|Paradigm SA-35/SA-15R In-wall/ceiling Speakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers In-wall Loudspeakers|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Wednesday, 01 September 2004|
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The Music and Movies
To round off the theater system, I used the Paradigm Reference SA-35s ($1,400 per pair) in the front, a pair of SA-15R ceiling-mounted speakers in the rear ($670 per pair) and the Paradigm CC-470 center channel speaker ($650 each). For electronics, I used the Kenwood Sovereign VR-5900 receiver and impressive Linn UNIDISK 1.1.
I started testing with some Yes from their Fragile classic DVD-Audio release (Elektra). This recording is one of the better DVD-Audio releases to date and serves as a worthy musical reference, considering how many times the DVD-Audio title has been played in my big theater. During the opening cut “Roundabout,” Steve Howe’s guitar intro was surprisingly transparent and detailed. Jon Anderson’s vocals were impactful and immediate, yet had a sweet and relaxed feel. My immediate reaction was that the SA-35s sounded remarkably like larger box speakers and very much like the Paradigm Studio 80s that I reviewed years back. In the track “Long Distance Runaround,” the SA-35s managed to capture the emotion very well. The vocals had a great sense of depth and ease. Although this was a wall-mounted speaker, it became clear that this wasn’t some repackaged mass market in-wall, but was rather a legitimate option for those who simply don’t have the space or are looking for a space-conscious solution.
To test the bass and the SA-35s’ ability to handle rock, I loaded up Foreigner 4 once again on DVD-Audio (Atlantic). Although Foreigner has always been a guilty pleasure for me (this means that I like it but only admit it to my closest friends), it serves up some heavy low-end energy. In the cut “Jukebox Hero,” the SA-35s managed to separate the instruments very well, given the ‘70s genre recording. The low end was powerful and had substantial punch. I am someone who once believed that even smaller box speakers were an unthinkable compromise, but the SA-35s had me thinking otherwise. I was able to sit back for detailed listening and achieve a solid stage and real-time dynamics. In the hit song “Urgent,” the sound was as big as any comparably-priced floor stander, yet the performance in many ways was better than some I have reviewed. Although it’s been a while since the review, the SA-35s sound as good as the Paradigm Studio 80s, with the only possible limitation in comparison being less positional adjustment with the in-wall speakers. They are that good.
I loaded up Al Green’s Greatest Hits (Hi Records DVD-Audio). This recording is not audiophile perfect due to its age, but I wanted to test for the SA-35s emotional connection and their ability to involve me at the highest volume levels. I cranked my system up to “11” ala Nigel in “This Is Spinal Tap” and the SA-35s held strong. I played this track on my $4,000 Revel F30s (now replaced by the slimmer F32s being reviewed by Ben Shyman), then the $1,800 Definitive Technology 7002s and then back to the SA-35s. I felt that although the Revels F30s had a little more focus to the stage due to the positional flexibility, the SA-35s held their own and sounded decisively transparent and lush. This is a big compliment to an in-wall speaker system. Were they as good as the aforementioned speakers? In many ways, the answer is yes. The SA-35s have great bass and midrange performance and a grain-free, liquid-sounding high end.
The T-Rex scene in “Jurassic Park” (Universal DVD) is a great test of detail, low-end power and control. I ran the Paradigm in-wall 5.1 package without the use of a sub and was impressed with the tooth rattling low end, even without a sub. As the T-Rex peers into the car at the frightened children, the low frequency rumble was articulate and detailed. Sound effects from around the room were remarkably energizing. Having watched this on dozens of theater systems, I felt the same emotional connection that I feel from floor-standing box speakers. There clearly was little if any loss from the lack of box.
When looking for an adrenaline rush, I often reach for the intro to “Toy Story 2” (Disney/Pixar). I love the scene where Buzz descends from space and glides into what appears as an uninhabited planet. The large bass booms were controlled well. Very notable, the SA-35s managed to provide all the information both uncompressed and unstrained. If I closed my eyes, it would have not been apparent that these were flush-mounted speakers.