Esprit v.3 Loudspeakers
The Paradigm Esprit v.3 loudspeakers -- and an
accompanying home-theater speaker array -- arrived while I was between houses and living
in a small apartment. When the system arrived, I put the Esprit v.3s in place so they
could get a little break-in time before I began serious listening. As I only had a couple
of weeks before moving into the new house, I left the remainder of the speakers boxed
until I could assemble the entire package in my new space.
The fact that the Esprit v.3s are compact and
front-ported meant that they could be placed close to walls, and this made the transition
to a small space much less painful than I had anticipated. Their elegant good looks made
them a welcome addition in the small room.
The primary speaker under review here is the
Esprit v.3, but Paradigm was kind enough to send along a CC-270 v.3
center-channel ($279), ADP-170 v.3 surrounds ($449), and a PDR-12 subwoofer ($419).
The Esprit v.3s, according to Paradigm, can be used successfully in a simple stereo
system or a full-fledged home theater. I tested them in both.
The Paradigm Esprit v.3 is a smallish, two-way
floorstanding speaker approximately 34"H x 7.75"W x 10.75"D. The
conventionally shaped box houses a 1" ceramic/metal composite (CMC) dome tweeter
mounted above a single 6.5" metallescent cone woofer with a large front-firing port
beneath the woofer. Connections are made via a single pair of plastic-nut binding posts
near the base of the speaker. Paradigm rates the Esprit v.3 as having 88dB in-room
sensitivity, 8-ohm impedance, and bass extension down to 35Hz.
The finish is an attractive, understated cherry vinyl
laminate that actually goes quite nicely with the cherry finish of most of the furniture
in my room. A black, cloth grille covers about three-quarters of the face of the speaker.
Paradigm designs all of their speakers to be used with the grilles on and thats how
I spent most of my time with them.
Adjustable spikes are included for coupling the speakers to
the floor. Rapping the sides of the speakers produced the expected echo from inside the
box in return, but my reference Silverline Sonatinas quite frankly dont fare a whole
lot better on this test. Given this description, there is nothing obviously surprising
about the Esprit v.3s except for one important point: This is a very substantial
floorstanding speaker that goes for all of $399 per pair! Whats more, my wife was
immediately impressed by their looks, not to mention their sound, which is always a good
sign where new gear coming into the house is concerned.
I teamed up the Paradigm Esprit v.3s with an Onkyo
TX-S696 surround receiver and a Toshiba SD-1800 DVD player. I also tried them with the
Linn Classik Movie System toward the end of the review period.
Getting to know each other
Once I had the Esprit v.3s properly set up and broken
in, I sat down for some serious listening sessions. The apartment I was in, it turns out,
was something of an acoustical nightmare. When I initially set up the Paradigms there, I
noted a lack of bass on most material, but didnt think much of it as I had noted
this as a problem with other speakers in the same space. The room in my new house, on the
other hand, is a pretty well-balanced acoustical space.
Once the Esprit v.3s settled into the new system, the
bass response improved dramatically. Thats not to say the Esprit v.3s present
the last word in bass response, but they are impressive with most musical recordings. As a
matter of fact, by the end of the review period it became apparent that they were holding
their own with most video material as well.
The overall sound of the Esprit v.3s paired with the
Onkyo receiver is a little to the warm side of neutral at low volume levels, but is very
nicely balanced at moderate and high volume levels. Imaging is precise, even with a
six-foot-wide entertainment center stuffed between the speakers. The soundstage was always
precisely rendered. One thing that struck me was that I never found the Esprit v.3s
to be fatiguing, and this is highly unusual in even the best budget speakers Ive
listened to. When I replaced the Onkyo with the Linn Classik, the bass got a little
tighter and the highs became a little more open still, proving that the Paradigms have
enough resolution to point out the differences in associated equipment.
It was Trey Anastasios self-titled solo album
[Elektra 62749] that helped me realize that the bass response was more than just fine.
Comparatively, its right on track with the now-discontinued Energy C-2 speakers, but
comes with more authority. On "Flock of Words" the snare drum was perfectly
placed just to the right of center, while the speakers never drew attention to themselves.
The Esprit v.3s presented the soundstage across the entire front of the room, well
beyond the edges of speakers. The piano at the opening of "Ether Sunday" sounds
entirely convincing and the bass backbeat is tight and clean. The recording is light and
lively and the Esprit v.3s conveyed the spirit and soul of the music completely.
Jane Monheits Come Dream With Me [N-Coded
4219] is a recording that I frequently feel is irritatingly bright on some speakers. This
was never the case with the Esprit v.3s and yet I did not feel as though I was losing
high-frequency information. Monheits voice came through crystal clear and natural
sounding on "Over the Rainbow." There was always a nice sense of air and
openness. On "Im Through With Love" I could almost close my eyes and
believe she was in the room with me; her voice hung in the air just in front and to the
left of dead center of the speakers.
The Paradigm Esprit v.3s really showed their stuff on The
Best of the Nylons [BMG 10308]. This recording is strictly vocal and percussion and
was recorded with great attention to reproducing the original soundstage. In the best
systems, the soundstage expands to cover the entire front of the room and the speakers
simply disappear, and that was surely the case with the Esprit v.3s. As matter of
fact, they did as well in this respect as the best speakers I've had in the house. This is
pretty impressive for a $399 pair of speakers! Since theres little to nothing
competing with the wide-ranging vocals on this album, this is also a good recording to
point out midrange colorations. Im happy to say there was nothing obvious to report.
OK, there's probably a lot more I could tell you about how this recording sounded on the
Esprit v.3s, but I kept listening to the music and stopped listening critically to
the speakers -- on three separate occasions! 'Nuf said.
Though I was primarily interested in two-channel audio
performance, as I mentioned, Paradigm did ship a full home-theater system and I spent a
lot of time using it. The CC-270 v.3 center-channel is a bit large as far as
center-channels go, especially in this price range, and this pays dividends when it comes
to dynamics and power handling. Some might think the surrounds are a bit pricey
considering the cost of the Esprit v.3s, but the "optimized reverberant"
design paid huge dividends in reduced localization of the rear speakers in my relatively
confined space. The PDR-12 subwoofer is being tested independently so look for a full
While the Paradigm system has been in the house, weve
probably watched at least two-dozen movies of all varieties on it. The results were fairly
astonishing, to say the least, as the soundfield is coherent, enveloping, and detailed.
When you consider the total price, its simply mind-boggling how good the Paradigm
setup sounds. I think its safe to conclude the Esprit v.3s will fit in a home
theater quite nicely.
The closest speaker I could think of to compare the
Paradigm Esprit v.3 to was the Paradigm Atom ($189/pair).
While Paradigm's bookshelf speakers are significantly less expensive, they share some
basic technology and design philosophies, so the comparison is useful to show what the
extra dough buys you.
The Esprit v.3s up the ante with higher-tech drivers
and an advanced crossover design. This results in a speaker with a cleaner and more open
top end, particularly at low volume levels, which is one area where the older Atoms may
have lacked a little life. While I wouldn't call the Esprit v.3s lively at low
volumes, I didn't feel I was missing anything either. The midrange was a little cleaner
than with the Atoms too, which is particularly surprising in an inexpensive floorstander
where the realities of cost control dictate that the cabinet isn't going to be as free of
resonance as that of a small bookshelf speaker. Soundstaging and imaging were at least on
par with the Atom.
As expected, the Esprit v.3 walked all over the Atom
where bass response is concerned. It goes deeper, plays louder, and is cleaner sounding
than the Atom in every respect. Since the Esprit v.3s do nothing to spoil the
midrange, this alone may be enough reason to stretch the wallet a little to buy the
Esprit v.3s instead. Not having to fool with stands is just a nice bonus.
By far the biggest surprise was how the Esprit v.3
compared to the venerable Energy C-2 speakers. The C-2s cost $200 more than the
Esprit v.3 when I bought them several years ago and were among the better $600
speakers on the market at the time. Judging by the highly complimentary reviews the C-2
received during its production, I would have expected it to still be somewhat superior to
the Esprit v.3, but that turned out not to be the case. The Esprit v.3 has a
slightly smoother, if a touch more reserved, top end. The midrange of the Esprit v.3
is at least on par with the C-2, if not a bit cleaner. Bass response seems to be
about equal in quality, but the Esprit v.3 goes lower and has a little more weight
behind it. Overall, the Esprit v.3 and C-2 are pretty close in sound quality, but in
my opinion, the Esprit v.3 has the edge.
Departure is such sorrow
If you havent figured out that
I was absolutely thrilled with the Paradigm Esprit v.3s, then youve missed
something along the way. How Paradigm can afford to build a floorstanding speaker of
this quality, ship it, provide a warranty, and still allow your local dealer to make a
profit for $399 a pair is beyond me. But they do, and they've obviously achieved an
admirable balance between cost and performance through innovation, research, and
manufacturing efficiencies. So if your speaker budget doesnt extend much past
five bills, theres certainly no need to despair. With the Esprit v.3, Paradigm
has once again proven that there are great values to be had for very little money.
Price of equipment reviewed