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Warning—this is a long post.


I originally started a thread to get some insight in order to help a friend choose towers for his new home. As explained in the original thread, my friend has some challenges associated with his room. The original thread is here: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=540901


Based on the recommendations from this thread and the availability of the various brands in our city, we auditioned the following speakers in the $1,600-$2,800 range.


Mirage OM 7

JMLab Cobalt 826S

B&W 703

Martin Logan Clarity

Paradigm Studio 60’s

Paradigm Studio 100’s


Our listening material was Radiohead (mainly the Bends) and Sting (including some tracks with female vocals). We also asked each salesperson to recommend tracks that he/she thought would highlight the speakers. We spent anywhere from 1-2 hours per session.


We started with the Mirage. We liked these, but the listening environment was not ideal (large multi-level room with the speakers in the middle of the room). We asked them to move them to a smaller dedicated room, which was done, but the room was probably a bit small for the speakers. In the large room, we thought the highs were clear and the mids defined. We were surprised by the bass, which was nice and punchy. However, when moved to the smaller room, everything muddied up, and we weren’t as impressed. Imaging was decent. Nice, but we didn't have anything against which to compare them.


We went a few days later to another dealer and listened to the JMLabs and B&W’s. The listening room was large and all the speakers were set up for easy A-B switching. Easily the best auditioning room in our city. We started with the JMLab, listening to 30 seconds or so of each song and then switching to the B&W and replaying. Neither of us has much experience comparing speakers, but we were shocked at the difference in these speakers. The JMLab’s were very smooth with good bass. Nothing overly pronounced. Imaging was fantastic. We would have preferred the a bit more detail in the highs, but we were impressed. Very laid back. The B&W’s were incredibly detailed in the highs. With the Sting tracks, we could clearly make out all the instruments, whereas the JMLab’s blended more. They imaged well, but not as well as the JMLab, in our opinion. Bass was adequate, but not as good as the JMLab’s. We’d go as far as saying that the B&W’s were almost harsh. Despite this, on some songs, we felt they were better than the JMLab’s.


The last dealer carried the Martin Logans and Paradigm. My friend had heard my Paradigm set up and was anticipating really liking these speakers. He was most interested in the 100’s; the Martin Logan’s were more of any afterthought. We started with the 100’s. The listening room was small, although it did have some treatments. We quickly found that the room wasn’t up to the bass response of the 100’s. There was a bad resonance in the front corner of the room (next to a window, which was covered with treatments). The clarity in the highs I was used to in my set-up was not there—the speaker was boomy and muddy. Disappointed, we moved to the Martin Logans. In the same room, they had the Martin Logan Aeon’s, which really shined. Great detail, airy mids. Imaged like crazy. We were very impressed. However, they were out of budget, so we went to another slightly larger room with higher ceilings and quite a few treatments to listen to the Clarity’s. We were just as impressed. The Aeon’s had also brought out the room resonance, but it didn’t overpower the speakers as it did with the 100’s. In the new room, everything was so clear and well defined, but not overly bright. Bass was very good and, of course, so was the imaging.


We had to get back to work, and as we left, we were very disappointed in the Paradigms but impressed with the Martin Logan’s. We decided that the room simply didn’t provide a fair comparison. We decided to ask the dealer to move the 100’s and the 60’s into the second room with the Clarity’s and then return to listen again.


What a difference a room makes. The room was still on the small side, but the 100’s really opened up. I still felt they were too large for the room which lent a bit of muddiness to mids where the bass overpowered them. We listened to the Clarity’s again, and our impressions didn’t change. Based on some of the posts on this board, I convinced my friend to listen to the 60’s. We set up them up and where the 100’s were slightly blended, the 60’s were clear and tight. We were very impressed. Great imaging, big wide soundstage. In that room, they were clearly better than the 100’s. We had some time, so we hooked up some Thiel 1.6’s in the room. Nice speakers. Very detailed highs, but slightly weak bass. I also noticed something in the mids. We took the grills off and realized the woofer was pushed in slightly on one of the speakers. We concluded they were a bit bright for us without sufficient bass. Very nice, however, even with the woofer issue. We concluded that the 60’s and Clarity’s were neck and neck. We liked the soundstage and off axis imaging of the 60’s better, but in the sweet spot thought the definition across all frequencies was better in the Clarity’s.


On the way home, we ruled out the Mirage based on the nature of these speakers and the reviews suggesting the best placement is out fairly far from the wall and the fact we didn’t particularly like the dealer’s pushy salesmanship (“this is my last pair—buy nowâ€). Also, the owner was more interested in telling us why the Mirage were great speakers vs. letting us listen. We liked the JMLab’s and B&W’s, and the dealer was great (we’d ask him what he thought and he’d say, listen some more and you tell me). However, we both liked the Paradigm 60’s and the Martin Logan’s better, as they were better balanced. The JMLab’s were a bit too laid back to our ears and the B&W’s, while detailed, were too bright (particularly, we thought, for a room with lots of windows).


We had concerns about placement issues with the Martin Logan’s but really like them. After a bit more research, my friend concluded that the given his room situation, he would not be able to properly place the Martin Logan’s far enough out in the room to do them justice. Since he felt he might be up and moving around while listening, the narrower sweet spot was also an issue. Lastly, the price of the matching center and surrounds for the Martin Logan’s stretched his original budget. We both decided if he had a dedicated listening room, we’d have gone with the ML’s, but for his current situation, they wouldn’t work.


So, we were left with the Paradigm’s. We weren’t convinced we heard them at their best so we asked if we could take both the 60’s and 100’s to my friend’s home. His basement is about the same volume as the main room will be in the new house, and it has windows all along one wall, mimicking the new room. So, this past Saturday, we loaded up the speakers, five of our favorite scotches and set out for a night of auditioning. We used my friend’s Denon 3801 (7 x 105W) and a Panasonic CD player. We were a bit concerned the Denon wouldn’t be enough power for the 100’s.


We started with the 60’s. We ran them through the original audition material and then Miles Davis, Modest Mouse, Pink Floyd, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, some classical pieces and many others. They were better than we remembered. Very good imaging with a wide sound stage. Good off axis response. Clear highs and mids. Punchy bass. Generally, a nice detailed speaker that we felt didn’t color the music. We picked 2 songs we thought sounded great on them, listened to them one more time, and then hooked up the 100’s. As we were hooking them up, we remarked, that we didn’t believe it was possible the 100’s could sound better than the 60’s. Well, we put in the first song, hit play, and within 15 seconds looked at each other and said “They are better.†Everything we liked about the 60’s was more pronounced in the 100’s. It’s soundstage was wider. The same highs were there but the definition in the mids was much better. The best way to described it was everything was more clearly separated and evident—in a good way. The bass response was wonderful and very clean. We listened to a few more songs, and my friend looked at me and said, “These are the ones.†We spent the rest of the night auditioning lots of different material (and tasting scotch), and the 100’s handled it all well. My friend and his wife listened for a few more hours on Sunday and were just as impressed. It was difficult to take them back to the dealer. My thought is that the large room (L shaped about 20’ x 35’ x 9’ along the long side of the “L†and 15’x 15’ x 9’ on the short side) allowed them to open up. The Denon provided more than enough power for our listening levels.


From our journey, we learned there is a tremendous difference in speaker sound at the $1,600-$3,000 price point and that we could actually hear the difference, something we really hadn’t anticipated heading in to this. We also were influenced by the dealers, as the dealer was a factor in ruling out one speaker (the Mirage), which goes to show that how dealers treat their customers really does matter (surprise). Most importantly, we also learned the listening environment at dealers varies from bad to decent and you really don’t know how speakers will sound until you get them to your environment on your equipment. If we hadn’t asked the dealer to listen in a different room or let us take them home, it’s unlikely we would have selected the 100’s.


All in all, it was a fun and interesting experience. My friend can hardly wait to get his house finished and get everything set up. He will likely upgrade the Denon to separates.


Any suggestions for separates?


[Edited for typos and to answer wrg2's question on the fact we are looking at suggestions for separates]
 

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Great review rileybrody! Long..but informative ;) I think you both did a super job at listening to the various speakers, configurations, and dealers. Very thorough. You know, before I bought Paradigm speakers I'd never given them a thought, perhaps I was too locked into B&W and they performed extremely well in my home, so I never really needed to re-evaluate for any reason other than mere curiosity. I'm very glad I finally did in the end after 15yrs and a couple of B&W upgrades. It really wasn't until my former dealer quit selling B&W that I ventured outside the box..so to speak. I too found out that theres a lot of great speakers out there for all price pocketbooks. I'm extrememly pleased with my Paradigm purchases and I think I will stay with these for quite some time to come...I think :rolleyes:


Anyway, I didn't know if in the end of your review you were asking about suggestions for separates? Or other speakers? Or both? But if the question was for the separates I can attest to the Arcam gear, I know that you only listened to music when auditioning if I remember, so I assume that music is #1 priority over video, so I'll throw in the Arcam. I only need the AVR300 for my size room and it's superb for music, both two channel and multi-channel, dvd-a's. It seems that your room size will be much larger than mine maybe you could audition the Arcam AVP7 and P1000 combo. There's a few threads started over in the amp section reviewing this newer Arcam pre/pro combo. It seems that it's every bit as good as the AVR300 and some say better, with music...I can't imagine that as I'm very pleased with it's musical performance. I'd probably jump on the pre/pro combo myself if the size of my room warranted it :p Arcam got the audition for me after many years with my Yamaha DSP A-1 and separates and there again I'm glad that I ventured outside my small box and checked whats out there. The Arcam came up a clear winner for music, put them on your list to check out if it was "separates" that you were questioning about. Good luck in your new search and keep us updated in your new finds, you guys seem to be going about it the right way ;)
 

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RileyBrody thanks for that review, sure made me feel good about my recent upgrade to the Studio 100s/CC570 from Monitor 11s and CC370 I agree with regards to openness and large stage also clarity all around and great clean bass.


your friend will love them even more once they are broken in.
 
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