Excellent Soundstaging and Imaging: More so than many other surround sound systems I’ve reviewed, the Special Edition system does a very fine job of allowing sound to break free from the faces of the speaker enclosures to define wide, deep soundstages, and to place very precise and specific sonic images of instruments, vocalists, actors, or surround sound effects within those soundstages. This is one area where the Special Edition system can, in fact, compete on a level footing with its more expensive siblings within the Paradigm line up. One good thing that does take some getting used to is the fact that the SEs can create soundstages well to the sides of the listener, with image height that belies the short stature of the SE 3 main speakers (which stand a petite 34 inches tall!).
Limitations:The SE system does have a handful of minor sonic limitations worth noting.
First, on a qualitative level, the SE tweeter does not offer quite the same levels of sophistication as the terrific SE mid/bass drivers do. In practical terms, this means that as frequencies climb higher and higher there is a subtle, gradual roll-off in the level of detail and refinement that you’ll hear. Specifically, treble details seem to lose some measure of speed, focus, and definition—not to an excessive degree, but enough so that you might notice that highs don’t have quite the effortless, natural clarity that the SEs’ mids do. In movie soundtracks this means dialog and high frequency sound effects can sound just a little less crisp and well defined than they should, while in music playback delicate treble textural and transient details can sound slightly compressed or, in some cases, just a little bit “splashy.” Please understand, though, that the SE tweeters are really very good; they fall short only in comparison to the Beryllium tweeters used in Paradigm’s top-of-the-line Signature-series models.
Second, note that the SE 3 floorstander, though dynamically alive over most of its operating range, has relatively limited bass extension, meaning that a fair chunk of the bass workload must be handed off to the SE Subwoofer. This is fine, up to a point, but it means that when playing movies with blockbuster soundtracks in larger rooms you can occasionally push the compact SE Subwoofer up to—and then beyond—the point of overload. Happily, the woofer handles bass abuse gracefully (it simply sound looser and little bit ragged when it reaches its limits), but you may want to bearing the woofer’s limits in mind if you plan to use the system in a large living space—or perhaps you might consider using two SE Subwoofers rather than just one.
I mentioned above that he SE system is capable of terrific midrange nuance and is also dynamically alive over most of its operating
range. To appreciate these qualities in action, watch—or more accurately, listen to—the film Event Horizon, which is sort of a cross between a sci-fi thriller and a traditional horror film. Early in the film the character Dr. Weir (Sam Neil) is awakened from sleep in a hibernation chamber during a deep space flight to experience what turns out to be an incredibly vivid and ultimately horrific vision/hallucination. In the vision, Weir perceives himself to wake from hibernation, though the rest of the ship’s crew remains in hibernation, and so he begins to explore the quiet interior of the spacecraft, seeking to learn who (or what) has roused him from his deep sleep. Understandably, Weir is almost hyper-vigilant as he listens to and follows small, almost subliminal sounds and noises within interior of the ship, calling out to see who is there. As Weir pads across the deck, still dressed in swimsuit-like garment he wore in the hibernation chamber, an airtight door suddenly and violent snaps open with a terrific “CLAAaaankKK” that nearly makes Weir almost jump out of his skin (an experience most audience members share with him). Behind the door is a corridor that leads to the ship’s bridge, where Weir experiences the at once eerily compelling and yet chilling vision of seeing his deceased wife seated at the ship’s controls.
The SE system did a wonderful job of precisely sketching the very low-level noises and sonic details at the start of this scene, which of course sets the stage for the adrenaline-inducing rush that Weir (and we) experience when—for no good reason at all—the door suddenly blasts open. The contrast between the soft sounds and the unexpected racket of the door is fabulous—capturing through sounds a kind of fear, surprise, and shock that images alone could never have conveyed.