Paradigm Persona 3F Speaker System Review


Persona 3F Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Persona SUB Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $31,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Beryllium tweeter and midrange drivers
Hand-polished, high-gloss finish
Slender, curved cabinets
Minus
Expensive
Heavy

THE VERDICT
Paradigm set out to create the best, state-of-the-Paradigm-art speakers the company has ever produced, bringing together top-notch cabinet construction and finishing capabilities and advanced driver technologies in hopes of achieving something greater than the sum of its already great parts. They’ve succeeded.

Paradigm, the Canadian loudspeaker company founded in 1982, has a long and respectable history of building excellent-sounding, great-looking speakers at relatively affordable prices—not outrageously expensive but not stupidly cheap, either. Somewhere along the way, though, somebody at Paradigm accidentally said out loud at a company meeting: “What if cost were, well, not no object, but at least less of an object? What if we combined all our best technologies and maybe threw in a bit of new stuff, too? Just how awesome of a speaker could we make? We should try that someday.” And thus the company’s latest and greatest-ever series of speakers was born.

Paradigm’s new Persona Series consists of four towers (ranging from the 3F at $5,000 ea to the 9H at $17,500 ea), a Persona C center ($7,500), a Persona B bookshelf/stand monitor speaker ($3,500 ea), and a Persona SUB powered subwoofer ($6,500). So, yeah, while not stratospherically, insanely expensive, especially by the standards of today’s stupendously rarefied high-end loudspeakers, the new Persona speakers are definitely on the outer reaches of what most folks would consider the “affordable” realm. The 5.1-channel system Paradigm sent to me included a pair of the Persona 3F towers, the Persona C center channel, a pair of the Persona B monitor speakers, and the Persona SUB. If you do the math, that totals up to—brace yourself—$31,000, and that’s not counting the rest of the necessary electronics and, at minimum, a folding chair to sit on. Paradigm doesn’t apologize in the least about the cost, either. In fact, they feel that the Persona Series is not only a luxurious indulgence to own, but that it represents “a classic [example] of Paradigm performance and value.” When there are loudspeakers out there that cost more than $100,000 per pair, you might actually get away with making a case for value with a whole damn-serious 5.1 system retailing for $31K. But we’ll have to see about that, eh?

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Taking On a New Persona
Paradigm labels every Persona Series speaker with a “Crafted in Canada” logo, indicating that it was “completely designed, engineered, and built at [Paradigm’s] manufacturing facility just outside of Toronto, Canada.” They specifically use the word crafted rather than made or manufactured because Paradigm views the process of building speakers as an actual craft rather than the outcome of some anonymous, mass-market assembly line.

I visited Paradigm’s Toronto facility several years ago, and I can verify that this isn’t some nice-sounding bullshit marketing blurb. Their paint facility, where each cabinet is painted and polished by hand, is world-class. Some of the Persona speaker cabinet construction is done by a CNC machine and a big, scary-looking, elliptical, vicelike clamping machine that compresses and shapes the seven layers of HDF that become the outer shell of each Persona cabinet. (Paradigm uses a viscoelastic adhesive between the layers that gets cured using radio-frequency energy. I have this image in my mind of a giant microwave oven located in the employee break room where the speakers are taken to be cured—except when it’s lunch time.) The remainder of the process of making a Persona Series speaker is pretty much hands-on until the final quality control checks are completed. Each speaker, by the way, comes with a certificate signed by the three Paradigm folks who performed the quality control checks along the way.

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Persona Series speakers are available in four finishes: two high-gloss (Vanta Black and Harmony White) and two metallic-gloss (Aria Blue and Sonic Silver). Since Paradigm sent an all Vanta Black system, I can’t vouch for the appearances of the other three. I can say, however, that the Vanta Black finish is to die for. I want to say it’s the quality of finish you’d find on an expensive, luxury automobile, but in truth the finish is, I don’t know, softer than that. Paradigm talks about the “incredible brilliance, depth, and luster” of the finishes; and, despite sounding a bit hyperbolic, that description is actually an understatement for the Vanta Black option. Gorgeous, stunning, awe-inspiring—take your pick. They all apply. For some reason, I feel compelled to lick the speakers, as if they were the shiniest, most enticing pieces of black licorice I’ve ever seen. (I, uh, didn’t actually lick the speakers…really…) Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m worthy enough to have speakers that look this good.

None of the speakers’ front baffles are covered by removable grilles, which I’m sure is partly because there’s no way to design a grille that wouldn’t detract from the beauty of the speakers. This leaves the entirety of the machined aluminum mattegray baffles completely visible. The tweeter and midrange, however, are covered by individual metal grilles (the Persona C has a single grille that encompasses the tweeter and midrange) that are perforated with an organic, swirling design that’s unique to each driver type. At first, I thought the mesmerizing design was there to up the luxury ante. In fact, one of the designers did call the grilles “audio jewelry.” Although that’s true, it turns out that the two patterns also provide an acoustic benefit. Paradigm calls it a Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lens, and the pattern of perforations is designed to cancel out-of-phase information generated from different locations on the speaker’s diaphragm. The 7-inch woofers in the Persona 3F and the Persona C are there for all to see, and the inwardly curving, brushed-aluminum surfaces of the diaphragms are smooth as a baby’s bottom (if it were made from brushed aluminum) from edge to edge without a dust cap to mar the silky beauty of the drivers. Behind the baffles, the cabinets extend with an elliptically tapering shape that leaves the speaker corner-less on the back, where dual pairs of binding posts are located.

717parad.main250.jpgMore Beryllium for Your Bucks
Since I don’t work in the aerospace, defense, or medical industries, I thought that beryllium sat between unobtainium and unicornium on the periodic table. To my chagrin, beryllium is an actual element— its symbol is Be, and its atomic number is 4—albeit a relatively rare one. In the minds of many audio engineers, though, the Holy Grail is made from beryllium. Why such reverence for beryllium? Because beryllium has low mass, high tensile strength, and high thermal conductivity—in other words, properly processed, it’s extremely rigid, especially lightweight, and quickly dissipates heat. Best of all, it’s super cheap! Well, sadly, not so much on that last point. Beryllium is expensive—really expensive in speaker-design terms. Even though it’s been used in speakers since the 1970s, its use is still usually restricted to professional audio loudspeakers or reference-level home speakers from a limited group of high-end companies such as Revel, TAD, Focal, and (now) Paradigm.

But there’s beryllium—and then there’s beryllium. Although the element is the same, beryllium transducers will behave differently depending upon the manufacturing process and grain structure in the finished beryllium diaphragm material. (Some so-called “beryllium” drivers are actually made from beryllium alloys.) Paradigm uses Truextent beryllium in the Persona Series speakers because it’s 99.9-percent pure beryllium with a highly uniform grain structure. In fact, Tru-extent beryllium is claimed to have the highest stiffness-to-density ratio of all commercial driver materials, which means beryllium drivers have the potential to remain pistonic to higher frequencies and have minimal resonance in the driver’s operating range.

Every Persona Series speaker includes a 1-inch Truextent beryllium dome tweeter with a PPA grille. But the Persona Series offers even more beryllium for your buck. The cone material for the 7-inch midrange drivers in the Persona 3F (and the rest of the Persona towers), the 7-inch bass driver in the Persona B, and the 4-inch midrange driver in the Persona C are all made from Truextent beryllium. Incorporating both beryllium tweeter and beryllium midrange diaphragms in the same speaker is almost as rare as beryllium itself, especially in speakers as relatively inexpensive as those in the Persona Series’ price range. It’s highly likely that a Persona Series multichannel system would be extremely, well, I’ll let you choose your own favorite adjective: awesome, seamless, enveloping, dope, fantastic, or nice. (Or you might be reduced to incoherent drooling…)

The two-way, twodriver Persona B monitor is all beryllium all the time. The Persona 3F tower, on the other hand, includes a pair of 7-inch not-beryllium, anodized-aluminum bass drivers to complement its 1-inch beryllium dome tweeter and 7-inch beryllium cone midrange. The Persona C adds a quartet of the 7-inch anodized-aluminum bass drivers to its 1-inch beryllium dome tweeter and 4-inch beryllium cone midrange. (This is one serious center channel speaker.) Over the years, Paradigm has developed many impressive driver technologies, and the company has thrown just about everything (though not the kitchen sink, thankfully) into the woofers in the Persona speakers, including Active Ridge Technology (ART) surrounds (the surround material is overmolded directly onto the cone, a technique that Paradigm says allows for so much additional excursion that it provides a 3-decibel—or 50 percent—gain in potential maximum output). Also included are a Shock-Mount Isolation Mounting System (a butyl-rubber driver fastening system that uses isolation inserts and gaskets to decouple the driver from the cabinet) and a 1.5-inch high-temp tandem voice coil (for increased excursion, better control, and improved thermal management).

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It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Subwoofer
There are very few times when saying that an audio component could be used as a boat anchor would be a compliment. But in the case of Paradigm’s Persona SUB, this 118-pound (9.2 pounds of which belongs to the hard ferrite magnet/motor structure—per driver), 20.25 x 20.5 x 18.875 hexagonal cabinet, 1,700-watt, six 8-inch driver subsubwoofer-woofer (my term) is massive enough that it could be used as a boat anchor—for one of those giant, vacation cruise ships. Hell, since Paradigm rates the Persona SUB as having in-room low-frequency extension down to—hold onto your foundation—12 hertz (+/– 2 dB from 19 Hz to 220 Hz), it could probably be used for sonar at the same time. (You’d need some long audio and AC cords with a good GFCI outlet, though.)

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What’s up with the six-sided, cabinet design? (Well, the cabinet is really eight-sided, if you count the top and bottom—but that’s being too OCD for our purposes here.) The Persona SUB’s six low-frequency drivers (with pure-aluminum cones and overmolded surrounds)—all active, mounted two per side, one above the other, on alternating side panels—are radially aligned relative to the cabinet and pair-to-pair. In other words, the magnets all point to the same internal center point. This configuration—which Paradigm employed previously in their Signature Series SUB 2 (review at soundandvision.com)—creates opposing forces of near-equal magnitude as the drivers move inward and outward in unison. The effective cancellation of unwanted vibration is so good that the Persona SUB will likely rattle your teeth before the cabinet makes the slightest twitch. Surprisingly, it does all this without requiring any extensive bracing inside the Persona SUB’s cabinet. (Not that there’d be any room for it if it did.)

The top panel and two of the Persona SUB’s driverless sides are available in the aforementioned Persona Series finishes. The baffles of the driver-mounted sides feature the same machined, painted aluminum matte-gray finish as the front baffles of the other speakers in the line. So, if the Persona SUB is visible in the room, which is likely considering its size, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The final remaining side, most likely to facing the wall, contains the input jacks, adjustment control knobs (level, cut-off frequency, and phase), and the power cord connection. There’s also a USB-mini port for connecting a computer attached to the included calibrated Anthem Room Correction (ARC) microphone.

COMPANY INFO
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
(905) 564-1994
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
snorene's picture

Darryl - thanks for the entertaining write up on the Persona's. It was as amusing as it was insightful. The Persona's are certainly beautiful to look at, and now, based on what you wrote, equally as beautiful in the sound they recreate. I may never afford a Ferrari or a Megayacht, but these luxurious speakers might someday be possible to own. (And I probably would get more use and wife approval too, then from the former two.) Bravo to Paradigm.

drny's picture

It's great to dream of spending hours in the rapture of driving a Ferrari Le Ferrari, or for that matter carefully listening to every nuance of the Persona system. Sadly they will remain in my dreams.
Meanwhile, I will continue to work towards the purchase of $65,000 Mustang Shelby 350R and $8,500 Goldenear Reference Towers.
You keep on dreaming, while I rumble through the twisties in my Shelby.
Thereafter bring down my blood pressure as I listen to my music on my Goldenear Reference system.

javanp's picture

it would not a very good anchor make

drny's picture

I foolishly made some comments prior to auditioning the Persona 3F (see my July 29 stuff of dreams comments).
I spent an hour transfixed with arm hair raised listening to the sheer transparent sound of Paradigm's Persona 3F.
My children are now in their 30's so no chance of me getting much for them.
Oh well, there's always the Lotto.

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