Paradigm Reference Signature Sub 2
Category: Pioneering Design
Bass is one issue with which,
at some point, almost every audiophile grapples. Although most serious music lovers will
tell you that the lifeblood of music is in the midrange, and the sparkle and excitement in
the highs, its perhaps bass thats most obsessed over. Its a cold, hard
fact that meeting the goal of linear reproduction of low bass at realistic output levels
is a daunting challenge. First, the physical logistics: Big bass means big drivers, big
drivers mean big boxes, and the combination of the two often means big wattage. To pursue
low bass is to give up significant floor space in your room and, perhaps more significant,
money from your wallet. In fact, some audiophiles choose to live with stand-mounted
loudspeakers designed to altogether avoid the problems associated with low. But of
course, thats a compromise that will affect the very foundation of music.
For the purposes of this article, I define low bass
as those frequencies that lie below 80Hz. A good stand-mounted loudspeaker might play down
to 80Hz, and a little lower if its on the large side. With some room-boundary
reinforcement, that 80Hz anechoic specification might reach 65Hz in-room. This would give
the listener a modicum of genuine low end when reproducing instruments such as an electric
bass and kick drum. But thats not the whole apple cart: Most stand-mounted speakers
wont do justice to the lowest notes produced by a double bass or bass tuba.
So instead of stand-mounted speakers, many audiophiles
choose floorstanding models. An average but still-capable floorstander might reach as low
35Hz in-room, which will provide significantly more foundation than a stand-mount.
However, the lowest note a piano can produce has a frequency of about 27.5Hz, and the
lowest pipe-organ pedal goes lower still. And we still havent tackled the issue of
output capability: a floorstanding speaker that reaches low in the 30-40Hz range might be
able to produce those frequencies only at very low levels. Another
compromise . . .
A generally accepted figure for defining full-range bass
extension is flat (or -3dB) to 20Hz. A loudspeaker that can produce appreciable output at
that low a frequency -- the definition of appreciable output will depend on your
taste, but lets say at least 85dB -- is an expensive proposition. However, if you
want to hear that contrabassoon, or the lowest notes delivered by a concert grand,
youll need to fully embrace the quest for bass. But if a behemoth floorstanding
loudspeaker is out of the question . . . what to do?
Subwoofers to the rescue
Many audiophiles have abandoned the quest for full-range
speakers. Putting aside the money involved (it can be considerable), not to mention the
space required to house such beasts, theres also the issue of providing enough power
to drive large, multiway loudspeakers. Bass frequencies are produced by large, sometimes
multiple woofers that often need a stout amplifier to control them. Those considerations
alone make large, floorstanding speakers more expensive than many can afford. And what if
youve found a speaker that does everything you like except produce the lowest
You buy a subwoofer. You then work your behind off to
integrate it into your audio system and listening space. This is, in most cases, easier
said than done. The main problem is how to get smooth frequency response from the sub in
your room, and have that bass integrate naturally with the outputs of your main speakers.
Bass frequencies reproduced by a large loudspeaker or subwoofer will wildly fluctuate in
the frequency domain depending on the placement of the cabinets in your room and your
listening position. Its not uncommon to measure dips and peaks in bass response
upward of 15dB, measured from 20Hz to, say, 150Hz. Room-related frequency-response
nonlinearities, or room modes, of such magnitude are audible enough to ruin a listening
experience, and have led many audiophiles who have experimented with subwoofers to give
them up altogether.
Enter the Sub 2
Luckily for those searching for real bass in 2009,
technology and innovation have made the prospect of attaining great bass a bit easier.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Paradigms new Reference Signature Sub 2
subwoofer ($7499 USD). The boys from Canada have delivered a new flagship subwoofer with
heaps of capability and features designed to give you first-class bass -- and lots of it.
First is what Paradigm calls their Perfect Bass Kit (PBK), a Paradigm room-correction
system built into their newest subwoofers. This, in most systems and rooms, will be
critical. Using the PBK is very similar to using the Anthem divisions Anthem Room
Correction (ARC) software. In fact, the PBK was derived from the ARC, and optimized for
implementation within the subwoofer itself (as opposed to a standalone surround-sound
processor, such as the Anthem D2v). You can read more about the PBK process in our Home
Theater & Sound review
of the Sub 25, which uses the same PBK kit as the Sub 2. In my system, the PBK
software cleaned up a slight hump at 50Hz, resulting in cleaner-sounding bass than without
this prominent room mode.
The process is fairly simple: upload the PBK software to
your computer from the supplied CD, connect the USB microphone (provided) to your
computer, link computer and sub with another USB cable, run the software, follow its
instructions as to where to place the supplied microphone in your room, then sit back and
let the software calculate where the subs frequency response needs to be equalized.
You then load the corrective settings into the Sub 2 via its USB input and youre
ready to go. The PBK microphone-and-software kit comes standard with the Sub 2 (its
a $300 option with the Sub 25).
The Sub 2s hexagonal sealed cabinet measures 24
1/3"H x 22 7/8"W x 21 1/8"D and weighs 289 pounds. It has six
high-excursion 10" drivers, in identical vertical arrays of two each on three of the
sides. These are driven by Paradigms Ultra-Class-D power amplifier, which delivers a
claimed 7500W dynamic peak or 3000W sustained RMS when fed by a 120V line. With a 240V
line, the Sub 2s power output, according to Paradigm, can increase to 9000W (!)
dynamic peak or 4500W sustained. The sheer motor capability of six subwoofer drivers
backed by this much power is enough to propel a Hummer H2. (OK, maybe not quite.)
The Sub 2 has the expected adjustments of crossover
frequency (35-150Hz) and phase (180-degree). Each driver has a ten-layer voice coil, a
diecast chassis, and a 12.6-pound magnet/motor assembly. The cones are made from
mineral-filled copolymer polypropylene and have dual spiders. The Sub 2 also has auto
on/off, a trigger input for turning it on remotely, and circuits that protect it from
electrical shorts and thermal overload.
Now theres no question that almost all manufacturers
play the game of specsmanship, especially those that make loudspeakers. Paradigms
numbers for the Sub 2 are downright mind-boggling, though I cant claim to have
tested their validity. Still, Paradigm doesnt typically embellish its specs much.
Given that, consider this: The Sub 2s low-bass extension is claimed as 9Hz, with
output capabilities of 97dB at 10Hz, 106dB at 20Hz, and 120dB at 60Hz, all measured
anechoically. Remember that in-room levels, because of room gain, will typically be
12-15dB higher! Remind me to never listen to 20Hz at 121dB!
Inputs include stereo RCA jacks, and a single balanced XLR
jack for the LFE channel, if your processor is so equipped. Last, a Universal Input Power
feature makes it possible to use the Sub 2 with wall power that ranges anywhere from 108V
to 265V. But the best performance, according to Paradigm, will be with a 240V line.
I used the Sub 2 in my Music Vault listening room, which
has been extensively described on Ultra Audio in my column, "The Worlds Best Audio System."
The Sub 2 was fed by the outputs of a Behold APU768
preamp-DAC-processor. Speakers were, for the most part, Genesis
G7.1fs, but for fun I also did some high-power listening with the
Rockport Arrakises. The amplifiers were Classé Audio’s Omega Omicron
Monos, and my digital source was an Apple MacBook running Sonic
Studio's Amarra software. I used
Shunyata Research Aurora-IC interconnects, Aurora-SP speaker cables, a Hydra V-Ray II
power conditioner, along with Anaconda Helix Alpha/VX, Python Helix Alpha/VX, and Taipan
Helix Alpha/VX power cords. I used the stock cord on the Sub 2 and connected it to a
dedicated 20A outlet.
I crossed over the Genesis G7.1f speakers to the single Sub
2 at 80Hz, and ran a stereo signal into the Sub 2 via its left and right RCA inputs. I
dialed in the phase and level until I attained a fairly smooth frequency response in the
bass. Might it have been better to have had two Sub 2s? Perhaps, but one provided more
than enough headroom. Two Sub 2s, however, might have resulted in an even smoother in-room
response. I placed the Sub 2 in the front left corner of my room, slightly behind the
front left speaker and about 5 away from any walls.
Experienced subwoofer users know that
most of them can be slotted into one of two categories:
1) Subwoofers that play in a room can provide
exceptional bass response that a listener can be very happy with. They can provide the
underpinning needed to give more than just a taste of the instruments that play into the
lower registers. It can be worth your while to add such a subwoofer, even if it isnt
one that possesses the greatest power and headroom in the really low bass.
2) Subwoofers that control a room provide a very
different experience, one characterized by a sense of unlimited bass capability: it feels
as if the bass frequencies produced could physically move the entire structure containing
them. This level of bass response -- extreme output capability plus the ability to play
super-low -- re-creates a sense of space, particularly the type found on good live
recordings, that can make your rooms walls seem to melt away. Oh, sure, they can
shake the foundations with home-theater-type sound effects, but they can also evenly
disperse huge amounts of bass that can leave the listener in awe of their sheer acoustic
power. The Paradigm Sub 2 belongs in this category, which is inhabited by only a few other
Recently, in "TWBAS
2009 Five-Song Demo," I described some of my reference music recordings,
and highlighted what has been a favorite bass reference for the past several years:
"Norbu," from Bruno Coulaiss soundtrack album for the film Himalaya
(CD, Virgin France 848478). I said, "The massive drum thwacks should roll
through your room with supreme authority and frequency extension. You should hear the
initial stroke of mallet on drum head, followed by an evenly distributed, natural decay
that moves like a huge ocean wave from the front to the rear of your room." The
Paradigm Sub 2 passed this test with flying colors.
An interesting aspect of this track as reproduced by the
Sub 2 was how the "wave" could be scaled with the output level. With
"Norbu," its easy to hear when most speakers and subwoofers have reached
their limits. In fact, the ultimate output capability of most transducers is found very
quickly -- and sometimes raucously. I had this experience with the Genesis G7.7f
loudspeakers -- the drivers of their powered woofer sections were banging against their
stops and crying for mercy. But playing "Norbu," I never seemed to approach the
limits of the Sub 2s output capability. Instead, I reached the limits of my room.
At some point well above 100dB, the Music Vault decided that enough was enough -- the
rooms acoustics turned to mush. Although the track was getting louder, I could hear
the room booming more than I could hear the Sub 2 playing. At this point, the articulated
detail from the drum was swamped by the room convulsing and twitching. Although Im
not sure exactly where the outer limits of the Sub 2s output capability lay,
it was clear that it could produce more bass than I would ever need, at least in the Music
Vault. Massive Output Capability: check.
The kickdrum on Audioslaves "Show Me How to
Live," from their eponymous first album (CD, Epic 86968), was delivered with crushing
solidity and weight. I could make this hard-rock track sound concert-real in my room with
a twist of the volume knob -- and lets face it, the louder it gets, the better lead
singer Chris Cornell sounds. There was no overhang or boom in the bass, just impact in my
gut that felt as if a 50-pound dumbbell had been dropped on me. Now isnt that
fun? I had no sense that the Sub 2 was loafing behind the Genesis main speakers. No, it
was keeping perfect pace with them, perhaps because it was using so little of its six
drivers available excursion -- it was at ease. There was no question that the Sub 2
could rock heavy.
With more subtle music, but an album whose bass is just as
dramatic -- Patricia Barbers Café Blue (CD, Premonition 737) -- the Sub 2
seemed to feel just as at home. "Nardis" features a drum solo that starts about
5:30 into the track. Mark Walkers kickdrum is much more subdued than that on the
Audioslave track -- more damped, and even tighter in delivery. But if it isnt
reproduced with good articulation and agility, it can start to sound mushy, woolly, or
just plain weak. The Sub 2 was quick enough to reproduce the drum perfectly, and deft
enough that it never fell behind the rest of the music, or sounded loose. It was punchy
and powerful, and could easily scale with whatever volume level I chose.
As a test of how subterranean the Sub 2 could play, I used
Rosanne Cashs "Western Wall," from The Very Best of Rosanne Cash
(CD, Columbia/Legacy 86996). At exactly 24 seconds into the track are three deep yet
subtle foot stomps. Ive heard speakers that can play flat to 35Hz that couldnt
even begin to reproduce these, and most systems miss them completely. Most subwoofers do
get these stomps to some degree, but they typically sound weak and indistinct. The Sub 2
reproduced them with a dose of reality: they sounded deeper and more powerful than
Id ever heard, even with a subwoofer, and were revealed in a quite obvious fashion
-- youd never be able to miss them. In fact, outside of the Rockport Arrakis
speakers, Ive never heard this track played back with bass so good.
Until the Sub 2 arrived, my reference for subwoofers had
been JL Audios Gotham g213, a pair of which I reviewed for Ultra Audio in April 2008. These
magnificent beasts ($12,000 each) set a standard for bass that I had never experienced
before. In fact, as I stated in that review, "After listening to tons of bass-filled
music and lots of film soundtracks, I can tell you that, when integrated into a
very-high-end audio system in a very good room, the Gotham g213 had essentially no
sonic limitation or shortcoming." I cant say the Sub 2 was "more
unlimited" than the Gotham, because I never reached the limits of either subwoofer.
Both products are simply extraordinary purveyors of bass, and either will shake your room
and tickle your fancy. Although I didnt have the Gothams in-house while the Sub 2
was here, I can tell you that the Sub 2 could easily play as deep, loud, and clean as I
remember the g123s playing. The Sub 2 also delivered what sounded to me like tighter bass
than I remember ever getting from the Gothams. The fact that the Sub 2 costs substantially
less than the Gotham g213 means its the clear choice. And if you can buy two Sub 2s
for not much more than the price of one Gotham -- well, thats just silly: get a pair
of Sub 2s.
High-end audio never stands still. The industry is always
changing, and the components that rank at the top of a particular category can vary
quickly, depending on which really good company decides its time to tackle a
particular market segment. Paradigm has the engineering expertise and the
research-and-development budget to take on such lofty goals as creating the most ambitious
powered subwoofer, and with the Sub 2, theyve catapulted themselves into the annals
of subwoofer history. The Paradigm Reference Signature Sub 2 is a tremendously ambitious
effort that redefines what should be expected of a powered subwoofer. I havent
experienced another subwoofer that I think is as capable, and certainly not when
considering the price.
My recommendation: Find a Sub 2 you can demo, and I think
youll come to the conclusion I have. Get it. Play it. Be moved by it.
. . . Jeff Fritz
|Paradigm Reference Signature Sub 2 Subwoofer
Price: $7499 USD.
Warranty: Five years on drivers, three years on amplifier.
Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1, Canada
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726