Paradigm Defiance X15 15” Ported DSP Subwoofer Review

With the Defiance X15, Paradigm has created a ported 15″ subwoofer that offers world-class performance plus output from 20 Hz on up.


Check out Paradigm’s power move: The Defiance X15 subwoofer ($1499). This model is the top dog in a new series of ported subwoofers from the Canadian speaker maker. Defiance X15 unabashedly serves up huge amounts of tight, powerful bass. And crucially, this subwoofer comes with ARC (Anthem Room Correction) built-in, and it ships with a calibration microphone that is much nicer then what would typically come with an AV receiver. Paradigm sent me this subwoofer as part of a 7.1 system featuring its new Premier Series speakers. However, I could not help but be impressed by the sheer size and capability of the Defiance X15, so I wrote this standalone mini review.

Paradigm is a speaker company that embraces subwoofers, it has a history of creating powerful designs. But what’s so intriguing about the Defiance X15 is how it brings an insane amount of capability to the table at a price point that is competitive with Internet Direct company offerings.

I’ve had enough hands-on time with this have a good feel for what it’s able to do, which includes delivering a rated response of ±3 dB from 18Hz – 240Hz with output down to 14Hz. Once you add room gain to that equation, it can translate to tremendous amounts of infrasonic bass coming from a single subwoofer. And with the excellent ARC software taking care of room-related issues, it adds exhilarating deep bass performance to any sound system, not just AVRs and pre/pros that have built-in bass EQ.

Let’s take a closer look at this impressive “Crafted in Canada” bass-making machine.

Features and Specifications

This is the largest and heaviest subwoofer in the Defiance line. It is a ported model featuring a front firing 15 inch driver that uses the company’s patented ART surround that the company says allows for extended excursion, resulting in a 3 dB gain in output versus a standard surround. This driver is fed by a 900 W RMS (1800 W dynamic peak) class-D amp.


This close-up view of the ART surround is almost an optical illusion but it lets you see the ribbed structure.

You can control this subwoofer from your phone using Bluetooth communication and a dedicated app. I particularly enjoyed the snappy performance of the app, it recognized the sub immediately. And then it responded very quickly to commands, making obtaining a proper calibration easy. Follow the on-screen instructions and you will have a guaranteed better-integrated sub on your hands within minutes.

Interestingly, when you are calibrating, you get the choice of connecting the supplied USB microphone to a laptop, or to your phone, or using the built-in microphone on your phone. If you use the laptop, you get the most sophisticated iteration of ARC, but it’s a little bit more complicated than using the phone since you must attach a USB cable to the sub, unlike the wireless phone and app method.

On the back panel this subwoofer you will find LFE as well as stereo RCA inputs, a balanced XLR input, and also stereo speaker level inputs. This subwoofer also comes equipped with a port that allows you to add an optional wireless module. Also on the back are toggle switches for power triggering, and a level control (which has its own toggle, allowing you to choose whether the app or the knob adjusts the volume). However, you won’t find the typical collection of knobs on the back of this subwoofer, you need to use the app to adjust DSP parameters such as volume, low pass filter, phase adjustment, deep base adjustment (20-30 Hz range), and more.


Back panel of the Paradigm Defiance X15 ported subwoofer.

In the app, you can also choose between three preset modes (movie, music, night), turn ARC on and off, apply (or bypass) a custom low pass filter, and more. A shortcut to the dedicated anthem room correction app is also provided.

Setup

Paradigm provides comprehensive placement and set up instructions in the manual. The company also happens to suggest using two subwoofers, if you have the space in the budget. There certainly are advantages to using dual subs that go beyond added output, namely the reduction of peaks and dips in response that are caused by interactions with the room.

Interestingly, I found little difference between using the built-in microphone on my iPhone and the supplied calibration mic. So, if you have an iPhone, you can probably calibrate this subwoofer in a minute whenever you want. Not that there’s any need to, but it would be possible. The calibration created a custom curve that, when measured at the main listening position, resulted in a significantly flatter frequency response in the bass region— at least as good a result as I’d expect from a high-end AVR or pre/pro.

The set up of any subwoofer is going to depend on room acoustics and placement options, so I won’t get into the specifics of how this subwoofer interacted with my particular room. What’s important is that with room correction and EQ, you can clearly improve performance (subjectively and objectively) using the provided tools and advice.

Hands-On Impressions

This is one heck of a powerful subwoofer! In my living room, it delivered plenty of tight, detailed, impactful bass. Indeed, I never maxed it out during real-world use, the only time I pushed his limits was while testing it out.

I do not have the capacity to run CEA-2010 tests on subwoofers due to my urban living arrangements. Fortunately, Dennis Burger at Home theater review performed those measurements in his review—twice, he says, because at first he didn’t believe how much output the Defiance X15 provided. And if you are the sort to compare subwoofers on data-bass, what you’ll see is this subwoofer is a championship-caliber performer even at 25 Hz, and among the top of the heap for consumer/retail 15″ subwoofers in the 30 to 80 Hz range (that are found in that list).

The clear implication of the CEA-2010 numbers is that this subwoofer does deliver what Paradigm promises, when it comes to extracting output from the 15 ” driver.

Subjectively speaking, I had no issues whatsoever with the 16 Hz bass coming out of this speaker—it can dig deeper than port tune.

I’ve read plenty of debates about whether subwoofers should or should not be described as fast or slow or sloppy or tight or whatever. In the end, the quality of the bass that you achieve is directly tied to the physical capabilities of the subwoofer, as well as the processing used to integrate it. And with this subwoofer, Paradigm leaves little on the table. The main thing that this subwoofer does not do, is explore the infrasonic realm with the confidence that high-powered sealed subs do. This is no surprise, even though the defiance X 15 is large, it’s the tuning is what allows it to hit those high SPL numbers above 20 Hz. Any vented subwoofer that tries to play below port tune is going to run into large amounts of distortion and this Paradigm is not an exception.

Anyhow, what’s key is that this sub provides stunning amounts of base in the audible spectrum, including fully covering the deepest frequencies typically included in music.

Technically, there’s no point in describing how this subwoofer sounded with different movies or video games; I’ll save that for the complete 7.1 system review featuring the Premier speakers. Having said that, I continue to indulge in the latest blockbuster entertainment and just before wrapping up this review, I enjoyed Ant Man and The Wasp, Rampage, Justice League and Mandy using the Defiance X15 as the sole sub and it provided all the performance I could ask for with those titles.

At the risk of upsetting people who don’t believe in the use of the terms, I did find this sub to be “tight and fast” which is to say that it handled textures and microdynamics well. I would also say that it has a “dry” sound to it, where some other subwoofers somehow have a more “fluid” character. This is a purely subjective impression.

If you love music that has intense bass in it (genres like a dubstep, rap, reggae, EDM, experimental, classical, etc.) the Paradigm Defiance X15 is your new best friend. It is at once capable of being completely invisible, providing transparent bass that blends perfectly with the speakers, and if called upon by a producer having some fun at the control board, it transforms into a bass beast that will shake you to your core.

Specifically, this subwoofer 100% mastered the Disc Wars torture test from Tron Legacy soundtrack, which is my longtime go-to for testing subwoofer fidelity and capability. It moves the air in the room, which is necessary to convey the power of the timpani as the London Symphony accompanies Daft Punk.

Black Uhuru’s The Dub Factor features the famous riddim’ twins, Sly & Robbie, and sounds as vital as ever when punctuated by the crisp bass coming out of the Defiance X15. This is a subwoofer that does not need to be pushing its limits to show you why it’s so great; at moderate volume, it puts you in the groove with its rhythmic capabilities.

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this mighty subwoofer from Paradigm competes directly with Internet Direct brands in terms of price and capability. The catch is that you cannot order this subwoofer online, you will have to buy it from a brick-and-mortar store. On the other hand, having to do so affords the opportunity to audition it first. Perhaps this review will motivate you to do so.

With Paradigm’s Defiance X15, the days when you could say that Internet Direct companies “own” the “high price/performance ratio subwoofer” market are over. This sub is unapologetically huge, powerful and capable. And crucially, it offers sophisticated room correction built-in, so it’s ready to rumble—even in minimalist 2.1-channel setups but also in full-fledged home theater rigs. Stay tuned for the 7.1 review where I’ll discuss how the Defiance X15 performs when paired with a full-on Paradigm premier speaker system. Strongly recommended for all the bass fiends out there.

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