May 1, 2009
Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5
I review loudspeakers
of all shapes and sizes, but two-way, bookshelf models are my favorite. I dont know
if its sheer coincidence, or something inherent in this kind of design, but in my
years of reviewing Ive found more small two-ways that can provide the consumer with
high performance and high value, provided that consumer is willing to sacrifice
really low bass. Even the greatest two-way speakers cant do super-deep bass, but
they can get everything else right.
So when Paradigm's new Reference Studio 10 came along, it
was a natural for me to review. But there were other things that piqued my interest in
this model. One was that the entire Studio v.5 series employs technology from Paradigm's
top line, the Signature series. The other reason is that the 10 is a brand-new model.
Previously, the Studio line began with the 20. There's still a 20 in the Studio v.5 line,
for $1198 USD per pair. The new entry point is the Studio 10, which costs $798/pair.
There are four "main" speaker models in the
Studio line: the 10 and 20 bookshelf models, and the 60 and 100 floorstanders, which are
quite a bit more expensive at $1998 and $2998/pair, respectively. Paradigm also offers an
on-wall model called the Esprit, as well as four center-channel models (Esprit C, CC-490,
CC-590, and CC-690), one surround model (ADP-590), and two subwoofers (Sub 12 and Sub 15).
Paradigm usually creates a series of loudspeakers so that
all the speakers in the line have the same build quality and cosmetics along with the same
general sonic characteristics. When you move up the line, you usually get a bigger
cabinet, along with more and/or larger drivers that provide higher output capability and
deeper bass. Therefore, the small 10 should sound similar to the 20, 60, and 100,
but wont play as loudly or as low.
The new v.5-series cabinets are quite special in looks and
construction. Under the skin, theyre made of MDF and feel solid. Each Studio 10
measures 12"H x 8"W x 12"D and weighs about 17 pounds. The curved
sidewalls, inspired by the Signature series, feature real-wood veneers of cherry or
rosenut, or black. It wasnt all that many years ago that you couldnt find a
speaker under $1000/pair that had a real-wood veneer, or a Paradigm speaker that
wasnt a hard-edged, pedestrian-looking, rectilinear box. But times have changed, and
Paradigm has gone upscale with the Studio lines beautifully finished wood,
attractive curves, and very nice accents.
The Studio 10 is equipped with a 1" G-PAL
ferrofluid-cooled tweeter and a 5.5" S-PAL mid-woofer with a 1.5" voice-coil.
Both drivers have diecast chassis replete with heatsinks, and a special mounting system
that Paradigm calls IMS/Shock-Mount. Nor are these off-the-shelf drivers; Paradigm
designed them specifically for the Studio line, using technology trickled down from the
Signature series, and manufactures them in-house. The drivers are said to cross over at
2kHz with second-order electroacoustic slopes.
Grilles are supplied to protect the drivers. In the past,
Paradigm always recommended that the grilles be left on -- their speakers were designed to
give the best response with the grilles in place -- but they say the Studio v.5 speakers
should perform similarly whether the grilles are on or off. To augment the 10s bass
output, Paradigm has also developed an oval port, found just below the mid-woofer (all
other Studio models have circular ports). On the rear are two sets of binding posts to
Paradigm claims the 10s frequency response is
62Hz-22kHz, +/-2dB. The low-frequency extension is a claimed 37Hz, though that seems
optimistic. From such a small speaker I expect reasonable output to only about 50Hz. If
you want deep bass, real bass, buy one of the bigger floorstanding models or
consider adding a subwoofer (see below). The Studio 10s impedance is said to be 8
ohms and its anechoic sensitivity 86dB/W/m, which is par for the course for this type of
design. The recommended range of amplification is 15-150W.
See our Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5 photo
I placed the Studio 10 v.5s atop 24"-high stands and
drove them with a Classé Audio CAP-2100, a 100Wpc integrated amplifier. I had three
digital sources on hand: a Simaudio Moon SuperNova CD player, a Stello CDT100/DA100
Signature transport and DAC, and an Oppo Digital DV-980H universal player. Interconnects
were DH Labs White Lightning; the speaker wires came from Axiom Audio.
This next sentence will make sense to some and sound odd to
others: Because the best audio products have no real sonic character of their own, at
first they might not sound all that special. Such was the case with the Studio 10. The
speaker didnt wow me right off the bat, but grew on me over time.
For instance, when I first played the two-disc expanded
edition of Billy Joels The Stranger (CD, Columbia/Legacy 88697 22581 2), a
few things became apparent. Although the Studio 10s bass was not super-deep in
comparison to much larger speakers, it was much deeper and tighter than I ever expected
from such a small cabinet. Its exceptionally clean midrange erred on the side of being a
touch relaxed vs. being up-front and in my face. The highs were pristine. All told, the
Studio 10 v.5 came across as a very refined-sounding speaker that was clearly fairly
linear from top to bottom of the audioband: in a word, neutral. There was nothing colorful
that screamed "Look at me!" To some, that might seem ho-hum, and
theyll walk on by. I believe that would be a mistake -- in any audio product,
a lack of coloration is a very good thing.
To clarify: Imagine a wall of televisions, on all of which
the images look very natural. On one, however, the reds have been punched up. Initially,
those reds will look impressive; they might even be what prompts you to buy the set,
because it looks more vivid than the others. Its unique, and therefore, at first,
special. Over time, though, those emphasized reds will likely go from impressing to
annoying you, because it becomes obvious that theyre not natural. Eventually you
tire of the set, and wonder why you were so taken with it.
This sort of thing happens all the time. The best TVs are
those with the most natural image, even if it looks boring alongside some others, because
thats what remains pleasing to the eye over the long haul. Likewise, the best audio
components are those whose sound is neutral and transparent, that dont draw
attention to themselves, that simply let the music flow through them.
Which was precisely what the Studio 10 did. Thats not
to say theres nothing more to say about this model. It is, after all, a loudspeaker,
and no two speakers, no matter how neutral and transparent each might be, sound exactly
alike. Even the sounds of those with no obvious colorations at all have little sonic
earmarks by which they can be told apart.
The more I listened to the Studio 10 v.5, the more
impressed I was with its bass. This was not only for the depth of bass achieved by such a
small speaker -- there was solid output down to almost 40Hz in my room, much lower than I
expected -- but because of the impact it could deliver even when pushed to high SPLs. Most
small two-ways fall apart when pushed hard in the bass, and distort quite badly; the
Studio 10 didnt. I played plenty of hard rock, and was always impressed with the
Studio 10s punchiness and ability to retain its composure, even when the going got
So dont be afraid to throw the most raucous,
bass-heavy music you have at the Studio 10s. I did. They didnt give truly full-range
sound down to 20Hz, but they began to deliver from about an octave above that, and
didnt cry uncle even when I hammered lots of power into them. Furthermore, I suspect
that if someone crosses a pair of 10s over to a good sub at, say, 60Hz (to give the 10s a
little more breathing room; theres no sense in crossing over at that overoptimistic
claimed bottommost extension of 37Hz), I suspect they could achieve true full-range sound
with high output capability for what is a very low price.
What I also liked about the Studio 10 was its lack of
upper-bass exaggeration and bloat. "When I See You," from Greg Keelors Gone
(CD, WEA CD 17513), is a bass-heavy number with Keelors voice very close-miked.
Plenty of the speakers Ive heard, big and small, blur this recording in the upper
bass and lower mids, and end up sounding chesty and coarse. But the Studio 10 stayed true
to the source, and always precise. The 10 is a well-disciplined little loudspeaker.
The 10s mids had a clarity that used to be reserved
for speakers costing at least twice as much. As a result, the smallest midrange details
flew with ease from these speakers. Their tonal balance was also very close to neutral,
but, if anything, there seemed to be a conscious effort on the designers part to
make the midrange sound just a touch laid-back. I say "conscious" because most
of the Paradigm speakers Ive reviewed over the years have erred on the side of being
a bit recessed rather than being too forward. This style of speaker voicing is hardly
unique; the fairly expensive Harbeth Monitor 30 Domestic ($4995/pair), which Ive
just reviewed for SoundStage!, are also tuned this way. Some designers feel this
sort of sound is easier on the ears over time, particularly since the ear is far more
sensitive to midrange frequencies than to extreme low and high frequencies. It also has
the advantage of taking the edge off harsh, overly aggressive recordings, and ease
long-term listening to a wide variety of music. Paradigms Studio 10 and
Harbeths Monitor 30 are two speakers that I can listen to all day long without
getting ear fatigue.
Its also important to point out that the 10s
midrange cleanness remained intact at higher-than-normal SPLs, just as its bass did. This
not only allowed the 10s to play loud, but to sound much bigger and livelier than I
expected. Ive become a big fan of Two Men with the Blues (CD, Blue Note 5
04454 2), a great-sounding live recording featuring Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. I
like to play it pretty loud because this recording can create the atmosphere of a live
music event right in my listening room; it sounds as if Im in a club. The Studio 10s
sounded exceptionally well balanced playing this disc, laying out a large, well-defined
soundstage of impressive width and depth and chock-full of detail. In fact, it sounded so
spacious that, when I turned out the lights, it was easy to think I was listening to
speakers a few times the 10s size and price.
And for $798/pair there was really nothing to criticize.
The highs were super-extended, always clean, and well controlled. In fact, the 10s
performed to so much higher a level than their price implies that I cant help but
think that people will end up comparing them to much more expensive speakers. If they do,
one thing will probably jump out: the highs, while always clean and very refined, could
come across as a touch dry. They were never coarse, and certainly not edgy, but they just
didnt sound quite as silky and sweet as the best dome tweeters out there, including
Paradigms own beryllium dome in their Signature S1 v.2, a speaker that I
reviewed on SoundStage! over a year ago and that costs about twice as much as
the Studio 10. And to my ears, thats where the 10 falls back a bit -- not for its
price, but when its compared to speakers costing much more.
Do I hold that against the Studio 10? Heck no. The
Signature S1 v.2s top end competes against speakers costing multiples of its
price, so one also has to keep that in perspective. In addition, one has to realize that
although there have been tremendous advances in speaker design over the years, two things
still hold true: 1) While you can get impressive bass from a small speaker, you still
cant get super-deep bass from one; and 2) you cant expect to get everything
from a pair of speakers costing less than a grand. All told, a slightly dry top end from a
speaker this inexpensive is minor compared to everything else it actually achieves. The
Studio 10 v.5 more than justifies its asking price.
Von Schweikert Audio created quite a stir about six years
ago when they introduced the VR-1 loudspeaker. I still have the original review pair here,
in pristine condition. At that time, almost all small speakers costing less than
$1000/pair came in vinyl-clad boxes, Paradigms included, and they looked pretty
awful. The Chinese-built VR-1 ($995/pair) was still a basic box -- there were no curved
side panels, not even rounded corners -- but it came in a variety of beautifully finished
real-wood veneers that made the speaker look much more expensive than it was. The VR-1
also had a very refined sound, great bass for its size, and a relatively neutral overall
balance. However, it did emphasize the mids just a touch, making it sound a little more
"present" than relaxed.
Six years later, the audio landscape has changed, and the
Von Schweikert VR-1 is no longer the steal it once was. The Studio 10 v.5 is better in
almost every way, and for less money. Instead of the VR-1s presence in the mids, the
Studio 10 is a touch laid-back in that region, but it has bass thats as deep, highs
that are more refined, and a clearer midrange. The Studio 10 v.5 can also play much louder
without strain. The Paradigms build quality is every bit the equal of the Von
Schweikerts, and its overall appearance, particularly with its curved sidewalls and
accents, is many times better.
In audio as in sporting events, performance improves,
records fall, and the bar is raised. In 2003, I said that the VR-1 was "a benchmark
for two-ways in its price range." Today, that benchmark is set by the Paradigm
Reference Studio 10 v.5.
Paradigm has made a lot of two-way speakers over the years,
but I believe that the Reference Studio 10 v.5 is the best affordable one yet. The build
quality is excellent, the cosmetics are outstanding -- this is a far cry from the Paradigm
of yore -- and the sound has not been compromised in any way for the sake of appearance.
The 10s excellent bass performance, as well as its ability to play loud, belie its
price, and its evenhanded performance across the audioband will be appreciated by those
who want their speakers to just step out of the way and keep the focus on the music. The
Studio 10 v.5 likely wont bowl you over with a flavor-of-the-month type of sound;
rather, it will win you over gradually, if what you want is a natural-sounding
speaker without obvious colorations that you can live with for a long time.
I believe that two-way bookshelf speakers are the best at
delivering high performance and high value -- and this speaker helps prove that.
Paradigms Reference 10 v.5 is an affordable, welcome addition to their Studio line,
and is now my top choice for a compact two-way loudspeaker costing under $1000/pair.
. . . Doug Schneider
Price of equipment reviewed