Dennis Burger is a native Alabamian whose passion for AV began sometime before the age of seven, when he dismantled his parents' brand new 25-inch solid-state Zenith console TV and exclaimed--to the amusement of no one except the delivery guy--that it was missing all of its vacuum tubes. He has since contributed to Home Theater Magazine, Wirecutter, Cineluxe, Electronic House, and more. His specialties include high-end audio, home theater receivers, advanced home automation, and video codecs.
Take a look at Paradigm's new Defiance X15 subwoofer--at least with its grille on--and nothing special really catches your eye. It's a pretty standard-looking black box measuring roughly 24.6 inches tall and deep, and 23.2 inches wide. A big beasty, to be sure, but this is a 15-inch sub, after all. And that's certainly not out of proportion with comparable offerings from other manufacturers. It takes a peek behind the grille to start to get a sense of what makes the Defiance X15 a little different. Its beefy carbon-loaded polypropylene cone is the first clue, with its Paradigm-patented Active Ridge Technology surround. The latter gives the driver enhanced output thanks to its greater excursion, and a reported 50-percent reduction in audible distortion as compared with similar drivers mated to standard surrounds.
What makes this somewhat surprising is the Defiance X15's price. At just $1,499, it's a shockingly affordable sub in its class, especially when you consider its pedigree. Sure, that price is reflected in its cabinet materials, but it makes the sub a good match for Paradigm's Premier series and Monitor SE series speakers, both aesthetically and financially. For that price, you get a well-designed sub with a down-firing port and a built-in 900-Watt RMS (1800-Watt Dynamic Peak) Class-D amplifier, backed up by app control and a few other special goodies that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find at this price point.
A trip around back gives a few additional clues to the Defiance X15's distinctive features, especially the presence of its ARC input, a USB port designed for use with Anthem Room Correction. This, if you're not familiar with Paradigm/Anthem products in general, is a pretty big deal, because it gives the Defiance X15 access to one of the best room correction systems on the market, independent of the room correction system built into your receiver or preamp. True, room EQ via the X15 is limited to the frequencies covered by the sub itself, but that's really where digital room correction does its best work anyway, so it could well be the only room correction you need, especially if you're running a stereo or non-object-based surround sound setup. For more info on why, see our updated primer on the subject, Room Correction Revisited.
In addition to the aforementioned ARC port for room correction support, the Paradigm Defiance X15 also sports a number of other handy connections, including the expected unbalanced LFE in, but also stereo line-level inputs, balanced XLR LFE in, left and right speaker-level inputs (banana plugs only, with no corresponding outputs), and a port for the receiver end of Paradigm's optional Defiance WT wireless kit ($199).
The back panel also includes a 12v trigger input; a toggle switch to choose between Trigger, Auto, and On power modes; a level control knob; and another toggle switch that selects between Local settings (all of the aforementioned switches) and app control. Go with the latter, because the Paradigm Subwoofer Control app unlocks all sorts of other goodies that you'll want access to, including phase and low pass filter controls, listening modes (Movie, Music, Night), a frequency sweep generator with a neat pause function, and the ability to toggle ARC room correction on and off.
ARC is run by a separate mobile app, by the way, or you can go the old-school route and use your computer and the included microphone. Either way, it's an essential step, and for the duration of this review I used ARC via the X15 as my sole room correction, disabling Audyssey on my Marantz AV8805.
As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site in the past, I normally run no less than two subwoofers in my main media room, not for increased output, but rather to fill in some unavoidable dips at around 45Hz (with a sub on one side of my system) and 80Hz (with a sub on the other) caused by the geometry of my listening space. Given that I knew I would only be receiving one Defiance X15 for review, I disabled one of my reference subs beforehand and spent some time listening with only one sub, so as not to create an unfair comparison. In the end, I positioned the X15 on the left side of my system, if only due to the fact that it's too wide to fit in the subwoofer spot on the right side. It is, after all, nearly three inches wider than my reference SVS PB-4000, which is itself snug as a bug on that side of the room.
Despite the wealth of connectivity, the tried-and-true unbalanced LFE input worked for my purposes. I ran one of the subwoofer outs from the Marantz AV8805 to it, and ran ARC via the app. Other speakers in the system consisted of a pair of GoldenEar Triton One.R towers, a GoldenEar Reference center, and a pair of Triton Sevens as surrounds. Crossovers were set at 80Hz, except the Reference Center, for which the crossover point was set at 100Hz.
Let's be clear about something from the giddyup: I fully realize that if you're in the market for a 15-inch ported sub or four, you're buying them for home cinema purposes. But I'm a contrarian, and a rascally one at that, so I started my listening sessions with the least subwoofery song I could think of that would still give the Defiance X15 anything to do: Rush's "YYZ" from the original Mercury Records CD release of Moving Pictures. Geddy Lee plays around a lot on the meedley-meedley strings for this one (I mean, as meedley-meedley as a bass guitar can get), so a lot of the low end here isn't very low. But what there is to be heard is still quite complex, and what I was listening for here is exactly how much the Paradigm sub drew attention to itself. This is a song where you shouldn't really be aware that there's a subwoofer, if done right. And indeed, I found myself walking over to the cabinet to ascertain where the Triton One.Rs left off and the Defiance X15 picked up the ball and ran with it. For a sub this big to be content with serving simple reinforcement duties is impressive, in my book, and it allayed one of my biggest fears about the X15 right off the bat. In utter defiance of its heft, the Defiance X15 is a quite musical subwoofer. I would go so far as to call it nimble.
A switch to Elvin Bishop's "Juke Joint Jump" from this Best Of album revealed all of the same nuance and articulation of upper bass, along with an unsurprising capacity for thump. No need to walk over to the subwoofer this time. It definitely let its presence be undeniably known. But not in an imposing or dominating way. And certainly not with any hint of bloat or boom. I think what struck me the most here was simply the cleanliness of the bass. The utter lack of audible distortion. The lifelike presence of reinforcing energy in the room. What's more, the sub's decay struck my ears as utterly natural.
With this track, I could also really hear substantial differences in the performance of the sub with ARC turned off and on again. Just a reminder: ARC via the Defiance X15 was the only room correction employed at all during the course of this review, and it turned out to be the only room correction needed. With ARC turned off, there was an unevenness to the bass notes here--an over-emphasis of the notes around 60Hz mark and an under-emphasis on notes right around the crossover point between sub and speakers. Impressed as I am by ARC's ability to smooth out the peaky peaks, I'm more impressed by its ability to fill in dips to a reasonable degree.
For a bit more of a torture test, I queued up Alexisonfire's "This Could Be Anywhere in the World," which may seem a strange choice if you've never heard this track with a good subwoofer in place. Right around the eight-second mark and at regular intervals thereafter, there's this incredibly low, deep, belly-quivering bass drop that I'm not sure will even come through via the YouTube clip below. But if you know the song well enough, you know what I'm talking about. The Defiance X15 handles that seismic boom beautifully, with utter composure but absolutely no hesitation. It also proved itself more than capable of providing the rocking bedrock of the song, cranking out the complex upper bass with equal aplomb.
With movies like The Amazing Spider-Man on UHD Blu-ray, the Defiance X15 really got to stretch its legs. It's pretty clear this puppy was designed to truly flex its muscles with movie soundtracks, and here again, I found the difference between ARC On and ARC Off to be unsurprisingly significant. In Chapter 12 of the disc, in which Spidey (Andrew Garfield) faces off against the Lizard in the sewers of New York City, I found myself impressed by the sub's staggering 30-to-60Hz rumble and slam. Stack "power and authority" onto one side of a balance scale and "articulation and dexterity" onto the other, and the X15 keeps those competing forces in admirable equilibrium. Its ability to maintain the musicality of the plucked webs in the sequence while also delivering the booms of combat with unimpeachable dynamic oomph is more than admirable. And my goodness, its output is simply staggering. In my 17-by-19-ish-foot semi-open listening space, I never had the need or opportunity to run the sub at anything approaching full throttle.
If there's an objective criticism to be leveled at the Paradigm Defiance X15, it's that for all its authority above, say, 30Hz, the sub definitely becomes subtler below 25Hz or so. As such, the ominous sub-20Hz rumbles in the Amazing Spider-Man scene mentioned above aren't felt as strongly as you might expect for a sub of this size.
Sub-sonically similar sequences in The Incredible Hulk and the abysmal 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake reveal similar results: where the Defiance X15 excels in the slam-you-in-the-chest department, it does hold back a bit in the flap-your-britches-legs department, leaning more heavily on clean and impactful audible bass than powerful tactile subsonics.
A more subjective knock would be the fact that the Defiance line as a whole
isn't going to win any favors with more decor-conscious members of your household, and that's doubly true with the X15 due to its size. Corners had to be cut somewhere to deliver this level of output and performance at this price, though, and in this case that means that literal cabinet corners aren't rounded or smoothed off.
Simply put, the Paradigm Defiance X15 is a big, plain, bland-looking off-black box.
Comparison and Competition
This hardly strikes me as a fair comparison, mostly due to the difference in price, but it seems to me that the sub most people will likely be stacking the Defiance X15 up against is SVS's PB16-Ultra, which sells for $1,000 more at $2,499.99. The SVS has a slight edge in terms of driver size, and features three front-firing ports instead of one down-firing. It also has the potential to deliver greater output below 40Hz, though not as much above that point.
A somewhat fairer comparison might be made to that company's PB-4000 (reviewed here), which at 1,899.99 is closer in price, though it does rely on a smaller 13.5-inch driver. In this case, too, the SVS has more lower-end output capacity, especially in standard and extended modes, but can't match the X15's SPLs at 50Hz and above. Both of the SVS subs are easier on the eyes, in my opinion, but neither sports the room correction capabilities of the Paradigm.
Hsu Research's VTF-15H MK2 ($1,249 in satin black; $1,399 in rosenut veneer) is a more comparably sized and priced sub that offers oodles of ported and sealed modes and EQ options. It delivers similar CEA-2010 20-31.5 Hz average output (though much more at 20 Hz), and generally three to four dB less from 40 Hz to 80 Hz. It also does so in a cabinet that's significantly narrower (at 18 inches, compared with 23.2 inches for the Paradigm), though significantly deeper (at 28 inches, versus 24.6 for the Paradigm).
All things considered, the Paradigm Defiance X15 is an intriguing and compelling subwoofer that deserves your attention and consideration if you're looking for a bass-maker with this much output and this large a footprint. In some ways, it behaves like the ported subwoofer that it is, delivering staggering SPLs, though without the emphasis on bowel-loosening subsonic frequencies you might expect. In terms of the shape and character of its output, it behaves a little more like a sealed subwoofer, though it doesn't suffer from the artificially poppy bass that some sealed designs exhibit. All in all, it's a nice compromise between the two designs, and it challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about what a 15-inch subwoofer is supposed to sound like. There's no lethargy here. No boom. No bloat. And a surprising lack of distortion. Those factors, combined with the X15's colossal output above 40Hz, make it a beast to contend with.
Of course, the competition in the subwoofer market is stiff, and so many of Paradigm's competitors have so much going for them. The two aces up the X15's sleeves are its price--just $1,499--and its integrated Anthem Room Correction, which seriously outclasses the room EQ function built into the handful of subs out there that have such functionality. There's no denying here that Paradigm has fired a shot across the bow of its internet-direct competition, which is a very good thing in my opinion. The subwoofer market needed a bit of a shakeup, and with the Defiance X15, Paradigm has made things interesting again.
• Visit the Paradigm website for more product information.
• Check out our Subwoofer Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• Paradigm Introduces New Defiance Subwoofers at HomeTheaterReview.com.