Size: 21″H x 9″W x 12 3/4″
Sugg. Retail: $2600 pr (CAN)
Manufacturer: Paradigm Electronics Inc.,
205 Anagem Blvd., Mississauga, Ont. L4V 2T1
(905) 564-1994 FAX 564-8726
U.S.A.: (905) 632-0180
(Reprinted from the Winter 1999 Audio Ideas Guide)
Paradigm is becoming a power in powered speakers, as is amply epitomized by the Reference Active 40. This new model, introduced at the recent Winter CES, is a 3-way design, with a refined version of the company’s aluminum dome tweeter, a Kevlar weave bass/midrange, and a polypropylene woofer.
Bi-amplified, the Active 40 has increased power over the 20, with 125 watts driving bass and midrange, with watts on the tweeter. Controls are provided for bass and treble level, as well as overall level, and I’ll discuss how these work in some detail when examining the measurements below.
Paradigm seems to be becoming more style conscious, too, and the cosmetics of the A 40 reflect this. Its side panels are a contoured rosewood or light oak veneer, while the top, front and back surfaces are black vinyl-covered. A small panel, looking rather like the spoiler on a Pontiac Firefly coupe, provides a curved appearance to the top when seen head on. Like quite a few other speaker companies these days, Paradigm seems to be trying to break out of the box cosmetically.
As well as being quite handsome, this speaker is big enough to develop powerful bass, and is doubly rear ported above and below the amplifier. There are both balanced and RCA inputs these switched by a toggle; similar toggles offer control of Always On/Auto On/Off and High Pass, which rolls off bass when a subwoofer is used. Frankly, after hearing the bass performance of the A 40 pair, I don’t think I’d want to engage the latter switch, subwoofer or not.
And this leads us to the measurements, starting at top with a group of Pink Noise Sweeps (PNS) that show the bass and treble contour controls at maximum, mid, and minimum settings. The overall adjustment range at low frequencies is about dB up to 200 Hz, and 4 dB from just over 2 kHz up.
For the rest of the measurements, after some experimentation, I set the controls for a combination of flattest overall response and greatest bass extension. This put the treble control at mid- rotation, with the bass set full. The achievement of flat response to 35 Hz (down only 5 dB at 20) results in a rise of 3 1/2 dB at 200 Hz, but all of these balances at various bass frequencies are also very room and placement dependent, made especially so by the rear porting. In other words, you should be able to set up these speakers for optimum bass extension quite easily.
The reward is a remarkable combination of power and finesse, punch and potency down into the low 20s. These speakers have better bass than many subwoofers (though not than Paradigm’s own subs), but more on this in the listening analysis. Quite smooth through the midrange, the A 40 dips a little above 2 kHz, with a bit of a peak on axis at 6 kHz seen most clearly in the quasi-anechoic curve below the PNS and SAR ones. As the axial measurements show, its response is pretty much identical to beyond 30o, with this little bump lessened as one gets out of the direct beam of the tweeter. This suggests that these speakers will sound smoothest when faced directly forward rather than angled in, putting the centred listener on about a 20o or greater angle. At 60o off axis, level is down by about 5 dB, and response quite smooth; this indicates that reflections off side walls will be moderate and timbrally matched to the direct radiation.
Going back to the set of curves at top, the Summed Axial Response (SAR) can be seen to closely track the centre setting of the controls in the upper frequencies, as expected, and the high setting in the bass. These very close correlations are a result of the very even axial responses. In my experience, the best dynamic loudspeakers will exhibit this behaviour, the sum of the individual measurements closely correlating with the Pink Noise Sweep.
Now something of a pioneer in consumer active speakers, Paradigm is becoming very good at it, as the listening tests showed. Engineering a speaker from a line-level input onward gives the designers control of much more of the ultimate performance than when designing a speaker to work from an amplifier output. Of course, the amplifier(s) employed must be very good, or the design will be compromised.
One advantage is the ability to contour low frequency response, allowing greater bass extension, better damping, and superior dynamic range. And that comment leads us into the listening experience with the Active 40 pair. These speakers, with all that power inside, have tremendous dynamic range to complement their wide, flat frequency response, and unlike the Active 20, won’t run out of steam before you do. Tonally, they were a little forward, that a function of the bump between 1 and 2 kHz, but less so than some of the other speakers reviewed here. They also got a little mellow when the bass driver was cranked because of a rise between 100 and 300 Hz; that’s the price you pay for bass that’s down only 3 dB at 25 Hz and kicks butt. It also reproduces all but the lowest octave of organ pedal.
The Active 40s also image very well, with a fully developed soundstage that has rear corners. This may be attributable to the phase accuracy of the electronic crossover, and excellent driver matching. The tweeter is audibly improved over that of the Active 20, and I am told that all future 20s will have this same tweeter. And as far as the bass goes, I wish we’d had these for monitoring our jazz recordings last summer; we wouldn’t have needed a subwoofer.
Overall, I felt these speakers exhibited the highest resolution of any Paradigm model yet, and are easily the best speaker this company has yet produced in a long history of very good loudspeakers. Bravo, eh.