Feature Article

Paradigm Factory Tour - 2005

Part II

December, 2005

Colin Miller


Letís Start at the Beginning: Design

The measurement and software capabilities used by Paradigm in loudspeaker design are truly impressive. With the immense and troublingly quiet anechoic chamber, the automated microphone height and loudspeaker swivel mechanism, the software generates the test signals, controls the microphone/loudspeaker relationships, and analyzes the results. This is a tremendous advantage.

Paradigm can very quickly get a thorough and precise idea about what a loudspeaker is doing in a matter of minutes in all directions, not just on-axis. Looking over the design engineerís shoulder, I nearly drooled on his mouse looking at multiple frequency response plots vs. angle, total power response plots, yadda yadda. I wish we could have this setup for Secrets in several locations, one of them being on the couple of empty acres next to my house. I donít know of any audio/video publication that has near this degree of measurement capability and finesse, and have a feeling that you could count the total number of loudspeaker manufacturers in the entire world with this kind of capacity on your fingers, perhaps not even using your thumbs.

So what? While the software they wrote for themselves can do crossover and driver modeling to predict a result just like other off the shelf software design solutions available, there is no substitute for verifying the reality. Efficient and thorough measurements enable a better product for less money. If you catch a problem before the listening session process, you save time that would otherwise be wasted (and expensive.) If you measure quickly, you reduce the costs as well. If you donít measure thoroughly, you're in for a far more extended, far less effective, trial and error process.

The advantage of being able to actually measure and then analyze the end result thoroughly and quickly compounds with every iteration of testing. Testing is not something done just once to verify that a design is correct. It's part of the process itself. Design, test, modify, re-test, modify, etc. If you canít test thoroughly, turning out a good product not only becomes much more difficult and time-consuming, but youíll likely send a few dogs into actual production.

Once you've got a design that measures the way you want it to, in the same way that thereís no real substitute for thorough, real measurements, thereís no real substitute for thorough, unbiased, listening evaluations. Paradigm uses two rooms for blind listening evaluations used in developing their products. One, shown at the right (that's Mark Aling by the door), emulates the acoustics of a typical living room, a bit on the 'live' side, while the other simulates a dealer showroom with heavy curtains that can be moved around to replicate different setups.

It's interesting that they don't use dedicated sound rooms with lots of absorption or diffusion. While a dedicated, acoustically optimal room would be the best scenario for getting the 'best' listening experience, it doesn't tell you how speakers sound in scenarios more akin to the 'real world'. As Dr. Floyd Toole (now a Harman employee) showed through listening research conducted with the NRC, the best speakers for 'real world' listening are those designed with smooth, even, and consistent frequency response in many directions, not just a flat frequency response on-axis (though you'd want flat response on-axis too.) And, of course, speakers that work well in a 'regular' living room only get better when you put some effort into treating the room itself. Since Paradigm's design and measurement facilities cater to just this, you'd think theyíd be pretty close to begin with. Using realistic listening environments for product development testing just makes the whole process more sensible, efficient, and relevant.

After designing your loudspeaker of choice, it's a whole other matter of making more of them, lots more. While many manufacturers OEM pretty much all of their parts (drivers, cabinets, electronics), Paradigm makes just about everything from scratch. Well, they buy capacitors and resistors and wire, but you get the idea. There is an exception, the cabinets for their Signature Series loudspeakers. They simply cannot make the curved enclosures with their own facilities while keeping the cost reasonable. I found this at first a bit funny, though it did show that they were committed to results, not ideology. If something works better for them, they'll do it.

And itís not like outsourcing the production of parts is necessarily a bad thing. It lowers your manufacturing overhead, which makes you more flexible from a cash flow standpoint. For relatively small or medium-sized manufacturers, there isnít enough volume to justify making everything yourself. However, it does put you at the mercy of your suppliers, and it requires either meticulous inspection (and rejection) of the sub-assemblies, and for a given level of consistency, ups your quality control costs, as you have to go back and find other peopleís mistakes.

Itís not that thereís necessarily a right way of manufacturing, but Paradigm makes a good argument for doing as much as possible in house, particularly when manufacturing on a very large scale.

I watched a lady making voice coils one at a time. With a machine, she wrapped a whole bunch of wire around a former quickly and exactly. I think she deserved a raise! Mark claimed that the industry standard for voice coil windings is Ī half a turn. They do Ī zero. Any manufacturer who buys drivers from someone else can certainly deliver great products, perhaps even designing the drivers themselves to be built to spec, but they certainly canít be so meticulous in guaranteeing the quality of the finished product through inspection after the fact without actually destroying the drivers in the inspection process. If you make the drivers yourself, you can make sure that the parts are right before they become part of a woofer or tweeter . . .

Click Here to Go to Part III.

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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