Not everyone in this country knows the loudspeaker manufacturer Paradigm, so a misunderstanding can quickly arise that you are dealing with another boutique supplier from the high-end scene. Well, far from it – Paradigm employs about 250 people, so they are quite a number in North America. Audio Components takes care of sales for us. When the Hamburg-based company added the Canadian loudspeaker brand to their portfolio and asked if I would like to hear a certain Persona 3F, I thought, “Well, why not?” Rarely have I been so surprised.
Today’s test candidate, the Paradigm Founder 100F 3-way floorstanding speaker, is similar in size to the Persona 3F – at 106 centimeters high and around 22 centimeters wide, it can be easily integrated into normal living environments – but is about half the price, more precisely 6,500 euros per pair. The 100F is the largest passive model in the Founder series; the top model Founder 120F (10,500 euros), has active bass. The smaller 80F floorstanding model, as well as a compact and two center speakers, complete the Canadian line, which is positioned between the Persona flagship series and the cheaper Premier models, whose compact Premier 200B we have also tested before.
The Paradigm Founder 100F is a classic three-way loudspeaker. In order to keep the front slim and simultaneously offer power in the lower registers, Paradigm has installed three 7-inch bass drivers that work on a bass reflex volume of almost 44 liters. The reflex port radiates to the ground. A 6-inch cone midrange driver takes over from 500 Hertz, leaving the field to a 25 mm dome from 2100 Hertz. In both cases, the separation is of the 2nd order. The speaker terminal is of the bi-wiring type, and four outrigger feet ensure the column is stable. So far, so common.
What’s less common is for a speaker manufacturer to do almost everything themselves – with Paradigm, that’s exactly the case. They not only do the final assembly, but they also manufacture the housing and the drivers in-house. The latter is rare and usually only happens with larger manufacturers. So what are those chassis in the Founder 100F?
Paradigm has named the basses “Carbon-X,” which refers to the membrane of the three 7-inch speakers made of carbon fibers bonded with mineral additives, which is supposed to guarantee a successful mixture of rigidity, low weight, and internal damping. The so-called ART surround (Active Ridge Technology) prevents wobbling movements of the membrane even at high levels, I find out, the ribbed shape ensures that. There is also talk of “Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation.” An elastomer is used to attach the drivers to the 25 mm thick baffle, intended to minimize vibrations on the housing and from it to the chassis.
The midrange of the Founder 100F looks the same as that of the Persona 3F. Okay, the cover looks like this. Nice pattern. The whole thing does not only serve the optics and the protection of the driver, rather, we are dealing here with a special type of acoustic lens, which should largely compensate for phase differences that occur on the membrane due to different sound sources, which pays off in terms of sound. The Canadians call it “Perforated Phase-Aligning” (PPA). Unfortunately, the midrange driver itself does not have a beryllium membrane like that of the Persona models, which is not possible in terms of costs. Instead, an alloy of aluminum and magnesium is used.
This mix of materials is also used for the dome tweeter, supplemented by an outer ceramic layer. The tweeter is cooled and dampened with ferrofluid and has a PPA lens in front of the membrane. In addition, it is in a flat waveguide that optimizes the radiation behavior, according to the Canadians.
The case of the Paradigm Founder 100F also has its special features. This is less due to the material itself – MDF – than the shape. It’s idiosyncratic and interesting-looking if you ask me. Unfortunately, this only comes across to a limited extent in the photos. From the front, we see a “truncated pyramid” that measures 20 centimeters at the top and 24 centimeters at the bottom. The case gets slimmer towards the back, but not evenly decreasing from front to back, but rather “broken” over a lateral diagonal. The cross-section shows what it’s all about.
A diagonal strut runs from top to bottom and, together with horizontal braces, stabilizes the loudspeaker cabinet from the inside. And since the Founder 100F has a faceted case and is therefore not a simple cuboid, case resonances supposedly have little chance. The additional aluminum plate on the front also contributes to this, even if it is “only” held by strong magnets (which makes it easy to service if the worst comes to the worst). The front covers included in the scope of delivery also hold magnetically.
Paradigm Founder 100F: Hearing Test & Comparisons
Statements like “Speaker X makes life difficult for others at many times the price” are surprisingly common, and somewhere on the web, I found something similar to the Founder 100F. I don’t want to disturb the party, but I know a few of these speakers that are three to four times as expensive, yes, actually even “only” twice as expensive from the same stable, namely said Persona 3F – they are not the same neither in terms of price nor in terms of sound. Especially regarding pulse reproduction and resolution, the Persona is in another league. It would be a bit strange otherwise – and there’s nothing wrong with the Founder 100F; it does a great job for the money.
Dynamics & Details
The Founder’s dynamics and detail resolution are good, although not “sensational.” And maybe that’s the laudable thing, at least when looking for a generalist. For a rough classification: A Pylon Audio Amber Mk2, which is huge for its purchase price of 5,000 euros and equipped with two 12-inch speakers, can naturally move more in terms of gross dynamics, especially in the bass and also in terms of the maximum level, it is ahead by a nose. On the other hand, a Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand Reference(7,500 euros) plays with a slightly finer resolution and is aerodynamically more faceted. On the other hand, it cannot keep up with the Paradigm macro dynamically, while said Pylon fails to match the Canadian regarding the level of detail and accurate reproduction of subtle volume nuances. Of the three, the Founder 100F is the “most all-rounder” in these disciplines, while the other two are more of a specialist.
Two more things: Regarding rough dynamics, the Paradigm is having fun, no question, especially given its size; it’s quite amazing what it can “beat out.” At the same time, I’m more struck by the fine dynamics: Apparent little things like breathing when singing, buzzing of a string on the bridge, or the fine cymbal work of a jazz drummer have a very convincing effect, even below room volume. And as far as the resolution is concerned, I think it gets better and better as you move toward the “middle.” In the vocal range, it is excellent for this class and very decent at the frequency extremes. Yes, active concepts can be used in bass, and panel radiators often get one or the other detail more out in the highs. But on the one hand, these are not worlds; on the other hand, the midrange is the most important thing, and the Paradigm is wonderfully clear and unoccupied.
Tonally, the Paradigm Founder 100F seems smartly tuned, as I would like to call it. It doesn’t follow the pure studio theory, but that’s exactly why it should be optimal for the majority of music listeners – and the natural habitat of this loudspeaker, I’m thinking of rooms around 20 to 30 square meters. The middle range, which has such a good resolution, is kept linear, but the Founder 100F treats itself to a little good humor at the frequency response ends. If you’re thinking, “Aha, bathtub!” I have to whistle you back: I’m talking about a slight emphasis.
It’s fun when the middle and upper bass have upped the ante, isn’t it? Especially when it’s not bone-dry, but is served with decent contours, and the kick bass lives up to its name. The Canadians specify a lower limit frequency of 42 Hertz (-2 dB). That sounds realistic and means that the lowest octave is weakly pronounced. You notice it compared to the rare species of real full-range loudspeakers, for example, in organ works or electronica with considerable sub-bass components – but also in the beautiful pop-piano album MassEducation (piano version ) by St. Vincent. The lower registers could theoretically be illuminated even more deeply. Suppose you also want to experience this in practice. In that case, you might be better off listening to the partially active Founder 120F, which is supposed to play down to 22 Hertz – but think carefully beforehand whether you have the right room for it. In any case, in the aforementioned “natural habitat” of the Founder 100F, it’s quite common that 15-meter-long sound waves don’t unfold freely, if you know what I mean.
Let’s move on to the upper registers. Here, too, Paradigm cleverly timbres the Founder 100F. The dome starts at 2100 Hertz and plays clearly and distinctly up to the super treble. There is a small dash of extra shine, which ensures, for example, that even at midnight levels, you can hear fine work on the snare and “broom on cymbal tenderness”, where other speakers tend to fall asleep. And at normal volumes, it’s more like: “Hello, I’m awake – are you too?!” than “Go back to sleep.” Guitars shimmer, cymbals shine, and nothing seems overcast. Turns on, but it’s not a stupid come-on. It’s about a fine accent if that’s around 1-2 dB. And more importantly, the upper mids remain linear, ensuring that voices, guitars, trumpets, etc., never sound too intrusive. With all the openness, freshness, and air that the Paradigm conveys, you can listen to music with it for a long time without it getting too much.
Fun on the edges, audiophile charm in the middle – this concept works damn well. I’ve only recently discovered Micah P. Hinson, and this scruffy indie-folk/country guy like he did on the And The Red Empire Orchestra album can be found comes across great with the Founder 100F. It starts with the first track, “Come Home Quickly, Darlin'”, which starts distorted in classic lo-fi style before a bass wave slowly rolls in from about 20”, and the song opens up with power – the Canadian goes with it and pushes with verve from below so that the dynamic jump gets an extra twist. Track #2, “Tell Me It Ain’t So,” is also underpinned by substantial bass – but what’s more impressive is the clarity with which the Paradigm Founder 100F draws the guitar and Hinson’s voice. What then makes me listen almost in awe to the economical “Throw The Stone”: This realism in the vocal range is not normal, especially not for the money. And how well the illusion succeeds that the singer is standing before me!
The way the Paradigm Founder 100F winds up the virtual stage is, in fact, essential to the fact that it wraps the listener around its finger. Fine, not everyone. If you’re scrupulously careful that the music stays well-behaved at a distance, you should probably look elsewhere – but I suspect that’s not the case for most people.
In any case, the Founder 100F dares to put it before the stereo base. It’s not distanceless, but it’s close and involving. It’s not as if the depth of the stage is compromised, as is sometimes the case with front-facing speakers. It’s more normal here so that orchestral works are also presented decently staggered. The width is less normal; it turns out to be quite generous. With the right recordings, it also goes far laterally beyond the loudspeakers. Very pretty panorama.
But even that is not the decisive factor. For me, that includes two other things. Firstly, the completely clear picture. Sure, many speakers can do that quite well these days. But some can do better. And so convincingly that one involuntarily wonders what the black pillars in front where the music is playing are all about. The Paradigm acoustically disappear from the scene; they don’t enclose the stage but stand around randomly; that’s the impression.
Second: Unlike other loudspeakers that play convincingly spatially, I’m thinking of models from Dynaudio or the first version of the Wilson Sabrina; for example, the word here is a very plastic, sharp-edged reproduction of individual sounds. Rather, voices and instruments seem slightly rounder, more organic, as if drawn with a softer line – but never as if from the off, but simultaneously definite. I know this sounds a bit paradoxical, but that’s what’s so cool about Paradigm’s “space design.” With decent productions, the illusion that the musicians are standing in the living room is pretty much perfect – but it never has anything “hi-fi hyper-real”, but remains natural, relaxed, and open. Difficult to describe. The Paradigm reminds me of Blumenhofer loudspeakers such as the Genuin FS 1, 2, or 3 in this respect, although they are completely different in concept and price. But they can simultaneously combine a softer stroke and a concrete impression.
Linear and excellently resolved in the mid-band, spacious, very free, and involving stage impression, combined with a little more drive at the ends of the frequency response: the Paradigm Founder 100F floorstanding speaker is excellent at combining classic audiophile virtues with uninhibited fun in music. Also on offer: an interestingly designed, furniture-quality case and the certainty of purchasing a proprietary product from the ground up. The Canadians not only develop, they also manufacture everything themselves.
If you’re looking for speakers in this price range, you should check out the Founder 100F, even if you haven’t checked out Paradigm yet. That could change quickly.
Paradigm Founder 100F profile:
- Tonally neutral in the middle, minimally emphasized at the ends of the frequency response.
- The bass is powerful but not overdone. They only indicate the bottom octave, which is normal for passive technology of this size and is usually better for rooms of 20 to 30 square meters. A “semi-dry” bass tone is offered in terms of quality – good definition, yes; iron control, no.
- The neutral midrange has an audiophile resolution; voices and acoustic instruments, particularly, are authentic. Class!
- Also rich in detail in the treble but not as amazingly good as in the mids. A pinch of extra shine is involved, which ensures an open, airy, and lively impression without overstimulating the skat.
- Coarse and fine dynamic good for the price league. Also, thanks to the tonal tuning, the Paradigm rips, rocks, and grooves loosely and swinging, anything but a fun killer. On top of that, it is level-resistant.
- How the room is presented can be seen as a clear strength. The Founder 100F takes itself out of the sound acoustically, dares to step in front of the stereo base, and draws up a wide panorama. Good, normally extended depth graduation.
- The special feature: on the one hand, the illusion that the musicians are standing in front of you works very well; on the other hand, the individual voices and instruments seem to have been drawn with a softer line. Some loudspeakers offer a clearer edge surround – but with the Paradigm, the combination of round/organic imaging and, at the same time, the concrete impression is very charming and natural.
- Modell: Paradigm Founder 100F
- Concept: 3-way floorstanding speaker
- Price: 6,500 euros
- Dimensions & weight: 1065 x 328 x 409 mm (HxWxD including foot area, baffle width approx. 220 mm), 32.7 kg/each
- Finishes: Piano Black, Black Walnut, Midnight Cherry, Walnut
- Nennimpedanz: 8 Ohm
- Efficiency: 90dB/W/m
- Other: front cover
- Guarantee: 2 years