Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Paradigm Signature Multi-channel Speaker Ensemble

ARTICLE INDEX



Implementation

Just a couple words on fitting these speakers into a setup.

 

Paradigm curiously elected to continue the elegant curves of the design on the speaker bottoms, such that when first taking them out of the box, they wobble like weebles.   Granted, the ideal placement of the surrounds is on the wall (for which the requisite hardware is provided by the way), so for them it's not much of an issue, but for the front speakers, it may well be.  If you elect to couple them with Paradigm's own special set of elegant stands, the speakers actually are fastened at their back with screws.  Trouble is, that stand may not always be the ideal height, and the center channel is almost certainly destined for conventional placement such as on top of the TV itself or on a shelf directly above or below it.

To this end, Paradigm does provide for each speaker a set of rather large rubber half-spheres which must be very carefully and precisely placed on the bottoms per the supplied diagrams.  Once in place, they are literally invisible, but be prepared to go through the motions, and if you are using conventional speakers stands, you must ensure that their top plate is large enough to catch all four rubber feet.

The nominal impedance for all speakers here is quoted as 8 ohms, which is considered an “easy” load for amplifiers, but their efficiency is decidedly quite low.  They required no less than a full 6 dB more output from my amplification system to reach a given level in-room as compared to my reference speakers.  One might say that’s 6 dB of headroom I don’t have.  Granted, anyone even considering these exquisite speakers would almost certainly be pairing them with a robust amplifier, but I would be remiss if I did not at least mention this caution about how power hungry they can be.  An “honest” 100 Watts-per should be considered an absolute minimum, with 200+ being the ideal.

Paradigm states that these speakers are anechoically flat from 20 kHz down to just over 70 Hz (the surrounds down to 100 Hz).  Being that these are sealed speakers, they should work well, or at least much better than ported speakers, in terms of integrating with the ubiquitous and often cloned THX crossover scheme of 2nd order highpass and 4th order lowpass.  Using them in one such system, with the crossover frequency set at 70 Hz, proved exemplary.

The Sound

This speaker ensemble is truly wonderful.  Its been a very long time since I've been genuinely excited about a set of speakers, the past many years seeming an unending stream of the same-old same-old.

We used to talk about speakers sounding “good”, “pleasing”, “warm”, and any number of other abstract adjective.  If a speaker changes the sound from what it is in the recording, that is a distortion, even if subjectively we like that distortion.   True performance, as exemplified here by Paradigm, is when the speakers don't sound like any thing at all.  They are utterly passive, imparting nothing at all except the signal that is sent to them.  This, although lacking in poetic delivery, is in fact the highest praise I can in good conscience give a loudspeaker.

Critical stereo listening revealed not only how neutral and accurate these speakers are, but how perfectly homogeneous they are.  It's one thing to design an excellent speaker, and it's quite another to mass-produce it and have every single one be within 0.5 dB of the next.  "Image like the Dickens" seems an understatement.  Subjectively good recordings yield pleasing, natural vocals and instruments.  They have a remarkable amount of punch for their size as well.  Most good speakers can play "loud", but not all can do it while maintaining a good transient response.  This is a characteristic of loudspeakers which in someways is even more important than frequency response, but which is a little more elusive, not to mention most contemporary music recordings won't even challenge a speaker in this respect.  Turning to recordings which actually exploit the medium's dynamic range, these speakers not only deliver in this respect, but do so in spades, even when run full range without a subwoofer!

I honestly don't do a lot of two-channel listening anymore, in that I almost always put my CDs through Pro Logic II Music processing, and of course my near daily movie watching is a multi-channel experience.  Here again I found myself internally saying, "Wow" at speakers for the first time in years.  Yes, the C1 center is an identical sonic match to the S1s, and it stands out as an incredible anchor for the system as a whole.  It is a natural product of multi-channel mixing that the center channel gets a very complex signal at times, and here the three-way configuration pays dividend.  Yet it is the surrounds, somewhat unexpectedly, which I would like to give the most credit to.

I talked about how properly designed dipoles have a smooth total power response.  That is, even though you, the listener, are ideally in the null, the speaker should sound pretty much the same as its front direct radiating counterpart.  In terms of in-room response, the ADP1s "looked" like fronts.  Here is a fun exercise if you ever get the chance: use a pair of ADP1s as main L/R speakers.  They will sound every bit as good as the S1s, are even able to image, but in a much less focused way.  In other words I declare these ADP1s about as perfect a surround speaker as can be had.

Back on the wall where they belong, they do two things: they produce the same full and natural sound as their front counterparts and do it with just enough spacial precision.  They are able to image between themselves and the fronts, but, unlike monopoles-as-surrounds, not to a degree which undermines their expansive nature.  They mimic with an uncanny likeness the very arrays which the media is produced on in the first place, as exemplified by the media itself:  A scene where leaves are rustling in the background, being input to both surround channels, perhaps even a little out of phase, ends up sounding "all around" you (regardless of seating position), yet when a car comes "from rear-right to front-right" there is deadly precision in the sound's movement which one can easily "follow".

Try any of the multi-channel mixes of Big Phat Band and you will hear instruments positioned between a surround and its corresponding front, yet simultaneously the more vague ambience in the track.  It's as if the ADP1s know what to do and when to do it.

Their only hitch is the price, which will strike some as high, but it is justified given the shear number of drivers enclosed.  The only way in my opinion to get equal surround performance would be speaker arrays which are just as expensive and a nightmare to implement and set up.

Conclusions

There is no question that the Signature series speakers are slightly better than the Studio series, though admittedly it is not dramatically so.  While speakers which make a visual statement are not new, what is unique here in my opinion is that these do so without compromising true speaker performance.  With the exception of the most cavernous of spaces, I have no reservation about endorsing these for just about any system: they are small, they look great, they perform remarkably as a 5.1 whole, the S1s can be used on their own without a sub, and the surrounds are going to cause some people to give up long held biases.

Bravo Paradigm!