Paradigm Mini Monitor Speaker System Page 2
Associated equipment included a Rotel RSX-1550 A/V receiver, Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Bellari VP530 phono preamp.
Deep and True
I soon got a general idea of how the Mini Monitors sounded compared with my oft-mentioned reference speakers, the Paradigm Studio 20 v.4. The top end was a tad more restrained, though not gauzy or rolled off. I had the impression that I was getting all the high-frequency information I needed, and it was never fatiguing. Paradigm has made a pragmatic decision about voicing, making these speakers fine mates for sub-$1,000 A/V receivers. But don’t get the impression that these speakers were mushy. They just avoided the perils of ruthless revelation.
Locked Down (Blu-ray Disc, DTS-MD Master Audio) plunges a wrongly imprisoned cop into a second career as a cage-fighting gladiator. This overtly bloody and sadistic story is accompanied by a variety of steroidal rock songs. The speakers depicted each song with its own distinctive edge, while the sub kept up with numerous thumping blows—crude and basic effects but nonetheless effectively delivered. My guess is that many sizes and types of melons perished under the truncheons and baseball bats of the Foley artist. The PBK-equalized bass in both music and effects was deep and solid. As my notes remind me, “Even a synthetic beat has an aesthetic about it.” As someone who spends a lot of time diving down the rabbit hole of full-band room correction and digital signal manipulations, I was pleased to rediscover what my system could accomplish with room correction restricted to bass frequencies, the Paradigms, the Rotel AVR’s modest but reliable amplification, and high-quality (if relentlessly violent) lossless surround content.
I wanted to see Bloodworth so much that I was content to rent a DVD with Dolby Digital. A deliberately mistuned Gibson acoustic guitar was as much a major character as Kris Kristofferson’s black-sheep country musician who returns to his not entirely thrilled rural family after a long and mysterious absence. Like Kristofferson’s age-enhanced gravelly voice, the guitar sounded utterly natural, possibly indicating a simple microphone recording (as opposed to an electronic pickup and digital sweeteners)—and the speakers made these distinctions vivid. Also striking was their ability to image and layer other notable participants in the soundfield, including a solo violin, the clattering roar of a Cadillac that had seen better days, teeming outdoor sounds, an approaching thunderstorm, and a roller-rink crowd. With five matched speakers all around, the system produced a seamless wraparound effect.
Sandra Bullock mounts a comic-manic charm offensive in All About Steve (BD, DTS-HD Master Audio) as the cruciverbalist, or maker of crossword puzzles, who pursues a beau cross-country. The Paradigms delivered dialogue perfectly and were no less competent at musical swatches that included a string ensemble and male voices, the latter of which held together.
Trumpet, Sax, Bass Clarinet, Flute
Far Cry with Eric Dolphy and Booker Little arrived on mint-condition vinyl. I remember buying it new well into the CD era. With three matched speakers in the front, switching between stereo and the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode did little to change the imaging. The main difference was that DPLII pulled the music a few inches forward, toward the surrounds, and drums were less speaker-bound. Each lead instrument—Little’s trumpet at right, Dolphy’s alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute at left—was fully fleshed out, with its mid- and high-frequency components perfectly integrated. The soft-focused top end that my tube phono preamp exhibits with some speakers and content wasn’t noticeable here: The speakers, preamp, and record seemed to be soul mates. The PBK-perfected sub contributed tunefully to the bass clarinet’s bottom end. It also kept Ron Carter’s string bass lines even and in correct proportion, with no booming or rolled-off notes.
Guitar Passions, a CD billed to Sharon Isbin & Friends, found the classical guitarist and student of Segovia playing both solo and duets with such unexpected partners as Steve Vai, Paul Winter, Rosa Passos, and Nancy Wilson (yes, from Heart). Cascades of notes emerged with rhythmic snap and precision from Paradigm’s S-PAL metal tweeter and woofer, with such good tonal dovetailing around the sonically sensitive crossover point that it was never unduly obvious where one driver left off and the other began. The ambience of the hall was thick as recorded, but while theoretically this would have been obvious with most decent speakers, these made it particularly coherent—and they didn’t need surround processing to image the instruments inside a larger acoustic whole. They did it all in basic two-channel.
I switched back to LP for Who’s Next. To play it at a properly high level, the Rotel had to operate at 90 out of 100 volume increments. There were several reasons for this, including the Bellari preamp’s low output, the AVR’s modest volume capability, and the speakers’ sensitivity. They’re rated at 87 decibels, which is about average for stereo speakers but on the low side of average for surround. I’d never driven the Rotel this high before. If the clipping had been really nasty, I couldn’t have taken more than a couple of seconds of it, but the only glaring symptom was a smearing of Keith Moon’s cymbal smashes. This demo gave credence to Paradigm’s claims that the stiffness-to-weight characteristics of its S-PAL woofer, and especially the tweeter, push breakup above each driver’s respective operating range. With both amp and speakers so heavily stressed, I would have expected ringing and fatigue, not this kind of reasonable coherence. Of course, drums above the subwoofer crossover were also not as punchy as they’d be in a more powerful system.
If the latest Mini Monitor is anything to go by, Paradigm’s gen-seven redesign of the Monitor Series is an unqualified success. These speakers are voiced to mate gently with less expensive electronics but still have enough power handling to suit aggressive movie soundtracks and rock ’n’ roll. The DSP-3200 sub gets a big boost in performance and precision from the Perfect Bass Kit—so definitely figure that expense into the cost of your system, unless you have perfect faith in whatever room correction system your A/V receiver uses. In general, these speakers would be great all-around performers at any price. At their asking price, they’re a superb value.