|Paradigm Studio 100 v.3 Home Theater Loudspeaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.|
|Thursday, 01 January 2004|
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One of the regrets of my youth is never taking the initiative to see Led Zeppelin in concert. I was absolutely overjoyed when the double live Led Zeppelin DVD (Superhype Tapes Ltd./Atlantic) was released a few months back. Now that I finally had the opportunity to rectify the situation, I was undoubtedly the first on my block with that rocking in my home theater. This concert DVD was one of the first things I played after installing the Paradigm home theater loudspeakers in my system and it kept finding its way back into my DVD players. This is a first-rate-sounding DVD, which is somewhat surprising to me, given the age of the recordings. The Paradigms convey the magic and uniqueness of the moment as guitarist Jimmy Page bows and swats his strings during “Dazed and Confused.” John Bonham was in my face as he thwacked his drum kit in a frenzy, reminding me just how great a drummer he was. The crowd was evident in the surrounds, but not distracting or over-exaggerated. Robert Plant’s vocals showed off the CC-570 center channel’s dynamic capability and synergy, clearly integrating the video and audio stimulus.
I always look forward to new animated DVDs from Pixar, such as the recently released “Finding Nemo.” They never fail to please me, as well as my children, always providing excellent home theater loudspeaker evaluation tools. Throughout this film, all of the loudspeakers interfaced well, painting a seamless, realistic background of underwater noises, bubbles and waves. The Paradigm Reference Studio 100-based system provided a very realistic, continuous ambience, making me feel as if I was submerged in midst of the scenes, not just a distant spectator. The integration of the Paradigm loudspeakers, and particularly the ADP-470 surrounds, was further tested when action erupted and moved rapidly around the listening space. These non-direct surround loudspeakers, which had already proved so adept at providing ambient sounds, were just as capable when asked to deliver explosive, direct sounds. They are timbre-matched extremely well with the front trio of loudspeakers. When viewing scenes such as Bruce the Shark chasing the fish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the action is fast and furious. The bone-jarring smashes and clangs come from all directions, with little discernable differences in timbre, regardless of which loudspeaker is the main source. The culmination of this exciting scene features the detonation of an entire minefield, and the Paradigms are capable of just about bringing the house down with little compression, even when near-reference levels were asked for. Impressively, the soundstage shrinks from a swirl of activity to virtually nothing as the scene abruptly switches above the water surface, creating a testament to the dynamic range capabilities of the Paradigm 100-based system. A film such as “Finding Nemo” demands well-integrated loudspeakers, which the Paradigms certainly are. It is the subtle sounds and the integration of audio and visual stimulation that make the difference in a film such as this.
When I set up a multi-channel audio system, the first thing I normally do is listen and optimize two-channel sources. Once that is right, I have a solid sonic foundation upon which I can place and blend the subwoofer, center channel and surround speakers. The Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Gold remaster of Pink Floyd’s The Wall was one of the first things I played after the initial break-in period. This rock masterpiece is one I know well. It has a lot of variety in textures, sounds and dynamics, which serve to flush out the strengths and weaknesses in a system. “Comfortably Numb” reduced me to the predictable mass of slobbering goo, complete with chills, especially after guitarist David Gilmour’s classic solo. There was good weight throughout this disc, the low end nicely balanced if not quite as defined as the best I have heard. As is always the case, bass performance is so room- and placement-dependent that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between room-based or loudspeaker-based causes. This album is full of interesting non-musical noises – planes, helicopters, knocks and such – which are clearly reproduced and placed, even in cases where the effects are low-level and subtle. As I really cranked the volume, a bit of fatigue or bite crept in occasionally during sections with significant high-frequency content. Note that this is in comparison to the very best transducers I am familiar with, with normally higher price tags.
Moving on to multi-channel sources, I tried Everything Must Go (Reprise), the newest DVD-Audio disc from Steely Dan, the masters of juxtaposing upbeat music with varied and often bitter or cynical lyrical themes. This very high quality recording may not be as accessible initially as their previous release, Two Against Nature. Although it is not quite as full of catchy pop rock phrases, it is a collection with much diversity that I suspect I will prefer over the long haul. Even Walter Becker takes a rare turn on lead vocals in the funky, danceable “Slang of Ages.” Throughout this disc, many cuts make prominent use of the surrounds, but the overall feel is not in your face. Instead, it is rather subtle and relaxing from song to song, while still being detailed and snappy enough to keep you alert. While playing this disc, I listened to the Studio 100s and CC-570 both with and without the front grilles in place. I assume that the Studio v.3 series loudspeakers were designed for use with grilles, and indeed, I did prefer them that way in most instances. With the grilles removed, there was a bit of extra edge, causing some listening fatigue after a relatively short period of time. Replacing the grilles allowed the muscles in my neck to relax and the music to flow, without leaving me desiring any more detail or delicacy. The Paradigm home theater system sounded superb on “Godwacker,” powerful, airy, very spacious and dynamic. This cut was satisfying even at low levels, which I believe to be a reliable barometer and measure of a balanced, accurate loudspeaker. Despite what I just said, it was impossible not to crank up this song and let the Paradigms rip. The mix is focused on the front channels, but contains enough information in the rears to demonstrate the excellent integration of the entire Paradigm system. The center channel disappeared as a separate distinguishable source once I optimized its placement and calibrated the level, capable of delicacy, as well as force. The high frequencies subtly came alive on the occasional cymbals and percussion snaps. The title cut features a very impressive mix of the surround channels, which are used aggressively without pulling the focus away from the front channels, with their brash saxophone, punchy drums and lead guitar. The ADP-470s excelled on this cut, giving me just enough rhythm guitar flairs and background keyboards to keep the presentation spacious and to hold my interest.