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- Written by Roger Kanno Roger Kanno
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 15 May 2019 15 May 2019
Paradigm’s newest line of powered subwoofers, Defiance, comprises six models. The Defiance V subline ranges from $399 to $649 USD, while the Defiance X subseries ranges from $999 to $1499. All but the lowest-priced model, the V8 ($399), include advanced features such as Anthem Room Correction (ARC), a built-in wireless Bluetooth module for Paradigm’s Subwoofer Control app, and an optional wireless connection module ($199). The Defiance subs offer the value-conscious audiophile a wide range of options to extend the bass response of an audio system.
I was provided with two samples of the second-most-expensive model, the Defiance X12 ($1299). I used them primarily in my music system, but also to watch movies, as my home-theater system does double duty as my reference music system.
Black box explained
Paradigm’s Defiance subwoofers look relatively plain. Their Black Satin finish is a textured vinyl that seems durable but is not all that attractive. The Defiance X12’s overall appearance is large and angular, and its squared edges and matte surfaces give it a somewhat austere look. Although the driver is only 12” in diameter, the cabinet measures 19.5”W x 18”H x 18.75”D, making the cone look a bit small for its box compared to many other subwoofers. However, there’s something to be said for a big enclosure -- all else being equal, it will allow the driver to play louder and go lower than would a cabinet of smaller volume. And while the Defiance X12 is relatively large, it weighs a manageable 62 pounds. The Defiance X12 has a downfiring port, and Paradigm specifies the sub’s frequency response as 20-230Hz, ±3dB.
The driver’s cone of carbon-loaded polypropylene has Paradigm’s patented Active Ridge Technology (ART) surround, claimed to provide greater, more linear excursion, for more output and lower distortion. All of this is driven by a 650W RMS (1300W dynamic peak) class-D amplifier. Anthem’s sophisticated Anthem Room Correction (ARC) software and measuring microphone are included, to be used with Paradigm’s Subwoofer Control iOS/Android app or the PC software, both available for free download. (The lower-priced Defiance V subs are “ARC ready”: to use ARC, you’ll have to use the mike built into a mobile device, as no external ARC mike is provided.)
The only control on the X12’s rear panel is a Level knob, which can be defeated by flipping a switch from Local to App. All other controls can be adjusted only via Subwoofer Control, which includes adjustments for: Volume; Phase, adjustable from 0 to 180° in 1° increments; Listening Mode (Movie, Music, Night); Deep Bass Level, adjustable from +10 to -10dB in 1dB increments; and Low-pass Filter, adjustable from 30 to 120Hz, with a third- or fourth-order slope, or bypassed. A frequency sweep can be played to aid in setup, ARC can be turned on or off, factory default settings can be restored, a pass code can be set, and each subwoofer can be individually named.
The Power mode switch can be set to Auto (the X12 is turned on when an audio signal is sensed), On (always on), or Trigger (which turns on the X12 when its 3.5mm Trigger input senses a signal). There are stereo line- and speaker-level inputs and a separate LFE line-level input, all on RCA jacks. A small LED indicates powered-on, standby, or error modes, and a removable IEC power cord and grille are provided. The WT wireless module (not provided for this review) plugs into the rear of the sub; its matching transmitter has stereo inputs (RCA).
I placed the two Defiance X12s where I usually place subs -- on either side of my listening room, about halfway along the sidewalls -- and adjusted their output with the ARC software installed on my PC. Using ARC on a PC is relatively painless; it took me only a few minutes to take the measurements with the provided mike and upload the data to each sub. I recommend this over using the ARC app and the mike built into a smartphone -- or even the app with the ARC mike -- because of the unknown accuracy of the phone’s mike and the greater flexibility provided by the PC version of ARC. For stereo listening, I bypassed each X12’s crossover and controlled the distribution of bass frequencies between my main speakers and the subs using the built-in crossovers in my Anthem STR preamplifier.
Being an Anthem product, the STR preamp also has Anthem Room Correction built in, but I mostly bypassed the preamp’s ARC when evaluating the X12s, to better assess their strengths without adding a layer of complexity with additional processing from the preamp. However, I did use the ARC built into my Anthem AVM 60 surround-sound processor when evaluating the Defiance X12s with multichannel music and film soundtracks. Nearly all SSPs have some kind of built-in room correction, and I can’t imagine not using it when it’s available.
The Defiance X12s replaced my two reference JL Audio E-Sub e112 subwoofers and were used with a pair of MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 main speakers, an ElectroMotion ESL C center channel, and a pair of Definitive Technology BP9080x speakers used as surrounds. A pair of Anthem M1 monoblock power amplifiers drove the ESL 9s, and a NuPrime Audio MCH-K38 powered the rest of the speakers.
Ever since their PS and Servo series of the 1990s, Paradigm has been known for their high-value subwoofers. Judging from what I heard from the X12, the Defiance series is no exception. The two Defiance X12s, with their high-excursion drivers, 650W amps, and big cabinets, were easily able to fill my listening room -- which opens into another room and foyer -- with enough sound pressure to keep up with my hybrid electrostatic front speakers and the big, bipolar Definitive Technology BP9080x surrounds, with their built-in subwoofers.
With ARC activated, the X12s were able to tame much of the suckout my room has in the 30Hz region, which makes them an easy recommendation for anyone who doesn’t already have room correction. Frequency-response anomalies in the bass are common, and a room-correction software as good as ARC can typically improve a subwoofer’s sound in most rooms. The deep, undulating bass line in “The Barry Williams Show,” from Peter Gabriel’s Up (DSD64, Geffen), can sound one-notey if the subwoofer isn’t up to the task, but with the Defiance X12s notes and pitches were well articulated and well integrated with the voices and the equally deep drum beats. Those strange, low-frequency synth chords oozed effortlessly from the subs to fill every space and crevice of my room, all while keeping perfect time with the complex beat.
A more natural-sounding acoustic recording -- “Hello,” from Adele’s 25 (24-bit/192kHz FLAC, XL Recordings) -- slowly built from her pensive opening notes of piano and voice to a huge increase in scale as the full weight of the piano’s lowest register filled my room and Adele’s voice soared gracefully above it. The bass on this recording was a little warmer than I’ve heard through some other systems, but was just as full and satisfying. In “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” the percussive quality of the acoustic guitar as it was struck was solid and tight, with an agility that revealed in this recording a raw sense of energy all the more striking, as the arrangement consists only of guitar and Adele’s voice. Like the piano in “Hello,” the guitar had an incredible weight that the X12s convincingly conveyed with power and dexterity -- each beat sounded slightly different from the next.
As good as the Defiance X12s were with music, they sounded even better with high-resolution film soundtracks from Ultra HD and standard BDs, again filling every corner of my room with apparently endless amounts of smooth, powerful bass. Their slightly rich sound provided an enveloping experience, effortlessly blending with the low frequencies produced by all of my speakers -- it made watching movies totally engrossing. In chapter 8 of John Wick: Chapter 2, during the catacomb shoot-out, the blast of Wick’s shotgun was tight and concussive enough for me to feel as much as hear each blast -- I could easily distinguish it from the sound of Wick’s rifle and sidearm, and of the various weapons of his pursuers. The excellent selection of original 1980s songs in Atomic Blonde and the score by Tyler Bates (who also scored both John Wick films) are presented in DTS:X -- they sounded stellar with the X12s. The songs emanated mostly from the front speakers, but the score and the many Foley effects made judicious use of the surround and height speakers. But no matter where the sounds seemed to come from, I was always impressed by the quantity of the bass response and how well it was integrated into the overall surround soundstage created by my 5.2.2-channel array. With the dual X12s in my system, the action transitioned without hesitation from Marilyn Manson’s driving cover of Ministry’s “Stigmata” -- the drumming hit like a jackhammer -- to the realistically throaty growl of a Porsche 911’s engine as it was driven aggressively through the streets of Berlin.
The Paradigm Defiance X12 subwoofers provided tons of high-quality bass for both two-channel music and multichannel film soundtracks, and were nearly as good as my reference JL Audio E-Sub e112 subwoofers ($2000 each). The JLA e112 has a noticeably smaller cabinet but is more solidly built -- it weighs 11.5 pounds more than the X12 -- with an extremely robust, high-excursion 12” driver and an amplifier specified to deliver 1500W RMS short-term (the only power-output spec JLA publishes). All of the e112’s controls are accessible on its handy top panel, but it lacks a control app and, perhaps more important, built-in room correction. Although the Defiance X12’s sound wasn’t as fast or incisive as the E-Sub e112’s, the Paradigm’s ARC did smooth its response in my room -- its output felt more coherent and uniform from the midbass all the way down to the subsonic frequencies, which helped it better blend with the sound from my main speakers.
The deep-bass notes in Jean Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe Infinity (24/48 FLAC, Sony) had a rich, satisfying quality through the X12s that provided a cavernous soundstage and a solid foundation for the towering synthesized strings and winds. With even the lowest octaves smoothly filling my entire room, the music stretched well beyond the speakers, fluently suffusing the front hemisphere of my room with a very dimensional sound. The JL Audios were tighter and more responsive, but didn’t blend as well with my main speakers -- this tended to shrink the soundstage, which collapsed to an area that included the main speakers and the space between them but stretched no farther, while also slightly decreasing in depth. Although the X12s may have lacked some of the JLAs’ speed and agility, their more even response in my room -- due in large part to ARC -- and their more forgiving quality allowed them to blend better with my main speakers.
Leveling the playing field
I was able to apply the Anthem Room Correction built into my Anthem STR preamp to the JL Audio E-Sub e112s, to see how they would compare with the Defiance X12s, with both pairs of subs benefiting from ARC. As might be expected, the more expensive, more powerful JLAs pulled ahead -- with ARC, they were now better able to extend the system’s sound to lower frequencies with greater authority and power. I could play any bass-heavy track as loud as I could stand and the JLAs always kept up, their sound perfectly integrated with the ultraclean transparency of the electrostatic panels of my MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 hybrid speakers.
When listening at typical levels to music with moderate amounts of bass, the two pairs of subs were nearly indistinguishable. With the Defiance X12s, the electric bass in the opening of “Somewhere, Somebody,” from Jennifer Warnes’s The Hunter (16/44.1 FLAC, Private/Sony), was deep, rich, and as supremely satisfying as I could have wanted. With “Rock You Gently,” however, the warm, pulsating bass became a bit too much of a good thing with the Paradigms -- they couldn’t articulate these gently swaying bass notes in the way I’m used to with the JLAs. The extension and volume were all there, but the X12s sounded a bit slower, with less accurate reproduction of subtle changes in pitch. While I definitely preferred the sound of the JLAs with ARC courtesy my Anthem STR preamp, when ARC was turned off, the differences between the two subs were not as obvious.
The two X12s did a fantastic job of making my room eerily shudder with the sustained infrasonic tones in the opening scene of the Tom Cruise action feature Edge of Tomorrow. The JLAs, again, sounded faster and had greater punch, but struggled a bit to fill my room with wave after wave of lows as the X12s did. Although I appreciated the e112s’ more responsive quality, when called on the X12s could still more easily fill my room with the spine-tingling lows often added to film soundtracks to provide emotional underpinning, and reproduce even the loudest sound effects with realism and authority.
The Defiance X12 subwoofer continues Paradigm’s long tradition of offering high-value powered subwoofers. It faces stiff competition from many manufacturers, including some that provide outstanding value through online sales, such as SVS and Hsu Research -- but few of those subs, if any, offer a room-correction system as advanced as ARC, which makes the X12 stand out in a crowded field. The Paradigm Defiance X12 deserves serious consideration by anyone looking for a reasonably priced, high-quality subwoofer to complement a very capable two-channel or multichannel system.
. . . Roger Kanno
- Speakers -- MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 (mains) and Motion ESL C (center), Definitive Technology BP9080x (surrounds)
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio E-Sub e112 (2)
- Amplifiers -- Anthem M1 (monos), NuPrime Audio MCH-K38
- A/V processor -- Anthem AVM 60
- Preamplifier -- Anthem STR
- Sources -- Hewlett-Packard Pavilion computer running Windows 10, foobar2000, Roon; AudioQuest JitterBug; Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player
- USB link -- AudioQuest Carbon
- Speaker cables -- Analysis Plus Silver Apex, Black Oval 12 and Blue Oval
- Interconnects -- Analysis Plus Silver Apex, Chocolate Oval-In and Digital Crystal digital
- Power cords -- Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
- Power conditioners -- Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI
Paradigm Defiance X12 Subwoofer
Price: $1299 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726