|Paradigm Signature S8 Series Home Theater System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.|
|Wednesday, 01 June 2005|
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As previously mentioned, I considered the Signature line a somewhat risky undertaking for Paradigm. To make the comparison of differences even more relevant, I directly auditioned the Signature home theater loudspeakers vs. the Studio Reference-based system I reviewed last year. Since the S8’s driver complement and cosmetics are so similar to the 100s, I was curious to what degree of significance the overall performance variation would be. I also assessed whether the considerable increase in cost over the 100s would be justifiable. At these prices, you are entering into the law of diminishing returns to some extent.
As Paradigm states, the Signatures are designed to be used with the grilles on and indeed they sounded noticeably worse and rawer naked. In stereo mode, the S8s are wonderfully detailed and transparent, clearly more so to my ears than the more affordable 100s. On “Philo,” from bassist Victor Krauss’ Far From Enough (Nonesuch), guitarist Bill Frisell’s trademark, almost slightly flat guitar eerily played against Krauss’ bass and sister Alison’s background vocals, removing any indication that I was listening to loudspeakers. This disappearing act was something the Signatures consistently achieved with a variety of sources throughout the evaluation period. Although the S8s sounded great sans subwoofer on Krauss’ interesting, dirge-like cover of Robert Plant’s “Big Log,” the addition of the Servo subwoofer created an unrestrained, subterranean feel that the S8s by themselves could not quite duplicate, enhancing the layered effect of Alison’s restrained vocals and Victor’s unadulterated bass line .
I will restrain from waxing poetic ad nauseam with specific details about the entire Signature system’s performance and simply offer my global impressions, which never wavered, regardless of music or film source genre. This approach is actually quite consistent with my lasting sentiments about the Signatures. Throughout an impressive plethora of cymbal crashes, explosions, guitar riffs, etc., the Signatures always sounded right, natural and non-fatiguing, regardless of how spectacular or mundane the source material was. Rather than spending my evaluation time documenting specific things I liked or disliked, I simply enjoyed whatever music or movie experience I was immersed in. The integration among the various loudspeakers was impeccable, a common thread throughout all of Paradigm’s loudspeaker line. The C5 center channel was extremely synergistic and indistinct as a separate source, even when playing loudly. In fact, I often found myself checking to make certain it was on. This was especially evident during DVD playback, even with older, non-notable soundtracks such as that of “Solaris” (20th Century Fox). At the close of this film, the music was so alluring and delicious through the Signatures that I sat through the entire final credits, something I seldom feel compelled to do.
Despite the fact the ADP surrounds are not configured as monopoles, they held up very well, even with multi-channel music sources that have direct sounds emanating from the surround channels. A good example is the spectacular “Blackest Eyes" from the DVD-A version of Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia (Lava Records), a 2004 Surround Sound Music Award winner. Of course, the ADPs, as well as the entire Signature system, were excellent at reproducing the ambience in concert videos, such as David Bowie’s Reality Tour (Columbia Records). The Paradigms were never fatiguing, always detailed and realistic, so much so that I listened to tons of music and watched scores of DVDs during the last few months.
The Signature Servo subwoofer sounds bottomless, as a reference subwoofer should. It feels like you have hardly tapped the power and low frequency extension capabilities that are at your disposal, like driving a Ferrari at 80 miles per hour. This was evident on any source with considerable low-frequency content and certainly in action movies. Of late, my home theater has been the location of countless demonstrations of video and music reproduction. One scene that always seems to make the rounds is the opening of “Master and Commander” (Twentieth Century Fox), when a false calm is broken as cannonballs from the bigger, faster and stronger French privateer Acheron come blistering across and into the HMS Surprise’s deck. The sonic contrast between the ferocious battle and the preceding low-level sound effects and dialogue is astounding. The impact is stunning and uncompressed through the Paradigm Signatures, even at very high levels, scaring many an unsuspecting viewer while bringing home the horror and bloodshed and shock of the ship to ship combat.