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I started the most critical part of the evaluation by only listening to the Signature S8 v.3 speakers in two-channel mode using the Denon AVP-A1HDC1 A/V processor in “direct mode” as preamp with the Krell Evolution 403 as amplifier. The sometimes-haunting voice of Annie Lennox on A Thousand Beautiful Things seemed to float in front of the speakers, creating a broad, layered soundstage. It had a natural, organic sound. Lennox’s voice was as melodic as ever I’ve heard it and strings had excellent tonal quality. The Signature S8 v.3 speakers are as true to the source as any others I’ve had in my listening room with completely uncolored sound. Lennox has the ability to sing with the most gentle, angelic voice in one breath, and then sound like a dominatrix in the next. A perfect example is Pavement Cracks. These speakers handled both the delicate sounds and dynamic peaks equally well with no compression. Their effortless sound created an extraordinary sense of space like very few dynamic speakers I’ve heard at any price. In many ways, their sound reminded me of the Revel Salon speakers, but for less than half the cost.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending a live Dave Matthews Band performance and the next CD I listened to was Dave Matthews Band’s Busted Stuff, choosing the song Digging a Ditch. The sound of Matthews’ voice had a very natural, open quality, and the speakers imaged so well that I had to double-check to make sure my center speaker wasn’t playing. Dave’s vocals came alive and the speakers created an immensely wide, seamless soundstage. Next, I listened to “Bartender” from the same Dave Matthews CD and was again impressed by the natural timber of Matthews’ guitar strumming and the Signature S8 v.3 speaker’s ability to reveal the complexity of this musical number. I could hear guitars, drums, flute, sax and violin, all with very distinct clarity that lent itself to a very convincing presentation.
The Beryllium tweeter’s high frequency extension is excellent, midrange quality pure, and bass quality was tight, forceful and never bloated. I happen to have a pair of the new Cerwin Vega XLS-215 speakers in my listening room, so I made some comparisons. This is a larger speaker with different design goals, and it lacks the technological and cosmetic refinements of the Signature S8 v.3, but for $1,200 per pair it’s ridiculously good. More to come on these speakers at a later date.
The last CD I listened to was Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head and the song The Scientist. This song starts with a beautiful, slow piano solo that the speakers reproduced with all the harmonic texture and realism of speakers costing twice as much. I heard every detail of Martin’s voice and even his breath – clearly a strength of this loudspeaker. The next song I listened to was “Warning Sign.” I was again reminded of this speaker’s ability to convey a sense of realism, emotion and natural presence.
Next up, I decided to try the Paradigm Reference Signature Series system for movie watching. I started with the Gladiator Blu-ray. The epic starring Russell Crowe looked amazing via the Vivitek H9080FD projector and sounded incredible through the Reference Signature Series v.3 speakers. From the gentle pluck of guitar strings to the dramatic Battle of Carthage the speakers had the ability to reproduce unrivaled detail and believable dynamics. I had the sense of being right there in the middle of the battlefield, with the sound of bows twanging and arrows whizzing by overhead.
Dialogue from the C5 V.3 center speaker was always clear, even during the loudest battle scenes. There was perfect continuity as sound panned back and forth in-between the front three speakers, and I was never distracted because of mismatched sound differences. The dipole ADP 3 v.3 surround speakers did a wonderful job with creating a defuse rear soundstage. The SUB 25 isn’t small, but it has the low frequency extension and visceral slam of a much larger subwoofer. It made anything not bolted-down rattle or buss, including doors and furniture.
I then watched the Minority Report Blu-ray, which is an aggressively mixed soundtrack. All channels were active for most of the movie, which created a 360-degree soundfield that completely drew me into the movie and John Williams’ score was beautifully rendered with a huge, open soundstage. Yes, from every discrete effect to every subtle ambient sound, the Paradigm Reference Signature Series system performed as one of the very best I’ve had the pleasure to hear in my listening room…regardless of price.
With a 25 year history of building products with a strong performance to value relationship, Paradigm has now proven its ability to improve a design several times over. It should be very proud of this latest v.3 iteration that includes state-of-the-art components like pure beryllium tweeters, injection-molded, mineral-filled, polypropylene bass cones, and beautiful piano finishes. Whether it’s delicate audiophile sounds or bombastic movie effects, Paradigm has proven it can still build world-class speakers for affordable prices.