A few weeks ago, a friend was over to watch a movie in my home theater for the first time. Enamored with the experience, he asked for surround speaker recommendations to replace the soundbar in his living room. Like any good audiophile, I told him to avoid brands typically found in big-box stores and go with a company respected by the hi-fi community, explaining that these companies have what I refer to as a top-down approach when designing speakers. That is, most of them design a line of state-of-the-art speakers through costly R&D that wouldn't otherwise be possible for less expensive speakers. The knowledge gained often trickles down and gets incorporated into their less expensive speaker lines, thus creating speakers that offer better value and sound at a similar price point to the big-box names.
The AV Gods' ears must have been burning, as the Paradigm Premier Series speakers that soon showed up on my doorstep epitomize this top-down approach to speaker design, offering a compelling value for those looking to upgrade to something more performance oriented without breaking the bank.
Paradigm's Premier lineup comprise six unique models. Of these six, Paradigm sent me two Premier 700F floorstanding speakers ($799 each) and one Premier 500C center channel speaker ($799). The company also loaned me a pair of Surround 1 speakers ($299 each) to fill out the rear of the room. Finish options on the Premier line include gloss black, gloss white, and espresso grain. The speakers I received for review were in gloss black and the finish is absolutely gorgeous for the price.
The Premier 700F is a three-way, four-driver ported floorstanding speaker rated at 91dB sensitivity, with a frequency response of 45Hz to 25kHz (±3dB). The Premier 500C is a four-driver, three-way sealed center channel speaker with rated 92dB sensitivity and a frequency response of 73Hz to 25kHz (±3dB). The Surround 1 is a four driver, two-way bipole surround speaker with rated sensitivity of 89dB, frequency response of 120Hz to 20kHz ( 2dB), and low frequency extension rated at 71Hz.
As mentioned above, all of the speakers borrow technology and design elements from Paradigm's more expensive offerings. With components designed in-house, Paradigm can control nearly every aspect of the speaker to get the level of performance and sound signature they want each speaker to have. This level of control over design is something you'll have a hard time finding from the big-box brands.
All five of the speakers Paradigm sent me employ the company's one-inch ferro-fluid damped and cooled pure aluminum X-PAL dome tweeter. The tweeter is protected by what Paradigm refers to as a perforated phase-aligned (PPA) tweeter lens. This lens works as a phase plug, helping to cancel out-of-phase frequencies. Paradigm claims the PPA lens allows for greater driver efficiency and smoother, more extended high frequencies. It also adds an aesthetically pleasing, distinctive touch to the speakers' design.
The midrange woofer in the 700F and 500F use Paradigm's carbon-infused polypropylene cone and is covered by a similar (but of course larger) perforated phase-aligned lens. Carbon is used to make the cone stronger and more rigid, allowing for less distortion and more pistonic movement, which is something all woofers are trying to approximate.
Woofers in this range use Paradigm's patented Active Ridge Technology (ART) surround, made from an injection-molded thermoplastic elastomer. Compared to surround materials typically found in speakers in this price range, Paradigm claims ART is more durable and allows for greater driver excursion for a 3dB gain in output and a fifty percent reduction in distortion.
The woofer baskets are diecast and feature large, integrated heat sinks to better dissipate heat, allowing the woofer to accept more power without compression.
The woofer drivers also use a spider backing material made of Nomex. Using Nomex, over the more conventional cotton material typically found in this price range, allows for a number of advantages in performance. Nomex is more pliable and ten times stronger than cotton. Using Nomex should ensure the driver's performance remains consistent as it ages.
The speaker cabinets are made from anti-resonant three-quarter-inch MDF with computer-optimized internal bracing and reinforced front baffles. The one-inch MDF front baffle is smoothed, which Paradigm claims helps reduce diffraction and improve sound radiation performance. The speaker cabinets also taper toward the back, removing parallel cabinet walls. This helps eliminate standing waves inside the cabinet, reducing coloration and distortion.
I was particularly impressed with how well these speakers were packaged considering the cost. Each speaker comes with a set of pictured step-by-step instructions for unboxing, making setup a lot easier. Cleverly, the instructions for the 700F floor-standers have you unbox the speakers upside down so you can install either floor spikes or rubberized feet first (included in the box), so that when you flip the speakers upright they're ready for use.
Prior to Paradigm sending me these speakers, they received a hundred hours of break-in at the factory. I should also note that Paradigm didn't send me a subwoofer to use with these surround sound speakers, so I added my personal Elemental Designs A7S-450 sub to the mix.
The owner's manual for each speaker offers great advice on placement and general setup for those unfamiliar with the process. Considering these speakers are aimed at those upgrading from a soundbar or HTIB, Paradigm has done an excellent job explaining the theory behind their setup recommendations. I highly recommend owners, especially those new to high-end audio, read through the user manual for these tips. Even veteran speaker owners might learn something.
The Surround 1 speakers come with a wall-mount bracket, safety strap, and a stencil guide to properly attach the speakers to a wall if you aren't placing the speakers on a flat surface. The wall-mounting process was relatively straightforward; however, I found having an extra set of hands available made the mounting process easier.
A personal litmus test that I have for speakers is that they have to look good without grills. The Premier Series speakers pass this test with flying colors. I doubt many will complain with how these speakers look, which should help ease the frustrations of weary significant others less keen on having large speakers in the house. The 700F, in particular, looks stunning without its grill on. These speakers would make a statement in just about any room. The speaker grills are magnetic, too, which I prefer allowing the cabinet to have a cleaner, more seamless look when the grills aren't attached.
An important aspect that many overlook when purchasing surround sound speakers is timbre matching. This ensures every speaker in the line has the same tonal balance and sound characteristic as the others, so when a sound cue moves from the front speakers to the surrounds, or across the front soundstage from left to right, through the center, there are no noticeable changes in sound signature. The benefit of using speakers from the same line is that it removes any guesswork with timbre matching.
Of course, no amount of timbre matching can compensate for sonic variations caused by your room itself. That's where room correction comes in. Despite my Onkyo TX-NR905 AV receiver being somewhat dated, it has Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction software built in, which made a remarkable difference in how the main speakers in this system blended with my subwoofer, and how the low-to-mid frequencies arrived at my ears with balance, control, and authority.
Once a month I host a movie night at my house. I invite roughly a dozen people over and whoever shows up gets a show. During my most recent movie night, we decided Interstellar (2014) on Ultra HD Blu-ray was apropos for that evening's movie, not only to introduce one guest to the work of Christopher Nolan, but also because scientists had just taken the first photo of a real black hole.
Near the end of the film, just before Matthew McConaughey's character, Cooper, flies into a black hole, there's a series of shots that have it all: a big orchestral score, explosions, loud dialogue, and tons of surround sound effects. It's the type of sequence that requires a set of high-performance loudspeakers to do it justice. The Premier speakers didn't disappoint, especially in terms of their dynamic impact. Surround sound elements were portrayed accurately and, though pushed hard, none of the speakers showed signs of compression or distortion.
Compared to my reference JTR Triple 8 speakers, the 700Fs gave a more satisfying rendition of this scene, due to their better bass response, which allowed for a lower crossover with the sub. The result was more even bass response from seat to seat and throughout the room.
It's not just blockbuster sci-fi films that the Premier speakers excelled at. My recent experience watching Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) on Ultra HD Blu-ray was extremely positive. This film doesn't have explosions and fly-by-your head surround sound elements, but it does (loosely) tell the true(ish) story of the band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury. The film is filled with a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, and I found that the 500C center channel speaker handled these scenes well, with superb vocal intelligibility. Dialogue sounded crisp, coherent, and lacked any trace of emphasized sibilance. A benefit of the 500C using a tweeter-over-mid design is that it generally avoids issues with combing, an artifact that causes variation in the tonal quality of sound as you move on the speaker's horizontal axis. Testing specifically for this artifact, moving my head left and right during expository scenes, revealed no combing issues as suspected.
The end of the film features a fabulous recreation of Queen's famous 1985 set at Live Aid, with the band performing a mashup of several of their biggest hits. The sound signature of the Premier speakers does emphasize midrange and upper-bass frequencies a bit, which I think perfectly suits rock music, and as such the Premier system really shone with this art of the film. As the band goes through the set, the crowd gets more and more involved. The Surround 1 speakers did an excellent job portraying reverb, crowd noise, and the mass singalong. I must admit, I sang along too and had my toes tapping the whole time. These speakers literally rocked my theater.
To test the two-channel stereo capabilities of the 700F loudspeakers, I lugged my dedicated two-channel equipment downstairs into the theater. I fed the 700Fs sound via a Sonore Signature Series Rendu, PS Audio DirectStream DAC, and Nelson Pass designed First Watt J2 amplifier, with DH Labs Silver Sonic cables used throughout. While this setup costs nearly ten times as much as the 700Fs and isn't the typical system most buying the Premier 700F would use, it allows the speakers to perform near their best.
As evidenced by my time spent listening to these speakers with surround sound tracks, the 700Fs have a rich midrange and upper-bass sound signature that I think is perfectly suited for Rock music. Knowing this, I cued up "Fulton County Jane Doe" from the latest Grammy-winning album by Brandi Carlile. The opening guitar riff and drum fill are hard hitting and rendered heavy, as intended, through the 700Fs. Carlile's vocals were up front and center as they should've been. Backup vocals and supporting guitar work by the Hanseroth twins flanked Carlile on both sides with excellent tonal balance in the midrange and bass. The 700Fs felt right at home, giving a satisfying rendition of this track.
Switching gears to something more acoustic, I cued up Chris Stapleton's "Either Way" from his album From a Room: Volume 1. I like to use this track as a torture test for speakers, since it features vocals that can be difficult to render faithfully. During the chorus, Stapleton is nearly yelling, which has a tendency to overpower some speakers, leading to breakup or smearing. The 700Fs remained faithful to the source, with a clear and appropriately loud rendition of Stapleton's voice, haunted by no muddying of the sound.
One of my more recent classical discoveries is Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, TH 59: III. Finale Allegro vivacissimo." I've recently purchased a wonderfully recorded performance on SACD by the Russian
National Orchestra with Julia Fischer on lead violin and decided to give it a go with the 700Fs. I was impressed with how well the speakers handled the attack of Fischer's violin, especially in their delivery of the fine transient detail of her rather edgy-sounding performance. The 700Fs conveyed a great sense of dynamics and impact, too, anytime the orchestra joined in.
Given that the 700Fs having just two 5.5-inch woofers, I was surprised by the speakers' low frequency extension and control, even without the benefit of a subwoofer. Paradigm clearly has done some excellent work with the cabinet tuning and port design to allow for more bass than one would expect.
While there is a lot going on in this piece, small details never got lost in the frenzy. I could clearly make out the snare drums rattling in the background during some of the more dynamic sequences, which might have otherwise been lost on a lesser performing set of speakers.
The midrange-forward sound signature these speakers have is a double-edged sword. For certain music it sounds great and others not so much. Rock music is where I found these speakers sound their best. However, I found I had a hard time placing certain instruments within the stereo image on some of the orchestral pieces I listened to. For movies, I found this rich midrange and upper-bass sound signature to be a positive. Sound was big, as if it were coming from the screen itself, which is exactly what you want.
The cabinets, while aesthetically pleasing, are comprised of a lot of plastics. Even at this price point, I would have liked to see better materials used. When I had the speakers set up for two-channel listening, even with the volume knob set to moderate sound levels, I could feel a lot of cabinet vibration when I placed my hands on the cabinets.
Also, while I was impressed with how much bass the 5.5-inch woofers of the 700F could produce, I've heard better in this price range. With that said, it's difficult to find floorstanding speakers, at any price point, that are true full frequency. For two-channel audio, I would recommend adding a subwoofer for the best experience. For surround sound use, I suspect most people will be adding a sub anyway.
Comparison and Competition
Not having a pair of loudspeakers near the 700Fs price point here to compare against, I decided to see how they fared against my reference Monitor Audio Platinum PL100 II loudspeakers. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the 700Fs kept up despite the large price difference. The PL100 IIs imaged a little better, offered a greater sense of soundstage depth, bass was more resolved and had an airier top end, but not as much as the price difference would indicate. The 700Fs were able to dive a little deeper with bass, as expected, due to the larger cabinet. If I hadn't known, I would have guessed these speakers cost at least twice as much as they do.
Near the Premier Series' price point, there are a lot of alternatives to choose. If I were currently in the market for a set of surround sound speakers in this budget range, I would seek to audition a set of speakers from Bowers & Wilkins' 600 series lineup or the Monitor Audio Silver series lineup.
I recommend these two specific lines of speakers because both the 600 series and Silver series lineup have been recently refreshed, adding overall performance gains through trickle-down R&D, just like Paradigm offers with their Premier lineup of speakers.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Paradigm's Premier Series system. For the price, the speakers sound great and offer a lot of value by borrowing technology and design from Paradigm's higher end speakers. If you're looking to upgrade from a soundbar or basic HTIB system to something truly high-performance, Paradigm's Premier speakers should be on your short list of speakers to audition.
• Visit the Paradigm website for more product information
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
•Paradigm Persona 5F Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.