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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...