Sorry for the late post on this thread but I was recently in the market for bookshelf speakers, a center channel, in-wall surrounds and a sub for a modest home theater for the family room in my new home (I have some space issues and something called a wife who was not too keen on a lot of hefty speakers in a newly built space--I'm sure you all understand).
I started looking at bookshelf speakers in the under $1,000/pr
range and 2 of the candidates were obviously the B&W 685's and the Paradigm Reference Studio 10s. I demo'd them both quite extensively recently along with Monitor Audio's Gold GS10 (a little more expensive) and Silver RX1 all powered by a Rotel amp. Other potential candidates that I did not get to listen to were PSB Image B5, NHT Classic 3, and Usher S520.
For me, the Paradigm Studio 10s were the clear winner over the B&W 685s (and both offerings from Monitor Audio). Actually, it was not even close between just the Studio 10s and the 685s. I echo some of the other comments on here that the 685s look and feel kind of cheap. Of course, that does not mean much without listening to them, but deserves to be mentioned when we are comparing speakers of similar price. The Studio 10s look awesome and the build quality and fit and finish is top notch, especially at this price point. The Rosenut veneer is stunning, and you can get piano gloss black for a slight upcharge which looks pretty cool too. I saw all 4 finishes available for the Studio 10s and each one blows the plastic-looking 685s out of the water.
In terms of sound, there just was not much information, in my opinion, coming out of the 685s. I listened to all kinds of music and movies too and there was just stuff that did not come out of the 685s that came out of the other speakers, including the Studio 10s. Plus the low end of the 685 (not that I was expecting much from bookshelf speakers in the first place) just seemed absent when compared to the Studio 10s. Honestly, the Studio 10s with their 5 1/4" drivers (v. 6 1/2" for the 685s) handled bass unbelievably for a speaker its size. I think everyone in the demo area was trying to figure out how such a small speaker could produce the bass that these babies produce. It was downright impressive in my opinion and has been commented on in several expert reviews. Most people are probably going to add a sub to any bookshelf pair, especially if it is part of a home theater system. But you could legitimately get away with these on their own in a smaller room and I think their ability to handle bass would be very surprising to most.
Anyway, the Studio 10s also handled the mids and highs better -- much better actually. Mids and highs were crystal clear and, more importantly, balanced, while the 685s just had less information and maybe sounded a bit reserved overall, so to speak. I'm sure there are people who may prefer this, but I did not. I must add, however, that I hooked up some B&W CM1s (which are obviously more than double the price of the 685s), there was just a huge difference in sound quality over the 685s, and I mean huge. (But I was still liking the Studio 10s over the CM1s).
I just heard a lot more out of the Studio 10s on all sorts of material, but it was never "bright" or really in your face, but rather seemed to be perfectly balanced no matter what was coming through.
Of course, speakers are a matter of personal preference. That's why it is always best to listen to them as many on this and other forums suggest. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with higher-end speakers, sometimes it is just impossible to do this. Everyone just has different tastes in terms of what type of stuff they like to listen to and how they hear it. For me, the Paradigm Studio 10s fit the bill and I can't wait until they arrive and I set them up. I would venture to guess that if you ordered them even unheard, they would be very impressive and if you did not like them, at under $800/pr
retail, you could sell them pretty easily and not be out a lot of money.