To audition the full ensemble, I turned to the multichannel DVD-Audio version of Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/ Nonesuch, reviewed in the April Sound & Vision). This lively recording features some of the greatest Cuban musicians ever, playing tunes that get your body moving. More important, the disc is a textbook example of how to make a surround mix work. The Paradigm system did a superb job reproducing the music because it follows the cardinal rule of multichannel playback: timbre-matched speakers all around, so no matter where instruments are placed in the mix, they sound connected acoustically to instruments in the other channels. Without that, you're a dead duck.
I was especially happy with the interplay between the Monitor 11's low end and the PW-2200's upper end. Many of these songs have harmonically complex string-bass lines reinforced by percussion, and a lame "one-note" woofer would have murdered them. The PW-2200 proved to be musical, handling the low end with clarity and cleanly handing off the upper frequencies to the Monitor 11s. Sometimes you can get away with tiny satellites and a big subwoofer, but this Paradigm ensemble makes a good argument that it's better to have decent bass response in your main speakers, too, or at least the front left/ right pair.
I was a bit less enthusiastic about the ADP-370 surrounds. They are fantastic speakers, but they're dipoles - terrific for creating ambience, not as good at surround imaging. That's no problem with movies, and sometimes not even with multichannel music (particularly classical music), but some of the Buena Vista tunes would have benefited from more precise surround imaging. For example, in some songs the backup vocals are placed in all four "corners" of the soundstage. They sounded fine, but the imaging in the front and back was completely different, which I doubt is what the mixing engineer intended. I'd have preferred direct-firing surrounds in this case. Of course, Paradigm offers a variety of nondipole speakers to choose from. For example, a pair of Monitor 5s in back would completely erase my complaint.
To test the system's cinema prowess, I turned to Lost Souls, a moody morality play starring Winona Ryder. This installment of devil-baiting isn't nearly as much fun as a romp with the Antichrist could be, but it's still entertaining. Helping things considerably is the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack (the DVD also has a DTS version), which surrounds you in nearly nonstop sonic tension.
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