Like many music and home theater enthusiasts, I find bookshelf speakers very appealing. Done right, they can seem almost magical in their ability to cast a large, lifelike 3D soundstage without being intrusive in your living space. Canadian loudspeaker company Paradigm has a longstanding reputation for manufacturing high-end products that deliver great value when it comes to the performance-to-price relationship. Recently, I had the opportunity to audition the Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5 bookshelf speakers, the smallest model in the company's Reference Collection, which falls just below the flagship Signature Collection. Don't be fooled by the "version 5" moniker, as the Studio 10 was a brand new model added to Studio Series when Paradigm updated the whole series awhile back. Prior to that, the Studio 20 (big brother to the Studio 10) had been the entry-level model in the series. I was curious to see if the Reference Studio 10, with an MSRP of $549 each, might represent the performance-to-price sweet spot in Paradigm's lineup.
For my evaluation, I spent two consecutive Friday afternoons at specialty audio retailer Stereo Design putting the Studio 10s through their paces with a variety of Redbook CDs that are very familiar to me. David Nielsen of Stereo Design gave me the run of the house for my evaluation. On both sessions, I paired the stand-mounted Studio 10s with an Ayre CX-7e CD player and an Anthem 225 integrated amplifier.
The Studio 10's two drivers include an elevated one-inch gold anodized, pure aluminum dome tweeter and a 5.5-inch pure aluminum bass/midrange cone driver with a 1.5-inch voice coil. An oval-shaped aluminum front port resides below the two drivers for extended bass performance. According to Paradigm, frequency response is +2dB from 62 Hz to 22 kHz. The two drivers are housed in a beautifully sculpted, curved cabinet design measuring just 12 inches high by 7.88 inches wide by 11.88 inches deep and wrapped in real wood veneer. The four available cabinet finishes include cherry, rosenut, black ash, and a gorgeous piano black. The sleek design aesthetic of the Paradigm Studio 10s would complement almost any room décor. On the back are two sets of high-end binding posts to accommodate either bi-wiring or bi-amping options. I chose to leave the substantial jumpers in place, using a single pair of speaker cables for my listening. The build quality and design touches that Paradigm has packed into these little speakers had me thinking they cost more than their asking price. While the Studio 10s can obviously be located on a shelf, Paradigm recommends you mount them to the coordinating design J-29 stands (at $249 each, these are a bit pricey) and place them as you would floorstanders for best performance. So that's what I did.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, High Ponts, Low Points, Comparison and Competition and Conclusion . . .
Over the course of listening, the character of the little Studio 10s really struck me as that of an overachiever. They brought out more musical details than I expected from such a small speaker. The timbre of instruments sounded so lifelike. From the rich overtones of the Viola da Gamba played by Nima Ben David on her CD Resonance (MA Recordings) to the brilliant notes played by Chris Botti on his vintage Martin Committee Handcraft trumpet to the taut bass notes of Pino Palladino's guitar on John Mayer's song "Vultures" from his Continuum CD (Columbia), I was struck by how well the Studio 10s got the little nuances of the instruments right, which provided greater emotional impact and enjoyment. The Paradigms were also able to reproduce both female and male voices with tonal accuracy and fullness, never sounding thin or bloated.
The Studio 10s' precise imaging on all but the most challenging music was excellent. For example, on the soulful tune "You Can Bring Me Flowers" by Ray LaMontagne from his CD Till the Sun Turns Black (RCA Records), I was easily able to pinpoint each instrument in its proper place within the soundstage while enjoying all of the raw emotion in Ray's voice. Live recordings, such as Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley CD (Blix Street), were reproduced with just the right amount of ambience, producing a 3D soundstage that virtually transported me to the Washington DC jazz club. Only when I played very dynamic music like Britten's Orchestra by the K.C. Symphony (Reference Recordings) did the limits of the Studio 10s' bass reproduction become readily apparent. Try as they might, the little Studio 10s couldn't reproduce all of the bass energy on the recording that I've enjoyed through larger speakers. Also, the soundstage was not as well defined as it was on less complex recordings. Overall, though, I was impressed with how much these little bookshelf speakers could get right on the variety of recordings I played.
• The Studio 10's cabinet almost disappears while casting a wide and deep soundstage of rich, full sound.
• While I limited my listening to two-channel music, Paradigm's Reference Studio Series offers matching products with the same sonic characteristics to build a complete high-end home theater surround system.
• The Paradigm Studio 10's design aesthetic, high-end build quality, and small size enable it to blend into almost any décor.
• With the small size of the Studio 10s, a subwoofer is required to deliver the low-octave punch needed to satisfy listeners of bass-heavy music genres such as rap, hip hop, heavy metal, and large symphony classical.
Comparison & Competition
If you're looking for a pair of bookshelf speakers in the roughly $1,000 price range, there are alternatives to consider. During my evaluation of the Studio 10s, I was able to perform an A/B comparison with the Bowers & Wilkins CM1 speakers. Compared with the Studio 10s, I found the CM1 speakers to be more laidback, with a less lively sound and imaging that's not quite as forward. Some will prefer the B&W CM1 sound. For me, they didn't provide the same emotional connection as the Paradigms. Another competitor to consider is the SVS Ultra Bookshelf, which was favorably reviewed by HomeTheaterReview.com. You can check out more bookshelf speaker reviews by visiting our category page on the subject.
The Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5 bookshelf speakers are overachievers in almost every respect. These very musical speakers will surprise you with their ability to produce a huge soundstage while accurately portraying voices and instruments in space with finesse. Considering their published frequency response, the Paradigms deliver a lot more bass energy than expected. They do have their limits, though, especially in being able to produce the large amounts of low-end punch required by bass-heavy music. For those applications, combine the Studio 10s with one or more matching Paradigm subwoofers, and you'll be in bass heaven. The Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5 bookshelf speakers provide a great entry point into the high-end audio hobby without breaking the bank account. They're also a great start to a complete home theater surround system if mated with other Paradigm Reference Studio Series products.