The subject of this review is the Cadence CSX12 Mark II, which turns out to be quite the mouthful to say. The CSX12 Mark II -- know simply as the CSX12 from here on out, for the sake of brevity -- is a bass reflex (ported) style of subwoofer. Measuring in at a large 20"H x 17.5"W x 18.5"D, and weighing in at a hefty 64 pounds, this is no small beast. It's actually closer in size to most 15" subwoofers then it's 12" brethren (it's only about 12% smaller then the Cadence CSX-15 Mark II).
The driver is front firing with a slot port running virtually the entire width of the front panel. The amp is Class A and is rated at 225 watts RMS, 450 watts peak. The quoted frequency response is 25Hz-250Hz. The sub has a 2 year warranty.
Cadence has been in business for approximately 20 years.
Cadence is an Internet Direct company, so as their name implies they sell directly to the public. You can technically purchase them from other places, like Amazon, but the order is fulfilled directly by Cadence themselves. The review unit was supplied to me by the manufacturer, so I didn't utilize the standard distribution channel.
The unit came double boxed directly from Cadence. That's always an encouraging sign, and starts things out on the right foot. Both boxes have designs and logo's printed on them, which gave a very professional appearance. The sub was protected at all corners with good sized styrofoam blocks that extended part way down the side of the cabinet. Additionally, there were styrofoam sheets on both the top and bottom of the sub, further protecting it. The sub itself was in a cloth bag, which in turn was inside a plastic bag. If that's not enough the front panel -- which is a high gloss plastic type of material -- was protected by another sheet of plastic. Obvious care was taken with how it was boxed, protected and presented, so in this area Cadence gets an "excellent".
Accessories are limited to adjustable carpet spikes, which appear to be of high quality, and something unusual; an adapter for use in European countries (220 volt, 50Hz). I'm accustom to seeing a 110/220 switch on subwoofer amplifiers now, but this is the first time I've seen a manufacturer include the necessary adapter as part of their standard package.
The manual is small, but professionally created. The wording and grammar are first rate, and I found no evidence of the typical translation issues so common with less expensive subwoofers. It is rather sparse though, and covers both the CSX12 and the CSX15, so pay attention when reading it. I did find some inaccuracies too.
For example, the manual says it's better to face the port so it fires into a corner. It goes on to say that in some installations facing the woofer cone into the corner might also enhance the bass. Since the port and woofer are both on the front panel it would be an either/or situation; either the port and driver face the corner or they don't. It was as though that section -- and one or two others -- were written for a sub physically configured in a different manner (like front driver, rear port).
The cabinet is fairly unique in it's design, due primarily to the fact that it has a high gloss faceplate over the front panel. The vinyl wrap is otherwise nondescript -- appearing a bit dull with a slight hint of silver hue in the pattern -- but with the addition of that faceplate the CSX12 takes on a completely different appearance. The vinyl on the review unit (which was clearly brand new) had a couple of minor smears that I wasn't able to clean off. They were small enough that I had to look closely to find them, so I doubt they would present an issue for most people.
Initially I thought the CSX12's appearance was somewhat odd, but as time went on I grew to like it. Kudos to Cadence for going the extra mile and differentiating their sub from a sea of bland, generic looking clones. Were it not for that front panel it would probably look like just about every other low cost subwoofer, but this one stands out from the crowd. And I say that in a good way.
The ubiquitous "knuckle rap test" comes back sounding hollow, not surprising given the fact that the inside is like a huge cavern. It's devoid of bracing, with only a very thin layer of damping material attached to all the interior walls. Some of my listening tests infer that the use of thicker damping material to line the walls might provide benefits, not the least of which would be to make the sound a bit more rich and full. Damping can also be used to "fool" the driver into thinking it's in a larger cabinet then it really is, thereby allowing a manufacturer to make the cabinet smaller without loosing anything in the process. That might behoove Cadence too because the cabinet is larger then most of it's competition -- bordering on huge, actually -- and would only disappear in a good sized room.
The cabinet itself is .75" MDF on all panels except for the front one, where it's 1". Cadence doesn't mention the fact that the front panel is thicker then the rest of them, but I checked and double checked my measurements. Oddly, on their website Cadence says the cabinet is "¾ High Density MDF Fiber Construction". MDF means Medium Density Fiberboard. Based upon their description the cabinet is made from "High Density Medium Density Fiberboard". Somewhat of a contradiction, and a bit confusing.
There are strong indications that attention to detail was an integral part of both the design and construction process. The amp, for example, is housed in it's own separate compartment. Few budget subwoofers go to that length. The damping material, what little of it there is, has been evenly and completely affixed to all the inside walls; it's obviously not just slapped on haphazardly. The speaker wires are the only thing going between the amp enclosure and the driver section of the cabinet. They run through a dollop of silicone where they exit the enclosure, ensuring that the two compartments remain isolated.
Looking further one notices other details, like the amp faceplate fits the exterior cabinet cutout perfectly. The high gloss faceplate on the front is the exact same size as the cabinet, so even if you run your finger around the edge where the cabinet and the faceplate meet there's no variation. Small things like that add up to give a positive impression, and in so doing project quality. Even when I scrutinized the little details, as I'm wont to do, I found almost nothing that made me scratch my head and say "what were they thinking?". It's evident that someone at Cadence was doing their homework.
The grill uses a very transparent material, implying that the sound is not being hampered by the grill at all. The frame is constructed from .5" MDF, and turns out to be surprisingly rigid. It fits perfectly into the cutout of the high gloss faceplate (attention to detail again). Two screws on the amp needed maybe an 1/8 of a turn, while half of the driver screws needed about a 1/4 of a turn. Everything else was tight.
The driver is in a stamped steel basket, with some type of hybrid foam/rubber surround; it looks like foam but feels more like rubber to me. Cadence says it's "Double Laminated", whatever that means, but it's clearly not just foam. The cone is paper based and treated with a top coating. The suspension is not very stiff, but that's often what I've found with ported subs. The magnet is of the double-stacked variety, with a bumpout for extra excursion. It's vented and weighs in at 90 ounces. The driver itself is attached with 8 machined screws and threaded inserts. The latter is yet another example of the attention to detail Cadence has engineered in; most budget oriented subwoofers use wood screws directly into the front panel. Threaded inserts are more time consuming and costly to install, but they show a greater degree of quality on the manufacturers part.
The port is not a traditional round type, but is instead a slot port that runs practically the full width of the unit. It extends from front to back as well, affording a tremendous amount of air volume (something I found out first hand, as you'll see a little further on).
Cadence takes a slightly different route when it comes to their amp, and if you have any intention of running multiple subs the most prominent of those differences could be significant. It's something called a "Multi-Link" connector, which enables you to daisy-chain subwoofers together. By utilizing this connector -- and a generic RJ11 phone cable -- you can have two subs managed as one by a single set of controls from the one you designate as the "master". Effectively what this does is allow you to adjust gain (volume), crossover and phase from the primary sub and have those settings reflected identically on the other one (slave). For people who want to setup dual subs this is a excellent feature to have, and one few amps costing even twice what the CSX12 does have. Given how common multi-sub setups are becoming this strikes me as tremendous forethought on the part of Cadence.
What if dual subwoofers still aren't enough for you? Well, how about 5 of them instead? By using a hub you can connect 4 "slave" CSX12's to a single "master" and have a chain containing a total of 5 subs, all controlled as 1. I'm not sure what type of environment would warrant something like that, but if you want options Cadence surely has you covered.
Another unique feature is the Bass Boost setting. Think of it as a stripped down PEQ (Parametric EQualizer). With a traditional PEQ you can adjust a given frequency up or down to tailor the sound to your particular room or preferences. With most PEQ's you can select the frequency, the amount of boost or notch (cut) and the "Q" of the adjustment (the Q is essential how "wide" the adjustment is, or how much of the surrounding frequency range is also effected). According to the owners manual Cadence has the Bass Boost fixed at 50 Hz, but a graph I obtained from their support department implies it's perhaps 55Hz or even 60Hz, depending upon how much boost you apply. Either way, know that it's fixed frequency and can't be changed. Something else you can't adjust is the Q value, so to a certain extend this feature is rather limited, but that doesn't mean it's not without any value.
The amount of boost is variable and can be set from 0-12dB, so you can make a rather substantial adjustment. The 50Hz-60Hz range is where a lot of the "wow factor" comes from in both movies and TV anyway, so I suppose if the functionality is going to have restrictions how Cadence went about it was perhaps the best compromise. Regardless of the limitations, it is a rare feature to have in such an inexpensive subwoofer. Based upon my experimentation it works pretty well too, and the difference in the sound is very evident, but it might be a little too wide. When adjusted much beyond a few dB it tends to thicken the sound rather dramatically, which implies it's operating on quite a bit of the surrounding frequencies (the graph implies almost a full octave, depending upon how much you apply).
Auto-on worked flawlessly. This perhaps comes across as an insignificant thing to note, but for those who have read some of my previous reviews they know this feature is a pet peeve of mine. So very easy to implement, but so often flawed in it's execution. I tend to use it as an indication (one of them, anyway) of how much care is put into the amps design. Cadence did good here; it went into standby only when it should have, and came out instantly and quietly.
Connections are scant, so this part is not hard at all; there's a single LFE input, and that's it. There are no line-level inputs, nor are there any speaker-level inputs or outputs. It seems Cadence has decided the CSX12 will be used strictly in a home theater environment. Based upon how things are today in the audio world that might not be such a bad strategy, but if nothing else it is something you should note when considering how you want to hook it up.
The amp is a fine looking piece, with logo's and emblems silkscreened on with vibrant inks. All of the markings and indicators are clear and easily readable. Most of the dials have indicators that include more than just whatever the minimum and maximum is for the respective functionality. Few budget sub designers take the initiative to do that it seems. Curiously, the Crossover Mode switch has markings for two positions, but the switch itself has a third (middle) position as well. The manual doesn't indicate what it might be.
Since you only have one connection option hooking up the CSX12 is about as uncomplicated a task as you can possibly imagine. Simply plug in the power and hook up an RCA cable from your receiver. I have grown accustom to using a Y adapter and essentially increasing the output by +3dB. Often times that allows me to keep the subwoofers own volume relatively low. Since I wasn't able to do that with the CSX12 I found it necessary to set the gain between 1-2 o'clock on the dial, which is a little on the "hot" side. However, once set I was then able to keep the subwoofer at 0dB on my receiver.
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 15 hours.
The CSX12 comported itself very well in the time I had it. Although it lacks a bit of richness, it does have a deep and fairly articulate sound. It handled almost everything I threw at it with poise, and rarely was I able to make it lose composure. It's not afraid of volume either; I was able to perform several of my tests at higher SPL's then I normally would. There's no doubt in my mind it would be able to handle a room larger then the one I have. If it were corner loaded too the bass would have been even better, so keep that in mind.
I was so impressed at times with what the CSX12 was capable of that I felt compelled to finally add a few of the more demanding movie scenes to my testing regimen, something I wasn't really able to do previously because the subs I was evaluating weren't up to the task. The new additions are probably familiar to most of you; War of the Worlds and 10,000 BC.
In short, there's very little negative that can be said about the sound coming from the CSX12. It's clean, expressive and powerful. It handles movies and music with almost equal aplomb, and it's not afraid of playing at high SPL's. The mid-bass punch is solid and tight, and it does very good with all but the deepest material. Cadence claims that the frequency response extends down to 25Hz, and I would tend to believe them. It seems like there's a very solid bottom end, but like all ported subs it drops off fast. I suspect the useable output really is into the mid 20's. On rare occasions I could get the driver to bottom out or create port noise, but it took a lot of effort. A conscience effort really; only when I was looking for limits did I find them. Under anything that would be considered normal listening circumstances the CSX12 remained composed.
I'm not prone to watching at "reference level", so my assessments should be considered in that regard. I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting on the floor a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet still affords me the opportunity to determine if it's straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level.
Like most people I have specific DVD's and particular scenes I use when testing subwoofers. A few of my favorites are Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Collateral and Avatar. For this review -- and all subsequent evaluations I do -- the quintessential ULF (ultra low frequency) "torture test" has been added to my arsenal; War of the Worlds. I've also included another rather difficult test scene from the movie 10,000 BC. Each individual test is listed in the format of Movie: Scene.
Lord of the Rings: Bridge of Khazad Doom - There is an ultra low frequency rumble in portions of this scene, as well as significant amounts of impact generated by numerous structures crumbling. For a subwoofer to handle all of that properly it needs to be precise and capable of reaching very deep, otherwise a lot of it comes across as nothing more than annoying resonance. The CSX12 faithfully reproduced this scene, with virtually no evidence of strain.
Almost without exception the sound was clear and had good articulation. Some of the very lowest notes were lacking a bit of strength, but unless you're intimately familiar with the scene -- and nit picking like a reviewer is supposed to do -- you might not have even noticed anything. It's not as though I walked away feeling something was lacking, just that a touch of the visceral sensation wasn't quite complete. There was a bit of tactile feel in my chair though, so the CSX12 was hitting some of the low stuff with authority. Unless I played it stupid loud there was no port or driver noise heard, making it an enjoyable experience.
My favorite part of this scene to play around with is the Balrog's roar. There's a section when you see it for the first time that I just love to crank way up. He jumps up out of a cavern and lands right behind the Fellowship and lets out a fire-breathing roar. I enjoy seeing how loud I can play that part, because when the volume goes up it just sounds cool. I was able to get the level uncomfortable loud before common sense finally prevailed and I backed it down. The CSX12 faithfully played along and never complained.
Collateral: Club Fever - This disc has the option of using DTS or DD for audio, but I only test with DTS now. In general I've found DTS encoding has a bit of additional low bass and an overall greater depth to the soundtrack, so I've decided to use that exclusively for testing.
Although this scene doesn't contain a tremendous amount of LFE information it does have a driving musical soundtrack, and over-emphasized gun sounds. The music portion I've found can cause trouble for a subwoofer because it does tend to drown out the voice track in certain spots, especially if it lacks clarity and speed. Because of that articulation is crucial. The CSX12 handled this scene about as good as any subwoofer I've tested thus far.
That musical club "feel" was rendered properly and accurately. Note that in this case "feel" does not mean vibration in my seat, but that pounding, somewhat muddled sound you generally get in a club. This dynamic is recorded directly into the audio track, so any lack of precision is not the fault of your sub.
This scene also contains over emphasized gun shots, which test how sharp and quick a sub responds because the musical score is still driving away the whole time. Since the CSX12 has very good mid-bass punch this part was reproduced with the proper amount of authority.
Avatar: Assault on Home Tree - For those familiar with the movie this scene has low frequencies, ultra low frequencies, explosions, gunfire, voices and enough other things going on to provide a good test of virtually every component in your system. The CSX12 handled this scene with no problems.
As the gunships approach Home Tree you can almost feel the underlying intensity. The roar of their engines, the sound of the rockets being launched, the impact of each explosion, the crackling of the massive roots as the tree begins to list, and all the way to the point where it's toppled and crashes into the ground the low frequency was prominent and clean. The CSX12 blended each element properly, retaining their individual characteristics perfectly. This was another time I cranked up the volume to a level I would never listen at ordinarily, just to have a little fun and see what the limits were. I did ultimately find it, which can best be described as LOUD.
War of the Worlds: The Machine Emerges - The archetype... perhaps the most recognized subwoofer test scene of all time comes from a movie that's about 7 years old. The depth and volume of bass that occurs during a several minute span is simply amazing. If you want to see what your sub is capable of this scene can certainly be used as a barometer. With subterranean vibrations, exploding pavement and collapsing buildings you have ultra low, low and mid-bass frequencies pouring out of your subwoofer. One of the most punishing combinations there is, and an excellent way to really push something to the brink. As in the case of Collateral, the DTS audio track is used for this scene. The CSX12 did remarkably well, given the demanding nature of this material. I did sense a touch of overhang in the very deepest portions, and a little strain when the volume was up fairly high, but all-in-all Cadence can be proud of how this inexpensive sub preformed.
One of the more difficult parts is this scene actually has nuances during all the mayhem. For example, as the machine is burrowing it's way to the surface, and the earth is shaking, the buckling pavement has a crackling sound that needs to be evident in order to achieve the full effect. The CSX12 balanced all of it very well; the ground shaking deep bass did not subjugate the buckling pavement sound.
It would be impossible for a sub to properly render this scene without tactile feel, and I did get some in my chair. As mentioned previously, the CSX12 doesn't really do 20Hz (what $400 subwoofer does?), but I experienced enough vibration to fully engross me in the movie. But I expected a certain amount of that quite honestly. What I wasn't prepared for though was the blast of air; the CSX12 was driving so hard that I was getting a noticeable breeze from the port, and that's 11 feet away! I have never experienced a sub move that much air. Rather interesting, to say the least.
10,000 BC: Mammoth Hunt - During this scene there's either ultra low bass or mid-bass, with very little in between it seems. However, I've found this to be a good way of determining how a sub performs with nuances while being pushed hard. If it's struggling to hit the very low notes then the mid-bass suffers, and will come across as a jumbled mess (lacking in detail). If it can hit the low notes, but isn't articulate, then it tends to sound "thick" or "heavy", losing most of it's distinction. With the exception of the very deepest notes the CSX12 did extremely well here.
Prior to the stampede the mammoth's are simply walking about, pounding the ground every time they put a foot down. Here I detected a missing element, because the really deep notes weren't being reproduced. It's not as though the sound was weak or thin -- far from it -- but it wasn't the full effect either. When the stampede begins, and you have dozens of mammoth's on the run simultaneously, I got the same feeling; balanced, crisp, detailed sound, but missing the ultra low thud. Just very good, as opposed to excellent.
After all the testing was finished I checked the amp for heat output and found it to be nothing more than simply warm. In spite of how hard I pushed the CSX12 the amp never generated any appreciable heat.
I use a combination of lossy and lossless material -- MP3's and CD's -- to see how musical a subwoofer is, and in both instances the CSX12 pleasantly surprised me.
Why am I surprised? It's a budget minded bass reflex subwoofer, which is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think about music. But guess what, the CSX12 can indeed play music with good agility. It rarely lags, hitting sharp and hard far more often then not, which is precisely what music demands.
To add some context... my listening preferences are blues, rock and heavy metal, and while none of those genre's require a tremendous amount of articulation -- like classical would, for example -- they do have their challenging pieces. For quality of recording and detail one of my go-to CD's is Johnny Lang's Lie To Me. Whoever mixed this is a genius, because it's brilliant work. It's also a tremendous way to test a sub, because of the simplicity of the music and the wonderful production. The CSX12 shined beautifully here, allowing me to crank this disk to a volume I rarely would otherwise. Even pushed, it sounded very good.
Johnny Lang wasn't the only CD I listened to, of course, but it was the one that sounded the best. Everything else I tried exhibited the same level of clarity though, which got me digging through my collection to find other disks to experiment with. This is perhaps the first inexpensive sub that I would not hesitate to recommend for someone who values music and HT abilities in equal proportions.
Unfortunately, I can't gauge the technical support properly because they caught me when my "alter ego" tried using it.
My standard MO (Modus Operandi, or method of operation) is to first obtain the sub, then send an email to tech support asking a few inane questions. When they respond I then reply with a few more questions, but this time a bit more technically challenging. I want to assess the competency, professionalism, accuracy and speed at which they respond. When I sent the first email it was answered by the person who I had been dealing with to obtain the evaluation unit. Guess this fellow wears multiple hats.
Anyway, he recognized the email address and replied directly to me. Since the jig was up, making it impossible for me to go incognito, I didn't ask any further questions. In general I did find all my interactions with Cadence to be positive -- even prior to this instance -- so based upon that I would say they probably have a good support structure.
For those who took the time to read this entire review you probably already have a good feeling about what the conclusion will ultimately be, but I'll say it anyway; Cadence has a winner on their hands with the CSX12. It can deftly navigate both music and home theater with equal poise and balance. It rarely struggles, except for the ultra deep notes. Quality is evident, as are a number of nice design and engineering features. When you consider the fact that it only costs $399 there's no way to conclude it's anything other than a very solid value.
For those interested in my subject assessment it's that the Cadence CSX12 Mark II is strongly recommended.