Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3 Loudspeakers Reviewed

Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3 Loudspeakers Reviewed

Jerry Del Colliano replaced the reference speakers in his system with the Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3 loudspeakers. Based on the tests he put the speakers through, it doesn't seem like that was a bad idea.

Paradigm_Reference_Signature_S8_v3_floorstanding_loudspeakers_review_cherry.jpgLustful thoughts and pleasant memories of uber high-end loudspeakers frequent my dreams. I consider myself quite fortunate that I have been able to own no less than four pairs of Wilson Audio loudspeakers, including four pairs of Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy loudspeakers, as well as Wilson Audio CUBs. More recently, I owned Harman‘s flagship Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers at $24,000 per pair. The Salon2s were installed into a dedicated music and theater room with acoustic treatments from RPG plus room tuning and equalization from world-renowned acoustician, Bob Hodas. From most perspectives, a dedicated room taken to such extremes should result in nothing less than audiophile nirvana, and you’d be right. At the same time, I recently reconfigured this system for loudspeakers costing a third the price. Want to know why? Welcome to my Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3 review.

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding loudspeaker reviews from the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
• Look for amp to drive the S8 V3s in our Amplifier Review section.

At $8,598 a pair retail, I’ve often thought of the Paradigm S8 as a sort of high-end super hero among loudspeakers. This modest reference level floorstanding loudspeaker is physically slim compared to Wilsons, Revels, Magicos and Bowers & Wilkins, but belong in the conversation despite the fact that they only cost a fraction of the price. Paradigms can be bought in more mainstream stores as compared to a good number of the exotics that I choose to compare them to. Additionally, the value that this speaker derives from its excellent distribution model allows it to hold its value better than many others in its class and well above.

Paradigm’s Reference Signature S8 v3 (S8) loudspeaker is about as well designed as any speaker on the planet. I’ve personally seen the master craftsmen just outside of Toronto making the drivers, including its one-inch state-of-the-art Beryllium tweeter. The S8’s super-Neodynium mid-range driver with shock-mount coupling is as good as it gets in the world of speaker-designer-geekdom. The bass drivers are “mineral filled” polypropylene (four in total) that also use the same ISO-SHOCK mounting. Overall, the S8 rocks a reported 92 dB sensitivity, which is similar to my Wilsons but far more efficient than my Revels. Simply put, the Paradigm S8 can rock harder on less power. Physically, the Paradigm S8 is about 48 and a half inches tall by eight and a half inches wide and 20 and a half inches deep, which makes for a relatively modest footprint compared to much of the competition. The fact that the S8 weighs 100 pounds apiece is but another testament to their fantastic build quality.

Paradigm_Reference_Signature_S8_v3_floorstanding_loudspeakers_review_black_no_grill.jpgSetup
Setting up a pair of Paradigm S8 loudspeakers is pretty easy on the basic level but since I take everything to 11, my setup procedure will more than likely differ from the traditional Paradigm customer’s experience. With that said, I hired Bod Hodas to come down from his native Berkeley, California packing his Meyer Sound SIM measurement system with the goal of maxing out the performance of my system and the S8s using two Meyer Sound analog EQs I had previously installed. With positioning mirrors, lasers and $50,000 room measurement tools flying around my room like a mad scientist at a secret NASA lab, Hodas was able to place, tune and measure the Paradigms to levels that most wouldn’t be able to get without professional help. While my Wilsons and Revels got the same tuning treatment, the Paradigms seemed to take to the Hodas-treatment better that their more upmarket competition.



Performance
On “Money” from Pink Floyd’s SACD (Capitol Records), the S8s jump to life with a level of dynamics that could embarrass other loudspeakers with much higher asking prices. Even casual listeners could hear the S8’s strong center image with its stunningly accurate and natural sounding midrange. The bass sounded taut and realistic but still able to “grab you by the boo boo” as Cheech and Chong so eloquently discussed in Up In Smoke. The sax solo was three dimensional and rounded but never too laid back or ambient. David Gilmore’s guitar solo is placed front and center with musical energy that demands your attention. Simply put, the reproduction of Dark Side of the Moon doesn’t get much better than this – at any price.

Read more about the performance of the S8 V3 loudspeakers on Page 2.

Paradigm_Reference_Signature_S8_v3_floorstanding_loudspeakers_review_black.jpgOn “PYT (Pretty Young Thing) from Michael Jackson’s Thriller on SACD (Sony), the bass control that you can hear on the Paradigm S8 loudspeakers is nothing short of impressive. On “Human Nature” the level of resolution equaled that of the resolution that I enjoyed from my former Wilson WATT/Puppy 7s with $57,000 worth of Krell Evolution 900 mono amps in this same room. In comparison to the 86dB Revel Salon2 loudspeaker system powered by Mark Levinson’s top of the line (at that time) No. 436 monoblocks, the musical effect was just not as energizing although it was equally as resolute. The Paradigms on more mainstream music can do more in terms of dynamics, resolution and emotional power than many I’ve heard over the years.

On songs like “You Never Give Me Your Money” from The Beatles’ Abbey Road (Capitol), the George Harrison rift towards the chorus sounded so three-dimensional I swore I must have been listening to master tape – though I knew it was only a CD. As the track hit the bridge and the mix tightened up, I felt like I downshifted in a 911 Turbo and pulled away. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7… mere loudspeakers will not make it to heaven but Paradigms may very well may take you there.

Sticking with a Beatles theme, I went with Let It Be (EMI). While the piano sounds a bit compressed (the recording), McCartney’s vocals open up inspirationally on “Let It Be” in ways that can bring a tear to the eye. While “Let It Be” represents the end of the Lennon/McCartney era for The Beatles, “The Long and Winding Road” represents one of the most complex audio mixes since “A Day In The Life” from Sgt. Pepper’s. While not the most resolute mix ever, the warm audio washes over you on S8s in ways that leave you thinking about the art, the mix and the time in history more than the audio.

Anyone who has read any of my high end speaker reviews knows my standard for true performance is “The Jimi Hendrix Standard,” which states that any loudspeaker that can’t play Jimi and make you “feel the music” sucks. Those that cannot take you to a musical “Electric Ladyland” are not worthy of your consideration at any price. Before we get to Electric Ladyland, perhaps a more rare but somehow more relevant track is “Machine Gun” from the Band of Gypsies Live from the Filmore East (Capitol). On this track you get a much more live, rich and dimensional Jimi Hendrix “experience” that, on the right audio system and in the right mood can blow the doors off an audiophile listening session. The bass goes deeper than you’d expect from a vintage recording of this era. The “wha-ed” guitar has a pop to it that I haven’t heard from a system in my room in a long while. On “Power of Soul” my musical hero, Jimi Hendrix, congratulates my University of Southern California Trojans for winning one of our (now) 11 national championships before launching into a simply ridiculous jam on “The Power of Soul,” where he lets loose on a Stratocaster shredding at levels that are rarely found on Compact Disc. While the hiss is high on this particular recording, the openness is so believable with a live mix that you can only dream about the fantasy of having actually being there. The little rhythmic staccato starts and stops show the musical power of the band as well as their musical flexibility.



In a studio recording situation, the S8s shine even more than with vintage live recordings, as songs like “Gypsy Eyes” from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (Experience Hendrix) have a vintage sheen but realistic, three dimensional pop that would leave nearly every room at the Consumer Electronics Show wishing they could pull off these musical feats. The Paradigm S8s really started to show off on “Long Hot Summer Night” on Electric Ladyland from CD played back via my Classé reference Compact Disc player. The mix was deep; however each layer was discernible and palpable in ways that you might not expect from a 1968 recordings.

Musically, I cannot think of a more relevant way to test Canada’s best audiophile loudspeakers than that of a DTS-Master Audio 5.1 mix of Rush’s epic Moving Pictures album on Blu-ray (Eagle Records). 25 years after its release, hits like “Limelight,” “YYZ,” “Red Barchetta” and “Tom Sawyer” as well as prog-rock hits like “The Camera’s Eye” ring true with total musical relevance. On “Red Barchetta,” Geddy Lee’s bass has a round, real and believable sound than sets up this absurd lyrical plot about a long lost, vintage Ferrari. “YYZ” shows off a fancier 5.1 mix on a song inspired by an airport code (for Toronto). If more bands could make songs rip this hard about meaningless topics like airports, I believe the world would be a better place. The syncopation is nothing short of filthy on this song and through the Paradigm S8’s the track comes alive with drum fills that envelop, guitar riffs that dazzle and bass that can bring you into the mix in ways rarely experienced. Who needs vocals?

It should come as no shock to you that, if the Paradigm Signature S8s rock this hard on important vintage music, then they likely kick ass for music soundtracks. Watching Casino Royale, (2006 – Columbia Pictures), the S8s take no prisoners, especially in Chapter Two where James Bond chases a baddie from a mongoose-snake fight to a construction crane and seemingly everywhere in between. The zipping saw effects as the perp runs through the construction site are worthy of your attention, especially with the Paradigm Reference Signature C5 center channel speaker. At $4,499 plus stand, this big boy center speaker is basically a Paradigm S8 on its side bolted to a stand, thus providing a nicely matched timbre as well as high sensitivity which is especially useful on bombastic motion picture soundtracks. On Casino Royale, the orchestration is dramatic but also worthy of your careful listening attention throughout the massive chase scene. Blings of bells are crisp but growls of motors are even more believable.

On the Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight (Warner Brothers), the Paradigm S8s were simply breathtaking. In the opening shot, as the grappling hook fires from one skyscraper to another, the S8s possessed a sense of control and a lack of distortion that I hadn’t heard in my room with the Revel Salon2s. The shotgun blasts during the bank robbery scene were as resolute as I’ve ever heard. Despite the audio cacophony, the Paradigms kept their act together as well (if not better) than any other speaker I have heard to date. I love 7.1 HD surround sound on Blu-ray – don’t you?

The Downside
The Paradigm Reference Signature S8s are not quite as exotic as their much more expensive competitors; however I refuse to stop making the comparison up-market. Their slim footprint, high sensitivity and musical flexibility make them highly relevant for millions of listeners who have more (or less) money than the S8’s cost. At the same time the Paradigms don’t carry the same WOW factor and the better-than-thy-neighbor factor that other more exotic loudspeakers do.

Compared to loudspeakers like the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P, the Paradigm’s Cherry or Piano Black finishes are nice but somewhat pedestrian. Out are options like Mercedes Brilliant Silver and Aston Martin Dark Titanium, but also out are the higher price tags that come with loudspeakers that have hand-painted finishes.

Sonically, without my Meyer Sound EQs in the loop some might find the highs on the S8s to be a little “hot.” To me they sound great and with proper room treatment, room acoustics and system tuning even from a mid-level AV receiver it should not be an issue.



Competition and Comparison
When discussing value in the world of high-end loudspeakers, you can look also look at Definitive Technology’s Super Towers as they can rock like Paradigm’s Reference Signature S8 yet cost even less money. On the “even less money” theme you might also look at the $2,500 per pair GoldenEar Triton Two floorstanding loudspeakers as they can rock pretty good in their own right.

As I have suggested throughout this review, I think the Paradigm Reference Signature S8 is good enough to compare to the audiophile illuminati including loudspeakers like my former reference Revel Ultima Salon2s; also perhaps Managing Editor Andrew Robinson’s reference loudspeakers in the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond or even the mighty Wilson WATT/Puppy(or Sasha).

For more information on floorstanding loudspeakers please visit Home Theater Review’s Floorstanding Loudspeaker page.

Conclusion
Value is everything in today’s marketplace and while some readers will scoff at the idea that $7,800 loudspeakers are considered to be a “value,” the Paradigm Signature S8 v3 is just that. You could talk about the S8 versus other loudspeakers in the $4,000 to $10,000 price range but the Paradigms simply wipe the floor with nearly every player in that part of the market on most levels. I prefer to up the ante and compare them to the lofty likes of Revel, Magico, Wilson Audio and the big boys. While Paradigm’s Reference Signature S8 may not come with the same panache, they do come with the sound and for many that is all that matters. If you have a taste for $30,000 loudspeakers but only have the budget to spend around $8,598, the Paradigm Signature S8 is possibly the best value in high-end loudspeakers period.

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding loudspeaker reviews from the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
• Look for amp to drive the S8 V3s in our Amplifier Review section.

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