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Paradigm Prestige 75F Set-Up & Sound Quality

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Paradigm Prestige 75F SpeakersI set up and listened to the Prestige 75F’s in a two-channel music system. The room was a small-to-medium sized 17 x 14 x 8 ft. These are very good-sounding dimensions, since the length (17) is a prime number, and the height (8 ft) is not a whole number multiple of either the length or width. Therefore, these dimensions do not lend themselves to troublesome, additive bass/room resonances. The room has six 2 x 3 ft acoustic wall treatments staggered around the four walls; one centered on the front wall, two each at different heights on the side walls, and once centered on the rear wall between the two windows. There is a large sectional couch for seating and the floor is carpeted. Overall, the room is just slightly on the dead side of neutral, and it sounds excellent: solid, uniform bass, good imaging and detail, very little “ringing,” but live enough to let the speakers blossom out and fill the space with organic sound. Excellent recordings, especially of small-scale ensembles like jazz trio or solo piano, can sound almost live in this room. I have tremendous confidence that this room allows equipment to sound as good, or bad, as it can.

The 75F’s were set up about 1 ½ feet from the wall behind them and about 2 ½-3 feet from the sidewalls. I experimented with placement by moving them closer to the wall behind them, but found that the balance got a little ‘tubby’ when the speakers were within about 6 inches to a foot of the wall. The speakers have good horizontal dispersion and toe-in was modest—perhaps 10º or so. Set up this way, the speakers threw a very solid, well-defined image with a good phantom center. They sounded similar, but not identical, when seated vs. standing. Having three vertically-aligned drivers covering the exact same frequency range up to 500Hz (well into the vocal range) restricts the vertical dispersion to a marked degree, and it’s somewhat noticeable when standing. It was not an issue at all when listening in the normal seated position.

Associated Equipment

The rest of the system is simple but straightforward, and very high quality. The pre-amplifier/power amp combo was Parasound’s New Classic 2100 pre-amp and 2250 power amp, rated at 200/385 watts per channel 20-20k, into 8/4 Ω loads, respectively. Paradigm doesn’t actually rate the impedance of these speakers. They use the intentionally-vague wording of “compatible with 8 ohms” as meaningless and information-free a statement as there ever was. One can assume with confidence that if these were benign 8Ω speakers, Paradigm would’ve said so. This rating is bogus for two reasons: 1) Paradigm is better than this. They’re a solid engineering company and their customers deserve accurate information. 2) The prestige Series runs from $3000-5000/pair. These are expensive speakers and it’s quite logical to assume that the associated electronics that would be used with these speakers are quite capable of handling 4Ω loads.

The CD player was the NAD 545 with Burr-Brown DACs. Considering the modest size of the listening room, this is more than enough clean, distortion-free power to ensure that the electronics never intruded upon the listening sessions in a negative way. Speaker wire was simple 14 ga. twisted-end, inserted into the holes in the binding posts. Basic Monster interconnects between the pre/power and the CD/pre. Nothing lunatic-fringe about the connectors and speaker wire, and more importantly, nothing that could even remotely be considered a defining or distracting influence on the sound.

Initial Listening Impressions

the Prestige 75F’s crowning achievement: virtually none of the honk and congestion that mars almost every speaker I’ve heard...

Like a lot of people in this business, I have listened to a lot of speakers over the years. Reviewers and designers alike develop an acute sense of critical hearing when it comes to evaluating a speaker’s sound. In the very recent past, I’ve had some really excellent mid-sized and –priced floorstanding speakers pass through these parts, such as the Atlantic Technology AT-1 (Stereophile-recommended, with their revolutionary H-PAS bass technology), the standout B&W CM8 and the NHT Classic Four. All of these speakers are similar in size, price and general acoustic quality. I’d be happy with any of them on a day-to-day basis.

But, they’re not the same. They have their individual character, their strengths and weaknesses, their particular colorations. Now along comes the Paradigm Prestige 75F. How does it stack up, both in an absolute sense considered on its own and in comparison to other speakers of similar size/price that I’ve heard?

The very first thing that struck me was their lack of—for want of a better term—a certain “nasal” or “papery” midrange coloration that’s all too common to most speakers, especially at or below this price. Traits like bass extension and treble dispersion are pretty objective—the speakers either respond strongly to that 32Hz organ note or they don’t. You can either hear that subtle triangle strike sitting way off axis or you can’t.

But a slight midrange coloration—that sort of honky nasality that a speaker imparts to the tonal signature of the program material—that’s harder to define in objective terms, but no less obvious in subjective terms.

This was the Prestige 75F’s crowning achievement: virtually none of the honk and congestion that mars almost every speaker I’ve heard, regardless of size or price. That’s not to say the 75F was perfectly neutral—it wasn’t, with a slight forward hardness to the upper middle—but it didn’t have that common “speakery” tonal quality in the lower to mid middle. That was my initial impression and it never changed. A speaker that has even a slight trace of honk will make that trait known within the first few seconds and if it’s there, it never goes away. The 75F had some not insignificant shortcomings (which I’ll get to), but it didn’t honk…ever. That alone puts it in the upper class of speakers I’ve heard.

On track after track, with pop, jazz, classical, vocals, everything, the 75F’s were commendably neutral, detailed, lively and enjoyable. Their bass was clean and well-defined and appropriately weighty, with a nice sense of rhythm and pitch definition, never thumpy or one-notey. I do have to raise my eyebrows at Paradigm for their 44Hz low-frequency spec. A true, honest bass response down into the low-40’s is pretty deep for a full-range passive speaker. Low E on an electric bass is 42Hz. The aforementioned B&W CM8’s were rated down to 69Hz, which seemed overly conservative in the other direction. Yet playing the same CDs on both speakers in the same room with the same electronics, their low ends were subjectively identical…..Identical. There is no way the 75F went flat to the low 40’s at meaningful output levels. I’d say mid to upper 50’s, which is a very respectable bass end for a speaker with three small woofers.

Overall imaging was quite nice, with a satisfying sense of three-dimensional depth and a soundstage that seemed to extend past the left and right speakers when the program called for it.

Listening Tests

I have used many of the same discs for many years to test loudspeakers, not simply because they’re well-recorded CDs, but because I know them so well that they are reliable test devices that I can compare from speaker to speaker and be confident of the differences I’m hearing.

CD: Steely Dan—Aja

A nicely-recorded pop CD, with Steely Dan’s trademark clarity, solid deep bass and crisply-etched vocals. Everyone knows this disc well. In its day, it set a new high-water mark for clarity, spaciousness and bass impact. Even today, only the best speakers can keep Steve Gadd’s explosive drum fills on the title track clear and well-defined under Wayne Shorter’s tenor sax solo. The 75F’s did very well here, never losing their composure, even at near-uncomfortably high SPLs. They never got screechy or edgy and maintained a nice warmth and musicality at all times.

Aja Album

CD: Jennifer Warnes—The Hunter

This is an over-played, over-used, totally synthetic-sounding and too-heavily processed pop recording. But the opening cut, Rock You Gently, is so chock full of quantifiable, repeatable audio tidbits that if one overlooks the questionable production merits of the song, its sonic traits do provide some valuable information. The recording has a very deep, strong bass line throughout and some sharp snare drum <cracks> that punctuate the background. But it’s at the 2:33 mark of the track that things get interesting. I’d used this cut for years to test how well a speaker can simultaneously deliver clean, low-distortion deep bass (long excursion), while keeping the female vocals clear and preserving detailed highs. It’s a tough test for most speakers. And if a speaker doesn’t have subterranean bass response on its own, it’s a good test to see how well the speaker will ignore the very deepest bass that it can’t reproduce anyway while still doing a good job with the rest of the spectrum. I’d gone years listening to this cut on all the speakers I’ve voiced without realizing that at 2:33 there is a sustained low-20s Hz tone (about three seconds long) that just rises up from the floor and absolutely dominates the room.

The Hunter Album

The Paradigm speakers didn't overload or distort in the presence of deep bass.

few full-range passive speakers will reproduce this tone, since most full-range speakers—even quite excellent, expensive ones—will only respond, honestly, down to 35-40 Hz or so. My reference speakers are sealed systems with dual 12” woofers (with a very shallow 12 dB/octave rolloff), rated very realistically down to -3 dB @ 28 Hz. With a little room gain by virtue of being within a foot of the wall behind them, per the manufacturer’s recommendation, they are quite flat in my room down to the lower 20s. At the 2:33 mark of this cut, fed with 400 distortion-free watts, they make dogs cower and babies cry.

The Prestige 75 dutifully ignored the 22Hz tone at 2:33 as if it didn’t exist. I say that as the highest compliment to the Paradigm speaker. It didn’t overload, it didn’t distort, the presence of that tone didn’t cause havoc with the rest of the music. The 75F simply didn’t reproduce it, while continuing to go about the rest of its business in a highly accurate, relaxed, coherent manner. Very impressive.

CD: Kurt Elling—Dedicated to You

Kurt Elling

This is a superb live recording of jazz vocalist Kurt Elling backed by a big band featuring Ernie Watts on tenor sax and Lawrence Hobgood on piano. The first track, All or Nothing at All, starts off with a string quartet intro, beautifully recorded. Played on top-flight equipment, it is almost believable that a string quartet is, in fact, right there. After that intro, there is a piano run ending in a single very high note, struck quite hard. It’s a great test of a tweeter’s power handling and ability to project a three-dimensional, organic sound into the room without being ‘spitty’ or ‘hissy.’ The 75F’s were superb, and their highs were as solid and well-reproduced as one could ask for.

The 75F’s were superb, and their highs were as solid and well-reproduced as one could ask for.

Elling has a great voice, deep and resonant, with tremendous range, power and control. He is a master vocal stylist and his ability to go anywhere he wants and always return home is without equal among today’s singers. If you’ve ever seen him live, you know how he quickly captures the audience’s attention, gains their complete confidence that he’s in total musical command, and then takes them along for the ride. This recording is mixed with Elling in a very solid center image, and the 75F’s convey that quite convincingly. Elling is front and center, and the band is behind him and wide to each side. There was never a time when the sound was thin or lacking in any way. Instantaneous A-B switches to my reference speakers revealed that deeper, more spacious sound was there to be had on the recording, but listening to the 75F’s alone never left you feeling as if something was missing.

CD: Ariel Ramirez/José Carreras—Misa Criolla

Wonderful Phillips recording of classical/vocal music, the first two cuts really test a speaker’s ability to resolve low-level detail and present a three-dimensional sonic landscape. Carreras’ voice is pure and delicate, and is accompanied by very subtle tympani strokes in the background. Properly reproduced, these strokes convey a sense of the mallet head hitting the drumhead and the resonant tail from the strike carries on long and quietly fades off behind the vocal. The 75F’s proved up to the task of speaking quietly, but with precision and authority. Lesser speakers smear these details together; the Paradigms kept things clearly delineated and focused, but without artificial hype or an exaggerated top end. This is a tough test disc, highly recommended.

Diane Schuur Album        Misa Criolla Album

Diane Shuur & The Count Basie Orchestra

The first cut, Deedles’ Blues, is a rollicking, gutsy, full-blooded big band jazz vocal. Ms. Shuur’s voice is not exactly cut from the Cloth of Subtlety, if you catch my drift. And since this is a GRP recording, everything is just a bit overdone, a little larger than life. On second-tier equipment, things can degenerate into a screamfest pretty quickly, prompting a hurried lunge to turn down the volume control. First-rate gear presents this cut with lifelike verve and excitement, not with harshness and edginess. The 75F’s handled this very well, and the expected trace of midrange nasality that I’ve endured on many otherwise fine speakers never materialized. Out of habit, I braced myself for it, but it never came. What a relief.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Joe B posts on September 04, 2016 11:28
This summer I purchased a pair of Prestige 75F's. I chose the Midnight Cherry finish. The speakers are paired with a Paradigm sub using Anthem's ARC room correction software.

Here’s what I can say in regards to Steve’s review:

1. The Midnight Cherry finish is flawless; definitely 5/5 (unlike the walnut finish Steve reviewed: 3/5).

2. Steve’s comment, “The quality of the bass was fine; I just wanted a tad more weight and drama” as well as his comment “If you have a good bass control on your preamp, a quick turn to 12:30 is all it takes to make everything right with the world,” are not inaccurate, though I’m not sure that it is actually an issue with the speakers. Even with the sub dialed into the 75F’s with the ARC software, I too find some material just slightly wanting in the low end presentation, but I must say it is only with some material. I believe the speakers are revealing the material as it was mastered. I have many discs where I would never think of adjusting the base because it is perfect as is, and I mean perfect.

3. I believe Steve’s review is spot on and all of his comments are accurate and thoughtful.

My personal experience with the Prestige 75F’s:

I truly love the overall presentation of recorded material on these speakers. I auditioned these speakers along with B&W CM and Martin Logan Motion speakers, but found I preferred the 75F’s for their overall sonic characteristics. These speakers wonderfully reproduce the variety of material I listen to. In particular, choral works and discs focused on vocals are amazing. These speakers do an excellent job of revealing the source material; even the flaws. They image the acoustics of the recording location brilliantly and the timbre of instruments with accuracy. At this price point, these speakers are a must listen for anyone actively shopping.
KenM10759 posts on August 11, 2016 20:49
I heard these 75's just this past Saturday for the first time. I was with my cousin who was shopping to upgrade from Klipsch R-24F to something more akin to my KEF R500. We heard Klipsch RP-280F, these, and PSB Imagine T. The Paradigm were without question the most appealing overall, the bass of the RP-280F excepted. Unfortunately, they were just about twice what my cousin's budget.

My impression of the Paradigm Prestige 75F was that they are quite a bit brighter than my KEF, but not in an objectionable (Klipsch) way. The mid-bass though midrange was exceptional, and I was impressed with the smooth crossover for a 2-1/2 way speaker. By comparison, the PSB sounded a bit more muted on the highest tones, but equal everywhere else. My cousin went home with the PSB for an in-home audition, and bought them on Tuesday. In his somewhat barren room, the PSB was a completely different speaker, much brighter and sounding remarkably like the Paradigm did in a well designed room at an audio store. He's quite happy at half the price.
BoredSysAdmin posts on August 11, 2016 09:47
3db, post: 1149137, member: 3560
Difficult to ascertain say without measurements how “crappy” their bass extension is and without hearing them for yourself. Your point is moot as most people will couple this with a dedicated sub and the advantages of their neutral midrange will come to bare.
Lets agree to disagree. 3k is definitely price point for entry level true full range towers. If 75f's require sub(s) to play full range and few other (examples above) don't then something is not quite right here
3db posts on August 11, 2016 07:22
BoredSysAdmin, post: 1148899, member: 28046
hate to be picky but for towers for $3k solid, crappy bass extension seems out of place.
AT and NHT both build fine speakers, but if we compare these to Ascend Sierra tower, Philharmonic Slims and Jim Salk's Song3 speakers, Paradigm it seems is very lacking…

Difficult to ascertain say without measurements how “crappy” their bass extension is and without hearing them for yourself. Your point is moot as most people will couple this with a dedicated sub and the advantages of their neutral midrange will come to bare.
BoredSysAdmin posts on August 09, 2016 13:00
hate to be picky but for towers for $3k solid, crappy bass extension seems out of place.
AT and NHT both build fine speakers, but if we compare these to Ascend Sierra tower, Philharmonic Slims and Jim Salk's Song3 speakers, Paradigm it seems is very lacking…
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