|Paradigm Focus / CC270 / ADP170 Speakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 August 2002|
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Music and Movies
While I primarily used the Focus speakers as part of a 5.1 theater system, I did a bit of two-channel listening as well. All my two-channel listening was done with the Focus speakers running full range and my M&K 350 MK II subwoofer ($1,899) turned off. The matching Paradigm subwoofer has yet to be released. After letting the speakers break in nonstop at low levels for a few days I listened to Sheryl Crow’s new album “c’mon, c’mon” (A&M Records). The sound was on the warm side, smooth with slightly rolled-off highs. The high end had more energy than some of the past Paradigms did, but slightly less than the recently reviewed PSB Alphas. The soundstage between the speakers was seamless, as you’d expect from a well-positioned $2,000 per pair, high-end electrostatic transducer. The depth of the stage extended all the way to the back wall of my theater room. The imaging did improve with the grilles removed, which is a phenomenon that I rarely find but proved to be the case with these Paradigms.
On the track “Soak Up The Sun,” Crow’s voice had a good sense of weight and sonic impact. Unlike nearly every speaker I have heard in this price range (including some Polks and especially Bose), the Paradigms didn’t try to tear your head off with flashy high-frequency performance. The soundstage was what you would want from a speaker of this price range, but the dynamics were far more exciting that I had expected.
I listened to Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” (Reprise Records). The Focus fared even better with this sparkling recording. Clapton’s voice on “Hey Hey” was reproduced without any chestiness that I noticed in the older Paradigm Phantoms. Clapton’s guitar handiwork on “Tears in Heaven” and “Before You Accuse Me” was recreated convincingly and it was only in the lower registers that the Focus’ size constraints were evident. As the frequencies dropped down low, the Focus’ lost some of the solidity it had in the upper registers. This is where successfully matching and crossing over a subwoofer to your system makes a big difference. There are simply physical limits as to how low a small speaker can go and when you allow it to do the highs and mids that a speaker like the Focus can do best, you get the best results. For low bass, you either need a huge physical speaker with big drivers or you need a subwoofer. I recommend the use of the sub.
Moving to 5.1 surround material, I auditioned Diana Krall’s “Love Scenes” (DTS / GRP Records) and immediately noticed that the Focus was more at ease with the low end being handled by a subwoofer. The crossover of my Krell 7.1 processor was set at 80 Hz. The CC-270 was a sonic match for the Focuses and may have actually been a bit more detailed. I found the transitions between the Focuses and the CC-270 to be virtually seamless. Krall’s voice, from the opening of the first track “All Or Nothing At All,” was wonderfully warm and robust in ways that you just don’t hear with most CDs. At higher volumes, the Focuses held up like champions, never losing their coherence on the surround material.
Moving over to feature film soundtracks, I demoed with a scene I used in my Paradigm Phantom review - the opening battle scene from “Saving Private Ryan” (Dreamworks / DTS). As the scene opened, with the waves crashing about, I noted that these Paradigms were true to their family tradition of coherence. They were able to provide an enveloping soundstage so engaging that, if you were blindfolded, you’d swear the speakers were far larger. As the battle raged on, I noted an element of sonic congestion with the Focus speakers, which could, at these extremely high levels, represent the limit of the speakers' output.
Keeping with the grand battle theme, I next watched the epic film “Gladiator” (Dreamworks/ DTS). The CC-270 continued to perform well, portraying voices articulately. The cocking of the catapults, panned cleanly from right to left, demonstrated the continuity between the Focus and CC-270 speakers to form a convincing front soundstage. The ADP-170s also continued to perform well, and nearly had me ducking the arrows flying from the battling archers. On "Gladiator," the system remained more composed at extreme volume levels, compared to the all-out opening sequence in "Saving Private Ryan."
While the Paradigm Focus speakers are sonically polite, their laid-back Canadian flavor doesn’t reach out and grab you as do comparably-priced speakers from B&W, for example. The Paradigms do sound better on a wider range of music and movies, but the B&Ws have more “wow” factor. If your main goal is to impress your neighbors with a quick demo, the Paradigm Focus speakers might be too subtle. If you are more interested in subtlety and surprising excellence during a long musical listening session or a two-hour feature film, then you will be interested investing in Paradigms.
Paradigm, with their new Focus v.3’s, continues to provide great bang for the buck performance and stellar value. You wouldn’t be crazy to compare them to speakers costing as much at $1,000 per pair. Their sonic qualities make them well suited for extended listening sessions or movie marathons. For true low-end performance, you will want a subwoofer to go along with the Focus speakers, which will free up the Focuses to do what they do best. At $299, the Paradigm Focus speakers are a must-hear in any speaker buying decision under $500 per pair.