Amongst audio enthusiasts Paradigm is generally considered to be one of the more respectable speaker manufacturers, consistently delivery superb high-end sound without the high-end, audiophile price tag. They have wide-distribution throughout the U.S., but you typically only find them at the small and medium sized hi-fi shops rather than the big-box retailers like Best Buy or Circuit City. This tends to give them a more high-end image and maintains their consumer perception as a more popular brand. The Paradigm Monitor 7 speakers have the look and sound that would have you think they cost several thousands of dollars, so we were shocked to find that they carry an MSRP of just $679 USD per pair.
The Monitor Series has been around for some time, but Paradigm has recently updated and refreshed the line-up. The Monitor series is just a step below their famous Reference products, which includes their highly acclaimed Studio series. The concept or brand behind the Monitor series seems to be high-end, high-output (read: loud) music performance that will compete with horn speakers (Klipsch is one of their main competitors). From their site: “These models compete directly with the efficiency and output of major brands of horn speakers – they not only play as loud, their sound is authentically high end Paradigm fidelity.”
The Monitor 7’s are the entry-level tower in this family, founded on 5 ½” mid and bass drivers. There’s also a Monitor 9 and Monitor 11 that use 6 ½” and 7 ½” mid/bass drivers respectively. There is no center channel or surround options in this family, but Paradigm recommends using one of their Cinema Series centers with any of the Monitor Series speakers.
The UltraCube 10 subwoofer is part of their UltraCube line of subs. These are the subs that pack big-thrills in small packages. In fact their UltraCube “motto”, “Big bass for small space…” seems quite fitting considering the size and output of the sub. There are two subs in this family, the 10” and a larger 12”. As you would guess, the UltraCube 10 is founded on a 10” woofer.
Features and Design
The Monitor 7 tower is a 4 way speaker utilizing a 1-inch “H-PTD” dome tweeter (the material looks like metal…), a 5 ½” “M-ICP” midrange driver, and two carbon- infused polypropylene 5 ½” drivers for bass. The crossover is a 2 ½ way design. The “1/2” portion of the crossover is really a type of resistor placed in line with the bass drivers so that they don’t get any of the potentially distorting mid-range frequencies – that way they focus on just the bass, and the whole speaker can potentially be louder. The speakers are rated down to 41 Hz, which is extremely low for a speaker of this size. The sensitivity is rated at 94 dB in room. The speakers are available in three color options: Rosenut, Black Ash, and Cherry. These are not real wood, but rather premium vinyl. List price for the pair is $679 USD.
The UltraCube 10 has one active 10” mineral-filled polypropylene driver, along with dual passive radiators. The built-in amplification boasts 1500 watts peak, 650 watts sustained. Paradigm states the low-end extension goes down to 22Hz. The cabinet is finished with the same black ash vinyl on the towers. List Price for the UltraCube 10 is $799 USD.
UltraCube 10 Subwoofer, Image Courtesy of Paradigm
Out of the Box Observations and Setup
Out of the box, the UltraCube 10 sub came with a nice user manual and a tool to adjust the sub’s feet. The black ash finish is serviceable but certainly not gorgeous. The textured grain is nice in that it won’t show fingerprints and dust. But this finish is not unlike your road warrior touring band PA speaker. We’re used to subs with grilles so we were a little surprised to see this one go without. However, the active driver is face down so you really don’t need to worry about covering it up. Plus it’s made of a very strong metal material. The passive radiators are on two sides of the sub with the amp and its controls in the rear.
The amp controls are pretty straightforward. Unlike many subs that have multiple stereo inputs (high and low level) this one is simple – It has just one LFE input (which is nice in that 99% of the home theater receivers out there have just one LFE out). This we know will make things easier for many folks trying to reach around to the rear of the sub using their hands as their eyes as they feel where the sub cable goes.
There are three controls on this unit that are pretty standard for subs in this price range. A subwoofer level controls the volume. There’s a crossover adjustment (40 – 150Hz) with a bypass when turned up all the way. This was how it was set out of the box which is nice considering that most people will be using their receiver to make any crossover adjustments. Also there’s a “Sub/Sat Phase Alignment” control. This is variable from 0 – 180 degrees and controls the phase between the sub and your main speakers (especially nice if you have full range towers or another sub). But again, pretty standard features for this price point. For my listening test I started with the sub’s factory settings – Volume about half way, crossover at bypass, and phase at 0.
The sub is pretty hefty and solid-feeling for its diminutive size. We noticed that the LFE input jack is slightly recessed – a problem if you have a premium sub cable with a larger RCA termination (we were using a MonsterBass 300 series cable and it didn’t really fit on all the way – hopefully it will work!). There’s a tiny LED on the front. When we plugged the AC cord into the wall, there was no light. As soon as we plugged the RCA sub cable in though, it shone a subdued yellow color.
The Monitor 7 towers were annoying to get out of the box. A bunch of cardboard pieces fell out all over the floor. We can appreciate using cardboard over polystyrene foam as we think it’s better for the environment, but this feels a little kluge. The towers come supplied with 4 feet that must be attached to the base of the tower. These provide additional stability. There are also 4 metal floor spikes so you can raise these puppies up off the ground to reduce unwanted floor resonances.
The Monitor 7 cabinet is a vented enclosure with two rear ports. The speaker grille is pretty cool – it mounts to the speaker by magnetic force, so when you put the grille near its home it sort of “pops” into place! The rear terminal is appointed with some very nice gold plated 5-way binding posts, and two sets of speaker wire terminals indicates that these are bi-wireable.
Some of the gear used for testing:
• Onkyo TX-SR703 Receiver
• Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player
• Apple TV (synced with our iTunes library)
• Cobalt Ultimate speaker wire
• MonsterBass 300 Sub Cable
We had our receiver’s crossover set at 80Hz – we tried 60Hz also, but wasn’t getting enough punch from the towers in the crossover range so moved it back up to 80Hz.
For starters we popped in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #14 (the “Moonlight Sonata”) Andras Schiff (ECM) – A very rich and lush recording. The Monitor 7’s impressed: The reverb on the piano sounded incredible – as if you’re actually in the concert hall with Andras Schiff. You can almost feel his fingers touching the piano. The bass extension is deep and commanding, which is hard to do with solo piano recordings. There’s a precious air surrounding the piano – the reverb in the recording is phenomenal and the Monitor 7’s are articulating that air with ease. The sound is detailed, rich, and full of life. The integration with the sub is seamless – we can’t tell where the towers stop and the sub starts.
Okay, so the piano sounds pretty darn good, but how do the Monitor 7’s do with vocals? We grabbed the ubiquitous audiophile reference (don’t hate us) of Dianna Krall’s The Look Of Love from her album by the same name. Krall’s voice is right up front – which is how they recorded it. But we do feel like the speakers are bringing them forward even more. It’s controlled though, and calculated nicely so that you get all the little sappy details in Krall’s voice but you don’t get slapped in the face with it. The ambience, or room presence, that these speakers create is really special. We would say this is one of the Monitor 7 highlights. Imaging is nice and open. As for imaging, they’re pretty rock solid: phantom center image is right on target, with nice panning of the instruments a few feet beyond the outside of the speakers. Emotionally it really draws you in.
Next we moved on to some blues. Keb Mo’s album The Door has a nice acoustic track called Anyway. Keb’s voice is slightly thin, like the lower portion of his voice has been slimmed down a little too much. We know this is partly the recording (he uses an unusual microphone for all his vocal recordings) and part is our Onkyo receiver. It sounds good, but just not quite as rich and deep as we’d like. This is likely attributed to the speaker’s smaller 5” midrange drivers. Track nine, Gimme What You Got, is a great tune layered with horns, strings, and some funky bass riffs. The bass is really sweet, very tight, and effortless. There’s plenty of power behind the sub and that allows it to have fun. You get the impression that this sub is a world-class sprinter out on a casual Sunday jog. We tried this track with the sub off and the receiver set to Direct (which deactivates the bass management). We were curious how the towers handled this bass on their own. It was an almost sort of full-range sound. It felt like the bass was extending towards just below 60Hz, but it just felt better with the sub on. For pop, rock, and other low-bass tunes most people will want the sub in the mix.
Lastly we wanted to see what the sub could REALLY do. Radiohead’s Pact Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box from his Amnesiac album starts off with some tight electronic low notes that sort of skip across the sound stage. A hard feat to pull off as the notes are extremely low and there’s hardly anything defining the attack of each note . But the system held up superbly and defined each note quite gracefully. As a testament to the Monitor 7/UltraCube 10 system’s full range abilities, when Thom York’s voice came in, you could feel his whining and uncertainty emotions filling the room, while the bass continued to rumble.
When we pulled the towers out of the box, took a look and gave them a listen (again, not knowing their actual price) we calculated that they might be priced at: $1500 – $2000 USD per pair. We were pretty well off the mark – The Paradigm Monitor 7 speakers are an incredible deal. The highs are sweet, the mids are richly detailed, and the bass is tight and accurate. Our only complaint is that the midrange could be a little richer on some vocal recordings. Additionally, the finish on these speakers left little to be desired in terms of a luxury finish – but now knowing their true price, we feel this is almost an uncalled for assessment. On a separate note, the UltraCube 10 sub rocks. Really. The Monitor 7/UltraCube 10 system blends together seamlessly and provides richly detailed and inviting musical experience for the audio connoisseur on a budget.
• Compact design
• Full sound (especially for vocals and midrange)
• Neutral aesthetics
• Vinyl grain finish looks a little cheap
• May have too much midrange detail for some listeners