Today, I’ll be checking out Paradigm’s new Monitor SE Speakers in a 5.0 configuration.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers

With bits from their more-expensive speakers like X-PAL aluminum dome tweeters, they represent a great entry-level choice for those wanting Paradigm’s legendary sound in their home theaters or media rooms. For less than $1200, you can get a pair of 3000F towers, a 2000C center channel, and a pair of Atom bookshelves to create a fantastic cinema experience right in your living room. If a pair of Personas are out of your price range, this might just be the perfect solution!

Highlights

Paradigm Monitor SE 5.0 Speaker

  • Paradigm sound on a budget
  • Timbre-matched speakers all sporting the X-PAL aluminum dome tweeters
  • Slim towers do not take up a lot of floor space
  • Sound that will satisfy both the cinephile and the audiophile
Introduction

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Paradigm has a long-established reputation in the crowded speaker market. Made in Canada, their products are loaded with state-of-the-art technology and deliver high-performance audio quality. The Monitor SE speaker line is geared for audio enthusiasts that are as budget-minded as they are serious about sound quality. The Monitor SE speakers that I am reviewing include the smaller of two tower models, the Monitor SE 3000F, the Monitor SE 2000C center channel, and the Monitor SE Atom bookshelves performing duty as surround channels. The total cost of this package is under $1200. There are plenty of bookshelf speakers out there that would cost more than that for a pair. Of course, the cost is moot if the sound quality isn’t there. Whether you are looking for a starter set or are planning on adding a second system in your home, we will take a closer look to see if the Monitor SE speakers might fit your specific needs.

PARADIGM SPEAKER SPECIFICATIONS

3000F Tower Speaker

Design:

4-driver, 3-way bass reflex, floorstanding

Crossover:

2nd-order electro-acoustic at 3.0 kHz(tweeter/mid) and 800Hz (mid/woofers)

Frequency Response:

On-Axis – ±3dB from 42Hz-21 kHz, 30° Off-Axis – ±3dB from 42Hz-17kHz

High Frequency Driver:

1” X-PAL™ dome, ferro-fluid damped/cooled, Perforated Phase-Aligning Tweeter (PPA™) Lens

Midrange Frequency Driver:

5.5” mineral-filled polypropylene cone/inverted dust cap/downroll surround

Low Frequency Driver:

Two 5.5” mineral-filled polypropylene cones/inverted dust cap/downroll surrounds

Low Frequency Extension:

51 Hz (DIN)

Sensitivity:

Room/Anechoic – 91dB/88dB

Impedance:

Compatible with 8 ohms

Suitable Amplifier Power Range:

15-130 watts

Maximum Input Power:

100 watts

Finishes:

Matte Black, Gloss White

Weight:

35lbs

Dimensions HxWxD:

39.5″ × 9” × 11.125″

MSRP:

$349 each

Monitor SE 2000C

Design:

3-driver, 2-way bass reflex, center channel

Crossover:

2nd-order electro-acoustic at 2.0kHz

Frequency Response:

On-Axis – ±3dB from 64Hz-21kHz, 30° Off-Axis – ±3dB from 64Hz-17kHz

High Frequency Driver:

1” X-PAL™ dome, ferro-fluid damped/cooled, Perforated Phase-Aligning Tweeter (PPA™) Lens

Mid/Bass Frequency Driver:

Two 5.5” mineral-filled polypropylene cones/inverted dust cap/downroll surrounds

Low Frequency Extension:

52 Hz (DIN)

Sensitivity Room/Anechoic:

93dB/90dB

Impedance:

Compatible with 8 ohms

Suitable Amplifier Power Range:

15-100 watts

Maximum Input Power:

50 watts

Finishes:

Matte Black, Gloss White

Weight:

19lbs

Dimensions HxWxD:

7.25″ × 19.75 × 11.125″

Monitor SE Atom

MSRP:

$199

Design:

2-driver, 2-way bass reflex, bookshelf

Crossover:

2nd-order electro-acoustic at 2.3kHz

Frequency Response:

On-Axis – ±3dB from 55Hz-21kHz, 30° Off-Axis – ±3dB from 55Hz-17kHz

High Frequency Driver:

1” X-PAL™ dome, ferro-fluid damped/cooled, Perforated Phase-Aligning Tweeter (PPA™) Lens

Mid/Bass Frequency Driver:

5.5” mineral-filled polypropylene cone/inverted dust cap/downroll surround

Low Frequency Extension:

45 Hz (DIN)

Sensitivity Room/Anechoic:

89dB/86dB

Impedance:

Compatible with 8 ohms

Suitable Amplifier Power Range:

15-100 watts

Maximum Input Power:

50 watts

Finishes:

Matte Black, Gloss White

Weight:

12lbs

Dimensions HxWxD:

12.75″ × 7.125 × 11″

MSRP:

$149 each

TITLESPEC:

DESCRIPTION

Company:

Paradigm

SECRETS Tags:

Paradigm Monitor SE, tower speakers, center channel speakers, surround speakers, speaker reviews, Speaker Review 2018

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Design

It’s no secret that the major cost of building a speaker is not exotic drivers or crossover designs, though they can be expensive. The bulk of the cost goes into the actual cabinetry, especially when fancy wood veneers are used. If a manufacturer can reduce the construction cost of the cabinet, they can reduce the overall cost of the product. The real challenge Paradigm had to overcome was to make a cabinet with enough bracing to reduce vibrations that color the sound. Too thin and they can buzz. Too thick and the cost starts to go up. Through experimentation, they have found the perfect middle ground. Compared to my Revel Concerta2 speakers, the Monitor SEs are lighter in weight. However, my towers cost more than this entire 5.0 speaker system by several hundred dollars. My samples came with a black vinyl finish that was both plain and flawless. You can get them in gloss white if you prefer. The speakers themselves are pretty much what you think of when you describe speakers as being a “black box”. They will not win awards for their style, but as I mentioned, the fit and finish are very good.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, 3000F Tower

All the products in the Monitor SE speaker line feature X-PAL™ Pure-Aluminum Dome Tweeters with a Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Lens. The PPA acts as a refined phase plug, blocking out-of-phase frequencies, which increases and smooths the output without adding color to the sound. The lens is a metal perforated dome cover which also protects the tweeter from damage. I liked the look of them enough to leave all the grills off during my review period. The mid/woofers are made from mineral-filled polypropylene cones with inverted dust caps which also add to the overall aesthetic of the speaker.

Downroll surrounds give them a clean, low-profile look and are mounted flush with the edge of the front baffle. The grills have mounting holes that they pop into. If only they were magnetic, then removing them wouldn’t show the holes on the front baffle, but again, that would probably have added to the construction cost and been antithetical to the design goal.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Midrange Detail

The 3000F is the slightly smaller version of the 6000F which is taller and adds a fourth woofer. The footprint is the same, so if you want a tower that goes a bit deeper in the bass region, the 6000F is a great option. There are four outrigger feet with rubber pads or floor spikes included. On the back are two five-way binding posts and a port. The binding posts are of adequate quality, but they are much better than spring clips, which I abhor. Because they are lighter in weight than speakers up the Paradigm line, I found them very easy to set up and arrange for the best imaging in my room. With my trusty tape measure and laser level, I had these up and singing in no time at all.

The 2000C is about half the size of my current Revel C12 center channel and weighs about a third as much. I was concerned that this would really draw attention to itself during movies where the dialog is completely carried by the center channel. Surprisingly, the 2000C sounded quite good. So good in fact, I was considering replacing my C12 with it to free up some real estate on my audio rack under the UHDTV. Ultimately, I decided to keep my all-Revel system together, but the 2000C was a surprisingly good performer. At just under $200, it will be what I recommend to friends looking for a new center channel.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Center Detail

The Monitor SE Atoms came in a single box and at first, I thought they had forgotten to ship one of them. I was taken aback when I opened the box and saw the two of them packed tightly side by side. These were going to be my rear surround speakers and fortunately I had a pair of speaker stands for them. They do NOT wall mount, due to the rear port, but they are light in weight and easy to set up. During my tenure with them, I used them as main speakers to see how they sounded and paired them up with my eight-inch Earthquake sub-woofer. (I know, eight-inch and Earthquake seems like a contradiction, but that little sub can kick it!). I’ll give more of my impressions of the Atoms’ performance later in the review.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Atom Bookshelf

All that was missing was a decent sub-woofer. As things would have it, Paradigm is about to release a new line of subs called Defiance (wireless with a phone app for EQ-ing), but alas, they will not be ready for review until the end of Summer. In the interim, Paradigm has a plethora of subs on their website if you need a new one. For this review I have the Earthquake and a Velodyne in-wall that I used.

In Use

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The hardest part of reviewing speakers is disassembling my current setup and finding a place for everything to reside during my review period. Space upstairs is a bit limited and my wife can only put up with my hobby for so long before we have a “talk”. In any case, setting up the Paradigms was pretty straightforward. The 3000Fs were placed about eight feet apart and a foot-and-a-half from my front wall. I toed them in so they crossed about a foot behind me. This seemed to provide the best imaging in my room. I used 14G wire with banana connectors on all speakers. The 2000C sat on my audio rack, directly under my 55” UHDTV and about a foot from the front wall. The Atoms went on stands, slightly behind my ears and above them by a foot from my seat. I had them pointed toward my head. Aesthetically, these speakers disappear in a darkened home theater environment, and sonically their location is hard to place as well. Initially, I played the system without a sub so I could evaluate performance on its own merit. The towers can dig down pretty well on their own, but they could use some augmentation if you want to hear music or movie soundtracks that drop below 40Hz or so. In stereo, I would describe the sound of 3000Fs as detailed with a tight, but polite, low end. They did not punch me in the gut. The sound field was also more forward than my Revels. Where the sound stage of the Revels was behind the speakers, the 3000F sound was more in front and into the room. This characteristic was a plus for rock n’ roll and jazz, but a bit strange for full orchestral music. As time went on and I became more accustomed to their sound, I began to appreciate their sonic characteristics. The mid-range seemed a bit lighter in quality then my F12s, but it was still clean and detailed. I felt they lacked a bit of the low, mid-bass; but comparing them to what I was used to was not apples to apples. For the money, the 3000Fs were not shamed by any means.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Tweeter Detail

The 2000C was impressive. Male voices sounded clear with just the right amount of mid bass to give the dialog some gravitas. For the price, this was one of the best sounding center channels I have listened to for some time. My friend came over and compared it to the Cambridge SoundWorks center channel he’s had for the last 15 years and could not believe how good it sounded. He swapped them back forth for a few hours and I do believe his old center is going up on Craigslist. His impression was that the 2000C sounded clearer with dialog and the bass imparted more realism to human voices. I agreed. I also appreciated that it was more compact in size compared to my C12 and it provided easier placement. If a smaller size center is important to you due to placement concerns, you should audition the 2000C. Along with the 3000Fs, it blended beautifully during panning from right to left. During dialog heavy films, it was clear and never sounded pinched or strained when the volume went way up.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Port Detail

The Atoms proved to be interesting. As surrounds they were fine, but when paired with a small sub-woofer, they could easily be the cornerstone of a small 2.1 system. Without a sub, they still sounded good and went about as deep as you’d like for most music, but the sub really solidified the bottom end, and the Atoms could be played loudly without distortion. I found that the harder I pushed them, the more open they sounded. I will admit, for surround speakers, I still prefer di- or bi-pole speakers with a more diffuse sound field behind me (which Paradigm makes, I might add).

Still, for the money, these little guys are sonic over-achievers. I think they would do well in a bookshelf speaker shoot-out and hold their own against similar sized speakers.

Movies

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Mission Impossible

As luck would have it, I just received all five Mission Impossible movies in Ultra HD for review, just in time to promote the release of the sixth installment in theaters later this summer. I also got Jack Reacher yesterday, so I am going on a (Tom) Cruise next week. These films run the gamut from very exciting to very ridiculous, but the sound tracks are loud and aggressive (especially the theme music during the action scenes) and the Monitor SEs sounded fantastic.

They are nicely timbre-matched and blend beautifully, whether panning back and forth or front to back, everything sounded seamless and dynamic. Explosions and whizzing bullets sounded convincingly real and dangerous. Dialog was always clear and crisp, which is a pass/fail test for the center channel. I used my Earthquake sub to help round out the bottom end, but it didn’t tip my perspective that the Paradigms sounded a bit more robust with it. Again, if you don’t own a sub, the Monitors SEs perform well enough on their own that you may put off buying one for a long while, and with the money you’d save on this system, you could always buy one or two later.

Music

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Tommy

As impressive as the 3000Fs sounded in stereo, I played many multi-channel SACDs and DVD-A discs to evaluate the Monitor SE system as a whole. One of my favorite discs is the rock opera Tommy, by The Who. The recording is amazingly clear, with voices and instruments placed around the room. The openness of the recording studio was impressive, especially when compared to the old vinyl record I grew up listening to when I was, well, Tommy’s age. The biggest revelation is Keith Moon’s drum work. It’s no longer at the back of the mix, but more up front with the guitars. It has better presence and more detail, all of which the Paradigms put forth wonderfully.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Roundup

For classical, I listened to a lot of different things, but Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops playing Western themes in Round-Up on the Telarc label is pure foot-tapping joy. The large space of Cincinnati’s music hall was well conveyed by the Monitors. Reverb from the back of the hall was nicely presented by the Atoms.

Telarc is famous for using oversized timpani in their recordings and they often put a warning on their covers telling you watch your volume settings as speaker damage could occur if the volume is set too high. Believe me when I tell you that it is not a marketing ploy.

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers, Tower Detail

During the theme from The Rifleman TV show, the actual rifle from the series was recorded up close and the transients are so real, you’ll jump out of your chair if you’re not expecting it. They sound of the gun going off and the bullets zinging off the back-wall sound realistic and intense. The Monitors SEs played it all without any evidence of breakup or strain. The slightly forward sound stage was actually quite exciting and realistic, like sitting in the first few rows of the music hall during the performance.

Conclusions

Paradigm Monitor SE Speakers

How did PARADIGM make the MONITOR SE SPEAKERS sound so good, but cost so little? Sure, you could buy these for a secondary home theater room, but they sound so good, you might be tempted to replace your primary system with these.

Likes
  • Paradigm sound on a budget
  • Atoms are good sounding book shelf speakers
  • The 2000C sounded bigger than its size
Would Like To See
  • Magnetic grills

Paradigm seems to have met their design goal with the Monitor SE Series Speakers. They have managed to retain the signature Paradigm sound while producing a product that almost anyone can afford. Yes, the cabinets are a bit plain and the binding posts are not super fancy, but if that’s what keeps the cost down and doesn’t take away from the overall performance of the speakers, who cares? The Monitor SE speakers will blow the doors off any satellite speaker systems, even if they have a subwoofer module. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a comparable system that sounds this good for less than $1200. If you want more bass from the towers, move up to the 6000Fs for just a few hundred dollars more. I don’t know how they put their better speaker technology into these and yet kept them affordable, but Paradigm has designed the uncommon speaker system for the common man. Recommended!

  • Fook Mee Lo

    Paradigm speakers (up to the old Signature series) = only for AV……for music, almost unlistenable…….due to hard, glaring treble……

  • Jim Milton

    I did not find that to be the case with the SE Monitor speakers. Of course, your mileage may vary.

  • David Thomas

    I’ve owned Paradigm speakers since 1989. Every pair I’ve had sounded excellent. The ones I stuck with are a pair of 1990 Paradigm 9seMkII. They fit my needs, space and sound most excellent. I’m sure newer models sound great, but the old ones are rich and full sounding with astounding bass. If I had 40K laying around I’d replace them… but don’t hold your breath!

  • Woofy98102

    Twenty years ago, I had always found Paradigm speakers a little hard/bright sounding. However, I listened to them recently and they have evolved top end is now smooth and natural. At the price point, these new speakers are an insane value for the dollar. Bravo, Paradigm!