HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



March
2007

Reviewed by
Randall Smith

 


Paradigm
UltraCube 10 Subwoofer

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: UltraCube 10

Price: $799 USD
Dimensions: 13"W x 11.5"H x 11.5"D
Weight: 29 pounds

Warranty: Five years on drivers, three years on amplifier.


Features
  • High-excursion, RCR mineral-filled copolymer polypropylene 10" woofer with 1.5" four-layer voice coil, dual spiders, AVS diecast heatsink chassis
  • Two 9" passive radiators
  • Super-Class-D amplifier: 1500W peak, 650W RMS (manufacturer rated)
  • Line-level inputs
  • Variable crossover (40-150Hz)
  • Variable phase
  • Auto On/Off

The subwoofer might be the most important speaker in my home-theater system. Although the center-channel speaker almost exclusively handles the dialogue and is used for more than 85% of most films, a great sub can make all the difference in the reproduction of a theater-like experience in the home. The problem is that the subwoofer is also the most awkward speaker in such a system. Most subs are big, boxy, and not all that attractive. But if you buy a sub whose designers have spent a lot of time on its appearance instead of single-mindedly focusing on its sound, are you making a compromise?

Proof that what matters most to me is sound is the fact that, for several years, I’ve owned and lived with the big PB12-Plus/2 subwoofer from SVS. It delivered great sound, but talk about awkward -- it’s as big as an end table and weighs 140 pounds!

Another reason a subwoofer can be a pain is that positioning it isn’t always governed by the best location for sound. A sub’s placement is usually dictated by where it can fit, or where it will be least visually obtrusive. The result can be bass performance of a lower quality than the sub is actually capable of, with peaks and valleys throughout the low-end response that distort a film’s LFE signal and thus defeat the purpose of spending your hard-earned money on a high-performance sub in the first place. What to do? Not everyone has a dedicated home-theater room.

Smaller and smaller

In the past few years, to help alleviate placement issues, designers have come up with smaller and smaller subwoofers. To make this possible, subs’ built-in amplifiers have had to be made more powerful in order to push the smaller woofers to greater excursions, to create the same sound-pressure levels as subs with larger drivers and cabinet volumes. Two of the big names that have produced such subs are Sunfire and Definitive Technology, which for years have been the brands to beat.

Now, in steps Paradigm, the powerhouse audio manufacturer from Canada, and the subject of this review: the UltraCube 10 ($799), the least expensive high-performance compact sub Paradigm offers.

Description

I could tell by its carton that the UltraCube 10 was small, but when I prepared myself to lift the box, I was ready for a lot more heft. When I say compact, I mean it -- the UltraCube 10 weighs only 29 pounds, and measures only 13"W x 11.5H" x 11.5"D. Paradigm claims that its class-D amplifier has a peak output of 1500W and a sustained output of 650W. All of that juice is needed to push the UltraCube’s downfiring 10" cone to its full peak-to-peak excursion of 1.5". The cone is made of Paradigm’s RCR material, a mineral-filled copolymer polypropylene. The UltraCube 10 also has two 9", side-firing, high-velocity passive radiators, which Paradigm says help smooth its frequency response and dissipate leftover energy created by the powerful amp. The crossover frequency is continuously variable from 40Hz to 150Hz.

Setup

The UltraCube 10 was a breeze to unpack and install. I plugged its attached power cord into the wall, and an RCA cable from my Anthem AVM 50 processor to the UltraCube’s rear panel. I powered up the processor and performed a complete calibration of my surround system with the UltraCube’s volume knob turned to 12 o’clock and its cutoff frequency to 150Hz, its highest setting.

I first placed the UltraCube next to my left front Aerial Acoustics 10T speaker and, aided by my trusty RadioShack SPL meter and a test disc, performed a few frequency sweeps. After a few tests, I moved the UltraCube to a corner, where it provided the flattest frequency response and also was able to put out the lowest frequencies: just under 30Hz. After a day or two of constant break-in, the UltraCube 10 was ready to go.

Sound

Today’s film soundtracks seldom lack for low frequencies, but it’s always fun to find new demo material. One such scene occurs during the opening credits of Saw III: a sudden burst of bass energy arrives quickly and to great physical effect. It lasts only a few seconds, but my SPL meter measured it at over 100dB at my listening position. The Paradigm UltraCube 10 seemed to top out in the middle of this peak, then recovered itself to finish the growl of the wave. The little UltraCube 10 easily filled my room’s 3000 cubic feet with tight, well-defined bass.

For another LFE demo, I turned to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. The THX ad just before the feature has always been one of my favorite home-theater demos. The flight of the spaceman all around the screen gives the entire surround soundstage moments to shine, but the bass rumble at the end has always been the best part. As soon as the final "Moo" comes out of the can, the sounds of a stampede fill the room. I was astonished at the performance of the little ’Cube -- I could physically feel the stampede in my chest, such was the impact.

I continued watching Monsters, Inc. The entirety of chapter "23-19!," in which a human’s sock is discovered on George’s back when he returns from a "scare," provides great low-end material, from the sounds of feet stomping on the ground to the helicopters swooping in from the rear to the front, with plenty of intricate LFE details to enjoy. At the end of the scene is the best of all: the blowing-up of the contaminated sock. The results with the UltraCube 10 were very pleasing: a quick, deep, powerful boom that disappeared as quickly as it arrived, with no overhang or boom. Another chapter, "Back at the Apartment," offers another relentless wave of low-frequency energy, triggered by Boo’s laughter. While this is not as sustained a wave as the opening boom of Saw III, the ’Cube showed no weakness as it easily cleared 100dB. Through the several-seconds-long climax, the sub produced sound-pressure readings that topped out at 103dB. Very impressive.

"Wordless Chorus," the wonderful first song of My Morning Jacket’s 2005 release, Z [CD, ATO/RCA 71067-2], has a driving bass line mirrored by a quick and punchy percussive performance. The UltraCube 10’s sound was tight, exceptionally clean, and more than able to reproduce all of the low-bass notes with ease. While I’d calibrated my system so that, for music, the subwoofer level was as flat as the rest of the speakers, the UltraCube seemed to stand in the shadows of the Aerial 10Ts, even with its crossover frequency set to 80Hz in the AVM 50. The midrange was more forward, at the expense of the bottom end. I counteracted this by bumping up the sub’s level a few notches above the speakers’, which allowed the sub to fill the room a little more.

Another song I use to test a sub’s output capabilities is Beck’s "Farewell Ride," from Guero [CD, INTR-11373-9DA01]. On DVD-Audio, the song shakes the foundations, but the bass line on the CD version, which I used, isn’t as forward or as overwhelming. The UltraCube 10 was able to aid my system in accurately reproducing "Farewell Ride." While the bass wasn’t as low as I’ve experienced with some monster subs, and while the ’Cube didn’t hold the deepest notes as long as some more expensive subs may have, all I had to do was look at the size of the UltraCube 10 to appreciate its performance.

End notes

In the market of compact, high-performance subwoofers, the Paradigm UltraCube 10 has a lot of competition. Companies such as Definitive Technology and Sunfire have produced powerful little subs for years, but none of the models I’ve heard from them sounded as refined as the UltraCube 10. They may seem to play louder -- but don’t confuse the perceived quantity of low-end output with bass quality or extension. Sometimes, what you’re really hearing from a sub is distortion. The little UltraCube 10 played just as deep as those other, more expensive cubes; it just costs a little less.

Still, at $799, the UltraCube isn’t cheap. Some big-box subs cost a little less and play lower and louder, and Paradigm makes some of those, too. You pay a little more for the UltraCube for the technology used to reduce its size. In the UltraCube 10, Paradigm offers one of the best solutions available.

Review System
Speakers - Aerial Acoustics 10T (mains), CC3B (center); Von Schweikert VR-1 (surrounds); JL Audio Fathom f113 (subwoofer)
Preamplifier-Processor - Anthem AVM 50
Amplifiers - Anthem MCA 50, Krell KSA-50s
Sources - Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player, Esoteric DV-60 universal player, Sonos Digital Music System
Cables - Nordost, Monster Cable, DH Labs
Display Device - Mitsubishi WD-Y57
Remote Control - Universal Remote Control MX-850 Aeros
Power Conditioner - Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 with Copperhead AC cord
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Canada
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726

Website: www.paradigm.com

US distributor:
AudioStream
M.P.O. Box 2410
Niagara Falls, NY 14302
Phone: (905) 632-0180
Fax: (905) 632-0183

Website: www.audiostream.com


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