Paradigm 200B Small Monitor Speaker
Paradigm Speakers and I have a long, and personal history. Another lifetime ago, I sold hi-end audio at the retail level. Mostly because it was my dream job. Even after I left full time, I would work there on the weekends. Our modus operandi back then was to get the guy who was looking for a new "stereo" and bring them in our big room to let them experience the sound of a real audio system.
Then the next step was to bring them into the "small room" where they could experience some of that same magic in their price range. The majority of the speakers in the entry level room were Paradigm, sprinkled with some Vandersteen and B&W 300 and 600 series. After we walked the unsuspecting electronics buyer through that process... a new audiophile was born.
Paradigm is a Canadian speaker manufacturer, known for providing good sounding speakers with little flash and solid value. In the world of speaker manufacturers, Paradigm is one of the larger companies out there. They have the resources for research and development as well as the facilities to build any level of speaker that they want to. I have always found it impressive when a company would build affordable products that provide real hi-end sound at affordable prices.
When I was asked to review the new Paradigm Premier 200B small monitor speakers I was pretty stoked (and possibly a little biased) because, years ago, I had personally chosen the Paradigm Studio 20 v2 (in cherry) as the monitor speaker in my own home when they were released. Although I have since passed them on to a relative for a housewarming gift, I have always loved those speakers.
Paradigm 200B Bookshelf / Stand-Mounted Monitor
The front baffle is missing any "plastic plugs" to attach the front grill. Paradigm has opted for a very good looking, totally smooth front baffle that uses magnets to affix the grills. After listening and removing and replacing the grills frequently, I truly learned to love their design, as they quickly and easily attach in exactly the right place. Notwithstanding any direct sonic improvements of their PPA Lens Technology, a side benefit is both the tweeter and woofer are both protected. This lets you remove the grills in a dead room while keeping them on in a livelier listening environment while staying fully protected from little fingers and keeping a similar tonal balance.
Set Up and Placement
The amplifier that was set up in the main room was an Audio Research Classic 60 and I was using an Audio Research LS2 for a pre-amp. Although I have not noticed any sonic differences, both of these were produced prior to their acquisition in 2008. I connected the Paradigms to the 8 Ohm tap and assumed the position on the couch.
First up was Dianna Krall's Love Scenes on 180-gram vinyl. I have used this particular recording for years because of the air, imaging and the incredible stand-up bass. Some of the tracks are recorded dramatically different, so less album flipping for critical listening. My first impressions were the size of the soundstage... it was huge. Much larger than the Vandersteens that the smaller monitors were replacing. On another note, the bass seemed quite thin, but this was somewhat expected when following a large floor-standing speaker in such a large room. I noticed a lack of rhythm, mostly because of the thin bottom end.
This seemed a little odd to me because, in my previous history with Paradigm monitors, they had an outstanding bottom end. Because I was somewhat perplexed, I moved to a different style of music, putting on Bob Marley's Exodus, which is somewhat defined by the bass line. Once again, things just didn't seem right.
After running through a variety of music I pushed the speaker back a little closer to the back wall in an attempt to boost up the bottom end. Although the bottom end was slightly better, the image stayed solid, so I kept them closer to the wall for the majority of my time with the Paradigms.
I'm just a regular guy who happens to have a life-long obsession with music and audio, so I generally don't have a plethora of high quality solid-state amps laying around. I had a 38 Wpc pentode, but that was moving in the wrong direction I dusted off an old NAD 2700 (150 x 2 and bridgeable to 400 Watts) and connected it to the Paradigm monitors and WOW - the 200Bs really came alive.
Let me say that I usually don't play music too loud. There are times when I crank up Rage Against the Machine louder than the family would like, but most of my listening is at reasonable levels. I can say that with an efficiency of 87dB/W/m, I think the little Paradigms simply needed more power to really come alive. Generally, I would not recommend a mid-range solid state power amplifier over a critically acclaimed tube amp just for power, but the Paradigm 200B speakers certainly appreciated it.
Now The Real Listening Starts
By that same rationale, they are not a "one trick pony" type of speaker that may image with awesome depth and precision but lacks tonal balance. These little monitors have a great tonal balance and a solid midrange with a wide soundstage. The last two tracks on Robert Palmer's Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley kept great rhythm and no sloppy bass. They seem to have a very good off-axis dispersion, so they sound good even when not in the sweet spot. The image is more broad-brushed but always in place, even with the speakers not in the optimal positioning. Playing Roger Waters Amused To Death, I didn't get the wild, extreme sonic tricks that some other speakers deliver, but they were always very listenable.
Moving To A Smaller Room
The electronics in the bedroom is simply an older Rotel RSX-965 surround receiver, which actually sounds very good for a surround receiver and is most likely closer to what would be powering the 200B's for most people. For two channel music it is far superior to most mass production, feature bloated, A/V receivers.
The sound in the smaller room reminded me of the bottom end of my old Studio 20's which were known for having people ask "where is the sub"? The broad-brushed imaging filled up the entire short wall of the room with sound. The Paradigms had a much better tonal balance and reproduced an evener frequency response than the Spendors. I will say they didn't have that holographic image and lifelike midrange that Spendors are known for, but provided a more all-inclusive listening experience.
Deep Dive Into The Sound
If I compare against with my Spendor FL-10s on the ARC Classic 60, the Paradigm 200B small monitors have a little bit of a "pinch" in the midrange. Not really a peak, but more of a blind spot. Small, two-way speakers always face a challenge in the midrange as their crossover point is forced in a critical spot. The bottom end, lower frequencies to be specific, was impressive for a small speaker. This is especially true within a smaller room. They seemed to go deeper than you would expect from a 6.5" driver. Although they seemed a little lean in the mid-bass they may be more accurate than my personal preference. They may have leaned out the mid-bass to avoid mid-bass bloat commonly found on many monitor speakers.
If you like it loud, the Paradigms do perform very well when pushed hard. One of my standards for evaluating speakers is Tool - Undertow. In the old days of high-end sales, we called it "The Tool Test". Undertow shows off a tremendous rhythm section recorded extremely well with a thunderous bottom end. You just have to turn it up. If you really want to put a speaker through its paces, put them through the Tool Test. The Paradigms passed with flying colors keeping great rhythm and time while playing loud without any harshness.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that most equipment needs substantially more burn-in time than most manufacturers recommend. In my time spent with the Paradigms' they continued to get better. As time went on, the image became much more defined with more depth. The decay of cymbals faded smoother. The bass went deeper while keeping control.
We play music in my home during almost all waking hours, and the Paradigm 200Bs, once on the solid-state power, always sounded good. Regardless of the music (and we make the rounds) they were very listenable, even when more expensive and revealing speakers may have shown off the bad sonics of the recording.
This is not to say that the Paradigm 200B speakers "white washed" the sound. That was not the case at all. As a matter of fact, towards the end of my time with the Paradigms, I received the Backert Labs The Rhumba Extreme 1.3 preamp. The differences between the two fine preamps were tangibly revealed on the 200Bs. Full review on the Backert Labs The Rhumba Extreme 1.3 coming soon.
Most people buying speakers in this price range want to enjoy some music (and maybe even a movie) and know they are not missing anything. They want to crank it up every once in a while when no one else is home. They want their music collection and audio streaming services to just sound good.
On the other hand, some people are buying small monitors for other reasons. If you are moving to monitors because you want a lush, holographic image, a deep midrange and willing to sacrifice bottom end, these may not be for you. Paradigm's 200B monitor speaker is a really solid all-around performer and should be on the list for most people looking for a set of monitors at $1000 for stereo pair.