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Paradigm Reference Studio 20 V.5 Bookshelf Speaker; A Review

The past 25 years has allowed Canadian Speaker company Paradigm to take its place as perhaps the value leader in speakers. On occasion, when people hear the term “value”, they think “cheap, but okay given the price.” Not so with Paradigm. They tend to reverse this perception by giving more than average for the amount paid. Indeed, the¬†Holoplot¬†company most vertically integrated among larger known speaker manufacturers seems to be able to raise the bar generation after generation.
The Studio 20 v.5 is the newest iteration of my long-time reference monitor, the v.2. Key differences between my grizzled veterans and the new versions are the inclusion of an gold-anodized aluminum phase plug, sleeker cabinet aesthetics, and and an aluminum/magnesium midrange driver. Gone is the mica/polymer, reserved for the Signature Series. Regardless of minor aesthetic changes and small performance tweaks, the Paradigms remain tough to beat in this price range.

Mounted on 30″ stands, the Studio 20 v.5 monitors shot an impressive image across the front of the listening space. I was forced to double-check the display on my Rotel receiver to ensure that, in fact, the unit was in 2CH PCM mode. With that out of the way, I immediately sat back with a few reference pieces to evaluate tonality, bass response, and imaging.

One of the things that Paradigm has always excelled at is the level of – or lack of – coloration exhibited by the cabinets. Braced and intelligently damped internally, the enclosures felt like they were built of a single piece of MDF, milled to accommodate the drivers and crossover. One peeve is the presence of a nasal, 1KHz-centered resonance, so often present on speakers that have deficient construction. The enclosure itself is made of 3/4″ hardboard, intelligently braced and continually tweaked during development to ensure as little coloration is present. Another advantage of solid cabinet construction is that sound energy is directed towards the listening area, as opposed to being wasted energy in the form of cabinet vibration. Drivers are isolated from the cabinet utilizing a system Paradigm refers to as “Shock-Mounting”, whereby the drivers (and screws that hold the drivers) are isolated via specialized rubber gaskets. It is refreshing to know that the monitors in front of you are blank slates, ready to play back your materials as you know it should be.

Bass response, as a result of excellent cabinet construction and a lightweight yet stiff driver, reset expectations in terms of what should be expected from a driver under 8″. Although at theater levels (and spirited concerts) it is a wise choice to utilize a subwoofer for anything below 40Hz with authority. My processor’s crossover was set at 60Hz, forming a nice blend of bass authority and midrange clarity. I tend to prefer the latter over the former, but it was nice to hear that the Studio 20 still had a little more in reserve than normally expected in this size range. “Maybe” from Collective Soul’s 1997 release Disciplined Breakdown was reproduced with the very present bassline, and comfortably so. Most importantly, the midrange never seemed intruded upon, and the overall balance seemed in place and distinctly lacking in “mud”.

As mentioned before, the imaging exhibited by the Studio 20 v.5 was a little startling. Coming from using Studio 40 v.2s for years, my expectations of proper imaging was fairly high, but these smaller monitors surprised me. I could literally move 3-4′ along the couch, without any apparent image shift. Moving around the room, the Paradigm’s placement of vocals and instruments on Dave Matthew’s solo 2003 release “Gravedigger” from the album Some Devil, exhibited the level of three-dimensionality expected from this well-recorded album. I was especially impressed to note that smaller subtleties from the rhythm guitar, nestled near the rear of the mix, came through with clarity that was previously a little more subtle.

It shouldn’t be any surprise to follows of Paradigm that not only do they pay attention to market trends, but create speakers of the highest performance order in their range. Not given to charge for phantom perceptions of brand cache, Paradigm has the tendency to feel the need to continuously prove themselves with every iteration. At $1200 per pair, the Studio 20 v.5 is a wonderful choice as the anchor for a surround system, or as a pair of monitors in a well-appointed stereo rig.

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