Brent has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has reviewed thousands of audio products over the years. He has served as editor-in-chief of Home Theater and Home Entertainment magazines, contributing technical editor for Sound & Vision magazine, senior editor of Video magazine, and reviews editor of Windows Sources magazine, and he also worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He's now on staff at Wirecutter.
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 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.
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...
The 2000SW's tight sound, augmented by PBK, worked extremely well for movies, too. In the epic chase scene in the middle of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, I got a clear impression of the different rumbles of the various vehicles, including the BMW sedan driven by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the motorcycles he was chasing, and the Land Rover driven by William Brant (Jeremy Renner). When Hunt intentionally jumps the BMW backwards through a guard rail, the slams and punches of the car tumbling end-over-end sounded extremely punchy and tight, almost giving me the sense I was in the car with them.
Another Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, has made its way into my must-play queue because of the intense subsonic tones in the movie's first few seconds. I play these not so much to hear how loud or powerful they'll sound, but to hear how a subwoofer behaves when forced to play material it wasn't really designed to handle. The 2000SW didn't produce as much floor shake on these tones as some of the larger subs I've tested, but it didn't audibly distort or rattle--and of course, because it's a sealed design, it didn't have the port noise or passive-radiator rattling that some subs produce when distressed.
Much like the colossal Power Sound Audio S3600i I recently tested, the 2000SW sounded eerily quiet during the "Face to Face" scene from U-571. That's because the ultra-deep tones of the engines of the submarine and destroyer in this scene make most subs distort, creating false harmonics that are more easily heard than the deep fundamental tones. Yet another mark of the 2000SW's clean, largely distortion-free sound.
Here are the measurements for the Paradigm 2000SW subwoofer. (Click on each chart to view it in a larger window.)
±3.0 dB from 27 to 180 Hz
±3.0 dB from 19 to 180 Hz (in-room with PBK)
Crossover low-pass roll-off
The first chart shows the frequency response of the Prestige 2000SW with the crossover set to the maximum frequency and PBK deactivated (blue trace) and with the crossover set for 80 Hz (green trace). This is typical response for a high-quality 15-inch subwoofer in a modestly sized sealed box. Given the driver size, the power of the amp, and the sealed-box design, Paradigm could easily have "cheated" by boosting the bass to bring the measured small-signal pre-PBK response down to 20 Hz or below, but they didn't, and they should be commended for it. That said, PBK combined with room gain brought the measured ±3dB response down to 19 Hz in my listening room. (Paradigm claims 12 Hz, and I expect their claim is accurate given their test conditions, but I have yet to encounter a subwoofer that delivers significant output at 12 Hz.) The crossover frequency knob is calibrated accurately; I set it at the center detent for 80 Hz, and response was -3dB at that frequency, just as it should be.
To measure the effects of PBK, which can be seen in the second chart, I used a real-time spectrum analyzer and a pink noise test signal to measure the response at my listening seat without PBK (green trace), with PBK in the listening chair (purple trace), and the average of five seating positions with PBK (orange trace). Overall, PBK did an excellent job, flattening the peaks at 24, 40, and 63 Hz, and providing a generally consistent listening experience across several seating positions.
The CEA-2010 output measurements I got from the Prestige 2000SW are very close to what I got from another 15-inch subwoofer I recently reviewed, the Klipsch R-115SW; for all but one test frequency, the two subs run within 1 dB of each other, which is within the repeatability spec of CEA-2010. You can't consider them equal, though, because the 2000SW hits its internal limiter (i.e., does not break the CEA-2010 distortion thresholds) at all of the standard CEA-2010 test frequencies, down to 20 Hz. This is a rare occurrence, something I can remember seeing only in a couple of top-of-the-line models from SVS. The highest distortion I encountered from 20 to 63 Hz was 7.4 percent at 25 Hz. That may seem like a lot compared to, say, an amplifier's distortion spec, but for subs, that's low; the CEA-2010 distortion threshold allows a maximum in the range of 30 percent THD. What this all means is that Paradigm doesn't let the Prestige 2000SW drive itself into distortion, and that's a good thing both for sound quality and for the reliability of the 15-inch driver. Of course, the Prestige 2000SW is nearly four times the price of the R-115SW or the Hsu Research VTF-15H Mk2 (which has higher output than the Klipsch and Paradigm models); so, if you're buying purely on the basis of decibels per dollar (as some home theater enthusiasts seem to do), the Prestige 2000SW isn't going to be your first choice.
Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency response using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone. I close-miked the woofer and smoothed the result to 1/12th octave. Except as noted, crossover frequency was set to maximum. I measured in-room response using True Audio TrueRTA software, an M-Audio Mobile Pre USB audio interface and an Earthworks M30 measurement microphone.
I did CEA-2010A measurements using the same Earthworks M30 and M-Audio Mobile Pre, with the CEA-2010 measurement software running on the Wavemetric Igor Pro scientific software package. I took these measurements at two meters peak output. The two sets of measurements I have presented here--CEA-2010A and traditional method--are functionally identical, but the traditional measurement employed by most audio websites and many manufacturers reports results at two-meter RMS equivalent, which is -9dB lower than CEA-2010A. An L next to the result indicates that the output was dictated by the subwoofer's internal circuitry (i.e., limiter), and not by exceeding the CEA-2010A distortion thresholds. Averages are calculated in pascals. (See this article for more information about CEA-2010.)
On deep-bass-heavy scenes like the ones I cited from Edge of Tomorrow and U-571, the 2000SW doesn't produce that frightening, realistic sense of floor shake and room pressurization that many bigger subs provide.
The Prestige 2000SW also isn't as easy to incorporate into a two-channel system as subwoofers like the Sumiko S.9 or similar REL models. Not only does it omit speaker-level inputs, but the big 15-inch driver may not blend as easily with bookshelf speakers or small tower speakers as a more audiophile-oriented sub can.
Comparison and Competition
The Prestige 2000SW's $3,999 asking price puts it among the more expensive subwoofers available today. One competitor at the same price is the REL 212 SE, which has two 12-inch drivers powered by a 1,000-watt amp. I don't know how the 212 SE's output might compare with the 2000SW's; however, I expect for most audiophiles the determining factor in a comparison between the two is weighing the advantage that the 2000SW has with PBK versus the advantage that the 212 SE has in its inclusion of speaker-level inputs that make it easier to incorporate into a traditional two-channel system.
Another same-priced competitor is the BalancedForce 212 from MartinLogan, Paradigm's sister company. The BalancedForce 212 offers PBK as a $299 option, and a nice-looking finish (other than the stock black ash) will cost $200 to $500 extra. It has dual 12-inch drivers, each powered by an 850-watt amp. I haven't tested it, but it's probably in the same ballpark in terms of output, and it has more connection and low-pass filter options that should make it easier to blend into a two-channel system.
Of course, the 2000SW's toughest competition comes from larger, less costly subs from sub specialists like Hsu Research, Power Sound Audio, and SVS. Those subs are less expensive than the 2000SW--you could easily buy two for the price of one 2000SW and have several hundred dollars left over. However, they don't have PBK or anything like it. They also don't have the Prestige 2000SW's beautiful gloss or wood veneer finish; most of the products from the above-mentioned companies have plain, inexpensive matte-black finishes. You can add PBK-like capability to those subs for about $400 with a standalone subwoofer EQ such as the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 8033.
At $3,999, the Paradigm Prestige 2000SW subwoofer carries a premium pricetag, but it offers three advantages that many, if not most, high-end subs do not. First, its output is competitive with that of many of the best home theater subs on the market. Second, its distortion is among the lowest I've measured, and it sounds tight and punchy as hell. And third, it includes one of the best subwoofer auto EQ systems available. The 2000SW is a great choice for upscale customers who want precise, high-output bass without the boom--and they want it in a beautiful package that looks as good as it sounds.
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