Introduction to the Paradigm SUB 1
One can never be too rich, too good looking, or have too much bass. The first two axioms are ones that unfortunately I cannot test out myself, but the third is one that I am willing to givet a shot. For years Paradigm has delivered some award winning, room rattling subwoofers that have consistently garnered praise from reviewers and hit you in the chest while watching a film. Last year they managed to outdo themselves with the SUB 2, a 270 pound monster that requires a 240V line to run at full power. Since those electrical capabilities are beyond my reach in my home, I took a look at the step down, but by no means miniscule, SUB 1. Coming in at 109 pounds, with six 8″ bass drivers and 3,400 watts of Class D power, I took delivery of a piano black pair and set out to see what I had been missing in those lower octaves of sound all these years.
PARADIGM SUB 1 SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Powered Subwoofer, Sealed Enclosure
- Drivers: Six 8″ Polypropylene
- Amplifier: 1,700 Watts RMS, 3,400 Watts Peak
- Low Frequency Extension: 12 Hz (DIN)
- Dimensions: 20.25″ H x 19.9″ W x 17.8″ D
- Weight: 109 Pounds
- MSRP: $4,499 USD ($4,999 for Piano Black Finish)
- Perfect Bass Kit: $99 (Included)
- SECRETS Tags: Paradigm, Subwoofer
Design and Setup of the Paradigm SUB 1
The SUB 1 is an elegant, but brawny beast of a subwoofer with a hexagonal cabinet I’ve only seen a couple other vendors attempt to do. Three sides of the hexagon sport a pair of 8″, long-excursion woofers that feature 9.2 pound magnets on each driver. Placing these drivers 1200 in relation to one another allows for their vibrations to cancel each other out, leading to a virtually vibration free cabinet, and less distortion in the sound. Choosing to go with 8″ woofers over the typical 15″ or 18″ woofer allows for better control of the cone movement (lighter weight). Of course, using smaller drivers means more of them are needed to move as much air as one or two large drivers, and the SUB 1 has six of them.
The SUB 1 has both RCA and XLR inputs, as well as a USB jack for the optional Perfect Bass Kit. There are controls for output, phase, and crossover frequency. All of these controls are found on a Class D amplifier that can output 1,700 watts of RMS power, and 3,400 watts of peak power. Each sub also weighs in at 109 pounds, so they certainly won’t be moving once you have them in place. I have a 25′ deep home theater room with 7′ ceilings and 12′ wide walls, and placed the SUB 1s in the front corners of the room. I would have preferred the midpoint of the side walls but that setup does not work in my theater unfortunately. After both subs were in place, I ran them both through the Perfect Bass Kit software to calibrate them for the room, and then reran Audyssey MultEQ XT on my Marantz AV7005 to make sure they were properly integrated into the system.
The Paradigm SUB 1 In Use
Specs and numbers are nice, but performance is what matters. Tron Legacy might not be a wonderful film if you care about a coherent plot and enjoyable story, but it is certainly eye and ear candy for everyone to enjoy. Daft Punk created a tight, bass heavy soundtrack for the film that is almost better than the picture deserves. The SUB 1s let you feel every thunderous note as C.L.U. descends the staircase for the start of the light cycle race. In the room above my home theater people sitting on the couch would feel everything vibrate from the SUB 1s below, but in the room the bass was tight and solid, without the thumping you would get from a subwoofer that is loud, but lacks control over the woofers other than to push for maximum output at the expense of clarity.
Where I thought the SUB 1 was very unusual was with very low frequencies that you feel more than hear, which is a result of very low distortion. A classic example that people use is the “skadoosh” scene from Kung Fu Panda. When he pulls off the move, an explosion happens that sends out a sound wave that the SUB 1 let me feel in my body. These ultra low frequencies didn’t faze the SUB 1 and I could push the volume until I wasn’t comfortable long before the SUB 1 felt any discomfort. Perhaps the best demo disc from last year for audio, but the worst movie, is Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Full of action that completely envelops the viewer, both visually and aurally, Transformers will show anyone what your home theater can do. The best element of the soundtrack is that it doesn’t rely on a splashy single effect to communicate its power, but instead just fully pulls the viewing into the film, and continually stresses your system. Scenes of buildings being destroyed, fighter jets crashing, and the crunching of metal had their full impact with the SUB 1.
The sub didn’t seem to draw attention to itself, and it didn’t put the bass right up in your face to make you pay attention to it. To see if I was missing something, I turned the subs off and went back to watching with just full range front speakers to handle the bass duty. At this point I realized what I was missing (distortion), and how the SUB 1s had drawn me in. Being used to less capable subs that had to create a lot of distortion to produce really powerful bass, I was expecting to hear that same distortion and error while listening to the SUB 1. Instead I was hearing the bass integrate perfectly in with the rest of the speakers, remaining tight and full, but not bloated or slow. Now it seems that anyone can go out and design a subwoofer that will punch you in the chest while watching a film, drawing all the attention to itself but at the expense of fitting into the system. The SUB 1 was subtler, adapting to the environment and staying hidden in the corners while making its presence felt but not distracting you from everything else.
The SUB 1 has no speaker level inputs so properly integrating it with music requires using either a processor or receiver with a subwoofer output, or an external crossover such as the Bryston 10B-Sub that was recently reviewed by John Johnson. I will often go back to listening to “One” off the …And Justice for All album from Metallica, with its continual drum and heavy guitars that dig out some pretty good bass. The opening guitar notes did a good job of floating in space around the speakers, but not anchored to them. The SUB 1 provided some very good weight to the notes, but without pulling your ear towards them or presenting any voicing issues that would let you realize you were hearing the same note from two speakers. Once the drum kicks in the SUB 1s had no trouble keeping up with the music from my Mythos STS fronts, which is an area I’ve seen other sub and speaker combinations fall behind in the past.
Moving onto the soundtrack from Titanic, the sinking of the ship is meant to pound you in the chest as a massive luxury liner snaps in half. Low notes from kettle drums would often come in and call you to attention and the room would begin to fill with energy as the ship began its gradual decline into the ocean. Many purists often think you should avoid a subwoofer with an audio system as CDs and records are just two channels, but a good subwoofer can really augment your system and bring greater depth to the music.
The one final thing that impressed me with the SUB 1 was something you really might not expect. I went to see The Decendants in the theater, and since it is from 20th Century Fox, we had the traditional fanfare at the opening of the movie with their logo and spotlights. There were a few seconds of low, room shaking bass that the SUB 1 was able to reproduce from that fanfare that I had never heard before in a commercial theater. The local Cineplex was truly outclassed by the SUB 1 in my basement and left me with no reason to go back to the theater anytime soon.
The Paradigm SUB 1 on the Bench
The single subwoofer measurements were taken from 1 foot away in the center of my listening room. The PBK measurements were taken when the SUB 1s in their installed position, with the microphone at my listening and calibration position around 10 feet away. Taking measurements outside was not possible as the winter in Oregon is rainy and doesn’t permit me to put a $5,000 piece of equipment out in the elements.
To see how low a single SUB 1 can play in my theater, I used a 20 Hz tone and tested until I got close to 10% distortion.
You can see I managed to get 9.2% THD+N with 104dB of output. Trying the same test with an 80 Hz tone as opposed to the 20 Hz tone managed to produce almost 123 dB of output.
Listening levels like this are going to be uncommon, at least if you want to keep your hearing, so I went for 100 dB of output at 80 Hz, and had less than 1% THD+N at that level.
Aiming for 100 dB at 60Hz and 50Hz gave me THD+N values of 3.6% and 6.1% respectively. We will see better examples of why in the next set of graphs.
Looking at the Frequency Response, we see that there are definite room issues at around 35Hz and 65Hz, with some extra room gain at 80 Hz. Testing outside would have eliminated the room interaction here, but that wasn’t a possibility. You can see that we were able to do 90 dB of output here quite easily, with very low THD+N and good, solid response down to almost 10Hz.
Looking at the THD+N vs Frequency graph, we see large rises at those room nodes, as the subwoofer has to work harder to make up for the issues. I also have a lack of faith in some of the lower measurements; as between 10 and 50 Hz objects in the room would start to rattle violently. From door handles to a sliding door to the walls themselves, there was so much noise being output from items other than the sub that some of it was likely picked up in the measurements.
This was for a single SUB 1 in the middle of the room, but what about if I used Dual SUB 1s in my listening position? How effective would the Perfect Bass Kit be at correcting any issues that arose? The PBK is very easy to use, so I could measure both with and without PBK to see what the changes were.
I kept the output levels the same between tests, so any lower output levels are due to PBK making corrections that affect the output level. With a 20Hz test tone, we see that the output level drops slightly from 109 to 105.5 dB, but the THD+N also falls from 6.8% to 3.9%. That secondary harmonic also drops from around 20 dB below to almost 30 dB below the fundamental.
Looking at the 60Hz test tone, we have virtually identical output levels here but the THD+N falls by 25% and there is a huge reduction at the third harmonic up at 180 Hz here. We also see this with an 80Hz test tone, where the noise floor is much lower in comparison to the unequalized setup.
Looking at the THD+N vs. Frequency graphs, we see that from 20 Hz to 80 Hz, which was my target, the sub is below 2% THD+N almost the whole time. Looking at the same data but without PBK engaged we see that the THD+N rarely even falls below 2% in that same spectrum, and has a spike close to 10% that is completely absent in the PBK version.
Finally to see how much I can push two subwoofers with PBK, I ran that 60 Hz test tone again. As you can see I got to 144 dB with just over 3% THD+N, at which point my ears were making me quit long before the SUB 1s were. Overall the SUB 1s had some really powerful output, and the PBK showed how effective it can be on both the bench and in real life.
Conclusions About the Paradigm SUB 1
So what was I missing before I tried the Paradigm SUB 1? One thing was bass that integrated with my speakers and filled in those lower octaves, but without drawing unnecessary attention to itself. I was also missing out on notes that I can feel in my body and not even the movie theater could reproduce. In the end I was really missing another dimension to music and movies that I had survived without, but no longer want to give up. I would have loved to see how they combined with the Paradigm S2 speakers I reviewed last year, which provide better detail and soundstaging than my current speakers but don’t hit the lower octaves quite as well.
In their piano black finish, the SUB 1 happily sits in the corner, looking a bit unassuming with its lack of visible controls or lights, but it certainly knows how to make its presence known. When you have your friends over to watch a movie they might not instantly know that it’s there, but turn it off and its absence will become immediately apparent. Given the way the SUB 1 could make my room rattle, I hesitate to imagine what the SUB 2 would do. The SUB 1 brought home performance that bested what I could get in the theater and never disappointed. Just make sure to fasten everything in the room down when you decide to let it rip.