Paradigm Atom Monitor v.5 loudspeaker Robert J. Reina, February 2008

Robert J. Reina wrote about the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.5 in February 2008 (Vol.31 No.2):

After reading Wes Phillips' positive review of the fifth generation of Paradigm's Atom loudspeaker in the September 2007 Stereophile, I thought it would be interesting to compare it with the Atom v.3, which I reviewed in September 2002 (Vol.25 No.9), and which ever since has been one of my benchmarks for entry-level speakers.

The Atom v.3 floored me when I first heard it at a Stereophile show. I hadn't believed that a speaker costing $190/pair could provide such a realistic musical experience without the help of a subwoofer. Of course, the Atom v.3 cut some corners; while its sound was uncolored overall, the v.3 didn't provide much definition or detail at the frequency extremes, nor would it play as loud as its larger, more expensive brethren. But, given the price, I wasn't bothered—the Atom v.3 presented a very balanced, coherent sound with a wide range of music.

As Wes explained in his review, the Monitor v.5 is a complete redesign of the Atom that shares none of its drive-units or even its cabinet dimensions with the smaller v.3. Still, I wasn't prepared for how much the performance of the slightly more expensive v.5 ($250/pair) would exceed that of the v.3.

All else being equal, it's logical to expect a larger speaker to produce deeper bass and greater high-level dynamics and play louder than a smaller one, and sure enough, the v.5 handily exceeded the v.3's performance in these areas. Even when I played Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611) at very high volumes, the v.5s delivered powerful dynamics, convincing if not thundering bass, and clean, rapid transients. Chris Jones's opening solo on fretless bass on "Fruit Forward," from my jazz group Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), bloomed with convincing presence and far more extension than through the v.3s. Moreover, the low frequencies sounded cleaner through the v.5—gone was the v.3's slight, additional mid-to-upper-bass warmth. Finally, the v.5 revealed all the low- and high-level dynamic subtleties of John Atkinson's engineering of this improvised performance. With the v.5s there was no trace of high-level compression with either of these recordings, which can easily sound compressed and congested when I push the v.3s too hard.

The v.5 shared with the v.3 a rich, natural midrange, but revealed far more inner detail; several veils were removed, to make all well-recorded jazz performances sound stunning. On his Poetica (CD, Anzic 1301), Anat Cohen's organic and vibrant clarinet coupled with Jason Lindner's rich, delicate piano textures to produce a flowing and expressive chamber-jazz experience. What floored me most, however, was the v.5's pristine, extended, and uncolored high frequencies, which far exceeded the v.3's somewhat dark, reserved perspective. I could follow all of Mark Ribot's subtle dobro fingerings on "Hey, Sweet Man," from Madeline Peyroux's Dreamland (CD, Atlantic 82946-2), as easily as I could with a far more expensive speaker. Similarly, Bruce Katz's Fender Stratocaster solos on Mighty Sam McClain's Give It Up to Love (CD, JVC JVCXR 0012-2) were so articulate and detailed that I could almost visualize his amplifier settings.

In short, I'm in complete agreement with Wes's findings, with one minor exception. I agree with Paradigm: I felt the v.5 sounded slightly more coherent and timbrally balanced with its grille in place. But far more important is the fact that, with the Monitor v.5, Paradigm has promoted the Atom from its former status as a good-value entry-level speaker to a $250/pair model that can compete with many current designs in the $300–$500/pair range. It's that good.—Robert J. Reina

Paradigm Electronics Inc.
11-919 Fraser Drive
Burlington, Ontario L7L 4X8
(905) 632-0180