Paradigm Reference Signature Series Loudspeakers Page 2

The Short Form

Price $9,395 (as tested) / / 905-632-0180
Compact and attractive satellites mated with a powerful, high-performance sub prove an excellent combination.
•Very fine, accurate, well-integrated sound •Handsome, compact, nicely finished •Powerful, truly extended subwoofer
•Sub may be too big for some rooms
Key Features
Reference Signature S1 ($1,699/pair) •6-in woofer; 1-in beryllium dome tweeter; 101/2 in high; 121/2 lb Reference Signature C1 ($1,299/each) •(2) 5-in woofers; 31/2-in midrange; 1-in beryllium dome tweeter; 17 in wide; 25 lb Reference Signature ADP1 ($1,299/each) •6-in woofer; (2) 31/2-in midranges; (2) 1-in beryllium dome tweeters; 71/2 in high; 151/2 lb Reference Signature Servo ($3,799/each) •15-in cone woofer; 1,500-watt RMS servo-controlled amp; 201/8 x 181/8 x 231/2 in (incl. grille, feet, and controls); 114 lb
Test Bench
Measurements (without grilles) revealed essentially smooth bass-to-treble balance for the S1, while the C1 showed a 3-dB depression from 900 Hz to 2.1 kHz and some small peaks above that. Placing the grille on either speaker effected a steep but narrow 10-dB notch at 12 kHz and a 7-dB peak at 9.3 kHz; neither is likely to be detectable. The sub is among the best I've seen. It will deliver 109 dB at every frequency above 25 Hz and 20 Hz with less than 10% distortion. - Tom Nousaine Full Lab Results

The S1s were also highly accurate above this range, and nearly entirely uncolored. While their vocal-range reproduction might lean just barely to the "cooler" or more "tight" side of the spectrum (and I do mean barely), it's ideally balanced, with nary a shade of manifest coloration or format-changing emphasis on voices high or low.

On 2-channel playback, the S1s delivered impressive depth and transparency. I found it easy to hear "through" the speakers into the details of hall space or studio reverberation, and thus easy to distinguish between natural and digitally applied reverb.

Pretty much the same held true for multichannel music. The ADP1, which is no bigger than an S1 turned sideways, is an update of Paradigm's longstanding surround-speaker design, and it's one of the best compact dipoles available. Messiaen's massive Turangalîla Symphony isn't going to show up between Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Beethoven's Pathètique Sonata on too many Easy Listening classical playlists, but it's a "modern" masterpiece nonetheless. The performance by Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on a Decca SACD vividly conveys this train-wreck meeting of the 19th and 20th centuries, with far more palpable surround than on most other classical productions. Via the Paradigm suite, everything remained goose-bumpingly believable: the wrap-around effect of the huge orchestra, the pitched-percussion ensemble, the piano (this is as much piano concerto as "symphony"), and the hovering ondes martenot (an early electronic instrument, the classic wailing oscillator of 1930s horror movies). And even the most brass-intensive climaxes remained pure-sounding and clear at a fully concert-hall level. Great stuff.

In an abrupt switch of gears, I slipped the DVD of The Good Shepherd into my player. This is the inverse of a sonic spectacular, but the Signature speakers worked every bit as well in communicating the vacuum-like world and auditory landscape of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), with every whisper and sotto voce line reproduced clearly. In the rare instances when Wilson leaves his office to experience a tiny bit of the real world outside - as in the ringing-bells scene in a Congo city square - the Paradigms' ease in creating a well-knit, continuous, three-dimensional sound field was all the more dramatic.

But to stage a genuine home-theater workout, I turned to the bang-up soundtrack of The Incredibles, which proved to be meat-and-potatoes for the Paradigms. With my 150-watt 5-channel amp, they reached fully cinematic levels and more with ease and, in doing so, remained clean and smooth. And when the deepest bass was present, the Servo sub wasn't the least bit shy about exciting room-rattles I didn't know I still had.

The C1 center was generally a very good match for the S1s on voices, and I never once heard discontinuity in left-center-right pans or full-frontal soundscapes. In direct comparisons, some male voices sounded very slightly crisper and more revealing when reproduced by the S1s monaurally, but the center proved excellently even-handed, with very little tonal shift when heard off-axis.

As befits its size, the Signature Servo subwoofer proved hugely capable. It played at least as loud and clean as my long-term sub (a high-dollar 12-incher) and possibly even a Hz or two deeper. It also did an impressive job of integrating with the S1s on exposed stereo material like jazz upright bass and piano, yielding a seamless stitching-together of sub and satellites. And it did so without any of the looseness I sometimes detect when combining a big sub and smaller sats - even with the higher crossover frequency I settled on (90 Hz) to bring out the best from the S1s in my room. Some of the credit is very likely due to the S1's good extension and smooth, controlled bottom octaves - which allow the actual crossover action to be just as engineered, rather than rolling off more quickly or peakily. But any way you slice it, this is a lot of subwoofer.

Bottom Line Pairing so large a sub with such compact speakers may seem odd, but it makes perfect sense if you require small speakers and uncompromised performance. Paradigm's Reference Signature proves it can be done highly effectively, and with real style.

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