Paradigm Founder 120H Review

At first glance, you may think ‘we’ve been here before’ as these Paradigm Founder 120H speakers, yours for a couple of pence short of £, look very much like the 100F model [HFN Jul ’21]. Yet there’s more than enough going on with this flagship design from the Canadian manufacturer to set it apart from the next model down, and justify the £ price differential over the £ Founder 100F.

Apart from the size increase, in both the cabinet and those Carbon-X bass drivers, there’s the small matter of the suffix on the model number: the ‘H’ referencing its hybrid of passive mid and treble with integrated active drive for the bass section below. That also explains the IEC mains socket beside the speaker terminals…

SHOCK TACTICS

Actually, there’s even more to it than that, for alongside the 1000W of bass amplification comes Anthem’s Room Correction (ARC), said to enable ‘bass down to 18Hz that sounds precise and controlled in any room’ [see boxout, p47]. Aside from ARC, the only other set-up here involves the outriggers – open the boxes upside down and you’ll find the feet are swung in for shipment, and require deploying and fixing in place with a single screw, and then rubber pads or spikes attaching. The feet themselves use a decoupling system Paradigm calls ‘Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation’, and once fitted the feet can be adjusted from above using a supplied Allen key, enabling them to be levelled in situ.

Installed, this is an elegant speaker, tapering from bottom to top, and with an angled crease running diagonally across the side panel, which is more obvious on the wood-finished speakers – in Walnut, Black Walnut or Midnight Cherry [seen here] – than it is with the Piano Black high-gloss finish. This faceted effect is no mere styling foible as it echoes the internal ‘Cascade Fusion Brace’, running from top front to bottom rear, combining with horizontal partitions to divide the internal volume up into a series of compartments of irregular shape. There’s also a downward-venting reflex port [see cutaway, p47].

‘Big and bold, with pounding bass and fine dynamics’

The 120H shares the 25mm tweeter and 150mm midrange driver found in the smaller 100F. The HF unit uses a lightweight but rigid magnesium alloy/ceramic dome combined with an ‘Oblate Spheroid Waveguide’ and ‘Perforated Phase-Aligning Tweeter Lens’. The mid driver also travels the ‘light but rigid’ route with an alloy cone and similar lens arrangement, and is attached to the baffle with the same ‘Shock-Mount’ decoupling system used for the bass drivers.

Talking of which, the 120H builds on the design of the 100F with a trio of 215mm drivers in place of the 177mm units found in the smaller speaker. These use the company’s ‘Carbon-X’ diaphragms with ‘Active Ridge’ surrounds, operating below 300Hz, while the passive midrange/tweeter divide duties at 2.4kHz. Connection is entirely conventional – well, apart from that mains input – with two sets of speaker terminals provided for bi-wiring/bi-amping, linked here with metal jumpers for single-wired operation [see pic, p49].

CANADIAN CULTURE

Paradigm quotes a high 92dB+ sensitivity for its flagship Founders along with a suitably vague ‘compatible with 8ohm’ impedance [see PM’s Lab Report, p49]. For our sessions in the HFN listening room I took no chances, driving the speakers with a brace of 350W Classé Delta Mono power amps on the end of Classé’s Delta Pre preamp [HFN Jun ’21], fed from a Melco N1ZS20 music library [HFN Jun ’17], and it was clear from the off that the set-up was a felicitous one, the speed and slam of the Canadian-designed/Japanese-made amplification proving the perfect foil for its compatriot speakers from Ontario.

While far from the largest speakers to have graced the room in recent times, the 120Hs did a more than fair job of both filling the space with sound and conveying hugely exciting and involving music. The crystalline recording quality of Anna Fedorova’s Shaping Chopin recital [Channel Classics CCS 43621; DSD128], rewarded us with the familiar combination of beautifully-realised instrumental timbre and a good sense of the concert-hall acoustic.

Yes, we’ve heard this set rendered with slightly more solid imaging, and an ever-greater impression of the ambience, but the 120Hs still deliver that winning mixture of substance and detail required for a convincing picture of a large instrument being played in a generous space.

Similarly, with ‘White Rock Beer… 8 Cents’ from guitarist Robben Ford’s Pure [Ear Music 0216930EMU], the 120Hs show the same directness of instrumental communication. Straight and to the point, they revel in the tone of Ford’s solo guitar, while displaying excellent drive in the accompanying band, underpinned by reliably extended, yet tight, bass.

These are speakers disinclined to attempt to impress the listener with the hi-fi tricks of maximum information, so if you enjoy hunting for creaking chairs or other distractions, they may not be for you. Nevertheless, there’s no denying their ability to just get on with the important stuff of musical involvement.

BATONS READY…

That’s apparent with recordings as diverse as the Genesis retrospective The Last Domino? [Virgin 3542876], where they do a great job of slamming out the familiar hits, mastered by Miles Showell, in a big, bold manner, with pounding bass and fine dynamics. So too with the recent Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos [Harmonia Mundi HMM90268687], where the speed and definition on offer makes the musical lines easy to follow, despite the slightly loose soundstaging. This is definitely one that the head-conductors will love, as they’ll soon be bobbing along with the music!

Feed the Paradigm 120Hs with the raw energy of Ronnie Wood’s Mr Luck – A Tribute To Jimmy Reed: Live At The Royal Albert Hall [BMG 538682242], and the exuberance of both the performances and the live sound is hard to ignore. The take on ‘Let’s Get Together’ isn’t going to win any prizes for crystal-clear demo-quality sound, but it’s undeniably real musicians doing what they do best, with a real sense of the band rocking out. The sound is rough, dirty and bluesy – as it should be – and the 120Hs deliver it with maximum force, and no shortage of swagger.

Switch to the softer, more ‘produced’ rock of Paul Carrack’s ‘Precious Time’ from his One On One set [Carrack UK, n/a cat. no.], and what’s immediately clear is the sympathetic, detailed view of that superb voice. The production is all about that vocal character, which the speakers deliver in a fine, unforced and easygoing manner, while also opening up the mix and building a sound of intimacy and atmosphere. Yes, it’s a close-up recording, and that’s exactly how the big Paradigm 120Hs present it, albeit with a lightness of touch belying the presence of that trio of big bass drivers.

SENSITIVE TOUCH

That ability with a close-up sound is also heard to good effect on the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Renaud Capuçon’s sensitive recording of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa [Erato 9029502957]. Here the opening ‘Ludus’ shows the speakers’ superb handling of instrumental timbres right from the off in the rhythmic drive, the solo violin fluid and with good bite, and the light and shade of the piece conveyed with a delicate touch that’s absolutely appropriate.

Lovely, too is the way notes decay into the acoustic, plus the sheer speed and crispness of the entire sound. It’s a very toothsome listen, these gutsy speakers making the most of the simplicity of both scoring and recording.

VERDICT

However you look at it, the Founder 120H is an awful lot of speaker for the money, whether in terms of technology, quality of design, build or finish, or the sheer sonic ability on offer. The active bass is both massively powerful and exceptionally well integrated into the passive mid/ treble. These speakers make for a compelling listen, really getting into the heart of the music – whatever genre you choose.

Sound Quality: 87%

AUDIO FILE

Five driver, three-way floorstanding speaker with active bass

Manufactured by: Paradigm Electronics Inc., Canada

Supplied by: Pulse Cinemas Ltd, Essex, UK

Telephone: 01279 647 039

Web: www.paradigm.comwww.pulsecinemas.com

LAB REPORT

Paradigm’s very generous 92dB sensitivity rating for the Founder 120H is on the money, these flagship speakers delivering a thundering 93dB (2.83V/1kHz/1m). However, sensitivity does fall to 91.1dB across 500Hz-8kHz thanks to a loss in axial output around the 2.4kHz crossover between the AL-MAG mid and AL-MAC tweeter, the 1-4kHz dip being more obvious in one of our pair [see Graph 1, below] and entirely responsible for the 5.7dB matching error. Either side of this region the 120H’s pair matching is a deeply impressive 0.8dB but the dip also magnifies the response errors to ±6.0dB and ±5.1dB, respectively. Listening slightly off-axis, beyond 2m, will provide a far smoother response than is illustrated here, while the low ~0.2% bass/midrange THD (all re. 90dB/1m SPL) also bodes well for a ‘clean’ sound.

Bass is equally thunderous with the trio of DSP/actively-driven ‘Carbon-X’ woofers unified in their 31Hz-340Hz (-6dB) bandpass, supplemented at 29Hz by the downward-firing port to realise a rib-tickling 18Hz extension [-6dB re. 200Hz – green shaded area, Graph 1]. As the 120H is ‘active’ below ~300Hz it does not present a tough/high current load for the partnering amplifier, the -85o to -37o phase angle (20Hz-300Hz) largely irrelevant in the face of the high 100-6.4ohm impedance. In practice the mild misterminations at 790Hz and 1.05kHz – visible as peaks on the forward trace and lobes/ripples on the CSD waterfall [see Graph 2] – may contribute more to the ‘character’ of the speaker. At ultrasonic frequencies, the alloy/ceramic tweeter’s primary mode is at 26.6kHz and secondaries at 35-50kHz, all +7dB above the audioband [pink shaded area, Graph 1]. PM

ABOVE: Response inc. nearfield summed drivers/port [green], freefield corrected to 1m at 2.83V [yellow], ultrasonic [pink]. Left, black; right, red; w grille, blue

ABOVE: Short-lived resonances at 7.2kHz, 11kHz and 15kHz, but midband modes potentially more audible

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity (SPL/1m/2.83V – 1kHz/Mean/IEC)

93.3dB / 91.1dB / 88.9dB

Impedance modulus: minimum

& maximum (20Hz-20kHz)

3.5ohm @ 630Hz

100ohm @ 20Hz

Impedance phase: minimum

& maximum (20Hz-20kHz)

-85o@ 28Hz

+37o @ 1.4kHz

Pair matching/Resp. error (200Hz-20kHz)

5.7dB/ ±6.0dB/±5.1dB

LF/HF extension (-6dB ref 200Hz/10kHz)

18Hz / 53.3kHz/50.5kHz

THD 100Hz/1kHz/10kHz (for 90dB SPL/1m)

0.2% / 0.25% / 0.55%

Dimensions (HWD) / Weight (each)

1153x354x441mm / 42kg

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