Seismic 110

Have music. Got subwoofer? It's no question most audiophiles ever ask themselves. That attitude is often caused by blockbuster movie mayhem and annoying boom trucks. What do permafrost drilling, nuclear explosions and crashing cars have to do with music? Nothing. So subwoofers find themselves struck off the equation. Bham! That was the sound of a door slammed shut. Clink! That was the key to it.

But what if you're a contrarious audiophile like me who stubbornly thinks that, 1/ active bass beats passive bass; 2/ woofers dedicated to just low bass are very different weapons than double-tasking mid/woofers, even 'audiophile' woofers; 3/ highly damped ultra-power affordable class D is perfect for the first two octaves but not the remaining bandwidth; 4/ standard speakers perform better when their voice coils no longer heat up as much so no longer increase their impedance to choke dynamics because low bass filters out by top-quality active high pass; 5/ perfect integration wants mirror-imaged analog filters 6/ the ideal crossover frequency for a subwoofer is ~40-60Hz. (Hey, all good things are six. Six reasons are enough.)

Feel free to disagree, even vehemently. That's your constitutional right. If so, today is simply not about you. It's for those willing to give these points due consideration because their own trials with passive speakers have suggested things along these lines already. My own threesomes of sub integration rely on a custom fixed/analog 40Hz Linkwitz-Riley filter with hi/lo-pass outputs built into my autoformer passive preamp. That's from the UK's Pál Nagy and called icOn 4Pro SE. With it our mains roll off very gently at 100Hz to be -6dB/40Hz, then plummet to -24dB/20Hz. The sub's filter does the inverse. This assures phase continuity at the handover. A review of KEF's KC62 was on my books. With its 2 x 6.5" force-cancelling woofers, 1000 watts, motion feedback and DSP, I eyed it as potential addition for our upstairs system's sound|kaos Vox 3awf. For the bigger downstairs system, I'd want to investigate another seriously engineered contender of similar price, modest proportions and metal enclosure. What I'd not want are off-the-shelf drivers in MDF, passive radiators, ports, apps or Bluetooth. Because of the external crossover, I'd also not want a sub that spent a premium on its own; nor one that relied on a speaker-level connection. Doing online window shopping, I checked JL Audio, REL and Velodyne Acoustics as the usual suspects popular with music listeners. Then I zero'd in on Paradigm's Seismic 110 instead. Although it lacks the white option of a Canton, B&W or Dali which I'd prefer, all other specifications hit my targets better. Here we let Paradigm's own product brochure do more talking.

What should be crystal from their photos and descriptions? The fancy woofers in your/our passive speakers don't stand a chance against Paradigm's specialty driver for the 20-60Hz bandwidth we're focused on today. Right tool for the job and all that moody Jazz. Unlike in the movies, musical bandwidth doesn't breach 28Hz unless it's the rare synthesizer. A subwoofer doing a flat 25Hz at standard room levels would cover all my needs. What standard room levels are is a different discussion. Our household considers 90dB peaks loud. For that, mega potent but affordable class D, advanced DSP and purpose-engineered bass pumps can mean rather small 'lifestyle' enclosures if 105dB at infrasonic pressures aren't on the menu. Paradigm's Seismic 110 is already ten years old. It suggests that a problem solved perfectly once goes away for good. It won't wait on you the next morning or reappear a decade later.

My expectations see this machine's SPL capabilities as ideal for our bigger rig. With subs, approaching then crossing the 20Hz divide by single cycles and at rising SPL gets ever costlier and bigger in a hurry. I'd not want expensive loudness I'll never use. 120dB specs leave me cold and deaf. Our downstairs music zone flows into an open floor plan of 100m² total and features vaulted ceilings above the speakers. If Paradigm's squat bulldog could hit 25Hz at a max 90dB in the chair from 4 meters away, I'd call it perfect extension/power. I also appreciate Paradigm's fully automated PBK or perfect bass kit option; the XLR input; and a size/price that leave an open door for a second unit down the road. I'd rather have two petite subs than one enormous one.

My online window shopping still has questions. In a music-only system run as described, would a Paradigm Seismic 110 tick off the boxes of speed and timing, clarity without overhang, audibility of faint spatial cues at standard even modest playback levels and not betray itself as an add-on? As you saw, more bass as such didn't make my list. Speakers good for -3dB/33Hz like ours don't miss much music bass in the first place. This is about superior quality, not quantity.

True, at times a sub will go lower still to also add raw quantity. That's particularly so with synth chicanery on ambient/electronica. It's simply a secondary benefit when loudspeakers already reach well into the first octave with appropriate power for a room. To me more important is whether precision filtering the main speakers to replace their first-octave coverage with a purpose-engineered bass solution can be a musically relevant upgrade with an extreme woofer that's marketed primarily at lifestyle home theater. Should more audiophiles consider one despite well-groomed hangups about subs?

High-pedigree speaker houses Magico, Vandersteen, Wilson Audio, Wilson Benesch and YG Acoustics all have their own statement subs [18" carbon-fibre Torus by Wilson Benesch at left whose cylindrical enclosure and push/pull motor share some conceptual overlap with Paradigm]. Those flagship bandwidth extenders make for strong affirmatives at the cost-no-object level. What would happen when a ~€1'500 small sub adds itself to ~€10K/pr music-only speakers? Will it be 100% successful or not? If not, what might the issues be? Voilà, unanswered questions to a rainy Sunday's relentless tyre kicking…