Publisher Jerry Del Colliano and I have, for the better part of the past four years, spent more hours than I care to count waxing philosophical about the future of high-end audio. What is the problem (if you can call it that)? What place does truly high-end gear have in a market where prices are plummeting and performance skyrocketing in inverse proportion? That is to say, when you can spend just a couple thousand dollars to achieve levels of performance that would have cost twenty or thirty thousand just a few years ago, why pay more?
My answer to that (which is likely either the most obvious thing in the world or scandal bordering on heresy, depending on your point of view): performance isn't everything. It's the main thing, to be sure. It's a necessary thing. But it isn't necessarily a sufficient thing.
To strengthen my argument, I submit Exhibit A: Paradigm's new Persona Series of high-performance, high-style loudspeakers. Forget flagship; the company refers to the speaker line as "vanguard," and rightly so. What started life as the Concept 4F has now evolved into a fully realized line comprised of one massive active floorstanding speaker and three increasingly smaller passive floorstanders, as well as a bookshelf speaker, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer that bears quite a bit of resemblance to the now-discontinued SUB 1. All of these (save the sub, of course) undeniably share the same DNA as their conceptual forebear.
In a way, the Persona Series resembles a sort of aesthetic Greatest Hits Remix from Paradigm's history. Its offerings boast the elliptical cross-section of former favorites like the Studio line, sliced and diced in interesting new ways to eliminate perpendicular intersections. The new speakers also borrow heavily, it appears, from the clean elegance of the newer Prestige line: the lack of visible screws; the unperturbed metallic cones; and the phase-alignment lenses, constructed (in this case) from overlapping reversed spirals instead of concentric circular perforations, and expanded to cover the seven-inch mid-frequency driver as well as the tweeter.
Finding familiar design traits in these new speakers shouldn't draw attention away from what's new about the Persona line, though. Namely, the use of 99.9 percent pure Truextent Acoustic Beryllium in not only the one-inch tweeter common to all of the speakers in the line, but also the seven-inch midrange driver found in all of the towers and the bookshelf, as well as the four-inch mid driver in the Persona C center.
You'll occasionally see Beryllium used in the tweeters of some high-end speakers, like the Focal Sopra N�2 we reviewed a few months back, select upcoming Revel speakers, and indeed Paradigm's older flagship Signature Series line. Its mix of high rigidity and low mass make it very nearly the ideal transducer material, practically synonymous with clarity and purity of tone. Its scarcity and the effort required to shape it do make it extremely costly, though, so you normally only see larger beryllium mid drivers in offerings like the $78,000 TAD Reference One. The fact that Paradigm is delivering a seven-inch, 99.9 percent pure beryllium driver in speakers starting at $3,500 each is, quite frankly, a bit stupefying.
That said, the price of the Persona line is sure to put it out of reach for most of our listeners. $3,500 only gets you the smallest speaker in the family: the Persona B bookshelf speaker (one of them, remember), with its one-inch beryllium tweeter, seven-inch beryllium mid-bass driver, and rated low-frequency extension down to 36 Hz. The top-of-the-line Persona 9H is a massive $17,500 (each!) hybrid active beast with the one-inch beryllium tweeter and a seven-inch beryllium mid driver (both passive), along with four 8.5-inch ultra-high-excursion X-PAL drivers in a balanced, vibration-canceling configuration (with two firing forward and two firing rearward into a vented chamber in back of the cabinet), each pair of which is powered by a DSP-controlled 700-watt (RMS) amplifier for a total of 2,800 watts of dynamic peak power.
This review isn't about the top-of-the-line model, however. Given carte blanche to pick and choose the Persona system of my choice for review, I did what I imagine few in my position would have done: I went straight for the bottom of the line. I honestly just giggled at myself for typing the words "bottom of the line," considering the fact that a pair of Persona 3F towers (the smallest floorstanders in the family, priced at $5,000 each, with dual seven-inch high-excursion X-PAL bass drivers)--along with the Persona C center ($7,500, with a one-inch beryllium tweeter, four-inch beryllium mid driver, and a quartet of seven-inch high-excursion X-PAL bass drivers) and the aforementioned pair of Persona B bookshelf speakers as surrounds--adds up to $24,500.
Every penny of that prohibitive price tag is clearly on display as one unboxes and assembles the Persona speakers. Even ignoring the exotic driver materials (and, of course, all of the hidden internal bracing and componentry), there's an undeniable high-end elegance to the speakers that pictures and words alone cannot wholly convey. Build quality is flawless. The finish is simply luxurious. The slight inconsistencies that we easily forgive in lesser speakers are nowhere to be seen. Disparate elements come together with striking precision. The binding posts simply make my chest feel floopy. There aren't any grills to be found within the speaker boxes because to affix one to the Persona speaker would be a crime and a sin.
My wife, always the first to comment on the look of new speakers I bring into the house (almost always critically, and only occasionally with some begrudging acceptance that passes for approval) took one look at the Persona speakers as I was assembling the stands for the bookshelves and center and said, "These are the first speakers I've ever seen that are actually too nice for our house. They're bound to make the rest of the room look crappy by comparison."
She wasn't wrong. It did take me a while to test her hypothesis, though. The stands for the bookshelves take about a half-hour each to assemble, with the center speaker stand taking a little longer. As with the speakers themselves, tolerances here are tight, and a good deal of patience (and liberal use of the included protective paper templates) is a must. You can, if you wish, fill the stands with sand, rice, shot, or kitty litter for enhanced dampening; however, given that I'd be returning these beauties in a few weeks, I didn't go that far. Even unboxing the 3F towers (which come fully assembled, save for carpet spikes if you should choose to install those) is a slow process. Once everything was unpackaged and assembled, it didn't take long to get all of the speakers into position.
The Persona B bookshelves slid right into the places recently vacated by a pair of Studio 100v5 towers near the rear of the room, the Persona C (far too large to actually fit on the shelves of my TV stand) took the place of my dual-driver Sunfire SubRosa flat-panel subwoofer on the floor in front of the TV, and I positioned the pair of 3F towers to the left and right, in line with the center. I also brought my pair of Paradigm SUB 12 subwoofers forward and in-line with the towers and center. Power for all five main speakers was provided by my Anthem A5 amp, and cabling consisted of Straight Wire Encore II speaker wire, factory terminated with banana plugs.
A bit of preliminary listening revealed that the speakers required virtually no repositioning. Forward-backward tweaks and toe-in adjustments that would normally have quite an impact on the performance of most speakers proved to have very little effect on the sound of the 3F towers, in particular. To merely call them "forgiving" in terms of placement would be an amusing understatement. The Persona C is ever-so-slightly less forgiving, owing to its rear-ported design and the sheer volume of air moving through those ports. Thankfully, due to the gargantuan size of the speaker, I had no choice but to put it out in the room where it had plenty of room to breathe.
In the end, I settled on a completely non-controversial crossover point of 80 Hz for the surrounds, and I ran the front left, right, and center speakers full-range. What room correction I applied to the speakers was handled by Dirac Live (via Emotiva's XMC-1 preamp/processor). I set an upper limit of roughly 500 Hz when designing my correction filters for the L/R speakers, center, and surrounds, which was enough to compensate for some ooky bass issues centered around 200 to 300 Hz (caused by the geometry of my room) and to ensure a smooth transition between filtered and unfiltered output without affecting the voice of the speakers above that point. (You can check out my older article Automated Room Correction Explained for more thoughts on room correction, many of which don't apply to Dirac Live but nonetheless explain why I don't apply filters to higher frequencies when reviewing speakers of this caliber.)
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...