It's tempting to think of automatic equalization circuits built into subwoofers like the Paradigm Prestige 2000SW as a panacea, a tech tweak that will make a subwoofer perform perfectly in any room. Once I started to measure the effects of these circuits, I realized that auto EQ circuits are much like drugs. Some of them solve the problem almost perfectly, some help a bit, and some don't really do anything useful.
There are good reasons for this. Many auto EQ systems lack sufficient digital signal processing power to compensate for the huge effects that room acoustics have on a subwoofer's response. Some of the least expensive ones don't seem to be the result of serious effort or deep expertise.
The Perfect Bass Kit hardware and software that comes with the $3,999 Prestige 2000SW is one of the few subwoofer auto EQ systems that I can endorse without reservation. I've tested a couple of PBK-equipped subs and always found that PBK does pretty much what I would do, given a multiband parametric equalizer and a real-time audio spectrum analyzer to measure a sub's response.
The Prestige 2000SW comes with a box holding the PBK tools: a test microphone, a microphone stand, two long USB-to-mini-USB cables, and a disc with software. The process requires no expertise. Just install the software and enter the microphone's serial number (for calibration purposes), connect the microphone and the sub with the cables, then trigger the test sequence. The software will instruct you to move the microphone at least four times, each time triggering a new test sequence. In just a couple of minutes, your sub is calibrated to deliver a flatter, more even response in your room.
What else does the 2000SW have to earn its $3,999 price? A beefy 15-inch driver and a Class D (digital) amplifier rated at 2,000 watts RMS, mounted in a sealed enclosure. It also includes a furniture-grade finish in your choice of piano black, gloss cherry, satin walnut, or satin black walnut. At 121 pounds, it has a heavy cabinet and probably a colossal driver magnet--both of which are generally good things for a subwoofer.
The Hookup The nearly cubic Prestige 2000SW measures only 21.75 inches wide, so it was easy to fit it into my room's "subwoofer sweet spot," the place in my listening room where most subs sound their best. This is a big plus. Some of the subs that the 2000SW competes with are quite a bit larger. Adjustable, machined-aluminum feet on the bottom make it easy to level the subwoofer on a carpet or an uneven floor.
Input provisions are sparse: RCA unbalanced stereo line-level inputs and one XLR balanced input. However, if you're feeding the Prestige 2000SW signals from an AV receiver or surround sound processor, that's all you need. I connected one of the RCA inputs to the subwoofer output of my Denon AVR-2809Ci receiver for movies, and later to the subwoofer output of the Classé Audio CP-800 preamp/DAC and CA-2300 amp I use for stereo music. If you're running a typical two-channel system with no subwoofer output, you can feed the Prestige 2000SW from the left and right line-output jacks of a preamp or integrated amplifier. I used Sunfire CRM-2 and CRM-2BIP speakers for surround sound and Revel Performa3 F206 tower speakers for stereo. In both systems, I set the crossover frequency to 80 Hz, so the subwoofer would have to handle the full bottom two octaves of bass on its own.
The front panel has three knobs: volume, crossover frequency (35 to 150 Hz with a bypass option), and a phase control with a 0- to 180-degree range. It's a big convenience having these on the front of the sub instead of on the back, where you have to reach around and adjust them by feel. There are also two buttons on the front: one that turns PBK on and off, and one that triggers a test sweep that makes it easy to check your listening room for rattles.
Performance The 2000SW offers two big benefits for audiophiles and for audio-oriented home theater enthusiasts: PBK and the sub's extremely clean, precise sound.
Many audiophiles don't like subwoofers because subs so often sound boomy. Usually, what makes a sub sound boomy isn't the sub; it's the resonances of the room making certain bass notes stand out while other notes are partially muted. This is exactly what PBK corrects. Thanks to PBK (and, I suspect, to the 2000SW's inherent sonic quality), I heard no boom or sloppiness at all when I was testing this subwoofer.
For example, Cibo Matto's "Working for Vacation" incorporates deep bass notes that sound almost as if they were intended to get bad car subwoofers booming really loud. Through the PBK-ed 2000SW, the low notes sounded powerful yet tightly defined. The bass line's melody, which through many systems can only barely be discerned through the boom, was easy to pick out.
A tougher test of a subwoofer's musical accuracy is any of the tunes from the Bill Evans Trio's The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961. "Detour Ahead" is one of my favorite performances on this three-CD set because it features bassist Scott LaFaro, who often focused in the upper register of his instrument, lingering instead on the lower notes. (A subwoofer crossed over at 80 Hz reproduces only the bottom octave or so of a standard upright bass's range.) It was gratifying to hear these deep notes reproduced so cleanly and evenly through the 2000SW, without a trace of boom. I've heard a lot of upright bassists play acoustically, without amplification, and the way the instrument sounded in my listening room through the 2000SW is the way the instrument sounds from just a few feet away: full and resonant, but smooth and with no particular emphasis of any notes.
Bebel Gilberto's "Aganjú" is another cut that, like Cibo Matto's "Working for Vacation," tends to make audio systems boom uncontrollably. The deep notes that drop about one minute into the tune often overwhelm subwoofers, pushing them into distortion and aggravating room resonances. In fact, I included this tune on my test CD but usually skip it because it sounds so bad. (It's usually better through headphones.) Through the 2000SW, however, the song's deep bass notes sounded tight and well defined; they grooved rather than boomed.
Click over to Page Two for more in Performance, as well as Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...