Paradigm Reference Studio/20 loudspeaker Page 2
A cult of personality
The Janis Ian recording also highlighted the Studio/20's strongest "personality" trait, and it may not be to everyone's taste. The reproduction of high frequencies was clean, natural, and extended, but the entire high-frequency range was slightly highlighted, giving the sound a rather crisp presentation.
This was not brightness or brittleness, but a characteristic that called attention to instruments with significant high-frequency energy. Ian's voice sounded a bit sibilant, the guitar strings slightly more metallic than I'd heard on other speakers, and the cymbals somewhat more noticeable. Normally, I'm no fan of any component that has any prominence in the high-frequency region, but I got hooked on the Paradigm's interpretation of high-frequency reality. The highs were so pure and extended that I was not bothered by their prominence.
The speakers were also soundstaging champs. On Rutter's Requiem (Reference Recordings RR-57, LP), the natural warmth of the layered vocals on the stage was the most lifelike I'd heard from a budget speaker. Of course, that famous audiophile acid test, Stereophile's Festival CD (STPH007-2), brought all of the 20s' characteristics together in one revealing package. The speakers immediately disappeared, image specificity and low-level dynamics were as good as I'd heard with this recording, and the timpani were tuneful and very dynamic. Massed strings did sound a bit forward, however, and the mallet instruments were a touch metallic.
I haven't mentioned bass. With one minor quibble, the bass performance was the best I've heard from any satellite speaker, regardless of price. I was able to minimize, but not eliminate, a slight roundness or warmth in the 60-80Hz range by moving the speakers farther out into the room and away from the rear wall. This very minor coloration did not detract from the 20's other strengths, but I don't know how much of this was a function of the speakers' interaction with my room. The bass extension was extraordinary. These diminutive boxes exhibited solid extension down to 50Hz and a very gradual rolloff after that, with reduced but audible output at 32Hz. I achieved this superb bottom-end extension even when the speakers were pulled away from the rear wall.
But the quality of the bass? In Kujawsky's recording of Stravinsky's Les Noces (Clarity 1005-G), the four percussionists frequently visit the bottom three octaves, so I turned to this LP to assess the quality of the Paradigm's bass. Five adjectives culled from my listening notes describe the bass performance on this audio torture test: extended, natural, quick, dynamic, tuneful.
All reviews of budget components must include caveats. I wouldn't recommend the Paradigm Reference Studio/20 loudspeaker to those who like a rolled-off or laid-back high-frequency presentation, or who plan to use electronics sporting a zippy top end. That warning aside, the Studio/20 is, by a wide margin, the finest speaker under $1000/pair I've ever heard—and currently there's quite a bit of competition. I would happily own them as a reference. Congratulations to the Paradigm design team, who have established a new benchmark for speaker performance at this price point.