Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Cory Potts
- Published on 29 March 2010
After setting these up outside and getting the balance adjusted where they were the same volume at my primary listening area on my patio, I was truly blown away by their sound. The Paradigms were designed to be able to breathe. The speakers are a dual tweeter (see pic); single midrange design meaning you can almost get surround sound from two correctly placed speakers. On Norah Jones Come Away With Me the "Painter Song" sounded extremely airy (but not windy), articulate, balanced with just enough low end not to sound muddy (oh, I just can't stop with the outdoor adjectives!) but while giving me the impression that I wasn't missing anything either. These speakers have a great ability to resolve detail quietly, and lend themselves well to playing in the background without disrupting the conversation.
On Jack Johnson's Sleep Though the Static, I noticed on "All At Once" more levels of amplifier feedback than I ever have several distinctly different pitches of hum and something that was present in the recording all along. I also listened to my classical music radio station KMFA and, while the sound was good, I don't think the pianissimo sections from Stravinsky's "The Firebird" get much justice from an outdoor speaker with all of the ambient noise heard in the city. Similarly, these speakers do fairly well with rock but they are best suited for background, low -level listening and outdoor conversation.
The speakers did well with rock, though they tended to shine on material like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble's The Sky is Crying. On the more guitar-centric pieces like "Little Wing" and "Life by the Drop," I could hear the ambience of the recording room and Stevie lightly rapping his guitar for rhythm. They were no slouch in harder material like "May I Have a Talk With You" where reproduction of vocals and guitar were first rate, if not quite as defined as you might hear in a typical 2 channel setup due to the arrangement of stereo drivers so close to one another in the enclosure.
Finally, I played the same variety of music listed above with my receiver set to output the same sound to all connected speakers. After level matching the indoor and outdoor speakers, I listened outside on the patio for a few minutes and then stepped just inside my patio door to the living room where my Paradigm Studio 20's were playing the exact same music. Through several repetitions of this with different material I found that the sound of the SM-80's was definitely more open and airy, though when within the optimal distance from them, gave up very little in the lower end (bass). The indoor Studio speakers sounded a little stuffy by comparison, though with their huge soundstage and better bass performance they were able to keep up. The SM-80's seemed to have a huge soundstage though they gave up a little in the imaging department, which I think is a wise tradeoff in an outdoor speaker.
In sum, I actually preferred the sound of the outdoor speakers in most music and I think that they would make a phenomenal speaker used in conjunction with a backyard projector for bar-b-que/movie nights.
The main drawback I can see is price, but I feel one would get a lot of speaker for the money with these. Also, as the dipole speakers come with 4 speaker wires per speaker, I was never fully sure that I had them twisted together well so I ended up using screw cap connectors which weren't the best looking solution. Maybe the company could start twisting them together at the factory. I tried only connecting one of the speaker wires and it only engages one of the tweeters and the sound was flat as a result, definitely not their intention so I'm not sure of the reason these aren't pre-connected.
Also, these speakers have a range in which full-bodied sound can be heard, probably around 15' away. As you get outside that distance the sound quality deteriorates significantly and mainly treble can heard outside this perimeter. I guess the solution to this would be to buy enough speakers for denser coverage so that one is never farther than 15' away, but at their price this becomes more of an issue.
Another solution which has not been implemented frequently is the use of an external all-weather subwoofer enclosure. Sure, it would be hard to disguise unless you could build a water feature around the "Boulder Sub", but it would probably mitigate the problem of low frequency loss due to placement of the speaker (though a sealed enclose might be necessary in the outdoors).