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Paradigm’s Founder Series Loudspeakers Mix Signature Design, Cutting-Edge Science

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Paradigm Founders series

Paradigm Founders series

Summary

  • Product Name: Founder 40B, Founder 70LCR, Founder 90C, Founder 80F, Founder 100F, Founder 120H
  • Manufacturer: Paradigm
  • Review Date: March 05, 2021 21:15
  • MSRP: $1,100/ea - Founder 40B; $1,700/ea - Founder 70LCR; $2,600/ea - Founder 90C; $1,850/ea - Founder 80F; $2,600/ea - Founder 100F; $4,250/ea - Founder 120H
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

Executive Overview

Founders with grillesParadigm always seems to be cooking up something new in home audio loudspeakers, but that isn’t surprising since they have so many lines of speakers geared to every level of audio. They just announced a series to take over the spot of the acclaimed Prestige series, their penultimate line of speakers next to the mighty Persona speaker line. The Prestiges were launched in 2014, and seven years is a good run for a loudspeaker line, but new technologies doubtlessly pressured Paradigm into making something much improved for the same cost. This new set of speakers are called the Founder Series. The Founder Series seems to be a mix of design that Paradigm has dabbled in with previous speakers along with some interesting new design elements that are a bit surprising.  

Let’s take a look at the expected design features in the Founder Series before diving into the unexpected ones. The most immediately recognizable Paradigm element of the Founders is the PPA lens that covers the midrange drivers on the tower speakers. This is a design touch that Paradigm has used to great effect to distinguish their Persona and Premier speakers from the crowd. Paradigm also uses a PPA lens on the Founder Series’ tweeters. The purpose of the PPA lens is to keep pressure waves of one part of the diaphragm surface from interfering with another area. Another distinctly Paradigm touch is the ART (“Active Ridge Technology”) surrounds, which are the pleated ridging on the surrounds of the woofers. This supposedly allows higher excursions without deformation from the surrounds, and this reduces distortion. Something else that is very “Paradigm” is the Founder Series appearance; the overall industrial design seems like a mix of the Prestige Speakers and the Premiers, and it does look very “Paradigm.”

Founders centerOne interesting design decision carried over from the Premier series is the use of passive radiators as the outer transducers in the Founder Series center speaker. This is nifty in two ways: it keeps the spacing of the higher-frequency transducers at a closer distance thereby reducing off-axis interference that comes with aligning drivers horizontally, and it also removes the need for rear-mounted ports for lower bass. One problem with rear-ported center speakers is that the ports can have a drastic acoustical load on the rear walls or cavity which creates a bass boost that can obscure dialogue and speech intelligibility. However, it’s not easy to place the ports anywhere else without the speaker looking weird. Front-firing passive radiators will not create as much acoustic loading in typical center speaker placements. They also make the speaker look nicer than if they were front-firing ports, and they allow the speaker to have a lower internal volume than if ports were used, so the speaker is not as deep. It was a clever design move by Paradigm for the Premiers, and I am glad to see it carried over in the Founder Series.

Looking at some of the things that are new and unfamiliar for Paradigm, there are the “CARBON X” bass drivers (yes, it’s all capitalized). This is the cone that is made from carbon fiber infused with minerals that Paradigm claims make for a very stiff and strong material. Maybe it is very stiff, but the name is a bit over-the-top. I think if I were an eccentric industrialist who married an art-house pop singer, we might have named our child CARBON X. Kidding aside, for whatever merits this material has as a bass driver cone, it does look pretty cool. Another diaphragm material change occurs in the tweeter and midrange driver. In the past, Paradigm had been pretty insistent on using aluminum tweeters and even termed their pure aluminum diaphragms the X-PAL drivers. In the Founder Series, Paradigm has thrown Magnesium into the mix for the tweeter and midrange drivers which they claim make them lighter and stronger. The tweeter uses a mix of aluminum, magnesium, and ceramic that Paradigm calls AL-MAC. The ceramic probably just comes from anodizing the aluminum which creates a thin layer of ceramic on the surface. The midrange cone doesn’t have any ceramic so Paradigm calls it the AL-MAG driver. It’s interesting to see Paradigm departing from pure aluminum, and I don’t think they would have done it if it didn’t result in some improvements.

OSW Paradigm  Founders tweeter

One aspect of speaker design that Paradigm is paying more attention to in the Founder Series is the use of waveguides. Paradigm calls their new waveguide design the Oblate Spheroid Waveguide (OSW). Hardcore speaker nerds will recognize that name as the same as Earl Geddes’ waveguide design. Earl Geddes is rightfully considered one of the world’s foremost experts in waveguide design, so to draw upon his extremely deep and complex research into this area indicates that Paradigm is very serious about producing a top-notch high performing loudspeaker. When I noticed that the Founder speakers used what they called an oblate spheroid waveguide as I was going over the specs, I did a double-take, because many loudspeaker manufacturers don’t take that deep of a dive into waveguides unless they are designing loudspeakers for professional applications. Paradigm reports that using Geddes' research was only part of the development of their waveguide; for example, Geddes designed around compression drivers, whereas Paradigm was using dome tweeters. Indeed, the shape of their waveguide isn’t the same as Geddes’ waveguide. However, the goal of controlled directivity is surely the same. Measurements of these speakers will be very interesting to see the effectiveness of these waveguides. 

Founders 120H cutawayAnother dramatic new design move in the Founder Series from Paradigm is the use of coaxial drivers, and I don’t recall Paradigm having used them in the past. Coaxial drivers, sometimes also called concentric drivers, are where a higher-frequency driver is mounted in the middle of the cone of a lower frequency driver. They are more popular in the car audio world, but they have seen some growing popularity in home audio such as in KEF’s Uni-Q coaxial drivers. In Paradigm’s coaxial driver, they use an AL-MAG tweeter centered in an AL-MAG midrange cone that is shaped into an oblate spheroid waveguide, thereby combining three of their innovations into a single drive unit. The coaxial drivers are only used in the Founder Series center speaker and LCR speaker, but that is where they are most needed. This allows the center and LCR to have a full-sized midrange as well as a waveguide-loaded tweeter without making the speakers impractically sized. It also lets the center speaker be a true three-way speaker which greatly benefits the off-axis response for a better sound over a wider area.

Founders 80FOne surprising feature of the Founder Series is that the bass section of the flagship Founder Series speaker is powered. The Founder 120H has three 8” bass drivers driven by a 1,000-watt amplifier. That should give that speaker a lot of punch. What is really neat is that the controller has built-in ARC Genesis room correction, so these speakers can optimize their bass response for room acoustics without relying on exterior equalization. That is great news for those who want better bass from a simple two-channel system. The self-amplification also takes a load off of any outboard amp that would otherwise be faced with driving three 8” bass drivers. That should make the 120H easy to drive with pretty much any amplifier. Perhaps the inclusion of a powered bass section shouldn’t come as a surprise since Paradigm did do this for the Persona 9H, but that is a much more expensive loudspeaker than the Founder 120H.

An interesting detail I noted concerns the design of the smaller tower speaker of the Founder Series called the 80F. Unlike the other Founder floor-standing speakers, the 80F is a 2.5-way design instead of a 3-way design, so the midrange driver actually plays bass driver frequencies as well as mids. This is an efficient and economic way to deal with baffle step compensation where some output is lost at lower frequencies which has omnidirectional dispersion as opposed to higher frequencies where output is more directionally restricted. Letting the midrange driver help to shore up lower frequencies makes it easier to achieve a balanced response. It also can make for a more integrated sound between the midrange and bass frequencies which may be a bit more critical for the 80H since there is a good amount of distance between the midrange driver and bass driver. A 2.5-way speaker allows the bass drivers to be mounted lower on the front baffle which is good because it reduces ground bounce reflection which can play havoc on the bass response. I think these simple yet clever engineering decisions will likely make a bigger difference in the sound than many of Paradigm’s trade-marked, all-caps buzz words.    

Another smart design efficiency is the use of down-firing ports on the Founder tower speakers. This can help increase port efficiency by using boundary loading to strengthen their output. Since these speakers will always be used on the floor, Paradigm can predict they will always have at least that much loading on the ports and design them accordingly. It can also help to mask port turbulence when the speaker is driven at high levels.

One other interesting feature is the way that Paradigm has arranged the bracing for the Founder Series enclosures. Most loudspeakers only use horizontal bracing, but Paradigm uses a large, tilted vertical brace as well as horizontal bracing. This vertical brace follows a slightly diagonal angular bend in the sidewall for a heavily reinforced irregular shape that should help reduce standing waves in both a horizontal and vertical direction. This vertical brace turns into a solid piece at the top of the cabinet which creates a separate enclosed compartment for the midrange driver to prevent backwave pressure from interfering with its cone. This should make for a much more inert cabinet than traditional bracing methods. As with so many other aspects of their loudspeaker design, Paradigm has a fancy name for it: “Cascade Fusion Bracing.”

It's the Stuff NOT Mentioned that May Matter Most?

Founders cabinet shapeOne design decision I am a bit skeptical of is something that Paradigm calls the ‘Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation System.’ To quote the press release describing this technology:

To control driver to cabinet and cabinet to floor resonance, Paradigm has developed the Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation system. Special hardware with an elastomer suspension mechanically decouples the driver from the cabinet. Advanced Shock-Mount Feet on floorstanding models isolate the entire cabinet from the floor using the same elastomer to prevent any extraneous vibration from coloring the sound.

--Paradigm

The need to ‘decouple’ the driver from the cabinet isn't clear based on the limited information currently available on this series of products. I am unaware of any research that shows driver or enclosure coupling vibration to be a significant problem which the ‘Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation System’ seems to address. It seems to me that the cabinet would have enough mass so that the moving assembly of the drivers wouldn’t be a problem. Is this ‘Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation System’ a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist? We will reserve judgment on this until we learn more details in our coming Virtual Press Event with Paradigm on the Audioholics Youtube channel. There is nothing wrong with over-engineering a product and it could very well be that Paradigm is just turning up the design of this series to volume 11.

As was mentioned earlier, the irony of Paradigm’s launch of the Founder Series speakers is that many of the new features and technologies that Paradigm touts with dramatic buzz words and acronyms probably don’t have a big impact on the sound quality, while some of the more intelligent choices of the fundamental design that goes unmentioned or barely mentioned in their literature look to have a much more substantial impact. Either way you look at it, the Founder Series loudspeakers do look to be very well-engineered - which is par for the course from Paradigm. Audioholics will be taking a more in-depth dive into these speakers since we are planning a full review of some of the models, so stay tuned to get a closer look at Paradigm’s latest foray into high-end loudspeakers.

About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

keepr88 posts on March 25, 2021 23:20
Thanks for the update….just when I made up my mind to pull the trigger on the 800fs and then THESE came out. So now it's blow the budget on a pair of founder 80fs and 90c…..or go with the original plan 800fs and have some left over to upgrade in other areas…..
shadyJ posts on March 25, 2021 23:13
keepr88, post: 1470706, member: 77066
Anyone know when the review on these is coming out?
It won't be for a little while, so don't hold your breath for one. It will come, but not right away. However, we are working on a lot of other cool reviews coming in the meantime to keep you busy.
keepr88 posts on March 25, 2021 19:57
Pogre, post: 1470709, member: 79914
I agree, Paradigm has done a lot of innovating, but are you sure they're coaxial? I thought that was a big lens over just a tweeter?
Coaxial on the 90c and the 70LCR models. The rest are tweeters with a waveguide I think
Pogre posts on March 25, 2021 19:52
ichigo, post: 1466629, member: 15959
I'm not sure there's ever been an audio company that's had such huge paradigm shifts in design philosophy from one generation to another. From NRC inspired designs that remind you of Revel (Signature Series), to unexplainable shifts to being a Bowers & Wilkens me-too brand (Persona) and now suddenly they've decided to up and go Coaxial, after perhaps the recent success of KEF. The 70LCR in particular almost reminds me of a Genelec 8351 turned into a passive speaker…

I guess this company is aptly named Paradigm after all
I agree, Paradigm has done a lot of innovating, but are you sure they're coaxial? I thought that was a big lens over just a tweeter?
keepr88 posts on March 25, 2021 19:37
Anyone know when the review on these is coming out?
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