Paradigm Founder 120H loudspeaker Page 2

As for the woofers, the H in 120H stands for hybrid. Sure enough, the six CarbonX bass drivers—three per tower—are driven by built-in ICEpower class-D amps that put out 1000W continuous and up to 2000W on dynamic peaks. (Of course, that means you must plug the speakers into a nearby electrical receptacle. And you'll still need a standard stereo amplifier to power the midrange drivers and tweeters.) The midrange and bass drivers are decoupled from the cabinet by the aforementioned "Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation Mounting System." Similar technology is employed in the speaker's spikes.

Fi(r)st impressions
During break-in, for about 100 hours, I drove the Paradigms with a Peachtree Nova 300 amplifier. Later, most critical listening was done with my MacBook Pro running Roon feeding an Auralic Vega DAC. For power, I alternated between a recapped Krell FPB200c and a 30th-anniversary-edition Margules U-280SC tube amp. I usually preferred the latter.

I found the 120Hs trickier to place than most speakers, but the glass-half-full reality is that they're responsive to placement, and spending time shuffling them around pays off nicely. For a week and a half, I kept moving the speakers inches and millimeters. They finally ended up 5' 10" apart and almost 4' from the front wall, with a toe-in of perhaps 5°. In my room, the sweet spot was about 8' from the front baffles.

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Paradigm Managing Director John Bagby told me that because of the tweeters' new waveguide, "they have more high-frequency energy on-axis than previous Paradigm designs, which makes them friendlier in today's more 'active' environments. But due to the new dispersion profile from the waveguide, combined with the downfiring port, the Founder will often perform best with a different position and toe-in than many other designs. If you started in your usual spot, that could explain the need for tweaking." The bass from these Paradigms is wild, in the best ways. How many practical speakers do you know that reach down to 18Hz? (footnote 2) On my first evening with the 120H, I ambled off to the kitchen to make a cappuccino and left the music playing. The track list advanced to "Planners & Thinkers" by Metropolis (Tidal, FLAC, 16/44.1), and from nearly 70' away, I could not only hear the subterranean rumble; through two open doorways, the deepest bass notes slammed me in the chest as I frothed my milk.

Coffee in hand, I returned and was chuffed to discover that the quality of the bass kept pace with the quantity. Later on, with some tracks, I did hear a little too much bass, but it was in the bottom octave, not juiced midbass and upper bass. It was the balance that was thrilling, and the continuity up and down the frequency range. Everything sounded "together," coherent, right. Bass-wise, the Founders, on spikes, acted like a velvet sledgehammer or an iron fist in a silk glove, if you like that sort of thing. I do.

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How, I asked Bagby, do these not particularly huge speakers achieve such a prodigious bottom end? What happened to the old audiophile wisecrack that "there's no replacement for displacement"? The simple answer, he wrote back, is more watts and powerful motors. "The magnetics on the 120H are larger, closer to the size of a subwoofer, than what you'll see with the majority of woofers. That allows a very linear response at extreme excursions. Combined, the three 8" woofers give us the power handling and excursion necessary" to go toe to toe with speakers like my current reference, the full-range Tekton Moabs, which have two pairs of 12" woofers.

As the 120Hs worked their way through a few of the playlists I use to evaluate audio performance, I read up on the Anthem Room Correction software the company calls ARC Genesis. This onboard DSP feature is found in none of the other Founder models (because the others are all passive). The technology was originally developed for Anthem, Paradigm's sister brand. With the provided microphone and stand, you measure at least five points at and around the listening position as the speakers play frequency sweeps. The app then corrects the sub-300Hz room modes it encounters—slaying the peaks and nulls, as it were—and creates a profile that you can wirelessly upload to your ARC-equipped hi-fi device, in this case the 120Hs.

My Mac and the latest ARC software didn't get along at first. During measurements, ARC would randomly stop "seeing" the mike. Sometimes, virtual buttons and text went AWOL from my PowerBook screen, to the puzzlement of a very patient gentleman in Paradigm tech support. Eventually, things seemed to have gone okay, but I admit I found the effects of room correction to be meager. With a good number of recordings, I still perceived too much energy in the bottom octave. This tempted me to play with Roon's parametric equalizer and sculpt away that bass spike. When I told Jim Austin, Stereophile's editor, of my EQ exploits, he was nonplussed: "Why are you using Roon's clumsy algorithms when the 120H has built-in room correction?"

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Good question. Back to the drawing board I went. After lots of headscratching, I finally figured out that my 120Hs had not been paired to each other within the ARC software. Consequently, I'd been hearing only half of ARC's benefits, at most. During a 90-minute phone call, Paradigm's tech support straightened out the mess and got me up and running for real.

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Me ears are alight
I'd already taken a shine to the 120Hs, but now they consistently wowed me. I was startled when room correction—the elimination of a nasty peak around 30Hz, mostly—widened and deepened the soundstage. Fun and superlatives ensued.

With electronica, I don't think I've ever heard a more satisfying speaker in my room than the Anthem-corrected Founder 120H. I couldn't stop playing Yello, whose beautifully produced dance tracks shine on the Paradigms. Standouts were the albums Touch Yello (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz) and Toy (24/48 MQA, Tidal). Acoustic-music purists may argue that Yello's mostly digital playground is scarcely suitable for judging high-end equipment. For them, only acoustic instruments recorded in nonvirtual spaces will do when sizing up sonic purity. I understand the argument, but it feels immaterial when music delivers this much joy, elation, and giddiness. Keyboardist Boris Blank's tunes aren't philosophically deep or even particularly meaningful, and Dieter Meier's sleazy vocals are an acquired taste. But the wit is understated and winking, and the beats are irresistible. Most of all, there's exceptional artistry in the combined hues of sounds and in the incredible attention to detail given to each instrument's recorded performance, whether physical or virtual.

For instance, on Yello's "Part Love" from Touch Yello (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz), starting at 2:27 there's a very simple, repeated sax riff of just three notes: D, D#, and E. The D# is panned just a smidge to the right compared to the other two notes, and the Paradigms let you hear it easily. It's one of the auditory Easter eggs that Blank likes to layer into his mixes.

I was also impressed by the lifelike trumpet on the duo's "Vertical Vision" on the same album, played by Till Brönner. The higher horn notes on that track can sound piercing and aggressive on lesser gear, but the Paradigms brought the instrument to heel without robbing it of bite.

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Opposite Yello's busy, waggish fare, there's Leon Bridges, an earnest Texas soul singer who likes his tracks sparse. "River," from his debut album Coming Home (24/96 FLAC, Qobuz), features only a softly strummed acoustic guitar, a tambourine, Bridges's solo vocal, and a small choir. It's a soul-stirring performance, recorded live in the studio by the sound of it. The Paradigms tangle nothing up, providing textbook transparency. That PPA Lens seems to act like Windex on a pane, removing grime and inviting you to relax and luxuriate in the view.

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A side note: On "River," there is no deep bass for the Paradigms to tackle. That the speakers render the song so effectively—and affectingly—demonstrates that their bottom end isn't all that's impressive. The bass may be their calling card, but they're accomplished all-rounders.

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Here's one more example of how satisfying the Founders are. On some systems, ride cymbals played with a brush sound like white noise, the drummer's taps barely discernible as separate events. With these speakers, there's a crispness to the treble, neither forward nor recessed, that renders delicate cymbal work without smearing. Chico Hamilton's ride cymbal on his quintet's "Passin' Thru," from the album of the same name (16/44.1, Qobuz), is all there.

My main criticism of the 120H, and it's mild, is that with most recordings, I didn't find them completely involving at lower levels. They need to be played with some oomph to make recordings come alive. Below 75dB at the listening position, there wasn't always enough kick, excitement, or presence. For me, this wasn't a problem: I like my music loud.

Conclusion
Though nine grand is no small sum, there's outstanding value here. The 120H's ferocious, nonbloated bass removes any need for separate subwoofers, subwoofer cables, and floorspace, and you'll save yourself the frustration of trying to make main speakers and subs play together seamlessly. Plus, the Paradigms are no one-trick pony; they proved first-rate with every kind of music I played. Finally—the cherry on top—the 120H's built-in ARC room correction is a godsend for audiophiles with challenging listening environments.

I'll have to beg my friend Nick's forgiveness, but these speakers are, in a word, awesome.


Footnote 2: 18Hz is a DIN measurement that takes the likely contribution of a real-world room into account. Measured in an anechoic chamber, the 120H goes down to 22Hz.
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

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Jack L's picture

Hi

Really? While I have not auditionrf both the Paradigms under review & Revel 228Be side by side (Have you at all ?), I just comment on the technical specs of them.

How come Revel 228Be full-passive floorspeakers can beat the Paradigms with class-D powered woofers by "stronger bass response" ??????

Techhnically impossible !

FTI, Revel 228Be are best for large, larger room, not too good for medium & small rooms as per a publised review of a loudspeakers only review journal.

There are at least 5 brandname full-passive floorspeakers beat Revel
228Be for its deep bass response. Incidentally, they are all same: Goldear Triton series. The lower model Triton 2+ got low frequency response down to 19Hz - full passive.

Jack L

Indydan's picture

Hey Jackie L, I am blowing you a kiss.

Jack L's picture

.

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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Jack L's picture

Hi

My second thought re yr above comment winds down to the design issue of the Paradigms: the built-in ACTIVE cross-over network.

Most most, if not all, loudspeakers with powered woofers have included a built-in active cross-over network which splits the incoming music signals from the driving amp into LF, MF & HF to drive the dedicated amps to drive the woofers, MF & HF discretely.

Without the design schematic of the Paradigms under review, I can only assume logically the built-in X-over network also handles the M/F & H/F.

It is the design issue of the Paradigms active X-over network that somewhat 'screws' up the sound at SPL below 75dB, IMO, basing on my hands-on experience in interphasing my audio system to my 3 powered subwoofers (L, R, & L+R) for soo many years.

With my design/built interphasing, I allow my subs built-in adjustible Lo-pass network to handle only the sub-LF, tapped out from the main-stream music signal driving my main front 2-way passive bi-wired KEF front standspeakers.

It means the mid-L/F, MF & HF of the music signals drive direct my front louspeakers without going thru any active electronics! It works like a chime.

I can enjoy some excellent performance playback on my 24-bit mastered gold-plated reference CD track: "The Great Gate of Kiev" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" at any any levels from solo instruments below 50 dB(C) immediately followed by some 103 dB(C) bass drum beats as per my SPL measurement. NOoo sweat !!!!

Listening is believing

Jack L

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