I've been a fan of Paradigm for years, owning and enjoying seemingly every speaker in their product line from the awesome and affordable Atoms to their flagship Signature S8s. Over the years there have been two Paradigm speaker designs that have struck a special chord with me, the Paradigm Mini Monitors and the Reference Studio 20s. The Paradigm Mini Monitors were my first ever audiophile speaker purchase and every model year I would simply upgrade them versus looking at another manufacturer. In college I was able to take the next step and scrounge up enough money to upgrade my Mini Monitors to Reference Studio 20s. Fast-forward to today and the pair of Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.5's before me. I loved the previous four incarnations of the Studio 20s but have to admit that v.5 looks to be the best yet.
Taking more than a few stylistic cues from their big brother, the Signature S2s, the Reference Studio 20 v.5s look almost identical in appearance. They're not of course, for the Signature line comes in a variety of high gloss finishes and feature better veneers and thicker cabinets; however I'd hardly call the Reference Studio 20 v.5's ugly. Clad in your choice of Rosenut, Black Ash, Cherry or High Gloss Piano Black, the Studio 20v.5's have smooth, flowing lines void of any hard angles or edges. The Studio 20 v'5 retails for $1,198 a pair, which is a bit costlier than earlier models but still within the realm of extreme value for the money: a Paradigm staple. The Studio 20 used to be the entry into the Reference Studio lineup of loudspeakers, however that honor now falls to the Reference Studio 10, which is slightly smaller than the 20 and retails for $798 a pair.
The Studio 20 v.5 is a two way front-ported design featuring a one inch dome tweeter mated to a single, seven inch bass/midrange driver. On paper the Studio 20 v.5 has a reported frequency response of 54Hz to 22kHz. The Studio 20 v.5 is also easier to drive than most bookshelf/monitor speakers in its class with its 90dB sensitivity rating and rather benign eight Ohm load, making it suitable for amplifiers ranging in power from a measly 15 watts on up to 180. Truth be told, I've powered previous Studio 20 designs with amplifiers with as little as two watts per channel, with stunning results provided I didn't get too crazy with the volume controls.
In terms of overall sound quality, the Studio 20 v.5 is a very smooth, refined, nearly colorless or characterless loudspeaker. I don't mean characterless in a bad way, actually quite the opposite. When you think about it, a loudspeaker should be characterless, it should simply be a messenger, one without any agenda or history of its own. Like the detective novels and television shows of yesteryear, the Studio 20 v.5 keep it to "just the facts." The Studio 20 v.5's midrange is sublime and among the best you'll find in its class, though it can seem a bit light at first, but stick with it and you'll begin to realize that other speakers simply sound syrupy in comparison. The Studio 20 v.5's high frequency performance is top notch though it does lack that magic sparkle and air you'll find from the Signature S2's Beryllium tweeter. The Studio 20 v.5's bass isn't what I'd call a foundation buster - for that you'll need a subwoofer or two; however what bass it does have is surprising and very agile and taut. If you have a smaller room and don't listen to a great deal of hard, driving rock or rap then you may be just fine with a pair of Studio 20 v.5s. However, if you plan on watching any sort of summer movie fare with them, be sure to pack the sub.
Competition and Comparison
You can compare Paradigm's Reference Studio 20 v.5 against its competition by reading our reviews for the Dynaudio Excite X12 loudspeaker and the Revel Performa M22 loudspeaker. For more information and reviews on different products, visit our Bookshelf Speaker section. You can also find additional information on our Paradigm brand page.
• The Studio 20 v.5's fit and finish is first rate, it looks like a far more expensive speaker than it is and once you hear it you'd swear it was.
• The Studio 20 v.5's midrange and treble performance is first rate and extremely natural with no glaring character of its own making it suitable for a wide range of source material, be it music or movies.
• The Studio 20 v.5's bass, while not uber-deep, is very musical, rich and taut and went lower than I was expecting.
• There used to be a bigger performance gap between the Reference Studio 20s and the Paradigm Signature S2s. With the introduction of v.5 I think that gap has gotten a bit smaller. While the S2s are still superior to the Studio 20 v.5s, I do believe dollar for dollar the Studio 20 v.5s are the better value. Not to mention they now look eerily similar.
• The Studio 20 v.5 sound best when the tweeter is near ear level and placed in a room similar to how you would place a pair of floorstanding speakers, which means you're going to need some good, quality stands. I recommend Paradigm's own J-29 stands which are built for the Studio 20 v.5s and can be attached via screws for a secure fit; however hey're not the cheapest stands out there at around $400 a pair.
• The Studio 20 v.5s play surprisingly loud on little to no power; if you push them to hard they do tend to compress a little and that tame tweeter can quickly turn into a monster.
• The Studio 20 v.5 do require a subwoofer if you really want to hear and feel true bass out of certain recordings or movie soundtracks.
So what does all this mean for the Studio 20 v.5? It means that for a little over a grand you can get your hands on one of the best sounding, highest value for the dollar, monitor loudspeakers from one of the industry's most respected manufacturers, Paradigm. It's easy to drive, easy to integrate into seemingly any living space or system and looks great to boot. It's quite possibly the perfect speaker for the budding audiophile or enthusiast looking to simplify things and get back to what matters most; enjoying your music and or movies.