Paradigm's Reference Signature speaker array is for people who don't need to worry about money and are looking for one of the most mind-blowing home cinema surround systems available

A very sexy-looking and mature set of enclosures, the Paradigm Reference system is about might and power and huge amounts of detail and control. Also, I reckon it's amazing value for money. Sounds like an absurdity for twenty fat ones' worth of woodwork and bits that go in and out, but bear with me…

Guilty pleasure

I actually had guilt attacks during this review, it was so much fun. Because the Paradigm Reference cabinets are so big, I had to travel to see them. I sashayed in, put on figurative white silk gloves and sat on my capacious butt while the guys from distributors Anthem AV Solutions wrangled their source components to make them deliver the clips I fancied. Makes a change from lugging my own cabinets around.

I started with jazz vocalist Jane Monheit on a Dolby TrueHD demo disc. I was enraptured by this in a Pioneer demo room at the Sound and Vision show back in February, and been deeply disappointed by systems since.

Then I got to listen to it on the £40,000 KEF Reference system and, despite the accompanying demo projector being utter pants by comparison, I once again experienced an extreme emotional reaction. That happened yet again with this Paradigm system. My mouth went dry, and, as Monheit's voice soared with that effortless god-given ease and beauty, and she wrinkled her cute nose, I experienced a tightening of the swonnicles…

Paradigm reference signature 7.1 set

Moving rapidly on, it was time for the inevitable viewing of Lifted from the Ratatouille Blu-ray disc. Regular readers will know I adore this and thus know it well. Or thought I did, for while I have enjoyed this 'toon on setups with such astonishing power that it made me duck when the poor abductee's head 'bonks' on the walls of his bedroom, this time I actually heard stuff I have never picked out before.

For instance, the moment when the Boss alien relents and lets his little apprentice have a go at the abduction once more, the control stick actually squeaks as he turns it around.

Broadsword and rapier

So this system is about delicacy and detail as well as some real power. While it positively bristles with transducers (I don't think I have ever sat in front of so many drivers in that many boxes before) they are all working like the pistons in a Rolls Royce – under-stressed, easy life – so they can do what they do with ease and grace.

Looking at it, you might expect it to rip your face off its bones, like, say, a Cerwin Vega package. But you'd be wrong, as simply going loud is not really what it is about. Despite a monster 3,000W watts of oomph in the subwoofer, it is about headroom rather than sheer level. A lot like the Wilson Audio Maxx 2 speakers, yet for a massively lower price.

I was demo'd clips from Kung Fu Panda and the IMAX-filmed opening of The Dark Knight; in the latter the gunplay and crashing-buses-through-bank-fronts almost blew me away.

Lastly the tremendously stylish beginning of Iron Man. Never before have I heard the transition of AC/DC's Back in Black (from music used as background to open the film, to feature music playing on a ghetto blaster), so crisp or so in-your-face accurate. The dynamics were enormous, so when the bomb exploded in front of Tony Stark later on I really felt like it hit the room, as the headroom was so enormous.

The Sub 25 subwoofer marries a 15in driver to its three kilowatts of amplification. Elsewhere, under the grilles of the narrow-fronted but deep cabinets all around you, there are 38 other drivers – and they're all a bit special.

The tweeters are madly high-end, using pure beryllium domes with neodymium magnets and ferrofluid in the gaps. The latter, a natty oily liquid containing tiny magnetic particles, increases the speakers power-handling via thermal conduction, ups the efficiency of the magnet/voice coil interface and provides some mechanical dampening to reduce distortion.

The mids all feature metal cones made of cobalt-infused aluminium. They again have neodymium magnets, and, very unusually for midrange drivers, are also ferrofluid-cooled and-damped. This is speaker driver sexiness, believe me.

The 7in bass drivers are crafted from mineral-filled polypropylene – so a bit better than normal polyprop – and the cabinets are carefully ported, both front and back in the case of the S8 floorstander.

The ADP3 surrounds, despite their along-the-wall design and singular front-firing bass unit, offer a fabulously directional output that really places the sounds around you when the designer wants to, rather than diffusing beyond any designer's ability to wrap you up.

Value for money

These Paradigm Reference cabinets are a wonderful slice of high-end audio, which compete for clarity with some speaker packages way more expensive, even if they won't break bones like the bigger badder boys.

So, even at £20K I actually think they're good value for your high-end pound, and worthy of an audition for any ambitious home cinema.

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