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Monday, March 4, 2019

Home Theater Review!
Paradigm Defiance X12 Subwoofer
“15-inch Driver Performance
From A 12-inch Subwoofer”


Brevis...
Price: $1,299
Likes: impact of a 15, ARC
Dislikes: ain’t no way
Wow Factor: I want to buy two
More info: Paradigm X12

by John Gatski
  Subwoofer technology has progressed to the point that smaller subwoofers are now big performers — in terms of clean output level and frequency extension — even from modestly sized enclosures.
  Case in point is the fantastic Paradigm Defiance subwoofer, a 12-inch sub that would put many 15-inch subs to shame a few years ago.
  Take the X12 Defiance reviewed here. This star-performer of a subwoofer offers nearly flat 20 Hz performance at 95 dB plus  level with ultra clean punch, in a box that is not that big, offers Anthem Room Correction (ARC) tuning via PC and smart phone app. — all for $1,299. Dang! For $199 bucks more, it can be run wirelessly.

Features
  The Defiance X12 contains a 12-inch (305 mm), long-drive driver with ART Surround (carbon-loaded polypropylene cone), 650W RMS (1,300W dynamic Peak) Class-D amplifier, control app via smartphone, and Anthem Room Correction (ARC) with Windows PC or smart phone app are included as well. Anthem Room Correction automatically equalizes the bass to tailor the sub’s response to the room. It is one of the best room correction mic/test/adjust apps for speaker applications.


X12 sports full array of connection options

  The key to the performance is the tuned, bottom port cabinet combined with Paradigm’s patented driver that moves much more air than typical 12-inch woofers. Top it off with a powerful, X12 amplifier that sports auto-on/off and improved soft-clipping circuitry, which enables huge dynamic peaks without audible harshness.
  The X12‘s on-axis frequency responseis listed at ±3 dB from 20Hz – 230Hz, which is amazing performance from a box that is under 20-inches deep and wide. The extended, low-frequency measurement is 15 Hz (DIN), though level is reduced at that frequency. Still audible level at 15 Hz is quite impressive in a single-12 inch subwoofer enclosure.

 As a subwoofer, the Defiance X12‘s performance defies its $1,299 retail price. The powered sub's nearly ideal performance/value ratio, for both music and movie watching, makes this subwoofer an instant Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner!

  The subwoofer comes in a satin black finish and measures 18" × 19.5 × 18.75" (45.7cm × 49.5 × 47.7cm). The crossover is adjustable from 30 Hz - 120 Hz; the unit and downloadable app contains the phase control: variable 0° - 180.°
  The X12 comes with three RCA (Left, Right, and LFE) for left/right line-out and/or sub-out from receiver/processor or other line-level source, two speaker-level (Left and Right) for input from amplifier or other speaker level source. I still run some  audiophile system speaker/subwoofer setups with speaker level connection, and I applaud Paradigm for still including that feature on some subwoofers.


X12 looks good — with or without grill


  The subwoofer is equipped with one Micro USB port for the ARC™ room correction via Windows computer, as well as firmware updates.The Defiance WT Wireless Kit (sold separately) is $199. It allows you to send the signal from a pre-pro or receiver or smart device without any wires.
  The Defiance Series features six models: from 8-inches to 15-inches: V8 (no ARC) V10, V12, X10, X12, X15) The 8-inch and the 10-inch do not have the ARC, but are also fine performers in small rooms. The 12-inch and 15-inch are perfect for larger rooms where low-bass extension and level are paramount.

The set up
  I placed the Defiance X12 in my typical sub position, left front of the room near the side wall, about four feet from the main speakers, which are the very accurate Westlake Audio Tower 5, Westlake Audio LC 6.25 center channel and NHT One dipole rear surrounds.
  For the electronics, I fired up the Audio Control Maestro M9 pre/pro, AudioControl Savoy multi-channel amp, an Oppo BDP-203 BD player, and a Sony XBR 60-inch LED. All components were plugged in Wireworld with Essential Sound Products Essence II power cords and power strip.


Optimizing the bass via ARC app is a snap

 I set up the Defiance X12, using the ARC app and my Dell Latitude Windows computer. I placed the measurement mic at the listener position, programmed the app and let the software measure and set the bass.
  The ARC does a great job dialing in the accurate bass response. After the ARC sessions, I noted only a 2 dB variance from 30 Hz to 140 Hz in the room, as independently confirmed by my AudioControl analyzer and calibrated microphone.

The audition
  I auditioned the Defiance  X12 mostly as a home cinema subwoofer, and I was quite impressed with how clean and loud this subwoofer reproduced the low end. With test tones, I was getting a shade under 95 dB level at 22 Hz and it was flat at 26 Hz in my room with the ARC tuning. Turning off the ARC, I still got flat, clean and loud response down to 25 Hz.
  An example of the thunderous, yet clean extension of the Defiance X12, was the U571 submarine movie from the early 2000‘s. The depth-charge explosions segment is relentless and a capable sub relays sub-audible, stomach churning room vibrations.

  When the dirty nuke bomb goes off in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan yarn, “Sum Of All Fears,” my roof vent buzzed and rattled. I was astonished that this 12-inch subwoofer could produce this physical boundary effect two floors away.

  My eight-year old Paradigm Sub15 subwoofer from a few years ago set the reference for my room for 22 Hz and deeper, loud bass from that movie. That was from a 15-inch driver and a larger box. The Defiance X12 equaled the loudness and extension of the old 15. When the dirty nuke bomb goes off in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan yarn, “Sum Of All Fears,” my roof vent buzzed and rattled, just like it did with the Sub15 and the Paradigm Prestige 15-inch subwoofer I reviewed a few years ago. I was astonished that this 12-inch subwoofer could produce this physical boundary effect two floors away.


The proprietary XWoofer can move some air

  I also used the Defiance as the primary low bass for two audiophile set ups. Using it in conjunction with my Lipinski L505 stand speakers and Westlake Lc8.1 stand speakers, I drove the main speakers with a Pass Labs X350.8 amp, Benchmark HPA-4  preamp line stage and a Mytek Manhattan DAC.
  With level matching and crossover set between 60 and 80 Hz, depending on speakers, the Defiance X12 created a perfect blend with the stand speakers, allowing the Hi-Res music to go way down in bass to present a full-frequency audio signal with plenty of slam.
  With Classical music organ performances from several Bach SACDs, symphonic kettle drum tympani as well as synthetic bass-heavy Pop and Rock, the overall balance was much more fleshed out using the Defiance.


X Series Stack Attack: Paradigm X10, X12 and X15

  The cannon shots on the thirtieth-anniversary Telarc Eric Kunzel and The Cincinnati Pops 1812 overture were downright subsonic and simultaneous thundering with windows vibrating and in your chest pressure while the midrange and treble were soaring in decibels. I really like this 12-inch sub!!
  I even used the Defiance X12 in my home recording studio, running it speaker level with a Bryston 14B SST-II amp, which was  fed via a Mackie-USA mixer. Perfect balance speaker/sub sound for the mixing of a basic bass, drums and electric guitar combo recording that I was doing a bit of mastering on.
 The sub does not have XLR pro connections, but it was ultra clean, quiet and extended and loud in my set up by using the speaker level conduits. Most pro subwoofers don’t have this level of performance at this price. The X12 is tight, fast, and extended. You have to spend a lot more in the pro world to get this level of performance.

The verdict
  I had zero problems with the Defiance X12. For 90 percent of home theater owners in typical rooms, one of these is all you would ever need. It kicks out loud 25 Hz bass and under in spades, nets you an optional smart phone control app when operating in a wireless configuration, comes with the excellent ARC set up software and is not that large at less than 20 inches squared.



  The Class D amp, the extended motion woofer and tuned box give you a sub whose performance in this size was unheard of 10 years ago. Two of these would be perfect for home cinema or music.
  As a subwoofer, the Defiance X12‘s performance defies its modest price. Its nearly ideal performance/value ratio for both music and movie watching, makes this subwoofer an instant Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner and an automatic nominee for Subwoofer of the Year 2019. Yes, it is that good.

    John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net










Friday, December 14, 2018

Audiophile Review!
McGary Audio SA 1
Stereo Tube Amplifier
"The Little Tube Amp That Can"


©Everything Audio Network

Brevis
Price: $3,985
Likes: very clean, smooth sonics
Dislikes: RCA jacks are on front
Wow Factor: nothing like a tube amp...
More Info: McGary Audio SA 1

by John Gatski
  I have owned more than 30 tube amplifiers since 1988, including classic amps from McIntosh, Marantz and Scott — all the way to modern units from Rogue Audio, Manley VTL, etc. And everything in between.
  What I have found is that most tube amps always sound good, if choosing the appropriately matched speaker, but they often don't meet my accuracy expectation. Warm and musical is good, but I want a piano, drum cymbals to sound like real musical instruments, not like they are run through a tone control. I also have encountered some modern tube amps that sounded strident, sterile and hard to listen to.
  I am happy to report that this modestly powered, 30 watt KT77 amp, the SA 1, from McGary Audio is a terrifically balanced sounding tube amp (within its power range) that also met my “audio realness” requirement. The SA 1 also netted that smoothness quotient that you expect from a tube amp. And it could handle most speakers to a reasonable level for my listening preferences.

Features
  Retail priced at $3,895, the SA 1 is a rated 30-watt-per-channel (RMS) low-distortion, 40-Watts Per Channel (RMS) waveform clipping (8 Ohm Load) ref: 20Hz – 20 kHz bandwidth. The open-chassis amp features a Class A/B push-pull design. The signal to noise ratio is greater than 85 dB unweighted/unfiltered and referenced to full rated output power at 1 kHz.

  After a long run of sold state amps, it was nice to hear how competitive tube amps are, in terms of an ample sonic balance of accuracy, and ease of listening. Although 30 watts does not seem like a lot of power, for most modern listening rooms, with  efficient speakers, it is plenty of power.

  Onboard connections include 4-, 8-, and 16-ohm speaker output taps with gold-plated speaker binding posts and gold-plated, RCA input connectors. My only quibble is the front-mounted RCA jacks inputs. I like 'em on the back, but vintage amps used to have them on the front. The USA-made, 13-gauge steel chassis is powder coated throughout (mint green metallic base with satin black top plate).
  You get other audio tweak niceties for your money including: ceramic tube sockets (attached directly to the chassis), point-to-point, hand-wired connections with 16-gauge Teflon-insulated, silver-plated copper wire, and Cardas silver-solder for all electrical connections with star grounding employed. A detachable IEC Pangea power cord also is provided.


SA 1 tubes made for HQ audio — and they were quiet!

  The tube complement includes two NOS General Electric input tubes (6BQ7A), two driver (6SN7GTB) vacuum tubes, four new Russian KT77 matched Gold Lion output vacuum tubes The SA-1’s self-bias tube circuit requires no manual bias adjustments and is configured for ultralinear operation to get as much power as possible from the design.
  The amp's dimensions are: depth = 13-inches, width = 17-inches, and height = 8.5-inches. The unit weight is hefty 46 pounds. The amp’s power system is the standard 120V-60 Hz/240V-50Hz (electrically configurable, please inquire if purchasing product for use outside the USA).
  McGary said the SA 1 was “electrical engineer designed and handmade in Gainesville, Virginia" with a (transferrable) lifetime warranty (excluding the vacuum tubes, which come with a 90-day warranty).
 Color options for the SA 1 amplifier enclosure, top cover plate and the transformers can be customized for an additional cost.

The setup
  I mated the McGary SA 1 with several sets of speakers including the powered, subwoofer-equipped MartinLogan Montis, a pair of Amphion Argus, Studio electric S4 and a pair of Westlake Lc8.1 bookshelf speakers. I even powered a set of James Audio outdoor speakers, with good results, in my back yard.
  On the Bach Complete Cello Suites, Janos Starker, Mercury Living Presence; those rich cello hues, the room reverb and the subtle bowing sounds were all there — with a generous sound stage that was wide and spacious.

  For digital music playback, I used several DACS, including a Benchmark DAC-3-HGC, Mytek Brooklyn II and the Prism Callia; all could handle high sample rate 24 bit as well as DSD. The D/A outputs were connected to the line-stage of the Benchmark HPA-4 with its discrete, relay control volume circuit that is as transparent as I have ever heard from a preamplifier.
  Interconnects and speaker cables were courtesy of Wireworld Platinum Series ,and all AC was routed through Essential Sound Products Essence Power cords and power strip. I let the amp burn in for two days before doing in-depth music listening. Usually, a tube failure will happen in the first couple of days, but there was nary a noise, tick pop, or obvious hiss. Just a little, down-low level hiss.

The audition
  As soon as i connected the McGary SA 1 to the Martin Logan Montis electrostatic speakers, I was hooked. Similar to Rogue Audio tube amps, this little guy has a smooth persona, but enough accuracy to satisfy picky, full-time audiophiles such as myself.
  Although the Montis is self powered in the bass, the SA 1 revealed itself with a detailed top end with an abundant midrange that is neither overbearing or recessed. On the Warren Bernhardt — So Real DSD rip, the title track’s Steinway piano exhibited that high-register note tinkle that the recording is known for and that enveloping brushed drum cymbal sound and snare hits  all came through with a warm precision.
  On the Bach Complete Cello Suites, Janos Starker, Mercury Living Presence; those rich cello hues, the room reverb and the subtle bowing sounds were all there — with a generous sound stage that was wide and spacious.
  Sure, it is not the most powerful amp, nor the cheapest, but this amp blows away many of the classic amps. Playing the amp full range through a pair of Westlake Tower 5 speakers, I finally got to hear the bass  performance. The sound via the McGary was much tighter in the bass than my vintage Macintosh MC275 when playing Pop/Rock music and bass-prominent Jazz. The old Mac was sweet, but reserved with a midbass bloom that lingered. The SA 1’s bass performance was much quicker, and dynamic.



Speaker connections and power cord ports

  In other listening sessions, I found out how versatile the McGary SA 1 is. On the QueenThe Game and the The  Grateful DeadAmerican Beauty DVD-As (remember those), the SA 1 also had much more midrange focus and top-end sparkle than the Mac with the larger Westlake speakers. The old Mac was lumpy sounding by comparison
  Even on tympani rolls from big orchestral pieces, the McGary/Westlake combo cranked loud enough for me (the low 90 dBs) level without clipping or low-bass mushiness; this is a clean tube amp — if you like to listen at typical levels. Sure it will clip if you crank it loud enough. But for small-to-medium rooms, it gets plenty loud with clean, smooth power.
  BTW, the Benchmark HPA4 HP amp/line stage is so clean and transparent that the preamp is not a factor in terms of audio color. What I was hearing was the McGary amplifier and the DAC. The McGary amp’s true character: smooth, yet present, with a delicate realness, was always there.
  If you want to couple a tube preamp to the SA 1, and you have some extra coin, I recommend the Rogue Audio RP-5 or RP-7. Both exhibit a transparency not typical of tube preamps, in my humble opinion; they are easy to listen to without undue dampening of the transients like the older tube preamps.
  I listened via my personal Rogue RP-7 preamp using the TEAC UD-503, an AKM chip based D/A converter with music streamed via a Macbook Pro and Audirvana Plus software player. I found the combo to be musically satisfying with elemental “musical ease” that did not choke off the upper end detail. Base was solid, and unbloated.


Bottoms up!

  Listening to a pair of Studio Electroic S4 bookshelf speakers with this system, my audio impression, of the Rogue preamp, McGary amp and Benchmark DAC3-HGC, was totally positive. “A nearly perfect collection of components for those who like their digital via tube playback,” my notes said.
  I should mention that I love the sound of the 6SN7 tube used as drivers in amps and preamps. Its sonic finesse is so popular that the tube was resurrected about a dozen years ago but manufactured in Russia and China. It is linear, yet smooth and clean tube. I owned a Rogue Audio Model 99 for years. However, I often had problems finding 6SN7s (including the newly manufactured ones) that stayed quiet in terms of low microhonics, pings or pops.
  These USA-NOS GE 6SN7s that Mike McGary matched for the SA 1 were incredibly quiet all through the review process. I never heard any extraneous noise, and they were vitally microphonic-free with my pencil tap test.
  As I mentioned earlier, for grins I powered a pair of James Audio OMNI129AT4-P outdoor audiophile loudspeakers with the McGary SA 1. It won’t get as loud as a big-power, audiophile solid state amp, or a professional amp designed for outdoor audio, but for moderately loud music, played in a small back yard, It sounded terrific.


  I played the The Cars debut album in hi-res via a HD Tracks download and man, did it sound good! Even with four drivers, it did not sound muddy or boated. I added a bit of Miles Davis Kind of Blue DSD music to the mix, and became more impressed with how loud and clean the McGary played in the outdoors. And it also is a testament how good things sound when you are not encumbered by the problems of indoor room acoustics. 

The verdict
  The USA-made McGary SA 1 brought me hours of musical pleasure — with all kinds of hi-res music. After a long run of sold state amps, it was nice to hear how competitive tube amps are, in terms of an ample sonic balance of accuracy, and ease of listening. Although 30 watts does not seem like a lot of power, for most modern listening rooms, with  efficient speakers, it is plenty of power.
  The SA 1 amp looks cool, is built like a tank and should bring years of trouble-free listening (you will have to eventually replace output tubes, but that is years away).


  Listening to a pair of Studio Electroic S4 bookshelf speakers with this system, my audio impression, of the Rogue RP-7 preamp, McGary amp and Benchmark DAC3-HGC, was totally positive. “A nearly perfect collection of components for those who like their digital via tube playback,” my notes said.

  Kudos to Mike McGary for bringing us a USA-made tube amplifier of this caliber; it can compete with or better many modest-powered modern tube amps, or many of the amps of yore. I was sorry to see the SA 1 go. It never missed the mark on the concentration of Classical Jazz and Acoustic solo instrument music that I listen to on any of my speakers. An Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award for sure.

    John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net