Paradigm Monitor SUB 12, Perfect Bass Kit and PT-2 Wireless Transmitter Reviewed

Paradigm Monitor SUB 12, Perfect Bass Kit and PT-2 Wireless Transmitter Reviewed

Sean Killebrew found the Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 to be an exemplary subwoofer on its own, but when he paired it with the Perfect Bass Kit, things took a dramatic turn. Read on to find out more.

Paradigm_Monitor_SUB_12_subwoofer_review_with_CD.jpgParadigm is a Canadian manufacturer of high-end speakers and other audio components that has been in the game for over 30 years. When my editor told me they were about to send a subwoofer my way for review, I was thrilled, as I've always been fond of Paradigm's engineering and sound quality, not to mention the fact that I happen to own a few of their products. The Monitor SUB 12 ($999) is the flagship in the Monitor Series, which also includes the SUB 8 and SUB 10, all three of which feature Ultra-Class D amplification and USB inputs for use with Paradigm's Perfect Bass Kit.

Additional Resources
• Read more subwoofer reviews by the staff at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore Floorstanding Speakers and Bookshelf Speakers to pair with the sub.
• Explore preamps in our AV Preamplifier Review section.

The Monitor SUB 12 is fairly compact, when you consider the fact that it's housing a 12-inch, carbon-loaded polypropylene cone and a 900-watt amp (300 watts continuous), measuring just over 15 inches high by 13 inches wide and 14.5 inches deep. It weighs a manageable 33 pounds and, thanks to the Perfect Bass Kit, placement options abound. One of my favorite manufacturing trends is trickle-down technology, which is something Paradigm has fully embraced with the Monitor Series. Specifically, the NLC• non-limiting corrugated Santoprene surrounds on the cone, which help the cones move more air, have trickled down from Paradigm's Signature Series. More air equals more bass and more bass equals more fun. Did I mention this beast goes all the way down to 16Hz? The back plate offers the usual assortment of subwoofer features, including controls for volume, crossover frequency and phase. As part of this review, Paradigm also sent me their Perfect Bass Kit ($99) and PT-2 Wireless Transmitter ($149).

Paradigm_Monitor_SUB_12_subwoofer_review_Perfect_Bass_Kit.jpgThe Hookup
The packaging on the Monitor SUB 12, as well as the PT-2 Wireless Transmitter and Perfect Bass Kit, was adequate and allowed everything to show up intact. The design of the Monitor SUB 12 can accurately be described as minimalist, which is good for getting it past a discerning wife. This said, the grille is removable. The Monitor SUB 12 looks much more menacing without it, thanks to those corrugated surrounds on the cone.

I connected it to my current reference system, which consists of the Cary Cinema 12 processor, an Integra DTA-70.1 multi-channel amp, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a MacBook Pro and a Music Fidelity V-Link USB to S/PDIF converter. All of the cabling came courtesy of WireWorld.



Performance
I spent about 24 hours breaking in the Monitor SUB 12 and then started digging for the proper source material to test Paradigm's claims of low-frequency prowess. For my initial listening tests, I skipped the PBK and wireless transmitter in order to gauge the sub's out of the box performance.

Read more about the performance of the Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 system on Page 2.

Paradigm_Monitor_SUB_12_subwoofer_review_without_grille.jpgThe first test came courtesy of a DTS Blu-ray demo disc from last year's CES (Consumer Electronics Show). The song "I Just Can't Get Enough" by Rooney is presented on the disc in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and provides plenty of snappy bass. The Monitor SUB 12 came alive and blended seamlessly with the rest of the speakers in my system. The bass was powerful without being overbearing and brought quite a bit of depth to this admittedly cheesy song. After playing around with the volume and phase controls on the Monitor SUB 12, I listened to the song again and enjoyed the bass even more.

Truth be told, I was itching to find out if the PBK was more hype than substance, so after my Rooney Cheese Fest, I fired it up. Thankfully, unlike Paradigm sister company Anthem's ARC room correction system, which oddly uses a serial interface, the PBK is all USB-based. Setting it up is a pretty straightforward affair, although it's worth noting that it's PC-only, so I sidelined my Mac and grabbed my wife's Sony. To set it up, you simply connect your computer to the sub and microphone via USB cables (all included in the kit), load the software and follow the instructions. Paradigm suggests a minimum of five listening positions, although the PBK will measure up to ten. I went with the minimum and, in short order, the software was optimizing the subwoofer's response in my listening room while also correcting audio deficiencies. The results were pretty impressive and, while I'll explain them in more detail as I get into the rest of my listening tests, I should say that the Perfect Bass Kit is well worth the price, especially if your room is acoustically messy.

Sticking with well-recorded surround mixes, I cued up Steely Dan's "Jack of Speed," from the DVD-Audio disc of Two Against Nature (Giant Records/WEA). In looking up the label for this disc, I noticed it's going for $69 on Amazon - I guess people still want these discs. Anyway, the effects of the Perfect Bass Kit were immediately noticeable, mainly in that the Monitor SUB 12 was now more of an integrated piece of the system and drew less attention to itself. The bass was more precise and natural, exactly how you want it to be, especially when your goal with music reproduction is transparency. Also, when reading through my listening notes I wrote that the sound of the Monitor SUB 12 was more sophisticated, for lack of a better word, than many of the other subs I've heard in this price range. This is a testament not only to the engineering of the Monitor SUB 12, but also the equalization/optimization offered by the PBK. In fairness, once you add the PBK to the party, you're now talking about a $1,100 price point, which ups the ante a bit in terms of competition. That said, most of Paradigm's competitors in this range don't offer this sort of sophisticated room correction system. If your room is like mine and needs all the help it can get in the form of treatments, software, medicine men and whatever the hell else I can get in there, then you should probably pay some close attention to Paradigm's offering.

Making the transition to movies, I started with the Blu-ray of The Art of Flight (Red Bull Media House). The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is incredibly bass-heavy in stretches and the Monitor SUB 12 shone. It provided punishing, room-filling bass in a room that's over 350 square feet. I had actually watched this film prior to using the Perfect Bass Kit and found the bass to be a bit looser and less focused. With the PBK engaged, the bass was a tighter, more fully realized part of the presentation and showed no signs of bloat. It was while watching this film that I really got a dose of those Santoprene surrounds, as the Monitor SUB 12 was deftly moving big time air and I could feel it pounding in my chest, much the same way you do at a bass-heavy live concert. The experience was visceral and I ended up playing this chapter back for a few friends, so they could experience what well-engineered, chest-rattling bass sounds like. This elicited plenty of dropped jaws and comments about the experience.



Okay, now that I'd had some solid fun with the Monitor SUB 12, I decided to connect the PT-2 wireless transmitter and up the ante by placing the sub directly behind my theater seats with that beast firing into my back. Setting up the PT-2 was an absolute breeze. You simply connect the transmitter to your processor, plug it in and then press the button to sync it with the sub - it's really that simple. It uses 2.4 GHz RF technology, has a range of 50 feet and one unit can support up to four Paradigm subwoofers. There's a latency switch built into the transmitter, which can provide a delay of 15ms to 25ms; this serves to improve the connection should you encounter drops and/or interference in the signal. Thankfully, I encountered no such problems and therefore left it in the default 15ms setting. While I played around with it like a teenager with a new toy, the real purpose of the transmitter is to allow placement flexibility in a given room. I can certainly envision a husband using it to get spousal approval for adding a subwoofer to his system, due to the fact that you can hide it. I can also see it coming in handy in a dual-subwoofer home theater configuration, allowing you to place each sub wherever they compliment each other the best.

Paradigm_Monitor_SUB_12_subwoofer_review_PT-2_wireless_transmitter.jpgWith the PT-2 connected, I cued up the Blu-ray of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount). The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround mix on this movie is something to hear, and the Monitor SUB 12 did it justice in every way imaginable. Low-frequency freshness abounds as one of the Decepticons worms its way through and around a skyscraper, which the Monitor SUB 12 delivered viscerally and without breaking a sweat. Despite a major volume push, the bass remained taut and compelling, providing an incredibly immersive experience. Films like this demand subs with substantial drivers, powerful amps and solid engineering; Paradigm delivers all three in spades. It's also worth noting that I never encountered any drops or dips in performance with the sub connected wirelessly.

The club scene in the movie The Hangover (Warner Home Video) features Usher's bass heavy song "Yeah!" I went ahead and pushed the volume to crazy levels. The sub did bottom out and gave off a strange warble. I guess even this beast has its limits. Truth be told, at this particular volume level, I think my neighbors were bottoming out as well. While I did manage to find the Monitor SUB 12's limit, in real-world listening I doubt most people will find the need to push it this hard.

Paradigm_Monitor_SUB_12_subwoofer_review_with_grille.jpgThe Downside
It's my opinion that, especially with many of today's laptops shipping sans disc drives, software should be web-based when feasible. By the time the physical disc arrives at a customer's door, it's typically out of date and requires a trip to the company's website anyway. One company that gets web-based software right is Logitech, with their Harmony line of remotes. Other manufacturers should take note. The greater the degree of flexibility, the broader and happier your audience will be. Also, with so many audiophiles turning to Macs as their playback sources, why is the PBK software PC-only? Truth be told, there are workarounds for Mac users, but they're a hassle.

Competition and Comparison
From personal experience, I recommend taking a look at Definitive Technology subwoofers, specifically their new SuperCube 6000, which has the same price point ($999) as the Monitor SUB 12. I own both a SuperCube III and SuperCube II and have been impressed with the overall performance of the former in smaller rooms and the latter in larger rooms. The price to performance ratio of Definitive subs is also noteworthy. Another company that's worth your time is REL, a UK-based subwoofer manufacturer that has garnered much praise from the audiophile community over the years. In this price range, the REL T-Series is worth a look, specifically the T-9, which retails for a bit more than the Monitor SUB 12 at $1,199, but has the largest driver (10 inches) in the series. Keep in mind that the T-9's amp is much less powerful at 300 watts, so it might not rattle your cage the way the Monitor SUB 12 will.



For more on subwoofers, please visit Home Theater Review's subwoofer page.

Conclusion
Though the Monitor SUB 12 is an exemplary subwoofer on its own, mating it with the Perfect Bass Kit and taking the time to get everything just right is what makes it a game-changer at this price point. I can't say that I've heard other bass this powerful and low-reaching for under a grand. You can certainly get similar performance from other subs out there, but you're looking at a considerable jump in cost.

The engineers at Paradigm have created something special with the Monitor SUB 12. While I consider its true strength to lay in recreating explosions, gun play and all the other sonic treats a good action film can deliver, it can also adequately service your music collection with taut, highly-resolved bass.

The bottom line is that the Monitor SUB 12 hits hard, really hard ... but does it in a refined way. As high-end audio gear becomes more affordable and technology reaches greater heights, home theaters get closer to recreating the movie theater experience. The Monitor SUB 12 is a shining example of that type of bridge product, as it provides an affordable, immersive home theater experience that is really difficult to beat at this price point.

Additional Resources
• Read more subwoofer reviews by the staff at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore Floorstanding Speakers and Bookshelf Speakers to pair with the sub.
• Explore preamps in our AV Preamplifier Review section.

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