Paradigm SUB 2 Review
In the realm of subwoofers we commonly acknowledge the performance tiers known as budget, midrange and high-end. High end in this case encompasses a variety of subwoofers that can cost anywhere from $2000 up to the $13,000 Thigpen Rotary Woofer. Sitting at the upper end of the price spectrum is Paradigm’s Signature SUB2 – a hexagonal behemoth of a subwoofer featuring the sort of cost no object engineering one would expect in a statement series product.
Arrival and Setup
Upon Paradigm’s generous agreement to loan a SUB 2 for review, I was notified that a 230lb package would be arriving at my house – a rather daunting prospect. The SUB 2 arrived strapped to a pallet in a box measuring about 3.5feet on all sides with large plastic feet beneath. Getting the box inside required a dolly and no small measure of grunting on my part, but thankfully I was able to get the box into the hallway next to my home theater in about 10 minutes.
Here are some pictures of the box and packaging. My canine assistant decided that he would rather let me do all the work this time around so he decided to watch me suffer.
Keeping in mind the absolutely outrageous weight of this sub, it should come as no surprise that it took me a good long while to get it unpacked. Thankfully, years of reviewing audio equipment have taught me the value of ratchet straps and a good deal of patience. Getting the box in position is a task that will test the back of even the brawniest enthusiast – so a second strong pair of hands is highly recommended! Once you get the box in position about 6 feet away from the sub’s final resting place, it can be opened and the closed-cell protective foam can be removed. This allows you to flip the box over and lift it off the sub. Finally, the sub has to be rocked into position for final connection and calibration.
|Design||Hexagonal cabinet with multiple high-excursion drivers radially aligned in a Vibration-Canceling Design Architecture, patented built-in Ultra-Class-D™ power amplifier with Power Factor Correction, sealed enclosure, PBK interface|
|Amplifier:||9,000 watts Dynamic Peak / 4,500 watts RMS|
|Amplifier Features:||Auto-On / Off, Trigger On / Off, soft clipping, electrical shorting protection, thermal protection|
|Bass Driver||Six 254-mm (10 in) RCR™ mineral-filled co-polymer polypropylene cones, FEA-optimized overmolded thermoplastic foam-surrounds, 76-mm (3 in) ten-layer long-excursion voice coils, high-temperature composite Nomex® formers, dual advanced spiders, 25.2-lb (10.5 kg) hard ferrite magnet / motor structure, massive center heatsink and oversize pole piece, AVS™ die-cast heatsink chassis|
|Low-Frequency Extension||7 Hz (DIN)|
|Subwoofer Cut-Off Frequency|| Variable 35 Hz - 150 Hz; Bypass Option |
|Sub/Sat Phase Alignment||Variable 0° - 180°|
|Line-Level Input||RCA (S/E) Left and Right or Sub-Out / LFE or Balanced XLR. From Sub-Out / LFE-Out of preamp, processor or other line-level source|
|Line-Level Input Sensitivity||100 mV mono|
|Line-Level Input Impedance||RCA: 10k ohms; XLR: 20k ohms|
|AC Voltage||120v (at 3,000 watts) - 50 / 60 Hz 240v (at 4,500 watts) - 50 / 60 Hz|
|Accessory Included||Paradigm Perfect Bass Kit|
|Width||60.4cm | 23-3/4 in|
|Depth||57.8cm | 22-6/16 in|
|Height||62.2cm | 24-1/2 in|
|Weight||106.0kg / 230 lb each|
|Diameter Of Hexagonal Cabinet||60.4cm | 23-3/4 in|
|Finishes||Cherry, Piano Black, Black Ash|
The drivers used in the SUB 2 are a custom design and in typical Paradigm fashion, are made in-house. The SUB 2 features six 10” drivers, each of which boasts a mineral filled polypropylene cone, 3”10-layer voice coils, dual spiders and a 25 lb. hard ferrite magnet/motor structure. Powering all of these drivers is a custom amplifier that requires 240V to reach its true potential – a staggering 9000W peak output and 4500W average output. When fed a measly 120V, the amplifier outputs 6000W peak and 3000W average. What appears to be a singularly beefy plate amplifier is actually a very impressive piece of engineering featuring “Ultra-Class-D” amplification, which is Paradigm’s nomenclature for a 95%+ efficient amplifier featuring a transformer-less design utilizing active PFC (Power Factor Correction). Active PFC essentially changes the waveform, ensuring that the voltage and current are in phase. The enables power to be drawn from the wall continuously as maximum efficiency, rather than the typical bursts power is drawn with in conventional circuits. The good news here is that dirty power or sagging voltage are less likely to impact performance, while simultaneously circuit breakers are less likely to be popped as a result of sudden bursts of power consumption. Paradigm does a stellar job of explaining this in the SUB 2 owner’s manual, which you can download here.
Technologies like active PFC are not new to the world of audio, but are generally only seen in high end touring amplifiers made by companies such as Crown, Lab Gruppen and Powersoft which utilize SMPS (Switching Mode Power Supply) technology, which is a testament to the no-limits philosophy behind the SUB 2.
The amplifier includes an integrated DSP which is programmed at the factory but has memory to accept filters from Paradigm’s proprietary PBK (Perfect Bass Kit) which is based on Anthem Room Correction (ARC) – the technology used in the high end processors of Paradigm’s sister company Anthem. The connectivity on the back panel of the amp is fairly standard – accepting RCA line-in, balanced XLR input, and finally USB connectivity for PBK.
Paradigm’s Perfect Bass Kit is an outstanding product that makes dialing in a subwoofer exceptionally easy no matter how technically challenged you may be. All that’s required is a laptop with two available USB ports. Once you install the software on your laptop and connect the included microphone to your PC via USB cable, a second USB cable is connected from your PC to the back of the subwoofer. The software guides you through several sweeps before a set of correction filters is generated and then uploaded to the subwoofer’s DSP.
All told, the above process took me about 15 minutes from start to finish once I opened the PBK box. The kit includes all required cables, microphone stand and a calibrated USB microphone.
Following PBK – I ran a full 8 point Audyssey calibration before proceeding to listening tests.
Listening Tests – Music
Bassotronics – Bass I Love You
I’m sure that our resident bass-heads are all familiar with this tune – an electronic composition that features piano on top of a synth bass track which can dip below 10Hz. This seemed like the ideal tune for the SUB 2 given its purported 7Hz in-room performance so I turned the volume up to -15 from reference and “let her rip”. The result was shockingly good – with my walls literally flexing on the lowest frequency notes. The SUB 2 proved almost immediately that I would reach my limits long before it did, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the chest shaking bass that the SUB 2 so effortlessly produced.
THX Ultimate Bass Test
This is a lesser known bass test tune that I’ve kept around since 2001 when I used it for the first time. It focuses on the mid-bass region and has lots of punch – a good test of integration between the lowest octaves and the rest of the subwoofer’s register. This tune was a great deal of fun to listen to as each attack felt like a visceral hit on my chest while the sinusoidal sweeps pressurized my room to levels I’ve rarely encountered before.
Acoustic Alchemy – Playing for Time
This is a track I typically use to test how well a subwoofer integrates with the mains at the critical frequencies near the crossover. I am particularly fond of this track because of the string bass line which is a very delicate presentation as it mingles with the classical guitar. A subwoofer that is muddy or incapable of nuance will mangle the bass line in this tune, a dead giveaway to any performance issues.
The SUB 2 demonstrated remarkable agility here – I assume in part thanks to the 10” drivers on board, which allowed each bass note to decay as quickly and neatly as I have ever heard in my system. The SUB 2 also didn’t overpower the other elements of the track, a testament to its capability to play both quietly and loud.
Gareth Emery feat. Ashley Walbridge – Mansion
For my final music listening test I decided to use what I consider one of my ultimate “fun” tracks. This is melodic uplifting trance music at its best, with a pulsing bass line and a catchy melody that is hard to ignore. The SUB 2 reproduced this track superbly, providing a sense of tactile force with each attack of the bass line. Integration with my mains was perfect – never giving a sense of directionality or muddiness.
Listening Tests – Movies
War of the Worlds
The pod scene is the de facto standard scene for outrageous bass on Blu-Ray – and the SUB 2 failed to disappoint. With usable in room response down to 5Hz – at reference level this scene literally had my walls flexing – (I have the cracks in my paint to prove it) the sense of pressure in the room was outrageous. With this scene, the SUB 2 blatantly demonstrated the ridiculous reserves of power the amp can produce, generating sound pressure levels far beyond my comfort zone without breaking a sweat.
The observatory explosion in Megamind is one of my favorite demo scenes due to the palpable LFE hit when the rolling explosion wave front hits the screen. Suffice to say, the SUB was able to reproduce this with plenty of power, but also a surprising degree of accuracy. When the bass hit it was both sudden and quick to decay as one would expect in the real world.
These days it is not unusual for a reviewer to wax poetic about the products that we are very generously loaned to review, and usually with good reason. We live in an era of equipment that is better than ever and stunning technical advances seem to be made on a far more regular basis. One area that has taken dramatic leaps and bounds over the past several years is the subwoofer market, driven largely I think by remarkable competition from hobbyists.
For many years, the DIY community has correctly stated that the real bastion of low frequency performance was not in your local AV dealer – but in the garage of the hobbyist. Drivers like the 87lb TC Sounds LMS Ultra 5400 have been invented expressly for the purpose of reproducing frequencies that have heretofore been considered impossible. Enthusiasts greedily scour their favorite pro-sound dealers catalog or website, looking for a multi kilowatt amp that doesn’t drop off below 20Hz. They build subwoofer enclosures that far exceed any commercial product in terms of bracing, damping and rigidity. Finally, they purchase subwoofers like the LMS 5400 that have been designed with the express purpose of throwing our conceptions about what is possible in a subwoofer out the window. When all is said and done, these folks enjoy a level of subsonic sound reproduction that the consumer market has not been able to match- until now.
I’m not here to claim that the SUB 2 has dethroned the DIY subwoofer – far from it. What I am willing to state is that the SUB 2 is the first commercially available (not internet direct only) sub on the market to match the low frequency output and build quality that a good DIY subwoofer offers. The SUB 2 is insanely expensive, unreasonably heavy, and all around ridiculous in almost every way I can imagine – and despite all that, I love it. It is a subwoofer that throws the entire concept of ROI out the window and is a testament to what engineers can accomplish given free rein to innovate. While I certainly can’t afford one – the SUB 2 deserves to be on the short list of anyone who can. It’s big, it’s a little stupid, and it’s the best commercial subwoofer I’ve ever encountered.