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Paradigm Reference Seismic 12 Subwoofer Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 July 2004
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Paradigm Reference Seismic 12 Subwoofer
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A prime use of my home theater these days is concert videos. In spite of its horrible video quality, my current favorite is Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live (Geffen), from the tour supporting his mid-1990s album, Us. What better way to check out a subwoofer than to let it recreate the fantastic rhythm section of drummer Manu Katche, along with Tony Levin, certainly one of the top rock bassists in the world today. Much of Gabriel’s music is built upon hypnotic world beat rhythms, which I find virtually impossible to sit still through when properly reproduced. “Steam” is a prime example. The Paradigm subwoofer allows the song to writhe with the visceral impact of the bass and kick drum. The climax of songs such as “Almost the River” and the tightly choreographed “Shaking the Tree” throbbed impressively through the Seismic 12. Certainly the Seismic 12 started to run out of steam before my Reference Revel Ultimas, but that was only when I was approaching scary levels in my reasonably large (21 feet long by 15 feet wide by nine feet high) main listening room. This is impressive, given the size of the Seismic 12, and the unrestrained dynamics of the Ultima loudspeakers.

One of the main reasons most consumers desire a subwoofer is to enhance the movie experience. Everyone wants the Tyrannosaurus to rattle the rafters, the depth charge explosions to rumble the couch, etc. Rest assured that a competently designed small subwoofer such as the Paradigm Reference Seismic 12 can deliver gut-wrenching bass to very high levels. Without using a lot of text to describe each rump-shaking sequence, the numerous folks who experienced movies in my room were consistently wowed by the entire experience. I received many enthusiastic remarks during thunderous scenes, such as the multiple close-up horse racing sequences in “Seabiscuit” (DreamWorks Pictures). Similarly, the Seismic 12 very effectively energized the room during the scene from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (Warner Bros. Home Video) in which a troll demolishes the girls’ bathroom in an attempt to make a pancake out of Hermione Granger (Emma Watson).

I inserted the Paradigm Seismic 12 into a two-channel system in a friend’s relatively small listening room (approximately 11 by 14 feet), with the main loudspeakers located along the long wall. He is an accomplished audiophile and loudspeaker designer, and I welcomed the opportunity to evaluate the Paradigm subwoofer in his listening environment. His custom two-way monitors are able to pressurize this small space very impressively without the aid of a subwoofer, but we wondered if the Seismic 12 could improve things further. Our early attempts, using a variety of subwoofer positions and calibration settings, resulted in a trade-off between ease of presentation and power vs. integration, along with a slightly distracting feeling of separateness as the bass moved in and out of the subwoofer’s frequency range. After a long afternoon of experimentation, the best results were achieved with the sub in a near-field location next to the couch and a crossover frequency of 60 Hertz. This was the first time I consistently preferred listening to music with the subwoofer in the system. This optimization reduced peaks, allowing us to raise the subwoofer level a smidgen and add power without peaky, bloated notes ruining things. As I mentioned earlier, many times subwoofer levels are turned down in order to reduce a few nasty peaks, causing the majority of the bass range to be a bit low in level and therefore not in frequency balance. Although a number of CD sources with significant low-frequency content were utilized that afternoon, the majority of my impressions were formed while listening to Creed’s 1997 release My Own Prison (Wind-Up Records), stemming from singer/songwriter Scott Stapp’s tumultuous upbringing, reflecting his conflict with family and faith. Tracks such as “Illusion” and “One” sounded effortless, benefiting from the added low-end extension and impact imparted by the Seismic 12.

The moral of this story is, regardless of how much I enjoy subwoofers and advocate their usage in home theater of music systems, they are a pain in the neck to integrate properly. Many music enthusiasts are not subwoofer fans, mostly because of the difficulty in finding that magical combination of subwoofer settings and positioning that are so elusive when augmenting the lower frequencies.

A natural mate for the Paradigm Reference Seismic 12 is their Reference Studio 100 main loudspeakers. I inserted the Studio 100-based home theater loudspeakers into my reference listening system along with the Seismic 12, using a cut-off frequency of 80 Hertz, concentrating on its performance and integration with music, particularly multi-channel SACD and DVD-Audio discs. Whether it was because of a synergy that exists between these members of the Paradigm Reference family, or just dumb luck, the subwoofer and the loudspeaker system formed a most pleasing match. The dynamic capabilities, as well as the overall bass extension of the system, were considerably enhanced by the addition of the subwoofer. While listening to Blue Man Group’s DVD-Audio release Audio (Virgin Records), the Seismic 12 was indistinguishable as a separate source. For the majority of “Mandelgroove,” the subwoofer actually had little to do, but at the song’s climax, the dominant low-end percussion and bass guitar moved back and forth between the subwoofer and main loudspeaker woofers without changing character and quality. I often hear people say small subwoofers may be able to recreate booms and explosions in movies, but they are unable to sound musical. To my ears, this was definitely not the case with the Paradigm Reference theater system and Seismic 12 combination.


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