Paradigm Prestige 75F Floorstanding Speaker System Review

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  • Product Name: Prestige 75F
  • Manufacturer: Paradigm
  • MSRP: $ 1,499/ea

Pros

  • Smooth, extremely uncolored sound from a mid-sized floorstander
  • Solid imaging with excellent inner detail
  • Can play very loud without audibly objectionable distortion
  • Feet already attached to speaker, no “user assembly” required

Cons

  • Triple 5.5” woofer system does not deliver bass commensurate with $3k/pr. price
  • Ho-hum quality real walnut veneer that looks no better than a good vinyl finish

Paradigm Prestige 75F Introduction

Paradigm Prestige SeriesParadigm is a well-known, highly-regarded speaker company out of Mississauga, ON Canada. Canada is home to a disproportionate number of superb speaker companies, including Energy, PSB, Mirage, Totem and others. Paradigm speakers have been justifiably highly-reviewed for years, consistently landing on various “Critics’ Choice” and “Product of the Year” lists.

We decided to take a look at one of their mid-priced Prestige Series speakers. Note that “mid-priced” is a relative term here. The Prestige Series consists of three floorstanders—the 95F, 85F and 75F—two 3-way center speakers, a multi-directional surround, a compact bookshelf model and two powered subwoofers.

All the speakers (except for the subs) share similar driver technology and materials. The woofers and mids have Paradigm’s  X-PAL™ brushed pure-aluminum bass drivers with overmolded ART™ surrounds and SHOCK-MOUNT™ Isolation Mounting System.

The tweeters in all are their 1″ X-PAL™ tweeter with exclusive Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) optimized pole piece assembly. (You have to love the creative lengths that speaker marketing people go to come up with what they hope will be catchy names and memorable descriptions for regular old woofers and tweeters. I know—I did this at Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology for decades and I created some of the best, ummm, horse hockey ever invented. In the end, what counts is how the speaker sounds, not names like X-PAL or Kortec or anything else.)

There are three models in the Prestige Series: The 75F at $ 1499/ea; the 85F at $1999/ea; and the 95F at $2499/ea. Pair prices of $3000, $4000 and $5000 are not chump change, especially in an economy that still doesn’t feel confidently solid to many people. This review looks at the 75F.

Design Overview

The packaging was fully up to the task of protecting the speakers, as they arrived in perfect condition after an inter-country (Canada to MA) Fed Ex Ground journey.

The Prestige 75F’s were double-boxed in two medium-duty corrugated cartons and had high-quality EPS foam caps holding the speaker in the inner carton. It was interesting: the outer carton was just a transportation carton, with virtually no marking or brand identification of any kind. I did appreciate the oval handholds, something that I had mentioned was missing on the NHT Classic Fours I reviewed last summer.

outer box

Outer Cartons

The inner cartons were the full graphic, 2-color boxes, complete with Paradigm logo, speaker drawing, model identification, etc. I would guess that in addition to protecting the speaker during transit, the outer carton also hides the identity of the box’s content, making it less attractive to thieves or unscrupulous delivery drivers. I would further guess that dealers probably discard the outer box once they receive the speakers from Paradigm and present the speakers to the retail customer in the colorful, attractive inner cartons.

speaker double box

 Inner Carton

Cutting open the outer carton, laying it on its side and then sliding out the inner carton is a job best done by two people. It’s easy to slide out the inner carton if someone is holding the outer carton still. I managed it by myself but it was a little unwieldy. Unpacking/setup instructions and the owner’s manual immediately greet you upon opening the inner speaker carton. Nicely done. The next thing that made a very positive impression on me was that the speaker’s feet were already attached to the speakers. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but I hate to take big floorstanding speakers out of their box, balance them on their “head,” attach the foot assembly to the underside of the cabinet then flip the speaker over again right side up. In cases like this, invariably, five of the six threaded inserts are fine, but one is either cross-threaded or has excess paint in the threads that can’t be cleaned out, so you say “Aw, the heck with it,” and make do with the feet attached with five out of six screws.

speaker inner box

 Sliding Out Inner Carton

The 75F’s feet were already attached. Thank you, Paradigm. And, by the way—these are nice feet: great-looking, solid, stable.

speaker feet attached

Feet Already Attached in Carton

Paradigm uses very high quality packaging. Having been involved in the design, sourcing and manufacturing of consumer electronics products for decades, I know the cost difference between good and bad materials, and what that says about what a given manufacturer thinks of their products and the image and impression they wish to convey to their customers.

This was a good first step.

The speakers themselves were covered in a nice cloth bag with the Paradigm logo on the bottom. The grille was in a separate plastic bag, taped to the cloth bag. The grille itself is the new-style design, with a very thin plastic frame and embedded neodymium magnets that “find” and align with their magnetic partners hidden invisibly just beneath the surface of the baffle. The grille “snaps” into place by itself by magnetic force. This is the same system that B&W used on their CM8 small floorstander and it’s definitely preferable to the somewhat old-fashioned method of pushing plastic trees into unsightly rubber receptacles.

speaker in protective cloth

Speaker in Protective Bag

Prestige 75F Drivers and Cabinet

The 75F is a 2 ½-way design. This is a clever way to do things, since it lets the manufacturer use multiple woofers for sufficient bass radiating area without the normal dispersion and interference penalty that comes when multiple woofers operate in parallel up into the midrange. Plus, the crossover cost and complexity is virtually the same as a conventional 2-way network: usually just an added choke to roll the lower woofer(s) off. This is often far less expensive than a true multi-band 3-way crossover network.

There are three 5.5-inch woofers in the 75F. It’s interesting that Paradigm presents these drivers as “5.5-inch,” rather than the industry-standard way of stating things as 5 ¼-inch drivers. These are not any “bigger” than any other 5.x-inch driver. It’s those Paradigm marketing guys again: just trying to make it seem as if their woofers are a little different and better than someone else’s. Nothing wrong with that.

front of speaker

Front Baffle Driver Layout

woofer exploded view

Woofer Exploded View

The tweeter is an aluminum driver with a perforated cover of varying-dimensioned holes placed over the diaphragm. They call it a Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens. I’d imagine the purpose is to diffuse and mitigate the inevitable resonant peak exhibited by virtually all metal-dome tweeters, leaving the listener with the supposed attributes of a metal dome (“speed” and “detail”), while minimizing the negative aspects of metal diaphragms (audible peaks and “harshness”). The dome/lens assembly sits at the apex of a very shallow horn flare, which presumably is intended to act as a modest waveguide to control dispersion and aid in efficiency over the tweeter’s operational passband.

 Tweeter close up

Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens

tweeter exploded view

Tweeter Exploded View

As a 2 ½-way design, all three woofers work in tandem to cover the bass range. Measuring the actual piston diameter in the generally-accepted manner of mid-surround to mid-surround yields a tick less than 4.5”, so the driver’s radiating area is just shy of 162 inches. Three drivers x 162 in = 482 inches total bass radiating area. For comparison, a standard 8-inch woofer with a 7-inch piston is 38.52 inches and a standard 10-inch woofer with a 9-inch piston is 642 inches. So the 75F has an effective woofer “size” somewhere in between an 8 and 10-inch woofer, but with much wider midrange dispersion due to the far smaller driver size. Remember, dispersion is primarily a function of driver size relative to wavelength. If the driver’s diameter is smaller than the wavelength of the frequency it’s reproducing, the dispersion is very wide. If the driver is larger than the wavelength being reproduced, the driver will “beam” its output forward like a flashlight.

The two woofer-only drivers share a common internal chamber and port (the lower port). These drivers are rolled off at 500Hz. The ports themselves are nicely flared to minimize the audible turbulence (port chuffing) that can occur at high levels with an unflared port. This looks good, but truth be told, at the SPLs where port turbulence might be audible, there’s “so much else going on” at that high volume that the listener likely would not be overly bothered by any audible chuffing. This is just one of those features that speaker manufacturers have to include to satisfy all those get-a-life reviewers who pick on little details.

The upper woofer/midrange driver is in its own dedicated internal chamber (presumably to avoid backwave pressure interference from the lower two woofers) and has its own flared port. It continues on up to 2kHz, where it crosses over to the tweeter. Since the radiating diameter of the woofers is so small (barely over 4 inches, Paradigm’s amusing “5.5-inch” spec notwithstanding), the midrange/woofer will still exhibit wide dispersion at the 2kHz crossover, maintaining a very smooth power response/directivity profile as one driver transitions to the next. That the 75F can achieve this with a crossover that is barely more expensive and complex than a conventional 2-way crossover is the essence of intelligent audio engineering. This is exactly the correct way to attain the seemingly conflicting goals of sufficient radiating area for good bass response, excellent dispersion/power response through the crucial mid-band region where the human ear is most sensitive and a narrow front baffle for minimum diffraction and secondary reflections (with the added bonus of agreeable aesthetics from a narrow baffle).

rear panel

Rear Panel Ports

Interestingly, the upper models in the Prestige Series show diminishing returns in this respect, since the 85F’s 6.5-inch woofers/midrange and the 95F’s 8-inch woofers/midrange both trade superior bass response for narrower midrange dispersion and a rougher transition to the tweeter. The math is the math and the dispersion/power response at the crossover—all three models cross over at 2.0kHz—gets markedly worse as you go up to the larger models. Oh well.

The Prestige 75F’s cabinet might be compact at 37 x 7 x 10 inches HWD, but it’s quite heavy for its size and conveys a very solid impression to the user. The “knuckle rap test” on the big side panel revealed a mostly high-pitched and well-damped sound character, with the middle of the panel having a slightly lower tone and more hollow quality than the upper and lower portions.  But in no way did the cabinet have the “empty oil barrel” sound one hears from a thin-walled cabinet with minimal (or no) internal bracing. This is a solid cabinet.

There are two sets of binding posts, connected by a metal “jumper” strap, at the bottom of the rear panel The ends of the posts do not have the usually-required plastic CE (European) safety plugs, as I’m used to seeing. Apparently, Paradigm must do a special run with the plugs installed for CE countries, since there is no need for those annoying plastic caps here in the U.S. If you want to use banana plugs instead of bare wire to connect the speaker wire to the posts, you’re free to do so. The posts themselves have a nice-sized hole to accept bare wire and that’s how I connected them with 14-ga wire. Nice, easy, and secure. I did not use the bi-amp feature, but it’s nice to know the option exists. The actual audible benefit of so-called “bi-amping” or “bi-wiring,” especially when you’re still going through the speaker’s internal passive crossover is highly debatable, to say the least. I’d venture to say—with an extremely high degree of confidence—that simply moving the speaker’s location by six inches closer to or farther from the wall behind it will cause a far more definite, audible difference than “bi-amping,” especially if the amplifiers involved (a single full range or two for bi-amped) are not pushed into distortion. However, that’s a can of placebo worms best left unopened in this review.

Binding Posts

Binding Posts

A quick note on the cabinet finish—these are two Gloss finishes—piano black and midnight cherry, and two Satin finishes—walnut and black walnut. I assumed that the Gloss finishes would be attractive and high quality. I wanted to see what the so-called regular ‘wood finishes’ looked like, so I ordered Satin walnut. I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. Paradigm tells us this is real wood veneer, not vinyl. They blew it here—it looks no better than a good vinyl wrap and at first I thought it was, until Paradigm clarified it for me. For $3000/pair, customers have every right to expect a more luxurious, elegant finish.

(audioholics.com, http://goo.gl/qPLB9P)

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