, in turn, gave me the impression of slower pace.

I finished up by playing a selection of hip-hop curated by my lovely wife, who loves the genre. We ended with “She Will,” featuring Drake, from Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV (16/44.1 FLAC, Cash Money). I made sure to switch to the +6dB DL target filters for this track, which has a strong foundation of pulsing, ultra-low bass complemented by rhythmic thumping in the lower midbass. Both the V12 and the SB-4000 delivered the goods. We both felt that liver-massaging, ultra-low bass -- my entire listening chair pulsed with the music. Through both subs the bass thumps had weight that assailed my chest with authoritative sound pressure -- like being punched through a pillow, again and again. The differences between the subs were again small, but turned out to be most obvious with this track. The SB-4000 managed to dig down deeper in reproducing ultra-low bass, and the slam of the thumping bass notes had just a bit more pressure with the SVS. Still, these differences were obvious only in these direct comparisons. The Defiance V12 really did perform admirably, especially considering its price. I think just about any bass head who experienced what I did in my listening room would walk away satisfied and impressed -- and the unsatisfied would be glad to know that I never got close to the maximum setting of the V12’s volume control.

Conclusion

Paradigm’s Defiance V12 subwoofer retails for $649, and delivers a lot for that modest sum. In my room, the V12 provided a very solid bass foundation for the music, alternately augmenting the outputs of pairs of Paradigm Premier 100B and Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers. It filled my room with tight, ample, powerful bass, with headroom to spare. The V12 also offers several features for the tech-savvy consumer, such as full control via its app, effective room correction achievable with only the use of a smartphone or an optional calibrated microphone, and, for those who don’t want wires cluttering their room, an optional Bluetooth transceiver. This 2.1-channel enthusiast would have appreciated balanced connections and, more important, line-level outputs, but those are minor complaints. All told, the Defiance V12 is a great value that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone -- even those willing to spend much more.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstage.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2, Paradigm Premier 100B
  • Subwoofer -- SVS SB-4000
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Room-correction EQ -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital Sources -- Bluesound Node streamer, Rotel RCD-991 CD player
  • Analog source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- 12-gauge oxygen-free copper (generic) terminated with locking banana plugs
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

Paradigm Defiance V12 Subwoofer
Price: $649 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Canada
Phone: (905) 696-2868, (905) 564-1994

Website: www.paradigm.com