Paradigm Control Monitor loudspeaker
This reminds me of my musician days: Of the chamber music I attempted to perform, I found the hardest music to play well was by Mozart. Vivaldi, Telemann, even good old George Frederick Handelso what if your timing and intonation was a little wayward, there was always plenty of room to hide among the flurries of scale passages and arpeggios. But Mozart. No way, Wolfgang. What the audience heard was what you had to give, and if your musicianship was inadequate, that was what they heard. I can remember sweating blood trying to play eight measures of repeated accompanying eighth-notesevery note ostensibly the samewithout appearing a total incompetent. Only angels can play Mozart in public and get away with it, in my opinion. Those same angels would probably design a pretty good two-way speaker selling for under $1000/pair!
Accordingly, following my favorable report on the Spica TC-50 and Celestion 3 in October 1989, I will be looking at a further selection of affordably priced two-way speakers in the next few months, starting with the Paradigm Control Monitor, from that current hotbed of competent loudspeaker design: Canada.
Paradigm Control Monitor: $680/pair
In common with other Canadian loudspeaker manufacturers, Paradigm (founded in 1982) has been able to benefit from the research into blind listening tests carried out by a team led by Dr. Floyd Toole at Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa. By offering a standardized and repeatable subjective test environment (footnote 1), the NRC has enabled speaker designers to more effectively target the qualities desirable in a loudspeaker, in particularly a smooth, flat, on-axis response and a smooth control of the lateral off-axis sound. It doesn't tell them how to achieve these qualities, which is why speakers from different manufacturers using the same NRC facilities still manage to sound differentcompare, for example, the Waveform, the Image Concept 200, and the subject of this review, the Paradigm Control Monitor, all three of which have quite distinct personalities. Nevertheless, it has become apparent that the main benefit of the NRC's help has been to help Canadian speaker manufacturers offer a level of performance higher than usual at their products' specific price points.
This was certainly true of Paradigm's two-way 5se model, which I reviewed a couple of years ago (January 1988). It did have a couple of flaws, but the overall sound quality was exceptional for just $360/pair. Like the 5se, the Control Monitor is a two-way, reflex-loaded design, but selling for almost double the price. The extra money buys you a larger, deeper-than-wide enclosure, its chipboard sides and MDF rear covered in wood veneer (inside and out) rather than the 5se's vinyl wrap. The MDF front baffle is finished with an attractive hammer-finish gray paint, and the speaker looks handsome without its black grille. (As this consists of cloth stretched over a bulky unprofiled wooden frame and will therefore present the tweeter with significant reflecting surfaces, I left it off for the bulk of my auditioning.) The enclosure is loosely packed with what appears to be long-fiber cotton, and a horizontal panel braces the sidewalls just above the port.
The drive-unit complement, mounted in a vertical array, appears very similar to the 5se's: an 8", mineral-filled polypropylene-cone woofer of Paradigm's own manufacture, constructed on a diecast basket, combined with a Vifa 1" fabric-dome tweeter using an aluminum voice-coil former. (The 5se used a less highly specified plastic-dome unit, also sourced from Vifa.) The bass unit is loaded with a large front-firing reflex port, this 9" deep and 3" in diameter.
The crossover is said to be "third-order (acoustic slope), quasi-Butterworth." This takes the acoustic response of the drive-units into account; the actual electrical slopes are first-order low-pass to the woofer, there being a single ferrite-cored coil in its feed, and second-order high-pass to the tweeter, the network consisting of a series pair of film capacitors and a parallel air-cored coil. In addition, the tweeter drive is reduced by a series resistor, this bypassed with a variable resistor to give fine control of HF level. The shaft of this pot is taken through the rear panel and is adjusted during manufacture to give a match within ±0.25dB to Paradigm's design reference, following which it is sealed with paint. The crossover components are glued to a fiberboard panel on the speaker's rear, this carrying two sets of five-way binding posts to allow bi-wiring/-amping.
Paradigm's recommended listening axis is with the tweeter at ear level, the exact height that the Celestion stands placed them with my listening chair. They also recommend running-in the speakers for 2448 hours at a "moderate/loud" listening level. This I did, before carrying out any serious listening.
First impressions were extremely favorable. The Control Monitor's basic sound is both more neutral than the Paradigm 5se (particularly in the treble) and considerably more so than the Amrita MiniMonitor that I also review in this issue. Not only were individual instrumental tonal characters well preserved, but, more importantly, so were the differences between those characters, an area where the Amrita fell down. This is not to say that the speaker didn't have a signature. Male voice was reproduced with rather a chesty quality, while female voice had a slightly "cold" character. The flute on Stereophile's Poem LP also had a little too much breath noise apparent. Nevertheless, the Control Monitor passed difficult tests for midrange neutrality, such as naturally recorded piano, with flying colors. The scale passages on my Chopin Waltz recording on the original HFN/RR Test CD were reproduced with an even emphasis on all notes, something quite rare even with relatively high-priced loudspeakers.
The importance of choosing the correct-height stands with these speakers was revealed by listening to pink noise. Sit so you can see the top of the cabinet and the mid-treble depresses, leaving the top octave isolated; sit so your ears are level with the woofer and the sound lacks HF "air." However, even on the optimum listening axis, the treble did feature a degree of liveliness, naturally recorded snare drum acquiring additional wires and hi-hat cymbal becoming slightly "sniffy." (Imagine the sound of an aerosol can being added to the metallic chink.)
Stereo imaging was laterally precise, soundsources being unambiguously positioned, without the positional "splash" that characterizes the Amrita loudspeaker auditioned at the same time. Soundstage depth, however, was less well-developed than with such consummately superb performers in this respect as the Spica TC-50 or Rogers LS3/5a. This was somewhat due to treble instruments, such as the trumpet at the beginning of the Bernstein Mahler 5 recording, being pushed forward by the degree of treble emphasis noted above. But while recorded ambience was not suppressed, being readily audible, it failed to gel sufficiently with the direct sound of the instruments. This is still excellent performance at the price, however.
My only real criticism of the Control Monitor concerns its low-frequency alignment. The lower midrange was consistently warm, with too much lower-bass energy audible. While this made the piano's left-hand registers sound quite weighty, and pizzicato double basses throbbed, it became too much on rock recordings, bass drum and bass guitar losing definition. In addition, the lower midrange noticeably thickened up at high replay levels, something that may correlate with the fact that the cabinet sidewalls vibrated strongly between 350 and 380Hz and at 465Hz. The bass balance could be usefully modified by bi-wiring, but the speaker's propensity for lower-midrange congestion remained unaffected.
As implied in the introduction to this review, Paradigm has continued the value-for-money tradition that I noted in my review of their 5se. The Control Monitor owner gets a well-balanced design that, while not achieving greatness in any one area of performance, offers an excellent balance of virtues at its price level. The only region I was bothered by was the upper bass, which I found to be too loose overall, particularly when the speaker is single-wired, and the sound became rather congested at high playback levels. I am obliged, however, to point out that my personal taste tends toward a tighter, more damped bass alignment, the Celestion SL700 being typical. Before you spend $1000 or more on a pair of loudspeakers, it may well be worthwhile your taking a listen to these Paradigms. Recommended.
Footnote 1: A bound edition reprinting Dr. Toole's earlier papers is available for $3.75 (US) including postage from the National Research Council, Division of Physics, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0R6, Canada. These are essential reading for anyone seriously interested in loudspeaker design and testing.