|Paradigm Signature S8 v.2 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Monday, 01 October 2007|
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Music And Movies
I decided to start things off by being “nice” to the Signature S8 v.2s. Normally, I start my evaluations by throwing on some hard rock or metal in my attempts to punish the speakers into submission, or sometime worse, failure. However, lately I’ve been in a rather chill mood, so I opted for John Mayer’s independent acoustic release, Inside Wants Out (Sony). While not a musical juggernaut in terms of bass, dynamics and scale, Inside Wants Out is extremely well recorded, if a little raw, and features a wonderful midrange and vocal track. On “My Stupid Mouth,” the first thing I noticed was the Signature S8 v.2s’ presence. The speakers themselves audibly disappeared, as Mayer seemingly appeared, center stage, true to life in nearly every way when compared to the live experience. Okay, he was a bit larger-sounding than had he actually been in my living room, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to crank the volume a bit. Mayer’s vocal presence was well-anchored (just a hair left of center) and full-bodied, possessing tremendous air and detail between him and the guitar resting on his leg. I know he was sitting, because I could clearly hear his stool creaking. While this is not necessarily a dynamic song, in that it won’t rock the foundation of your home, the subtle dynamic shifts were presented without incident and were handled delicately and accurately, making the Signature S8 v.2s more honed scalpel than dull sword. The midrange was silky smooth with no signs of grain, excess warmth or bloating. In the past, I’ve found some earlier Paradigm speakers to be a bit energetic, but with the Signature S8 v.2s, this was absolutely not the case. They still beamed high frequencies, but in no way was it annoying or harsh sounding. I would suggest your room and placement would have more to do with changes to the sound of the speakers than their overall audio flavor.
About halfway through this review, I received Bel Canto’s newest integrated amplifier, the e.One S300iu. When I swapped it for my Mark Levinson two-channel gear, nearly all of the Signature S8 v.2s’ sonic shortcomings seemingly disappeared. The touch of added “zing” on the treble smoothed out and the lower midrange, especially throughout the lower octaves of the Mayer’s guitar, filled out nicely. It seems, despite all the technology and wizardry in today’s modern consumer electronics, there is no getting around proper system and equipment matching. By the way, the idea of powering the Signature S8 v.2s with something like a Bel Canto integrated amp ($1,995) and getting true reference quality sound only further solidifies the value the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s represent in the world of high end.
Satisfied that the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s could be gentle yet still incredibly musical when need be, I decided to up the ante a bit and cued up Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs (Sony). On the title track, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” the Signature S8 v.2s’ soundstage was what grabbed me first; it was epic, accurately extending beyond my front wall and well beyond the far edges of the speakers themselves. The bass was equally impressive, providing the track (and my tastes) with rock solid punch and detail that had me questioning the need for a subwoofer for stereo music playback. The Signature S8 v.2s proved to be extremely agile dynamically, despite their large size, bass prowess and multiple driver arrays. The speakers’ crossovers and control over not only the instruments but the drivers themselves further enhanced the Signature S8 v.2s’ sheer dynamic prowess. No detail, no matter how minute, escaped the Signature S8 v.2s’ reproduction capabilities. The Signature S8 v.2s are detail whores, but despite the issues of other devil’s-in-the-details-type speakers, the Signature S8 v.2s were never fatiguing. On the contrary, the Signature S8 v.2s were easy to listen to and among the most fun reference speakers I’ve heard in a long time. When the track got down and dirty during the climatic buildup where Ben Folds threatens to drop the F-bomb by dropping the F-bomb, the resulting onslaught of guitars and pounding piano was handled beautifully, if one can call such a raw display of musicality beautiful. The guitars were visceral, crunchy and driving, with such force you’d be hard-pressed to experience it through a lesser speaker.
Switching to the track entitled “Losing Lisa,” the Signature S8 v.2s once again had a chance to show their softer side. While “Losing Lisa” is far from an acoustic performance, it’s more or less an ensemble ballad, complete with a taut drum kit, grand piano and wonderful vocals. The kick drum was rendered faithfully and resonated plenty deep for my tastes. It was also very nicely detailed, allowing me to hear the weight of each impact from the mallet against the skins. Staying with the trap set for a moment, the cymbals and cymbal crashes were stunning. Shimmering for days with tremendous air, sparkle and ultimate decay, the cymbals’ reproduction through the Signature S8 v.2s solidified my impression that the new updated tweeter was not only a vast improvement over the old but now rivaled some of the best ever. The piano was equally as impressive, sounding full, rich and lively, while remaining incredibly lifelike in tonality, scale and weight. The Signature S8 v.2s really embody what a true full-range speaker is all about and do so with very few, if any, drawbacks.
While this review was meant to solely be a two-channel review, I couldn’t resist spinning a few higher-resolution discs and high-definition movies, even if only in stereo, to see how the Signature S8 v.2s handled the extra resolution. Once such demo of note was the Monster Music DVD of Three Doors Down’s Away From the Sun Live from Houston Texas (Monster Music). Track Four, “Father’s Son,” proved to be a tour de force for the Signature S8 v.2s. With the high-resolution stereo option selected, the Signature S8 v.2s’ presentation improved dramatically. I say “dramatically” because I had already made up my mind that the Signature S8 v.2s were terrific speakers, but what I hadn’t realized was that they were capable of so much more. If I may digress just a little more, those of you still holding out about adopting the higher-resolution audio formats such as Monster’s own SuperDisc or DVD-Audio and SACD need to stop it now. There is no excuse. The higher-quality files and superior mastering found on most of the hi-res audio formats is what high-end audio and speakers such as the Signature S8 v.2s are all about. While the speakers are no slouches in the traditional stereo sense, the higher-resolution playback through the Signature S8 v.2s was eye-opening. The cymbals sounded even more three-dimensional with each strike and the added air and decay made them sound more like the real thing than anything shy of my $20,000 Meridian in-walls ever has. The beryllium tweeter in the Signature S8 v.2 was amazing and so pure that, even when punishing it to the breaking point, it doesn’t punish back. The lower registers, from the lower mid-bass down to the regions usually reserved for a subwoofer, were epic. The depths that the Signature S8 v.2s’ drivers are capable of exploring are staggering. I’m sure a sub would only aid in the speakers’ overall richness and tonality, but it’s nice to know that the absence of a sub doesn’t rob the music or the performance of anything. The vocals were the least effected when switching to higher-resolution audio. The soundstage, on the other hand, tightened up and grew noticeably. Again, not to take away from the Signature S8 v.2s’ two-channel performance, but the added information was put to good use, resulting in an even clearer, more defined and spacious soundstage. My only wish when listening to the Signature S8 v.2s with high-resolution audio was that I had Paradigm’s matching center and rears on hand for a full multi-channel experience. Sadly, when I attempted such a feat by mating the Signature S8 v.2s with my Meridian in-walls, the sound didn’t quite gel enough for my liking. Both are good speakers, but very different in sound. However, one could put together a Paradigm Signature multi-channel speaker system for far less than my Meridian reference speakers, which again speaks to the absolute killer value the Paradigm Signature speakers represent.
I ended my time with the Signature S8 v.2s with the newly released HD DVD of Hot Fuzz (Universal Studios Home Video). One of my favorite comedies of the last year, Hot Fuzz truly has it all and the HD DVD release is one for the books. Skipping ahead to climatic gun fight between Simon Pegg , Nick Frost and the entire town proved to be nothing but great fun for the Signature S8 v.2s. The gunfire was visceral, if a little enhanced for effect (hey, this is a spoof, after all), and the Signature S8 v.2s didn’t miss a beat. When Pegg and Frost barreled through the door of the local pub, the subsequent shotgun fire from the pub owner was deep enough to be felt in my chest without the help of a subwoofer. Every detail and ricochet was rendered beautifully, with such a wide and enveloping soundstage that the Signature S8 v.2s’ presentation didn’t leave me longing for a complete 5.1 set-up the way I thought it would. In fact, the Signature S8 v.2s’ center image was so resolute there were times I thought I must have had my Meridian center turned on. Dialogue, the pulse of any film, was clear and intelligible even with roaring gunplay and in the absence of a center speaker. If I were tight on space or budget, I wouldn’t be ashamed to mate a killer high-definition display to a capable receiver and hi-def source to the Signature S8 v.2s and call it a home theater. I’m not kidding.