Review: Paradigm Atom Monitor 7
Multiproduct tests are complicated to put together, for all sorts of reasons. Manufacturers come in then drop out. You think of someone you forgot and add them. The sample turns out to be defective and there's no time to replace it. Or, as in the case recently with our recent massive minispeaker roundup, the reviewer (i.e., me) mistakenly calls in a product that doesn't fit the test parameters.
That's what happened when I called in the MartinLogan Motion 15 for the minispeaker test. I'd been requesting speakers in the $250/pair to $400/pair range, and saw the Motion 15-which I'd always wanted to hear-listed on a website for $399, but only realized that the price was $399 each after the company had already sent samples.
They then agreed to send a pair of Atom Monitors from sister company Paradigm. I included the Atom Monitors in a couple of our blind testing rounds, then somehow got the idea that it, too, was $399 each. So I pulled it from the test, but later found it the Atom Monitor sells for $398/pair.
Massive screwups on my part in both situations. But still, I had the products on hand, so thought I'd go ahead and post reviews here on Tech^2. We'll start with the Atom Monitor today and finish with the Motion 15 on Wednesday. Both went through the same measurement process, and I tested both using the same blind testing rig I used for the minispeaker test. However, while I got thorough comments from two panelists on the Atom Monitor, nobody else heard the Motion 15, so you'll have to take my word on that one.
Paradigm Atom Monitor 7
The Monitor series of speakers from Paradigm is now in its seventh generation. It's always been the company's most affordable line, but it's always been designed in the same no-nonsense, engineering-focused style as the company's other speakers.
The diaphragms in both drivers-the 1-inch tweeter and the 5.25-inch woofer-are made from the same S-PAL (satin-anodized pure aluminum) material. There's a shallow waveguide around the tweeter, intended to help its dispersion blend better with that of the woofer, and a fine wire mesh guard over the tweeter to protect it if you use the speaker without its grille (which you should).
The sturdy cabinet is wrapped in generic vinyl fake wood veneer, and the magnetic grille, with no grommets, gives the Atom Monitor a slick look when used sans grille.
Here's the weird thing about the Atom Monitor's sound that you could probably only pick up in a blind comparison, where you're free from the influence of marketing and your own biases. The Motion 15 has a Heil-type folded-ribbon tweeter, a design lauded for its combination of delicacy and dynamics. One of the speakers in my blind test had that smooth, detailed, delicate treble I expected from the Motion 15-but when I checked to see which speaker was which, the speaker in question turned out to be the Atom Monitor.
My listening notes raved about the natural sound of the high frequencies, and that along with the Monitor Audio Bronze BX-1, the Atom Monitor was the only one of the minimonitors that showed not the slightest trace of vocal sibilance when I played "Shower the People" from James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theatre. However, I also noticed that when I really pushed the volume, the treble distorted more easily with the Atom Monitor than it did with the Motion 15 or the Hsu Research HB-1 MK2. I also didn't think the transition between the tweeter and the woofer was as smooth as it could be; occasionally the treble sounded like it was coming from a completely different speaker.
The Atom Monitor's bass tends toward the conservative side, more of the tight sound audiophiles like than the get-up-and-boogie high-Q bass that your average guy tends to dig. I noticed during the opening notes of Holly Cole's rendition of "Train Song" that the Atom Monitor sounded a little compressed-yet on the flipside, it never sounded boomy. But you probably know what your taste in bass is, so in this case, I'll report, you decide.
The soundstaging of the Atom Monitor seemed more focused, yet somewhat narrower than with some of the soundstaging champs like the BX1 and the Klipsch RB-41 II. Again, a situation that boils down to taste. Overall, though, the Atom Monitor sounded to me like one of the top contenders in this test.
Speaking of taste, fellow listening panelists Geoff Morrison and Lauren Dragan also ranked the Atom Monitor highly. "Great bass, and maybe a bit 'smiley' (i.e., possessing a frequency response curve with somewhat exaggerated bass and treble), but overall one of my clear favorites. Now let's hear from Lauren: "Technically, this one might be the best. It's definitely the one I'd want to mix a recording on. It sounds the flattest from top to bottom, although the sound seems more clinical and less vivid that with some of the other speakers."
Our summation of the Paradigm Atom Monitor? It's as good a <$400/pair minimonitor as we've found.
Frequency response of the Atom Monitor 7 measures 65 Hz to 20 kHz ±3.0 dB on-axis, ±5.8 dB avg 0°-30°, which is flatter than any of the speakers in the minispeaker test. If you omit that little dive up around 20 kHz, the measurement is ±2.4 dB on-axis, ±3.4 dB avg 0°-30° . Measured impedance is 4.3 ohms minimum, 8 ohms average. Sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz averages 85.6 dB.