Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI recently reviewed Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F floorstanding loudspeaker, and though it had shortcomings, I was impressed by what its price of $698/pair (all prices USD) bought in terms of physical quantity of speaker and audible quality of sound. Now I’ve got my hands on Paradigm’s Premier 100B minimonitors, which are tiny in comparison but cost $100 more per pair. I expected less bass output from the Premier 100Bs, of course -- but other than that, I wasn’t sure what to expect.


Price-wise, Paradigm’s Premier line is above their Monitor SE series, and below the Prestige and Persona ranges (all prices per pair, except as noted). The Premiers comprise two three-way, four-driver floorstanding models, the 800F ($1998) and 700F ($1598); two two-way, two-driver minimonitors, the 200B ($998) and 100B ($798); two four-driver, three-way center-channels, the 600C (with two passive radiators, $999 each), and the 500C (no passive radiators, $799 each). All Premier speakers are manufactured in the Paradigm factory in Mississauga, Ontario.


The little Premier 100B measures 11.1”H x 6.6”W x 9.1”D and weighs 12.9 pounds. On its rear panel there is a pair of high-quality five-way binding posts and a plastic-lined port. The 5.5” midrange-woofer has a cone of carbon-infused polypropylene and includes two proprietary Paradigm technologies: an Active Ridge Technology (ART) surround and a Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lens. Paradigm claims that the ART surround is capable of greater excursion, for a 3dB gain in output and a 50% reduction in distortion. The ART surround is made of injection-molded thermoplastic elastomer, which Paradigm says makes it more durable than conventional rubber surrounds. The tweeter’s 1” ferrofluid-damped aluminum dome is fitted with its own PPA lens. Paradigm claims that the PPA acts as a refined phase plug to block a wide range of out-of-phase frequencies, to increase and smooth the driver’s output without coloring the sound. (On the midrange-woofer, the PPA covers and conceals the ART surround.)

The midrange-woofer’s PPA lens seamlessly blends into the front baffle, and the lens itself has a unique look. I think it looks great -- intriguing, with a cutting-edge futuristic flair. My wife, however, dismissed the lens as “ornate.” Make sure you not only listen to these speakers but also carefully look at them.


The two drivers hand off to each other at 2kHz via second-order slopes. Paradigm’s other specifications include an on-axis frequency response of 68Hz-25kHz, ±3dB; sensitivities of 90dB in-room, 87dB anechoic; and an impedance “compatible with” 8 ohms.

The Premier range is available in three finishes: Matte Black, Gloss White, and Espresso Grain. I guess the Espresso Grain option is offered for those who long for the contemporary faux wood finishes that were ubiquitous just a few years ago. The Gloss White is the most modern-looking finish -- but regardless of finish, the Premier 100B’s top panel and front baffle are always black. My review samples were finished in Matte Black (actually a dark gray), a textured finish that looked as if it would resist scratching; also, its lack of shininess would make it good for use in a home theater.


The Premier series’ prices are where buyers might begin to expect seamless outer cabinets, but here Paradigm didn’t quite deliver. Although the Premier 100B’s fit and finish were good overall, close visual inspection revealed mitered joins around back.

Setup and system

The Premier 100Bs were easy to unpack. Included with the speakers are: an instruction manual; black, magnetically attached speaker grilles; and eight self-adhesive rubber pads. Paradigm suggests placing the speakers to form an equilateral triangle with the listening position, with at least 8” between the rear of the cabinets and the front wall, and toed in so that their tweeter axes cross behind the listener’s head. This made my life easy -- my Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers form a 9’ equilateral triangle with 18° of toe-in, and with the Paradigms perched atop the B&Ws’ 25”-high stands, the speakers’ rear panels were 22” from the wall behind them. My windowless, dedicated listening room measures 15’L x 12’W x 8’H, with the speakers placed against one long wall. It’s carpeted wall to wall over cement slab, and treated with broadband absorption at the first reflection points on the sidewalls, and on the front wall between the speakers. I also have bass traps in the room’s front corners, and some diffusion along the wall just behind my high-backed recliner.


To listen to the Premier 100Bs in a system that more or less matched it in price, I removed from the signal chain most of my costly reference gear, and replaced it with other components I had on hand and have used in other reviews: a Bluesound Node streamer with internal DAC plugged into an NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier’s line-level inputs (RCA), connected in turn to the Paradigms via my homemade speaker cables with 12-gauge conductors of oxygen-free copper.


I began with “Home,” from Michael Bublé’s It’s Time (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Reprise). This track had highlighted shortcomings in Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F -- an accentuation of the upper bass coupled with colorations that made Bublé’s voice sound thick and chesty, as if it were partly trapped inside the speakers. Interestingly, the much smaller but $100/pair-more-expensive Premier 100Bs fared much better with this track -- not only was their sound much bigger than their tininess had led me to expect, it was also transparent and detailed, with an overall neutrality that perhaps leaned slightly toward brightness. Bublé’s voice was neither chesty nor thick, and the Premier 100Bs re-created it with holographic detail at center stage, above and behind the speakers, occupying its own space completely divorced from the speaker cabinets. The delicate plucking of the guitar just to the right of and behind Bublé was conveyed with realism and transparency, as was the gently brushed cymbal to the left of and well behind him. At 1:35 in this cut Bublé belts out a note that can sound edgy and irritating through some speakers, but didn’t through the 100Bs. At high volumes the little Paradigms sailed through this passage without making me wince. Well done.


To check out the Paradigms’ low-end response, I listened to “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” from Drake’s Nothing Was the Same (16/44.1 FLAC, Cash Money). I was not underwhelmed. The Premier 100Bs’ bass, too, belied their diminutive size -- I could physically feel it. In absolute terms, of course, the 100B’s bass output is limited, but bass quality was present and accounted for, sounding tight and detailed. My in-room measurement, using my calibrated miniDSP UMIK-1 microphone, yielded a -3dB point at 44Hz, which is respectable for such a small speaker. Looking at the frequency-response plot I generated, it was obvious that the Premier 100B’s bass response was somewhat limited from 40 to 100Hz, with SPLs on a par with or below what I measured at 1kHz. In my room, bigger speakers often take advantage of room gain, their bass response from 40 to 100Hz being several dB above what I measure at 1kHz. Considering the 100B’s 5.5” midrange-woofer, this type of FR is expected and understandable.

I compared the Premier 100Bs with my B&W 685 S1 minimonitors, which cost $600/pair when available -- this seemed appropriate, if only when taking into account the two models’ MSRPs. Using an SPL meter, I matched their levels to within ±0.25dB with a 1kHz, 20dBFS warble tone, then cued up “The End of the Innocence,” from Don Henley’s Actual Miles: Henley’s Greatest Hits (16/44.1 FLAC, Geffen). The 100Bs outclassed the 685 S1s in every category but bass performance. The 685 S1 is quite a bit bigger than the Premier 100B, so the difference in bass output was no surprise -- in my room, the B&Ws’ -3dB point is 34Hz. But through the midrange and top end, the Premier 100Bs killed the 685 S1s. The little Paradigms reproduced the opening piano notes with more realism, transparency, and length of decay. Cymbals, brushed or crashed, had more fine detail and extension. Voices sounded more forward through the 100Bs -- which I liked -- and imaged with more focus and height. Henley’s voice had more air, more inner detail, and, most important, holographic transparency. The B&W 685 S1s sounded boxy by comparison, reminding me that everything I heard was emanating from their cabinets -- not unlike what I heard, to varying degrees, from the Paradigm Monitor SE 3000Fs. There was no doubt that the 685 S1s sounded fuller and warmer, with more bass -- but the Premier 100Bs reproduced tighter bass. At times in this track, Henley’s voice can sound sibilant at high volumes, though it never does through the 685 S1s -- the Premier 100Bs’ mild penchant for accentuating the treble made them flirt with sibilance without ever sounding grating.


What next? Pit the Premier 100Bs against speakers retailing for more than three times their price, of course: my reference B&W 705 S2s ($2500/pair). This was a far closer contest. Yes, the 705 S2s sounded better overall, but the 100Bs sounded much closer to the 705 S2s than to the 685 S1s. The two speakers’ reproductions of “Wheat Kings,” from The Tragically Hip’s Yer Favourites (16/44.1 FLAC, Passport Audio), were similar. This track has little bass, so I focused on the voices and guitars. The 705 S2s presented plucked acoustic guitar with a bit more realism, yielding what sounded like slightly better leading edges and longer decays -- but the 100Bs were 90% of the way there. The reproductions of voices were also very close, both speakers providing equal amounts of presence, imaging, and transparency -- though the 100Bs’ reproduction of lead singer Gordon Downie’s voice was just a hair thinner. And both speakers tended to sound a bit bright.

Next up: “Insensitive,” from Jann Arden’s Living Under June (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M), with the volume turned up. The 100Bs laid out a rich, layered sonic landscape, with tight, precise images. There was grunt and feel from the occasional strummed chords of the guitar just to Arden’s left, as well as delicacy and finesse from another guitar being plucked just to Arden’s right. Cymbals sounded natural, with nice extension. The Premier 100Bs and 705 S2s both produced tight, accurate bass, though of course the B&W, with a bigger midrange-woofer in a bigger cabinet, can go lower. Nonetheless, both speakers conjured up palpable aural images of Arden that “appeared” in space entirely free of the cabinet positions. In fact, focusing on voices made it difficult to tell the two pairs of speakers apart. And again, the sounds of both models were slightly bright -- the occasional sibilance in voices had me turning down the volume.


Finally, from the Dave Matthews Band’s Crash, I cued up “So Much to Say,” which has great dynamics and rhythm (16/44.1 FLAC, BMG Legacy). Overall, the B&Ws provided the larger, fuller sound, due mostly to their greater low-end output and extension. But again, the imaging prowesses of the two speaker pairs was very similar -- each precisely placed the opening strummed guitar above, behind, and to the right of the left speaker. The saxophone that then appears to the right of and behind Matthews’s voice occupied its own space on the stage. The B&Ws provided a bit more extension, and longer decays in cymbal strokes, but again, the difference was small. The reproduction of voices was very close: the Premier 100Bs and 705 S2s were both capable of producing the illusion of someone standing there in my room, singing to me. With both, I heard ample air and space around a solid, dead-centered image of Matthews’s voice, above and behind the speakers. All in all, it was remarkable how close the Paradigm Premier 100Bs came to the sound of the B&W 705 S2s, for less than one-third the cost.


In my room, Paradigm’s Premier 100Bs reproduced a very detailed and transparent midrange with killer imaging, an extended and airy top end, and tight, tuneful bass. Nor did the 100Bs quail when asked to play loud, and they always sounded much bigger than they actually are. They’re easy to drive, and have unique, cutting-edge styling, courtesy Paradigm’s PPA lenses. With the exception of bass response, they easily outperformed my comparably priced Bowers & Wilkins 685 S1 minimonitors (ca. 2008), and held their own against my reference B&W 705 S2s, which cost more than three times as much. The Paradigm Premier 100B is tiny, but it produces a big sound, and represents an enormous value.

. . . Diego Estan

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 685 S1, 705 S2
  • Subwoofer -- SVS SB-4000
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Integrated amplifier -- NAD C 316BEE
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Room correction EQ -- Dirac Live built into miniDSP DDRC-22 (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital Sources -- Bluesound Node streamer, Rotel RCD-991 CD player
  • Analog sources -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable, Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- homemade, 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper (banana plugs)
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

Paradigm Premier 100B Loudspeakers
Price: $798 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994