Lustful thoughts and pleasant memories of uber high-end loudspeakers frequent my dreams. I consider myself quite fortunate that I have been able to own no less than four pairs of Wilson Audio loudspeakers, including four pairs of Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy loudspeakers, as well as Wilson Audio CUBs. More recently, I owned Harman's flagship Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers at $24,000 per pair. The Salon2s were installed into a dedicated music and theater room with acoustic treatments from RPG plus room tuning and equalization from world-renowned acoustician, Bob Hodas. From most perspectives, a dedicated room taken to such extremes should result in nothing less than audiophile nirvana, and you'd be right. At the same time, I recently reconfigured this system for loudspeakers costing a third the price. Want to know why? Welcome to my Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3 review.
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• Look for amp to drive the S8 V3s in our Amplifier Review section.
At $8,598 a pair retail, I've often thought of the Paradigm S8 as a sort of high-end super hero among loudspeakers. This modest reference level floorstanding loudspeaker is physically slim compared to Wilsons, Revels, Magicos and Bowers & Wilkins, but belong in the conversation despite the fact that they only cost a fraction of the price. Paradigms can be bought in more mainstream stores as compared to a good number of the exotics that I choose to compare them to. Additionally, the value that this speaker derives from its excellent distribution model allows it to hold its value better than many others in its class and well above.
Paradigm's Reference Signature S8 v3 (S8) loudspeaker is about as well designed as any speaker on the planet. I've personally seen the master craftsmen just outside of Toronto making the drivers, including its one-inch state-of-the-art Beryllium tweeter. The S8's super-Neodynium mid-range driver with shock-mount coupling is as good as it gets in the world of speaker-designer-geekdom. The bass drivers are "mineral filled" polypropylene (four in total) that also use the same ISO-SHOCK mounting. Overall, the S8 rocks a reported 92 dB sensitivity, which is similar to my Wilsons but far more efficient than my Revels. Simply put, the Paradigm S8 can rock harder on less power. Physically, the Paradigm S8 is about 48 and a half inches tall by eight and a half inches wide and 20 and a half inches deep, which makes for a relatively modest footprint compared to much of the competition. The fact that the S8 weighs 100 pounds apiece is but another testament to their fantastic build quality.
Setting up a pair of Paradigm S8 loudspeakers is pretty easy on the basic level but since I take everything to 11, my setup procedure will more than likely differ from the traditional Paradigm customer's experience. With that said, I hired Bod Hodas to come down from his native Berkeley, California packing his Meyer Sound SIM measurement system with the goal of maxing out the performance of my system and the S8s using two Meyer Sound analog EQs I had previously installed. With positioning mirrors, lasers and $50,000 room measurement tools flying around my room like a mad scientist at a secret NASA lab, Hodas was able to place, tune and measure the Paradigms to levels that most wouldn't be able to get without professional help. While my Wilsons and Revels got the same tuning treatment, the Paradigms seemed to take to the Hodas-treatment better that their more upmarket competition.
On "Money" from Pink Floyd's SACD (Capitol Records), the S8s jump to life with a level of dynamics that could embarrass other loudspeakers with much higher asking prices. Even casual listeners could hear the S8's strong center image with its stunningly accurate and natural sounding midrange. The bass sounded taut and realistic but still able to "grab you by the boo boo" as Cheech and Chong so eloquently discussed in Up In Smoke. The sax solo was three dimensional and rounded but never too laid back or ambient. David Gilmore's guitar solo is placed front and center with musical energy that demands your attention. Simply put, the reproduction of Dark Side of the Moon doesn't get much better than this - at any price.
Read more about the performance of the S8 V3 loudspeakers on Page 2.