Paradigm Atom Loudspeakers
by Neil Walker
Fortuitously, just after my review of the Paradigm Atoms went live, publisher Doug Schneider called to ask, " How would you like to do a follow-up review on the Atoms with one of Paradigms budget subwoofers?" I fantasized shattering the neighbors hummingbird feeder with the sonic boom I would generate and said, "Sure! Love to." So now, let me tell you what happens to the el cheapo Atomic wonders from Paradigm when you throw into the system a 100-watt subwoofer housed in the same kind of plasticum mysterium cabinet as the Atoms.
You wake up. You stop being refined about your musical sensitivities and just really enjoy your music. The Atoms move music into another and much fuller dimension. The PDR-10 is a thumper, but has considerable musical qualities as well. But as with all subwoofers, it needs careful placement to ensure its best performance. Hooking it up to the Audiomat Arpège is a pain -- I ended up running parallel speaker cables from the output of the Arpège to the PDR-10. But nothing happened to the Arpège -- no sound degradation, just a sudden emergence of a real bass line. Now I had a three-dimensional experience in listening.
I immediately ran to my vinyl collection to put on a favorite, Gary Peacocks December Poems [ECM-1-1119], a beautiful album featuring acoustic bassist Peacock playing solo, with the exception of three tracks on which Jan Gabarek accompanies him on saxophone. The bass viol filled the room with the richness and texture you would expect from a good ECM recording.
Then I searched out the Bach, Liszt and Vierne organ music. What a change! The bass now shook the floor, while the Atoms did their part in maintaining their usual, complete musical composure. On The Tokyo Quartets recording of Beethovens Early Quartets [RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-61284-2], the sound was not just musical, detailed, and inhabiting a room-wide soundstage, it had warmth and depth, which the Atoms alone could not provide.
When I had listened to French rap artist MC Solaar on just the Atoms, I noted that Solaars voice on "Caroline" (Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo [Polydor 511 133-2]) "pleads with the listener to hear his longing and love." With the PDR-10 hooked into the system, the lyric quality is still there, but the emotional intensity quadruples as the full depth of the bass drives the piece. Similarly on "Quartier Nord," I said that "the Atoms dont drop a beat of Solaars agile rapping of the machine gun-paced lyrics." But with the PDR-10 playing, there is real urgency and visceral excitement to the piece.
After writing that "Even if you love organ music, the Atoms give a very satisfactory account of themselves, unless you will perish without heavy 20Hz to 60Hz reproduction," I discovered with the addition of the PDR-10 that I do perish without the bottom-end growl. To cite the examples I used, on Kevin Bowyer playing Johann Sebastian Bachs Toccata in G minor BWV 915 or Fugue in A on a theme by Albinoni BWV 950 (J. S. Bach: The Works for Organ, Volume 4 [Nimbus NI 5377]), the Atoms gave a most persuasive account of why you can live happily with them. However, with the PDR-10 filling out the sound spectrum, you will not only live happily with the speakers, but the music will engender a much greater response in you.
While the midbass of the Atoms can "surprise you with their ability to shake the room," the speakers blossom into hard-edge rock performers when you add in the sub. For example, TLCs "Intro-Lude " or "Creep" or just about any other cut on CrazySexyCool [LaFace Records, 73008-26009-2] will give you that heavy rap feeling that makes the music so sexy, so aggressive.
I listened to many classical recordings with the subwoofer in play. By far the most exciting of Beethovens "Wellingtons Victory" is Neville Marriners (Symphony No.7, Wellingtons Victory [Philips 426 239-2]). The sound effects of cannon and musket fire put every other recording of this piece to shame, including the classic Mercury Living Presence recording of 1957. When I reviewed the Atoms the first time, they simply could not deliver the bass depth of this piece. The sound effects were excellently defined, clear, detailed and realistic, but add the subwoofer and be ready to stand back! This recording has other effects such as twittering birds, the sounds of horses pulling cannons into position and a lone crow cawing at the conclusion of the battle. Even they sounded better with the bass restored.
Conclusion? After living with the Atoms for over four months, they continue to impress and amaze me and my friends. Now with the subwoofer attached, the whole thing gets a little silly. This speaker system moves you -- and it is still completely musical and detailed. Tack on the PDR-10 to your Atoms and listen to what your music is all about -- even beyond the midrange. What more can you ask for, especially when the whole speaker system costs just a bit more than $500?
Copyright © 2000 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved