Paradigm Reference Signature Series 5.1 (S6,C3,ADP,SUB 1) Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Paradigm Reference Signature Series 5.1 (S6,C3,ADP,SUB 1) Review

Paradigm Reference Signature Series 5.1 (S6,C3,ADP,SUB 1) Review
Paradigm is a name that carries a great deal of weight in the AV community, a name that is synonymous with quality, innovation, and absolute commitment to performance. As a Canadian ex-pat I must admit a certain pride at such a magnificent audio product being produced in my former home land. When I was informed that I would be reviewing Paradigm's Reference Signature S6 loudspeakers I was extremely excited - these speakers have long been a benchmark of quality in the industry, and in no small way, this is because of how Paradigm designs and manufactures their products.
Paradigm's Mississauga Ontario facility is home to R&D, testing chambers, driver assembly and cabinet construction. Each and every part of a Paradigm loudspeaker is designed and engineered for the product it will be used in. With the Signature Series - this is even more important and Paradigm's most groundbreaking technologies are employed to create their new flagship offering. I was privileged to receive a complete 5.1 review system from Paradigm including S6 v.3 floorstanding mains, a Signature C3 v.3 center channel, and ADP3 v.3 surrounds with the most impressive SUB 1 subwoofer.

The S6 v.3 is a three-way floorstanding tower with a 1" pure beryllium tweeter, a 7" mid-woofer and two 7" woofers. The port is located directly below the bottom woofer and allows more flexible placement with respect to walls. High quality binding posts allow for bi-wiring or bi-amping as well. The dimensions of the S6 are quite reasonable measuring a very manageable 43.75" H x 8.25"W x 13.5"D though the speaker weighs in at 70 lbs. This weight is likely in no-small part due to the over-engineered cabinet and driver motors used by Paradigm. Paradigm includes spikes for the base which I found invaluable in my carpeted listening environment.

The Signature C3 v.3 center channel is no less hefty than the towers flanking it - at 45 lbs while only 26.5" wide and 9.5" tall. The drivers in the C3 v.3 are similar to the S6 with the same 7" woofers on either side flanking a vertical array consisting of Paradigm's 1" beryllium tweeter and a smaller 4" cobalt-infused midrange. The ADP3 v.3 surrounds are also incredibly well engineered with a single 7" woofer on the front face flanked to either side by a 4" midrange and 1" tweeter in a fairly typical dipole configuration. The ADP3 v.3 measures in at 14.125"W x 13.25"H x 7.5"D.

Now - the part that everyone seems to be so excited about - the much discussed Paradigm Signature SUB 1. The SUB 1 is an incredible piece of engineering - with a hexagonal cabinet featuring 6 radially aligned custom 8" drivers - all featuring Paradigm's Non-Limiting Corrugated (NLC) surround, a four-layer long-excursion voice coil and a whopping 9.2lb hard ferrite magnet/motor structure with an AVS die-cast heatsink chassis. These drivers are powered by a monolithic plate amplifier capable of supplying a blistering 1,700 watts RMS and 3,400 watts dynamic peak. Built into the SUB 1 are standard coaxial LFE, RCA Left and Right or Balanced XLR inputs. The plate amplifier also includes inputs for Paradigm's PBK or perfect-bass-kit in the form of a mini-USB port. The SUB 1 measures in at 20.25"H x 20"W x 17-7/8"D and weighs a hefty 109lbs unpacked.


As you can imagine with the explanation above, unpacking the Paradigms was no small task - they were so heavy on their pallet that the driver refused to bring them inside, instead leaving the boxes in my garage for me to wrangle inside on my own. As eager as I was - even the hefty packaged speakers didn't do much to dampen my enthusiasm as I lugged them into my theater one at a time to unpack them. The boxes and packaging of the speakers were impressive - with every speaker double boxed and protected by a frame of high-density foam underneath a thick plastic seal. The speakers came out of their boxes looking like works of art - with the cherry finish nothing short of flawless. The SUB 1 was a little tougher to get into place than the rest - but I'll reserve that anecdote for a little later.

The Signature ADP3 v.3 surrounds were easy to unpack and surprisingly easy to mount with the included accessories. Paradigm includes foam corner protectors with the ADPs to allow you to wall mount them without marring the beautiful finish. An included retention bracket is attached to a stud with two screws and easily holds the speaker on the wall. Also included is a braided steel safety cable. A word to the wise: when Paradigm says you need two people to move the SUB 1, believe them. As a former rugby player myself, I still regretted the decision to go it alone. Two hours after the process began, with a not inconsiderable amount of perspiration on my face, I was finally able to see the entire system in all its glory.












Setup - I Promise Honey, I'm Not OCD...

With a speaker as finely engineered as the S6, I entered into the setup phase fully prepared to spend some serious time tweaking my setup. Over the course of a weekend I found myself trying no less than 8 listening configurations while I optimized the placement and toe-in of the S6 floorstanders. What ultimately allowed me to achieve the best sound was remarkably simple - using a laser level I marked a horizontal plane on my carpet using masking tape - I then measured in from the side walls by 19" (this was ideal for my room but note Paradigm recommends at least 18 ") and placed another strip of tape perpendicular to the other strip. Aligning the Paradigms with this crosshair of sorts I then proceeded to toe them in by increments of 1/2" measured from the back of the cabinet until I found the optimal imaging and presentation. For myself, this was 1.75" of Toe-In.

Finally happy with the positioning of the towers I spiked them in-place and proceeded to adjust the C3 until it was perfectly aligned along the same horizontal plane. In my excitement at having found the ideal speaker positions I neglected to optimize sub positioning - so I went back to the drawing board. Paradigm's PBK can run a quick sweep with the included microphone and USB equipped PC of your choice in about 1 minute - so I placed the SUB 1 on a bed of blankets right near the listening position and used PBK while crawling around with the microphone to find the best frequency response. It turned out that positioning the SUB 1 directly to the left and slightly behind my listening position yielded the best response. Armed with the optimal positioning of all the speakers, I proceeded to run a full sweep of PBK.

PBK stands for Perfect-Bass-Kit - Paradigm's ARC (Anthem Room Correction) based subwoofer equalization kit that is included with the SUB 1. The kit includes a Mini-USB Microphone, a real microphone stand, and two USB cables to connect to both the laptop/PC and the back of the sub. PBK is used in the same way as Audyssey, with measurements from multiple positions averaged to provide an equalization curve. Using the maximum ten point average I ran PBK and found that it yielded a surprisingly smooth response.

Satisfied with my setup to that point, I fired up Audyssey on my Onkyo Pre/Pro and proceeded to run an 8-point Audyssey calibration. Following Audyssey completing its process I set my crossovers at 80Hz across the board and set my LPF of LFE to 120Hz. At long last I was finished, and unfortunately, it was far too late at night to demo anything.

The Review System:
[B]Interconnects: BlueJeansCable BJC LC-1 Multi-Channel Audio Cables
[B]Pre/Pro: Onkyo TX-SR805
[B]Amplifier: Wyred4Sound Mini MC 7
[B]Sources: Sony Playstation 3, HTPC

The room used for the review measures in at 11x15 and is treated with bass traps and acoustic panels throughout. The system was calibrated using XTZ Room Analyzer, RoomEQWizard, and Audyssey MultiEQ XT/


The Sound - Listening Impressions

Music Performance:
I decided to stick with the same list (more or less) as used in my other reviews in order to give a better picture of what sonic signature to expect:

Music:
  • [CD] Michael Murray - An Organ Blaster (BWV 565)
  • [CD] Yuki Kajura - Madlax OST (B0009PVZS2)
  • [CD] Acoustic Alchemy - Very Best Of (B00006F1IJ)
  • [FLAC] Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery pres. OceanLab - On A Good Day (Metropolis) - Extended Mix
  • [BluRay] Within Temptation - Black Symphony
  • [BluRay] TrondheimSolistene - Divertimenti

With a comprehensive list of material to demo, I started off by listening to An Organ Blaster from start to finish. Allow me to clarify, I started listening to An Organ Blaster and it sounded so blasted good that I let the entire disc play through. As a huge fan of organ music I have spent much of my time while in Europe hanging around in churches while an organist practices or performs. I was quite happy with the organ reproduction on my own system but was still eager to hear what sort of differences I would notice.

Half a second into the first track I knew I was in for a treat, there was something about the way the Paradigm speakers reproduced the organ that just felt more real. Switching back and forth between direct and stereo mode I noted that the S6 towers managed to produce some incredibly deep bass. Despite their excellent low frequency performance given their size, the SUB 1 was quite obviously a more capable unit when it came to sub 80Hz content . Somewhere between the combination of more agile powerful bass, exceptional imaging and the crystalline tweeter Paradigm uses, I was finally able to say with some degree of certainty that it sounded almost like the real thing. It is very hard for most speakers that I have reviewed to reproduce spatial queues properly. From an imaging perspective organ music recorded in a cavernous cathedral is among the most difficult to faithfully recreate, and I sat there in my chair shocked at just how effortlessly the Paradigms did so. Irrespective of volume or material I could not find a way to make these speakers struggle, in fact during a 10 week review period, not once did I find the speakers giving up before I did.

Moving on to the soundtrack of the anime Madlax I was delighted to hear the Paradigms yet again open up the sound and show off that impressive sound stage. I highly recommend that you look up the song "We Are One" on YouTube so you have an idea of the melodic elements being reproduced. The haunting melody and vocal background sounded impressively real, and once again I was floored by the soundstage that was being created. Exaggeration aside, comparing what I had heard listening to the same music before, I felt as if I was comparing listening in a concert hall to listening inside a closet. I haven't had the opportunity like many reviewers to spend serious time with high dollar equipment in my room, but for me this was my first truly revelatory listening experience. Nothing I had heard to that point in my home sounded remotely as good as the Paradigm Signatures, and I could not get enough of them. Even my guilty pleasure of trance music was rewarded using these speakers as they added significant midbass slam and air to my favorite tunes.

Multichannel Listening:


Within Temptation's Black Symphony concert Blu-Ray is not the greatest audio recording ever made, nor is it the ultimate example of audio engineering. It is however, an awesome disc featuring a band that has always made music that I enjoy greatly. I was excited to enjoy a concert experience on such nice gear and so I proceeded to listen to the concert from start to finish. I was absolutely floored by the SUB 1 from the moment I began listening. Anyone who has played in a band or been to a rock concert knows what it feels like to be punched in the chest by a double kick drum as a bassist makes your eyeballs vibrate. Normally this requires many kilowatts of power, at least three roadies and a fair amount of alcohol to produce, but no more. Thanks to the SUB 1 suddenly I could enjoy the same assault on my senses in the comfort of my own home! The sealed monster that is the SUB 1 hits harder than any sub I have owned, and it does so with an agility and punch to the sound that is extremely satisfying. While I was quite sure I had heard tight, un-bloated bass before the SUB 1 forced me to reevaluate that opinion as it continued to show up every sub I had heard before in my life. The ADP dipole surrounds did a great job producing the atmospheric elements of the concert including the crowd's cheers and screams, and really made me feel as if I was in the middle of it all.

TrondheimSolistene's Divertimenti recording is of course not a rock concert but a highly refined classical recording. I have enjoyed it many times in the past and it's a great benchmark for high fidelity in my collection. As the first audiophile quality recording I had listened to, it was my means of testing the maxim that good speakers highlight the flaws in a recording and sound even better with a good one. True to my expectations, this sounded even sweeter on the Paradigm setup than on my two channel system, largely in part I believe to the imaging and low end extension that the Paradigm's added over what my humble bookshelves can achieve.

Movies:
  • [Blu-Ray] MegaMind
  • [Blu-Ray] How to Train Your Dragon
  • [Blu-Ray] Avatar
  • [Blu-Ray] Star Trek (2009)
  • [Blu-Ray] Kill Bill 1 & 2
  • [Blu-Ray] Iron Man 1 & 2

If I'm not careful in this section I'll go on for a week, so allow me to cut to the chase and give you the facts. If you love watching movies at home and own a nice collection of gear you have probably wondered from time to time what the "really expensive stuff" sounds like. Coming in at about $17,000 dollars MSRP, the Paradigm setup in my room was my first taste of the high end in my own theater and I'll not bother to quibble: It was awesome! While the fidelity and imaging of these speakers is more noticeable when listening to music, it adds realism and immerses you in a way that is hard to describe. Tarantino films like Inglorious Basterds and Kill Bill are known for their iconic soundtracks and bombastic sound design, though I'd always found that they sounded a tad overbearing on my system (I had to turn it down a little). With the Paradigm Signatures I no longer had to turn anything down, in fact I listened to Inglorious Basterds louder than I ever have before, and found it far less fatiguing.

You've already heard me speak to the merits of the SUB 1 so I won't wax poetic about it much longer here save to say that every film I watched on this system made me feel more and more impressed with the SUB 1's performance. With such a great sub anchoring the sound, the mains themselves sounded better. Challenging sequences like the warp jump in Star Trek or the first flight in How to Train Your Dragon came alive. While my surrounds produced atmospherics quite well, the ADP surrounds were in another league entirely. Whether it was wind whistling past or the thrum of warp engines, suddenly surround content had far more weight and realism to it. The mains did an awesome job of throwing a massive wall of sound my way and repeatedly impressed me.

The only flaw in this system (in this reviewer's opinion) was the center channel. I found that regardless of how I played with calibration, crossover, positioning or Audyssey, I could not get the C3 to sound as effortless and natural at reproducing voices as my own center channel (an AV123 RSC200 or "bigfoot"). I am inclined to think that this is a function of cabinet size as smaller center channels almost always have a hint of "boxiness" to their sound. Even with Paradigm's stellar engineering and design the C3 couldn't escape a hint of this affliction and I found myself wishing that I could hear the larger and no doubt more capable C5.

Flaws aside, the package as a whole still effortlessly redefined my standards for audio reproduction in the home theater. The Paradigm Signature series speakers are the best all around speakers I have had the pleasure of using in my room.




Conclusion:

Paradigm has delivered an exceptional product in the v.3 Reference Signature series. Whether it's the music they're reproducing or the boxes they came in, everything about these speakers exudes class. Are they an expensive example of boutique quality gear? Absolutely! However, the S6 v.3's are the finest sounding speakers I have ever heard priced below 10,000/pair, and the SUB 1 is a monster in its own right that is easily the best subwoofer I have ever heard. While I can't recommend the C3 based upon my experience, every other component in the system was tremendously impressive. I don't recommend you run out and buy these right now, unless of course the MSRP is pocket change. For the rest of you however, I strongly recommend that you at least audition Paradigm Reference speakers and consider for a moment: how much time do you spend in your car driving on a yearly basis versus in your living room or home theater? Many of us wouldn't blink at spending seventeen, or even thirty thousand dollars on a vehicle. Why should we be so offended by the idea of spending the same amount of money on the possession most of us probably spend the most time with?

Paradigm's generous review loan has answered a longstanding set of questions for me. What does seventeen grand sound like? If you asked me that question prior to the arrival of Paradigm's S6 based review system, I would have probably said a waste of money. After several weeks of painstaking tweaking, listening, agonizing and enjoyment I started to find myself understanding the question a bit better. What value did I place on hearing things I had never heard before in my tired old recordings? How much was it worth to have friends come over and spend two hours with a massive grin on their faces as the Paradigm's did their job with whatever film we had chosen? Finally, what was it worth to have my wife repeatedly ask me to turn it up instead of down? Am I willing to spend that kind of money on audio gear? After hearing these speakers, the answer is a simple and emphatic, YES!




Highly Recommended


Please use the Paradigm Reference Signature Series 5.1 (S6,C3,ADP,SUB 1) Speaker Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments

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