Paradigm Signature S2 and Studio 20 v.3 first impressions! (long)
My local dealer started getting the Paradigm Reference Signatures in a couple of weeks ago, so I ventured down there over the holiday weekend with my usual assortment of test discs and spent a couple of hours doing some listenings. For comparison, I also got my first listen to the Studio 20 v.3s.
The demo room where I did the auditions is acoustically treated, and I listened to everything through a set of Anthem multichannel separates and an Arcam DVD player. My test discs ranged from electronica to acoustic jazz (recorded direct-to-two-track) to multitracked rock music to classical (in high res 96/24).
First thing's first, the Studio 20 v.3s are wonderful sounding speakers. For their price, I have never heard anything as transparent and open sounding as those speakers. Their imaging is remarkable with a huge soundstage and the tonal balance is excellent. Short of panel speakers, I've never heard a pair of speakers disappear as effectively as the Studio 20s did. I actually had to double-check and make sure that the dipolar surround speakers were switched off! The refinement and imaging compared to the Studio 20 v.2s that I use at home as surround speakers is a noticeable step up, and those speakers were already great with their imaging capabilities. All the way around, the sound is an improvement over the v.2 version.
The Studio 20 v.3s held up very well through a wide assortment of music and struck a very good balance between refinement and appropriate punch. It was only when I cued up the 96/24 Gershwin orchestral disc that the Studio 20s seemed to lack some dynamic weight. But, with all music sources, I thought the 20s had excellent layering between different sounds, good transients with the highs, and good differentiation with bass notes.
Compared to the Studio 40 v.3s that I auditioned previously, it seems that the Studio 20s don't have quite as weighty a sound, but their imaging capabilities exceed those of the 40s, which are not exactly slouches in that department. The tonal balance on the 40s is every bit as good as with the 20s, but the 40s just seem to have slightly more pop behind them. I'd have to say that I prefer the tonal qualities and general mannerisms of the 40s, but the imaging of the 20s is astonishing. Pretty much the same verdict as with the previous v.2 versions, except that I don't think that the 40s have the advantage over the 20s in the midrange that the previous versions did. (My first impressions of the Studio 40 v.3 are linked below)
Of course, the purpose of my visit was to try out the Signatures, so after running through the full complement of evaluation discs, I switched out to the S2s.
As for the Signature S2, I have to preface my comments by adding that the demo models that I tried out did not have a lot of playing time on them, so these comments should be considered somewhat preliminary. With that said, I had a decidedly mixed impression of the S2s.
On the whole, the S2s are noticeably more refined in the highs and midrange, with probably a fuller bass than the Studio 20s. With that Gershwin disc, the S2s had a much fuller and more dynamic sound. It seemed to carry the weight of an orchestra better than the Studio 20s. And with percussive sounds, the cymbal pings were precise and the drums had appropriate kick.
But, as I went on with the auditions, I started making note of audible flaws that I did not detect as much with the Studio 20s. With certain mid-to-high frequency sounds like hollow body electric guitars and flutes, I noticed a fair amount of ringing. And occasionally, the overall sound was fairly compressed with different instruments, sometimes blending together rather than staying coherent and differentiated.
Even though the S2s have excellent imaging and a nice wide soundstage, they did not disappear the way that the Studio 20s did. I made minor adjustments to the speaker placement, but it was no different.
It seems as if the S2s are hinting at what they are capable of, but they're not quite there yet. If my first impression is really what the Signature series is all about, then I'd have to reluctantly say that Paradigm has not succeeded at producing a class-leading product.
I'm not a big believer in breaking in speakers, but I have to say that all of the Paradigms I have purchased did sound different out of the box than they did after a few hours of playing time. And their audible flaws out of the box were similar to what I noticed with the S2 demo -- compressed and somewhat muddy sound at times, and ringing with some types of sounds. The S2s that I listened to were relatively new and did not have a lot of playing time, so for now I'm willing to put my initial evaluation aside and try them out again in a few weeks after they've had a few more auditions under their belt.
A few additional notes ... the gloss finish on the Signatures is amazing, it's almost flawless in appearance. The less expensive cherry veneer finish is also very impressive, even without the gloss. The build quality on the Signatures is excellent, and somewhat heavier than the construction on the Studio series.
Overall though, for now the price/value bullseye is still squarely on the Studio series. At $800 a pair, the Studio 20 v.3 should be on anybody's audition list, if they're looking for something in that price class.
Last edited by Woochifer; 01-05-2004 at 04:00 PM.
Interesting take on the two speakers. Perhaps the S2 was defective in some way...shippers could have dropped it or it was "loose" in some way. Break in is grossly overexagerrated and while I have owned speakers that have audible changes it should take place within a few hours at most. I would have to think the S2 was damaged in some way or poorly made beforeit left the plant...that happens to every company and could have been a fluke. Before you judge it too harshly I would suggest listening to a second pair. Some of these dealers also hook up Cables from manufacturers that DELIBERATELY alter the sound for the worse...my one and only experience with MIT which acted like a resistor or somehting but the bass fttened up and the highs dissapeared.
Audiophiles buy these cables I presume because they bought bright irritating speakers and use the cable as an expensive tone control. If the speaker needs such a tone control they bought the wrong speaker/amp combo.
I can't imagine the S series from Paradigm taking a step back. Indeed, Paradigm is attemoting to get into the high end world and make a serious impression. If I were running Paradigm I would at least in the beginning make a superior product for less money. While this is always going to be subjective...I would certainly expect the speaker to out do their lower line and not exhibit gross high frequency ringing or severe box resonances...or at least not box resonances that have a negative sound. The De Capo has box resonance that must be concluded as a deliberate sound from the designer as part of the speaker's intentional presentation. After all the speaker was made using the NRC facilities.
I would give a different set of Sigs a try perhap. Of course you may be right too...plenty of companies' best speakers are in fact not their most expensive models. The CM line of B&W is much more expensive than the 600 series...IMO the CM line suffers more and is basically a good speaker with much better looks and finishes. Paradigms has obviously invested in better finishes and looks...the question now is did they invest in superior sound.
Or more to the point how much more was invested in superior sound? and is the bang for buck that many people believe (or blue collar speaker) that people perceive still there? When a speaker gets to ~6k it's a LOT tougher to sell to the average Joe that it's a bargoon.
The next time I make an upgrade I'll be sure to listen to a couple of their models...the 100V3 and maybe their big Signature Floorstander. This will probably be well out into spring or Summer...But my University has a reading break in March...so perhaps then.
I have also recently heard the new S2, but I can't say I walked away with the same impressions... that's odd, eh?
For a small speaker, I thought it remained quite composed at any reasonable listening level. Yes, it lost some coherency with loud, busy tracks, but I could say that about many stand-mound speakers... this is one area my M20s excel at - keeping the instruments distinct and in proportion at rediculously loud SPLs.
As you say, the highs and mids were quite fluid and silky - actually, I would say this is a VERY smooth metal tweeter. Similar to Vandersteens, the top end has a buttery "roundedness", if you will... just easy to listen to.
I don't feel the 20s do anything better.
I did, however, have a problem with the bass... some deep-bass tracks got almost completely lost. There was a foundation, but definitely shelved back. The room WAS big, though...
All in all, a great speaker - I would rather try it at home to get a better feel.
I found a place here on Long Island to audition a few new speakers - among them, RGA'a beloved Audio Notes, along with two brands I have been very curious about - Spendor and JMR.
Should be fun!
I would like to hear a Spendor as well. Supposed to be a classic and classy sounding product with roots that go way back. Alas one is always limited to what's available in a reasonable distance.
A few Reviewers at Hi-fi choice and Stereophile own the Audio Notes...so It's not just loved by me. Then again many of them probably own 12 sets of speakers... :-)
People have different criteria for speakers. I pretty much know that if someone likes a particular sounding speaker that I don't much care for...then chances are slim they're going to love the type of sound I like. Kinda makes sense. Though unlike the warmth of the De Capo, the Audio Note has more of the dynamic punch and bass oomph favoured, perhaps, by owners of Paradigm or Energy.
The Audio Notes will play significantly loud with less watts and without compression. And best of all play very well at low levels...something I have not heard from any other standmount at any price. Bass is usualy the problem. Speakers not balanced properly likely due to different sensitivity issues among different drivers will have to be turned up slightly louder in order to get bass.
I'm glad to see more dealers are picking up Audio Note. I'm rather surprised at how well they're doing considering their modest looks and relatively high prices.
I read on another forum that they are now the second largest audio maker in Britain right behind B&W. If that is true which amazes me, would mean they're bigger than Rotel, Arcam, Roksan, Cambridge Audio, Monitor Audio, Rega and NAD??? Anything is possible but something tells me the definition of biggest must mean soemnthing else. You'd have to figure that Rotel and NAD certainly sell more units. But then again Audio Note only has to sell one DAC 5 or Ongaku On for every 50 or 100 units from NAD.
I hadn't thought of that, so you might be right that I heard a bad test sample. Paradigm's initial batch of v.1 Studio series speakers had some defective tweeters, so that's an entirely plausible scenario. The cabling that my dealer used was from Transparent. But, given that it was the same set that was used with the Studio 20 v.3s, that would probably not be a possible cause.
Originally Posted by RGA
I couldn't imagine them taking a step back either (actually, it's not really a step backward, just not a big step forward based on what I initially heard), which is why my listening was somewhat surprising. My overall impression of the S2 demo was that Paradigm was clearly aiming high with the Signature series. The overall sound was bigger and more refined, but somewhat rough around the edges with some audible flaws. The Studio 20 seemed to aim lower, but hit a bullseye for what it was physically able to do. Its outstanding imaging capabilities are a very compelling bonus.
Originally Posted by RGA
I've never been a huge believer in long extended break-ins, but the flaws that I noted in the S2 were reminiscent of what I initially heard from my Studio 20s and 40s out of the box. With my Studio 40, I had a broken in dealer sample available for comparison, so I knew that where the sound was headed and it didn't take that long to get there. So, I will do a follow-up evaluation in a month or two. Besides, my dealer has not yet received their initial shipment of the S4s, so I look forward to doing a comparison between those models and the Studio 40 v.3.
My impression seems to run contrary to what others have observed as well, which is why I'll do a follow up on the S2 when I try out the S4s in a month or two. The S2 did a lot of things wonderfully well as you noted, but it tripped up on a few of my test tracks and sounded compressed at times -- very similar to my Studio 20s and 40s when they were brand new. For now, I'm calling it inconclusive and see just how much break-in time those speakers need. If I still hear the same problems with the S2s, but don't hear them in the S4 demo, then RGA's theory of a defective unit might be more applicable.
Originally Posted by Jimmy C
As it stands, I'm that much more impressed with the Studio v.3 series, especially at less than half the price. The Studio 20 v.3 has a more clearcut improvement in overall sound quality over my Studio 20 v.2 than the Studio 40 v.3 had over the v.2 version.
Also, did you stop to consider that the New Sigs may in fact be revealing of upstrem componants, may be so good in fact that these speakers may in fact be telling you what so called nutty audiophiles claim that SS has a grainy etchy presentation. Which is why they harp and harp on SS...maybe because they own speakers that reveal the flaws. Maybe the sig is doing just that...Hey just as plausible way more so in fact, than break in theories.
Originally Posted by Woochifer
Well I would hope the new version of the S3 is better...that is the point after all at bringing out a new series every few years. To be competitive you have to continually improve because the other guy is improving as well. The V2 was a fairly dramatic improvement to the V1 in both sound and quality control.
Originally Posted by Woochifer
I did consider that possibility, but the same amplification rig produced that incredibly open and transparent sound from the Studio 20 v.3. Minimal ringing was audible through those speakers. It'll be more clear cut as to whether my observations were a fluke when I compare the S2 to the S4. Considering the similarities to what I observed with my Paradigms when they were brand new, I can't rule out the possibility that those S2s were still too new.
Originally Posted by RGA
As for graininess or harshness in general, there are so many possible sources, that I don't think anyone can really definitively isolate any single causal factor.
Don't worry I was just attempting to be facetious. Anthem is supposed to be pretty good.
Originally Posted by Woochifer
In the end it may simply not be that they traded up in some areas and traded down in others. Paradigm certainly would not be the only company to do that.
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