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Product Review
 

Paradigm OW-Monitor 5 and OW-CC-370 'On-Wall' Speakers

August, 2004

Colin Miller

 

Shown here with ADP-370 Rear Surround Speakers ($729/Pair) and PW-2100 Subwoofer ($749)

Specifications:


OW-Monitor 5

  • Design: 2-1/2 Way Sealed Enclosure

  • One 1" Dome Tweeter, One 6.5"
        Midrange, One 6.5" Woofer

  • Crossover: 3rd Order @ 2 kHz, 2nd
        Order @ 500 Hz

  • MFR: 95 Hz - 20 kHz, (43 Hz Extension
        on Typical Wall)

  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms

  • Dimensions: 21" x 8" x 6"

  • Weight: 18 Pounds/Each

  • MSRP: $579/Pair USA

 OW-CC-370

  • Design: 2 Way Sealed Enclosure

  • One 1" Dome Tweeter, Two 6.5" Mid-
        Bass

  • Crossover: 3rd Order @ 2 kHz

  • MFR: 110 Hz - 20 kHz, (77 Hz Extension
        on Typical Wall)

  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms

  • Dimensions: 7.5" x 23.5" x 6"

  • Weight: 20 Pounds/Each

  • MSRP: $379/Each USA

Paradigm

www.paradigm.ca

Introduction

Sometimes this whole equipment reviewing gig can get embarrassing. Everybody knows that the cliché for an equipment reviewer is to go on raving about this or that as if it’s the next best Cheese Whiz alternative, and unfortunately, it happens to the best of us. Hey, we find something we like, and we get a little nuts.

The first time I saw any of my work in a printed magazine, it was misquoted in an advertisement. I actually don’t know where the heck they got the text, but it was a little disappointing. However, it wasn’t a misrepresentation, as I did like their product, so I didn’t raise any mad apples about it, but the sloppiness left me deflated and indignant.

The second occurrence was dead on correct, which made it all the more embarrassing. Like all quotes used in advertising, it was selected for gratuitous endorsement, and so reflected the product in the most positive light possible. The remark, “Could put a few loudspeakers at ten times the price to shame,” has been the point of many a humorous comment at my expense. Well, I stand behind it, but feel compelled to point out the context.

The items in question were Paradigm Monitor 90P loudspeakers. Indeed, I do think that they were/are remarkable products, intelligently put together, with performance beyond what the price tag would imply. Still, ten times, well, that’s hard to swallow, right? If we were talking about a market where all manufacturers put emphasis on solid design and sensible reason, then I might have been stretching things. But, the fact is, if you are indeed spending ten times the amount of the Monitor 90P, and bought a pair of speakers randomly from what’s available in that price range, chances are that you’d have the product of one of the fly by night, built in a garage, ‘box stuffers’ who typically grab some drivers they like, put them in a nice cabinet, fiddle with some crossover components, and then sell it with a whole bunch of pretense.

Sure, even a DIY hobbyist can certainly turn out decent loudspeakers, even great ones, from the confines of a garage, no doubt. But, my point is that there are some really great loudspeakers that are of superb value, and that there are a whole lot of really bad, really expensive loudspeakers out there, some of them highly regarded in the press, and spending your money on a solid product like the 90P can possibly get you better performance for a fraction of the money. Now, while Paradigm seemed to like my statement enough to repeat it, I’m sure that they would agree that given more resources, i.e., a higher selling price, you can do better, hence their own Reference Studio and Signature lines.

The Design

Anyway, the topics of this product review, the OW-Monitor 5 loudspeakers and the OW-CC-370 center channel speaker share much in common with those Monitor 90P subjects I went silly over some time back, just as do the rest of the Monitor series. In a way, I feel at a loss, because I can’t say that much about these that wouldn’t be just repeating what I wrote then. As a result, this article might be a bit terse compared to my more long-winded ventures. For those who’ve got the motivation to get the background, you can check that out here:

Review:  Paradigm Monitor 90P and Monitor 11 Speakers, July, 2001

So why review one more breed of the same basic species? With the proliferation of wall-mounted Plasma and LCD displays, there is a growing market for on-wall speakers, i.e., flat enough to mount directly on the wall without excessively jutting into the room, giving you the decorator-friendly unobtrusiveness without requiring the cutting necessary for in-wall speakers.

Screw a clip to the wall. Screw a clip to the speaker. Attach a wire. Hang it and you’re done. The combination of convenience and aesthetic advantage are undisputable. However, the form factor presents different challenges to audio performance, something I think interesting enough to talk about, and you know how I like to blab and suck up your internet bandwidth.

The midrange and high-frequency driver complement of the OW-Monitor 5 look pretty much the identical as the 90P and for that matter the rest of the Monitor line, which is a good thing. The OW-CC-370 is similar, but with two of the clear woofers. As I mentioned, I really liked the overall sound of the Monitor 90P, and based on Brian’s comments on the Monitor 11, would probably like the whole series, as I did these on-wall specimens.

The most relevant difference I noticed between the 90Ps and the OW units were not drivers themselves, but how the baffle integrated with the grille, relating to the tweeters. While the Monitor 90P’s grille was actually designed to compose part of the front baffle, meeting the surface of the tweeter plate for the sake of controlling diffraction artifacts, the on-wall front speakers took a different approach, trying to just get the grille out of the way. One may notice that the tweeter is built into a plate/waveguide that fits flush with the front baffle. This is actually a regular practice for good tweeter mounting, avoiding immediate edges that would otherwise cause stray high-frequency energy that would mess up the response.

One might also notice that Paradigm had the sense to make sure the plastic grille structure that provides the visually attractive curve for the material had no impairments immediately in front of the tweeter, so as to allow the grille to stay as transparent as possible to the impressionable smaller wavelengths. That’s not ground-breaking new technology by any means, but it does show an attention to detail, namely detail that matters when it comes to what actually gets to your ears.

The Sound

I didn’t really hear anything obviously different from what my memory of the 90Ps offered. Compared to the M&K S-150P active monitors that hold positions as my long-term servants for recreational and reference use, The OW-Monitors put forth a little extra pepper and air in the treble, but wasn’t in any way an obvious detractor. In fact, it should be said that this zest can at times be refreshing, as the character is relatively subtle compared to many a metal dome, and it does lend some spice and thrill to many recordings that could otherwise seem just a tad dull. And, I had never found the treble irritating, grating, or otherwise unpleasant. Where some metal dome tweeters impress quickly, with zealous zingers to the point where it gets downright frustrating after a few minutes, the Monitors remained smooth and silky, but with just a bit more flair than I’m used to. It certainly wasn’t distracting.

Running through various violin pieces, much of the John Williams original Star Wars Trilogy works, particularly the "Ewok Battle", and even good old pop music like the last ‘hidden’ track on Jewell’s Spirit album, about the little bird, things sounded pretty much right on. Watching and listening to the variety of chaotic sounds and surprisingly transient attacks through "Punch Drunk Love" actually made me look around the room, thinking, “Where is that happening?”

While they’re not high-dollar contestants, they’re not party favors either, unless you’ve got a great host. Build quality, though not in danger of being called excessive, is entirely robust. All around, I’d call them acutely solid in build and in sonic quality. No weird quirks, nasty response peaks, or mud to speak of. Clear, clear, clear, with nothing ugly to take away from it. Sure, you can get clearer, you can get more neutral, and yes, you can pay more, and that’s fine too.

I would elaborate further, but you can pretty much take everything I’ve thought about the 90P and apply it to the OW-Monitor 5 and OW-CC-370 in terms of midrange and treble, as well as the ability to throw an excellent soundstage - very open, very natural. I didn’t hear the speakers give away their true locations, but rather heard well-placed instruments, vocals, and effects. The precision of this placement didn’t meet the same specificity as my S-150Ps, which can lock a mouse down in a vice and let you hear the subtle changes in location as the mouse screams, flailing its head every so slightly left, right, and back (okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit, or a lot, here), but on the other hand, the inherent spaciousness of placement was always enjoyable, never artificially bloated, and spread a nice buffet for the listener to consume at leisure.

I suppose that it could be said that since the on-wall speakers don’t have the potential for toe-in, the more conventional alternatives on good stands could eek out a more precise soundstage, but considering that the whole on-wall concept is based on an aesthetic solution, I think the OW-Monitor 5 did a remarkable job rendering from a worst case scenario. The presentation wasn’t specific enough to be suited for mixing/mastering use, but when it comes to practical enjoyment, I certainly wouldn’t lodge a formal complaint.

On that note, I would point out that just because the on-wall approach is seemingly a ‘slap a clip on the wall and the speaker and hang’ in and out convenient solution, placement should still receive some attention. Just because distance and toe-in angle get removed from the equation doesn’t mean that we can forget spread and height. With no toe-in angle available, it might turn out that you get away with narrower than normal width. I found that even with just 40 degrees between the left and right speakers, the spread and breadth were just fine. However, I also found that for the OW-Monitor 5, if we want the most clarity, best depth and balance, we’re best within 15-20 degrees of the horizontal plane near the tweeter/mid-range. It was no disaster above and below that, but it was noticeable, and as such, the general rule of ‘put the tweeter at ear level’ is a good one to follow.

In all of this so far, the OW-Monitor 5 is quite similar to the Monitor 90P. Sure a little different, but in essence the same speaker. If this were all there were to it, we’d be done. Ha! But there is more to it.

The most obvious difference of the OW-Monitor 5s vs. the towering 90Ps is bass drivers! While the 90P is a true three-way, with three way-sexy 8” woofers loaded in an ‘aperiodic’ reflex system, with involuntarily orgasmic bass response, the OW-Monitor 5s are far more modest 2 ½-way systems, with a 6 1/2” mid-bass drivers augmented with a 6 1/2” woofer, both operating in a sealed system. While this is still more surface area than a lot of ‘bookshelf’ or satellite speakers, these are not what you’d consider ‘full-range’ loudspeakers by any means, and certainly not a match to the 90P in terms of low frequency throbbing potency.

Even if the Monitor 90Ps didn’t dig as deep or hard as the very best subwoofers available, they could also surpass the performance of other subwoofers less generously endowed. As such, they can rock the gut and do it with sophistication. While the 90P has multiple, larger bass drivers in a fairly large cabinet with a dedicated amplifier, the OW-Monitor 5 has very little enclosure volume to work with, due to the shallow depth for the sake of wall-mounting and 2 6 1/2” woofers to move air. In this case, the 6 1/2” woofers aren’t the greatest limitation in terms of bass extension, but rather the relatively small amount of enclosure volume.

The physics are simple. You either counter the low enclosure volume with more mass on the cone, giving you more bass extension at the expense of efficiency, output, and dynamic performance, or you take the hit on the bass extension and call it a day. The OW-Monitor 5 (and the OW-CC-370) took the second path, opting for dynamic capabilities instead of low bass competency, and as such don’t put out that much of the lower frequency content compared to even something like the Monitor 5, which looks like a pretty similar driver arrangement with the benefit of a larger cabinet and a reflex system, but you have to consider that these speakers are to be mounted directly against a wall.

Dr. Floyd Toole said something along the lines of, “Never mount speakers against a wall, always pull them at least a couple feet away from the wall behind them, unless the speaker was designed to be wall-mounted.” Why? Two things. First, most speakers not designed to sit on a wall will be fairly deep to achieve enclosure volume for the sake of getting the desired amount of bass extension at the targeted efficiency. As a result, if you do put them against the wall, the bass drivers are just close enough to get a low frequency boost (throwing their balance out of whack), but also far enough away from the wall so as to have the substantially greater amount of reflected sound cause comb filtering when combined with the direct output of the drivers, and hence, uneven bass response.

With on-wall speakers, and even more so with in-wall speakers, this becomes less of an issue. If the speakers are designed to be put on a wall, the speaker design can simply take advantage of the immediate boundary reinforcement, the shallow enclosure providing less opportunity for mid-bass cancellation due to the shorter distance. It’s not as ideal as an in-wall solution, in which case you get maximum boundary reinforcement and no opportunity for cancellation at all, but you also don’t have to worry about the suitability of the wall itself as an enclosure/baffle, or worry about sound being transmitted to the other side of the wall via the back of the drivers!

In my scenario, I put the OW-Monitor 5 directly against the wall, and while the results weren’t exactly seismic, the bass response was actually useable. I never got that infrasonic shudder that you eek out with a good subwoofer, but there was just enough thump to satisfy small cravings, and more importantly, it didn’t boom or otherwise go haywire. I say more importantly because you can always add a subwoofer or two. Fixing bass of poor character often requires replacing the contestants.

However, with a CRT tube TV, as opposed to a Plasma, I did commit heresy by placing the OW-CC-370 a couple feet away from the wall. It did have the television to use as a partial baffle below it, but I did notice that there was a bass/lower mid-range shortage compared to the OW-Monitor 5 speakers set directly on the wall behind them. For watching movies and such, it wasn’t a big problem in practice, but I did notice a substantial tonal difference in switching between Pro Logic 2 Music, Anthem Music Logic, and plain old Stereo, in that modes with more center channel content yielded less lower midrange and mid-bass energy.

The midrange and treble still matched nicely, so it didn’t make the sound obviously incongruous, but this would suggest an application note. If one is using a set of these for a flat panel display also mounted on a wall, this will probably be of no issue, as all speakers will have a similar response. However, if, for some reason, some of the speakers will be mounted on the wall, and others in more ‘conventional’ locations away from the walls, get the speakers intended for that application. In my scenario, with a CRT direct view set, that would probably mean substituting a ‘normal’ CC-370 center channel, designed for the more common position, lined up with the screen of a television of substantial depth. Or, in an inverted scenario, say where the center channel would be mounted beneath a Plasma on the wall, but the user wanted the left and right speakers mounted on stands and brought further into the room for a more holographic, near-field experience with two-channel material, the equivalent Monitor 5 might be a better substitution.

Anyway, you can get bass, just not a bunch. I ran the set full-range for a lot of our kids' movies, and nobody complained that the bass was weak or thin-sounding. If you’re not watching something like Pearl Harbor, where you expect infrasonic punches in the gut every time a bomb drops, the lack of extension might not even be obvious. If you are a bass fiend, you’d probably have a good sub or four anyway.

Relating to bass prowess, I tried the OW setup running full-range with the most dynamic listening material I had, the DVD-A edition of Big Phat Band’s Swinging For The Fences. I will get around to acquiring XXL, but for now, that’ll do pig, that’ll do.

I tried "Sing Sang Sung", the opening track, ripe with blasting horns and relentless percussion. With the level set at –10 dB (calibrated as per THX levels), I was fairly impressed, ‘Not Bad’, so to speak. The horns were nice and shiny, the percussion well-controlled, and I got a good, all around picture of what was happening. Now, at –10 dB, it was loud enough for most any listening I typically do, but we’re in testing mode, so I wanted to see if these things could hang at 0 dB, or "What did you say, Mr. Lucas?" level.

Cranked up to the point where I had told the processor that it could go no further without orders, the speakers held out fine, though it sounded so loud that I had to do my listening from the other room.

(My listening room has a rear wall that’s merely an opening to my living room, hence no short reflections from behind my head to detract from the soundstage. It also allows me to torture speakers without torturing myself, much.)

As well as the OW-Monitors were doing at ridiculously high SPL, they still weren’t effortless to the same degree that we experience with speakers capable of ‘reference level’ dynamic range. The sound certainly didn’t mush out, but there was a tinge of an edge, and it really hurt to sit in my listening position.

Being the crack(ed?) reporter I am, I went the extra steps to reconfigure the AVM-30, set the crossover to 70 Hz, enabled the subwoofer, and ‘HOLD THE PHONE!’

With proper bass management engaged, these things cranked like a French Bicycle Race, even at deafening levels. Transients exploded, percussion snapped, popped, bumped, and thumped. Transition and blend across the front soundstage, and for that matter, around the surround field (provided via loaned Paradigm ADP-370 dipoles) were impeccable. What’s more, I actually sat through the whole piece at that insane volume level, in my listening position, not in the other room, without the sensation of bleeding ears. To do so much longer might have meant hearing damage, but what I thought telling was that it didn’t hurt, usually a sign that something’s going right in the dynamics/distortion department. Sure, it was just a little bright on the very top for my taste, but at the same time, the performance, I think, would have blown the socks off of many a discriminating listener, and accomplished better than the average consumer even knows is available. Besides, the zesty top end with those horns was just so much fun!

Conclusions

To sum, average, and maybe even toy with the notion of entertaining calculus in theory, I would say that I found the OW-Monitor 5 and associated OW-CC-370 to be entirely adequate for those looking for an affordable but genuinely high-performance speaker system to complement decorator-friendly flat-panel displays. The fact that you get something that can even sound fantastic, given the right environment, is just bonus. These are not toys. This is serious sound. Just don’t tell anybody I said so. Next thing you know, it might end up in print.
 

 - Colin Miller -

    Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

 

 

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