Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
The Paradigm Studio v.5 series was introduced at CES 2009 as the fifth iteration of the Studio series. The Studio series was first introduced about a decade ago and, as the version number implies, it has been updated as new technologies and manufacturing processes becomes available. For those of you not familiar with Paradigm, it is the sister company of Anthem Electronics and is one of the largest speaker manufacturers in North America. Paradigm has long worked in close connection with the Canadian National Research Council and is a believer in measured speaker performance. Much of Paradigm's speaker development utilizes a variety of measurement techniques to refine and test design ideas.
The Studio series reviewed here is part of Paradigm's Reference division and is the series positioned just below their top of the line Signature series. If you are unfamiliar with the various Paradigm lines, I recommend spending some time on their informative website, as Paradigm has several lines addressing different needs at different price points. Despite the differences between the lines, all of Paradigm's speaker lines are known for providing excellent bang for the buck. The value provided by Paradigm speakers has always been admirable and is even more important, given the state of the current world economy.
The three front speakers, the Studio 100 v.5s and CC-690 v.5, retail at $1,499 each, the surrounds are the Studio ADP-590 v.5 at $699 apiece and the Sub 15 is priced at $2,799. I also used the optional Perfect Bass Kit, which is priced at $299. The Studio 100 is a five-driver, three-way floor-standing tower and is the largest speaker in the Studio series. Before I go into details about the 100, let me tell you a bit about the refinements that benefit the entire Studio v.5 series. The first thing I noticed was the cabinetry. Paradigm cabinets in the past typically had a function-follows-form look to them. The newest v.5 series steps up the aesthetics with sculpted wood veneers in cherry, rosenut or black. The speakers have attractive curved side panels, outrigger feet for increased stability, a new, more transparent grille assembly and new Santoprene rubber suspension for the bass and midrange drivers, which are said to lower driver distortion. The cabinets are made of MDF, strategically braced and feature a top-secret, high-tech damping material to absorb any residual vibrations. The Studio 100s are indeed very solid, weighing a hefty 78 pounds for their 44-and-one-eighth-inch by nine-and-a-half-inch by 17-inch size. The knuckle rap test indicated that they are in fact relatively inert, with any resonances dissipating extremely quickly. The driver complement consists of a one inch G-PAL (gold anodized pure aluminum) hard dome tweeter, with ferro fluid damping and die-cast heat sink chassis. The tweeter, as with all drivers in the series, is mounted via Paradigm's IMS/Shock-Mount system. The rest of the drivers include a seven-inch S-PAL (satin anodized pure aluminum) bass/midrange driver and three seven-inch mineral-filled polypropylene bass drivers. The frequency range is specified at 44 Hz - 22 kHz, with 93 dB efficiency. The center channel, the CC-690, was the largest dynamic driver center I have ever auditioned. It is a three-way design, with six drivers, measuring over 37 inches wide, ten inches high and sixteen-and-a-half inches deep. The cabinet rests on a pair of included table top feet, which can be removed for stand-mounting the speaker. The tweeter is the same one-inch unit from the Studio 100 and is positioned in the center of the speaker above a four-and-a-half inch S-PAL cone midrange. This midrange/tweeter array is flanked by two drivers on each side, a pair of seven-inch bass/midrange drivers on the inside and a pair of seven-inch bass drivers on the outside. The ADP-590 is a dipole design. This compact speaker comes with a simple yet effective wall mount. The front and rear panels of the speaker have the same one-inch dome tweeter above a three-and-a-half-inch S-PAL cone midrange driver. The inside panel features a seven-inch bass. The tweeter, midrange/bass and bass drivers are the same throughout the line, which helps to maintain sonic coherence from speaker to speaker.
The Sub 15 is a large subwoofer, 19.5 inches square on the front, 22 inches deep and weighing a solid 103 pounds. As its name implies, the subwoofer utilizes a 15-inch driver. The driver employs a large three-inch dual voice coil, surrounded by large aluminum shorting rings and a massive 35-pound magnet assembly to minimize distortion and increase linear power application. The subwoofer is powered by an internal dual amp 1,700-watt class D amplification system and has a USB port for future firmware upgrades or, more interestingly, room correction via Paradigm's Perfect Bass Kit. This subwoofer has many features that are worth reading about on the Paradigm website.
I hooked the Paradigm Studio speakers up to my current reference theater system. The processor/amplifier combination is the Marantz AV-8003 MM-8003. The main sources were a Sony PS3 and Halcro EC-800 CD/DVD/SACD player. I used HDMI for the PS3. For the Halcro, I tried HDMI, component/digital coaxial and also 5.1 via analog. All cables were from Kimber, with the exception of the 5.1 cables. The HDMI cables were Kimber's HD19s and the speaker cables were Kimber's 8TCs. The 5.1 cables consisted of three pairs of Ultralink's Platinum series interconnects.
I also used the Studio 100 v.5s in my two-channel system. This system starts with a Classé CDP-202 CD player feeding a Conrad Johnson CT-5 preamplifier and Halcro DM-38 amplifier. All cables are Kimber Select, with the KS-3035 being used for the speaker cables. While the front three speakers are all capable of being bi-wired, I used single cable runs for this review.
The front left and right speakers were placed just over eight feet apart to flank my SMX Screen's 110-inch, 16:9 screen. The left and right speakers were approximately three feet from the front wall and toed in slightly. The center speaker was positioned just below the center of the screen about a foot out from the front wall and the subwoofer was between the center and right speakers. As the surround speakers are of a dipole design, I did not use my typical surround speaker position. Instead, I placed the speakers on stands along the side walls just behind the listening position. If these were my permanent speakers, I would have installed them on the side walls with the included hardware.
Lastly, I set the subwoofer up using Paradigm's Perfect Bass Kit. I'll save the in-depth description for our upcoming review of the Paradigm Reference Sub 25 with the Perfect Bass Kit. In short, the $299 Perfect Bass Kit comes with a microphone, heavy-duty stand, software and two USB cables. The subwoofer and microphone are hooked up to the computer, which then generates and measures a series of test tones. The appropriate equalization is then applied to the subwoofer.
I began my listening with just the Studio 100s in a traditional stereo configuration. I first sat down to listen to the speakers after they had played for a couple of days. The speakers sounded a little harsh and bright. I let them break in for another week or so and then I listened again. Much as with any high-performance speaker, it was a whole other, even more enjoyable experience.
Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" from The Downward Spiral (Nothing Records) is definitely not an audiophile track, but is music that I have heard on many systems over many years. Those of you familiar with this track know it as an aggressive piece with a driving two-tone bass line. At moderate volumes, I found the dynamics and overall tonal character to be very good. Trent Reznor's voice was right on and the guitar track was aggressive without being overly harsh. The ability of the Studio 100s to reach down low was also impressive. The bass line was palpable but lacked the last few degrees of definition the most refined speakers can produce. When I pressed the speakers at much higher volumes, there was some dynamic compression and harshness in the treble region.
In an ode to our audiophile readers, I also used Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go" off of his self-titled album (Hip-O-Select). The Paradigms portrayed a good sense of space, with Lofgren solidly placed. Tonal inflections and the smallest of guitar strokes were easily discernible. The music floated off the speakers, rather than discernibly emerging from the speakers themselves. The Paradigms let me forget about the stereo system and simply enjoy the music.
After some two-channel listening, I was anxious to experience the entire 5.1 Paradigm Studio system with some movies. My wife and I watched The Incredible Hulk (Universal Studios Home Video, Blu-ray). While the movie as a piece of cinema pretty much sucked, it gave me a chance to see what the Paradigm Studio speakers could do. Voices were very clear and easy to understand from all seating positions. Pans across the front three speakers were smooth and even with both vocal and other sounds. The center channel remained consistent off-axis across the critical midrange area, where vocals are located. I haven't had dipole surround speakers in my theater for quite some time and they were very different to listen to than traditional speakers. When I was specifically listening for the surround effects, they were harder to localize. While this made it frustrating for me as a reviewer attempting to ascertain the ability of the surround speakers to resolve details, when I simply watched the movie, the dipole speaker design proved to work out well.
Wanting to give the big 15-inch subwoofer a workout I turned to Iron Man (Paramount Home Entertainment, Blu-ray). This movie can pack quite a wallop on a capable system. When the Iron Man character deployed his weapon, the Paradigm system portrayed this with powerful, visceral impact. The subwoofer blended well with the front speakers, never calling attention to itself, while providing a very solid bass foundation. Explosions and other similar events were quite literally a moving experience. Often subwoofers that excel in visceral dynamics do not do well with the details. Fortunately, the Sub 15 was tighter than I expected, tight enough to blend well with the main speakers, and could easily compete with most 12-inch subwoofers in terms of speed, yet had the additional low end for the off-the-charts bass that can easily become an addiction.
In order to give the subwoofer a test that was a bit more difficult, I played the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over DVD (DTS). The system's multi-channel performance was similar to its stereo performance. The overall sound was warm and slightly forward. The drums on this album are well recorded, with solid impacts and a detailed decay note. The Studio 15 did well with both, but the decay note lacked some of the detail and length that I have heard on some of the best subwoofers, although you are not likely to notice this unless you are lucky enough to have such a subwoofer on hand for comparison.
Competition and Comparison
If you are interested in comparing the Paradigm Studio 100 system against its competition, read our reviews for MartinLogan's Motion speaker system and the Aperion Intiumus 5T-DB speaker system. Please also visit our Paradigm brand page for more information about the company.
There is not much to complain about with the Paradigm Studio v.5 series of speakers with its years of revisions and improvements. However, I guess no speaker is perfect. The center channel comes with attached feet that are to be used if one does not use the Paradigm stand. I found that the plastic feet were not up to the build quality of the rest of the speakers. Also, with the feet affixed to the speaker rather than being separate, the ability to position and aim the speaker is limited. Speaker positioning is also my concern with the surround speakers, as with any dipole surround speaker. In my particular room, it is very difficult to position dipole surround speakers. During my listening tests, I had to place the left surround speaker in front of the door to the room. While this worked for the short term, I would not want to place a speaker in front of a door that could be opened and knock over a speaker. On the other hand, I can think of other room configurations where a dipole surround speaker would likely work better than a traditional speaker design. The moral of the story is that no one speaker design fits every room, so consider your room before buying your speakers.
Paradigm has hit a home run with their new Studio Series v.5. The Paradigm Studio 100 v.5s are quite capable in either a stereo or multi-channel setting. The CC-690 and ADP-590 speakers do their job very well, so long as your room will allow for correct positioning. Lastly, the Studio 15 subwoofer does a phenomenal job in plumbing the depths of the audio range, reaching down to the bottom with authority, and should be enough to handle most home theater systems (although I am a fan of multiple subwoofers).
The current series of Paradigm Studio speakers has a character that can be best described as warm midrange with an ever so slightly active top end. I never found the Paradigms to be harsh, but if you expect or are seeking a more laid-back speaker, you will want to audition others in the price class. For the rest of us, the Paradigm Studios do so much right. They throw a huge soundstage with well-defined images, without pinpointing the speakers as the sonic source and vocals are reproduced with full-bodied warmth. All in all, these speakers can simply disappear and let the music or movie shine through to be enjoyed. People with speakers costing as much as $20,000 a pair have commented to me that they could easily live with Paradigm Studio 100s without a second thought. They are just that good.