Paradigm Signature S8 v.2 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Monday, 01 October 2007

In the sprit of doing everything better for less money, I introduce to you the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2 loudspeaker system. Competing with the likes of Wilson, MartinLogan, B&W and Revel at half (or less) the retail price, it will come as no surprise that Paradigm has set out to build and design a speaker system that attacks the industry high-end loudspeaker value proposition. Upon first glance, even the untrained eye can see the S8s are in every facet top-notch floor-standing loudspeakers. But it’s like drooling over a Ferrari in a parking lot – you have to test the S8s out to really see what they can do, so that is just what I did.

It took a few months following the 2006 CEDIA tradeshow before my review pair of Signature S8 v.2s was ready. They were worth the wait. The Signature S8 v.2s arrived at my home right as I finished the bulk of my home renovation and reference listening room construction. I knew since CEDIA that the Signature S8 v.2s were going to play a pivotal role in my review system, so I actually designed and tuned portions of my room around them. Out of the box, finished in a beautiful natural Birdseye Maple, each Signature S8 v.2 is a sight to behold, measuring in at 48-and-a-half inches tall by eight-and-one-quarter inches deep by 20-and-a-half inches deep, weighing a whopping 100 pounds apiece. The Signature S8 v.2 ranks on my short list of speakers with a visual appearance that transcends mere loudspeaker looks and enters the realm of meaningful art and design. On more than one occasion, visitors commented that if all speakers looked as good as the Signature S8 v.2’s, they wouldn’t feel the need to hide them in bookshelves or, worse, behind furniture. It seems, despite my efforts, some of my friends just don’t grasp the concept of speaker placement and/or sound reproduction. The Signature S8 v.2s come in three finishes, Cherry, Birdseye Maple and Piano Black, each of which have a brilliant gloss finish. All of the Signature S8 v.2’s finish options are incredible and would integrate very easily into nearly any décor. There is only one caveat: the Birdseye Maple and Piano Black finishes carry a slightly higher price tag at $6,699 retail vs. the standard Cherry finish’s $5,999 per pair price. Perhaps caveat is the wrong word, for the Signature S8 v.2s are truly reference grade speakers, on par with the likes of Wilson Audio, Usher, Martin Logan, Revel and others of similar caliber, yet they cost considerably less than the competition. From a sheer economic standpoint I could end the review right here, with the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s being named the victor. But I won’t, because I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.

The Signature S8 v.2 has a true three-way loudspeaker design, boasting six drivers inside its incredibly inert cabinet. Focusing on appearance only, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the v.1 and v.2 models of the Signature S8. However, all of the drivers have been revamped, redesigned or, better still, replaced. The v.1’s aluminum dome tweeter has been replaced with a one-inch pure beryllium dome tweeter. The midrange duties now fall to a seven-inch Co-Pal cobalt-infused pure aluminum cone instead of v.1’s polymer cone designs. The bass drivers, of which there are four, consist of seven-inch mineral-filled polypropylene cones. All of the drivers play nice via Paradigm’s own third-order electro-acoustic crossover at 1.9kHz and second-order electro-acoustic crossover at 250Hz for the lower bass drivers. The Signature S8 v.2 has a stated frequency response of 42Hz-45kHz on-axis and a 42Hz-20kHz at 30 degrees off-axis. The Signature S8 v.2 is also quite efficient for a reference speaker, boasting 92 dB sensitivity into a rather pedestrian eight ohms. The Signature S8 v.2’s relative easy load makes pairing it with a variety of amps both solid state and tube a snap, for Paradigm states that the Signature S8 v.2s can sound their best with a mere 15 watts at their disposal. Turning my attention aft, I noticed a rear-firing low-frequency extension port, as well as the Signature S8 v.2’s gold-plated five-way binding posts, with two sets facilitating bi-wire or bi-amp configurations.

Since this was to be a predominately two-channel review, I set up the Signature S8 v.2 for this configuration and connected them to my two-channel rig, consisting of my Mark Levinson No.433 amplifier and No. 326S Reference preamp via Transparent Reference interconnects and speaker cables. As a source, I used my trusty Denon 3910 universal player to spin both standard CD and two-channel SACDs. I used Transparent Reference interconnects to connect the Denon to my No. 326s preamp.

Set-up was a breeze for the most part. I was able to “walk” the Signature S8 v.2s into their positions with little incident. I played with the Signature S8 v.2s’ positioning and toe-in after a few days of breaking in the speakers. Ultimately, with the grilles on, the Signature S8 v.2s’ toe-in stopped just shy of being pointed directly at the primary listening position. This angle provided me with the sharpest center image while ensuring a wide and accurate soundstage. Going back to the Signature S8 v.2’s grilles for a moment, Paradigm designs all of their speakers with the intent that the grilles be left on, as they play an integral part in the speaker’s overall sound. I found this to be true in my listening tests and, as much as I would’ve loved to stare at the Signature S8 v.2s’ sexy driver array, the absence of the grilles was not to my sonic liking.

Music And Movies
I decided to start things off by being “nice” to the Signature S8 v.2s. Normally, I start my evaluations by throwing on some hard rock or metal in my attempts to punish the speakers into submission, or sometime worse, failure. However, lately I’ve been in a rather chill mood, so I opted for John Mayer’s independent acoustic release, Inside Wants Out (Sony). While not a musical juggernaut in terms of bass, dynamics and scale, Inside Wants Out is extremely well recorded, if a little raw, and features a wonderful midrange and vocal track. On “My Stupid Mouth,” the first thing I noticed was the Signature S8 v.2s’ presence. The speakers themselves audibly disappeared, as Mayer seemingly appeared, center stage, true to life in nearly every way when compared to the live experience. Okay, he was a bit larger-sounding than had he actually been in my living room, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to crank the volume a bit. Mayer’s vocal presence was well-anchored (just a hair left of center) and full-bodied, possessing tremendous air and detail between him and the guitar resting on his leg. I know he was sitting, because I could clearly hear his stool creaking. While this is not necessarily a dynamic song, in that it won’t rock the foundation of your home, the subtle dynamic shifts were presented without incident and were handled delicately and accurately, making the Signature S8 v.2s more honed scalpel than dull sword. The midrange was silky smooth with no signs of grain, excess warmth or bloating. In the past, I’ve found some earlier Paradigm speakers to be a bit energetic, but with the Signature S8 v.2s, this was absolutely not the case. They still beamed high frequencies, but in no way was it annoying or harsh sounding. I would suggest your room and placement would have more to do with changes to the sound of the speakers than their overall audio flavor.

About halfway through this review, I received Bel Canto’s newest integrated amplifier, the e.One S300iu. When I swapped it for my Mark Levinson two-channel gear, nearly all of the Signature S8 v.2s’ sonic shortcomings seemingly disappeared. The touch of added “zing” on the treble smoothed out and the lower midrange, especially throughout the lower octaves of the Mayer’s guitar, filled out nicely. It seems, despite all the technology and wizardry in today’s modern consumer electronics, there is no getting around proper system and equipment matching. By the way, the idea of powering the Signature S8 v.2s with something like a Bel Canto integrated amp ($1,995) and getting true reference quality sound only further solidifies the value the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s represent in the world of high end.

Satisfied that the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s could be gentle yet still incredibly musical when need be, I decided to up the ante a bit and cued up Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs (Sony). On the title track, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” the Signature S8 v.2s’ soundstage was what grabbed me first; it was epic, accurately extending beyond my front wall and well beyond the far edges of the speakers themselves. The bass was equally impressive, providing the track (and my tastes) with rock solid punch and detail that had me questioning the need for a subwoofer for stereo music playback. The Signature S8 v.2s proved to be extremely agile dynamically, despite their large size, bass prowess and multiple driver arrays. The speakers’ crossovers and control over not only the instruments but the drivers themselves further enhanced the Signature S8 v.2s’ sheer dynamic prowess. No detail, no matter how minute, escaped the Signature S8 v.2s’ reproduction capabilities. The Signature S8 v.2s are detail whores, but despite the issues of other devil’s-in-the-details-type speakers, the Signature S8 v.2s were never fatiguing. On the contrary, the Signature S8 v.2s were easy to listen to and among the most fun reference speakers I’ve heard in a long time. When the track got down and dirty during the climatic buildup where Ben Folds threatens to drop the F-bomb by dropping the F-bomb, the resulting onslaught of guitars and pounding piano was handled beautifully, if one can call such a raw display of musicality beautiful. The guitars were visceral, crunchy and driving, with such force you’d be hard-pressed to experience it through a lesser speaker.

Switching to the track entitled “Losing Lisa,” the Signature S8 v.2s once again had a chance to show their softer side. While “Losing Lisa” is far from an acoustic performance, it’s more or less an ensemble ballad, complete with a taut drum kit, grand piano and wonderful vocals. The kick drum was rendered faithfully and resonated plenty deep for my tastes. It was also very nicely detailed, allowing me to hear the weight of each impact from the mallet against the skins. Staying with the trap set for a moment, the cymbals and cymbal crashes were stunning. Shimmering for days with tremendous air, sparkle and ultimate decay, the cymbals’ reproduction through the Signature S8 v.2s solidified my impression that the new updated tweeter was not only a vast improvement over the old but now rivaled some of the best ever. The piano was equally as impressive, sounding full, rich and lively, while remaining incredibly lifelike in tonality, scale and weight. The Signature S8 v.2s really embody what a true full-range speaker is all about and do so with very few, if any, drawbacks.

While this review was meant to solely be a two-channel review, I couldn’t resist spinning a few higher-resolution discs and high-definition movies, even if only in stereo, to see how the Signature S8 v.2s handled the extra resolution. Once such demo of note was the Monster Music DVD of Three Doors Down’s Away From the Sun Live from Houston Texas (Monster Music). Track Four, “Father’s Son,” proved to be a tour de force for the Signature S8 v.2s. With the high-resolution stereo option selected, the Signature S8 v.2s’ presentation improved dramatically. I say “dramatically” because I had already made up my mind that the Signature S8 v.2s were terrific speakers, but what I hadn’t realized was that they were capable of so much more. If I may digress just a little more, those of you still holding out about adopting the higher-resolution audio formats such as Monster’s own SuperDisc or DVD-Audio and SACD need to stop it now. There is no excuse. The higher-quality files and superior mastering found on most of the hi-res audio formats is what high-end audio and speakers such as the Signature S8 v.2s are all about. While the speakers are no slouches in the traditional stereo sense, the higher-resolution playback through the Signature S8 v.2s was eye-opening. The cymbals sounded even more three-dimensional with each strike and the added air and decay made them sound more like the real thing than anything shy of my $20,000 Meridian in-walls ever has. The beryllium tweeter in the Signature S8 v.2 was amazing and so pure that, even when punishing it to the breaking point, it doesn’t punish back. The lower registers, from the lower mid-bass down to the regions usually reserved for a subwoofer, were epic. The depths that the Signature S8 v.2s’ drivers are capable of exploring are staggering. I’m sure a sub would only aid in the speakers’ overall richness and tonality, but it’s nice to know that the absence of a sub doesn’t rob the music or the performance of anything. The vocals were the least effected when switching to higher-resolution audio. The soundstage, on the other hand, tightened up and grew noticeably. Again, not to take away from the Signature S8 v.2s’ two-channel performance, but the added information was put to good use, resulting in an even clearer, more defined and spacious soundstage. My only wish when listening to the Signature S8 v.2s with high-resolution audio was that I had Paradigm’s matching center and rears on hand for a full multi-channel experience. Sadly, when I attempted such a feat by mating the Signature S8 v.2s with my Meridian in-walls, the sound didn’t quite gel enough for my liking. Both are good speakers, but very different in sound. However, one could put together a Paradigm Signature multi-channel speaker system for far less than my Meridian reference speakers, which again speaks to the absolute killer value the Paradigm Signature speakers represent.

I ended my time with the Signature S8 v.2s with the newly released HD DVD of Hot Fuzz (Universal Studios Home Video). One of my favorite comedies of the last year, Hot Fuzz truly has it all and the HD DVD release is one for the books. Skipping ahead to climatic gun fight between Simon Pegg , Nick Frost and the entire town proved to be nothing but great fun for the Signature S8 v.2s. The gunfire was visceral, if a little enhanced for effect (hey, this is a spoof, after all), and the Signature S8 v.2s didn’t miss a beat. When Pegg and Frost barreled through the door of the local pub, the subsequent shotgun fire from the pub owner was deep enough to be felt in my chest without the help of a subwoofer. Every detail and ricochet was rendered beautifully, with such a wide and enveloping soundstage that the Signature S8 v.2s’ presentation didn’t leave me longing for a complete 5.1 set-up the way I thought it would. In fact, the Signature S8 v.2s’ center image was so resolute there were times I thought I must have had my Meridian center turned on. Dialogue, the pulse of any film, was clear and intelligible even with roaring gunplay and in the absence of a center speaker. If I were tight on space or budget, I wouldn’t be ashamed to mate a killer high-definition display to a capable receiver and hi-def source to the Signature S8 v.2s and call it a home theater. I’m not kidding.

The Downside
While I consider the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s to be remarkable speakers, I had issues with a few items. For starters, I didn’t much care for the recessed binding posts. The binding posts themselves were fine, but because they are recessed in such an odd oval shape and are located so close to the floor, they made getting larger cables, like my Transparent Reference speaker cables, in and out a bit of a chore. Also, making sure the posts were tight enough for a good connection was also tricky, due to their recessed design. Users with banana adapters or bare wire are most assuredly going to have an easier time.

While I left the grilles on for most of my review, which is what Paradigm recommends, there were a few instances where I had to remove them. Every time that I did, I felt as if I was going to actually break them. Paradigm is now using magnetized grilles in their less expensive speakers and I wish they’d used them here.

The Signature S8 v.2s are large speakers, requiring some special attention during the set-up process. Due to the rear-ported design, they perform best when given a fair amount of room to breathe between them and the front wall. Otherwise, the bass can become a bit overpowering at times. I recommend at least two feet, preferably three if you can swing it, between the back of the speaker and the front wall. If you cannot accommodate this, I would look into other speakers in the Signature line. The S2s, mated with the right subwoofer (like Paradigm’s own Signature Servo subwoofer), are capable of producing S8-like sound in a more compact and placement-friendly design.

At $6,699 per pair retail ($5,999 in standard Cherry), the Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s are simply amazing. While six grand and some change is hardly a small investment, when you factor in the Signature S8 v.2s’ performance and weigh that against the cost of the competition, even the stingiest of consumer can see the value. The beryllium tweeter is a revelation on the high end. The bass is rock solid and taut, thus leaving people asking the question, “Who needs a subwoofer if these can be used as audiophile speakers?” There are few speakers that can best the Signature S8 v.2s within $10,000 of the asking price of these speakers. Yes, they are that good a value.

The new Signature S8 v.2 represents the culmination of years of experience and design at Paradigm, and it shows. From the subtle lines of the cabinet to the purity and power of the sound, the Signature S8 v.2 is among the best there is at any price.
Manufacturer Paradigm
Model Signature S8 v.2 Loudspeakers
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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