Next, the S8s offered high levels of resolution across the entire audio spectrum—a quality many guest listeners commented upon. After sampling a smorgasbord of well-recorded material through the S8s, Arnie Williams, Managing Editor of our sister magazine The Perfect Vision, turned to me and said, “Those Paradigms don’t miss much, do they?” And he’s right; the S8s make even the subtlest variations in textures and timbres easy to discern.
Lately, I’ve been sampling some lovely records put out on the German label Stockfisch, and one new favorite is the SACD just like love from folksinger/songwriter Steve Strauss. I thought I had a good handle on the luscious sound of this album, but when I played the disc through the S8s my jaw nearly hit the floor. The S8s immediately began telling me things I didn’t know about the recording. The song “Dead Man’s Handle” features a haunting chorus where Strauss sings:
Burning both ends of the candle
Dipping deep into the midnight oil
Leaning heavy on a dead man’s handle
Lord take me home… to my baby.
From previous listening experiences I knew something was special about the sound of the chorus, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was until I heard the song through the S8s. With unerring clarity, the S8s revealed that the producer momentarily applied a dab of reverb to emphasize the words “Lord take me home,” then backed the reverb out to restore normal voicing on the phrase “to my baby.” The S8s effortlessly unveil these kinds of fleeting details, enabling listeners to discern and then appreciate the finer points of favorite recordings.
One minor shortcoming, however, is that the S8 tweeters and mid/bass drivers occasionally carve the leading edges of transients with just slightly more force than is realistic. This isn’t a glaring fault by any means, but it sometimes creates the impression that the speakers are trying too hard to impress listeners with their transient speed and clarity. The good news, though, is that appropriate cables can essentially eliminate the problem. In particular, I discovered that Furutech Alpha Reference interconnects and speaker cables had the serendipitous effect of maximizing both the S8s’ clarity and Paradigm Reference Signature S8 Loudspeaker An all-out effort from a traditionally value-oriented, price-conscious firm Equipment Report smoothness at the same time. Because the S8s make the effects even of minor system changes apparent, prospective owners will want to choose ancillary equipment carefully. Some might find that the S8s supply more information than they bargained for, where others—like me—will find the speakers delightfully revealing.
The third characteristic that impressed veteran and neophyte listeners alike was the S8s’ superb bass. What made the S8s’ bass so good was the way the speakers pulled together the four pillars of great low-frequency reproduction: speed, power, extension, and control. Play a recording with loud low-frequency content—a personal favorite is the plunging synth-bass glissando from “Root Beer” in Thomas Newman’s American Beauty soundtrack [Dreamworks]— and the S8s can be downright scary (the mind reels at hearing low frequencies rendered so powerfully and so cleanly). Yet the S8s also do bass finesse with the best of them. I listened to Stanley Clarke’s inspired acoustic bass solo on “The Hilltop” from Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart LP [Polydor], and savored the way the S8s let me hear not only Clarke’s blinding fingering speed, but also his dead-on intonation and confident, sure-handed touch on the fingerboard. Paradigm says the S8s’ bass extends solidly to 28Hz (-3dB), though I found the speaker offered at least some usable output below that frequency. Nevertheless, extreme low-frequency aficionados might want a sub to extend bass response to 20Hz or lower. Paradigm offers a Signature subwoofer for that purpose, but I think most listeners would be satisfied if not thrilled by what the S8s do on their own.