Paradigm Reference Studio/100 v.2 loudspeaker Page 2

Despite all these changes, which represent substantial costs in development time as well as materials, the price of the Studio/100 v.2 is only $100 higher than its predecessor's—a testament to Paradigm's vertical integration of manufacturing.

The cosmetic changes themselves should not be dismissed too lightly. My impression of Paradigm's speakers has been that they may offer good sound for the money, but the look is pretty utilitarian. The Studio/100 v.2, and other speakers in the new Reference Series, change that. Although you couldn't mistake the Studio/100 v.2's wood finish (rosenut on the review samples) for something from Sonus Faber, it is now quite attractive, and the curved sides soften what otherwise would be a severely boxy look. A laminate-finished version sans curved sides is available for $300 less, but I'd recommend spending the extra for the veneered version, which may also have some sonic benefits because of its thicker side walls.

Setting up speakers can be a difficult chore requiring endless tweaking of position, toe-in, and adjustment of the room's acoustical treatment. I've never encountered a speaker with which ¼" made the difference between sonic disaster and Nirvana, but speakers definitely vary in terms of how critical setup parameters are to optimal sound quality.

The Reference Studio/100 v.2s turned out to be exceptionally unfussy to set up. I plunked them down in what is my more-or-less standard position: along the long wall of my 16' by 14' by 7.5' listening room. With a bit of tweaking, I had the speakers form an angle of about 70 degrees from the listening seat, with the front of the speaker out about 40" from the back wall and the tweeter about 35" from the side wall. Toe-in was not critical; I aimed speakers almost—but not quite—at the listening seat. Once I was satisfied with the basic setup, I installed the spikes and locknuts. The speaker is provided with four spikes, which are hidden by what look like gold-plated feet but are actually large locknuts.

The Studio/100 v.2's five-way binding posts appear to be the same as the ones that Tom Norton complained about: able to be tightened only by hand and too thick for many audiophile spade lugs, they still worked fine with the Nordost bananas that I use. Paradigm recommends biwiring, and that's how I listened to the Studio/100 v.2s. The grille is an integral part of the front-baffle design, so it's intended to be left on; I listened to the speaker with the grille off just long enough to confirm that the sound was, indeed, better focused with the grille on.

I used both solid-state (Bryston 9B-THX and Thule PA-250B) and tube (Balanced Audio Technology VK-60) power amplifiers; although all the amplifier-speaker combinations worked well, the Bryston gave the best overall results, keeping the bass under control while providing a clean top end. Paradigm recommends a break-in period of about 50 hours; indeed, the sound had become more open and relaxed after about that long.

According to Scott Bagby, head of Paradigm's design team, designing the Reference Studio/100 v.2 was, to a large extent, a process of elimination. The extensive measurements and listening tests were aimed at identifying problem areas, measurable and/or audible, in the speaker's behavior, with changes then made to reduce or eliminate these problems. Presumably, if you eliminate all the unwanted resonances and colorations, what remains is a speaker that just reproduces the input rather than having a sound of its own.

That's pretty much what I heard when I listened to the Studio/100 v.2. In my experience, every speaker has some sort of distinctive sonic character that becomes evident sooner or later, but I had a difficult time getting a sense of the Studio/100 v.2's. Its top-to-bottom tonal balance was exceptionally even, with no part of the spectrum given undue prominence. The midrange, in particular, had a most pleasing neutrality, which allowed the distinctive quality of voices and instruments to be preserved. The treble was not quite as silky-smooth and airy as that of the $10k/pair Vienna Acoustics Mahler (see my review in the April 2000 Stereophile), but was at least on a par with such topnotch competitors in its own price range as the Hales Revelation Three ($2195, reviewed in February 1998, Vol.21 No.2), and beat the Hales in the avoidance of sizzle at high levels.

In his review of the original Studio/100, Tom Norton noted an occasional edge in the mid-treble; this seems to have been tamed in the v.2. Vocal sibilants—which I find to be the most revealing indicator of problems in a speaker's treble response—were presented cleanly, without exaggeration or noticeable softening. The top end was even sweeter when the speaker was driven by the Balanced Audio Technology VK-60 tube amp, at the cost of some loss of bass control.

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