Paradigm enjoys a solid reputation for building modestly priced loudspeakers that deliver strong performance for the money, but that fact raises an important question. What would happen if a traditionally value-oriented, price-conscious firm such as Paradigm put the design-pedal to the metal, so to speak, to create a more expensive speaker? The answer would be the $5700 Reference Signature S8—by far the most ambitious and best-sounding loudspeaker the Canadian firm has yet produced.
The S8s are tall, deep, ported floorstanders that incorporate four—count ’em—7" mineral-filled polypropylene woofers, a 7" mica-filled polymer mid/bass driver with a phase plug, and a 1" waveguide-loaded, gold-anodized, aluminumdome tweeter with a phase-correction bar. Curved-wall enclosures help minimize internal reflections, while stunning veneered finishes help the S8 look the part of a serious flagship. Eager to find out if the speakers sounded as impressive as they looked, I wired the S8s into my reference system, and their sound did not disappoint. The qualities that caught my ear from the outset were their neutrality, resolving power, and killer bass.
When I say the S8s sound “neutral” I mean that they show a remarkable top-to-bottom evenness and freedom from coloration, so that I came to prize these speakers for their essential honesty. Paradigm claims the S8s maintain broad frequency response within very tight tolerances (41Hz–22kHz ±2dB) across a broad listening window that extends up to 30º off axis, which perhaps explains their well-balanced sound. Like other highly accurate loudspeakers the S8s tend to be sonic chameleons, so that they adopt as their own the sonic characteristics of whatever recordings they are fed. Put on a comparatively bright and forward-sounding LP, such as Keith Jarrett’s Solo-Concerts: Bremen, Lausanne [ECM], and the speakers exhibit a brilliant, intensely focused sound that places Jarrett at the front of the stage. But put on a relatively dark and more distant-sounding recording, such as the Schwarz/Royal Liverpool performance of Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 66 “Hymn to Glacier Peak” [Telarc], and the S8s emphasize the rich, warm sonorities of the orchestra, and gives the listener a medium-distant perspective on the very deep soundstage. The point is that listeners can trust the S8s to show how recordings actually sound, whether for better or for worse.