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February
2008

Reviewed by
Randall Smith
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Paradigm Reference
Studio 100 v.4 / CC-690 v.4 /
ADP-590 v.4 / Seismic 12

Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Reference Studio 100 v.4 floorstanding speaker
Price: $2599 USD per pair
Dimensions: 44.5"H x 8.25"W x 17"D
Weight: 81 pounds each

Model: Reference Studio CC-690 v.4 center-channel speaker
Price: $1199 USD
Dimensions: 36"W x 9.43"H x 15.56"D
Weight: 69 pounds

Model: Reference Studio ADP-590 v.4 surround speaker
Price: $899 USD each
Dimensions: 14.75"W x 8.68"H x 6.68"D
Weight: 17.5 pounds each

Model: Reference Seismic 12 subwoofer
Price: $1700 USD
Dimensions: 14.75"H x 14.25"W x 14.25"D
Weight: 67 pounds


Description (cont'd)

System Price: $7296 USD

Warranty: Five years on speakers, three years on subwoofer amplifier.

Features

  • 1" G-PAL dome tweeters
  • S-PAL midrange drivers with 1.5" voice-coils
  • Mineral-filled polypropylene bass drivers with 1.5" voice-coils
  • Dipole surround speakers (ADP-590)
  • 12" high-excursion driver (Seismic 12)
  • Two 10" passive radiators (Seismic 12)
  • Built-in ultra-class-D amplifier (Seismic 12)
  • Adjustable crossover and phase (Seismic 12)
  • Sycamore, cherry, black ash, or rosenut vinyl finishes

This is the third review of a product made by Paradigm or its subsidiary, Anthem, that I’ve written in the last 12 months. My reviews of the Anthem AVM 50 A/V processor and the Paradigm UltraCube 10 subwoofer were both overwhelmingly positive, and the AVM 50 received a Home Theater Sound Reviewers’ Choice award. So when I’m notified that I’ll be receiving a review sample from Paradigm, I get excited: I know that the product I’m about to evaluate has a good chance of being thoroughly engineered and well built. I also know that, for the money, the product will likely compete well with similar products at its price point or even well above. This is the reputation Paradigm has earned with me.

System

Paradigm’s original Reference Studio 100 floorstanding speaker was reviewed on SoundStage! in April 1998. Since then, Paradigm has revised the Studio 100 three times; the subject of this review, the Reference Studio 5.1-channel home-theater speaker system ($7296), is based on the v.4 edition.

What’s been updated? The cabinet of the Reference Studio 100 v.4 ($2599/pair), built of MDF, looks very much the same and still stands 44.5" tall. More internal bracing has been added to help reduce cabinet resonances, a difference a friend familiar with the sound of v.3 mentioned during an extended listening session. The v.4 is still a three-way loudspeaker with five drivers, though not the same ones. The new tweeter is a 1" Gold-Anodized Pure Aluminum (G-PAL) dome, vs. the older aluminum dome. The midrange driver is still a 7-incher, though now the cone is made of Paradigm’s Satin-Anodized Pure-Aluminum (S-PAL) instead of mica-polymer. The three woofers are all 7" polypropylene cones. The 100 is still quite narrow -- only 8.25" wide -- and the speaker is still 17" deep. The 100 has a port on the front and two pairs of five-way binding posts on the rear. The review samples were finished in black ash.

At 36" wide, 9.5" tall, and almost 16" deep, the CC-690 v.4 ($1199 each) is the largest center-channel speaker I’ve ever used in my system, and took up a lot of space. It has six drivers: a 1" G-PAL dome tweeter, a 4.5" S-PAL midrange cone, two 7" S-PAL bass-midrange cones, and two 7" polypropylene woofers.

The five-driver, three-way ADP-590 v.4 dipole surround speaker ($899 each) has two 1" G-PAL dome tweeters, one mounted on each side of the speaker, each just above one of two 4" bass/midrange S-PAL cones. The only driver that faces the listener is a 7" polypropylene woofer. For such a small speaker -- it measures 14.75"W x 8.68"H x 6.68"D -- the ADP-590 is surprisingly heavy at 17.5 pounds. It’s designed to be mounted on the wall (a small plastic bracket is included).

Rounding out the system was the Seismic 12 subwoofer ($1700), the bigger brother of the UltraCube 10 sub, which I reviewed last year. The two subs look quite similar; each is a downfiring model with dual, side-mounted passive radiators. The major difference is the Seismic 12’s bass driver, which is superior in both size (12") and build, and its far more powerful amplifier, which Paradigm rates at 1500W sustained output (4500W peak). Another big difference are the controls on the rear panel for adjusting the sub to room anomalies. The Bass Contour lets you add up to 6dB at 60Hz to help raise a dip at that frequency that can be caused by poor sub placement, or a cancellation caused by interaction between the subwoofer and the main speakers.

My Coda Amplifier 11 stereo amp powered the Studio 100s, while the CC-690 and the ADP-590s were powered by an Anthem MCA 50. Both amplifiers were fed from my Anthem D2 A/V processor. I connected the Seismic 12 sub to the Anthem D2 via an XLR cable.

Sound

After a few weeks of casual listening, I began to dissect the Paradigm system’s sound with some critical listening. I usually begin such sessions with two-channel music, running the main speakers as Large (i.e., without a subwoofer). This way, I’m able to determine how low the speakers will play in my room.

The Reference Studio 100 v.4s played well into the 30-40Hz range with good authority. One track that really helped demonstrate the 100’s low end was Beck’s "No Complaints," from The Information [CD, InterScope 1707829]. It begins with a couple of deep notes from a bass guitar, accompanied by a drum beat in the background. The 100s alone were able to provide respectable punch with the bass notes, while still being able to recover to reveal each drum stroke. Sometimes, a floorstanding speaker at or near $2599/pair can’t handle a song as cleanly as the 100s were able to reproduce this one. The Studio 100 resisted the tendency to boom, which can mask such musical details as the leading edge of a drum stroke or the shimmer of a cymbal.

Now that I felt comfortable with how low the Studio 100s would go, I added in the Seismic 12 subwoofer to help fill in the very bottom octave. Crossed over from the Studio 100 at 50Hz, the sub’s 12" driver added depth and impact to the output of each Studio 100’s trio of 7" woofers. Relieving the Studio 100s of low-frequency duties allowed the towers to maximize the amplifier power in the areas that really helped them shine. "Last Train to Amsterdam," from Wylie Hubbard’s Dangerous Spirits [CD, Philo 1206], begins with a Western-style theme played on a very transparent electric guitar cleanly picking its way toward the entrance of the singer, who is very prominent in the mix. The Studio 100s produced a very stable and focused image with great dimension and shape. The kick drum was much more visceral with the sub in the system, yet when properly integrated, still allowed fine detail to be revealed. The 100s presented the entire song in a manner that displayed the quality of the musicianship, while seeming to "disappear" from the room.

I then hooked up the Reference Studio CC-690 v.4 center-channel speaker. Before the CC-690’s arrival, I’d lived without a center-channel for about a month, and till then would have argued that, without a center speaker, a home-theater system is limited in dynamic capability as well as its ability to deliver all the detail a good movie soundtrack can provide. While I still believe that, I began to enjoy the Reference Studio 100s’ ability to free the dialogue from a point source. The dialogue sounded bigger, and was able to "fill" the screen of my television, all while maintaining consistent tonal balance. The size of the CC-690 v.4 gave me hope that film dialogue could still be produced by a center speaker in as expansive a way as my main speakers alone were capable of doing.

The first movie I watched with the CC-690 in the system was the Blu-ray version of Live Free or Die Hard. My first impressions were positive; however, a couple of scenes inside a car troubled me: The dialogue sounded very thin and boxy. The sound did accurately convey the atmosphere inside the car, but something just wasn’t right about the voices. After a little experimentation, I concluded that the CC-690’s rear port was too close to my TV, which meant that the speaker couldn’t perform to its full ability. I pulled the center-channel just a few inches away from the TV, gave the speaker a little more break-in, and the thin boxiness disappeared. The dialogue now "filled" the screen in much the way it had through the two L/R speakers alone. But even with the addition of this very dynamic center speaker, the tonal balance remained consistent across the front of the soundstage; I felt confident that any movie soundtrack I could throw at the Paradigm L/C/R array would be faithfully reproduced.

Over the past few years I’ve used direct-firing speakers as surrounds. In an earlier 5.1-channel system, because the dipole speakers I at first used couldn’t be placed in the best locations, I began using small, direct-firing bookshelf speakers, which created wonderful images in the rear soundstage. Although dipoles don’t seem to image as well, they are able to fill the rear soundstage with sound in an enveloping way that direct-firing speakers can’t.

I’ve since improved my home-theater room setup, and could now add the Reference Studio ADP-590 v.4s to my system and fully appreciate their quality. The ADP-590s reproduced the musical score of the Blu-ray edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in a way that engulfed the rear half of my room. They could play loud, fully rounding out the soundfield and rendering seamless front-to-rear transitions. Toward the end of another Blu-ray title, 3:10 to Yuma, is an old-fashioned gun battle that gave me an opportunity to test the ADP-590’s agility and dynamic capability. In the final race to the train station, the members of Ben Wade’s posse are relentlessly firing at the main characters. Shots fired from one rear speaker hit their mark in one of the front speakers, bringing the turbulent atmosphere to life in my room. I normally prefer direct-firing speakers for their more precise reproduction of such effects, but the ADP-590s performed so well that I didn’t miss a thing. The gunshots were loud and dynamic, exploding and disappearing with equal rapidity, with no apparent overhang at all. The ADP-590 v.4s performed even better than I expected.

The Seismic 12 subwoofer provided the real guts for this home-theater speaker system. While relatively small, this sub was a real workhorse -- with its powerful amplifier and big driver, output was never a problem. The real question was, could the Seismic 12 be pushed to its limits and still keep its composure?

It could. I pushed the Seismic 12 hard, and it pushed my own limits even harder -- I gave up before it did. There are two models of Paradigm subwoofer above the Seismic series; it’s obvious that Paradigm is allowing their research and design data to filter down to their lower-priced lines.

Comparison

The two speakers close to the Reference Studio 100 v.4’s price ($2599/pair) with which I have the most experience are the Thiel CS1.6s ($2390/pair) and the Energy 2.3is ($2800/pair). All three are very well engineered and are more alike than different, but the Paradigm was the most neutral, while also being able to play lower in frequency. The CS1.6s cast the largest soundstage and produced the sharpest images.

The Reference Studio CC-690 v.4 ($1199), though quite a beast, isn’t that much bigger than the Thiel MCS1 center, which costs twice as much ($2200) but can also double as a main front speaker. Thiel’s use of a coincident tweeter/midrange driver allows the MCS1 to perform more like a vertical main speaker than like a typical horizontal center speaker -- meaning that it doesn’t suffer at all from off-axis response problems. The CC-690 could play as loud as the MCS1, but didn’t mesh with Paradigm’s Studio 100s as well as the MCS1 meshed with Thiel’s own CS1.6s. The ability of the Thiel L/C/R array to create a seamless front soundstage is unsurpassed, in my experience; however, the Paradigm L/C/R weren’t far behind. The CC-690 could play more cleanly than the MCS1 at extremely loud volumes; with both, film dialogue sounded very natural and tonally correct.

I compared the Reference Studio ADP-590 v.4 ($1798/pair) with another dipole surround speaker, the Energy Veritas 2.0Ri ($1110/pair). The ADP-590 costs a third more than the Energy, but had greater control at higher volumes and was able to deliver greater dynamic range. I was thrilled with their ability to fill out the entire rear soundstage with film soundtracks. I also liked their ability to deliver quick and precise sounds when called for, much as direct-radiating bookshelf speakers do.

At $1700, the Seismic 12 subwoofer slips into a price slot just between those of two subs I have a bit of experience with, the SVS PB12-Plus/2 ($1199) and the Thiel SmartSub SS1 ($2900). The Paradigm was able to play almost as loud and just as low as the other two, the SVS probably getting the nod when it came to output capability. The SVS is capable of that because it has two 12" drivers and a much greater cabinet volume, making it the better sub for a really large home theater. Like the Thiel SmartSub SS1, the Seismic 12 is a smaller sub, but its very quick response allowed it to be quite agile with music. Perhaps because Thiel uses the same material in their subs’ drivers as in the cones of their regular speakers, Thiel subs mesh better with Thiel speakers. Paradigm’s Seismic 12 seemed an all-around product that will perform equally well with a variety of loudspeakers.

Conclusions

For such a large loudspeaker company, Paradigm gets the small details right. They enjoy the benefit of some of the best audio tools in the industry -- their own anechoic chamber, a solid team of engineers, and a strong R&D department. From what I’ve seen, they focus their research efforts on engineering speakers that measure well, are competently built, and don’t color the sound in any way. Perhaps best of all, Paradigm seems able to do this at almost any price point appropriate for the regular-Joe home-theater enthusiast.

The Reference Studio 5.1-channel system -- the 100 v.4, CC-690 v.4, ADP-590 v.4, and Seismic 12 -- is another great package from Paradigm, and a tremendous value at the price. But that’s just what Paradigm seems to do, year after year after year, and once again, they’ve lived up to their stellar reputation.

Review System
Speakers - Rockport Technologies Mira (mains), Energy Veritas 2.0Ri (surrounds), JL Audio Fathom f112 (2 subwoofers)
A/V Processor - Anthem Statement D2
Amplifiers - Anthem MCA 50, Krell KSA-50s, Coda Amplifier 11
Sources - Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player, Sony PlayStation 3, Slim Devices/Logitech Squeezebox music server
Display Device - Mitsubishi WD-Y57
Cables - Nordost, Monster Cable, DH Labs, Transparent Cable
Remote - Universal Remote Control MX-850
Power Conditioner - Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 with Copperhead power cord
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5TL 2V1, Canada
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726

Website: www.paradigm.com


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