Paradigm offers multiple tiers of speaker products following a “good – better – best” strategy, with the good (Paradigm would say, “very good”) end of the spectrum represented by the firm’s newly updated Monitor Series 7 speakers. More than any other models that Paradigm makes, the Monitor family is thought to offer terrific performance per dollar, and with good reason.
At Paradigm, you see, the practice of technology trickle-down is not just a design philosophy, but almost as a corporate religion where the “articles of the faith” require that each new-generation series of loudspeakers will be more technically sophisticated and better sounding than the last. To make good on this commitment, Paradigm works tirelessly to adapt exotic technologies from its high-end Signature models for use in its mid-priced Reference Studio speakers, and then in turn applies technologies and design techniques from the Studio range in its Monitor lineup. The result, in the case of the new Monitor Series 7 lineup, is unexpectedly refined sonic performance at surprisingly accessible price points. Trust us on this one: getting near Studio-grade sound at Monitor-level prices is, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing.
But another big part of the key to the appeal of the Monitor range hinges on its ability to find a just-right balance point between high performance and all around ease of use, so that the speaker offer many elements of genuinely high-end sound, yet without pushing the edge of the envelope so hard that they become difficult to set up or finicky about associated electronics. There is much to be said for real-world products designed to function beautifully in an admittedly imperfect world.
Our Monitor review system consisted of a pair of three-way, 5-driver Monitor 11 floorstanders ($1598/pair), a three-way, 4-driver Monitor Center 3 ($599), and a pair of two-way, 4-driver Monitor Surround 3s ($798/pair). We made the somewhat unusual decision not to include a subwoofer in the system, partly because Paradigm’s Monitor-series subs were slated for release well after the rest of the Monitor models (though they will have begun shipping by the time this Guide is released), but also because the flagship Monitor 11 floorstanders offer such ample bass output and deep low frequency extension that we didn’t really think a sub would be necessary.
In this review, we’ll try to give readers a sense for both the strengths and limitations of the new Monitor models, and to discuss ways in which they strive to find the aforementioned balance point between performance, price, and ease of use. Could they be right for you? Read on to find out.
What exactly makes the Monitor Series 7 lineup special? The simplest and most accurate answer would be to say that, just a few years back, today’s new Monitor Series 7 models could easily have passed for earlier-generation Studio speakers. Below, I’ve highlighted changes and technical features that set the new Monitor Series 7 speakers apart, which will illustrate this point.
•New slim-line cabinet designs said to reduce model footprints by about 20%. In practice this means the new Monitor 11 Series 7 is now about the size of the earlier-generation Monitor 9 Series 6, but nevertheless steps up to become a three-way, 5-driver design (whereas the old Monitor 9 was a 4-driver design).
•An all new plinth design that accompanies the slim-line cabinets of floorstanding Monitor models, providing plenty of stability while—at least in the case of the Monitor 11—creating the visual illusion that the main speaker cabinet is “floating” about ½” above the plinth.
•A complete baffle redesign where finite element analysis (FEA) was used to “remove resonances and vibrations” while also significantly improving cabinet rigidity/solidity. This design detail seems to have a surprisingly significant impact on the overall Monitors’ over imaging coherency and smoothness. As a result, the new Monitors do a much better job of getting the sound “off the box” than earlier generation Monitors (or Studio models) did.
•A grille frame redesign where grilles use self-aligning magnetic fasteners (meaning no more mounting posts to break off or unsightly mounting holes in the front baffle), plus—and this is the sonically significant part—a new “honeycomb interior corner architectures” said to “prevent sound capture in grille corners” and to ensure “acoustic integrity remains intact whether speakers are played with grilles on or grilles off.”
•Driver technology now appears to be drawn directly from the playbook of Paradigm’s more costly Studio models. Hence, the new Monitors get:
oPAL (pure aluminum) dome tweeters, which are now fitted with waveguides and a protective metal mesh guard, and feature ferro-fluid cooling/damping.
oS-PAL midrange cones (as compared to polymer cones in the old Monitors) fitted with Studio-derived lightweight foam rubber surrounds, high-temperature voice coils, and—in the Monitor 11—super neodymium magnets. In the Monitor 11 the midrange driver even gets its own dedicated, sealed enclosure.
oCarbon-infused co-polymer polypropylene bass cones with the same motor tweaks as found in the midranges drivers.
•Greater sensitivity and deeper bass extension are promised for all Monitor Series 7 floorstanders.
•The Monitor 11 is a bass reflex design, while the Monitor Center 3 is a sealed-box design. Enclosures for both are available in tasteful black ash or heritage cherry wood-grain vinyl wraps.
•The Monitor Surround 3 is a bi-directional, sealed box design that is configured for stand or wall-mounting. The enclosure is available in matte black only.
In keeping with longstanding Paradigm practice, the changes found in the new Monitor Series 7 range are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but when a firm makes a number of small, positive changes in unison, the net effect can be—as you’ll soon see—surprisingly dramatic.
Right from outset, I was struck by both the smoothness and subtlety of the Monitor-series front channel speakers (that is, the Monitor 11 floorstanders and their companion Monitor Center 3 center channel speaker). Two factors in particular contribute to this smoothness and subtlety. First, Paradigm really has its act together when it comes to building drive units with metal diaphragms. In the olden days, metal drivers were often regarded as a mixed blessing, because they typically offered great transient speed, responsiveness, and rigidity, but they also often carried excess sonic baggage in the form of unwanted resonance, brightness, or brashness. At Paradigm, those days are long gone, so that you now enjoy the benefits of metal driver technology with essentially none of the sonic penalties encountered in the past.
Second, Paradigm has seen fit to equip both its Monitor 11 floorstanders and Monitor Center 3 speaker with real, dedicated midrange drivers—not with compromise mid-bass drivers as would more commonly be seen in speakers in this price class. By fitting lighter and more responsive true midrange drivers, whose comparatively small-diameter diaphragms also provide superior dispersion, Paradigm is able to give the Monitor 11s and Center 3 a sound that is unexpectedly agile, nuanced, and refined. In truth, if I heard these speakers in the dark and was told they were Paradigm Studio models, I would probably find the assertion believable (unless, of course, I actually had a set of the latest generation Studios on hand for comparison). At the end to the day Paradigm’s Reference Studio-series speakers do offer an even more revealing and finely resolved sound than the Monitors do, but the key point is that absent a direct, side-by-side comparison, the Monitors would strike most listeners as offering a thoroughly satisfying amount of musical information—especially when their modest price is taken into account.
In practical terms, the Monitor 11s and Center 3 are sufficiently revealing to expose even quite subtle sonic differences between various source components or DACs. Even so, though, the Monitors are fundamentally unfussy and willing to give a good account of themselves when used with modestly priced ancillary gear. Part of what makes the Monitor speakers so unfussy is that they are relatively sensitive and easy to drive. As a result, the speakers deliver an expansive and lively sound with dynamics that can be—where appropriate—downright explosive. You’ll appreciate this quality especially in the midst of expressive action film soundtracks as the Monitors effortlessly “breathe” and flow with the action, rather than “flinching” when big moments come along, meaning they rarely if ever sound strained or compressed.
Finally, I could not help but note that the Monitor 11s offer a really nice combination of bass extension, power and control. The only potential drawback I can foresee is that the 11s, which feature dual rear-firing ducted ports, may actually have more bass oomph than is necessary (or even desirable) for smaller rooms. The good news, however, is that you can build a perfectly satisfying Monitor 11-based surround system without feeling any real need to add a subwoofer.
The downside, as I hinted above, is that the Monitor 11s may provide more low-frequency clout than is appropriate for smaller listening rooms. For this reason, I would like to see Paradigm offer the sort of compromise solution that Monitor Audio provides for some of its floorstanding speakers, which is to supply foam rubber port-damping plugs (Monitor Audio calls them “bungs”) to give listeners the option of trimming back low bass output from the reflex ports, where necessary.
I’ve mentioned that the Monitor system offers expressive, free-breathing dynamics and nowhere is this more apparent than in certain action film sequences, where soundtracks suddenly seem to have more drama, impact, and visceral power than they do with other systems. A great example can be found in Inception, where Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) introduces his protégé-to-be Ariadne (Ellen Page) to the phenomenon of shared/guided dreams. The dream sequence seems normal enough at first—as dreams so often do—until Cobb and Ariadne find themselves at an outdoor café and Cobb asks, “How did we get here?” Realizing that she really can’t answer the question, Ariadne experiences a flash of insight and then, suddenly wide-eyed, asks, “We’re dreaming?” And then, of course, all hell breaks loose.
For no apparent reason at all, storefront and upper-floor apartment windows explode outward, manhole covers burst upward from their mounting flanges, vehicles crash in the street outside, and the scene is brought to an abrupt and thunderous conclusion as a pile of rubble falls from above, crushing Ariadne and Cobb at their once peaceful café table. The racket of the dream collapsing gives way immediately to the comparative silence of Cobb’s sleep lab, where Ariadne awakes—disoriented and very frightened, but glad to be alive. What the Monitor system taught me, at least relative to many of the affordably-priced systems I’ve heard, is that freedom from apparent compression or overload is a reward unto itself, because it gives the speaker system the freedom to simply throw back its head, figuratively speaker, and to howl at the moon if that’s what the soundtrack demands. Once you hear big cinematic moments unfold through the Monitors, you realize that—to a greater extent than you might have imagined—other systems are quashing dynamics, perhaps as a necessary survival mechanism. But the Monitors, in contrast, are willing to play louder than most homeowners would probably think wise, meaning they offer noticeably greater dynamic headroom than some of their competitors.
I’ve also mentioned that the Monitors offer a smooth sound with good, spacious imaging. To hear what I mean, try listening to the sequence “Behind the Moving Curtain” from The Rundown. In this scene the rogue archaeologist Travis (Seann William Scott) attempts to steal a priceless artifact from a cavern whose stone ceiling is held up by rickety beams, as Beck (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Mariana (Rosario Dawson) look on. As Travis, perhaps ill-advisedly, shifts some beams to gain access to the treasure, the beams begin to creak, groan, and in some cases to shatter—indicating the ceiling is about to collapse. The Monitors did a fine job with surround sound imaging, here, revealing sounds of imminent collapse from all around the listening area. However, the Monitors did not have quite enough upper midrange or treble resolution to convey the full-spectrum of low-level details I know are part of this soundtrack—details that can, on today’s best surround speaker systems, make the sequence sound unnervingly realistic and frightening. Still, the Monitors did very well on this scene, especially in terms of conveying the powerful rumble of the massive ceiling stones grinding against one another.
Good though the Monitor system is for movie playback, I think it does even better with music material, as I hope to show you by sharing some of my notes from listening sessions.
One favorite test disk I enjoy using in surround system reviews is the Gerard Schwarz/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra recording of mountain-themed compositions by Alan Hovhaness: a compilation simply called Mysterious Mountains [Telarc, multichannel SACD]. One of the most revealing passages came from the first movement of Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountains” (from which the compilation takes its name). In this movement, the orchestra has a dark, lush-sounding presentation, which the Monitor system captured faithfully with, as I jotted in my notes, “very good stage depth.” I was particularly struck by the Monitor system’s handling of string tones, where upper string sections had a “sweet, plaintive tone,” while lower strings had “appropriate weight and sonority.” In this movement and at many other points in his compositions, Hovhaness is fond of adding delicate touches of high percussion commentary, which—through the Monitor system, seemed to “float high above the orchestral floor.” Overall, I found that the Monitor’s presentation “not as crisply delineated as some systems might be from one orchestral section to another, but very smooth and pleasingly organic-sounding.” In this last set of notes, you can see how some of the Monitor-series design tradeoffs play out; the system typically does not reach for the very highest levels of definition or detail, but as a result it achieves a sweetly natural and organic sound that makes the system satisfying to listen to—even when powered by modest electronics.
But this is not to suggest that the Monitors cannot deliver crisp transient response or sonic fireworks when the music demands them, because in fact they can and do. For proof of this, just put on the remastered, multichannel recording of Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Money [Capitol, multichannel SACD], put on the track “Time” and hit PLAY. The Monitors do a wonderful job with the intricate clockwork noises and the sound of alarm chimes and gongs with which the song opens, sounding (according to my notes) at once “detailed and yet also very subtle—not edgy, brash, or prone to sonic overstatement.” Then, as the body of the song unfolds, I wrote that “the Monitors catch the soaring, dreamy quality of the mix,” thanks in part to surround imaging that “is spectacular.” If you know how the traditional stereo mix of Dark Side of the Moon sounds, then you might find it interesting to note that Pink Floyd (a band in so many ways ahead of its time) had envisioned capturing their material in surround sound, which is in fact how they performed many of these songs in their live concerts. Bass, I felt, was “authoritative” throughout, so that I really could not see how adding a sub would have improved the presentation.
The Monitors did such a good job with this very revealing, detail-rich album that I couldn’t resist listening to it multiple times through the Monitors, using various surround sound source components. Sure enough, I found the Monitors could “easily show difference between source components”—not something all affordable priced surround systems could do as effectively as the Monitor system did.
Consider this speaker system if:
•You like the idea of getting much, though not quite all, of the performance (and underlying technology) of Paradigm’s higher-level Reference Studio-series speakers, but at a considerably lower price.
•You want an affordable, yet highly capable do-all system that offers good resolution and imaging, full-range frequency response, and plenty of dynamic clout.
•You like a moderately large (but not imposingly large), conventionally-styled speaker system that is well-finished, though in an understated way.
Look further if:
•You want to push for even higher levels of resolution and detail than the Monitor system can provide: these qualities can be yours for the asking—if you’re willing to invest a good bit more money.
•You have a moderate-to-small listening space, in which case you might find Paradigm’s compact Reference MilleniaOne sat/sub system a better solution.
•You want speakers with real wood veneer or lacquer-finished cabinets.
Ratings (relative to comparably priced surround systems):
•Transparency and focus: 8.5
•Imaging and soundstaging: 9
•Tonal balance: 9
•Bass extension: 9
•Bass pitch definition: 8.5
•Bass dynamics: 9.5
Paradigm’s Monitor Series 7 system offers a well-balanced mix of virtues while upholding the model line’s hard won reputation for value-first engineering. This system might serve as a “gateway to the high-end” for some listeners, but it is good enough that it will be a satisfying destination in its own right for many others.
SPECS & PRICING
Paradigm Monitor Series 7 5-Channel Speaker System
Paradigm Monitor 11 Series 7 Floorstanding Speaker
Type: three-way, 5-driver, bass-reflex floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver complement: one 1-inch PAL (pure aluminum) dome tweeter with ferro-fluid cooling/damping, one 5 ½-inch SPAL (satin-anodized pure aluminum) midrange driver, three 6 ½-inch carbon-infused bass drivers.
Frequency response: 42Hz -22 kHz ± 2dB, low frequency extension to 30Hz
Sensitivity: 93 dB
Impedance: Compatible with 8 Ohms
Dimensions (H x W x D): 41.375” x 7.875” x 13.5”
Weight: 55.3 lb. /each
Warranty: 5 year, parts and labor
Paradigm Monitor Center 3 Series 7 Center-Channel Speaker
Type: three-way, 4-driver, center-channel loudspeaker
Driver complement: one 1-inch PAL (pure aluminum) dome tweeter with ferro-fluid cooling/damping, one 4 ½-inch SPAL (satin-anodized pure aluminum) midrange driver, two 6 ½-inch carbon-infused bass drivers.
Frequency response: 66Hz -22 kHz ± 2dB, low frequency extension to 46Hz
Sensitivity: 93 dB
Impedance: Compatible with 8 Ohms
Dimensions (H x W x D): 7.875” x 21.125” x 11.75”
Weight: 28.5 lb. /each
Warranty: 5 year, parts and labor
Paradigm Monitor Surround 3 Series 7 Surround/Rear-Channel Speaker
Type: two-way, 4-driver, bi-directional, surround/rear-channel loudspeaker
Driver complement: two 1-inch PAL (pure aluminum) dome tweeter with ferro-fluid cooling/damping, two 5 ½-inch SPAL (satin-anodized pure aluminum) mid-bass drivers.
Frequency response: 90Hz -22 kHz ± 2dB, low frequency extension to 53Hz
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: Compatible with 8 Ohms
Dimensions (H x W x D): 10.625” x 13” x 6.625”
Weight: 13.95 lb. /each
Warranty: 5 year, parts and labor
Total System Price: $2996
PARADIGM ELECTRONICS INC.