The CEDIA Expo isn’t really a show for audiophiles. Most of the setups are geared towards in-wall speakers, projectors, and other various forms of home automation, but there are always a few vendors there that have some nice demonstrations. This year, one of my favorite demonstrations came from Paradigm, who had a complete home theater built with their Signature S2, Version 3s as the front speakers. One of their demo tracks, “Rainy Night in Georgia”, was just wonderful with just amazing clarity. As soon as I returned from the show, I requested a pair to review, as well as the Anthem Integrated 225 amplifier to power them.
Anthem 225 Integrated Amplifier
- Power Output: 225 Watts x 2 into 8 Ohms, 310 Watts x 2 into 4 Ohms
- Inputs 5 Pair RCA, 1 Pair XLR, 1 Phono, 12V Trigger, RS-232 Serial, IR Repeater
- Outputs; 1 Pair 5-way Speaker Binding Posts, 2 Pair RCA, 12V Trigger, IR Repeater
- Dimensions: 5.9″ H x 17.25″ W x 18″ D
- Weight 43 Pounds
- Price $1,499 USA
Paradigm Signature S2 Bookshelf Speakers
- Design: Two-way Bookshelf, Ported
- Drivers: One 1″ P-BE Dome Tweeter, One 7″ Co-PAL Mid/Bass
- MFR: 52 Hz – 45 kHz 2 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 91 dB
- Dimensions: 15″ H x 8.25″ W x 14″ D
- Weight 28 Pounds/each
- Price $2,998/pair USA
Design and Setup
The Signature line is the pinnacle of Paradigm’s lineup and in person it certainly looks that way. The S2s arrived in their piano black finish looking wonderful, though they are an absolute magnet for fingerprints. The S2 is made up of a 1 inch Beryllium dome tweeter and a 7 inch bass / midrange made of Cobalt-Infused Anodized Pure-Aluminum that crosses over at 1.8 kHz. The speakers are relatively easy to drive with a 91db in-room sensitivity and 8 ohm nominal impedance, allowing you to use even a tube amp and obtaining decent output levels. The speakers were larger than I expected them to be when I removed them and certainly solid at a hefty 28 lbs. each. I removed each from their box and set them atop my Sanus Ultimate Foundation speaker stands.
As much as the weight of the S2s was surprising, the Integrated 225 was a completely different beast. The last integrated amp I had reviewed had been a Class D model that was fairly easy to pack around, but trying to move the box for the Anthem let me know that I was back to Class A/B again. Unpacked, this monster weighs in at almost 43 lbs. and a peek under the hood lets you quickly see why. A good-sized toroidal transformer is inside, along with two massive Nichicon filter capacitors in the middle of the board. Two massive heatsinks, one per channel, are visible through cut-outs in the bottom of the chassis which add to the weight, but also allow it to run without any fans to dissipate heat and interfere with the music.
The Integrated has a good selection of inputs as well, with 5 pairs of gold plated RCA inputs, a MM phono input, and a pair of XLR inputs. There are a pair of line level outputs for connecting to a recording device or to an amplifier, and two pairs of binding posts that will accept bare wire, bananas, and most spade lugs. There is also a an RS232 port, 12V triggers, and IR ports for easy integration with all control systems. The included remote has a nice rubberized surface with a nice feel to it and can be programmed to control your source devices in addition to the 225.
Setting up the Integrated was a nice change from a receiver or processor, as I simply connected the two channel sources I would be using over analog (MMF-2.1 and Clearaudio Concept turntables, Sony XA-5400ES SACD player, Oppo BDP-83SE and 95 Universal players, Olive 03HD Music Server), connected the speakers to their binding posts, and was ready to go. I positioned the speakers with the front tweeters 3 feet away from the back and side walls, with around 7 feet between them, and around 7 feet from my listening couch, with the speakers toed in.
What I was most impressed with at CEDIA had been the upper-end clarity of the S2s on the recordings that we heard. Higher pitched instruments and sounds were detailed without being edgy or harsh as many speakers can often be. Additionally, the soundstage the the S2 managed to project in that room was far better than I had expected to hear. CEDIA listening rooms often dictate that speakers are much closer to the walls that would be preferable, but the S2s did a remarkable job in that case.
When I fired the system up and listened to Eric Clapton Unplugged, these qualities came through in spades. The soundstage of the S2s was very wide, but most notably was very deep. Much of the music seemed to radiate from beyond the back wall, really bringing the depth of the stage that it was recorded on back to your listening environment. The picking of a guitar came through with the metallic notes of the strings coming across, but it was a very easy sound to my ear. In person, the sound of someone picking a guitar is usually not something that would cause you to wince, but with many tweeters you can find that those higher notes will have a glare to them that is very fatiguing. The Beryllium tweeters were very detailed, but still smooth and very relaxing to listen to with a guitar.
I’ve been trying to raise my son (now 17 months old) as a music lover, and so he has been bombarded by all sorts of music from the time he was born, but he’s really taken to jazz. Esperanza Spaulding is a jazz bassist that virtually no one had heard of until she won the Best New Artist Grammy this year, but she received plenty of air play on the jazz radio here in her hometown of Portland. Her award-winning album was just released as a double LP and I couldn’t wait to queue it up for my son and I to listen to on the Paradigms.
The Paradigm/Anthem combo presented a wonderful window into the recording studio. Though originally mastered digitally at 24/96 before the transfer to vinyl, there was exceptional clarity to the recording and the attributes that I had come to love with this setup really shone through again. The soundstage was wider than the speakers and again extended well beyond the rear wall in depth. The musicians and their instruments had their own clear space on the recording. There was a bassist over to the right of the stage, with a pianist in the center-rear. The sense of being next to the studio while they recorded was brought home to my basement. I sat back to enjoy the show, only getting up from my seat to flip the record.
The main worry I had with the Paradigms and their size was a lack of bass on certain material. For whatever reason I’ve always had a desire for full range speakers, regardless of how much of my music actually plumbs that bottom octave regularly. One album that I thought would do a good job of that was Metallica’s classic release Ride The Lightning. The deluxe 45 RPM vinyl release has brought out all the detail that was in the master tapes, hiss and all. Whatever worries I had vanished with the opening tones of For Whom The Bell Tolls. The bell that opens the track came across clearly, but the thunderous guitar and drum lines that open the song pinned me back in my seat. There was no shortage of bass coming from the S2’s, and the tweeter and midrange were fast enough to keep up with the incredibly fast guitar that is emblematic of early Metallica. Perhaps if my interests were aimed towards chamber music that used a pipe organ regularly, or kettle drums, I would have missed the extra oomph that the larger models from Paradigm could provide, but the S2’s provided plenty of bass for my diet of classic rock, jazz, and modern alternative and independent music.
The last thing that I played on the Paradigm’s before they had to leave was the new vinyl release of Eric Clapton Unplugged. I’ve been listening to the CD release for years, and using it as a reference since I’ve been writing for Secrets, but it finally was given a high quality release on vinyl from Warner Brothers this year. Everything I loved about the album was there, but with what I thought was a larger soundstage, and smoother, more relaxed highs compared to the CD. The bass might have lost a little touch of weight, but I found the vinyl edition to be a more natural, enjoyable listen than the CD version. It just put me a little closer to the experience of being there for the recording of the album and was a wonderful listen before I had to say goodbye to these speakers.
On The Bench
The on-axis response of the S2s was very nice, with a very flat response out to near 20 kHz, and solid bass down to 50 Hz as well. There is a large suck out from 55 Hz up to 110 Hz that is caused by the room itself and not the speaker, and curing this issue will be my next project.
The off-axis measurements are almost as good as the on-axis ones. The bass suck-out is more pronounced without the microphone right in front of the bass port, as well as a dip at 5.5 kHz as well.
The THD+N numbers for a 10 kHz test tone all the way at 100 dB were very low, with under 0.5% and secondary harmonics at over 50 dB below the primary one.
The numbers should look very similar for the 1 kHz tone, with again just under 0.5% THD+N and the harmonics coming in over 50 dB below the primary.
Next I started to see how deep I could go before I couldn’t hit 100 dB with less than 10% THD+N. I finally had to drop all the way down to 35 Hz, where I maxed out at around 93 dB, though as you can see the harmonics are far higher as you try to push a bookshelf speaker this hard.
Back in its comfort zone, as seen on the initial frequency response graphs, with a 50 dB tone we had right around 0.75% THD+N at 100 dB of output.
Since the 75 Hz frequency was centered right in that suck-out area of my frequency response chart, I expected performance to drop off when I tested it here and I was right. THD+N shot up to over 4% at 100 dB, with harmonics far above what I was seeing with the more demanding 50 Hz tone. This lets me know that I really need to look at the issues with my room and how I can fix this dip in my frequency response.
Overall, the S2s did very well on the bench, staying within a +/- 3 dB range all across their rated frequency response range, with the exception of the bass issue that is caused by my new room and needs to be addressed shortly. Now, we move onto the Anthem bench results.
The numbers for all four measurements here are around 0.004% THD+N with the values dropping as the amplifier puts out more power, or into a harder load, which is typical of Class AB amplifier designs.
With a 10 kHz tone, the numbers move up a bit compared to 1 kHz. We stay right around 0.012% into the 4 ohm load, and drop down to 0.008% into the easier 8 ohm load.
On the IMD test, the measurements were close to 0.005% IMD or lower, with the secondary peaks being around 90 dB below the fundamental.
On the 19 kHz, 20 kHz test we see some sidebands at 18 kHz and 21 kHz, but those are both around 90 dB below the fundamentals as well.
On the frequency response test, we see that the Anthem is within +/- 0.1 dB across the spectrum, with the exception of a bump that kept appearing for me right around 60 Hz when I ran the test. I imagine this is a bit of line noise or something else interfering as there was no hum present through the speakers, which you would expect if that was actually correct.
Finally, the THD+N numbers against frequency were very low across the board. Ignore the spike in the 8 ohm graph and that spike was showing up at a random point in the graph whenever I ran it, but it was not in a consistent location. It happened in the 4 ohm graph once as well, but I was able to run it again with no issue, leading me to think it is line noise or something else causing the issue.
The weeks that I had the Paradigm and Anthem setup in my listening room were nothing less than a joy. I found myself wishing to be able to go back to my college-age self and make myself purchase an integrated amp and nice set of speakers, instead of trying to assemble a 5.1 system that I didn’t have the proper room or budget for. While many people would scoff when you might say that close to $4,000 for a set of speakers and an integrated amp is a bargain, when a setup like this can provide so much enjoyment and remove the desire to need to upgrade anytime soon, I really feel that it can be classified that way. Add in a high quality source like the Oppo BDP-95 or Clearaudio Concept turntable, and you have an incredibly high quality system that will bring you joy for years to come.