Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Paradigm Signature Multi-channel Speaker Ensemble

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Surveying the electronics market over the past decade, it's not surprising to find a growing skepticism on the part of consumers.  In a broad sense, marketing has virtually overwhelmed us to the point of its own discredit.  It is, literally, hard to believe most of what we’re told when it comes to how good something is or the performance gains it will yield.  The claims are just incredulous. 

Paradigm on the other hand... well... that’s a different story.

Here is a company which got its start so many years ago by doing something very simple, yet unique in the field:  Deliver practical loudspeaker performance.  No gimmicks.  No Bull.  By addressing principally what really matters in terms of loudspeaker performance, their prices naturally fell short of the market median and they quickly gained a reputation for consistently delivering more speaker for less money than anyone else.

Over the past 25 years, Paradigm founders VanderMarel and Bagby have done nothing but foster this same culture, investing heavily in in-house research and development.  Their famed anechoic chamber, now in its second iteration, and their double blind listening room (which puts “golden ears” to shame) are just a couple examples.

I’ve toured their factory, I’ve talked at length with their design team, for heaven sake I’ve had dinner with them on several occasions.  I know these guys and, dare I say, I believe them when they tell me things like their Signature series is better than their Studio series.  These people know what constitutes “good sound” more than anyone else I know, so they’ve been able to focus on what really matters, leave behind what doesn’t, and continually improve their lines.

But let's be practical.  Every couple years or so we hear about new models or revised models which offer even better this, that, and the other thing.  A manufacturer, even Paradigm, has to be careful here:  if the Signature series is the ultimate loudspeaker, that doesn’t leave them too many places to go from there.

Or does it?

The past several years of new offerings from Paradigm have shown something of a paradigm shift if you will pardon the pun.  In addition to revising and consolidating their entry and mid level products, they have been hard at work making lateral moves.  Specifically, they have been taking the performance level of their upper end products and putting it into the new face of home theater:  smaller, less obtrusive, even one would say stylish products.   Yesteryear, when a 40” CRT RPTV took up half the room, a traditional “big box” speaker seemed right at home.  Fast forward to today when people are hanging 65” plasmas on a wall:  the last thing that owner wants is five to ten big boxes scattered around the room, attractive as their finish may be.

The subject of today’s review is their latest such offering: the intersection of this new format and their absolute high end Signature series performance: A surround sound configuration whose size belies its virtues.

Enter what Paradigm affectionately calls “Lifestyle” speakers.

Specifications

  • S1
  • 2-driver, 2-way Design
  • 3rd Order Crossover at 2.1kHz
  • 1" P-Beâ„¢ Pure Beryllium Dome Tweeter
  • 6" Co-PALâ„¢ Cobalt-infused Pure Aluminum Cone Woofer
  • FR (mfr) ±2 dB from 72 Hz - 45 kHz (on axis)
  • FR (mfr) ±2 dB from 72 Hz - 20 kHz (30°)
  • 84dB Sensitivity
  • Impedance: 8 Ohm
  • Dimensions: 10-1/2" H  x 6-3/4" W x 8-3/4” D
  • Weight: 12.5 Pounds/Each
  • Available in Cherry, Natural Birdseye Maple, Piano Black
  • MSRP: $749 / $849 USA Each, Depending on Finish
  • C1
  • 4-driver, 3-way Design
  • 2rd Order Crossover at 550 Hz, 3rd Order at 2.3 kHz
  • 1" P-Beâ„¢ Pure Beryllium Dome Tweeter
  • 3.5" Co-PALâ„¢ Cobalt-infused Pure Aluminum Cone Midrange
  • 2 x 5" Mineral Filled Polyproplene Cone Woofers
  • FR (mfr) ±2 dB from 73 Hz - 45 kHz (on axis)
  • FR (mfr) ±2 dB from 73 Hz - 20 kHz (30°)
  • 85dB Sensitivity
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 7" H x 17" W x 9” D
  • Weight: 23 Pounds
  • Available in Cherry, Natural Birdseye Maple, Piano Black
  • MSRP: $1,199 / $1,299 USA Each, Depending on Finish
  • ADP1
  • 5-driver, 3-way Design
  • 2nd Order Crossover at 300Hz, 3rd Order at 1.9kHz
  • 2 x 1" P-Beâ„¢ Pure-Beryllium Dome Tweeter
  • 2 x 3.5" Co-PALâ„¢ Cobalt-Infused Pure-Aluminum Cone Midrange
  • 6" Mineral-Filled Polyproplene Cone Woffer
  • FR (mfr): ±2 dB from 99 Hz - 45 kHz (on axis)
  • FR (mfr): Optimized Reverberant Soundfiled (30°)
  • 85dB sensitivity
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 7-1/2" H x 12" W x 6” D
  • Weight: 31lb per pair
  • Available in Cherry, Natural Birdseye Maple, Piano Black
  • MSRP: $1,199 / $1,299 USA Each, Depending on Finish
  • Paradigm

S1, C1, ADP1

Essentially, what we have here are dedicated mains, a center, and surrounds.

The first and most noteworthy aspect of the designs is the enclosure.  The main challenge offered a designer/builder who is doing smaller speakers is how to keep the internal volume large enough to ensure adequate low end response.  Paradigm wants the main L/R in particular to be flexible, able to be used both with and without a subwoofer so low end response is a factor here. Yet even if one elects to build a true satellite speaker where a subwoofer is a given, we still must depend on the speaker to deliver an appreciable low end, otherwise you force the design into an unacceptably high sub/sat crossover. 

So out with the traditional 1” thick MDF cabinet construction, and in with the aluminum.  Yes, that’s right: all speakers in this ensemble feature a cast aluminum shell which is then artfully clad with a real wood veneer of your choice: Cherry (pictured), Bird’s Eye Mable, or “Piano” gloss black.  At first this might strike some as silly, covering metal with wood, but when you think about this, it's no different than covering MDF with a real wood veneer.  Regardless of how you take it, the final product is absolutely gorgeous to look at.  My wife, who cares nothing for any of this “audio stuff” and generally would like to see less of it in the house, even remarked how attractive these speakers are.

The point of it though is that the actual wall of the enclosure is a fraction of the thickness of usual construction and materials.  The only danger in going this route is that you, literally, have a bell on your hands which will want to "ring", but strategic molding of ribs and the progressive shape ensure that it is, in all practicality, inert as such.  It's worth noting here that Paradigm takes advantage of the housing by using magnets to attach the speaker grilles.  That in and of itself may seem only a novelty, but there is an interesting fringe benefit:  with none of the usual grille mounting holes or snaps, these speakers look just as sharp and stylish without the grilles in place (of course you'll want to do so only if you are confident that no careless family member or pet is going to poke something through a cone).  

Other than the fact that they are fastened to the front baffle from the inside, all of the drivers are direct ports from Paradigm's larger Signature Series speakers.  Although anecdotal information about driver construction is no way to judge a speaker, it bears touching on here for a couple reasons.  The first thing I want to note is that Paradigm actually manufactures their drivers, right down to the molding of the cones, winding of the voice coils, and assembling the whole thing by hand.  This is in sharp contrast to the industry norm of using drivers “off the shelf” from a driver manufacturer, or at best having someone make a driver to your spec.  This fact enables Paradigm to design a driver for a speaker as oppose to doing it the other way around.  They can make a driver, try it out, and very quickly make another with a small change, rendering a very fluid and open design process.  I’ve in fact seen their “driver grave yard”, a veritable pile of experimental parts and pieces which didn’t work out.

The second thing to note about Paradigm’s drivers is that they are of the absolute highest order.  I’ve never seen, in all my speaker travels, better designed and put together transducers.  The price of these speakers belies what is inside.   Key points on these particular pieces is a tweeter common to all models made of beryllium.  JJ has before noted the relative resurgence of this material in tweeters, the cliff notes being it has incredible stiffness to mass ratio which is one of the most desirable traits in tweeter dome material, but it is quite toxic to work with, hence the tweeter being protected by a perforated metal grille (though I might say it's more to protect you from the tweeter).

Click on the photo below to download a short video that shows a Paradigm factory staff member assembling a midrange driver cone. The video was taken by John Johnson on a trip to visit Paradigm in 2007. There will be other video segments from this trip published in future articles.

paradigm-assembling-driver-cone.jpg

 

 

 

 

As per the norm with Paradigm, the motor structure behind it is so overbuilt that one could easily mistake it for a mid/bass driver!  The midrange and mid/bass driver cones are an aluminum/cobalt alloy, which has challenges of its own, namely ringing, but Paradigm clearly has mastered that.  These drivers also feature a “true” phase cone in that it is stationary (i.e., it is not part of or attached to the cone) which we’ve witnessed make a difference in the drivers' upper end response when Paradigm switched to them in their Studio series speakers.   The bass drivers are a more conventional polypropylene cone, which Paradigm feels is better suited to the range they are responsible for (the virtues of the metal cone would be somewhat wasted in the role).