Paradigm Reference Signature Series Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Augie Bettencourt   
Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Paradigm Electronics is a Canadian company that’s been focused on building products with a strong performance to value relationship for over 25 years, and specializes in the production of in-wall, on-wall and freestanding loudspeakers as well as subwoofers.  Paradigm offers several different speaker lines across a broad price spectrum, but their flagship line is appropriately called the Reference Signature Series.  I was excited about reviewing the very best home theater speaker system Paradigm has to offer in the Signature S8 v.3 floorstanding speakers, Signature C5 V.3 center speaker, Signature ADP 3 v.3 surround speakers, along with their SUB 25 v.3 subwoofer all in the Piano Black finish. 


Introduced in 1996, the Reference Signature Series is Paradigm’s cost-no-object approach to speaker building.  Features like Paradigm’s best high frequency, midrange and bass drivers, as well as cabinet design and finish.  Upgrades include: P-Be (Pure-Beryllium Tweeter Domes). Pure beryllium was chosen for its thermal, physical and mechanical properties: claimed to be lighter than diamond or aluminum with unmatched rigidity and elevating the dome tweeter to optimal off-axis dispersion.  ARB (Aperiodic Resonance Breakup Fins). Die-cast aluminum fins in rear damping chambers capture and disperse residual internal resonances.  Co-PAL (Cobalt-Infused Anodized Pure-Aluminum Midrange Cones). Combine high stiffness-to-mass with superior internal damping for greater accuracy.  Dual ATC (Asymmetrical Tapered Channels). Precision die-cast aluminum chambers with tapered dual interior channels provide optimal volume.

Center Channel Up Close

The asymmetrical design dissipates the back wave, while the center of the chamber is direct-coupled to the huge magnet structure, providing an efficient thermal escape path for heat generated by the voice coil. Strategically positioned cooling fins on the rear of the chamber transfer heat away from the motor.  Injection-Molded Mineral-Filled Polypropylene Bass Cones. The mineral content, now 30%, and the injection-molding process results in a more rigid cone. The improvements reveal a claimed increase in repeatability as well as consistency of performance.  Not to forget looks, premium Signature Series enclosures are enhanced by a choice of three stunning wood veneer finishes — Cherry, Natural Maple and Piano Black.  In this case, the Piano Black finish is stunning.
Sub ViewParadigm’s recently unveiled a 3rd version (v.3) of its flagship Reference Signature Series.  The latest versions are claimed to be the highest output, most dynamic high end loudspeakers ever produced by Paradigm.  Contributing to v.3’s 50 percent increase in output (3dB more sensitive) are extensive modifications to the bass/midrange drive units. Signature v.3 bass/midrange drivers are fitted with extreme low-density NLC (Non-Limiting Corrugated) TPE surrounds, FEA optimized and overmolded onto the cone. Paradigm claims 10 times more effective than standard thermoplastic elastomers in damping vibrations and resonances and the new corrugated design has increased peak-to-peak cone excursion from 20-mm in earlier versions to a full 30-mm. 

A new long-stroke split-coil motor system takes advantage of the extreme excursion by doubling the linear portion of the stroke without requiring a larger magnet. The redesigned motor also keeps mass and inductance of the voice coil low for increased midrange clarity.  Bass cones on Signature v.3 speakers were re-engineered for increased stiffness and better equipped for higher output with new NLC Santoprene surrounds. To support the extended excursion, the motor structure was also redesigned, increasing the linear portion of the stroke through voice coils almost double the original in length. New core parts including a yoke and pole piece were retooled and FEA-optimized and even the magnets were thickened to accommodate double-distance cone travel.  The retail price for the Signature S8 v.3 in Piano Black is $4,399.00 each, the retail price for the Signature C5 v.3 in Piano Black is $4,299 each, the retail price for the Signature ADP3 v.3 in Piano Black is $1,999 each, and the retail price for the Signature SUB 25 in Piano Black is $4,799.00 each.

Surround SpeakerSet-up

The final placement of any speaker is critical, especially when we’re talking about as many speakers as used in a 5.1 or 7.1 system.  In my large 30 feet long x 20 feet wide room, I placed the Signature S8 v.3 (dimensions 48.5” H x x 8.5” W x 20.5” D) 4 feet from the back wall, and 3 feet from the side walls.  The ideal listening position was with the speakers slightly toed-in.  The Signature C5 V.3 center speaker was placed directly under my Dalite,133” HDTV, Dalite Cinema Contour screen on a speaker stand. 

The Signature ADP 3 v.3 were wall-mounted 3 feet from the back wall, six feet off the floor, parallel to the seating area, and the SUB 25 v.3 in the front right corner of the room.  On hand for the review was the OPPO BDP-83, Sony BDP-S1000ES Blu-ray players and Sony PS3 for A/V sources.  On hand for the video display was the Vivitek H9080FD projector connected with a 35ft, M1000 HDTV HDMI Monster Cable.  For part of the review the video connections were made through a Denon AVP-A1HDC1 A/V processor for video switching and audio processing. 

Each time Monster Cable M1000 HDTV HDMI cables were used for video connections, Cardas Audio Golden Reference speaker and interconnect cables, and Monster Cable 600sw and Monoprice subwoofer cables.  All the cables worked perfectly and had no problems.  Associated equipment used for the review was the Sunfire TGA 7400 amplifier, Krell Evolution 403 amplifier and Buttkicker LFE Kit..  All are outstanding, reference quality products.


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.

Floorstanding SpeakerI’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.

Manufacturer Paradigm

Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio