UltraCube 10 Subwoofer
|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?
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.
- High-excursion, RCR mineral-filled copolymer polypropylene
10" woofer with 1.5" four-layer voice coil, dual spiders, AVS diecast heatsink
- Two 9" passive radiators
- Super-Class-D amplifier: 1500W peak, 650W RMS (manufacturer
- Line-level inputs
- Variable crossover (40-150Hz)
- Variable phase
- Auto On/Off
Proof that what matters most to me is sound is the fact
that, for several years, Ive owned and lived with the big PB12-Plus/2 subwoofer from
SVS. It delivered great sound, but talk about awkward -- its as big as an end table
and weighs 140 pounds!
Another reason a subwoofer can be a pain is that
positioning it isnt always governed by the best location for sound. A subs
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
films 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
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.
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
UltraCubes downfiring 10" cone to its full peak-to-peak excursion of 1.5".
The cone is made of Paradigms 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.
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 UltraCubes rear panel. I powered up the processor and performed a
complete calibration of my surround system with the UltraCubes volume knob turned to
12 oclock 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.
Todays film soundtracks seldom lack for low
frequencies, but its 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 rooms 3000 cubic feet with tight,
For another LFE demo, I turned to Pixars 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 humans sock is discovered on Georges
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 Boos 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 Jackets 2005 release, Z [CD, ATO/RCA 71067-2], has a driving bass
line mirrored by a quick and punchy percussive performance. The UltraCube 10s sound
was tight, exceptionally clean, and more than able to reproduce all of the low-bass notes
with ease. While Id 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
subs 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 subs output capabilities
is Becks "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, isnt as forward or as overwhelming. The UltraCube 10 was able to aid my system
in accurately reproducing "Farewell Ride." While the bass wasnt as low as
Ive experienced with some monster subs, and while the Cube didnt 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.
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 Ive
heard from them sounded as refined as the UltraCube 10. They may seem to play
louder -- but dont confuse the perceived quantity of low-end output with bass
quality or extension. Sometimes, what youre 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 isnt 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.
|Speakers - Aerial Acoustics
10T (mains), CC3B (center); Von Schweikert VR-1 (surrounds); JL Audio Fathom f113
- Anthem AVM 50
|Amplifiers - Anthem
MCA 50, Krell KSA-50s
- Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player, Esoteric DV-60 universal player, Sonos Digital Music
|Cables - Nordost, Monster
Cable, DH Labs
Device - Mitsubishi WD-Y57
|Remote Control - Universal
Remote Control MX-850 Aeros
Conditioner - Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 with Copperhead AC cord