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Friday, June 19, 2015

Audiophile Speaker Review!
Paradigm Prestige Series 15B
Two-Way Stand/Shelf Speaker

©Everything Audio Network

Brevis...
Price: $799 each
Likes: accuracy, imaging and size
Dislikes: not a thing, nada, zero
Wow Factor: Big sound/small speaker
More info:  Paradigm Prestige 15B

by John Gatski
  The last high-end Paradigm small monitor that I reviewed, the Signature S2, was five years ago and, boy, did I gush about that speaker’s finesse. For $1,500 each, I expected the Paradigm S2 stand speaker to excel. And it did.
  The new Prestige 15B sells for half the price, but what you get is a fantastic, accurate, small monitor that exhibits pin-point imaging and exemplary accuracy for a mid-priced speaker. The speaker mixed so well with my amplifiers that I had no hesitation in playing symphonies, loud rock n’ roll, laid-back jazz and classical guitar recordings.
Features
  Priced at $799 each, the small, bookshelf Prestige 15Bs is designed with premium drivers, crossover and cabinet materials. The vented enclosure features a 5.5-inch woofer (Active Ridge Technology overmolded surround, SHOCK-Mount isolation mounting system and 1.5-inch voice coil). The 1-inch, ferro-fluid-cooled HF driver utilizes Paradigm’s PPA Tweeter lens and FEA-optimized pole-piece assembly design to deliver smooth, linear upper-frequency response. The second-order crossover is set at 2 kHz, in my opinion, the optimal frequency for a small two-way.
  The Paradigm Prestige 15B compact small speaker is a serious audiophile speaker designed for small rooms and listening in the near and midfield. Within 10 feet of the listening position, these speakers are extremely articulate with excellent stereo imaging and depth. Many of my reference hi-res tracks were impressively showcased through the Prestige 15B pair.

  The rigid-braced, solid-cabinet construction minimizes unwanted resonances, and the rear port enhances low-bass response — without adding extra mid-bass, a trick many small speakers employ to create more audible bass, but at the expense of accuracy. Not this little Paradigm Prestige 15B; plenty of clean 100 Hz to 60 Hz bass.
Driver/cabinet design
  Paradigm put a lot of effort into making an accurate speaker at a reasonable price with the Prestige line. Key to its balanced performance are the custom drivers and advanced cabinet design, made in house, as well as extensive product testing in Paradigm’s sophisticated anechoic chamber.
  According to Oleg Bogdanov, director of Paradigm Engineering, the tweeter design is paramount to listenable accuracy. “Dome shape plays a major role in sound quality. If the dome radius is too big – i.e. shallow dome - the dome break-up frequency (parts of the dome move out of phase) can be too low and that is well within the human hearing range – 20 Hz to 20 kHz.”
Anatomy of a Prestige Series tweeter

  “This can add coloration to the reproduced sound (octave below 20 kHz limit), which may be perceived as “metallic,” he added. “Therefore, the dome profile needs to be optimized” to sound accurate. Bogdanov emphasized that the Prestige line’s tweeter dome material and treatment are very important considerations as well. “X-PAL uses an anodizing process, which enhances damping properties of the dome — in addition to improving its environmental stability,” he noted.
  Bogdanov also stressed the importance of synergizing woofer and cabinet design to achieve realistic bass reproduction. “We design and build our own drivers for specific applications, such as 15B bookshelf cabinet, and of a very specific size and shape. To achieve smooth and extended bass response, without bumps and troughs, woofer parameters need to fall within a very narrow range. Magnet type and dimensions, voice-coil winding length, wire material, gauge and number of wire turns, flexibility (or, as we call it, compliance) of suspension elements – spider and cone surround, and mass of moving components: all of them must be right.” The cabinet tuning and using correct port diameter and length, as well as the exact amount and placement of very specific damping material, is another critical aspect, according to Bogdanov.
Extensive design/testing for Prestige 15B woofer/midrange

  Bodanov said proper testing is paramount to ensuring the company’s speaker designs are optimized. “Without an accurate measurement system and anechoic chamber, it is hard to verify whether the above considerations bring the desired results,” he explained. “Quasi-anechoic measurements that many other companies are using require splicing of low- and high-frequency measurements, but the accuracy of the method is not sufficient. Our anechoic chamber provides true bass response for most speakers and require small corrections for ultra low frequencies for subwoofers.”
  All that research/design and testing methodology has certainly paid off with the Prestige line’s baby brother speaker. The 15B speaker design boasts a factory response curve of plus, minus 2 dB from 57 Hz to 20 kHz, on-axis. (17 kHz at 30 degrees off-axis). The easy-to-drive, 8 ohm speaker has a listed room sensitivity of 90 dB, 1W/1meter. Maximum input power is 90-watts per speaker.
  "To achieve smooth and extended bass response, without bumps and troughs, woofer parameters need to fall within a very narrow range. Magnet type and dimensions, voice-coil winding length, wire material, gauge and number of wire turns, flexibility (or, as we call it, compliance) of suspension elements – spider and cone surround, and mass of moving components: all of them must be right." 

   The 15B dimensions are (including grille and terminal cups): 12.375-inches tall × 7-inches wide and 10.875-inches deep. Weight is 16 pounds per speaker. They come in separate shipping cartons.
  Per usual with Paradigm, these made-in-Canada speakers are well built and very attractive. Even a picky high-end audiophile will like the aesthetic of this speaker. Cabinet finishes come in Gloss Piano Black, Midnight Cherry, Satin Walnut (the review sample pair) and Satin Black Walnut. The five-way binding posts are easily accessible and the magnet-attached grill makes removal a snap.
  The speaker can be used as a serious audiophile speaker in small rooms, or it can be linked up with other Prestige loudspeakers to form a home cinema speaker system. Buy the 15Bs for surround, along with the tower Prestige 75F, center channel Prestige 45C and Paradigm sub — you got one serious surround system.
A perfect speaker for stand mounting

  I had heard the Prestige at a brief demo at 2015 CES. and I was impressed at how well it held up against its bigger brothers in terms of 80-Hz+ bass, midrange depth and “air” in the treble response. My notes from the show showed several stars — as a reminder that the baby Paradigm speakers had potential. A good small speaker, can be musically satisfying and as accurate as bigger, multi-driver speakers — especially in small-to-medium rooms, where the placement equation becomes easier.
  I have always been a fan of small speakers, like the Paradigm Signature S2 and the Legacy Studio HD, because I can easily integrate them into a room. You can place them closer to walls, easily angle them and perform all sorts of different placement options to get them to sound good. it’s not so easy with big speakers.
The setup
  I set up the Prestige 15B pair in an audiophile stand arrangement — about 10 feet away from my main listener position. The speakers were placed on Apollo speaker stands, which put them right at ear level with my listening position. I toed in the speakers a few degrees and tried them with grills on and off. Since they look good with them on and the grills have minimal audible effect, I left the grills on.
  The speakers were paired with several different amps including two digital amps (Rogue Audio Medusa tube/digital hybrid and the ultra economic 200 wpc Class D Essence DPA-440. I also connected the pint-sized speakers to my heavyweight power amps: a Bryston 14B-SST bipolar output Class AB stereo amp and a Pass Labs X350.5 Class A-A/B MOSFET amp.
Bass port enhances low-end output 

  Preamps included the Coda High Current design, the new Rogue Audio RP-5 tube preamp and the audio feed from an Oppo HA-1’s discrete HP-to-line output. Other DACs included Benchmark DAC2-DX and the Mytek Manhattan. Sources included Clear Audio turntable with AT-150ML cartridge, Oppo BDP-105 and a Dell Venue 8 tablet with USB Audio Player Pro, which allowed me to play up to 24-bit/384 music without cluttering up the space with a computer. I mounted the tablet via a clamp to a mic stand and set it next to my Ikea listening chair.
  Speakers on hand were Legacy Studio HD stand speakers, my reference electrostatic MartinLogan Montis, Pass Labs SR-2 three-way towers and Westlake LC 8.1 two-way stand speakers. All speakers were cabled with Wireworld Equinox cables. Line components also were linked via Wireworld cables. Essential Sound Products Essence II Reference power cords and passive power strip linked the components to the AC.
  Since the Prestige 15B speakers were brand spanking new, I “burned“ them in for three days via test tones and multi-plays of symphonic music.
The audition
  First up was the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, recorded by Tom Jung in 1999 for the DMP label. The drum cymbals on “Autumn Leaves” are some of the most accurate ever recorded and there is lot of “musical space“ between the drums, piano and bass from this live-to-DSD recording. A good set of speakers evokes the studio space impression of this recording and can present the realistic drum cymbal sheen without being brittle.
  The 15Bs really nailed the cymbals, and the metal dome tweeter maintained a smoothness that is surprising for this price class. Instrument location, in width and depth within the stereo image, also impressed me. For a two-way, these speakers are very articulate.
  The speakers lack the deepest bass, but there is enough 50 Hz to 80 Hz bass that it does not seem bass shy with most music. On stands in the middle of the room, my RTA revealed relatively flat bass response to 60 Hz. And the bass is clean. Adding a subwoofer can get you more low bass if you want it, but I would not call these speakers bass shy.
  The 15Bs also emerged as a winner. The smoothness of the crossover and the lack of stridency in the tweeter made for pleasurable listening sessions with the Dire Straits — Brothers in Arms DVD-A (24/48) and The Rolling Stones — Some Girls Deluxe Edition hi-res reissue (24/88.2).

  Turning to classical music, I played the Mercury Living Presence SACD reissue of Janos Starker — Bach: The Complete Cello Suites. The little two-ways filled up the room with a convincing presentation of those wonderful cello string harmonics and such spacious imaging for a single instrument. As per other good speakers I have listened with this disc, I could hear the subtle background noises of the recording: chair squeak, breathing, etc.
  The crossover/driver synergy makes this an easy speaker to listen to solo instruments. Its sound is not too forward or too recessed. The cello’s bass oomph was not quite as deep as the much bigger Pass speakers or the MLs active subwoofer, but the 15B’s satisfactorily reproduced the essential mid-bass tones.
  On Pop and Rock recordings, the 15Bs also emerged as a winner. The smoothness of the crossover and the lack of stridency in the tweeter made for pleasurable listening sessions with the Dire StraitsBrothers in Arms DVD-A (24/48) and The Rolling StonesSome Girls Deluxe Edition hi-res reissue (24/88.2). The “Money for Nothing” power chord punch shines on this speaker even though the bass is not as big as with larger speakers. And on the Stones’ Some Girls Deluxe Edition, those marvelous bonus tracks kicked butt through the 15Bs. I particularly liked the Country-Rock tinged “Don’t Be A Stranger” and “Do You Think I Really Care.” The bonus tracks are some of the best-sounding Stones recordings ever made, and the Prestige 15Bs certainly did them justice.
Fit fore a pro
  Because of the 15Bs’ compact size, yet accuracy persona, I could not resist putting them into my home recording suite. Though not self-powered as most pro speakers are these days, the Prestige 15Bs made for an excellent nearfield monitor.
 Because of the 15Bs’ compact size, yet accuracy persona, I could not resist putting them into my home recording suite. Though not self-powered as most pro speakers are these days, the Prestige 15Bs made for an excellent nearfield monitor.

  I did numerous editing sessions with the little Paradigms. The system consisted of a Mac computer, linking its USB output to a Benchmark DAC2-DX DAC, which fed its variable line output to a Pass XA-30 Class A MOSFET amp and the Prestige 15Bs. Other than lacking full, under 50-Hz bass, this speaker is more accurate than many of the popular small pro speakers that are used today in the home recording world. Paradigm should make a powered version of this speaker, call it Prestige Pro 15B and get it into musician/pro audio dealers. It’s that good!

The verdict
  The Paradigm Prestige 15B compact small speaker is a serious audiophile speaker designed for small rooms and listening in the near and midfield. Within 10 feet of the listening position, these speakers are extremely articulate with excellent stereo imaging and depth. Many of my reference hi-res tracks were impressively showcased through the Prestige 15B pair; many tracks sounded as good as through some $8,000 speakers I have tested.
  The little Paradigms lack the bottom octave of deep bass (hey, it's a single 5.5-inch woofer in a small cabinet) but the 15B has good, honest bass down 55-60 Hz — and without the mid-bass bloat of lesser, small monitors. I can’t think of one negative about these speakers. One big Stellar Sound Award for a pair of impressive, small speakers.
  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1992. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice and High Performance Review. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net 







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