The key question, of course, is this: How do all these technical elements coalesce when it comes time to listen to music? As I said above, the Inspirations merge the sonic characteristics of Paradigm’s Signature and Studio Series speakers in a synergistic way. But let me expand on that comment for the benefit of those who may not have spent much time with Paradigm’s speakers in the past.
Paradigm’s Signature speakers are the firm’s flagship offerings—the speakers that use the company’s most advanced driver materials and technologies and are thought to offer the greatest resolution, clarity, transient speed, and frequency extension. Paradigm’s Studio models, in turn, fall just one click down the line, offering near-Signature-grade materials and technologies and providing very high levels of performance at sensible prices, while delivering a sound that is Signature-like, but perhaps somewhat more forgiving and thus subjectively more full-bodied. Given these characteristics, you can probably guess where the Inspiration’s design is headed, which is toward a felicitous mid-point that leverages elements of the traditional Signature and Studio sounds. Here’s how that works.
On one hand, the Inspiration’s beryllium tweeter (which is arguably the driver most responsible for defining the revealing sound of Paradigm’s Signature models), serves up extremely high levels of resolution and transient speed, capturing delicate upper-midrange and treble transient and textural details with sophistication and panache. The tweeter, then, is responsible for giving the Inspirations a delicate, tightly focused, and unmistakably high-resolution sound. You can appreciate these qualities whenever you listen to recordings that feature long, lovingly captured echoes or reverb tails, such as the exquisite reverb-haloed vocals you might hear on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come On Come On” from her album of the same name [Columbia], Similarly, the tweeter enables the speaker to capture the lingering and quite essential hall reverberations heard on Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensemayà [Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live, CSO Resound SACD], which establish a realistic 3-D context within which the music can unfold.
On the other hand, the aluminum mid/bass driver gives the Inspiration a full-throated and robust sound—a sound that, while offering substantial amounts of resolution, manages never to step over the line into clinical sterility. It is great fun, then, to hear the Inspirations hold forth on relatively large-scale and dynamically demanding materials, such as the William Walton Crown Imperial Coronation March, also found on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live disc. When the big brass section swells and the intense low-percussion moments arrive simultaneously, the Inspirations rise to the occasion while keeping faith, in a tonal sense, with the distinctive timbres of each orchestra section. But the Inspirations also work beautifully on pop/rock material as I discovered when listening to the at times blistering track “Satori in Chicago” from Noah Wotherspoon & The Stratocats BuzzMe [APO Records]. Something there is in me that loves the sound of a Fender Stratocaster playing the blues at full howl, though it is a sound that is harder to reproduce than you might think (especially for certain “polite” high-end speakers best suited to playing dainty chamber music at no more than moderate levels). The Inspirations, however, never backed down from the challenge, so that as Wotherspoon’s Strat screamed, crooned, stuttered, and snarled, the 30th Anniversary monitors simply followed suit with nary a complaint.
Put these Signature and Studio-like qualities together in one speaker and you truly have a best-of-both-worlds solution, which I think is exactly what Paradigm had in mind. Driver integration in the Inspirations, while perhaps not quite up to standards of certain planar-magnetic or hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers, was generally very, very good. Perhaps the only trace of any discontinuity that I could hear involved scenarios where, when playing less-than-ideally-recorded material, the beryllium tweeters would somewhat pointedly expose recording flaws for what they were. But frankly, if you want the kind of resolution that Paradigm’s beryllium tweeters put at your disposal (and I, for one, certainly do), then this is simply a sonic tradeoff with which the listener must be prepared to make peace.