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  Paradigm Reference Signature S1 Small Monitor and Seismic 10 Subwoofer

      Date posted: July 7, 2008

Paradigm Signature S1

Signature S1: Sugg. Retail: $1499, Cherry or Birdseye Maple; $1699, all USD
Seismic 10 Subwoofer: Sugg. Retail: $1350 USD

Manufacturer: Paradigm Electronics Inc., 205 Annagem Blvd.,
Mississauga, Ontario,
L5T 2V1 Canada
(905) 564-1994

www.paradigm.ca

The new v2 versions of the Reference Signature flagship models from Paradigm appear to push the limits of enclosure technology and construction, with just about everything die-cast in aluminum. The Seismic subwoofers (a small matching Signature is not yet available) also use this expensive fabrication technique. Here’s how the brochure (downloadable from their web site under Downloads) describes this approach:

Signature S1 construction

“All parts (baffle, rear and shell) on these compact cabinets are die-cast aluminum. The die-cast design also functions as an effective heatsink. Bass/midrange baffles and chassis are physically integrated allowing space for a powerful 6-inch (155mm) driver. Cabinet interiors reveal heavy-wall construction and extensive internal bracing. Constrained layer damping (CLD), is used in conjunction with a sophisticated Permacote Linacoustic to completely subdue stray residual vibrational energy within the cabinets.”

I’d also suggest that the application of veneer to the exterior box part of the enclosures also provides further damping of the cabinets. In the cutaway pic, you can see the bracing, and the well-organized crossover on the rear panel insert, as well as the close integration of the drivers on the front baffle surface. This is quite an incredible level of engineering and materials science in a loudspeaker, to a degree I’ve not seen before.

And there’s more: “”Critically placed isolation inserts and gaskets actually decouple drivers from the speaker enclosure itself. In Signature speakers the problem of enclosure resonances is not simply reduced, it is essentially eliminated.” Paradigm calls this the “Isolation Mounting System”.

The Seismic subwoofers also benefit from this new materials and fabrication technology, the subs built in similar die-cast aluminum driver and passive modules, for the Seismic 10 and 12. The drivers benefit from Paradigm’s  “Airflow Ventilation Cooling System (AVS)”, which uses convection effects to maintain airflow through the driver system. The cabinets appear to be very solid non-resonant MDF, our sample finished in black ash veneer.

Amplification is with a “1200-watt Ultra-Class-D power plant” claimed to be capable of 4500 watts peak power (Are you listening, Bob Carver?). Inputs are mono balanced XLRs and unbalanced RCAs, switched by a toggle, with no stereo, LFE frippery, or speaker input/outputs to be seen. This is an AUDIO sub for sure, and any he-man audiophile should have TWO!

Rotary controls are provided for Level, Crossover, Phase, and Bass Contour (Audiophiles, don’t touch that knob!). The invitation here is to use more than two in a home theatre system, wherein both the Bass Contour and Phase controls come into play, along with the tools to make all these low-frequency reproducers work together, rather than against each other and the room. But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

Measurements

Signature S1/Seismic 10 Sub Frequency Response

The only word for these curves from our LMS system and its new calibrated AKG microphone is “stupendous”! The frequency response of the Signature S1 at top is within +.5/-1 dB in our Pink Noise Sweep (PNS) from 200 to 16,000 Hz! As a mini-monitor, you couldn’t expect better. And the Summed Axial Response (SAR, the sum of the group of curves below) tracks it almost perfectly. Bass response in both sets of curves starts to taper at 200 Hz, down 2 dB at 100, and rolling off steeply below the -5 dB point of 60 Hz. But, getting back to the upper octaves, the curves across the broad lateral axis are closely matched up to the highest frequencies, within a 2-dB window even above 10 Khz.This indicates the superb dispersion of the tweeter, as well as its integration with the woofer/midrange.

These axial curves, at 0, -15 and -30 degrees, track very closely, meaning that these small speakers will have a very wide listening window. I also did an on-axis measurement with the magnetically-attached grille on (it’s the un-smoothed one), which showed only a dB of variation in the upper midrange around 4 kHz, an inaudible variation, so leave the covers on if you like. And look at this subwoofer! The three curves represent the highest, middle, and lowest settings of the crossover control. At the Full setting we see better than +/-1 dB response from 100 down to just above 30 Hz, but strong extension to 20 Hz and below (I may come back to this sub and look at it down to 10 Hz later). With the crossover setting at Mid, we see effective response starting at 40 Hz, surprisingly low, the upper -5-dB point being 60 Hz. But it peaks at just under 30 Hz, rolling off gently below 25 Hz. The same behaviour is seen in the lowest crossover setting, but the -5-dB point at the upper end is just above 40 Hz.These all suggest that users will want to keep settings in the upper quarter of the crossover range for most speakers, and with the S1 s, all the way up, as can be seen by its low-end rolloff. Of course, rooms play a part here, and experimentation is in order.

But this sub can easily give you +/-1dB response from 20 to 100 Hz, and with the S1’s remarkable measured accuracy across the rest of the range, we have the most accurate full-range speaker system ever measured at AIG. I didn’t line up the sub/speaker response perfectly on the chart, but we do have here the capability of +/-1dB frequency response across the full audible range in a really good room. With two of these subs the vista opens up to tremendous dynamic power handling and clean bass energy. Why would you want a pair of monstrous speakers in your room when this performance is possible? Well, my answer would be that a well-designed 3-way would offer better midrange power handling, but I’ll say more about that below.Signature S1 Impedance/Phase Looking at the Phase/Impedance curves, we find a range between 7 and 20 ohms, with a quite normal bookshelf phase shift of about +/-30 degrees around crossover. The S1 should be very easy to drive, but will prefer some current for best bass performance.


Listening

The little Signature S1 pair were still surprising after measurements for their dynamics and lack of distortion at levels few small loudspeakers could endure. They’ll happily handle power, and have little “signature” sonically except accuracy. I found them free of listening fatigue, and very well matched to the Seismic 10. The very slight slope in the upper midrange makes them very easy to listen to at quite close listening distances. I will subsequently spend the time to compare them with the PSB One Bs for differences, but conclude here by saying that these are just about the best small monitors I have auditioned, equal to or better than any alleged professional monitor I have ever heard. And I guess all I can say more about the Seismic 10  is that it goes deep, and is clean and fast; in sub, the perfect underpinning in this situation.

Andrew Marshall

Comment:

Hi Andrew,

I read your excellent reviews on the PSB Synchrony One B and Paradigm Signature Reference S1 monitors. I’m basically looking for the best small monitor available for between $1500-$2000.  I’ve heard the One B’s briefly when they first came out but they were on loan to the dealer and he returned the demos so I was unable to audition them more thoroughly. If I recall finding them very smooth but maybe a bit muffled.  I also listened to Paradigm S4s and Studio 20s but was unable to audition the S1s.
I would appreciate any advice that might help steer me in the right direction.
Room size is about 11′ x 17′ and for now I’ll be using a Cambridge 640A V2 as amplification which will later be upgraded to an 840A V2 or Naim Nait 5i.
The system is used for both music and movies.Thanks in advance for your advice,
Mike Comtois, Montréal
AM Replies:
These two speakers are both so excellent, that it is hard to choose between them, either on the basis of sound or measurements. I will note that your impression the PSBs were “very smooth but maybe a bit muffled”  is most likely a reaction to the exceptional flatness of frequency response, with the slight rolloff measured in the upper octaves. It is probably also a perception based on their very low distortion. The combination of these two does make them sound a little polite, because nothing sticks out the way it would in more colored speaker designs.

The Paradigm S1  is even flatter, with just the slightest bit of midrange emphasis (less than 1 dB), and a slightly lighter bass character because of its much smaller size. Therefore, it sounds a little more forward perhaps, but such differences as there are audibly will usually be much overshadowed by different placements in the room, or listening distances, since higher frequencies diminish as you get farther away from the speakers.

It also has very low distortion, and this gives it an exceptionally smooth character, as well as its remarkable dynamics for a small speaker. Its size suits it well for use in 5s (or 7s) for home theatre, and with a couple of Seismic 10s (or even 12s), you’d have an incredible (and true high end) HT system, with virtually no dynamic limitations before the threshold of pain. In other words, a true killer HT system.

This will be aided by the fact that both speakers image like crazy, with all diffraction concerns accounted for in their acoustic and physical designs. Multichannel or 2, both of these speakers are among the best dynamic reproducers ever made at any price in any size. So if you’re thinking HT, you might lean to the Paradigms, but in a 2-channel system, the PSB Synchronys  could get the nod for their better bass reach and revealing, non-fatiguing sound quality. And that’s  the best I can do to help you choose between them.

Andrew Marshall

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