Paradigm Persona 5F: True to the high-end promise

Paradigm’s new flagship speaker range combines contemporary aesthetics with painstaking craftsmanship, advanced technology and top-class drive units. But do the sonics live up to expectations? We sample the charms of the Persona 5F floorstander to find out …

 

By Deon Schoeman

Canadian speaker maker Paradigm has a reputation for overdelivering on the promise of its extensive array of products.

That array includes everything from custom-install and home theatre to stereo loudspeakers, from bookshelf designs to floorstanders and subwoofers, and spans price points from downright affordable to premium.

The marque is also revered for its innovation and committed R&D, linked to rock-solid build quality and – perhaps most importantly in its many happy customers’ opinion – consistent value for money. The latter is an increasingly rare commodity in the hi-fi world.

The new Persona range represents the current pinnacle of Paradigm’s efforts. It’s also, as far as I can recall, the first truly high-end speaker family from the brand, although some would say that the pricing is still well below esoteric levels.

The presentation and technical credentials certainly suggest membership of the high-end club. The styling is unashamedly contemporary, while the drivers represent another first for Paradigm: they utilise beryllium – an exotic material typically reserved for top-end (read expensive) loudspeakers.

Add painstaking construction, and the Personas certainly seem to have the pedigree expected of a high-end, high-performance loudspeaker

AT FACE VALUE

Of the seven models (a bookshelf, a centre and a subwoofer, as well as four floorstanders), the middle-of-the-range Persona 5F may well end up as the most popular. It’s a tall floorstander that’s visually arresting without becoming overbearing, while promising easy-to-drive efficiency and an extended frequency range.

The elegantly curved shape of the sculpted enclosures underplays their physical presence, while cleverly addressing standing waves. On that topic, the top and bottom panels slope upwards at an angle, further ensuring that there are no parallel surfaces.

The enclosures are pressed from seven layers of high-density fibreboard bonded using a visco-elastic adhesive that’s cured with radio-frequency energy. They’re finished in a choice of high-gloss colours that add to their contemporary appearance, while extensive internal bracing ensures mechanical inertness.

There’s a choice of four hues: high-gloss white or black, and metallic-gloss silver or blue. The front baffle is finished in a contrasting hue (grey against the gloss white of the main cabinet in the case of our test units). Custom colours can be specified, but at extra cost.

The 5Fs rest on integrated, machined aluminium plinths that also provide a home for substantial coupling spikes. Alternatively, rubber-coated ‘feet’ can be fitted where floor surfaces would be prone to damage.

This arrangement also allows the upwards sloping bottom panel to house a down-firing, tapered reflex port. It’s a configuration that’s not only aesthetically unobtrusive, but also makes for more versatile positioning than enclosures with a traditional, rear-firing port.

The binding post panel at the rear base of the Persona is home to two sets of beautifully turned out, robustly engineered binding post sets with carbon fibre detailing, allowing for positive cable attachment and convenient bi-wiring when the bridging plates are removed.

UNDER THE COVERS

The Persona 5F’s sleek looks are matched to advanced, in-house developed and produced drivers and crossovers.

The five-driver array features a beryllium dome tweeter and a beryllium cone midrange unit. Beryllium is considered a superior (but expensive) diaphragm material because of its extreme stiffness and low mass.

In the Persona 5F, the 25 mm beryllium dome tweeter is fitted with a purpose-designed perforated phase-aligning lens, and features ferro-fluid damping and cooling for the high-power magnet assembly.

The partnering 178 mm beryllium dome midrange also gets the phase-aligning lens, a generous 32 mm voice coil and an isolating mounting system.

The phase-aligning lens takes the form of an intricately perforated grille that covers the entire front of the drive unit, and is designed to improve phase coherence. These lenses also add to the striking appearance of the Personas.

The low frequencies are tasked to a trio of high-excursion 178 mm bass drivers. Yes, that’s three woofers! The woofers employ aluminium cones and an innovative, ribbed surround designed to allow for more extreme, but more controlled cone excursions, promising enhanced headroom.

Finally, the third-order acousto-electric crossover network uses selected, top-grade circuit components. Crossover points are at 450 Hz and 2,4 kHz.

SETTING UP

At 43 kg each, the Paradigms are no lightweights and require some care when unpacking. Sensibly, they come with flat, rubber-surfaced screw-in feet installed, which makes it easier to move them around during the initial set-up phase.

It took a bit of time to find the optimum location and configuration for the Personas. Their prodigious low-frequency potential means they’re best kept away from corners, and can be sensitive to rear walls, although the down-firing reflex port makes it possible to move the floorstanders closer to rear and/or side walls than expected.

However, I found that a completely freestanding location worked best, with the 5Fs positioned about 80 cm from the side walls, and 1,8 m from the rears. Toeing the speakers in about halfway towards the listening position achieved just the right balance between a crisply focussed sound image and generous staging.

The Personas were delivered brand new and were afforded a week’s running in time. For this review, they were partnered by our usual Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp and Parasound Halo A21 power amp.

However, they were also roped in for the Anthem SRT pre/power review: read it here.

Source signals were provided courtesy of a Lumin D1 network player and a Marantz KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD deck, the latter combined with a Bryston BDA-3 on DAC duty.

SOUNDS LIKE …

What struck me from the outset of the review was the tremendous transparency of the Personas.

Big floorstanders generally excel as far as tonal range and expansive staging are concerned, but their sheer physical presence almost dictates that they’re unlikely to completely conceal their role as point sources.

Not so here: the Personas were able to vanish from the sound picture completely, delivering a large, airy but also seamlessly rendered image that effortlessly extended across all three dimensions.

The music picture was rendered with such cohesion and focus that the listening experience was thoroughly immersive, while the contribution of the speakers was utterly transparent – a trait that contributed significantly to accessibility and believability of their performance.

As expected, the Personas delivered a broad tonal spread, delving down deep enough to vindicate Paradigm’s 23 Hz LF extension claim. The bass and even sub-bass were delivered with considerable muscle and impetus, but never became overpowering.

Indeed, tonal linearity and an inherent talent for pace and agility were also standout features of the 5F’s performance, contributing to a natural, accessible approach that always made the most of the music being reproduced.

Extended tonal range aside, the Personas never sounded like big, air-thrashing, room-shaking speakers. Yes, they can rock with the best of them, but they retained a sonic elegance and composure that always ensured a lucid view of the entire music picture.

That clarity of purpose also allowed the Personas to reveal the full spread and scope of the recording. These are revealing, accurate and coherent speakers that deliver a panoramic, all-encompassing view of the material they’re reproducing.

Listening to the anthemic guitar solos, powerhouse percussion, soaring keyboards and melancholy vocals on ‘Gravity Eyelids’ off prog rock exponents Porcupine Tree’s classic In Absentia, the 5Fs always remained in unruffled control.

The big Canadians let the music do the real talking, never getting in the way of the flow and impact of the performance, while ensuring that the momentum and scale of the recording was faithfully retained.

The Personas are particularly adept at expressing the energy and electricity of live recordings. Led Zeppelin’s charismatic live performance captured on the recently remastered How The West Was Won sounded downright brilliant.

The combination of Robert Plant’s banshee vocals, John Bonham’s epic drumwork, Jimmy Page’s anguished guitar riffs and the boisterous bass of John Paul Jones made for a sound that was raw and vivid, as it should be, while the sheer pace and power of the music was captured with spellbinding intensity.

The clean, urgent bass of Marcus Miller on Laid Black’s opening track, ‘Trip Trap’, is a good test for the low-frequency capabilities of any speaker, and the Personas passed the trial with flying colours.

Miller’s mastery of the electric bass is legendary, and it’s on impressive display here: his fretwork is as intricate as it’s fiery, and he slams and tickles the strings with an aggression and accuracy that is almost tactile in its intensity.

The Paradigms reproduced those bass riffs with all the energy and precision required, endowing the music with a presence and an immediacy that was riveting.

By comparison, the laid-back ‘Qe Sera Sera’ on the same set showcases bass lines so deep and so powerful that they threaten to rip the glass right out of the window frames – and yet, the Personas refused to be daunted: they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job, leaving the listener breathless!

Prefer classical music? The Paradigms are right on the button here, too. Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Ochestra’s magnificent interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, captured so effectively in high res by the Reference Recording team, needs a full-range speaker to deliver the full impact of the sweeping sonic vistas and the often extreme dynamic shifts.

Again, the Paradigms rose to the challenge convincingly, effortlessly rendering the almost explosive opening bars, and then delving eloquently into the quieter passages. Their ability to allow the music free rein and expressing the scale and the intent of the music made them a joy to listen to.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Paradigm Persona 5Fs can hold their head up high in any high-end company. They have both the physical and the sonic stature to be considered right up there with the best.

That’s particularly true with regards to their quite astonishing transparency (given their size and conventional transducers), but also holds true as far as their linear tonality, low-frequency extension and soundstage scale are concerned.

Yes, the asking price is also in the high-end league: an arena Paradigm hasn’t competed in up to now. But true to the brand’s reputation, you still get more than you paid for!

NEWS FLASH: The Paradigm Persona loudspeakers will be on demonstration at the Decorex Show, taking place at Gallagher Estate in Midrand this week from Wednesday 8 to Sunday 12 August. You’ll find them on the Cinema Architects stand, stand no G25 in Hall 5.

VITAL STATS
Enclosure type: Bass reflex
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm Truextent beryllium dome tweeter
– 1x 178 mm Truextent beryllium cone mid/bass
– 3x 178 mm X-PAL high-excursion woofers
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 93 dB (in-room)
Frequency response: 45 Hz – 45 kHz (on axis, ±2 dB)
Power handling: 300 watts max
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 185 x 241 x 427 mm
Weight: 43 kg each
PRICE
R287 995 (pair)
SUPPLIED BY
Audio Specialists

SOFTWARE
Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (Warner 44/16 FLAC)
Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (Atlantic/Rhino 96/24 FLAC MQA via Tidal)
Marcus Miller – Laid Black (Blue Note 48/24 FLAC)
Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances – Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings 176/24 WAV)

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Lumin D1 network player
Lumin L1 and Synology 214se NAS devices
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player
Bryston BDA-3 D/A converter
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
Anthem STR pre-amp
Anthem STR power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers
XLO Reference and StraightWire Virtuoso cabling
Tice and IsoTek power conditioning