Tech Focus: Now NRC Loudspeaker Research Influenced Paradigm

Paradigm explains that NRC loudspeaker research programs studied "the nature of the relationship between how speakers sound and their measurable characteristics," leading to the discovery of "a direct correlation between good sound and good measurements in three principal areas." Those areas include flat midrange frequency response, smooth total energy response, and very low distortion.

In addition to these NRC-identified parameters, further research led Paradigm to focus on two additional areas of loudspeaker performance: superior bass response, and comparatively high power handling. Together, these five characteristics, along with the firm's commitment to value-minded engineering, constitute the conceptual pillars upon which all Paradigm loudspeaker designs are based.

From Design Philosophy to Product Reality

High-end audio manufacturers need to have a clear vision for product development, but it's just as important they have the know-how necessary to convert those visions into real-world products. Over time Paradigm has excelled at product execution, largely because it's been relentless in its efforts to create superior loudspeaker drive units, crossover networks, and enclosures.

Paradigm has, for example, won acclaim for developing drivers that feature light, stiff, rigid metal diaphragms using materials such as aluminum, titanium, and beryllium. What's more, the firm has carefully explored most other aspects of driver design, creating rigid die-cast driver frames, powerful rare-earth motor magnets, and exotic surround systems. Typically, Paradigm's approach has been more evolutionary than revolutionary, emphasizing incremental improvements applied across all aspects of speaker construction rather than chasing after "breakthroughs" that sound good on paper, but may yield dubious practical benefits. Instead, Paradigm insists upon real-world results, meaning that each proposed technical improvement must be verified both by empirical measurements and extensive blind listening tests.

Many audio journalists have found it remarkable that Paradigm offers comparatively exotic speaker systems yet manages to sell them at down-to-earth prices. How is this possible? Part of the answer involves engineering discipline, where each design element is subjected to a rigorous sonic cost/benefit analysis. But another part of the answer is that Paradigm develops products with future "technology trickle down" in mind. Whenever Paradigm invests in new technologies for its top-of-the-range speakers, for example, it does so knowing that development costs eventually will be spread across multiple speaker ranges. In practice, this means that today's most advanced technologies will, in the future, migrate downward to the firm's lower-priced speaker lines—a clear "win/win" situation for all involved.

Ways and Means

Over time, Paradigm gradually shifted its research efforts away from the NRC, choosing instead to build its own research facility known as PARC (Paradigm Advanced Research Center), which opened in 1993. NRC veterans Peter Schuck and Marc Bonneville head up PARC, which now serves as a powerful resource upon which modern-day Paradigm research and development efforts are based. Paradigm's research facilities include:

These extensive R&D resources mean that Paradigm can evaluate, revise, and refine new designs more rapidly and efficiently than might otherwise be the case. They also support the firm's conviction that every element of a new speaker design should yield both measurable and audible benefits. More so than most companies, Paradigm insists upon use of double blind-screen listening evaluations as a means of separating "the wheat from the chaff" in loudspeaker design. As Paradigm says, "these tests are not designed to show the ultimate performance capabilities in a speaker, but they do tell us clearly and remarkably quickly whether a speaker is making the good-sound-grade or not." While conceding that extensive listening tests do increase design time, Paradigm passionately believes that blind listening tests are the best way to ensure "superb high-end performance and uncanny timbral consistency."

Adapted and excerpted from The Absolute Sound's Illustrated History of High-End Audio, Volume One: Loudspeakers. Copyright © 2015-2016 The Absolute Sound. All rights reserved.