HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



November
2004

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Paradigm Reference
Studio 20 v.3 / CC-470 v.3 / ADP-470 v.3 / Seismic 12
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Reference Studio 20 v.3 bookshelf speaker
Price: $800 USD per pair
Dimensions: 15"H x 8.25"W x 12.75"D
Weight: 43 pounds per pair

Model: Reference Studio CC-470 v.3 center-channel speaker
Price: $650 USD
Dimensions: 23.5"W x 9"H x 13"D
Weight: 34 pounds

Model: Reference Studio ADP-470 v.3 surround speaker
Price: $970 USD per pair
Dimensions: 13"W x 12"H x 7.9"D
Weight: 52 pounds per pair

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

System Price: $4120 USD


Description (cont'd)

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

Features

  • Mineral-filled polypropylene bass drivers
  • Mica-loaded polymer-cone midrange drivers
  • 1" satin-anodized pure-aluminum dome tweeters
  • ISM/Shock-Mount system
  • Dipole surround speakers (Studio ADP-470 v.3)
  • 12" high-excursion, mineral-filled polypropylene subwoofer driver (Seismic 12)
  • Two 10" passive radiators (Seismic 12)
  • Adjustable crossover and phase (Seismic 12)
  • 1200W class-D amplifier (Seismic 12)
  • Sycamore, cherry, black ash, or rosenut vinyl finishes

There’s a hi-fi shop in Boston across the street from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The store is no bigger than many living rooms. The owner has been selling audio for more than 30 years -- 24 of them from this storefront. Where many hi-fi shops would offer several different brands of loudspeakers, he is satisfied offering one: Paradigm. Many may consider this lack of diversification risky. For the owner of this small but highly successful shop, it’s simply a matter of sticking with a brand that offers the best value for the money.

Only the best products garner such loyalty. Products of lesser caliber have a tendency to fall by the wayside or prove lethal to business. For more than 20 years, Paradigm has offered high-quality products that have defined their market segment. A visit to their Mississauga headquarters in Ontario makes it easy to see why. Research and development are at the center of Paradigm’s philosophy. They pay little attention to fads, gimmicks, or assertions that are not backed up by scientific fact; their on-site anechoic chamber stands as a symbol of Paradigm’s commitment to science and empirical research.

At a total system price of $4120, the Reference Studio 20 v.3-based surround system is a fine example of Paradigm’s attention to detail and painstaking approach to speaker design.

It’s all in the details

Paradigm’s Studio 20 v.3 stand-mounted, two-way bookshelf model, Studio ADP-470 v.3 surround, and Studio CC-470 v.3 center are all solidly built speakers that exhibit first-rate fit’n’finish. A few seconds’ close inspection reveal binding posts and perfectly applied, very-real-looking vinyl veneers that would inspire the envy of many products costing four times as much. The five-way posts come very close to what you’d expect from WBT. Also impressive is how Paradigm’s obsession with sound quality follows through to accessory integration.

An example is the company’s Premier line of speaker stands. The Studio 20 v.3 stand has eight holes on its top plate: four accept small spikes that match up with the loudspeaker base, while the other four accept machine screws, which, when installed, couple the Studio 20 v.3 to the spikes. This decouples the speaker from the stand and removes any resonance that would color the sound.

The robust Reference Studio 20 v.3 bookshelf speaker ($800/pair) is a two-way design featuring a 1" satin-anodized pure-aluminum dome tweeter and a 7" mica-loaded polymer-cone midrange driver. The matching Studio CC-470 v.3 center-channel speaker ($650) comes equipped with attractive outriggers with rubber-tipped feet. The adjustable feet allow the user to line up the CC-470’s drivers with the listening position. The woofer-tweeter-woofer design allegedly produces very wide and even dispersion without the lobing effects of similar designs. The CC-470 demonstrates the same high-quality construction as the Studio 20.

Paradigm describes their Studio ADP-470 v.3 surround speaker ($970/pair) as having a "reverberant sound field design." The majority of surrounds discretely use bipole or dipole configurations. Paradigm implements both designs in the same surround, using the same tweeter and midbass drivers found in the Studio 20 v.3. The ADP-470 v.3 is bipolar below 150Hz, which keeps those frequencies in phase with one another. Above 150Hz, the ADP-470 is in out-of-phase dipole mode. According to Paradigm’s marketing manager, Mark Aling, "this change is done in the crossover and eliminates the choice between having a full-range bipolar design that is easy to localize, or a dipole that is difficult to localize but doesn’t play very low."

A clever metal bracket can be used to hang the wedge-shaped ADP-470 on a wall. Rubber stick-on feet are installed on the lower edges of the speaker so that the final installation is secure and free of any wall-induced buzz. My samples came in black ebony. Most of the enclosure is fitted with black knit cloth that forms a perfect seam with the removable grilles and gives the CC-470 a classy, high-quality appearance.

The Seismic 12 subwoofer ($1700) is heavy (67 pounds) for its small size. Its piano-lacquered top plate contributes to an upscale appearance that doesn’t call undue attention to this 14" cube. The 12’s overall construction is excellent and conveys more a feeling of rock than of wood. Controls for crossover, gain, phase, and 60Hz Contour, along with both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR connections, give the user plenty of setup flexibility. And as in Paradigm’s Anthem line of amplifiers, a comprehensive set of turn-on options allows the Seismic 12 to awaken via 12V trigger or by sensing a signal on its inputs.

The Seismic 12’s twin passive radiators and judicious amount of equalization enable it to reach down to 17Hz (-3dB) in the average room. Although its passive radiators may look like 10" drivers, their role is the same as traditional tuned ports. Each radiator is weighted so as to resonate at a specific frequency. Paradigm states that a 17Hz tuned pipe would be much too long for a box of this size.

Setup

I positioned the Studio 20 v.3s at the same locations where my Canton Ergo RC-As usually sit: 6’ apart and 3’ from the front wall. Because of room restrictions, the right speaker sat within 15" of the sidewall, while the left speaker was some 5’ away from the left wall. Both speakers were toed-in about 10 degrees to mitigate any secondary wall reflections.

I placed the CC-470 v.3 center atop my widescreen monitor, and the ADP-470 v.3 surrounds on the wall to each side of my listening position and about 3’ above my head. The center, or null point, of the cabinet was in line with my head.

The Seismic 12’s small size allowed me to place it under an end table. I bypassed the 12’s internal crossover by setting it to Maximum, and used my Outlaw ICBM to blend the surrounds, center, and fronts. The crossover frequency of all channels was set to 80Hz. The 12’s 60Hz Contour control can deliver up to 6dB of added "impact" to film soundtracks. In my room, movies and music sounded best with the Contour set to "0."

Sound

The Paradigms preferred neutral to slightly forward amplification. The laid-back sound of Conrad-Johnson’s MF5600 power amplifier created a full and powerful presentation. However, the high-frequency bite of explosions, cymbals, and ambience was on the dull side; action films such as Matrix Revolutions didn’t have enough visceral impact. Voices were, however, quite seductive. The dialogue in American Beauty pulled me right into the disturbing but engrossing story.

Replacing the C-J with the neutral, ever-so-slightly forward Audio Research 150M.5 power amp changed things dramatically. The neutral character of the Paradigms allowed well-produced film soundtracks and music to come through with excellent fidelity and startling dynamic range.

Chapters 19-21 of Matrix Revolutions filled my room with clean, pristinely lucid sound. "The Battle for Zion," juxtaposed with Niobe’s ballsy handling of the Hammer, never missed a beat. The outrageous mass of sound effects and artillery fire sounded neither veiled nor compressed. Everything from the menacing metallic squirm of squiddies to the millions of spent bullet shells provided a unique sonic signature. Voices never got lost within the mix. The Paradigms had a very delicate and detailed treble. The Paradigms’ Satin-coated Pure Aluminum (S-PAL) dome tweeters never sounded splashy or grainy, treading an impressive line between intoxicating sparkle and hands-off transparency.

Bass from the Seismic 12 was breathtaking. Several times I looked over at the little cube, amazed at the quality and quantity of bass emerging from it. Subterranean frequencies in the "Ice Field," in chapter 16 of Titan A.E., sounded tight and clean. There was no overhang, and no apparent midbass bloat: bass energy seemed to emerge from below the floor to shake the house. The Seismic 12 never sounded strained or lacking in power.

One of the most striking aspects of the Paradigm system’s performance was its coherence. The v.3 versions of the Studio 20, Studio CC-470 center, Studio ADP-470 surround, and the Seismic 12 kept their composure while producing perfectly defined bass, midrange, and high frequencies amid the chaos of action films, and were delicate and revealing during more thought-provoking stories, such as Rabbit-Proof Fence. Insects, the breeze, water, and the crackling undergrowth of Australia’s Outback sounded frighteningly real. And Peter Gabriel’s bass-heavy score didn’t fall prey to the annoying room resonance that plagues other, lesser subs.

The Studio ADP-470 v.3 surrounds produced diffuse but meaty fill. These are the most accomplished surround speakers I have listened to. The exciting concluding chapter of Tears of the Sun has a surplus of gunfire and aircraft flyovers. The ADP-470s reproduced each effect within the surround image, and against the backdrop of incidental jungle sounds, with exhilarating depth and pinpoint placement. The surrounds delivered a level of realism and creepy you-are-there presence that gave me goose bumps.

The same level of realism was obvious in the vocals and dense melody of Seal’s newest album, Seal IV [Warner Bros. 47947]. This extremely well-produced DVD-Audio recording sounded fantastic through the Paradigms. On "Love’s Divine" and "Touch," Seal’s soulful voice was rich, sweeping, and rock-stable. The same vibrant surround image I noted on film soundtracks continued through every multichannel disc I spun. The surprisingly effective and beautifully produced Music from and Inspired by the Film Monster [DTS Entertainment 1112] kept me riveted to my couch throughout its 115 minutes. Through the Paradigms, musician BT’s melodic surround mix broke down the walls of my room and delivered me back into the psychotic but compassionate world of Aileen Wuornos.

Nor did the Studio 20 v.3 leave me wanting with two-channel music. The same natural, effortless sound quality was evident on Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra’s dynamic recording of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, from Showcase [Reference Recordings RR- 907CD]. When the music called for the Paradigms to react, they did so, without compressing dynamics or smearing detail.

Comparison

I’ve enjoyed the superb clarity, speed, and dynamic prowess of the Canton Ergo 5.1-channel surround system ($5500) for some time. When it comes to tight, low-distortion bass and transparent articulate vocals, the Ergos are a class act.

In some cases, the Paradigms eclipsed the larger Cantons. Where the latter can sound sterile and a tad dry, the Paradigms offered a warmer, subjectively sweeter sound. The Cantons’ midrange leans toward a more pinpoint presentation of voices, while the Paradigms offered a more diffuse yet controlled interpretation. Both systems’ high-frequency extensions are excellent -- which you will prefer will depend on your taste in timbres. The Cantons are smooth if brighter; the Paradigms offered impressive detail while being, overall, slightly laid-back.

The two systems’ bass performances were quite different. Although the Cantons are larger, Paradigm’s Seismic 12 sub evened the odds. The Paradigms were more warm and punchy, the Cantons more lean and detailed. Both possessed compulsive toe-tapping rhythm and pace.

An involving surround-sound experience requires speakers to be well integrated. I found the Paradigms created a more seamless and convincing surround image. Although Canton’s more traditional direct-radiating Ergo Fs offer wide dispersion and good fill, they can’t touch the more naturally enveloping quality of the Studio ADP-470 v.3 surrounds. The Studio CC-470 v.3 and Canton Ergo CM500 DC center speakers are in different classes. Where the CM500 DC competently handles vocals with good intelligibility, the CC-470 v.3 was a model of clarity and integration. The CM500 DC does not "disappear" as well as the CC-470 v.3, and lacks a little bit of clarity off the center axis. This is a common issue with other midrange-tweeter-midrange designs. Canton claims to have corrected this problem in their upgrade of this model, the CM502 DC.

If you enjoy bracingly dynamic music with a little more bite to cymbals and horns, then the Cantons are hard to fault. While their dynamics are hardly soft, the Paradigms’ slight restraint keeps them from "hitting the ceiling" the way the Cantons do.

The Cantons look better than the Paradigms. While the Paradigms’ vinyl cladding is the best I’ve yet to see, it lacks the Cantons’ buttery-smooth, deeply lustrous finish. Real-wood cherry finishes and classy metal grilles give the Cantons a very upscale appearance.

Conclusion

The Paradigms are a no-brainer bargain. The Seismic 12 subwoofer and Studio ADP-470 v.3 surrounds are especially impressive, exhibiting all the necessary character traits not only of very accomplished music reproducers, but also the articulation and excitement of an exceptionally high-quality multichannel, home-theater system. Very few speaker systems I’ve heard approach this level of accomplishment or consistency at such an affordable price. With well-engineered products such as this, diversification is overrated.

Review System
Preamplifier - McCormack MAP-1
Crossover - Outlaw ICBM
Amplifiers - Conrad-Johnson MF5600, Audio Research 150M.5
Source - Esoteric DV-50 universal audio/video player
Cables - Analysis Plus, Stereovox
Monitor - Mitsubishi WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor (with Duvetyne modification and full ISF calibration)
Power Conditioners - Panamax, Shunyata Research
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Paradigm Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994
Fax: (905) 564-8726

Website: www.paradigm.com

US distributor:
AudioStream
M.P.O. Box 2410
Niagara Falls, NY 14302
Phone: (905) 632-0180
Fax: (905) 632-0183

 


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