Paradigm Founder 120H loudspeaker

As a native European, I don't particularly love bubbly people: Too much sugar makes my teeth hurt. I'm sympathetic to my friend Nick, a Brit who reliably bristles when he hears Americans use the word "awesome" for the most mundane things. A slight drop in gas prices? Awesome! How was the meatloaf? Awesome!

It irks him that the words awe and awesome are now nearly divorced. But I like to remind Nick that this hyperpleasant, optimistic American attitude is surely preferable to the alternative.

In fact, over time, I've warmed to Yankee sunniness. "Great meeting you!" "Have a wonderful day!" Euro citizens may consider such pleasantries fake, but they're worlds better than the icy haughtiness or gruff indifference that has long been the norm among, say, French waitstaff and Amsterdam shop clerks.

It recently occurred to me that this American energy and ebullience long ago snuck into the DNA of our (footnote 1) loudspeakers. What do classic brands such as Klipsch, Altec Lansing, JBL, Advent, Cerwin Vega, Paradigm, and Acoustic Research have in common? One thing, surely, is sound that's neither polite nor reserved—that suggests an unapologetic appreciation of a good time. They can do delicate and detailed, but they're not pusillanimous. They're meaty, not meek; boisterous, not bashful.

Did you catch the error in the previous paragraph? Paradigm is Canadian, not American (or US-ian). Still, considering that its home is in Mississauga, Ontario, just an hour or so from our northern border, I hope Canadians will accept the accolade. Wherever they're from, Paradigm speakers, like their brawny US cousins, have always kicked serious posterior.

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Around 2002, I owned a pair of remarkably cheap but tons-of-fun Paradigm Atom monitors. At $189/pair, they ran circles around competitors costing three times that. A friend had speakers from Paradigm's Reference Studio series; their performance was so good—so likely to make you feel good—that he still regrets trading them away.

Fast-forward to 2022, to the Paradigm Founder 120H floorstanders ($8998/pair): The 120H is the flagship of the six-model Founder series and the only one with an active bass section. Conceived shortly after founder Scott Bagby and his son John reacquired Paradigm from a private-equity firm in 2019, Founder-series speakers are intended by the company to be a showcase for the future of the brand.

Paradigm says that with the Founder series, its engineers and designers tried to address how speakers interact with the modern home environment: "Stone, glass, and wood have become the materials of choice, and open concepts dominate," explains the company's website. "Founder's design has evolved with this trend and is perfectly suited to deliver its maximum performance in rooms that would challenge traditionally designed speakers."

The term "open concept" caught my eye. That's me! Although I live in a 180-year-old farmhouse that is anything but modern, the back wall of my listening room gives way to a staircase that leads to a 10' × 18' landing. Also behind me is an open entryway to the dining room; from there, a short doorless hallway provides access to the kitchen and the laundry room. It's a lot of volume, not easy to pressurize with deep bass.

1122para.cutaway

I had reason to think that the Founder 120H might be up to the task. I'd heard a pair at AXPONA in Chicago in the spring, after which I wrote, "Just a hair over 45" tall, these are not huge speakers. But they sounded huge, with room-pressurizing bass so deep ... that it should have been coming from a cabinet with double the volume. Are the laws of physics different up in Canada?"

Then and there, the 120Hs became my top choice for an extended audition (alongside the Raidho TD3.8s, another formidable AXPONA presence, which I'll review for a forthcoming issue).

(Un)boxing day
Unboxing the Founder 120H isn't complicated. It's nice to have help—they weigh 92lb each—but if you're careful, you can do it yourself without straining your back or fracturing your toes: Maneuver each carton upside down, open it, swing out the outriggers on the speaker's bottom, and fasten them with the supplied screws. Then gently lower the carton into a horizontal position, push it right side up, and lift it off the speakers. The 120H is less than 4' tall, so unless you live on floor seven and a half of the tall building in Being John Malkovich, you should have enough clearance to raise the carton straight up. You'll find the speakers wrapped in an outer layer of plastic, with a big soft drawstring bag underneath. If you're particularly OCD, you could use the bags as dust covers when the 120Hs are not in use.

The finish on my pair was a furniture-grade, piano-gloss "midnight cherry," somewhere between burgundy and mahogany. Founder speakers are also available in satin walnut, black walnut, and gloss black.

I like the tapered look of the 120H, but the trapezoid angles aren't meant just to prettify the product. "The inherent strength of the geometric cabinet profile distributes the load points across a larger cabinet area providing greater support and rigidity than can be achieved with traditional square cabinet geometry," the Paradigm website says. Rigidity is enhanced by what the company calls "Cascade-Fusion Bracing." The included magnetic grilles make the speakers a bit featureless, but that's a boon if you want them to disappear visually. I left them off.

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The Paradigms are brimming with new technology and materials. In a blend of geek speak and marketing parlance, the company's literature trumpets that "The Founder's midrange is a 6" Aluminum Magnesium (AL-MAG) cone with Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPATM) Lens, Advanced SHOCK-MOUNT Isolation Mounting System, and a 2" high-temp multi-layered voice coil with ventilated Apical former." The tweeters are said to use "1" Aluminum Magnesium Ceramic (AL-MAC) domes with a proprietary Oblate Spherical Waveguide (OSW)."

I'd need twice the space of this article to delve into what all that means, but let's just pick that PPA Lens as an example of what Paradigm's engineers can cook up. Mounted over the 120H's midrange driver is a perforated concave disc made of a carbon-fiber blend. It's said to counter anomalies that occur when the soundwave from one part of a domed or conical diaphragm reaches your ear while simultaneous sound from another part of the diaphragm arrives a tiny fraction of a second later. Those two sounds are no longer in phase, and sensitive ears will notice. The holes in the disc are large on the perimeter and smaller toward the center. Big openings are transparent to higher frequencies; smaller openings less so. The result of applying a PPA Lens, Paradigm claims, is a smoother frequency response, both on-axis and off-axis, which should yield purer, more natural sound. Stereophile encountered an earlier iteration of the Perforated Phase-Aligning Lens in KR's review of Paradigm's Persona 5F loudspeaker.


Footnote 1: Though my Dutch roots and my weakness for double-salted licorice persist, I've been a US citizen for 20 years, and I have started using we and our when referring to Americans. As they say on NPR, "Thanks for having me!"
COMPANY INFO
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Canada
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
remlab's picture

Haha! So true!

RH's picture

Nice review, thanks. I was curious how these speakers would measure.
Given my experience auditioning the Persona line I wasn't surprised to see the rising top end. As JA says, seems to be a design choice.

Oh, and as a Canadian, I will affirm that meatloaf can indeed be awesome!

ok's picture

until you taste eurasian meatloafs first!

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sorry, out of audio topic...

If served with mashed baking potatoes, it can indeed be double awesome !

Being a homemade chef, I would mince really lean beef in my kitchen instead of picking up the so called "lean" minced beef from the meat stores.

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

It could be double "awesome" if you would test it with bi-wiring connection already ready there !

Listening to bi-wiring is believing

Jack L

Indydan's picture

WRONG! Biwiring is useless.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Everything is "useless" to YOU "sick puppy" !

Keep on stalking, pal. You can get nowhere ! HeHee..

Jack L

Indydan's picture

Hey Jackie, you sound confused. Have a little drinky poo today?
https://preview.redd.it/v5gnqzmb6xo91.jpg?auto=webp&s=2cbfd3576b5d5254f7f3be4c8917bf7ce9514b7b

Jack L's picture

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Long-time listener's picture

"Fig.5 shows the Founder 120H's horizontal dispersion, normalized to the response on the design axis, which thus appears as a straight line."

I would really prefer you show dispersion NOT normalized to the on-axis response (as you used to a number of years ago). To me, it presents a much clearer and more intuitive picture of actual dispersion patterns.

nunhgrader's picture

Fun review! Thank you

Kyotodoc's picture

Great review! I have the Founder 100F speakers which are the fully passive version. I have not found placement of the speakers to be an issue at all. In fact, I find these speakers to be easy to place, with great off axis response. I suspect there are some room shape/size issues that might have caused you to have to fiddle with them so much, although I am quite surprised that in a large room like yours you have them spaced only 5 1/2 feet apart. My room is much smaller and I have them 8 1/2 feet apart and 9 ft from my listening position with the speakers toed in about 18 degrees.

I agree with all your comments on the sound quality of the speakers- these are the best speakers I have ever heard or owned. They are transparent, detailed and very well balanced and coherent all through the frequency range. You didn't mention anything about their soundstage or imaging so would have liked to hear your take on that. I find the speakers do disappear and soundstage is quite tall and imaging very good. To me the closest comparable speakers are the Revel 228be but with stronger bass response and more engaging. I expect these will be my reference speakers for many years.

Jack L's picture

Hi

BINGO !

It is an acid test for quality sound system that when the music is on, the front loudspeakers should sonically 'vanished' !

Listening is believing

Jack L

Indydan's picture

If only Jackie L would vanish...

Jack L's picture

.

Indydan's picture

Hey Jackie L, I am blowing you a kiss.

Jack L's picture

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Jack L's picture

Hi

"For me, it wasn't a problem: I like my music loud." qtd RvB.

Not all music should be played back "loud". Classical piano music solo performances, for instance, do not perform "loud" at all & should therefore be played back the same not so loud levels.

Any music performances,e.g rock&roll, soloist guitar or classical piano music or whatever, should be played back at their ORIGINAL performance level as heard at the attendant's location, irrespective of whoever's loudness preference.

Like the famous piano solist piece, my very favourite, Chopin Nocturne E flat major (9/2), it should be played back pretty quiet as per the title of the music : nocturne - "of night scene" in French.

With my sound level meter mounted at my ear level at my sweet spot being 11.5 ft from the front panel of each of the L & R KEF 2-way front standspeakers, set at dB(C), max level & fast reading, the whole performance hardly measured over 75dB(C). It starts with pianississimo quiet notes at around 61dB(C) & fortississimo at round 83dB(C) lasting only half a second in the whole performance.

Yet I enjoy it bigtime playing back on my CD on my cheapie non-stereophile no-name DVD player/DAC. Sooo livelike & soo spatial abundant, particularly at the piano pedal resonant decay !!! Wow.

A good sound system should just be played at the right levels, not necesssarily "loud", to retrieve the music "kick, excitement or presence".

From RvB above review per my post caption, could it be the problem of the Paradigms or the rest matching equipment ???

Listening is believing

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...everything about yourself.

That's nice.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Why not? You "enjoy everything about" some sick dog here ??

Jack L

Indydan's picture

Aye Jack L. mon amour. Veux-tu faire du frottage fromage avec moi?

Jack L's picture

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Indydan's picture

Aye Jackie L, je t'envois un beau bizou!

Jack L's picture

je t'ai demande d'arreter d'aboyer !

Jack L's picture

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