A sleep-deprived jakewash (Jason) and I made our way down to Calgary's General Audio
earlier today for a showdown between the M80s and Paradigm Monitor 11s. I chose the 11s because they are closely priced to the 80s at a $99 adder to the 80s' $1300 cost. We're very grateful to Brian and Rod from GA for agreeing to the use of their facilities and equipment.
We listened through a Cambridge Audio Azur 640C CD player, a Cambridge Audio 640A integrated amp, Aralex Acoustics 14 gauge, CL3R-FT4 speaker cables and Eichmann Express 6
interconnects. Unfortunately this set-up did not have an A/B switch so we resorted to cable-swapping making the banana terminations a necessity rather than a luxury. To eliminate gain bias, I calibrated the volume control with each speaker to give us 81dBC using in phase pink noise recorded at -10dB. Then I measured the relative sensitivities and found that the Paradigm was 2dB better than the Axiom.
First up was Ventana Al Sol from Echoes of Incas
. As I've mentioned before, this track has sounds from all bands of the audible frequency spectrum including water falls, drums, flutes as well as chirping birds that appear in various places along the front, above, to the sides and well away from the speaker boundaries. We found that both speakers sounded very similar with the centre image edge going to the Axioms. The Paradigms were ever so slightly more laid back than the Axioms and with a tad less shimmer and air on the highs. I personally am very familiar with this particular track and was listening intently for the location of all the birds. The birds out front appeared identically on both while the one that imaged above my head with the Axioms decided to move about a foot forward with the Paradigms. The most extraordinary difference was the bird that normally appears at my side-wall between the left M80 and left QS8. It appeared again in the same relative location with the Axioms but decided to move to just outside the Paradigm's boundary. Is this difference due to the 80's extra tweeter or perhaps the fact that the Paradigm was on the 80's interior? Whatever the reason, the two foes sounded very close on this track.
Second up was Diana Krall's Love Scenes. I listened very intently to the popping cork in track 2: Peel me a Grape. The popping sounded identical on both speakers. I was particularly curious about this specific effect because a week earlier I listened to the same track on Paradigm Studio 100s ($2200) and found that I not only heard the pop as the main event but also a prelude, interlude and postlude. One hears the slight struggle of the cork followed by the pop resonating with exuberance as it frees itself from the bottle and then the relief of the contents as they escape the pressure. This is not a subtle effect on the Studio 100s and the most inexperienced listener will readily hear it. Alas, no such wonder was heard with the 80s or the 11s. Next up was track 11: My Love Is. Jason and I found that the bass was slightly more involving with the 80s as we heard not only the string vibrations that were prominent in the 11s but also harmonics and air around them. With the 11s, I heard a slightly shorter Diana and Jason heard her a bit further back. Again, these two speakers could be mistaken for twins.
Track 6: Ride Across the River and Track 2: Money for Nothing from Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms were next. In my home, track 6 has spatial cues that appear slightly behind me. A lack of nearby walls completely killed these cues in today's venue. Money on the Axioms had slightly more "pop" in the bass than the Paradigms. And we couldn't help but notice the extra shimmer, air and slight forwardness of the 80s compared to the 11s.
So there you have it. Two Canadian speakers, originating from the same Canadian region and sounding very similar with the exception of some nuances like a tad more involved bass, a touch more forwardness and a smidgeon of shimmering & airy highs on the part of the Axioms. The Paradigms do however require 30% less power to produce the same sound pressure level. It's not surprising that these acoustic transducers sound similar. Both companies believe that accurate speakers have a flat on axis response with an even but constantly declining polar response. This principle is advocated by Canada's National Research Council and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that Paradigm's principals were, like Ian from Axiom, at one time or another involved in acoustic research at the NRC.
Jason had to leave for work but I could have stayed 'till close if it wasn't for the fact that it was my turn to cook. I had enough music to keep me going for hours. I see many on these boards asking about Paradigms and I feel thankful that my curiousity has now been satisfied thanks to Brian and Rod from General Audio. I continue to be very satisfied with my M80 purchase and I hope this review helps others with their speaker selection. I've included pictures below to let readers judge the aesthetics for themselves.
PS: Although this isn't a review on the Paradigm Studio 100V3s, relative to the 80s, the Studio 100s could have used a touch more twinkle in their tweets and a tad more image coherence. Apart from these quibbles, these $2200 speakers were absolutely terrific.