Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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I’m not really a subwoofer guy. Getting a pair of ballsy floorstanding loudspeakers perfectly set up in a dedicated listening room is hard enough, but trying to integrate the output of a small sub with those of a pair of bookshelf speakers in a modern, open living space can be nearly impossible. But I get the appeal. A sub, properly set up, can quickly turn a cheap pair of two-ways into a nearly full-range system without having to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a pair of big, three-way towers. It also gives you system flexibility -- like the possibility of an ultimate desktop setup. I just wish there were an easier way to dial in a sub’s sound without having to constantly get up and fiddle with rear-mounted cabinet controls. Paradigm, it seems, has an affordable solution.

Paradigm

Defiance

Paradigm’s new Defiance line of subwoofers runs six models deep, in two sublines, V and X. The Defiance V8 ($399 USD), V10 ($549), and V12 ($649) are straightforward, no-nonsense cubes with, respectively, a single 8”, 10”, or 12” woofer, minimal internal cabinet bracing, and built-in class-D amps of modest specified power output. The Defiance X10 ($999), X12 ($1299), and X15 ($1499) models, respectively having a single 10”, 12”, or 15” woofer, boast heavier, stiffer cabinets, and greater power handling. The X models’ drivers are also more sophisticated: they use Paradigm’s patented Active Ridge Technology (ART) surround, which is claimed to increase its driver’s output by 3dB and reduce its distortion by 50% when compared to an equivalent non-ART design. All Defiance subs are finished in Satin Black and are warranted for three years.

Every Defiance model but the V8 has a built-in Bluetooth module -- the sub can pair with an Android or iOS device via Paradigm’s free Subwoofer Control app, and apply Anthem Room Correction (ARC) via Anthem’s ARC Mobile app (both discussed in detail below). The pricier Defiance X models also include Anthem’s ARC kit, comprising a measuring microphone and software. An optional wireless module ($199), compatible with all Defiance models other than the V8, allows the connected sub to wirelessly interface with your system from as far away as 50’, for an uncluttered speaker array. All Defiance subwoofers have bass-reflex cabinets, with a downfiring port in the bottom panel.

Paradigm

Paradigm sent me for review a single Defiance V10 ($549), and I’m glad they did -- it’s the least expensive Defiance model that’s compatible with Anthem’s ARC Mobile app. Though the V10 was just the right size for my medium-size listening room, it’s not exactly small at 15.7”H x 14.3”W x 15.6”D and 33.5 pounds. Its vinyl enclosure is simple, but solid-feeling, with a build quality that’s surprisingly good for the price. The 10” woofer is slightly recessed in the cabinet, and its carbon-loaded polypropylene cone sits atop an inverse rubber surround. Just below the driver is an understated Paradigm logo, and in each corner of the front baffle is an insert for the included grille.

The V10’s 120W RMS class-D amp isn’t exactly a brute, though Paradigm specifies 250W peak dynamic output. The V10’s frequency response is specified as 29-200Hz, ±3dB, with a -10dB point of 26Hz. On the rear panel are the usual controls and connections: an output Level dial, for those not using the iOS or Android app; a Setting Control switch, for selecting the app or local output control; a Power Mode switch (Auto, On); speaker-level inputs, which accept only banana-terminated cables; line-level inputs (RCA); an input for connection to a computer; and an IEC power inlet. The phase and low-pass filter options can be adjusted only via the app.

Paradigm

Setup

My listening room is a nightmare. I live in an inner-city Philadelphia home built more than a century ago but recently renovated, with an open-plan first floor: The front door opens onto the living room, which quickly transitions into the TV and stereo area, which in turn is right next to the kitchen. To say that it’s not ideal for reviewing audio gear would be an understatement -- but it’s 2019, and every speaker and sub I review is equally handicapped, so I don’t feel too guilty about it. Due to the room’s open plan and variable width -- it’s widest about midway down its length -- the sound suffers from some brutal room modes and a decidedly asymmetrical setup. My speaker stands are roughly 12” from the long wall, with IKEA bookshelves to the left of the left speaker, and an outcropping to the right of the right speaker, which puts that speaker in a semi-corner position. Careful speaker positioning is required to yield a balanced-ish sound, but I’ve found that some speakers excite my room’s bass modes, and that integrating a subwoofer’s output into the overall sound is particularly challenging.

The Defiance V10 was a breeze to set up. I extracted it from its well-secured shipping carton, ditched the included grille as a matter of habit and personal preference, and plopped it down on its thick rubber feet to the left of my speaker stands, on which PSB Alpha P5 and KEF LS50 minimonitors took turns perching, mostly the KEFs. I plugged the V10 into the wall with its included power cord, and a generic RCA interconnect into the sub’s line-level inputs and the other end into the sub output of an NAD D 3045 integrated amplifier-DAC. While the NAD includes several high-pass filters, I left my minimonitors running full-range, after finding out during initial testing that the 80Hz preset was too high a crossover frequency for my room: the result was lumpy, uneven midbass. I had the same problem with the last subwoofer I reviewed, so it’s definitely a room- rather than a sub-specific phenomenon. The rest of my system comprised AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables, an Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner, and a Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC (which sat unused after I’d confirmed that the V10 worked with the Hegel’s variable line-level outputs). I hooked up the NAD to my Intel NUC music server running Roon with a DH Labs Silversonic USB link, and connected my TV (with associated Apple TV 4K and Microsoft Xbox One) to the NAD using a generic TosLink interconnect.

Paradigm

In Apple’s App Store I quickly found Paradigm’s Subwoofer Control and Anthem’s ARC Mobile apps, and downloaded them to my iPhone 7 smartphone. After confirming that the V10’s Setting Control switch was set to App and that Bluetooth was enabled on my phone, I opened the Paradigm app. The Defiance V10 popped right up, and I was able to quickly connect to it and start adjusting its settings. The app lets you tailor the V10’s output on the fly in increments of 1dB, select a low-pass filter frequency (30-120Hz), select a low-pass crossover slope (third-order, fourth-order, or bypass), adjust phase and polarity, and, perhaps most important, enable ARC. There’s more, but those are the highlights. I knocked the sub’s output from 0dB down to between -16 and -18dB, depending on what I was playing, kept the V10 in phase with my speakers, then opened Anthem’s ARC app to make a Profile of my room that would automatically link with the sub’s dedicated app.

Per the ARC Mobile app’s suggestion, I removed my phone’s case, turned its mike toward my stereo, and took measurements at five different spots in my room while the sub began emitting a series of tone sweeps. The app quickly created a custom ARC Profile of my room, and within 15 seconds or so I was prompted to switch back to the Paradigm app and turn on ARC.

Both apps are easy to use, with special credit due to Subwoofer Control; changes made via the app were quickly applied to the sub, noted by the app’s green Bluetooth icon, which changed to a spinning animation when implementing my changes, then reverted to the green Bluetooth icon to confirm that the sub was up to date. Being able to make adjustments of a single decibel or degree on the fly from my listening position while playing music was a godsend for system integration and optimization.

Paradigm

Having first set up the V10 to the left of my speaker stands, toward the center of my open living space, I then moved it to the right side of my system, in the partial corner mentioned above, in an attempt to even out the midbass. Including re-running ARC measurements, this process took only a few minutes and resulted in greater punch between 30 and 45Hz, with no sign of the suckouts I’d heard with the V10 in the first position. While I had to experiment with the sub’s output settings again, Paradigm’s app made the whole experience easy, even gratifying. The software integrated into this $549 sub is right off the top shelf.

Listening

Anyone who’s seen The Dark Knight should recognize “Why So Serious?,” the segment of Hans Zimmer’s film score (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Warner Bros./Tidal) that accompanies the bank-robbery scene that begins the film. The music effectively vanishes 3:25 in, leaving only a brutally deep (30Hz) synth-bass line that you feel way more than you hear. This section is a challenge even for large floorstanding speakers, and I quickly found that my initial setup, with the KEF LS50s running full-range, meant that the second-order harmonics of 30Hz were making those minimonitors’ 5.25” midrange-woofers flap out of control, muddying the midbass. Clearly, what had worked well for my initial music tests was not working well for this movie soundtrack. My room sucks.

No matter. I quickly set the NAD’s high-pass frequency to 80Hz and the Paradigm Defiance V10’s low-pass frequency to 80Hz, using the fourth-order slope option in the app, and tried again. That took all of 15 seconds, and the results were easy to hear. The midbass was now far more composed, while the sub hammered out sound straight down to 30Hz without complaint. In fact, I dialed the sub’s output back a couple dB to keep my rickety floor and ceiling from shaking -- while the resulting output wasn’t flat, it was about as perfect as I could get it in my heavily compromised listening space. The V10 managed plenty of power and control with “Why So Serious?,” though it was clear that getting usable bass down to 20Hz would mean moving up the Defiance range to the V12, X12, or even the X15. A single V10 is best for a medium-size room -- and I imagine a pair of them would be killer for a budget-oriented home-theater system in a large room.

Paradigm

With “Disc Wars,” from Daft Punk’s excellent soundtrack for Tron: Legacy (16/44.1 FLAC, Walt Disney/Qobuz), the Paradigm sub provided a lovely foundation of bass energy for the LS50s to sing above. Again, I turned the V10 down 2-3dB from what would probably be “flat” in my space, so as to not overload the room or literally rattle it and its fixtures, but I was delighted with the drive and punch it provided in my little sat-sub system. It wasn’t the final word in impact and slam, but again, the Defiance X models are there to accomplish that, with greater power and more sophisticated drivers. The V10’s role is to fill in the bottom end for a modest system, providing the rich, room-filling bass a well-designed, ported subwoofer excels at, while being dead easy to fine-tune on the fly. And it did that. While I wasn’t able to achieve a perfectly seamless synergy between the outputs of my KEFs and the Paradigm, I got far closer than I would have thought possible for under $1000. For $549, it’s a stone-cold bargain.

What of the V10’s party piece: its built-in Anthem Room Correction? Well, flicking ARC off and on through several passes of “Blood Bag” and “Brothers in Arms,” from Tom Holkenborg’s sensational score for Mad Max: Fury Road (16/44.1 FLAC, WaterTower Music/Tidal), led me to several conclusions. While it was noticeable, there wasn’t a night-and-day difference between ARC enabled and disabled. That said, I did notice that the bass lines in both tracks sounded more even with ARC. In some passages I could tell that certain frequencies were attenuated and others boosted (presumably where ARC’s measurements indicated suckouts), but overall the result was smoother sound. This wasn’t an epiphany-level improvement, but having a $549 subwoofer suddenly make it possible for my system to play more kindly with the designed-in-hell acoustics of my listening room was most welcome.

Paradigm

In fact, the aggregate effect on Holkenborg’s creations was delicious. With “Blood Bag,” the Defiance V10 loaded my room brilliantly, demonstrating strong, well-controlled extension -- I felt the sheer power of this track’s phalanx of layered drums coursing through my chest. Yes, the sound lacked the finesse and control I’ve experienced with some of the big floorstanders I’ve reviewed at five to ten times the price, but it pressurized my room so satisfyingly that I couldn’t stop an impish smile from creeping across my face. There’s no substitute for big bass, and the Defiance V10 delivered it. Even when the little 60Wpc NAD D 3045 began to run out of steam trying to motivate the 84dB-efficient LS50s with “Brothers in Arms,” which begs and pleads to be cranked, the V10 proved unflappable -- it never stepped out of line, even at high volumes.

Conclusion

Paradigm’s Defiance V10 is probably the sweet spot in the company’s new Defiance line of subwoofers. At $549 with its 10” woofer and decent overall power output, it can work in a wide variety of applications, and provide legitimate extension down to 30Hz -- which means you don’t give up much to bigger, pricier alternatives. It offers the warm, weighty sound you’d expect for the price, while being able to keep up with true hi-fi speakers, such as my reference KEF LS50 minimonitors. But it’s the Defiance V10’s outstanding Subwoofer Control app and effective built-in Anthem Room Correction that make it a true bargain. What a great product. Good on ya, Paradigm.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KEF LS50, PSB Alpha P5
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifiers -- Hegel Music Systems H590, NAD D 3045
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Intel NUC running Roon with Tidal HiFi, Qobuz Studio
  • Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
  • Digital interconnect -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

Paradigm Defiance V10 Subwoofer
Price: $549 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

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

Website: www.paradigm.com