Paradigm Prestige 95F loudspeaker Page 2

Except as noted, I drove the Paradigms full-range with two-channel recordings, using an Integra DTC-9.8 surround processor strictly as a 2.0-channel digital preamplifier in its Direct mode. I later briefly tried a Jeff Rowland Design Group Consummate analog preamp, but the system's sound jelled better with the Integra. The amplifier was a Proceed AMP5, though for this review I used only two of its five channels. Each channel of the AMP5 is driven by a completely separate power supply and transformer, in effect making it, for this review, two monoblocks built on the same chassis. The source component was a Marantz UD7007 universal Blu-ray player, connected to the Integra with a coaxial digital cable. To play SACDs, I used an Oppo BDP-105D universal BD player, connected to the Integra via HDMI.

Apart from the Marantz and the Oppo, much of this system is old, including the cables. Although I plan to update the system, the sound quality it produces has me in no rush to make changes.

All of the recordings mentioned below were from 16-bit/44kHz CDs. I also briefly listened to some two-channel DSD recordings on SACD, with essentially the same results.

Before doing any listening, I ran-in the Prestige 95Fs for about 100 hours, to ensure against the questionable practice of doing critical listening while the speakers were still breaking in. The latter is more likely to break in your ears to the new sound than to change the speakers themselves.

Early Concerns
My first concern was whether or not the 125Wpc Proceed AMP5 could drive the Prestige 95Fs in my large room. I needn't have worried. As it turned out, judging from test tones and a sound-level meter, the Paradigms seemed to be over 4dB more sensitive than my vintage-but-still-reference Energy Veritas v2.8s. (John Atkinson's measurements of the 95F will provide a more accurate number.) A change of even 3dB means that, at least in terms of power, the Proceed will drive the Paradigms as well as a 250Wpc amp would drive a speaker 3dB less sensitive.

And never once did I feel deprived. Even in my large space, the Prestige 95Fs seemed content with what might be viewed today as average power. Like any speaker, of course, they could be turned up until either the amp or the speakers screamed uncle. I never reached that point—I stopped short of levels clearly higher than my normal listening. I also tried the Paradigms with some challenging video sound, using a generic center-channel speaker and subwoofer, at levels that made me fear for my new neighborhood's torches-and-pitchforks brigade. I found the Paradigms immensely rewarding in this application. Though that's not my beat for this review, it did suggest that the Prestige 95Fs are likely to satisfy with dynamic, challenging two-channel material, even when driven by a modestly powered amplifier in a large space.

I prefer a speaker that sounds neutral and open—no soft, squishy highs, no "excuse me, I didn't mean to intrude" politeness. But that doesn't mean I like a speaker that sounds aggressive. I want what's on the recording, even if that's a goal that no speaker, of any size or price, can perfectly achieve. (Which is also why no one knows precisely what's on any recording, not even the recording team, which knows only what it sounds like through their own studio monitors.) But it's a worthy goal.

The heart of the music falls in the midrange, and in addition to the other concerns noted above, I was at first a bit put off by the decision by the Prestige 95F's designers to have an 8" driver cover the audioband up to 2kHz. The full diameter of this mid/woofer, including its exterior trim ring, is the specified 8" (205mm), but the diameter of the radiating cone itself is only 5.3" (135mm). A driver begins to beam when the diameter of its cone equals the wavelength of the frequency it's being asked to reproduce—in the case of a 5.3" cone, about 2500Hz. It doesn't suddenly start beaming at precisely this frequency, but the radiation of its output gradually narrows at the frequencies leading up to it. The waveguide on the 95F's tweeter helps to match its low-treble radiation pattern to that of the mid/woofer, but the dispersion around this frequency could be narrower than it is at higher and lower frequencies.

However, I heard no consistent problems in the speaker's upper midrange and low treble. The Paradigms produced none of the more common, obvious colorations associated with less-than-optimal dispersion. While the Paradigms sometimes sounded just a bit forward of neutral, they were never pushy or in-your-face. Pop vocals, in the better-sounding cuts from a wide range of artists—eg, B.B. King, Diana Krall, Elvis Presley, Jacintha, Joe Williams, José Carreras, the King's Singers, Daniel Lanois, the Fairfield Four, Holly Cole, and Buddy Holly, in "True Love Ways," the only stereo track I know of in his recorded work, on From the Original Master Tapes (CD, Universal TMCAD-5540 DIDX-203)—invariably sounded a bit different from each other in the character of their recordings. This is as they should sound through a good system, which shouldn't add or subtract consistent colorations of its own.

The 95Fs also excelled at imaging and depth, even with a large, flat-screen HDTV sitting between them (though nearly 4' behind the speakers' front baffles). The soprano, tenor, and bass in the "Tecum principium" of Saint-Saëns's Oratorio de Noël, with Anders Eby conducting the Mikaeli Chamber Choir (Proprius Musik PRCD9057)—and, in fact, the voices throughout the entire recording—were spread across the soundstage in the warm acoustic of Stockholm's St. John's Church, the instrumental accompaniment arrayed behind them. The pop singers listed in the preceding paragraph were also precisely positioned between the speakers—at times tightly focused, at others a little spread out, as you often hear when listening to different recordings.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the imaging I heard from the Paradigms was as tightly and consistently focused as I recall hearing from other speakers in my previous listening room, where it was rare for a pair of speakers not to image well. The most significant thing that the two installations have in common was a significant distance between the speakers and the wall behind them (assuming that the speakers being listened to weren't designed for near-wall positioning, which few are).

It was a little tricky to get the Prestige 95Fs' bass right in my new room. It didn't measure particularly well from the listening position (using the Omnimic system from Parts Express), but that's not uncommon. There were significant peaks and valleys below 80Hz, particularly from the right speaker, which had no sidewall nearby. I did try moving the Paradigms to the room's long wall, but even with the speakers 4' out from that wall, the bass, while less mountainous by measurement, sounded far too prominent overall. The bass balance, by ear, was far better at the speakers' original positions, so that's where they sat for all of my critical listening. My experience here suggests that a pair of 95Fs may be most comfortable when trying to fill a larger room; for smaller spaces, one of the smaller Prestiges might work better.

Despite the 95F's problematic in-room measurements of mid- and deep bass, the speakers were immensely rewarding with recordings that depend on bass for their full effect. Organist Jean Guillou's performance of his transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117) left nothing to the imagination, particularly the deep-bass growls in Gnomus. Ditto for the lowest reaches on the Rhythm Devils' The Apocalypse Now Sessions (CD, Ryko RCD 10109), or Daft Punk's musings on their soundtrack album for Tron: Legacy (CD, Walt Disney 56720). If the 95Fs didn't sound quite as clean and deep in the nether regions as the sound I recall from my previous room (with a subwoofer, a deader acoustic, a suspended floor, and walls of lath and plaster), or as might a good subwoofer in general, the difference was never immediately obvious. Percussive bass, however, was as tight and punchy as could be wished. Played at a high level, the pounding drums in Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, and Richard Tognetti's music for the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (CD, Decca B0001574-02) practically lifted me from my listening chair.

The Paradigm's top end may be controversial for some. As I said earlier, I don't mind a prominent treble, as long as it doesn't stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. And some designers aim for a linear power response, in which a speaker's output is measured from all angles around it rather than only on or near its tweeter axis. This will often produce a tipped-up result if, for example, you measure a speaker's frontal response ±15° with respect to center.

My in-room measurements of the Prestige 95F at my listening seat showed only a small rise at the speaker's top end (roughly 1–2dB at 7–8kHz relative to the response at 2.5kHz, and going no higher above 8kHz). But in the June 2015 Sound & Vision, Mark Peterson's nearfield, pseudo-anechoic, ±15° frontal measurements of the Paradigm Prestige 15B—which uses the same tweeter as the Prestige 95F—showed a rise of over 3dB in the same region, and lifting even higher above that.

Possibly because of this, the 95F wasn't particularly forgiving of overbright source material, at least in my room. But with well-recorded music, it sparkled with life. Percussion was particularly well handled. In addition to exhibiting deep bass, Kodo's Mondo Head (CD, Sony Music WK56111) jumped with exceptional detail. With closely miked acoustic guitar, such as Leo Kottke's on his My Father's Face (CD, Private Music 2050-P), I could hear every fine fingering of strings. And Ry Cooder's soundtrack for Geronimo (CD, Columbia CK 57760) was a sonic treat, not only for its open, transparent sound, but also for its oddly compelling music, which includes water pipes, flutes, cello, throat singers (!), mandolin, a brass band, and Cooder's own contributions on guitar, banjo, rudra veena, and . . . I-beam.

With some recordings, particularly of bright, hard percussion at high levels, the 95Fs produced a bit too much top-end edge. Percussion, when heard from close up—where it's often miked in non-classical recording—didn't sound pretty. But this was invariably fleeting and, for me, better than a sound that smothers the top end in search of an illusion of musicality.

As noted earlier, I also briefly listened to a number of DSD selections on two-channel SACD. They, too, sounded universally excellent, though I can't say they sounded, on average, better than the best CDs. I have no issue with high-resolution audio or LPs, but the most important part of any great recording, apart from the performance, will always be the engineering behind it, not the format.

I brought out my long-term reference speakers, Energy's Veritas v2.8s. While long discontinued—as is, for all practical purposes, Energy itself—and now almost museum pieces (I reviewed the Energy for Stereophile in 1994), the v2.8s are a tribute to the fact that great speakers can last, in terms of both sound quality and durability. (Full disclosure: This pair of v2.8s has been used far less than most, as I often put them to one side when other speakers shuttle in and out for review.)

The Energys produced an in-room bass response remarkably similar to that of the Paradigms: a dip at 45Hz followed by a peak at 30Hz. This proves yet again that, in the bass, the room and the speakers' positions in it dominate, limited mainly by the speakers' inherent low-end reach. But the Energys' bass had marginally deeper reach and impact—their two woofers per side are also 8-inchers, though their cabinets are significantly larger than those of the 95Fs. The Energy's upper midrange and top end also had a bit more clarity than the Paradigm's; the latter's large-cone mid/woofer couldn't quite equal the detail retrieval of the Energy's 3" midrange dome. But the Paradigm was a little more dynamic and up-front.

These differences were subtle; I heard them only in what was as near to a direct A/B comparison as I could manage, A and B separated by some 10 minutes as I physically swapped the speakers. Also, recall my comments about inflation at the beginning of this review. Speakers comparable to the $6000/pair Energys would cost at least $9500 today; given that inflation in audio seems to have outpaced the rate of inflation overall, I'd say they'd now cost at least $12,000/pair.

Of Paradigm's Prestige models, I'd bet money that the 85F, with a smaller midrange driver, a tweeter slightly closer to ear height, and a lower price ($3998/pair) than the 95F, may be the sweet spot of the range: You'll probably sacrifice a bit of bottom-end heft, but a good subwoofer—and Paradigm offers plenty of them—will more than recover that. But for a likely lower overall cost, and for those who must fill a large room—yet to whom subwoofers are the spawn of Satan—the Prestige 95F offers a ton of value and performance. While it may not satisfy all listeners, that could be said of any speaker at any price. But I strongly recommend that those looking for speakers in this price range give the Paradigm Prestige 95F a serious audition.

Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
(905) 696-2868

Venere's picture

At this price point I am surprised that it's not a true three way with a dedicated midrange driver. Seems like that design choice might be the reason it has the flaws the reviewer pointed out.

rmeyer52's picture

I purchased these speakers two weeks ago and although Paradigm recommends 100 hours to break in the speakers are already warming up. I have them connected to the new Yamaha 2100 natural sound amp and 2100 CD player and I am really hearing great music. They seem to really excel when the volume is turned up a bit and they fill the room with amazing sound. I thought, initially, they were too bright but that went away with listening and break in. This is the second set of Paradigm speakers that I have owned. I highly recommend them. I listen, primarily, to jazz, fusion and blues.

crenca's picture

It seems to me that at some point in the past, Paradigm switched focus from music to "home theater". Seems like this inevitably leads to speakers with a boomy bottom (probably caused from an overstretch of design/materials/quality in an effort to give those explosions felt presence) end and overly bright treble, which even I admit often sounds "better" with TV/movies. When it comes to most genre's of music (excepting perhaps electronic, etc.) this skews the music. I notice on Paradigm's site that even their top end "signature" line has all the requisite surround implements of movie sound...

K.Reid's picture

I don't think this is the home theater curse. I think a well engineered neutral speaker that can reproduce its frequency range can be good for both music and home theater...whether that be satellite with multiple subwoofers or full range floorstanding or monitor. That said, sounds this speaker is has some not insubstantial flaws. I sold my last speaker which was a Paradigm Signature 2 v.3 because its application of the beryllium tweeter spoke above the rest of the frequency spectrum and was forward sounding presentation. I couldn't stand it so away they went. Far cry from Focal's implementation of the Beryllium tweeter in their Utopia line. However, I do think Paradigm's monitor line represents good value and they sound decent. I am interested to listen to their upcoming new flagship speaker to see what new thinking and refinements they make.

Glotz's picture

Any speaker can be engineered for both home theater and music, but it seems that Paradigm is trying to vie for maximum impact in the dealer showroom, by their decision to voice these speakers with additional treble energy.

It would appear that their business slant is towards home theater, and they appear to market their speakers to this audience as well.

I don't condone this, but it is their decision to compete with hotter (balance-wise), more-mass market speakers.

Venere 2's picture

I agree. Paradigm speakers try to be almost too versatile, and are better for movies than music. I had 3 pairs in different series, from budget to the upper market Studio line. They tend to be bright and lack refinement.

Their budget stuff is great for the price. But, once you get in the price range of the Studio, Prestige or Signature series, there are better alternatives for music in the same price range. I replaced a pair of Studio 100 V5 with Sonus Faber Venere 2 and I could not be happier.

The Studio 100 were like a big American 1960s muscle car. Lots of grunt and fast in a straight line. No handling in corners and bad braking. The Venere 2 are much more refined, like a small Lotus Elise. Maybe not as powerful, but more refined, nuanced and agile.

Kal Rubinson's picture

FWIW, compare JA's measurements with the ones he offered for the Studio 60v3 that I had from 2004 until this year.

Rather striking.

iListen's picture

For the massive price increase vs the Studio Series, these need to be way better than they are.

The prestige series are Way over priced IMO. The Classic models, to me, sound horrible.

Review seems to paint them as "meh - you can do better for the same money"

trynberg's picture

Very disappointed by both the design decisions and execution by Paradigm on the Prestige line of speakers. It's almost like the last two decades didn't happen. Has there been a change in ownership or at the head of design level?

TGG's picture

Would it not serve readers better to see comparisons to other $5,000 speakers that are available today? Examples are the Bryston Middle T, Revel Performa3 F208 and the GoldenEar Triton One.

w1000i's picture

Add monitoraudio Gold 300 and Dynaudio Focus 340 to the list :).

w1000i's picture

I experience the 85F at the dealer and it was good for movies but when I listen to music, I felt it bright in some tracks and I'm sure there are many speakers can do better job.

Naples Audiophile's picture

I have had these speakers for over three years driven by a Prima Luna EVO 400 integrated. I find the sound superb with detail at both the high and low end. The only downside is that these speakers will reveal bad recordings as well as take your breath away on good recordings. Listening to some Rudy VanGelder releases I am often in awe at the reproduction they provide. I would highly recommend them but speakers are highly subjective.