Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 Subwoofer Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 Subwoofer Review

Paradigm Monitor SUB 12

By Jim Wilson (theJman)



Introduction
The subject of this review is the Paradigm Monitor SUB 12. The Monitor SUB 12 is a very small acoustic suspension subwoofer that measures just 15.1"×13"×14.5", and weighs only 38lbs. As the 'SUB 12' name implies the driver Paradigm uses is 12". Sporting a 300 watt 'Ultra' class D amp -- with a 900 watt peak -- and a claimed frequency response of 16Hz-150Hz, the Monitor SUB 12 has impressive specifications.


Ordering
Paradigm sells their products through a dealer network. A quick check in my area showed three authorized dealers within an hours drive. The Monitor SUB 12 lists for $999, but there may be some opportunity to negotiate with the dealer (that's merely conjecture however). There is a 3 year parts and labor warranty, which is longer than the industry standard.


Unboxing
The Monitor SUB 12 came single boxed, not what I generally encounter with a subwoofer costing almost a thousand dollars. The entire top and bottom of the box was covered with hard styrofoam, precision molded for the Monitor SUB 12. It was protected by a heavy plastic bag. The grill was detached and came in its own internal box, an additional step which should virtually eliminate the possibility of any damage due to shipping.

Accessories were fairly typical; a detachable power cord, the owners manual and tiny screw-in carpet spikes. I didn't use the spikes because the Monitor SUB 12 comes with a set of large feet already attached.


Impressions
The first thing that strikes you is just how small the Monitor SUB 12 truly is. After seeing what the physical dimensions are listed as on Paradigm's website you can tell it won't be imposing, but once placed in your room it quickly becomes evident just how tiny this unit really is. For those who don't want an imposing subwoofer -- or have WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) to contend with -- Paradigm has you covered.

The cabinet is finished in a black ash veneer, which is the only option available. The veneer application was first rate, with no obvious defects in materials or workmanship. The walls are constructed from .75" MDF all around. The outside surface of the front panel has an additional layer, a hard polymer material that appears to be used as a vibration dampener. It was ever so slightly bowed at both the top and bottom, causing what amounted to a negligible misalignment at the seams. The front panel is noteworthy for more than just the material it's covered with; there are no visible screws holding the driver in place, so for the person who likes to run sans grill you can do that and still have a clean appearance. To further entice those same people to ditch the grill Paradigm also added a small emblem -- which matches the one on the outside of the grill perfectly -- so whichever way you decide to use the Monitor SUB 12 it takes on the appearance of being designed specifically for that configuration. Pretty slick.

Knocking on the side and top panels returns a somewhat hollow sound, but the enclosure doesn't feel cheap. It's fairly light so moving it around shouldn't be a problem for the vast majority of people. All inside panels, except for the front and rear, are covered with 1.5" of synthetic damping material. For such a diminutive subwoofer the feet are quite large and come across as being very substantial for something that weighs less than 40lbs. They're made from a hard rubberized compound and are L shaped, making it so every corner is completely supported.

The driver used in the Monitor SUB 12 is pretty unique. Utilizing an injection molded, carbon loaded polypropylene cone (how's that for a mouthful?) the material comes across as both light and stiff, the ideal combination for any subwoofer. Mounted in a cast aluminum 8 spoke basket with a huge single slug magnet and a 1" vent, it certainly looks impressive. Pushing on the cone reveals that it doesn't move in or out very easily, surprising when you take into account Paradigm's claimed 1.5" peak-to-peak excursion. That resistance to movement may partially be due to the NLC (Non-Limiting Corrugated) Santoprene® surround, which is worth explaining in further detail.

Unlike the vast majority (or perhaps even all?) of the driver surrounds currently available this one has a corrugated texture, which comes across visually as ripples or waves. Paradigm claims the benefit derived from this type of surround is that it doesn't deform in a non-linear fashion as the driver starts to reach the extremes of its travel -- both in and out -- which is a drawback inherent to conventional surrounds. That's said to ensure the driver will have smoother travel overall, which in turn lowers distortion. In theory it seems to work similarly to the "crumple zones" in most modern day cars; areas designed specifically to collapse in response to an event. For cars that would be an accident, whereas in the Monitor SUB 12's case it's nothing more than normal movement.



I found the grill to be a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand I liked the fact it has a slightly different appearance abetted by a gentle arching contour, along with a horizontal concaved lip at the very bottom. There's a stylish emblem adhered to that lip and the fabric is very transparent. The frame is made from plastic though, and isn't exactly what I would call sturdy. A nice feature are the slight indentations on the left and right side, designed not only to break up some of the black-on-black monotone appearance but to also aid in its removal. Think Paradigm is trying to tell us something about running the Monitor SUB 12 without a grill?

Externally the amp appears to be pretty basic. Most of the goodies are on the inside though, but let's start with what you can see first. Almost instantly I noticed one thing was conspicuously absent; a power switch. There isn't one, in any form, meaning the only mode is auto-on. It worked flawlessly for me -- always coming on when it should and never going off when it shouldn't -- but I'm old school in that regard and would prefer a switch. The only connections are dual RCA inputs, one labeled LFE In while the other says Low Level Input. There are adjustment dials for Subwoofer Level (gain), Subwoofer Cut-Off Freq (low pass filter essentially) and a variable phase. The first two dials have a slight detent at the 12 o'clock position which are used to clearly denote 50% volume and an 80Hz LPF (respectively), the most common settings for those two functions. A seemingly small detail perhaps, but a nice touch nonetheless.

Paradigm classifies their amp as an 'Ultra' Class D, something they define as having the following benefits:
  • BIG Power from a Compact Package: The low-noise high-power compact transformer (0.29 lb/0.13 kg) boasts an ETD core purpose-designed for smaller applications that must have high power. Noise suppression networks and top quality MOSFETs help to achieve high current but with quiet operation. Unlike conventional Class-D amplifier designs, our design inherently rejects variations in the power supply.
  • Full-Bridge Output Stage: Operates from split power supply rails ensuring exceptionally low distortion. Not only does the design increase the speed of switching it also dramatically increases switching efficiency.
  • Precision Driver Components and Military-Spec (FR-4-Rated) Glass-Epoxy Circuit Board: Reference-quality component parts and a circuit board painstakingly designed by hand guarantee an enviable degree of performance and long-term reliability even under extreme conditions.
  • Unique Temperature Sensors: Maintain a safe operating temperature even when the Monitor subwoofers are operating under maximum output conditions.
  • Superior Short Circuit Protection: Should current through the MOSFETs exceed our internally preset limit, the Digital Signal Processing (see below) disables the output stage. Reaction time is typically within 10 µs.
  • Digital Signal Processing: Monitors the line current and voltage so that long-term average output power remains continuous. Sophisticated mathematical algorithms shape frequency response (see graph) ensuring accurate, consistent and musical bass without distortion even when the subs are pounding out bass at the highest levels.

There is one additional port on the Monitor SUB 12's amp, and that's reserved for the Perfect Bass Kit. Designated "PBK" in Paradigm lingo, it turns out to be the exact same thing I was sent for the Martin Logan Dynamo 1500X review. I liked it then, and I like it now.

Paradigm's PBK is similar in functionality to certain versions of Audyssey, but instead of EQing all frequencies like Audyssey does the PBK is restricted to just the lower few octaves. It's a custom solution designed exclusively for specific Paradigm and Martin Logan subwoofers, so integration is completely seamless. The $100 kit contains a calibrated microphone, a CD with the Windows version of the software, a pair of USB cables and a tripod. There's also an extensive Operators Guide.

The PBK is easy to use and requires very little prior tuning knowledge or experience. Basically you install the software and then connect the mic and Monitor SUB 12 to your computer using the supplied USB cables. When hooked up in that manner the computer becomes a 'surrogate' of sorts; it not only plays the test tones generated by the software but it also downloads the EQ information directly to the subwoofer. There are a few other steps, but they're equally simple. For example, you need to set the gain to 12 o'clock, adjust the Subwoofer Cut-Off Freq dial to the Bypass position and finally set the phase to 0 degrees before doing any tests. There's precious little else; it literally took longer to unpack everything then it did to EQ the Monitor SUB 12.

When you do start taking measurements be certain the microphone is at ear height, and that it's pointing towards the ceiling. One potential drawback is each of the USB cables is only about 8 feet long, so if your primary seating position(s) are further than 15-16 feet from the Monitor SUB 12 the microphone may not be ideally situated. You have to measure from a minimum of 5 distinctly different locations as well, each of which has to be at least 2 feet apart. Paradigm also advises that you tune the Monitor SUB 12 with the PBK before running any other room correction software (Audyssey, MCACC, YPAO, et al). That's pretty typical of the breed however.

Another option included with the review unit was Paradigm's PT-2 Wireless module. This small control box allows you place the Monitor SUB 12 wherever it would sound best, completely unencumbered by wiring issues. Most of us have found out, usually the hard way, that where a subwoofer fits the best is not necessarily where it sounds the best or where we have cables. What if that problem simply disappeared? With a range of 50 feet, and the ability to control up to 4 subwoofers using a single module, the PT-2 is perhaps all you need to finally be free of placement constraints. It worked (almost) flawlessly for me; never once did I hear any drop out or perceptible delay, regardless of where I placed the subwoofer in my house (do you have any idea how bizarre it is to hear bass emanating from your bathroom while watching a movie in the living room?). The Monitor SUB 12 comes with an infrared transceiver already built in, so there's nothing to add or modify if you want to use the PT-2. Plug and play simplicity at its finest.

I said "almost" flawless previously because there was one aspect I think could use some refinement; the PT-2 seems to have its own sleep function, comparable to the standby mode of most subwoofers. In this case it would go dormant and cut off communications with the Monitor SUB 12 if you muted the TV for even a single minute. There was a virtually inaudible little 'pop' when that occurred, providing an indication when it had happened. Once awoken it took 2-3 seconds for the PT-2 to "resync" with the Monitor SUB 12. Since I pretty much always mute commercials it became a little frustrating. Paradigm should consider adding an option that would allow the user some adjustability regarding how/when the PT-2 disengages itself.

The owners manual is a quality piece, utilizing a large and easily legible font. There are sections for connection and placement, replete with concise diagrams. There's even a 'tuning' chapter, designed with the sole purpose of helping you get the most from the Monitor SUB 12. Every connection and control is described using short but detailed explanations. Full technical specifications are included as well, and everything is published in two different languages; English and French.


Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 ft^3), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 15 hours.

For its size the Monitor SUB 12 does a pretty remarkable job. Why is there a caveat about "its size"? The truth is there are certain immutable laws of physics at play, and small cabinet volumes do impart restrictions. The most prominent of them is very deep bass, which is inevitably constrained by the compact dimensions. It wasn't difficult to tell the very lowest octave was being filtered by either a high pass or DSP tuning. That's both good and bad of course; on the one hand you do lose some of the tactile sensation, but the benefit is the Monitor SUB 12 never attempted to do something it wasn't able to - regardless of how hard I tried it never lost composure. Dynamics could have been a bit more pronounced, but little else was lacking. A quick glance at the measurements reveals a billiard table flat response curve, so it certainly doesn't embellish the output.


Movies
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level, which is slightly above what I would normally use on a day-to-day basis.

10,000 BC (DVD)
This is essentially a story about a young mammoth hunter named D'Leh. He's somewhat of an outcast among his Yaghal tribe, due primarily to the fact that his father had abandoned the very same tribe years earlier to go on a "secret" mission (from which he never returned). Whispers and uncomfortable moments are a constant because of his fathers tainted legacy, so D'Leh always finds himself on the outside looking in. Once a year the mammoth migrate right through the valley the Yaghal live in, and their annual hunting expedition occurs in response. It's absolutely imperative for the survival of the Yaghal that they get a mammoth every year, so as you can imagine D'Leh inadvertently becomes a central figure in the hunt.

As the mammoths roam through the grasslands feeding the Yaghal tribesmen begin to stalk them. When the ponderous beasts walk there's supposed to be a ground shaking effect to convey their presence. While the foot stomps sounded extremely clear, they didn't quite have sufficient depth to make me feel as though they were in the room with me. Same with the stampede that occurs once the tribe begin their assault; there was excellent clarity and precision, but just a small amount of feel. The Monitor SUB 12 certainly had enough to keep me engrossed during the rampage, but wasn't quite able to intimidate me. Not once did I hear anything that lead me to believe it was over-extending itself though, the Monitor SUB 12 always remained dignified and under control.

How To Train Your Dragon (blu-ray)
HTTYD, as this movie is affectionately known, is notorious for containing some extremely deep bass. It has rapidly become a torture test, used to determine just how low a subwoofer can play. My girls are grown and on their own now, so the days I spend watching cartoon movies are over, but seeing as how this one is often mentioned with reverence I decided to pick up the blu-ray and add it to my repertoire.

The story revolves around a Viking boy named Hiccup, who is awkward and less than fearsome to say the least. Naturally he's the son of the Viking leader, Stoik the Vast, so he's viewed as a bit of a disappointment by his father. This particular Viking clan is bent on slaying the dragons who incessantly attack their village. Of course Hiccup befriends a dragon, one he names Toothless. Predictably all manner of subterfuge ensues from that point, but as is the case with most recent animated movies there is some genuine adult entertainment among the inevitable plot lines.

Scene 15 is where things really begin to heat up, no dragon pun intended. The Vikings decide to take the battle to the enemy, and the plan is to attack the dragons in their mountain lair. As it turns out though the dragons are slaves themselves, subservient to a massive beast ensconced deep in the mountain. At first the LFE portion of the soundtrack is fairly tame, but then things get rather difficult for your subwoofer.

When the Vikings blast through the mountain they inadvertently awaken the beast within. It comes to life with an intense fiery roar, but the Monitor SUB 12 wasn't quite able to make me recoil with terror. It certainly sounded good, but nothing in my living room was vibrating. As the Vikings continue their onslaught the little Monitor SUB 12 fought hard to enthrall.

The assault culminates with an ariel battle between the massive dragon and the Hiccup/Toothless combination. Its climax is when the latter leads the former on a kamikaze mission straight into the ground. From what I've read the impact generated by the massive dragon registers in the sub-10 Hz range, which means it should loosen fillings. There was a slight sensation of impact transmitted to my chair, but my dental work remained intact. Realistically though that's all you can really expect from such a compact subwoofer, so I wasn't disappointed at all.

Hurt Locker (blu-ray)
I decided to switch gears a little and go with something that's known for more than its LFE soundtrack. While there are some portions of Hurt Locker that will tax your subwoofer, it's not really that type of movie. Instead, this one is more of a character piece that chronicles the instability of a bomb disposal expert in Iraq. The person in question is Sargent Will James, played skillfully by Jeremy Renner. From the few movies I've seen Renner in he's hit-or-miss; sometimes Jeremy absolutely nails it, like in Hurt Locker, while other times he misses badly (think the Jason Bourne sequel).

Sargent James is alive, in spite of himself it seems, because he's a rogue in every sense of the word. A completely reckless adrenaline junkie who appears to be tempting fate on a daily basis, James continually takes risks. That trait causes his support team to constantly be on edge, and eventually they begin to despise him. James ultimately becomes so consumed with bomb disposal that he leaves his wife and infant son behind to continue doing it, even once he's been rotated stateside.

At several points during this movie there are the typical battle scenes, affording the Monitor SUB 12 an opportunity to strut its stuff. Helicopters were potent, with their rotor blades producing a solid 'whooshing' sound. Every so often there would be a deep foreboding rumble injected into the soundtrack, put there specifically to heighten the sense of doom. That came across with authority, but most of the explosions could have used a bit more kick. The machine gun fire had substantial "pop" to it, especially the 50 cal that was mounted to the Humvee. Overall the Monitor SUB 12 was quite satisfying during the mayhem, and accorded itself with grace throughout the entire movie.


After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten, but I detected almost nothing. Regardless of how hard I drove it the amp barely registered any perceptible heat.


Music
Grand Funk Railroad - Rock And Roll Soul (Streaming)
This is the type of music I cut my teeth on, the stuff from the late 60's and early 70's, and to this day it still holds a very special place in my heart. From the "lighter" music -- think Credence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and Three Dog Night -- to the heavier fare -- bands such as Black Sabbath, Cream and Humble Pie -- I have never grown tired of listening to the songs from this era. Sadly too many of these bands had very short careers, releasing multiple albums in a single year sometimes, and then simply disappearing (just ask John Fogerty about that). Mark Farner was one such prolific song writer, and I count him among my favorites.

Rock And Roll Soul was released during the time when the word 'Railroad' was still part of the bands name (it was later shortened to simply Grand Funk). This was also the bass guitar era, where the rhythm section was not considered merely background noise but was actually a prominent part of a song. Often this type of music was called "heavy" because of that, and I was fine with it.

The Monitor SUB 12 displayed pretty solid dynamics here, and even mustered a good amount of presence in spite of the elevated volume level I was playing this song at. And by elevated I mean "hey, will you turn that down!". Its a good thing I live on my own now. Mel Schacher's bass guitar was growling at me, while Don Brewers kick drum pounded away. The little Monitor SUB 12 seemed to like this song as much as I do.

The Beatles - Come Together (Streaming)
My favorite sounding bass guitar of all time has got to be the Rickenbacker, but a close second is the hollow bodied Hofner 500/1. Paul McCartney is one of the few musicians to ever use these Karl Hofner masterpieces, so unfortunately almost no one knows about them. To hear this beast live is a treat though, because it's equal parts guttural power and poise. Sir Paul understood that decades before most others it seems.

Early in their career the majority of Beatles songs were recorded in such a manner as to almost deemphasize the bass guitar into virtual obscurity. They were strictly pop music then, but that's what they wanted to be. Within a few years of their initial success they started to adopt the flavor of the times and produce music akin to the type Grand Funk was playing. In other words, bass heavy. Come Together may have been the culmination of that for the Beatles, because the bass guitar was the loudest instrument on many portions of this track. The Monitor SUB 12 seemed to enjoy this one too because the Hofner sounded rich and clean, with excellent pitch definition. The sustain on the notes before each chorus made me smile; you could almost hear the plucking of individual strings when Paul launched back into the main rhythm.

Led Zeppelin - Moby Dick (CD)
From my all time favorite 'Zep' album, Led Zeppelin II, I queued up the only instrumental. Moby Dick always struck me as little more than a jam session, the type every band does just to loosen up, but like most things associated to Zeppelin it just seemed to work. Frankly I don't think there's a bad song on this album, so I could have chosen any of them. I opted for Moby Dick because there are no vocals, which meant I didn't have to "tune out" anything while I was concentrating on the rhythm section. And what a rhythm section it was...

Comprised of the under-rated John Paul Jones, and the incomparable John 'Bonzo' Bonham, Moby Dick is the rare tune that lets those two guys -- especially Bonzo -- steal the spotlight from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant for a moment. Similar to most songs released in the late 60's this one didn't have tremendous dynamic range in the recording, but without the really deep stuff to concern itself with the Monitor SUB 12 did a stellar job.

JPJ's bass guitar sounded rich and formidable, and even as the volume rose the Monitor SUB 12 remained unperturbed. However, this song is really about Bonham's drum solo. The Paradigm was a faithful companion, playing its heart out. Of particular note were the hits from the kick drum, and with the speed of this mans right foot it's no small accomplishment to keep up with him.


Conclusion
There's no denying that the Monitor SUB 12 is one tiny subwoofer, yet even with that Paradigm stuffed it with all manner of interesting features and technologies. It's a marvel of packaging, for sure. What also can't be denied though is the fact that physics still rule the day when it comes to the lowest octave, and deep bass ultimately likes a large enclosure. The Monitor SUB 12 didn't always have the muscle to create ground-shaking LFE effects, but it was no 98 pound weakling either. If you're in a situation that mandates your subwoofer be very small -- for whatever reason -- the Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 should be one you audition.


Please use the Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 Discussion Thread for questions and comments



Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 Pictures




Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 Measurements
These measurements were taken using XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro. The unit was indoors, physically positioned in the center of my listening room with no other speakers running.

This represents the overall frequency response


This represents the Spectrograph from the driver

-Jim

If you take yourself too seriously, expect me to do the exact opposite
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