One of the nicest perks of being a publisher in the AV business for the past 22 years (and counting) is having the opportunity to own damn-near every high-end loudspeaker on the market. Like a small business owner who likes to periodically lease different cars, I have been able to test-drive (actually, own) reference speakers from the likes of Wilson Audio (five pairs over the years), Revel, MartinLogan, Bowers & Wilkins, Focal, Cello, and many others. The one pair that sticks out in my mind was the last pair of Paradigms, which were--at the time--their top-of-the-line Signature S8 V3 floorstanding speakers.
Discontinued now but priced at $8,400 per pair, the S8 V3s were affordable compared to the competition, most of which all had price tags in the $20,000-plus range. The Paradigm S8s were easier to drive than the other high-performance speakers. They also had among the best finishes. They imaged like speakers costing three times the price. Today, Paradigm makes a speaker called Persona that takes the design concepts of the S8s way to the extreme (including the use of Beryllium for tweeters and midrange drivers alike), but to me there's just no beating the value that Paradigm brings to the table.
Take, for example, Paradigm's Monitor SE 6000F floor-standing speakers, priced at a mere $899 per pair. That's right--about one tenth the price of my former reference speakers. These Canadian gems come with a five-driver configuration that reportedly crosses over the tweeter at 3kHz and the mid-woofers at 800Hz. At $899 per pair, you can't expect a rare earth tweeter material like Beryllium, but the 6000F does boast a one-inch X-PAL dome tweeter with Paradigm's perforated phase-aligning tweeter lens, which is seriously a big deal at this price point.
The 6000F rocks an impressive 93 dB efficiency, meaning they can crank out the dBs when driven by anything from a single-ended triode tube amp to a small receiver to anything higher up the amplifier food chain.
The speaker comes in a standard matte black finish, as well as a more exciting gloss white option. I wanted the white but didn't want to wait to get my review sample, so I'm currently rocking the black ones next to my reference white Focal Sopra N°2s.
Taking delivery of these speakers was much more complicated than setting them up, but that has nothing to do with Paradigm as much as it has to do with the shipping company. Cracking open the boxes was a cakewalk, as the speakers are a mere 44 pounds each. I was able to park them beside (and ultimately in front of) my well-spiked reference Focals and feed the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs a signal within no more than five minutes. Placement? No problem. These suckers image like champions without a bit of fuss. I found the best performance with them in front of my Focals. That's handy, because logistically speaking I just can't move my other speakers into another room no matter how ideal that would have been from a performance perspective. As with any rear-ported speaker, I did find that moving them around a bit affected the low end. But ultimately, I liked the imaging better out in the middle of the room, so that's where they stayed for the bulk of my listening.
I disconnected my SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer for much of the review, but in a normal situation I would absolutely use these Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs in a 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, or object-based surround sound system. I didn't want my powerhouse SVS to influence my opinion of the speakers as I listened to them mostly in two-channel mode, though. I powered the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs with Classé electronics, including 200 watt, class-D power amplification, which is likely a bit overkill but overkill is nice sometimes.
The Monitor SE 6000Fs have a rated bottom end of 43Hz, which makes them good to go for movies and music alike. For the former, you would want to use a sub, of course, but for an $899 pair of floor-standing speakers, that's some pretty bodacious low end.
My musical selections during my time with the SE 6000Fs ranged from loungy tracks to soul to hit-you-over-the-head rock and metal. On "Theme from Shaft," the wah-wah guitar has bite to it, as it should, but nothing overly harsh or annoying. The strings and horns and tambourines shine with beaming musical energy over the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff-like string arrangement. The horns bring in some bottom end to go along with the bass guitar in this awesome mix. It takes to about 2:45 before Black Moses comes in and to quote the man: "Can you dig it?" Yes, Ike, I can. These Paradigms "are a bad mother- shut your mouth."
Moving on to what might be one of the single best pop songs ever written--Prince and The Revolution's "Raspberry Beret" from Around the World in a Day (AIFF 1440)--the Paradigms inspired me to bump the volume a bit, a pretty common occurrence with these speakers, as they are pretty smooth even when playing loudly. Prince always sounds good on this poppy track, but what I noted that I didn't expect to hear was the layering of the background singers (Wendy and Lisa, who we would learn more about later in Purple Rain), as well as the almost-country-like strings. Prince's yelps at around 2:49 could test even the best speakers at volume, and the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs keep up very nicely.
Delving into more complex and progressive music, I went to King Crimson's "Red" from the 1974 album by the same title. This spectacularly complex, dark, and often dingy classic sounded notably alive on the Paradigms. Bass in 1974 was performed by John Wetton, not Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). This villainous track also is packed with some of the most complex and bombastic Bill Bruford drumming that you will ever hear. China-boy cymbal crashes, workman-like beats, and groove for days.
I wouldn't recommend this song for a first date with a Millennial, but for a solo session it's ballsy listening. The fact that the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs can hold up at 100 dB plus while being slammed by 200-watt Classé amps in a big listening room was amazing. Robert Fripp's awkward tone is nothing short of eerie yet somehow compelling.
Not that I have any desire to let these Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs off easy. I cued up "Pistol Grip Pump" by Rage Against the Machine and hit the volume hard. Much like Audioslave's "Show Me How to Live" (also a great demo track), the drum sound on this track is a tough test in a whole other way than the Bill Bruford, King Crimson track. The drum sound is big and powerful. It sets up the hip-hop foundation that Rage rages on top of. The bass extension is deep, but this is where the subwoofer would get you to the next level (and gets your neighbors to call the cops). At rock concert levels, there was no meaningful fatigue when listening to the 6000Fs.
For some reason, I can't help but to want to torture test the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs. Yes, they are the top of Paradigm's entry-level line, but they just seemed to laugh at me when I played highly complicated music and specifically complicated mixes. "The Song Remains the Same" from Led Zeppelin's 1973 Houses of the Holy album was my last musical torture test. Up went the volume and in came Jimmy Page on his Fender Electric XII, with a jangly yet robust sound. John Paul Jones' bassline is rolling and rocking below with John Bonham blasting away at break-neck pace though the opening 1:30 of the track, which only settles down when Robert Plant comes in with the first verse.
Man, I need a breath just listening to this song. While Houses of The Holy isn't the latest, most gleaming recording that one can find, it's the type of record that I listen to over and over again. This is musical Warhol. I don't get sick of listening to it and any speakers that can't rock "The Song Remains the Same" pretty much suck. The Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs don't suck. Not at all. In fact, they kinda rule.
I've leaned on a lot of musical offerings from a bygone era so far in this review, because that's when music was good and sounded good, but I think we can all agree that we live in a true golden era of television today. My wife and I watch all sorts of shows, from Homeland and House of Cards, to Ray Donovan, The Affair, and Billions. I fired up the recently aired season finale of Billions and found it easy to get caught up in the plot, but a lot of art goes into the musical beds and effects on a well-made drama like Billions. Often, the story moves along with slick, driving musical grooves underneath. With no subwoofer connected, the 43 Hz low end was satisfying.
The dialogue, with no center speaker engaged, sounded crisp and resolute--blowing away the performance of even the best soundbar you could buy for anywhere near this amount of money. Little audio effects like glasses clinking sounded crisp and vibrant. If you are doing a home theater system, you'll no doubt want a center speaker to match the timbre of the 6000Fs--likely the Paradigm Monitor SE 2000C, which packs a whopping price tag of $199--but even without a dedicated center, these speakers dropped dialogue right into the central spot in the soundstage.
Getting into a wonderfully crafted modern film, Dunkirk's opening scene has the firepower to push any speaker system to its limits, let alone an $899 pair of floorstanders. While I wished I had the object-based surround sound cooking, the bullet shots ripping through the check points in this sequence are crisp and scary. They have a three-dimensional sound to them even when listening in stereo. Into scene two, you can immediately hear the bolts-loose growl of the pilots flying across the English Channel and checking their fuel levels. Could the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs use a subwoofer when cranking out scenes like this? What good speaker couldn't for a top-level movie playback? But overall, these speakers held their own under severe gunfire and all-out audio war.
Comparison and Competition
There are so many speakers in this category today that are worthy of consideration, although the trickle-down technology that you get in the Paradigm gives them a unique value proposition. The Aperion Intimus 5T speakers ($799 per pair) always sound good, as do their bigger brothers the Verus II Grands, but they cost more like $1,350 per pair, making this perhaps a bit of an unfair price comparison.
Once again, going above the 6000F's price range a bit at close to $1,300 per pair, I've heard the PSB Imagine T sound very good in similar applications. They too come in white, which is nice, and benefit from all of the Canadian technology that floats around Toronto's nationally sponsored measurement labs.
ELACs Debut F5 speakers are a little less than the Paradigm at about $700 per pair, and come with a design work from Andrew Jones. These speakers could go into the discussion easily. Lots of 5-star reviews online go to support what we think of the ELAC line. Their latest floorstanders are in for review later in the year. Stay tuned.
SVS' Prime Tower might make your short list if you're in this price category, in that at about $1,000 per pair, SVS brings a ton a value to the table. They don't have the sexy white finish like Paradigm and PSB (yet), which might affect people on the coasts who like the sleeker design. But if you are comparing affordable black tower speakers, SVS really needs to be in the discussion. I know they are known more as a subwoofer company, but their speakers are solid.
Lastly, in terms of power handling and overall efficiency, you might look into the Tekton Lore Reference at $750 per pair, direct-to-the-consumer. These made-in-America, super-efficient, Eric Alexander designs are downright phenomenal. I had them in my home for a few weeks complete with a custom paint job (mine were in Miami Dolphin blue, which didn't match my décor well, but they were absolutely a statement).
While there are many players in the sub-$1,000 floor-standing enthusiast speaker market, Paradigm's Monitor SE 6000F are without question a top contender. They have a dynamic, lively sound that is never harsh, yet packs the dynamics needed to rock out on the most challenging of music and keep up with the most bombastic of motion picture soundtracks. These speakers are designed with trickle-down technology that can only come from a top-level speaker company, and they're super-easy to drive with anything from a small audiophile amplifier to one of today's feature packed, yet highly affordable home theater AV receivers.
Yes, you can spend more to get speakers with fancier drivers or sexier exterior finishes, but the value versus performance ratio of the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F speakers is simply hard to beat.
• Visit the Paradigm website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
•Paradigm Persona 3F Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.