Paradigm Reference Studio/100 v.2 loudspeaker Page 3
My listening room's acoustics seem to interact in unpredictable ways with speakers that have extended bass response: with some (eg, the Dunlavy SC-IV/A), the bass is quite smooth; with others (eg, the Vienna Acoustics Mahler), I've had audible peaks and/or suckouts, even when—as in the case of the Mahler—independent quasi-anechoic measurements indicated no problem in the speaker's bass response. My room's interaction with the Studio/100 v.2 was fortuitous: bass extended to the mid-20Hz range, and what I know to be the room's 50Hz standing wave was not noticeable as such.
Although there are still audiophile speakers that sound comfortable only up to moderate levels, one of the more positive effects of the advent of home theater has been that most speaker manufacturers are developing products capable of higher SPLs, even when the speaker is designed primarily for stereo use, as is the Studio/100 v.2. (The word from Paradigm is that more than half of the Studio/100s sold end up in home-theater systems.)
The Studio/100 v.2 not only sounded good at low to moderate levels, but maintained its composure at levels where most speakers sound strained. Assuming that the amplifier is up to the task (the best amplifier I had on hand for high-level listening was the Thule PA-250B in its 250Wpc stereo mode), turning up the volume—within reason—resulted in the Studio/100 v.2 just playing louder, but without audibly compressing or acquiring a hard edge. If anything, the speaker sounded a bit reticent at lower levels, becoming more lively when supplied more power. At high levels, the Studio/100 v.2 sounded more comfortable than the Dunlavy SC-IV/A or the Hales Revelation Three. Among products of my recent acquaintance, the only speaker that outpointed it in this respect was the Vienna Acoustics Mahler.
As far as soundstaging and overall transparency went, the Studio/100 v.2s made a good showing without being in the very top class. Their soundstage was wide and deep (when the recording had this information), and the sound had a generally open quality, seeming to originate in space rather than being confined to the speakers. The Dunlavy SC-IV/As give even greater specificity and three-dimensionality to images within the soundfield, but the differences are fairly small—and the gap in price is wide. Listening position was less critical than with the Dunlavy and other speakers that specialize in pinpoint imaging, with a good semblance of a soundstage being evident even when I listened considerably off-center.
Prior to my experience with the Reference Studio/100 v.2, the best speaker I had encountered in this price range was the Hales Revelation Three. I still hold the Revelation Three in high regard, but now I'd have to say that the Studio/100 v.2 offered a somewhat different but equivalent set of virtues. Both speakers are exceedingly neutral in tonal balance, the Paradigm perhaps even more than the Hales. (That is, if memory serves; I didn't have the Hales around for comparison.) The Hales can sound a bit sizzly on top when driven hard, a problem avoided by the Paradigm; in fact, the Paradigm generally sounded more comfortable than the Hales at high levels. However, I remember the Hales as having a somewhat more immediate, more dramatic presentation at moderate levels than the Paradigm, which could sound a bit polite and reticent at these levels. The Paradigm pulled ahead in the low bass, which had greater weight and extension.
I'd have a tough time choosing between these speakers. I strongly advise anyone considering the Hales Revelation Three to also give a good listen to the Paradigm Reference Studio/100 v.2—and vice versa.
Audiophiles can be a snobbish lot, prone to select products on the basis of exclusivity and prestige rather than just performance. Paradigm speakers are widely available, and most of them are relatively inexpensive, which could lead some audiophiles to dismiss the Reference Studio/100 v.2 out of hand as a high-end contender. Nor is the Studio/100 v.2's perceived audiophile credibility helped by the fact that dealers tend to demonstrate it with moderately priced electronics.
But Paradigm's Studio/100 v.2 is most certainly a serious high-end contender, and a formidable one for just about any speaker in its price range and even well above. While the Studio/100 v.2 is forgiving of less-than-pristine electronics, it benefits from being combined with a topnotch digital source, electronics, and cables. Although I didn't have a pair of the original Studio/100s available for comparison, there is every indication that the v.2 represents a significant improvement over the speaker that had Tom Norton asking—rhetorically—whether it was the best speaker in its price range. As Tom noted, this question is impossible to answer, given the number of speakers out there, and given that the definition of what's "best" is inevitably complicated by individual preferences about the importance of different sonic attributes.
But if tonal neutrality is at the top of your list of priorities for speaker performance, and you want a speaker that can play loud without sounding stressed, then you really must listen to the Reference Studio/100 v.2. You may well decide that it is, indeed, the best speaker in its price range.