It’s been said that almost anyone could build a great loudspeaker system, if given an unlimited budget. A much tougher task, however, is figuring out how to build speaker systems that combine genuinely high performance, classy aesthetics, and high value, and that are backed with the kind of widespread distribution and quality dealer support necessary in order to make the systems accessible to a broad audience. This admittedly tall order defines in a nutshell the exact specialty of the Canadian speaker maker Paradigm; in fact, you could say those guys have turned manufacturing of high-end/high value speakers into an art form. Want proof? Look no further than the firm’s new Studio Series v.5 speakers, formally announced a few months ago, at CES 2009.
What makes the Studio models special? One answer is that they occupy the number two slot in Paradigm’s product pecking order, just below the ambitious, expensive and critically acclaimed Signature range. The significance of this positioning is that Studio models often inherit recently developed technologies and construction techniques originally created for the Signature line, but that become more affordable once they trickle down to the Studio level. Can you say “sweet speaker technologies at bargain prices?” Sure you can.
For this review, we chose a surround system based on the very recently released Studio 60 v.5 floorstanders, a Studio CC-490 v.5 center channel, two Studio ADP-590 v.5 surround speakers, and one of the firm’s just-announced SUB 12 subwoofers. We then used Paradigm’s new PBK-1 (Perfect Bass Kit) subwoofer/room EQ system to fine-tune the performance of the SUB 12. Total system price is $6,194 without the PBK-1 package, or $6,493 with the kit. Our mission? To find out if the new Studio v.5 range carries on in the grand tradition of providing near-Signature levels of performance at accessible prices.
Consider this surround speaker system if: you seek the sound of a fine $10K+ surround rig at a mid-$6k price. This is a refined, well-rounded system with few weaknesses and all the essential sonic “goodies:” high levels of resolution and detail, razor sharp transient response, neutral tonal balance, good dynamics, and powerful, richly textured bass.
Look elsewhere if: you like your surround sound softly focused and diffuse (in contrast, the Studio system has an open, explicit, and tightly focused sound). Also look further if you crave over-the-top dynamics; you can find systems that play louder at this price—if you’re willing to trade off a lot of refinement for greater punch and clout.
Ratings (relative to sub-$6.5k surround speaker systems):
If I had to describe the Studio 60 v.5 system in just two words, the two I would choose are “balanced” and “focused.”
Balance: The voicing of the Studio 60 system is extremely neutral, straight out of the box—so much so that, even if you choose to use a room/speaker EQ system such as the Audyssey MultEQ system or Paradigm/Anthem’s ARC system, you may find that you don’t hear much of a “before” vs. “after” difference at all. That’s a remarkable testimony to how smooth and evenly balanced the system’s frequency response is in the first place.
Focus: This system does a great job of resolving fine, small textural and transient sonic details, yet does so without making soundtracks or music recordings sound “glassy,” “hot,” or overly bright. In particular, the system has a commanding way of handling sudden transient sounds thanks to its great combination of transient speed and dynamic snap. Surround sound imaging is tightly and precisely focused, too, so that sounds/voices often present themselves within the sound field with startlingly vivid realism (more than once during my tests I unconsciously swiveled my head to look toward the apparent source of a sound, only to realize the sound was “only in the soundtrack”—not real).
Finally, the SUB 12 is a truly potent subwoofer—one that impresses as much with its textural refinement as with its 1700-watt clout. As I listened to low frequency sounds or musical notes, I found that the SUB 12 revealed subtle variations in timbre and pitch that other subs tend to quash or to render as more of a monotone. Paradigm’s PBK-1 kit definitely makes a good thing better, cleaning up peaks and valleys in the subwoofer’s in-room response curve and addressing the bass irregularities of “problem rooms.” In general, the kit helps the sub achieve a tighter, smoother, and better-defined sound—making the sub a more perfect match for the rest of the Studio v.5 system.
One hint: do pay attention to Paradigm’s advice about giving the Studio v.5 speakers a few hours of playing time before doing critical listening. Our set smoothed out and opened up nicely (almost like some fine wines do) after initial break-in.