High End 2015 • TABlog

by Roy Gregory | May 19, 2015

Paradigm has a well-established and well-deserved reputation for offering high-value, high-performance speakers -- plenty of bang for your buck at prices that real people can afford. But with a range that tops out around the $10,000 mark, there’s clearly a major segment of the market they’re failing to address. But with the arrival of the striking Concept 4F, that could be about to change -- "could be" because as the name suggests, this isn’t a product but a concept design, not unlike the concept cars that appear from major manufacturers at motor shows. Even so, the speakers offered a standard of fit and finish, from their striking appearance and distinctive midrange and treble waveguides, all the way down to the beautifully executed and integrated spiked feet, that puts many finished products to shame.

As you might expect, given Paradigm’s history, there’s a lot more here than just a pretty cabinet (even if that cabinet really is extraordinarily pretty!), and the Concept 4F is loaded with both technology and hardware. Hiding behind those waveguides are a 1 1/4” tweeter and 7” midrange driver, both using beryllium diaphragms, while the bottom end consists of four of the most impressive bass units you are ever likely to see, their 8 1/2” aluminum bowls driven by massive magnet assemblies sandwiched between double spiders. Dubbed “The Beast” by Paradigm, the driver’s overhung voice coil and long throw deliver incredible low-frequency potential. Packing four of them into such a compact enclosure is no mean feat and might well cause more problems than it solves, but the Concept 4F neatly sidesteps the issue of excessive mechanical output by arranging them in a double-force-canceling array, two firing forward and two placed internally, firing backwards, all loaded by the same rear reflex volume. That’s the sort of lineup that could cause amplifiers to go weak at the knees, so Paradigm have also incorporated a pair of 700-watt ICEpower-derived amplifiers in each enclosure to drive the low-frequency leg of the three-way system, together with their own ARC (Active Room Correction) EQ circuitry -- bass compensation that acts up to 300Hz, a real benefit in small or difficult rooms. I particularly like the fact that they’ve made the ARC facility defeatable for those who don’t need (or want) to use it.

The end result of all this effort is a compact and elegant speaker that succeeds in looking smaller than it is while offering 93dB efficiency and a bandwidth that stretches from 18Hz to 40kHz. Those are impressive numbers, but how did it sound? Driven from a system consisting of a Meitner MA-2 disc player, Pass Labs XP-20 preamp and Anthem P2 power amp, laced together with AudioQuest cables, the results on the electro pop/rock being played showed impressive scale and awesome bass power. But what was even more impressive was the performance when we asked to hear some classical music, the speakers displaying a welcome degree of subtlety, exceptional resolution and the ability to sound small when required. Where so many wide-bandwidth, wide-dynamic-range designs lose the ability to scale music naturally, opting for weight and muscle over microdynamics and musical expression, the Concept 4F seemed equally adept at both ends of the scale -- and did so without sounding pinched or processed or adding too much of itself.

This is a serious speaker from a serious company. It might have started out as a toe-in-the-water concept, but given the response at the show, I think it’s safe to say that Paradigm will be moving upmarket -- pretty soon and with a product that looks very like the Concept 4F. How far upmarket? It’s impossible to say, but don’t think that this speaker will be cheap, although I’m confident that what it will do is maintain the company’s reputation for value. It goes straight to the top of the “speakers I’d love to get my mitts on” list.

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