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I reviewed a complete 5.1 Paradigm Prestige surround system that was formed from their flagship tower speakers, the larger of two center channel models, the hefty 15” powered subwoofer and a pair of the bi-polar surrounds.

These speakers feature all-new drivers in sturdy cabinets with real wood finishes. They had stellar bench test results and the audible performance was clean, natural, beautifully balanced and true to the source.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Front Design View

Highlights

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System

  • Smooth, Non-fatiguing Sound
  • Main Towers (Prestige 95F’s) Have Excellent Bass Extension
  • Powerful Subwoofer with Perfect Bass Kit (PBK) Included
  • Made in Canada
  • Beautiful Real Wood Finishes
  • Immersive Surround Performance
Introduction

Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm has been in business for over 30 years. Over that time, they have gained a reputation for building excellent speakers from the entry level all the way to reference quality speakers on the high end. They are one company that has never put out a product that was widely maligned or disliked. Their products are always high quality and high value.

PARADIGM SURROUND SYSTEM REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS

Mains – Prestige 95F

Design:

4-Driver, 2-1/2-Way Floor-standing Speakers

MFR:

37 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 2 dB

Tweeter:

1″ X-PAL™ Dome with Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens

Midrange/Bass Driver:

8″ X-PAL™ Driver with Active Ridge Technology (ART™) Surround and SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting System

Woofers:

2 ~ 8″ X-PAL™ Drivers with Active Ridge Technology (ART™) Surrounds and SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting Systems

Crossover Frequencies:

2.0 kHz, 400 Hz

Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 m):

94 dB (In-room)

Nominal Impedance:

8 Ohms

Recommended Amplifier Power:

15 – 450 watts

Weight:

68 Pounds/each

Dimensions:

44.75″ H × 13.25″ W × 17.125″ D

Available Finishes:

Gloss: Piano Black, White, Midnight Cherry. Satin: Walnut, Black Walnut

MSRP:

$2,499/each USD

Center – Prestige 55C

Design:

6-Driver, 3-Way Center Speaker

MFR:

55 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 2 dB

Tweeter:

1″ X-PAL™ Dome with Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens

Midrange Driver:

3.5″ (89mm) X-PAL™ Driver with SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting System

Woofers:

4 ~ 5-1/2″ X-PAL™ Drivers with Active Ridge Technology (ART™) Surrounds and SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting Systems

Crossover Frequencies:

750 Hz, 2.6 kHz

Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 m):

94 dB (In-room)

Nominal Impedance:

8 Ohms

Recommended Amplifier Power:

15 – 260 watts

Weight:

49 Pounds/each

Dimensions:

7.75″ H × 32″ W × 13.125″ D

Available Finishes:

Gloss: Piano Black, White, Midnight Cherry; Satin: Walnut, Black Walnut

MSRP:

$1,699/each USD

Surrounds – Prestige 25S

Design:

5-Driver, 3-Way Surround Speaker

MFR:

125 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 2 dB

Tweeters:

2 ~ 1″ X-PAL™ Domes with Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lenses

Midrange Drivers:

2~3.5″ (89mm) X-PAL™ Drivers with SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting Systems

Woofer:

6-1/2″ X-PAL™ Driver with Active Ridge Technology (ART™) Surround and SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting System

Crossover Frequencies:

600 Hz, 2.0 kHz

Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 m):

91 dB (In-room)

Nominal Impedance:

8 Ohms

Recommended Amplifier Power:

15 – 180 watts

Weight:

17.6 Pounds/each

Dimensions:

8.875″ H × 16.375″ W × 7″ D

Available Finishes:

Black

MSRP:

$999/each USD

Subwoofer – Prestige 2000SW

Design:

Sealed Enclosure

Frequency Response:

Not Stated

Driver:

15″ X-PAL™ Driver with Active Ridge Technology (ART™) Surround and 3” High Temperature Voice Coil

Amplification:

2,000 Watts RMS, 3,400 Watts Peak

Room Correction:

Perfect Bass Kit (PBK™) Included

Variable Crossover Frequencies:

35 Hz – 150 Hz, Bypass Option

Variable Phase:

0° – 180°

Inputs:

RCA Left and Right or Sub-Out/LFE or Balanced XLR

Weight:

121 Pounds

Dimensions:

22.25″ H × 21.75″ W × 20.25″ D

Available Finishes:

Gloss: Piano Black, White, Midnight Cherry; Satin: Walnut, Black Walnut

MSRP:

$3,999 USD

Company:

Paradigm

SECRETS Tags:

Paradigm, Prestige Series, 95F, 55C, Floor-standing Speakers, Main Speakers, Full Range Speaker, Subwoofer, Perfect Bass Kit, PBK, Surround System

They have stayed on the forefront of speaker design and innovation over these past 30 years as well. A company tends to learn a lot over this amount of time, especially when you have a great number of units in the field.

The Prestige surround system under review here was culled from their latest speaker line, the Prestige series. These were first launched in 2014 and I was among those who couldn’t wait to give them a run for their money. Lucky me, I got the large 95F towers and the larger 55C center speaker, along with the 2000SW sub and a pair of surrounds for the review system.

Design

The first thing that jumps out at you about these speakers would be their unique tweeters. So it makes complete sense that I would begin this review by discussing their design.

Despite their unique appearance, the tweeters are essentially ‘typical’ 1” aluminum dome drivers with some interesting refinements. The domes are made of pure (X-PALTM) aluminum. Paradigm does not offer any details regarding the X-PAL material other than the claim that it is lightweight and rigid.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Aluminum Tweeter

The tweeters are also Ferrofluid cooled using the famous cooling material from Ferrotec. The pole piece is optimized to concentrate the magnet’s flux which is said to increase efficiency and speed.

The tweeters’ most obvious identifying feature would of be what Paradigm terms the “Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPATM) Tweeter Lens”. This is an aluminum phase plug that protects the tweeter dome and blocks out-of-phase frequencies, thereby increasing the tweeter’s extension and output.

Though you may think this is a first in the industry, phase plugs for compression drivers have been widely used since the 1920’s. You just don’t normally see them unless you pull apart a horn driver as I remember doing when I was a youngster. That Electro-Voice tweeter I dissected had a plastic phase plug(!)

The tweeters are enclosed in a modest wave guide and are also rear-mounted so there is no visible mounting hardware which lends clean and unobtrusive look to the front baffle.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Design

The 95F’s I used for the main speakers are 2-1/2 way designs with three main drivers. In this configuration, the upper main driver handles both mid and low frequencies while the lower 2 drivers handle frequencies below 400 Hz only. While poorly designed 2-1/2 way speakers can exhibit phasing anomalies due to driver overlap and interaction, I did not hear or experience any of this phenomenon during a long demo period.

The main drivers are also made of X-PAL aluminum cones with concave aluminum dust caps for a clean appearance. The surrounds are the now famous Paradigm Active Ridge Technology (ARTTM) which are said to increase excursion such that the final product achieves a 3 dB boost in distortion-free output!

These drivers have oversized 1-1/2” voice coils for high output and increased power handling. They are also decoupled from the front baffle via Paradigm’s SHOCK-MOUNTTM isolation mounting system. This should further reduce the possibility of negative audible effects from unwanted cabinet resonances.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 55C Center Speaker

The 55C center speaker is a 3-way design that includes the family tweeter in a tight array with a cute little 3-1/2” cone midrange that operates over the range from 750 Hz – 2.6 kHz. The bass is handle by a quartet of 5-1/2” woofers with all the features discussed above.

The 25S surrounds are also quite unique. The woofer is front-mounted while the dual mid/tweeter arrays are mounted on angled baffles on either side of the woofer. They can be used as monophonic bi-poles or wired in stereo to emulate rear and back speakers from the same enclosure (recommended to be corner mounted in this configuration).

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Subwoofer

Finally, the last piece of this 5.1 system is the “.1” which forms the foundation of the system in more ways than one. This would be the 2000SW, a 15” aluminum subwoofer in a sealed cabinet driven by a super powerful 3,400 watt (peak) internal Class D amp. The voice coil is a 3” diameter dual-coil design for high power handling. Like other Paradigm subwoofers, this one comes complete with a full Perfect Bass Kit. That includes the software, the mic and a nice boom mic stand so you can calibrate the low end in your room.

The Paradigm Prestige series speakers come with some very solid enclosures. The cabinet walls are constructed of 3/4” MDF with 1” MDF front baffles. The cabinets are also heavily braced. They are finished off with real wood veneers. (This includes the sub but not the surrounds which are black only.)

Speaking of the cabinets, they are quite unusual among higher end offerings – they have clean and sharp lines. All except the surrounds are simple boxes. And with the flush mounted drivers, the look is indeed very clean and solemnly modern.

The grilles are magnetic and the speakers have nicely designed aluminum feet on little outriggers to promote a more stable stance. The feet are reversible for solid or carpeted floors though I found the spike sides were not long enough to penetrate the thick carpet mat we installed when we remodeled. I have since found out that Paradigm offers longer floor spikes as an option when ordering your 95F’s.

Setup

I started off with all the speakers in the usual places around my theater. Over time, I wound up toeing in the main speakers pretty substantially and moving them closer to the front wall (further from the listening seat). These adjustments were done over a few weeks of trial and error listening to two-channel material and was to ensure good staging, a natural frequency balance and acceptable center fill.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Subwoofer Rear Panel

I placed the 2000SW subwoofer in the front left corner of my room. I first used it with the Datasat RS20i SSP which has Dirac Live processing. During this time, I did not engage the Perfect Bass Kit (PBK) algorithm as I was evaluating the Datasat and associated Dirac Live processing. I was extremely happy with what I was hearing during this time.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Subwoofer Graph

 

Once the Datasat was removed from the system, I went ahead and set up the PBK for the 2000SW subwoofer. Unlike Datasat, the PBK system has programmed logic circuits that limit the amount of EQ so it doesn’t try to do too much. Please see the image above for the readout I got from the system. The red line is the before response, the dashed line is the ideal response and the purple line is the actual response after PBK is engaged. You can see how PBK doesn’t try to completely fill the suckout at ~87 Hz. This is a good thing because trying to fill this void would potentially involve massive amounts of power and can also lead to an odd sense of pressure in the room.

The audible results from PBK versus Dirac were quite obvious. True to form, the PBK system offered a better blend with the main speakers. Plus the bass was tighter and subjectively lower in distortion with the PBK turned on versus the Dirac Live set up.

As far as the surrounds are concerned, I placed them on shelves in the back of the room and wired them for dipole operation, creating a 5.1 system. They can be mounted in the corner (the cabinet edges are chamfered) and wired to produce a 7.1 system from six boxes. This is a neat feature that I bet would work well, only I don’t have the wiring in place to do this. One problem I had was that the surrounds were supposed to come with templates for wall mounting and I did not find them in the box. The speakers did come with adhesive foam feet that I used for shelf placement.

I had a few practical issues with the hardware on the mains and the subwoofer. The spikes for the main speakers were not long enough to penetrate our thick carpet pad so the main speakers did not couple to the concrete floor below. As mentioned above, I have been informed that Paradigm offers longer floor spikes as an option when you buy a pair of 95F’s.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Subwoofer Feet

The feet on the sub were longer and sharper (good) but they came loose and rattled frequently. At first I thought the sub was doubling but it was the feet rattling and I’d have to re-tighten them every now and again. I would definitely get some lock washers and install them on the sub’s feet if I owned this sub. And Paradigm should consider a redesign of the spikes for this reason.

The sub’s grill wouldn’t stay on reliably and would slide down the front of the unit every so often so I removed it as well. Lastly, the power-on LED in the front of the sub’s cabinet was very bright blue so I had to place 3 Post-It pads over it to shield my eyes. (Paradigm says that current production runs have a toned-down LED.)

In Use

Once in a while, my first impression of a speaker system becomes something of a lasting impression. And new speaker systems always replace what came before, offering an immediate contrast. The Paradigm Prestige system replaced a system that I had been enjoying for many weeks. The prior speaker system sounded more dynamic, more exciting and more in your face. By contrast, the Prestige 95F system sounded very polite and restrained. Very smooth and unobtrusive, really.

I won’t blame you if you think I liked the Paradigms less. But this was not the case. My analogy would be what you may experience when shopping for a new flat panel TV. Even in this day and age, most TV’s are hyped looking out of the box. The manufacturers want to grab your attention on the sales floor with a bright and sharp image. But if you didn’t properly adjust the picture when you got home, you would grow weary of the cartoonish image before long. (If it didn’t blind you, that is!) But the best TV’s are those that offer a realistic picture that might appear subdued and maybe a little boring in contrast to their overly bright and punchy competitors.

The Paradigm Prestige series are the type of speakers that don’t jump out at you with a hyped and edgy sound. So it would be easy to characterize them as boring. But the fact is they are very balanced, low distortion speakers that prove their mettle more and more as time wears on.

Mad Max

Mad Max

These were the speakers I had in my system when reviewing the Datasat RS20i. I watched the “Mad Max” Blu-ray soon after getting home from CEDIA last year and thought it sounded better than any of the systems I heard at the Expo.

We now know that “Mad Max” won a number of Academy Awards for technical merit and deservedly so IMO. What impressed me with the Paradigm system was its ability to convey all the individual sounds on the disc despite many scenes having great density on the soundtrack. The Paradigms were able to pull it apart and separate the sounds such that each subsequent viewing revealed additional subtlety in the audio mix.

The drums, guitars and engines howled. So even though the speakers had at first a polite demeanor, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t offer a growl here or there but just only when the growl was on the disc.

I also enjoyed how the mid bass washed over me. That’s what three 7” drivers in the mains and 4~5-1/2” drivers in the center do for you . . . they move lots of air and that makes for an immersive experience on an action-focused movie such as this.

The Martian

The Martian

Next up was “The Martian”. This movie starts with a bang and I found myself right there in the midst of a Martian windstorm. This was also a fully immersive experience! This time, the tweeters were tested and they shone. I didn’t worry one bit about pushing them too hard either. First of all, they are Paradigm tweeters and you know they are designed and built to the highest standards. But also they are Ferrofluid cooled for good measure.

Voice intelligibility and the rendering of voices in general was excellent. The voices were not as forward sounding as I get with speakers that are hyped up. The dialog was instead relaxed and blended with the other sounds but with an innate naturalness of timbre. I now feel I know better how Matt Damon would actually sound should I be lucky enough to meet him in person one day.

So the Paradigm Prestige speakers really rocked my world on action movies. A big part of this I found to be enhanced by high quality room correction systems. In this case, it was with the Datasat RS 20i and its Dirac Live algorithm. And now I am running them using Arcam’s latest receiver which also includes Dirac Live processing. Never have I heard a set of speakers that could be so readily mated to a room with these systems and I now feel I fully understand how the directors intended for their work to sound. (Add that these are very efficient speakers and the Arcam receiver drove them to a point as loud as I could comfortably listen and without audible distortion, excellent!)

In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

I later tested the system without room correction except for tuning by virtue of the included Perfect Bass Kit. This system impressed more than Dirac Live. Take “In the Heart of the Sea” and the many scenes with ridiculous bass pulses from the giant whale and the exploding ship and you will understand. The Paradigm 2000 SW totally rocked on those scenes!

One thing I need to tell you is that the 95F’s are legitimate full-range speakers. So you can set them as large or small and they will perform admirably well. I sometimes set them to small with a crossover at 40 Hz or 60 Hz so I could optimize the capabilities of the mains while using the sub in a most responsible way. But another thing I liked was how the 95F’s performed as a stereo pair. I mean I listened to tons of music on vinyl and CD during the evaluation period. I probably spent more time with the 95F’s on two-channel music than on surround sound. That’s because I became obsessed with these speakers.

Blind Willie Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson “God Don’t Never Change”

This led to a daily vinyl session over a number of weeks. One album I had in heavy rotation at the time was “God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson” which is a compilation by a number of artists reprising (and interpreting) songs by the late blues great.

One of these songs is “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” as performed by Sinead O’Connor. The bass lines were tuneful and clean on this song. And O’Connor’s voice impressed with its transparency. But my favorite track on this album is the title track by Lucinda Williams. As before, the Paradigm 95F’s split out each instrument with excellent definition.

As I earlier discussed, I loved the Paradigm system when played over a system that included Dirac Live room correction. But when listening to 2-channel music, I often didn’t use and room correction. At times, the un-corrected sound might get a little forward in the low treble. At other times, I heard a little bit of congestion in the mid bass. These issues were most prominent in highly compressed pop or rock recordings.

Låpsley

Låpsley “Long Way Home”

One album that avoided these pitfalls was the first album from Låpsley – “Long Way Home”. It is easy to compare her with Lorde or Lana Del Ray and I would agree with those comparisons. And like those other two artists, Låpsley’s music is ethereal and addicting to no end. “Hurt Me” is a great example of Låpsley’s music and over the Paradigm 95F’s her voice floated in space between the speakers. There was no hardness in the upper treble. The instruments sounded spot on and the bass was full, clean and in tune. There was no sense of congestion in the bass. It was, as a matter of fact, very satisfying in every way imaginable.

On the Bench

All below measurements are in-room response. The frequency response tests were performed with the microphone on axis with the midrange driver and spaced 1 meter from the dust cap. The distortion measurements were on-axis near field measurements with the microphone tip precisely 1’ from the driver under test.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - On-Axis Frequency Response

Since these are in-room measurements, you can pretty much ignore the response characteristics below 300 Hz because response in this region is governed by the room modes. The response above this point is notably flat all the way out to 20 kHz with just a slightly elevated shelf in the 4 – 10 kHz range. Many manufacturers claim response to 20 kHz but the actual response is much less when I test their speakers. Paradigm’s tweeters really do have this extension.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - Off-Axis Frequency Response

The above plot was taken at 30° off-axis. The biggest difference over the on-axis curve is that you can see the treble begins a gentle roll-off that starts about 10 kHz. Outside of that, the response is every bit as smooth as the on-axis plot.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 10 kHz Sine Wave Benchmark

At 10 kHz and 100 dB, the distortion from the tweeter was only 0.15%. This is extremely high output at this frequency which would likely damage lesser tweeters but the Paradigm driver didn’t flinch.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 5 kHz Sine Wave Benchmark

Moving down to 5 kHz and again at 100 dB, the distortion remained at a low (and practically inaudible) 0.15%.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 1 kHz Sine Wave Benchmark

Another 100 dB test, this time at 1 kHz. The distortion rose slightly to 0.44%.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 500 Hz Sine Wave Benchmark

The 500 Hz test indicated distortion of around 0.15%. This is an excellent result in the range where most of the magic lives in music. Color me impressed.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 250 Hz Sine Wave Benchmark

OK, so how many amplifiers have more than 0.06% distortion? Hint: a lot. This is one of the lowest distortion measurements I have gotten from a speaker at 250 Hz.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 40 Hz Sine Wave Benchmark

At 40 Hz and 100 dB, the distortion measurement was 1.14%. This distortion is truly inaudible at this frequency.

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 32 Hz Sine Wave Benchmark

100 dB, 32 Hz, THD = 0.89%! Not shown here is a test I ran which was also at 32 Hz but at 110 dB where the distortion was just 1.79%!!!!

Paradigm Prestige Series Surround System - 24 Hz Sine Wave Benchmark

The last plot above was done to find the woofer’s low-frequency limit. The woofer managed 95 dB and less than 10% distortion at 24 Hz. Excellent.

Conclusions

THE PARADIGM PRESTIGE SERIES is an Excellent Surround System With Smooth Sound.

Likes
  • Low distortion
  • Excellent bass extension (95F’s)
  • Smooth sound
  • Beautiful finishes
  • Perfect Bass Kit included
Would Like To See
  • Better grilles that stay on all the time
  • Floor spikes that lock into position
  • Defeatable front LED

You probably know by now that I truly enjoyed my time with these speakers. I liked the real wood finishes. I liked the smooth sound. I liked the low distortion response. I liked the wide frequency extension.

These speakers seriously rocked on movies and the performance on two-channel music was so intoxicating that sometimes I started to feel the speakers were tailor made for whatever song I was listening to until the next song came on and then I thought the speakers were made just for that song. This is what you get with properly engineered speakers – you get performance that works for all sorts of material and uses. It’s because these speaker pass the signal with the least interpretation or distortion on their part. They put out what you put in almost approaching the theoretical limit for speakers in doing just that.

These speakers did have a few minor issues that are easily overcome. I’m talking about the floor spikes and the bright LED on the sub. Paradigm says they have fixed the bright LED and now they offer longer floor spikes for the 95F’s. I’ve requested a set of the longer spikes because I’m keeping the 95F’s (and the 55C). Love ‘em!!

  • Troy

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ve been a Paradigm fan for a while going back to the early 2000s when their reference subs were making big splashes in the sub game.

    Interesting setup for the 95Fs, going 2 1/2 way instead of full 3 way? If that’s how I read the description correctly, anything missing in the midrange frequencies because of this?

    Thanks.

  • Javan Pohl

    What was the more dynamic system? The PSBs? Or one whose review hasn’t been released yet?

  • muataz shammari

    I listened to the 95F, and it was ok but for me I believe its overpriced.
    I may go for Monitoraudio Gold 300 or focal 380 or other DIY projects like selahaudio

  • muataz shammari

    As always nice review, and I always love this site for there professional reviews.

  • Jim Clements

    I have also heard the PSB Imagine B3’s but in a different environment, not a direct comparison to the 95F’s. I would say that they sound remarkably similar to my ears. And though the PSB speakers are a more challenging load for an amplifier, they had a slight edge in the dynamics department.

  • Jim Clements

    Troy, the biggest concern with a 2-1/2-way design versus a 3-way design would be that the 2-1/2-way designs tend to have measurable impacts due to the driver interaction in the overlap region. The designer must be careful to avoid phasing anomalies that could cause audible fluctuations in the frequency response and associated timing errors. 3-way designs do not suffer from these issues as much.

    Th 95F’s are 2-1/2-way speakers. I did not hear anything I could detect that was a problem for this particular design. The sound of these speakers was actually quite excellent.