I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and upon my arrival realized that I was going to need a new, but modest, audiophile system, for my previous system - which consisted of JBL theater speakers - weren't about to fit into my new 500 square foot studio apartment. So I trundled down to my then local audiophile shop where I was introduced to Paradigm's new Monitor Series loudspeakers, which were in their third incarnation if I'm not mistaken. It was love at first sight and then I heard them and was completely sold - never mind the fact that they were among the only affordable audiophile loudspeakers I encountered that fateful weekend. I ended up purchasing a pair of Monitor 7 floorstanding speakers along with a NAD 325BEE integrated amp and matching CD player, all for around $1,200. I had that system throughout college and well into my early professional career and to this day look back upon it fondly for it was not only affordable and easy to use but magnificent sounding too.
Fast forward to today and to an email from Paradigm telling me that they've revamped their Monitor line and asking me if I'd like to have a listen. Without hesitation I replied yes and a less than a week later a pair of brand new Monitor 7 loudspeakers arrived on my doorstep. Upon unboxing them I quickly realized these were not the Monitor 7s I had once owned or become accustomed to; the new Monitor 7s were a statement all their own. The question that remained however, was how would they stack up against other affordable loudspeakers in today's growing marketplace?
The Monitor 7 is a two and a half way, three driver, compact floorstanding loudspeaker that retails for $449 each or $898 a pair. The speaker itself measures 36 inches tall by just under seven inches wide and nine inches deep. It weighs a scant 32.6 pounds though it feels more substantial than its weight would suggest. The Monitor 7's finish options include a traditional Black Ash or Paradigm's own Heritage Cherry; my review units shipped in Black Ash though all my previous Monitor 7 speakers were in some form of cherry finish. As for the Monitor 7's appearance, it is one that screams tailored versus budget for its clean lines, narrow profile and seamless, soft touch baffle give it a decidedly higher end look than its predecessors and competition - especially in its Heritage Cherry finish. The Monitor 7's new seamless baffle design is one that is reminiscent of another high-end speaker manufacturer, Magico, thanks to its uninterrupted lines and matte white drivers. The new plinth that attaches to the bottom of the Monitor 7 also helps dress up what would otherwise be an unassuming box speaker.
There's even more good news when it comes to the Monitor 7's driver compliment. Starting with its five and a half inch Pure-Aluminum Bass/Midrange driver, which were introduced in Paradigm's costlier Reference speakers, the Monitor 7 is clearly the benefactor of Paradigm's trickle down philosophy. The Monitor 7 also gets an improved one inch Satin-Anodized Pure-Aluminum Dome tweeter as well as a five and a half inch Carbon-Infused Polypropylene Bass Cone, that when coupled with the retooled crossover give the Monitor 7 a reported frequency response of 48Hz to 22kHz on axis and 48Hz to 18kHz 30-degrees off axis. The Monitor 7 has a reported sensitivity of 91dB into an eight-Ohm load and is suitable for amplifiers and/or AV receivers ranging in power from 15 to 180 Watts per channel.
For a more on the Monitor 7's specifications and advancements please visit its product page on the Paradigm website.
My review pair of Monitor 7 loudspeakers arrived safely and securely despite FedEx's best attempts to damage them, evident in the various dents, gashes and slices found in both boxes. To say Paradigm packs their products well is an understatement for neither speaker suffered any damage despite the boxes being all but unusable for future travels. Paradigm also sent along a matching center channel, the Center 3, which complimented the Monitor 7s visually in its black ash finish. Unboxing the Monitor 7s is easy enough for one; though it's not as simple as simply removing the boxes for you do have to attach the included plinth to the bottom of each Monitor 7 using the supplied hardware. Once the plinths are in place setup is straightforward.
The Monitor 7 has the ability to be bi-wired thanks to its dual five-way binding posts, which are recessed into the lower back portion of the speaker's cabinet just above the plinth. Because of their recessed nature, the binding posts are a little difficult to get a firm grip on which makes tightening them a little fussy but ultimately still possible. I didn't bi-wire the Monitor 7s; instead I used the supplied bridge straps and connected the speakers to my system using a pair of 12-foot Transparent Wave speaker cables with banana-terminated ends. To round out the Monitor 7's bottom end I went ahead and utilized one of my two JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers, which I crossed over at 50Hz and then later at the customary THX 80Hz. The Monitor 7s were connected to my NAD T757 AV receiver (review pending) and later to my reference Parasound 5250 v2 multi-channel amplifier with the NAD receiver acting as an AV preamp. Source components included the Sony BDP-S580 player which is a universal player capable of playing back everything from CDs and SACDs to Blu-ray discs, as well as an AppleTV connected to a Cambridge Audio DACMagic DAC. Transparent Link cabling was used throughout with the exception of HDMI, which was from Planet Waves. For video I utilized my new Panasonic plasma, the TC-P50GT30, as well as my Anthem LTX 500 LCOS projector.
I placed the Monitor 7s approximately where my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds sat, which is roughly three and a half feet off my front wall with close to seven feet of distance between them and three feet of space along the outside edges between the speakers and my side walls. The room itself is 17 feet wide by 25 feet long with nine foot ceilings and is treated using GIK Acoustic products, including floor to ceiling bass traps in the corners and bass absorption along my back wall. I let the entire system play for a few days before beginning any critical evaluation. You'll want to be sure to give the Monitor 7s some break-in time, for out of the box they are a little thin but do settle down and fill out with time. Also, I didn't utilize any automated EQ such as Audyssey for this review, which allowed the Monitor 7s to perform au-naturale.
I kicked things off with some UK born pop by way of Will Young and his album Leave Right Now (Jive). On the track "Grace" the Monitor 7s produced a strong, palpable center image that reached forward of the speakers' front baffles creating a slightly energetic presence. The resulting soundstage sat squarely between the left and right mains with solid depth but not a great
deal of horizontal extension. On their own, the Monitor 7s sound a little lean, nothing too objectionable but nevertheless leaning towards the lean side of neutral. It's this tone or voicing that gives the Monitor 7 a very fast, dynamic demeanor; one that attempts to retrieve every detail and showcase it in a way few budget conscious speakers can. However, when I mated the Monitor 7s to one of my JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers, things changed and changed for the better. Obviously there was more weight to the performance, though depending upon where I crossed the two over I was treated to vastly different results. When crossed over close to the Monitor 7's low-end threshold the 7's voice remained largely unchanged, just picking up a few extra octaves of extension. When I crossed the sub over at the THX customary 80Hz the Monitor 7's voice changed a bit -becoming a bit more full-bodied throughout on its way to approaching neutral. Furthermore, when crossed over at 80Hz, the Monitor 7s opened up in terms of soundstage and began to sound and react much more like high quality monitor speakers than budget floorstanders.
Read more about the performance of the Paradigm Monitor 7 v.7 speakers on Page 2.
Next, I cued up Coldplay's newest single "Paradise" off their upcoming album Mylo Xyloto. "Paradise" showcased the Monitor 7's dynamic prowess brilliantly. Despite being a rather compact floorstanding loudspeaker, the Monitor 7s were outright explosive and so long as I kept the volume within reason (peaks below 95dB), they didn't compress at the extremes like so many other budget loudspeakers. While I still employed my JL Audio sub the Monitor 7's lower mid/bass blended beautifully with my sub and provided ample snap and texture to the performance. Turning my attention to the Monitor 7's high frequencies for a moment I found them to be extended and supple, though at higher volumes I was able to get them to act up. Again, in smaller to medium-sized rooms this is less of an issue, for when I moved the Monitor 7s into my bedroom for a quick listen, they seemed far more at home than when they were in my reference room.
The Hookup: Part Two
It's not uncommon for a reviewer to have to rethink and/or change his or her strategy as it pertains to a review. In this case, following a brief test of the Monitor 7's abilities in my bedroom, I decided to move the rest of the Monitor 7's review from my reference room to my bedroom, which is smaller at 11 by 17 feet with nine foot ceilings. Because I only wanted to change the room and nothing else, I moved all of the before-mentioned associated equipment into my bedroom, including room treatments, and re-connected everything before sitting down for a listen.
My what a difference a room can make.
Performance: Part Two
In the smaller surroundings of my master bedroom the Monitor 7s absolutely shined. While there were many aspects of their performance that I liked from their brief stint in my reference system, there was much more to like when placed in a space more conducive to their size. On Diana Krall's "I'm Coming Through" from her album The Girl in the Other Room (Verve), the opening cymbals were far more airy and textural compared to my reference room on account of simply not having to turn the music up as loud to obtain a reasonable sounding performance. I'm not saying that the Monitor 7s can't handle volume, they most certainly can, but they're just designed for smaller spaces where you don't necessarily have to result to excessive volumes in order to hear and/or fill the space. Krall's vocals were rich and firmly grounded within the soundstage, which now extended well beyond the speakers' outer edges and recessed far beyond the front wall. Despite their compact drivers and footprint, the Monitor 7's rendering of Krall's piano was near lifelike in its scale, weight and resolution, sounding natural all the while. The Monitor 7's entire midrange was far more open and weighty in my bedroom versus flat and forward, regardless of whether or not I employed the use of a subwoofer. In fact, I disconnected my JL Audio sub and swapped it out for a subwoofer more comparable in price to the Monitor 7s: GoldenEar's ForceField 4 subwoofer. Regardless of the sub, the Monitor 7s were able to blend beautifully and for the most part seamlessly. While the Monitor 7s didn't need to rely as heavily upon the subwoofer in my bedroom it was still a welcomed addition, leading me to come to the conclusion that despite being a floorstanding loudspeaker, the Monitor 7 really does react and sound more like a full-bodied bookshelf speaker.
Switching gears to movies, I fired up Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Paramount) on Blu-ray disc. Skipping ahead to the climax of the film where our heroes do battle against the Decepticons in the Egyptian desert, the Monitor 7's performance was spot on, creating an effortless and in some cases a relentless wall of sound that kept up with the action unfolding on screen. There was no audible gap between the Monitor 7s and the matching center channel, leading me to believe there wouldn't be one between the Monitor 7s and any of the rear channel speakers Paradigm recommends pairing with them in order to create a true, five speaker surround sound system. Dialog, despite the chaos and destruction occurring on-screen, was intelligible and clear. I was especially impressed with the Monitor 7's lack of sibilance at high volumes with all that was unfolding on screen. While there were times I could sense the Monitor 7s were reaching their limits, they did an admirable job in retaining all of the subtle cues and sonic details present in the mix.
It's hard to argue with a loudspeaker as capable as the Monitor 7s that also cost less than a grand, but there are some things you must consider before purchasing. First, the Monitor 7s are not designed to be utilized in larger rooms. If your room is larger than, say, 250-300 square feet you're going to want to invest the extra money in one of the larger, floorstanding Monitor speakers such as the Monitor 9 or 11. If you put the Monitor 7s in a room that is too large you're going to find that they come off as a little lean and forward as a result of having to be driven too hard in order to fill the surrounding space.
Also, it's best to view the Monitor 7s not as a floorstanding speaker (which they are), but more like a robust bookshelf speaker for they do require the use of a subwoofer in order to achieve full-range status. Adding a subwoofer will not only fill out the Monitor 7's low end performance but also aide in opening up its midrange and treble performance as well by taking some of the burden off the speaker as well as your amplifier. While the Monitor 7 does claim to go as low as 48Hz, it's not exactly a nice 48Hz. I found crossing the Monitor 7 over in the 60 to 80Hz range to be a better fit and one that was more pleasing to the ear.
Also, the Monitor 7s are not critical in terms of the amount of power they require from associated equipment such as amplifiers and/or AV receivers but they are critical to their "voices." I found the pairing of Paradigm and Onkyo to be far too forward and at times two-dimensional and harsh, whereas the pairing of the Monitor 7s and NAD was rather sublime. This is not a knock against the Monitor 7, for all speakers sound better when mated to the right associated gear; just be aware that the Monitor 7 will let you know when its happy.
The Monitor 7's binding posts are more than a little finicky for me and are difficult to get a grip on and tighten, thanks to their recessed and angled design. Those using banana terminated speaker cables will be spared this headache, though those of you with spade terminated or bare wire will have to remember to breathe and take things slow so as not to cause undue stress.
Lastly, the Monitor 7 looks so much better with its magnetic grill off and in its Heritage Cherry finish. With the grill on and in black ash there is little to distinguish the Monitor 7 from other plain Jane loudspeakers, outside of its plinth of course, which is somewhat of a letdown, for in its cherry clothing and with the grill off the Monitor 7 looks decidedly up-market.
Competition and Comparison
There are a number of quality, affordable loudspeakers available these days especially given the rise of Internet-direct companies such as Aperion Audio and the like. That being said, the Monitor 7's number one competitor has to be Bowers & Wilkins' 600 Series, specifically the 684 floorstanding spe
aker that retails for $1,100 pair. Though it costs a little more, the 684 does give a bit more in terms of performance, specifically in the bass department thanks to its larger driver compliment.
Another competitor would be Aperion Audio's Intumus 5T Tower Loudspeaker at $495 each and sold direct via Aperion's own website. The 5T's high-gloss black finish is better looking than the Monitor 7's though they both share a sort of narrow, lifestyle-friendly footprint.
For something affordable but completely different, there is always Magenpan's MMG loudspeaker, which belongs in the same discussion as the Monitor 7, though you couldn't ask for a more different approach to loudspeaker design.
For more on floorstanding loudspeakers including the latest news and reviews please visit Home Theater Review's Floorstanding Loudspeaker page.
If you live in a small space or are looking to add a bit of audiophile and home theater drama to, say, a bedroom or den, then I suggest you take a good look at Paradigm's new Monitor 7 v.7 floorstanding loudspeaker.
When properly setup in small to medium-sized rooms with components that favor musicality over features, the Monitor 7 is a fantastic all-rounder that competes favorably with others in and around its price class. I recommend getting the Monitor 7 in its Heritage Cherry finish and leaving the magnetic grills off so as to fool others into thinking you spent more money - but that's just me. Regardless, there's nothing wrong with these lifestyle friendly floorstanding speakers, especially when you consider their sub $1,000 price tag. Put 'em in a room complementary to their size and add an affordable subwoofer and you should be in music and movie heaven for years to come.
Paradigm's Monitor line of speakers has always been one of my affordable favorites and with the introduction of their latest version, Version 7, they'll remain one of favorites a while longer.