Ever since 1982, when Scott Bagby and Jerry VanderMarel founded Paradigm, the company’s name has been synonymous with such words as quality, value, and, most notably, performance. This reputation, in combination with Paradigm’s being one of the first to adopt and build on the loudspeaker-performance guidelines established by work at Canada’s National Resource Council (NRC), helped fuel the company’s growth into one of the world’s most prominent makers of loudspeakers. As of the day I submit this review, Paradigm offers four different collections (as Paradigm calls them) of speakers comprising 12 individual series that themselves encompass 22 different models, from passive speakers to active subwoofers and wireless speakers. Their latest collection, Persona, eclipses the venerable Signature as the brand’s highest-priced family, but Persona models aren’t merely evolutionary derivatives of Signature counterparts. The Persona collection took more than five years to develop, and Paradigm claims that it reflects everything they’ve learned about designing and building speakers over the past 35 years. They say that the Personas constitute a revolutionary leap forward for the brand in both sound and technology.
Originally introduced a few years ago, by way of the Concept 4F, at Munich’s High End audio show, the Persona collection comprises seven new models. The flagship, the Persona 9H ($35,000 USD per pair), is the largest and the sole hybrid model, with six drivers: four 8.5” Active Dual Differential woofers, a 7” beryllium Truextent midrange, and a 1” Truextent beryllium-dome tweeter. Each pair of woofers is powered by a 700W DSP-controlled amplifier, and is optimized to its environment using Anthem Room Correction (ARC).
This review is of the next model down, the Persona 7F ($25,000/pair). Essentially a passive version of the 9H, the 7F loses the rear-firing bass drivers, the amps, and ARC. Then come the Persona 5F and 3F, at a respective $17,000 and $10,000/pair, and the Persona B, currently the only Persona bookshelf model ($7000/pair). There are also the Persona C center-channel speaker ($7500) and the Persona Sub subwoofer, ($6500), which looks as if largely based on the discontinued Sub1.
The personification of Persona
While the 7F may not be the true personification of the Persona collection, it’s the best passive speaker Paradigm makes. Paradigm takes great pride in being one of the few speaker makers in the world that -- with the exceptions of the pure-beryllium tweeter and midrange diaphragms -- designs and builds in-house every part of every speaker it puts its name on. This lets Paradigm tightly control the quality, function, and integration of each component part, and provides consumers with peace of mind: If something on a Paradigm speaker fails, as long as the company remains in business, there will always be a replacement part.
When I unpacked the Persona 7Fs, I was immediately struck by their size. Each speaker stands 51.75”H, with a parabolic footprint of 11.85”W by 20.5”D -- the only flat side is the front -- and weighs 144 pounds. You’d think positioning them might be a daunting task, but the placement of the footers within the somewhat elaborate aluminum plinth made it surprisingly simple. At first I barely noticed the plinth -- it follows the cabinet’s shape -- but a second glance showed me that a considerable amount of engineering has gone into it. Assembled from several pieces of milled aluminum, it seamlessly incorporates a thick base plate, mounts for the feet, caps for the rear feet, riser plates, and a housing for the binding posts at the rear that cleverly pulls double duty as the speaker’s rear support.
The cabinet’s side profile makes clear that the elimination of internal standing waves was integral in its design, and that Paradigm knows something about making speakers easy to position. The top and bottom plates rise toward the rear of the speaker, helping to eliminate any possibility of propagating vertical standing waves, while the rear of the cabinet is parabolic, to eradicate horizontal waves. Firing down through the tilted bottom plate is the huge, flared opening of a port that’s “tuned” to support the 7F’s claimed extension down to 18Hz. The port’s tilt relative to the plinth’s baseplate dissipates bass energy more evenly around the speaker.
The cabinet was designed using both mechanical and acoustical Finite Element Analysis (FEA). Mechanical FEA played a critical role in the identification and reduction of induced vibrations from Paradigm’s Airflow Ventilation System (AVS), and in finalizing the internal bracing. Acoustical FEA was used to determine the cabinet configuration, the positions of the drivers on the baffle, and the site and size of the port.
Building the 7F’s cabinet to this design is a process equally elaborate. The rear is curved by using a unique press to bond together seven layers of wood composite with a viscoelastic adhesive followed by a quick blast of RF waves to accelerate curing. The final assembly is then extensively stiffened with 1”-thick braces of more wood composite, and capped at top and bottom with 1”-thick top and bottom plates. The baffle is a solid piece of 1.25”-thick wood composite; it and the braces, top and bottom plates, and edges of the parabolic portion of the cabinet, are machined using Paradigm’s five-axis CNC machine. If this technique rings a bell, it’s how Monitor Audio and Bowers & Wilkins make their own top-tier cabinets.
What the Brits don’t do is outfit their top models with unique mid- and high-frequency drivers with beryllium cones and domes. In all but the Persona Sub, each Persona speaker has a 1” Truextent beryllium-dome tweeter and a 7” Truextent beryllium midrange driver. (The Persona C uses the same tweeter but a 4” beryllium midrange, and the Persona B uses a modified version of the 7” midrange that enables it to act as a midrange-bass driver.) In talking with Paradigm’s Blake Alty, I learned that the Personas’ tweeters have nothing in common with those used in the Signature series. Everything about them -- from the motor structure and ferrofluid cooling system to the driver surround, FEA-derived pole-piece assembly, and innovative Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lenses (more about this below) -- is new. The result: a tweeter that can effortlessly reproduce frequencies from 2.4 to 45kHz with exceedingly low levels of distortion. Or so Paradigm claims.
Similar claims are made for the 7F’s 7” midrange driver, another all-new design boasting some unique engineering: a pure-beryllium diaphragm and an Inverse Differential Drive motor system in which two neodymium magnets of opposed polarities are placed on each side of the top plate. This arrangement results in a highly concentrated magnetic field claimed to be immune to flux-modulation distortion -- i.e., when the magnetic field of the voice-coil interferes with the magnetic field in the gap -- and to be highly efficient: 96dB/W/m. Alty told me that because beryllium has damping properties more akin to those of wood than of metal, and because it’s roughly 30% lighter and 400% more rigid than aluminum, using beryllium for the 7” midrange diaphragm helped push the frequencies of the cone’s resonances far above the driver’s bandpass. This not only improves clarity and lowers distortion, he said; it also permits the optimal implementation of such Paradigm technologies as their tried-and-true Shock-Mount Isolation Mounting System and their all-new PPA lenses.
When I first saw Paradigm’s PPA lenses, on a silently displayed Concept 4F, I wondered why they covered so much of the radiating areas of the tweeter and midrange. There’s a good reason: they’re designed to block out-of-phase signals. The gap pattern of each lens is the product of computer modeling based on the shape and size of a specific diaphragm and how its output should align in time with the outputs of the speaker’s other drivers. The claimed results are cleaner frequency response, and better retention of the proper tonal balance when the speakers are listened to off axis. This approach is significantly different from using a standard phase plug, because a phase plug can correct for only part of the cone it’s mounted in; after that, there is typically an abrupt change in the proportion of in- and out-of-phase information being communicated to the listener. Paradigm claims that by covering the entire diaphragm, its PPA lenses can more comprehensively correct phase problems.
The Persona 7F’s two 8.5” X-PAL aluminum woofers are robust and unique. Each woofer has three huge magnets to power its differential-drive motor, which in turn has twin 1.5” voice-coils wired in tandem but in the opposite direction along the same Kapton former, and sits in a magnetic gap of opposite polarity. The idea is to reduce to almost zero the magnetic field generated by the coils. This minimizes interference with the motor’s magnet and, more important, is claimed to dramatically reduce distortion. Paradigm also says that using two motors can extend the cone’s linear excursion while simultaneously eliminating flux-modulation distortion. This, working together with Paradigm’s Active Ridge Technology (ART) driver surrounds, increases the driver’s maximum output level while further reducing overall distortion. All woofer cones in the Persona series are supported by die-cast aluminum baskets with cooling fins and AVS, to minimize heat-related compression and maximize rigidity.
The 7F distributes audio signals among its drivers via a brand-new third-order crossover mounted on a vertical brace inside the cabinet, directly between the lower woofer and the downfiring port. The advantages of this placement are twofold: air moving through the port helps cool the crossover components, and because fewer vibrations are induced in the braces than in the cabinet walls, the braces transmit fewer resonances to the crossover. Alty told me that all inductors used in the crossover are of heavy-gauge copper wire wound in-house to quarter-turn accuracy; and the capacitors are low-tolerance, low-dissipation-factor, high-voltage types of metalized polypropylene, accompanied by noninductive, metal-oxide resistors from Lynk. The crossover’s circuit boards are two-layered, with signal traces of maximal cross-sectional area, to minimize built-in resistance. The crossover frequencies are 450Hz and 2.4kHz. Paradigm claims that, at 92dB, the Persona 7F is impressively sensitive while imposing on an amplifier a safe load of 8 ohms.
Attached to the baffle is a single piece of aluminum, multi-contoured, textured, and painted. It flawlessly conceals the driver bolts and houses the PPA lenses. On the rear panel are jewel-like five-way, carbon-fiber-finished binding posts.
The Persona 7F is available in a variety of automotive-grade painted finishes.
Getting personal with the Personas
Having boned up on all that technical wizardry, I expected great things from the Persona 7Fs -- and what better track with which to assess their ebb and flow of sound than “Take Five,” from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Columbia). Right from the get-go, drummer Joe Morello’s tapping of his cymbals and skins grabbed me. Details were so well defined -- I could hear what sounded like the actual impact of wooden drumstick on brass, rather than only the resultant shimmer. The decay of each tap seemed as rich in inner detail as the tap itself, providing a sense of size very similar to what I hear through my current reference speakers, the Rockport Technologies Atrias. As “Take Five” continued and double-bassist Eugene Wright plucked his way to left center stage, the transparent canvas on which the 7Fs seemed to be painting everything let me appreciate the pace, rhythm, and timing of Wright’s playing -- I could easily hear the resonance of the strings, while also being able to anticipate and appreciate the intensity with which each note was plucked.
All of this was especially true during Morello’s drum solo, during which there’s a gradual escalation of all three bass notes being repeated, particularly the third. The 7Fs effortlessly conveyed the density and intensity of each note as the series built, and the space -- Columbia Records’ 30th Street Studio -- into which each stroke on drum skin decayed seemed even vaster than what I heard from the cymbals. As I reveled in the clarity, pitch, and transient control with which the 7Fs reproduced Morello’s drums, I was also impressed by the levels of control and acuity at play -- I felt I was getting a sense of the tension and thickness of drum skin wrapped around the various-sized barrels of his kit.
But dynamics, transparency, and resolution are nothing if they’re presented with colorations -- distortions. That was never the case with the Persona 7Fs in my system. In fact, their balance of neutrality, resolution, and naturalness was one of their most alluring characteristics. For example, as Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone reclaims center stage, the microdetails I’ve come to expect -- the sound of his breath entering the reed, the slight crispness of the beginning of each note -- were all there. But it was with the macrodetails that the 7Fs distinguished themselves. Convincingly delivering the dynamic flare of Desmond’s alto as he puts a bit more wind behind certain notes can be a bit tricky for some speakers to get right, particularly those with metal midrange and tweeter diaphragms. Mishandled, these notes can become sharp and unpleasantly abrupt, rather than each being accurately emphasized as it occupies its own space and time. Through the 7Fs, these notes were merely projected farther into my room, accurately and confidently, with no hint of compression. Moreover, the ease and dimensionality with which Desmond’s alto came to life was riveting -- it was the most “live”-sounding reproduction of this track I have heard in my room. It raised the hair on my arms.
I heard more of the same with “Haste to the Wedding,” from the Corrs’ Home (16/44.1 FLAC, Rhino). Sharon Corr begins this instrumental on violin, its image meticulously drawn about a foot inside the left speaker, with enough depth and inner detail to imply the illusion of the instrument being played in a small pub. I could also hear her foot tapping under the fast decay of her strings -- a detail I’d never heard before. Sharon is quickly joined at center stage by drummer Jason Duffy, her sister Andrea Corr on her famous tin whistle, and her brother Jim Corr to far right, on acoustic guitar. Duffy’s pounding of the skins filled center stage, thumped through my floor, and immediately got my foot tapping, while Andrea’s whistle floated at center stage with tremendous focus and palpability. Again, it all sounded like music made on the tiny stage of a tiny pub -- everything was precisely delineated, tonally well balanced, and real. The sound was a bit front-row, but I didn’t mind, as all the little things I expect to hear from the front row were there: Andrea’s breath under the sound of her whistle, the deep decay of the drum even in the climax, Sharon’s foot tapping the floor. Particularly at higher volumes, “Haste to the Wedding” had life. I reveled in it.
As I continued to mine my collection, I took notes highlighting the many things the 7Fs laid bare: how accurately David Paton’s bass filled my room in “Sirius,” from the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky (24/192 FLAC, Arista); or how vivid yet seductively dimensional Katie Melua’s voice was in the title track of her Call Off the Search (16/44.1 FLAC, Dramatico).
I own a pair of the first edition of Rockport Technologies’ Atria speakers ($25,500/pair, discontinued). The current Atria differs in having a new, waveguide-loaded tweeter and having been revoiced, and a new price of $26,500/pair -- $1500 more than the Paradigm Persona 7F. Structurally, the Persona and Atria are very different animals: The rear-ported Atria has a triple-laminated, constrained-mode-damped enclosure. Its cabinet walls and braces are more than twice as thick as the 7F’s, and its baffle is 4” thick -- it’s a considerably more inert speaker. The Atria’s deep, mirror-like, gloss-black finish is also considerably more refined -- I can see subtle rippling in the Persona’s curved cabinet, but none in the Atria’s. But all four of the 7F’s drivers look significantly more robust than the Atria’s three.
Listening to “Tea in the Sahara,” a favorite from the Police’s Synchronicity (24/88.2 FLAC, A&M), I was treated to a soundstage of vast proportions through the Persona 7Fs. Sting and his plucky, punchy bass were up front and center, Stewart Copeland kicked the skins a bit farther back and to the right of Sting, while Andy Summers’s expertly manipulated electric guitar emanated from directly between them. Of note here was how well all three instruments were delineated onstage through the 7Fs, in terms of both scale and focus. Copeland’s drums had real dynamic drive and depth, while Summers’s guitar effects floated and decayed around my room, showcasing just how light on their feet the 7Fs could be.
Through the Atrias I heard much of the same, but to different degrees. Sting’s bass didn’t sound as forceful or anywhere near as deep, but the position of his voice and the size of its aural image were comparable. In terms of image specificity, the Atrias just edged out the 7Fs, drawing Sting on stage with slightly better focus.
I then played “Let’s Fall in Love,” from Diana Krall’s When I Look in Your Eyes (DSD128, Verve), and was again impressed by the levels of acuity, neutrality, and balance the 7Fs juggled while putting forward a wonderfully realistic and fulsome sound. That fulsome character was especially evident in Krall’s voice, which dripped with enough body and texture to get lost in. Notes from her piano floated convincingly in the room through both speakers -- but the smaller scale, increased warmth, and slightly more precisely defined position of the piano through the Atrias charmed me a bit more.
But when I pushed either speaker hard, things changed. Krall’s piano then sounded sharper and more aggressive through the Atrias, whereas the Persona 7Fs just got louder while maintaining their ease, neutrality, and realism. Drummer Jeff Hamilton’s cymbals demonstrated comparable levels of delicacy, transient control, detail, and shimmer through both speakers, but when reproducing John Clayton’s double bass, the Paradigms stole the show. The Atrias simply couldn’t compete here. The Persona 7F’s robust twin 8.5” woofers and bigger cabinet volume let it dig considerably deeper in the bass and with greater control than the Atria’s single 9” woofer, to produce a more convincing reproduction of the low end.
During my time with Paradigm’s Persona 7Fs, they consistently projected a wonderfully open, detailed, effortless top end capable of communicating vast amounts of space, balance, drive -- and, inevitably, emotion. These all-important sonic attributes were matched only by the awe-inspiring depths to which the 7Fs could dig; never, without a subwoofer in play, had I heard in my room bass so deep or so articulate, or that so powerfully evoked my own emotional responses. And yet neither the 7F’s effortless top-end nor its prodigious bottom-end reproduction was its most appealing quality; that accolade must go to the 7F’s unfailingly neutral and natural-sounding midrange.
In the Persona 7F, Paradigm has created an all-out assault on the high end. During my time with them, the Persona 7Fs have proven themselves a benchmark product at their price point, which makes granting them a Reviewers’ Choice award a foregone conclusion. A damned impressive speaker!
. . . Aron Garrecht
- Speakers -- Rockport Technologies Atria
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f112 (2)
- Amplifiers -- Parasound Halo A 51 (five-channel), Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7M (monoblocks)
- Preamplifiers -- Anthem AVM 60, Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8
- Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player, Dell E7440 Ultrabook laptop computer running Windows 10, JRiver Media Center 20
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Wadia di322
- Cables -- Clarus Crimson S/PDIF and USB interconnects; Kimber Kable Select KS-6063 speaker cables; Cardas Clear Blue Beyond power cords
- Power conditioner -- Torus Power AVR2 20A
Paradigm Persona 7F Loudspeakers
Price: $25,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 696-2868