|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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There are a number of very successful and highly respected loudspeaker designers and manufacturers who can trace their origins to the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. Although Paradigm no longer uses the NRC testing facilities, their design philosophies have their roots in the groundbreaking research performed at the NRC in the 1980s, dealing with listener preferences and their relationships with various loudspeaker measurements and traits. The highly successful Paradigm Electronics Inc. is now one of the largest speaker manufacturers in the Western Hemisphere, with some of the most advanced and extensive test facilities anywhere. In the summer of 2003, Paradigm introduced the third iteration of their popular and acclaimed Reference Studio series, appropriately dubbed v.3. The complete home theater loudspeaker system reviewed here utilizes the Studio 100s ($2,200 per pair) as the cornerstone main loudspeakers, a single Studio CC-570 ($800 each) center channel, and a pair of Studio ADP-470 ($950 per pair) as rear surround speakers. I originally intended to include a pair of Paradigm’s brand new Seismic series subwoofers, but they were not available in time for this review. For all 5.1 music and DVD sections, I employed a Revel Performa B-15 subwoofer, a very capable performer that certainly augments the Paradigms in a favorable manner.
The floor-standing 100 v.3 is at the top of the Reference Studio line. This is a major change from previous versions, both aesthetically and in terms of transducers and configurations. The cabinet is more attractive and unobtrusive in my opinion than earlier iterations, measuring a slender and graceful eight-and-one-quarter inches wide by 44 inches high by 17 inches deep. The slightly smaller Studios 100 v.3s are lighter than their predecessors, but still weigh a substantial 81 pounds each. When I tapped the side panel, however, I did not find them to be as inert as some other loudspeakers I have seen, though this is not necessarily an indicator of sound quality. The Paradigms are still a three-way design, with a flared port approximately three-and-one-half inches in diameter located near the bottom of the front panel. Starting at the top, a one-inch satin-anodized pure aluminum dome tweeter sits just under the curved top panel, followed by a seven-inch MLP™ mica-polymer cone midrange driver. A trio of seven-inch woofers located above the port completes the driver complement. Four outrigger feet with optional spikes or rounded rubber tips gently curve out from the base, forming a wider, stable and attractive interface to the floor or carpet. The combination of the feet and the curved top makes for a softer, less boxy feel. Two sets of very high-quality binding posts on the lower back panel allow bi-wiring or bi-amping if desired. Angled shorting strips that fit neatly between the binding post pairs are included for normal, single cable interfacing. The Studio 100 v.3s come with black grilles and a variety of finishes, including Sycamore, Cherry, Rosenut and Black Ash. I was very pleased with the look of the Black Ash review samples, which received a number of positive comments from various visitors over the last few months.
The three-way CC-570 is the top-of-the-line center channel speaker in the Paradigm Reference Studio series. It is physically large at 26 inches wide by nine inches high by 13 inches deep, and weighs a fairly hefty 45 pounds. The sealed box design features dual seven-inch mineral-filled polypropylene cone woofers, flanking a vertically aligned one-inch satin-anodized pure aluminum dome tweeter and a seven-inch MLP™ mica-polymer cone midrange driver. This arrangement normally results in better horizontal dispersion than a sideways oriented woofer-tweeter-woofer configuration, which is extremely important for a center channel loudspeaker. The rather boxy cabinet’s looks are somewhat softened by the convex black grille that also features curved outer edges. Outrigger feet similar to the Studio 100s are supplied, which can be installed in various combinations to point the loudspeaker axis directly towards the listener, whether straight ahead, up or down. Threaded spikes with pointed or rounded rubber tips are provided, allowing for a variety of mounting options. The bi-wire and bi-amp-friendly CC-570 features the same excellent dual binding post pairs as the Studio 100s. It is available in four finishes, Sycamore, Cherry, Rosenut and Black Ash, which was the review sample’s finish. Paradigm also offers an optional stand for the CC-570, the J-18C, priced at $249.
The ADP-470 surround loudspeakers are designed to be placed directly along side or rear walls. They are timbre-matched to the Paradigm Reference front and center channel loudspeakers. These four-driver, two-way units are enclosed in a symmetric triangulated cabinet, with an identical woofer and tweeter on both the forward and rear faces. The crossover configures them as bipolar below approximately 150 Hz for omni-directional bass, and as dipoles at higher frequencies. The ADP 470s are also capable of being bi-wired or bi-amped, a rare feature for a surround loudspeaker. Grille cloths cover the driver cabinet sides, and the outward facing edges are rounded, making them quite attractive and room décor-friendly. The 12 inches high by 13 inches wide by seven-and-seven-eighths inches deep ADP-470s weigh 26 pounds each, and are available in Black Ebony or White finish.
As a starting point, I placed the Paradigm Reference Studio loudspeakers in my main home theater system in the same locations normally occupied by my reference system. While I was immediately impressed with many aspects of the sound, overall it did not completely jell or cause my jaw to drop. Indeed, this was partially based on my very high expectations, but I felt strongly that they needed some work and break-in to fulfill their potential and my hopes. I used them for a number of weeks without paying critical attention, playing a lot of movies and concerts, using them as much as possible to break them in before I formed any detailed sonic impressions. Things eventually improved and evolved. The highs largely lost any fatiguing bite and the midrange was smooth and musical. Still, there were some things that were not quite right, so I started with stereo sources played through the cornerstone of the home theater system, the main left and right Studio 100 loudspeakers. First of all, the highs were not as detailed as I expected, present but not spectacular. As a friend of mine who is a loudspeaker designer and I sat in the primary listening chairs one afternoon, we noticed that the tweeter axis was actually pointing above our heads. We used the Paradigm-supplied spikes and raised the rears of the Studio 100s until our ears were directly in line with the gap between the midrange and tweeter. Now the highs were back, detailed, sparkling and airy, the best highs I can recall hearing from any previous Studio series loudspeaker.
Moving all the way down in frequency to the bass, I was dismayed by the lack of low-end authority I was experiencing in my listening position. Three woofers ought to have some power and impact, so where was it? Standing right next to the Studio 100s, there was a lot of clean bass content, so I tried moving them a full foot toward the back wall. Pow, now I had some low end, the music no longer lightweight and wimpy, but the low end came at the expense of the midrange quality. It sounded like the Paradigms were playing down a long hallway, the presentation a bit confused during complex musical passages. So I moved the speakers approximately six inches into the room, halfway back to their initial position. A surprisingly large improvement was immediately obvious. The bass was still there, actually in better balance, and the mid frequencies were open and effortless once more. Now there was something going on, my feet were tapping and I was to starting to plan which music I wanted to hear next. Touching the cabinet during loud, bass heavy passages, I did notice some vibrations on the side edges of the cabinet, particularly below the port level. I cannot say for certain, but this may have been the cause of some lack of definition I occasionally noticed in the lower octaves. Keep in mind that the enclosure in general was very sturdy and solid, and that we are talking about a large loudspeaker retailing for only $2,200 a pair, so a completely inert cabinet is not a reasonable expectation. The final position placed the Studio 100s at 42 inches from the back wall, 39 inches from the sidewalls, and eight-and-one-half feet apart. I sat approximately 11 feet from the loudspeakers, which were toed in so that their axis intersected a few feet behind my head, allowing me to see the inside cabinet edges.
Perhaps I went on a little too long in my description of the Paradigm 100’s tuning odyssey, but the point I wanted to make is that it can take significant effort to get loudspeakers to work in a given room. Sometimes you get lucky and it works right off the bat, but more often than not, the best spot is not exactly where you think it will be or, unfortunately, where the room arrangement dictates.
The other loudspeakers were much easier to place effectively. The CC-570 center channel ended up below my projector screen, three feet from the back wall, 20 inches from the floor and tilted aiming at the listener’s ears. The ADP-470 surrounds were placed on small, adjustable shelves slightly behind and two feet above my head. The Revel B-15 subwoofer ended up three feet diagonally out from the right front corner. All loudspeakers were designated as “small” in my processors, with everything below the 80 Hertz crossover frequency sent to the subwoofer. Of course, the crossover was removed from the circuit and the Studio 100s were switched to “large” whenever I wanted to listen in straight two-channel mode with stereo sources.