Paradigm Reference Studio/20 loudspeaker Page 2

The Studio/20's ability to resolve detail had me finding new things in very familiar recordings. I thought I'd memorized every lick in Aimee Mann's "How Am I Different?," from her Bachelor No. 2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (CD, Super Ego SE002), but for the first time I found myself following a low-level guitar line near the end of the tune, way back in the mix. And in the first movement of David Chesky's Violin Concerto, from his Area 31 (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288, CD layer), I found myself focusing on a contrapuntal interplay between the bassoon and Tom Chiu's violin that I'd never noticed before. Sure, I'd heard the two instruments before, but I'd never noticed the melodic synergy between the lines Chesky had written. Even on "The Best of Both Worlds," from Hannah Montana's Dance Along DVD (Disney IFPI 7792), the Studio/20 had me following an interesting melody on distorted guitar buried under Miley Ray Cyrus's processed, in-your-face vocal.

The Paradigm's reproduction of the high frequencies was also fairly clean, uncolored, extended, and detailed. In particular, I was taken by the reproduction of the highs in transient attacks. Joni Mitchell's Martin guitar in "Urge for Going," from Hits (CD, Reprise 46326-2), was crisp and detailed, with perfectly clean, uncolored transients. Moreover, any recording with considerable percussion content sounded coherent and natural, with no transient attack unnaturally sharpened or blunted. Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haa!" (45rpm, Warner Bros. WB 5831) is mostly percussion, and the interplay between the pounding bass drum against the front wall and the tambourine was coherent and convincing. On a more delicate note, the upper registers of Keith Jarrett's piano improvisations on the compilation Works (CD, ECM 78118-20425-2) were delicate, lifelike, and detailed, but not etched.

Listening to well-recorded classical works, I've heard speakers with more top-octave, high-frequency air than the Studio/20. When I listened to Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), the violins had a bit of a wiry quality (though they weren't bright), and there seemed to be a somewhat metallic quality in the marimba mallets' attack. While the reproduction of the transients of Bill Frisell's electric guitar in his solos on East/West (CD, Nonesuch 79863) was perfect on all tracks, accompanied by great articulation of subtle dynamics, I found the interplay between guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore on "Becuz," from Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (CD, Geffen DGCP-24825), to be a bit less defined and somewhat rougher than I've heard from other speakers.

At the opposite end of the harmonic spectrum, the Studio/20 seemed capable of deep, forceful, bombastic bass. The synth-bass blasts on Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611) punched me in the face with no hint of breakup or coagulation, and bass pitches were very well defined and unblurred. "Like a BIIIIIIIG floorstander," I noted—I'd never heard so much subjective bottom-end sock from a bookshelf speaker of this size. With more delicate recordings, the midbass was fairly natural, although Ray Brown's double-bass solo on "I'm an Old Cowhand," from Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, JVC VICJ 60088), seemed a bit warm in his lower register.

I compared the Paradigm Reference Studio/20 ($998/pair) with the NHT Classic 3 ($800/pair), the Nola Mini ($695/pair when last offered), and the Epos M5 ($650/pair).

The NHT Classic 3 was as delectable and rich in the midrange as the Paradigm, but had more silky, extended, and detailed high frequencies. The NHT's articulation of sibilants was noticeably more delicate and subtle. Its midbass was much warmer than the Paradigm's, but its high-level, bottom-end dynamic slam was in the same league.

The Nola Mini resolved more inner detail and low-level dynamics than the Paradigm, and had more top-end air as well. The Nola's bass seemed to extend deeper, and its midbass was more neutral than and not as warm as the Paradigm's.

The Epos M5, too, resolved more inner detail than the Paradigm, and its high-frequency extension, detail, and articulation was the best of the four speakers. However, while the Epos's midbass was the cleanest and least colored of the four, it lacked the Paradigm's dynamic bass slam at high levels.

Despite my occasional concern over the Reference Studio/20's treble, Paradigm has considerably improved on in this latest iteration. It is a far more detailed, natural, and dynamic performer than what I recall of the original Studio/20, and holds its own with current designs. And it's sexy-looking to boot. In particular, I was taken by the Studio/20's sense of dynamic bloom and ease in the lower midrange, and the way it could rock out at high levels in a large room. I congratulate the Paradigm design team on their continued efforts to advance the frontier of affordable speaker designs.

Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
(905) 564-1994