Let me begin with the conclusion. The Paradigm Persona 9H is a new assault on the state of the art in speaker design by one of Canada’s leading companies. It may cost some $35,000 a pair, but it’s one of the best speaker systems I have ever had the opportunity to listen to or review.
The Paradigm 9H has superb upper-octave and midrange response, and it can deliver flat, detailed, and room-corrected bass that normally requires a massive separate subwoofer. Soundstaging and imaging are equally excellent. As is the case with every top speaker, the nuances of its voicing and physical style are matters of taste, but this is a truly exceptional product that merits high praise.
Why begin with the ending? Because it is all too tempting to focus on the Paradigm 9H’s exceptional bass and room-correction features, and this would be distinctly unfair to the speaker. The Paradigm 9H joins the Legacy V and Legacy Aeris in showing that room correction can really work and provide truly accurate deep bass, even in a speaker that is relatively small by reference-quality standards.
In recent years I have been steadily more impressed with the fact that today’s speakers have improved to the point where the average real-world listening room is more of a problem than flaws in the transducer. Really demanding experimentation with speaker placement, room treatment, and the use of separate subwoofers can get around this, but often at the cost of letting the audio system dominate the décor, making a dedicated listening room a necessity, and still living with significant problems in the mid-low to low end.
Features and Technology
Paradigm describes the 9H as a “6-driver, 3-1/2-way hybrid floorstanding system with active-bass acoustic suspension. Its room correction only applies below 500Hz, and there is no room correction or active circuitry that plays any role in affecting the sound of your system in a range from some 40kHz to 500Hz.”
On the face of it, the Paradigm 9H’s frequency specifications seem almost too good to believe: ±2dB from 19Hz–45kHz on axis, and ±2dB from 19Hz–20kHz off axis. My limited home test gear isn’t close to the level of confirming whether such specifications are accurate, but the 9H does have better in-home RTA, pink noise, and warble tone measurements, once it is room corrected, than any other speaker I have reviewed. Paradigm also has very advanced test facilities, and a good reputation for making honest claims.
More importantly, listening tests also show that the 9H is a superbly integrated speaker without any audible peaks or colorations at any point in its frequency range—and not simply at low or moderate listening levels. It easily deals with complex dynamics up to listening levels that go far beyond my taste and tolerance.
While it may or may not matter in your system, the 9H is also exceptionally efficient. Its sensitivity is rated at 96dB in-room—which is high enough to allow you to use certain low-powered triode tube amps for the treble and midrange (and let the 9H’s active electronics handle the bass). The room correction in each of two pairs of woofers is used in conjunction with separate DSP-controlled 700W amplifiers—providing a total of 1400W RMS (2800W dynamic peak).
In the mids and treble, the Paradigm 9H is rated for use with amps from 15 to 500 watts, and could take all the power my ears could stand from a pair of PS Audio BHK Signature 300s without coloring the peak passages from music like Saint-Saëns Third Symphony. As for rock, this is a speaker where you would have to push even bass synthesizer and guitar sound to ear-damaging levels to hear coloration in anything approaching a normal listening room. Its combination of power and efficiency helps give the Paradigm 9H outstanding life and dynamic realism even in very loud, complex passages.
The treble and midrange drivers are also exceptional and as important to the 9H’s success as its bass drivers, power, and room correction. The speaker has a 1" beryllium tweeter and a 7" beryllium midrange driver, crossed over with third-order slopes at 2.4kHz and 400Hz. It is the first speaker I’ve heard with a beryllium midrange, and while I’ve come to be extremely cautious about singling out any given driver material or technology as uniquely better, these particular beryllium drivers do provide remarkably clean and detailed sound over an unusually wide, stable listening area. They are as good at keeping solo instruments and “small music” natural in imaging and depth as they are at resolving the soundstage details of complex operas and choral music.
Once again, I’ve found that enclosure design tends to be like driver design; individual designers may favor one choice over another, but the execution of a given approach tends to be more important than the particulars. In the case of the Paradigm Persona 9H, the manufacturer states that “completely inert enclosures begin with seven layers of wood composite material and viscoelastic adhesive placed in a custom press. The enclosures are treated with radio-frequency energy to accelerate the curing process, which takes almost a week to complete. The result is a strong, constrained-layer-damped enclosure that’s the perfect acoustical foundation to build upon.”
It is well worth looking at the Persona 9H brochure on the Paradigm website to get an idea of just how complex the enclosure bracing and subwoofer layout is. This is critical in a speaker that utilizes four ultra-high-excursion 8.5" woofers and relies on a balanced vibration-canceling configuration (two front-firing, two rear-firing) to go so low in the bass, uses full room correction, and delivers even the lowest bass at high levels when the musical dynamics require it.
I got better and smoother bass out of the Paradigm Persona 9H in a variety of room locations than I have with any other system that did not have room correction. Moreover, it outperformed any other pair of speakers—or pair with separate subwoofers—that did have room correction. It measured better; it did a better job with a wide range of bass warble tones; and, most importantly, it sounded better with organ, jazz, rock, and the kind of sonic spectaculars you may hate as music but can’t resist using to test your system.
Its size is also remarkably easy to live with. The 9H isn’t small, and each enclosure does weigh 190 pounds. It measurements of 11.875" x 51.75" x 20.5" are also scarcely petite. At the same time, this is still a size that is compatible with most real-world listening rooms, most decors, and most partners and roommates. Its form factor is particularly critical when so much bass power has to be delivered in a relatively small package.
Talking about a speaker’s wife acceptance factor (WAF) is now deservedly “DWM” and politically incorrect. At the same time, most of us are going to appreciate having a speaker that does not dominate the room but does have the ability to use its room correction to equal or outperform far larger integrated speakers and systems with separate woofer towers or pairs of properly located subwoofers, and avoid highly visible room treatment. Unless you like being a hermit (hermitess?) in your sound room or audio cave, there is real merit in being able to listen casually to music, and demonstrate your system to non-audiophiles as if the music were what matters, and you hadn’t turned the system into an object of pagan worship.
About the only caveat I can think of in this respect is that the Paradigm 9H has good techno styling, but it also has exposed drivers with mildly psychedelic grilles over its tweeter and midrange driver. Exposed drivers are scarcely uncommon in high-end speakers, but some of us work, live, and play with non-audiophiles. Many visitors liked or ignored the 9H’s physical design, but were more than mildly amused by the tweeter and midrange’s unique driver grilles. These grilles’ unusual design and appearance, however, serve an important technical function, as explained in the accompanying interview.