In two days of walking the CEDIA Expo exhibit halls,
Ive noticed two main product trends that audio/video enthusiasts will be interested
in: 1) 3D video, which is around the corner but still a long ways off in terms of a single
standardized format; and 2) super-subwoofers, a category not so far up in the air because
theres a clearly defined target: deep, loud, distortion-free, ultra-low bass.
Because of the uncertainty still surrounding 3D video, this report focuses on what I call
the War of the Woofers.
Plenty of companies make subwoofers of all shapes and sizes
at various prices, but three of them get the bulk of the press coverage and are the brands
that audiophiles, in particular, tend to home in on: JL Audio, Paradigm, and Revel. These
companies have top-class research and manufacturing facilities, which are what are needed
to create a state-of-the-art subwoofer equally suitable for music and movies.
Paradigm and Revel are showing at this years CEDIA
Expo; JL Audio is not. But for some time now, JLA has ruled the subwoofer roost with their
Gotham g213 ($11,000 USD), which has often been considered the state of the art. At CEDIA
Expo 2009, Revel and Paradigm have upped the ante by unveiling their own reference-level
subs; both cost less than the Gotham g213, and each represents a decidedly different take
on how, exactly, to hit those lowest notes and sounds.
Yesterday, I closely examined Revels Ultima Rhythm2
subwoofer ($10,000). Its single, 18", high-excursion woofer has two voice-coil
windings, each driven by a dedicated amplifier. According to Kevin Voecks, lead designer
at Harman International, Revels parent company, they went to great efforts to make a
subwoofer with extremely high output and vanishingly low distortion, but without using any
kind of servo-control mechanism. Maintaining perfect linearity was key. They also wanted
to ensure that the amplifier would never clip, and that the driver would never even come
close to bottoming out. According to Voecks, "consumers wont tolerate any kind
of noise" in a sub at this price. Basically, it has to hit the lowest pedal notes of
an organ or convincingly re-create a bomb blast while being virtually indestructible.
The engineers at Paradigm had the same tall order but took
an approach decidedly different from Revels -- and from almost everything else
Paradigm itself has ever done. The Reference Signature Sub 2 ($7499) has a six-sided,
"vibration-canceling" cabinet and three pairs of woofers, two on each of three
sides. According to Paradigm, those six drivers have the same radiating area as two
24" drivers -- the Sub 2 can move an enormous amount of air. Inside is a
digital-signal-processing (DSP) section as well as a super-high-power amp that they claim
can deliver 4500W continuously and 9000W peaks. Like Revels Ultima Rhythm2, the
Paradigm Reference Signature Sub 2 is a serious piece of work.
Revel and Paradigm both also introduced lower-priced subs
at the 2009 CEDIA Expo, and JL Audio offers cheaper models than its Gotham g213. But
its the new supersubs that will get all the attention, and theres undoubtedly
going to be a group who will want to see one declared the winner. Neither the Revel Ultima
Rhythm2 nor the Reference Signature Sub 2 was playing at the CEDIA Expo, but theyll
be shipping to consumers and reviewers very soon. The War of the Woofers is upon us; it
will be fascinating to see which supersub wins.