|Paradigm Monitor Series 5.1 Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2003|
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To see how to Monitor 9s and the PW-2200 subwoofer would work as a two-channel audio system I decided to audition some current funk/dance music. Beginning with the modern disco band Jamiroquai, I fired up one of my favorite tracks, “Canned Heat,” from the CD Synkronized. The low synth bass throbbed as low as the NASDAQ in late 2002, while singer Jay Kay’s Stevie Wonder-inspired vocals anchored themselves firmly in the middle of the soundstage. To see how just the Monitor 9s would do without the assistance of the sub, I took it out of the loop for several passes through the tune. By themselves, the eight-inch low/mid drivers on the Monitor 9s get a better than passing grade, but to really get into the groove of dance music like Jamiroquai, you’re going to want to keep the subwoofer in your rig.
Next came the jazzy rocker Blood Sweat and Tears Greatest Hits (Columbia), with the horn-filled classic “Spinning Wheel.” This silly song has always been a guilty pleasure for me with its blaring, vibrato horns and calliope-esque ending. This is an older recording that is certainly not the most high-resolution track I’ve ever heard, most notably lacking low end, even with the subwoofer’s crossover set fairly high. The thing that impressed me most about the Monitor 9 was how each instrument was easy to distinguish. I once took a class in music school where we were given the assignment to count all of the instruments in particular recordings. Not only could I hear each instrument, I could hear many of the subtle details that each musician was playing. On this track and even many of the other, lesser-known ones on this album, the Monitor 9s made music that I had forgotten about become fun again, listening to parts that were seemingly simply not there on lower-end speakers. The only time when I lost track of the individual musical parts was during the distorted guitar heavy track “Go Down Gambling.” This was primarily a function of the dirty, nasty guitar tones on this lowdown dirty tune and a subwoofer that may be a little too much for my oddly shaped room.
The CC-370 $359 and ADP-370s $699 were getting lonely with all this stereo music going on, so it was time to break out some DVD-Audio discs and see how the system handled multi-channel surround music. As good as the 16-bit stereo discs sounded on the system, it was as if cotton were removed from my ears as I spun up DTS’ beautifully recoded disc Brazilian Jazz (DTS Entertainment). I’ve often found the all-digital recording of modern fusion jazz (i.e., almost anything from the GRP catalog) to be a little stale and cold. I wouldn’t classify this album as fusion jazz per se, but the instrumentation and tones of the instruments recall these types of recording. However, in 24-bit MLP surround, this type of music really comes alive. By its very nature, Brazilian music relies heavily on percussion and it seems as if the ADP-370s rears were made to replicate the sound of shakers, wood blocks, cowbells and any other percussion instrument that you can think of. On the track “Rua Japeri,” a shaker moves around the room with creative panning that didn’t feel disjointed as it moved from speaker to speaker. Being a drummer myself, I was impressed by the realism of the cymbal tones from high-frequency drivers. Rarely have I ever heard a recorded splash cymbal sound so real, even on the most expensive speakers I’ve ever heard.
After giving the Monitors a good workout with some jazz, it was time for some alternative college radio rock in REM’s Automatic For the People (WMG DVD-Audio) (see review here). Not being huge REM fan, I wanted to see if these speakers could help me better enjoy a disc that I was fairly familiar with but not overly excited about. The combination of the higher-than-CD-resolution DVD-Audio format and the solid performance on REM’s pop hit “Man On the Moon.” Use of the song as the title track for the Jim Carrey movie about the life of the late comedian Andy Kaufman brought new life to the tune. The even, well-rounded temperament of the Monitors suited both the music and Michael Stipe's vocals quite well. The highs weren’t harsh and the mids, despite not being absolutely crystal clear, were still smooth and punchy. The tone of Peter Buck’s guitar was distinct and full-bodied like his fourteenth glass of merlot on that flight from Seattle to Heathrow.
One of the cheesiest clichés used when talking about speakers in a home theater system is to say that they “seemed to disappear.” Due to the fact that the Monitor 9s and the CC-370 are pretty sizeable black boxes next to my TV, combined with the fact that they aren’t hidden behind fabric walls, it’s pretty much impossible to forget that they are there. But what they do well in a home theater application is avoid calling attention to themselves by imposing their own sonic coloration on the dialog and sound effects. There is nothing worse than when you are watching a DVD or video and the speakers make the actors sound like they are hiding inside the cabinets. With their very neutral characteristics, none of the speakers in this system ever got in the way of the audio tracks and that is what I appreciated most about them.
Starting with one of the best comic book to big screen adaptations since Christopher Reeve donned tights and a cape, “X-Men” has been given the royal treatment by Fox on “X-Men 1.5.” I thought, what better test for a home theater than to see how the Paradigms do with this film? Beginning with the aforementioned THX intro, and on through countless punches, kicks, slashes and explosions, “X-Men” is a film that will be a real exercise for any home theater system, especially with the DTS audio track available for the first time on this reissue of the film. For the next two hours, I sat watching mutants battling each other to save the world, forgetting about the speakers, only remembering they were there because I was conscious of attending to them for this review.
Next up on the DVD player was “Back to the Future” (Universal Studios Home Video). This totally ‘80s classic comedy/action/adventure film features a cameo and several tunes by Mr. ‘80s himself, Huey Lewis. When Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) makes his first leap back into 1955 while Doc Brown (Chrisophter Lloyd) is being shot at by Libyan terrorists, the soundtrack on the DVD gets pretty heavy, but it was no problem for the Monitors. From the Huey Lewis and the News tunes, to the retro songs from the ‘50s, to Marty McFly introducing the world to Van Halen-like guitar licks 25 years prematurely, music is a big part of the film. Again, the Monitors didn’t flinch. The dialogue in both “Back to the Future” and “X-Men” was clean and well-rounded thanks to the CC-370’s even temperament and I didn’t need to ride the volume during the quieter portions of the films, which is exactly what I want from a center channel speaker.
TiVo and Live Television
I like to take a very real-world approach to reviewing equipment, and the most real-world application I could think of was to see how the Monitor system performed with my TiVo in Dolby Digital recorded from my Dish Network satellite. Like the microwave, I can think of few other inventions that have bettered my life so much as the TiVo, so I felt compelled to see how the Monitors handed my weekend viewing lineup, including the U.S. Open golf tournament, “Crank Yankers” and the FX police drama “The Shield.” By the time I get home from work, it’s usually late enough that I have to keep things down at my place. When watching TiVo, this means that it is very important that the center channel be able to reproduce dialogue effectively at low volumes.
In past systems of mine that were underpowered and featured inefficient speakers, I found myself using the TV’s stereo output to mix in the right amount of volume. In the end, I found this to be such a hassle that after 10 PM, I would only use the TV’s built-in speakers. As they are larger towers, the Monitor 9s didn’t come to life at low levels as well as the less power-hungry center channel did, but this was to be expected. Testing both the digital and then the analog outs on my TiVo, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could easily hear Special Ed’s famous “Yeah! I wanna go to Hawaii” crank call, even with the Kenwood barely pushing out any juice to the CC-370. The Latin-influenced, bombastic opening song to my current favorite drama on television, “The Shield,” came through crystal clear at low volumes, and really came to life when I gave the speakers some more gas.