Paradigm Monitor 11 Speaker System Page 2
Oddly, given the above observation, my in-room measurements did show a rolloff starting at 75 Hz at the prime seating position, with the response down about 10 to 12 dB by 30 Hz. But you wouldn’t guess this by listening, likely because there aren’t many acoustic instruments with fundamentals much under 40 Hz. Yes, a few instruments, including piano and, of course, the pipe organ, can extend below 30 Hz. But most bass drums run out of steam by the mid 40s, which explains why the Paradigms, sans subs, could do such an impressive job of launching me out of my chair with a hard thwack on a big drum&mdsh;even the monster Kodo-style Japanese variety.
Other bass instruments fared equally well&mdsh;clean, tight, and subjectively free of ringing and bloat. But inserting a good subwoofer into the system, crossed over at 80 Hz, noticeably upgraded the system’s performance on the lowest notes of organs and synthesizers&mdsh;the latter widespread in many pop mixes. It also enhanced subtleties such as the reverberation tail of drums in ambient spaces.
And Paradigm knows subs; check out our review of the $10,000 SUB 2. The $1,000 SUB 12 isn’t in that class, but combined with its Perfect Bass Kit, on music, it easily held its own in a direct comparison with a 15-inch Hsu VTF-15H subwoofer. The two were in different locations, but measurements showed that the unequalized Hsu, in its optimum (in my room) mid-short-wall location, was as free of significant peaks as the corner-positioned, equalized Paradigm. In fact, my preference between the two swung back and forth depending on the music. Even then, the audible differences were nearly always extremely small. Not bad, considering that although the two are comparable in price, the Hsu is about four times the size and better finished—a good thing considering it’s harder to hide!
Of course the bass you’ll get from any sub, as always, depends on the room, the setup, the program material, and your volume preferences. I can easily imagine that head-banging levels in a mansion-sized room would require multiple monster-sized subwoofers.
Moving up the frequency scale, the stereo pair of Monitor 11s was remarkably low in coloration. Well-recorded voices and solo instruments sounded impeccable, with tight imaging, good depth, and no significant blur or smear. Midbass was crisp, and while the positioning of the speakers away from nearby walls certainly helped with this, I’ve used speakers in the same locations that were a little too warm.
If anything, the Paradigms may be a little lean for those in search of tube-like warmth. Their top end has all the sparkle, airiness, and openness I crave, but for some listeners they may sound just a bit too analytical, particularly on edgy recordings. I did find music sources that pushed the Monitor 11s over the edge with a bit too much brightness and an emphasis on sibilants, but the latter, in particular, was rare. More often than not, the Monitors pulled me into the music and wouldn’t let me go.
Sounds Like Movies
Brave offers a wide range of exceptionally well-recorded sound, with its music score a major player. It’s irresistible, from the rousing song that accompanies princess Merida as she rides out of the castle for a rare day of freedom, to the drums and wailing bagpipes that announce the gathering of the clans as they compete for her hand. The music contributes mightily to the movie’s effectiveness, and the Paradigms never let me down. Other sounds—the ambience of the throne room, the subtle, hushed “breathing” of the wisps that lead Merida through the forest, the active surrounds, and the clear dialogue, also came through without a hitch.
The best horizontal center speakers are all three-way designs—short of a vertical center identical to the left and right fronts (impractical for most multichannel home theater systems). If properly designed, a three-way center speaker offers far better dispersion and more consistent listening across a wide range of seating positions than the more common horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer design. And I had no complaints about the Center 3’s performance. Whether I sat directly in front of it or off to the side, the subjective balance of the three front speakers was remarkably similar on real program material—even when a speaking character or sound effect moved across the screen.
While there’s adequate bass in Brave, it only occasionally makes a big impression. But Thor—with Odin banging his staff against the throne room floor, Thor turning over the banquet table, and the revving up of the Bifrost—is a low-end monster. As are Bolt (the opening 10 minutes) and War of the Worlds (when the Martian machine breaks through the New York street). All three films are on my bass test list, and none of them disappointed on the Paradigm SUB 12 (well, maybe that War of the Worlds scene, just a little). After its PBK equalization, the SUB 12 invariably pulled more than its own weight on these bass-heavy discs with a tight, crunchy bottom-end performance.
But the SUB 12 couldn’t quite pressurize the room and flutter my trouser legs in quite the same way as the comparably priced (but factory direct, much larger, and unequalized) HSU VTF-15H on these and other challenging discs. Still, if I didn’t have a considerably larger subwoofer close at hand for a direct comparison, I never would have imagined that anything was missing.
With the entire system operating, the Paradigms produced a huge, coherent soundstage. This was never better demonstrated than on the scores for Thor and, surprisingly, the cancelled-too-soon TV series Stargate Universe. The latter employs a big, rich, synthesized music score (by Joel Goldsmith—yes the son of that other Goldsmith) that enveloped and involved me in its Season 1, DTS HD-Master Audio Blu-ray release in a way that it never did in its original broadcast. I can’t imagine it sounding more impressive than did on the Paradigms.
I suspect that even Paradigm would concede that there are more upscale speakers out there that can improve on the Monitor Series 7. The company does, after all, offer higher-end designs of its own. But for me, the Monitors were immensely satisfying on both music and movies. I never felt the need to rush through a listening session. In fact, on both movies and music, each session often lasted far longer than I had planned. If you’re shopping in this price range, or even twice that, you need to audition the Monitor Series 7.