Subwoofers

Paradigm Reference Seismic 110 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

I described the last Paradigm Reference sub I reviewed, the Reference Signature Sub 25, as the "Mother of All Subwoofers". Then Paradigm came out with the even more massive SUB 1 and SUB 2 models. So when I agreed to review the Seismic 110, a small barrel-shaped sub that measures barely 13" in any direction, my expectations were set accordingly. I figured this was Paradigm's version of a genteel sub, one that would produce quality bass without calling undue attention to itself with high SPL's or deep extension. For this, I owe the folks at Paradigm an apology. I really should have known better. The Seismic 110 is a nasty little beast, capable of producing clean output down to 18 Hz, and filling a room with thunderous bass. Read on for the details.

Specifications

  • Design: Sealed Enclosure
  • Driver: One 10" Polypropylene
  • Amplifier: 850 Watts RMS, 1,700 Watts Peak, Class D
  • Crossover: Variable 35-150 Hz; Defeatable
  • Inputs: RCA Left/Right; XLR
  • Phase: Variable 0-180 degrees
  • Dimensions: 13.5" H x 11.75" W x 12.6" D
  • Weight: 37 Pounds
  • Finish: Satin Black
  • Price: $1,399 USA
  • Paradigm

Design and Setup

The Seismic 110 is a sealed design, meaning there are no ports as found on many subwoofers. Ports are a nice way to increase the low frequency output of a sub, but come at the cost of higher distortion and group delay which can result in muddy, boomy bass. Generally speaking, a well-designed sealed subwoofer will produce cleaner bass than its ported cousins, but at the expense of low frequency output. So I was surprised to read Paradigm's spec sheet for the Seismic 110 showing the -3dB point at a subterranean 18Hz. Not to spoil the surprise, but when I put the Paradigm through its bench tests, it really can produce clean bass down to 18 Hz.

The Seismic 110 uses a single, 10" driver, but there's a lot of sophisticated engineering that went into the unit. In fact, the Seismic 110 contains no off-the-shelf parts, it is a completely custom built product. The driver has a low profile due to two-part construction, and uses Paradigm's inverted, corrugated Santoprene® surround, which allows the driver extreme excursion. Here's a video of Paradigm's Mark Aling demonstrating the driver at last year's CES. The driver uses a 10 lb. triple magnet, set in a die-cast aluminum chassis.

The Paradigm's enclosure is cylindrical, which reduces the build-up of internal standing waves, and is structurally more stable than a typical box shape design. The Seismic 110 is powered by a Class D amplifier, increasingly popular with subwoofers. Paradigm's amp is capable of producing 1,700 watts of dynamic peak power and 850 watts of RMS sustained power. The amp also has several features designed to minimize distortion, including a digital signal processor that shapes frequency response without distortion, and a pulse-width-modulation power processor that rejects variations in the power supply. Again, bench testing (see below) showed that the Seismic 110 was able to produce extremely high output with low distortion.

The rear panel of the Seismic 110 sports two line-level inputs along with a balanced XLR input (there are no speaker level inputs). Power is provided via a detachable IEC cord, and activated either through an external trigger or auto-on when the subwoofer detects a signal. The Seismic 110 also has a USB jack for connecting with Paradigm's PBK Perfect Bass Kit software (sold separately), which I tested with great enthusiasm when reviewing the Sub 25. The back panel has three knobs, one for output level, a variable cut-off (defeatable) frequency adjustment from 35-150 Hz, and variable phase alignment from 0-180 degrees.

Setting up the Seismic 110 was literally painless, given its modest 37 pound weight and small footprint. I was really a nice change of pace to be able to pick up a subwoofer rather than have to drag it across the floor on a blanket with a helper (or two). I placed the Paradigm in my usual sub location, about two feet out from the front right corner of my listening room in front of a panel bass trap, then plugged it in, ran the PBK, and was ready to go.


In Use

I really enjoyed watching the San Francisco Giants complete the improbable run towards their first World Series championship. The Giants won it on the strength of their pitching staff, anchored by two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. What does this have to do with a subwoofer review? Lincecum, despite being a short, skinny guy, throws with tremendous power and accuracy. His nickname is "the Freak."

During my time with the Seismic 110, I kept thinking to myself, "This subwoofer is a freak!" Despite the small footprint and modest 10 inch driver, the Paradigm (like Tim Lincecum) is capable of tremendous power and accuracy.

Paradigm Reference Seismic 110 Subwoofer

Starting with film, The Book of Eli (Blu-ray) is a post-apocalyptic journey that benefits from first-rate acting from Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. It also has great sound, as Washington makes ample use of his sawed-off shotgun, along with several car chases and assorted mayhem. The Seismic 110 filled my large room with impressive blasts, without ever sounding distorted or stressed.

Paradigm Reference Seismic 110 Subwoofer

Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series is available on Blu-ray, and it seems to be constantly playing in my home. Blasters, light sabers, and exploding spaceships rumbled through the walls. Several times, I had to remind myself that I was listening to a small, 10" subwoofer. Simply put, the Seismic 110 sounded bigger than many 12" driver, large enclosure subs I've heard.

Paradigm Reference Seismic 110 Subwoofer

Because the Seismic 110 is a sealed design with a ten-inch driver, I expected the Paradigm to be fast and accurate with music, and wasn't disappointed. Steely Dan's Two Against Nature (DVD-Audio) is, like all Steely Dan albums, impeccably produced. The track What A Shame About Me is anchored by a bass/drum rhythm that chugs along, with the Paradigm reproducing the thwack of the beater on the kick drum distinct from the smooth lines of the bass guitar.

Paradigm Reference Seismic 110 Subwoofer

And yes, I had to break out Yes' Fragile (DVD-Audio) to give the sub the dreaded Heart of The Sunrise work-out. The Seismic 110 passed with flying colors, even through Chris Squire's growly, Rickenbacker's sixteenth note bass runs.


On the Bench

As usual, all bench tests were performed with the Paradigm sub in the middle of the room, to avoid interaction with corners and walls. The PBK equalization was turned off during tests, and except as noted below all measurements were taken from one foot at a height equal to the center of the speaker.

The Seismic 110 is capable of not only producing usable output at 18 Hz, but at considerable power. Not many subs can put out 100 decibels at 18 Hz with less than 10% THD+N; the Paradigm was well within limits at only 8.14 THD+N.

At 20 Hz, distortion was down to 5.74%.

And at 31.5 Hz (third-octave), distortion was an impressively low 2.53%.

In fact, since the Paradigm was not even breathing hard at 31.5 Hz, I started turning it up. In this graph, the Seismic was up to almost 110 dB at less than 2.5% distortion, and sounded like it could handle much more. But I was starting to get sympathetic resonances from my room that corrupted the measurements at higher output, so stopped the test. With corner wall placement that typically provides 3-6 dB of room gain, it's pretty safe to say you could get 115 decibels at 31.5 Hz with very low distortion. That is freakishly good performance from a small sub.

Distortion vs. frequency, normalized to 100 decibels at 50 Hz, shows the Seismic at 10% distortion around 20 Hz (I measured 8.14% THD+N at 18 Hz), then dropping rapidly to 2% by 30 Hz. This is amazing performance from a small 10" enclosure.

Frequency response at one foot (red), one meter (blue) and two meters (red). The one-foot response is virtually flat across the entire spectrum, while the one meter and two meter response curves show the effect of the listening room.


Conclusions

The Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer is a freak. It is very small, lightweight as subwoofers go; yet capable of playing very loud, very low, and very clean. It will blow away subwoofers that are bigger, heavier, and in some cases, more expensive. Highly recommended!