HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



August
2002

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002




Paradigm

System Three.2
Home-Theater Speaker System

 

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Phantom v.3 speakers
Price: $529 USD per pair
Dimensions: 37"H x 7.75"W x 12.6"D
Weight: 33 pounds each

Model: CC-270 v.3 center-channel speaker
Price: $279 USD
Dimensions: 7.5"H x 22.75"W x 10.25"D
Weight: 20 pounds

Model: ADP-170 v.3 surround speakers
Price: $449 USD per pair
Dimensions: 10.75"H x 9.5"W x 6.6"D
Weight: 12 pounds each

Model: PDR-12 subwoofer
Price: $419 USD
Dimensions: 16.25"H x 14.5"W x 19"D
Weight: 41 pounds

System Price: $1676 USD

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


Features
  • 6.5" metallescent polymer-cone woofers (Phantom v.3 and CC-270 v.3)
  • 5.5" metallescent polymer-cone woofers (ADP-170 v.3)
  • .75" ceramic/metal composite-dome tweeters (ADP-170 v.3, Phantom v.3)
  • 1" ceramic/metal composite-dome tweeter (CC-270 v.3)
  • Adapted Dipole surround speakers (ADP-170 v.3)
  • Video shielding (CC-270 v.3)
  • 12" driver (PDR-12)
  • 110W amplifier (330W peak) (PDR-12)
  • Adjustable crossover (PDR-12)
  • Adjustable spikes (Phantom v.3)
  • Light-cherry, black-ash, or rosenut laminate finishes

Paradigm is one of the largest speaker manufacturers in the world, which you may have already known. What you may not know is that they rely heavily on their modern, comprehensive testing facilities. This Canadian company spends a lot of time and effort in research and development -- testing speakers, individual drivers, and crossover components, all of which are made in its Mississauga, Ontario facility. The result of all this research and development is a mind-boggling array of home-theater speakers and subwoofers, spanning all price ranges. Whatever your budget is, chances are, Paradigm has a home-theater system for you.

Paradigm has completely revamped their popular Performance speaker line. The system that Paradigm sent Home Theater & Sound is the System Three.2, listing for $1676 USD. As you will see, performance is an appropriate description for this system.

Introducing the System Three.2

Opening up this Paradigm system was pure joy. Each main speaker came in solid, corrugated cardboard with its own unpacking instructions! Although this may not seem like a big deal, Paradigm should be commended for easing the sometimes-painful hassle of unpacking tall, unwieldy speakers.

paradigm_phantomv3.jpg (13779 bytes)Once removed, the tallest box revealed one great-looking speaker -- the Phantom v.3. With a narrow front baffle of 7.75" and 37" in height, the Phantom v.3’s elegant proportions did not dominate my medium-sized room. The fit and finish are superb -- my samples came in light-cherry laminate, among the best that I have ever seen. The removable front grille is attractively styled with a curved bottom. Behind the grille is a dark-gray front baffle where the drivers are mounted. The Phantom v.3, like all Paradigm speakers, is designed to work best with the grilles on. This is a good idea if you have kids running around with scissors (which is not a good thing for numerous reasons!). The bad thing is that you may be tempted to leave the grilles off, since the drivers are so attractive.

A .75" ceramic/metal composite-dome (CMC) tweeter sits near the top of the v.3’s front baffle. Directly below the tweeter are two 6.5" metallescent polymer-cone (MPC) woofers. As I learned from Paradigm, "metallescent" means that the polymer cone is embedded with metal pigments to give the driver low mass with high stiffness, resulting in greater midrange clarity over standard polypropylene woofers. Below the lower 6.5" woofer is a large 3"-diameter front port, allowing easy placement near rear walls. The Paradigm Phantom v.3 has a single set of gold-plated binding posts in the back. According to Paradigm, the rated sensitivity is 91dB "in-room" with impedance "compatible with 8 ohms." With these specifications, you’d think these speakers would be easy loads to drive with modest amplification. With my 60Wpc Outlaw Model 1050 receiver, this was indeed my experience.

The center-channel in the Paradigm System Three.2 is the CC-270 v.3, the largest of three center-channel speakers in the Performance line. The CC-270 v.3 is big, nearly spanning the width of my 32" TV. The speaker’s downward-sloping top is finished in a matte-black finish, called "black graphite" by Paradigm. The drivers are the same as in the Paradigm Phantom v.3, with two 6.5" metallescent polymer-cone woofers on either side of a 1" ceramic/metal composite-dome tweeter. Around back is a single set of gold-plated binding posts and a 2.5"-diameter port.

The ADP-170 v.3 performs surround duties in the Paradigm System Three.2. This speaker is a bit of a departure for Paradigm, with a slight wedge shape rather than the rectangular box shape of their other surround speakers. On each angled baffle is a .75" CMC tweeter and a 5.5" MPC woofer. ADP stands for "adapted dipole." It differs from a conventional dipole by operating out of phase (like a conventional dipole speaker) above the crossover frequency of 2kHz, and operating in phase below the crossover frequency (like a bipole speaker). What this design achieves is a speaker that produces a diffuse soundfield with better bass response than a conventional dipole speaker, since the woofers operate in phase.

Paradigm supplied the PDR-12 subwoofer with this system. This subwoofer looks compact from the front, though it is quite deep. The finish on the subwoofer was black ash. The PDR-12 automatically turns on when a signal is detected, and an amber-colored LED below the Paradigm logo on the non-removable front grille lights up when a signal is detected. Around back, the PDR-12 has controls for subwoofer volume level and crossover frequency. It has a mono line-level input, and left and right speaker-level inputs and outputs. The speaker connections are spring clips so make sure you use small-diameter speaker wire if you are using these connections. The PDR-12 contains an amplifier rated for 110W nominal and 330W peak output. The driver is a single forward-firing 12" carbon-fiber-reinforced composite-cone woofer. Two large 3" ports vent the PDR-12.

Paradigm System Three.2 home-theater performance

Since the Paradigm Phantom v.3 has a compact footprint, I was able to place the speakers in the positions that typically work best in my family room. With slight toe-in adjustments, I have found that the following placement works best, and this case was no exception. The front left and right speakers were placed 9’ away from my listening seat, at 30-degree angles relative to the center of the TV, while the surrounds were 6’ away, 90 degrees relative to the center of my TV. The center-channel was placed on top of my 32" direct-view TV, and the subwoofer sat adjacent to the front left speaker.

The Paradigm System Three.2 has so many impressive attributes, but I’ll start with the one that stood out most for me: superb imaging. I’m not talking just about imaging between the front speakers, but imaging between the front and surround speakers. This was clearly evident to me while watching the DVD Kiss of the Dragon. This Jet Li film is an extremely violent martial arts showcase, but it has good sound that I find quite useful for evaluating audio gear. In chapter 10, an undercover agent is walking in and out of a room, and his voice is easy to follow between the left front Phantom v.3 and the left rear ADP-170 v.3. Impressively, as the voice moved from left front to the left rear, the tonality did not shift, a difficult achievement given the position of each speaker. Another example of this side imaging occurs in chapter 9 of Rush Hour 2. There is a subtle tinkling sound to the right side of the soundstage, between the right front and right rear speakers. The Paradigm system pulled off this sonic feat, which drew me into the scene.

The Paradigm System Three.2 showed off another cool trick: rear-channel imaging. This one occurred during chapter 18 from Kiss of the Dragon. In a scene with bullets flying, I could hear distinct bullet shells hitting the floor, directly behind me. This was without a center surround active. Very impressive!

The Paradigm System Three.2 also excelled in surround envelopment. In chapter 10 from Rush Hour 2, Alan King is opening a new casino. The Paradigm system provided a good sense of the room’s space, with the reverberation of the room expressed nicely by all five of the speakers. In chapter 15 of Fight Club, the scene shifts from the bar on the main floor to the stark, basement fight club. The Paradigm System Three.2 portrayed these diverse environments with ease, from the relatively dead walls of the bar to the reverberant walls of the basement.

Another terrific performer in the Paradigm System Three.2 is the center-channel CC-270 v.3. Throughout the DVD Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman’s surprisingly good singing voice sounded beautiful through the center speaker. Whether Kidman sang softly or loudly, the CC-270 v.3 conveyed the subtleties of her voice effortlessly. Male voices, such as George Clooney (actually Dan Tyminski) singing in O Brother, Where Art Thou? did not exhibit any chestiness or hollowness, which are annoying traits I often hear in other center-channel speakers.

There was seamless timbre matching between the CC-270 v.3 and the main Phantom v.3 speakers. Listening to chapter 2 from Man on the Moon, Jim Carey’s voice sounded identical as it pops from the left front speaker to the center-channel. Another example of this is in chapter 6 of Memento, where a phone ring jumps from the left front speaker to the center-channel. The ringing sounded identical in both the CC-270 v.3 and the Phantom v.3.

The Paradigm System Three.2 had exceptional performance all around, including the all-important subwoofer. Paradigm has kept the PDR-12 for years, and hasn’t found the need to upgrade it. After my audition, I can see why -- this is an excellent subwoofer! With its 12" driver and two huge rear-firing ports, the PDR-12 provides pants-flapping bass that played louder in my medium-sized room than even I could bear. In chapter 20 of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the LFE channel gets a workout during the pod-racing scene. The PDR-12 shook my floor as the pod racers screamed around the course. Another room-shaking scene is in chapter 13 from Dinosaur. In the first chapter, the T-Rex chases and catches a much smaller dinosaur. His (I’m assuming the T-Rex is a male) foot stomps filled my family room with sub-35Hz bass, without overhang or boominess. The performance of the Paradigm PDR-12 puts many more expensive subwoofers that I’ve heard to shame.

Comparison

Another similarly priced system that I’ve had a chance to audition is the Dahlquist System 4. This system retails for $1650, and consists of the following speakers: the QX8 main speakers, the QX50C center-channel, the QX4 monopole rear speakers, and the QX125S subwoofer. The Dahlquist System 4 is a very close match to the Paradigm System Three.2 in terms of price and size.

When comparing the two systems, I immediately noticed that both have significantly different tonal balances. The Paradigm Phantom v.3 sounds slightly darker, but had a more accurate midrange compared to the Dahlquist QX8. This was noticeable when listening to Diana Krall’s The Look of Love [Verve 3145498462]. In the opening cut, "S’Wonderful," the Dahlquist QX8 imparted airiness to the orchestral strings that the Paradigm could not quite match. In contrast, the Paradigm Phantom v.3’s seductive midrange made Diana Krall’s voice especially appealing.

I preferred the Paradigm Phantom v.3’s excellent midrange performance to that of Paradigm’s more expensive first-generation Monitor 9. I owned a Paradigm home-theater system based on the Monitor 9 for a few years, and one lasting memory of that speaker is its overly warm tonal balance. This was evident when listening to "Hotel California" from the Eagles’ DVD Hell Freezes Over. Don Felder’s guitar playing had warmth that was a bit too syrupy for my tastes. With the Paradigm Phantom v.3, however, the sound of his guitar sounded more accurate to my ears.

Another difference between the Paradigm System Three.2 and the Dahlquist System 4 was in the off-axis response from the center-channel. With the Paradigm CC-270 v.3, sitting to the sides of the room did not result in significant tonal differences in voice when compared to sitting in the ideal listening position in the center of the room. However, the Dahlquist QX50C suffered from rolled-off high frequencies off axis that were not evident when listening to the on-axis sound. This was noticeable when listening to Clooney/Tyminski’s voice in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Off axis, it sounds closed-in compared to the on-axis sound.

In terms of surround sound, the Paradigm ADP-170 v.3 managed to sound equally good when asked to provide surround envelopment or discrete surround effects. In contrast, the Dahlquist QX4 did not reproduce surround envelopment quite as well as the Paradigm ADP-170 v.3. I noticed this while watching the DVD Unbreakable. In chapter 22, Bruce Willis struggles underwater, and the sound of the water pans from front to back. With the Paradigm ADP-170 v.3, the sound of the water is continuous, but with the Dahlquist QX4, there is an audible gap between the front and the surround speakers.

Comparing subwoofers, the Paradigm PDR-12 excelled in producing huge amounts of bass. Although the Dahlquist QX125S is a good performer, when I cranked-up the volume during the opening scene from the DVD Dinosaur, the Paradigm PDR-12 moved my walls better than any inexpensive sub that I’ve had in my home. The foot stomps of the T-Rex were visceral with the Paradigm PDR-12. The Dahlquist QX125S could not match the Paradigm in this regard.

Conclusion

The Paradigm System Three.2 excels in many areas, such as purity of midrange, surround envelopment, and deep bass that you can feel. From its great looks to its great sound, there is little to fault with this system. Although you could spend much more and may get better performance, the Paradigm System Three.2 offers great sound at a remarkable list price of just $1676. If your room is medium sized, you may question your need to spend more, as I did. The Paradigm System Three.2 gets my highest recommendation.

Review System
Receiver - Outlaw Model 1050
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Rega Planar 3 turntable with Grado Prestige Silver cartridge
Cables - Sonic Horizons
Monitor - JVC 32" direct-view TV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

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

Website: www.paradigm.com

 


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