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Paradigm Factory Tour - 2005

Part III

December, 2005

Colin Miller


 . . . or Space Ship

Yep, as Brian mentioned, they make their own baskets too. Many of these baskets are actually plastic? They injection mold whatever basket they need at the time, and change the plastic mixture depending on what they want. Sound cheap? Absolutely. They’re quite strong too, and have better damping than metal. I asked Mark if I could jump up and down on one of these to test his theory. His eyes darted a little, but acquiesced. I jumped as high as I could, and landed squarely on a woofer basket appropriate for a 6 inch woofer, and the darn thing didn’t budge. Somewhat miffed, I committed myself to eventually break it with repeated stomping and grunting, but I think I could have done the same with a stamped steel or cast aluminum frame as well. I just have a particular knack for breaking stuff. But, the point remains, it showed tight control of a cost-effective method with good performance results.

Once they've got their cones nice and pointy, they put on their own rubber surrounds too.

The back plates of their fancier drivers, like those used in their Signature line, are made by using electricity to burn out, so to speak, the shape that they want from the solid piece of metal. You can't machine some of the cuts that are needed to make a mold (example: square hole) so this Electron Discharge Machine (EDM) is the way to go. Pretty cool.  

Similarly, Paradigm makes their own spiders, dust caps (put on dead center, like their surrounds, with a precision gizmo), crossovers (they wind their own inductors to insure proper values), and with the exception of the aforementioned Signature Series, enclosures.

Can I comment on the enclosures that they make in house? Building drivers is impressive. It differentiates the smaller companies from the big guns. But it was the enclosure manufacturing that dropped my bottom mandible. The efficiency and quality of their enclosure (cabinet) manufacturing is utterly freaking NUTS! They start with pre-laminated sheets of MDF (or particle board for the most affordable models), cut it in bulk with this huge saw, roll it over to a CNC machine that cuts out the shapes three at time in a manner of seconds, send it over to another CNC machine that cuts out the driver and terminal/crossover openings, and then the end results all fold together to be finished with a combination of hot glue (for immediate fastening) and wood glue (for long-term strength), with smaller models folded automatically by machine! When I heard Brian describe it, I said to myself, "Clever, whatever . . ." When I actually saw it in action, it burnt noodle.

I remember Brian mentioning that they test their speakers within a 1 dB window from their target response. Mark showed me just that. Just to clarify, this means that they keep the 'reference' tweeter and crossover assembly that represents the results they want to calibrate respective measuring devices against these standards. Then EVERY tweeter and crossover assembly must have a response that fits within a 1 dB window compared to that real reference, i.e., ± ˝ dB. That's not to say that the speaker itself will be flat in frequency response in any given direction ± ˝ dB, but rather that any given speaker which you purchase will be within ± ˝ dB from the target response for that model. Compared to the rest of the industry, this is phenomenally good.

They don't actually test woofers, I guess because variations are far more difficult to hear at lower frequencies, and the real results in a customer’s home are more location-dependent (due to room boundaries) than anything the woofer’s going to do, but I’m just guessing.

I watched their people testing crossovers and tweeters, and in every instance, the response was easily within the window. Not that it should really be so surprising, given the effort put into maintaining consistency in the parts construction from the get go.

I found it even more reassuring when I saw evidence that some parts do in fact fail, indicating that this testing wasn’t just for my benefit. I came across a whole box of tweeters that didn’t pass and were marked for disposal.

Given that these were drivers created with great pains to be consistent, it makes me shudder to think how many speakers are out there, made by manufacturers who don’t test every product, let alone have stringent manufacturing practices, that even if identical in model, parts, and design, still aren't "voice-matched" in a true and practical sense. Can you imagine how poorly a pair of loudspeakers would perform creating a 'stereo' image when one speaker doesn’t truly match the other? I remember John Dunlavy (a high-end loudspeaker engineer who used the OEM method for drivers, and after performing testing of every driver consistently rejected more than half of them) commenting that most of the speakers out there, and even some highly-regarded products, had exactly this problem.

Click Here to Go to Part IV.

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