Paradigm’s latest Premier range draws from the advanced technology applied to the Canadian marque’s high-end Persona line-up, even though it’s a few rungs lower on the seniority ladder. Now wonder then that the flagship Premier 800F is a sonically splendid speaker that punches well above its weight
Paradigm’s Premier Series speakers don’t have quite the high-end status of the flagship Personas, given that they fit in above the entry-level Monitor SE line-up, but below the Prestige series.
However, the Premiers do share some of the flagship range’s characteristics. For instance, the enclosures are not as radically curved, but they are tapered and feature rounded top panels in the interests of combating standing waves.
The Premiers also benefit from Paradigm’s most recent driver and crossover technologies, including X-PAL dome tweeters, perforated phase-aligning lenses for tweeters and mids, and ART-surround woofers. More about these a little later.
The Premier line-up comprises two floorstanders, two standmount models and two centre channel speakers. The 800F under scrutiny here is the top model in the range, and also the largest.
There’s also a slightly more modest 700F, still with four drivers in a three-way configuration, while both Premier standmount speakers – the B200 and B100 – are two-way designs in the classic bookshelf tradition.
AT FACE VALUE
Standing just a touch over a metre tall, the 800F is a tall, slim tower speaker that manages to look less imposing and more elegant than its dimensions suggest. It rests on subtle outriders that can be fitted with floor-saving, rounded plastic feet or coupling spikes.
The front baffle is home to four drive units – arranged longitudinally from the tweeter to then dual woofers. The review pair was finished in gloss black, but white and woodgrain veneer are also on offer.
The 800Fs are supplied with thin, magnetically located cloth grilles that are said to be acoustically transparent, but also serve as protection from prying fingers. Frankly, the speakers look pretty good without those grilles, too – in our all-black pair, the drivers were also finished in black, creating a pleasingly homogenous effect.
As mentioned, the 800Fs feature a tapered enclosure – not rounded as in the Personas, but a more geometric design that sees the rear half of the enclosure tapering towards the rear panel. The top surfaces are rounded, and finished in a matt composite.
A smoothly flared bass-reflex port exits about halfway up on the rear panel, while the binding post terminal at the base of the offers a dual set of gold-plated posts to allow for bi-wiring. They include gold-plated jumpers.
UNDER THE COVERS
There’s more to those enclosures than handsome aesthetics, however. What do you don’t see is the extensive bracing, and the 19 mm thick MDF panels that makes up the cabinet. At 25 mm, the front baffle is even thicker, offering a reassuringly solid mounting platform for the drivers.
The driver complement kicks off with a 25 mm X-PAL aluminium dome tweeter, equipped with what Paradigm calls a perforated phase-aligning (PPA) lens. At face value, this looks like a carefully patterned protective grille, but there’s a lot more to the design.
Without getting too technical, the theory behind the lens acknowledges that sound radiated from different parts of the tweeter’s dome will reach the listener in a different phase. The lens is meant to smooth out the on-axis and off-axis response by blocking out sound elements that are out of phase.
The same principle is applied to the carbon-infused polypropylene midrange driver, which gets a commensurately larger phase aligning lens. As mentioned, the lenses also serve as useful protection of the actual diaphragms – and look handsome and distinctive, too.
The twin woofers are identical, and feature 165 mm carbon-infused cones, but accompanied here by what Paradigm refers to as active ridge technology (ART) surrounds. The injection-moulded surrounds feature a clever serrated design that allows greater excursion, leading to a 3dB gain in output, while reducing distortion by 50 percent.
The crossover is a second-order, electro-acoustic design with crossover points at 700 Hz and 2,5 kHz. In-room sensitivity is a claimed 92 dB, which together with a nominal 8 ohm impedance suggests a benign load.
The claimed on-axis frequency response of 50 Hz – 22 kHz seems a little pessimistic, however: in real-world conditions, the floorstanders always seem to reach down much lower than those figures intimate.
For this review, the Premier 800Fs were hooked up to our usual Parasound Halo A21 reference power amp, controlled by a Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp. Source signals were served up by a Lumin D1 network player, and a Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD deck, the latter in combination with a Bryston BDA-3 D/A converter.
I also used the excellent (and rare!) Revolve/Graham Pantom II/Van Den Hul Colibri record deck currently on review, in combination with a Valve Audio Whisper phono stage.
The speakers were set up in a typically freestanding position, about 70 cm from the side walls and well over a metre from the rear wall, and toed in slightly towards the listening position. I used coupling spikes as opposed to the rubber feet.
Later, the 800Fs were also used in a home theatre role, performing main front channel duties in conjunction with a monster Prestige 600C centre channel speaker submitted at the same time. However that review will appear separately at a later date.
The Premier 800Fs certainly show their class and talent in a stereo role. Instantly noticeable is how transparent these speakers are, which is no mean feat for a large, multidriver floorstander.
Their ability to deliver a finely focussed, precisely formed sonic image, while spreading that image over a vast and generous soundstage, conspires to create an immersive, intense sound that inexorably draws the listener into the very essence of the music.
That talent for wide-open staging is accompanied by a tonal signature that’s wholesome and powerful, with loads of bottom end slam, and a perfectly saturated midrange that endows the music with body and presence.
That said, it’s not a sound that exaggerates nor overwhelms. The high-frequency treatment places the emphasis on clarity, allowing the speakers to harvest and showcase a satisfying level of detail.
I also enjoyed the taut precision of these speakers. For all their low-frequency potential, they never allowed those low bass notes to sound woolly or lethargic. Admittedly, decent amplification is central to that capability, but it also speaks for the speaker’s inherent poise and precision.
As a result, the 800Fs were able to paint a full-scale, thoroughly believable sound picture that afforded the music comprehensive scope to come into its own, regardless of genre. From rock quartets to chamber music ensembles, from dreamy psych-pop to bad-ass blues, the Paradigms always made the most of the music.
The deceptively simple arrangement of ‘Poison In Your Cup’ from KT Tunstall’s latest release, WAX, showcases the singer’s husky-edged vocals against a soulful bass, easy acoustic guitar and laid-back percussion.
The Premiers allowed Tunstall’s voice to jump into the room with an intensity that was almost three-dimensional. The speakers captured every inflection of those vocals, while accurately reflecting the intimate arrangement, and allowing even the subtlest details – the metallic zing of the guitar strings, the dull but muscular thump of the kick drum, the brushed snare – to be captured convincingly.
Jazz guitar legend John Scofield’s casual, almost off-hand style is easy to misinterpret as simplistic, but on closer scrutiny, it is the combination of thoughtful phrasing, surprising harmonics and technical savvy that makes the music so satisfying to listen to.
On ‘Uncle Southern’ (from Combo 66), his electric guitar takes centre stage, but is ably supported by the multifaceted Hammond B3 organ of Gerald Clayton, Vincente Archer’s articulate double bass, and some equally inventive drumming by Bill Stewart.
Again, I enjoyed the way the Premiers managed to create just the right sense of realism, reflecting an intimate but lively acoustic space in which the music was allowed full dynamic scope. It became easy to listen to the music without any sense of the electronics delivering them, and to imagine the actual presence of the performers in the listening room.
Long-time Journey frontman Steve Perry’s comeback release, Traces, offers a more multidimensional offering than expected, ranging from fairly straightforward arena rock to more heartfelt, melodic material. Perry’s voice is the real star here, though, showing off a level of emotion and maturity which wasn’t always as obvious in the Journey context.
Thus, on ‘In The Rain’, Perry’s vocal range is showcased more honestly than usual, initially offset against a simple piano, but that soon swells and grows into a larger-scale sonic backdrop of strings, bass and backing vocals.
The Premiers easily reflected the scale and scope of the performance, providing loads of space for Perry’s vocals, and the burgeoning arrangement, while always retaining their composure.
The Premiers relished the challenge of interpreting the testing dynamics and Bruno Walter’s emotive reading of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ No. 8. They provided both the scale and the impetus to allow the grand sweep of the music to be as much heard as experienced.
The speakers were able to accurately track the often extreme dynamic swings of the performance, while their generous staging provided a believably three-dimensional canvas for the performance.
I enjoyed their penchant for fine detail and nuance, which added to the overall sense of realism, yet never sounded exaggerated. In fact, there was a real sense of musical credibility to their performance that allowed the music to come alive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s a lot to like about the Paradigm 800F floorstanders. First and foremost, they sound musically authentic, with a large, generous and inviting sound that does everything from classic symphonies to hard rockers full justice.
But there’s also ample attention to detail, and plenty of insight, ensuring that the Paradigms are able to get under the skin of the music, and to extract more than just mere notes and rhythms.
Add superb composure, and a tonal range broad enough to make those low notes come alive and upper trebles to glisten with truthfulness, and you have a musically talented, wholly entertaining speaker that can stand its ground against rivals costing a lot more.
Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
– 1x 25 mm X-PAL dome tweeter
– 1x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene cone midrange
– 2x 165 mm ART-surround carbon-infused polypropylene cone woofers
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 92 dB in-room
Frequency response: 50 Hz – 22 kHz (on axis, ±2 dB)
Amplifier power range: 15 – 250 watts
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 053 x 230 x 350 mm
Weight: 24,2 kg
Lumin D1 network player
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player
Bryston BDA-3 DAC
Revolve/Graham Phantom II/VdHul Colibri record deck
Valve Audio Whisper phono stage
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers
KT Tunstall – WAX (Rostrum 96/24 FLAC)
John Scofield – Combo 66 – (Verve 96/24 MQA via Tidal)
Steve Perry – Traces (Fantasy Records 48/24 FLAC MQA via Tidal)
Schubert – Unfinished Symphony No.8 – Bruno Walter/New York Philharmonic (Columbia DSD)