Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
It’s getting to the point where even the most elitist high-end audio enthusiasts have to admit that the performance delta between affordable and aspirational audio gear is shrinking at an ever-increasing rate. More and more these days, the things that separate budget components from the spendy stuff are styling, materials, finishes, pedigree, exclusivity, and so forth. All valid, mind you. I’m not discounting any of them. But there’s also a good argument to be made that at the upper end of the value scale—meaning the lower end of the price scale—there aren’t a whole lot of speakers that can peel your face straight off your skull in a really large room while also being refined and balanced at lower listening levels. I’d say my go-to in this category is GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Two+, but at $4500/pair (all prices USD), that one is still quite out of reach for a lot of people. All of which makes Paradigm’s new Monitor SE 8000F—a $1699.98/pair beast of a loudspeaker that promises to fit this niche—potentially very exciting.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the development of the 8000F, the reasons it was added to the Monitor SE family a couple of years after that line was initially released, and how it points to both the history and the future of Paradigm, be sure to check out my chat with the company’s VP of product development, Zoltan Balla, and product manager, Blake Alty. For the purposes of this review, though, most of what you need to know is as follows: the 8000F displaces the 6000F as the new top of the Monitor SE line. It is, in some respects, a scaled-up 6000F with a larger cabinet, larger drivers, and greater power handling.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. To ensure that the tweeter would keep up with the increased output of the rest of the speaker, Paradigm employed a deeper waveguide—a precursor to the waveguide developed for the Founder Series—which also has the added benefits of more controlled dispersion and directivity.
The tweeter—a 1″ X-PAL dome—also benefits from Paradigm’s Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lens, and crosses over with the 6.5″ mineral-filled polypropylene midrange driver at 3000Hz. The mid, meanwhile, crosses over with a trio of 8″ mineral-filled polypropylene bass drivers at 800Hz. And all of those drivers reside within a cabinet measuring 45.88″ tall, 11.75″ wide, and 17.69″ deep, with a fighting weight of 69 pounds.
There’s no denying that Paradigm saved some money on the 8000F by opting for pegs instead of magnets to affix the speaker grilles, and by opting for a simple flat black or white vinyl wrap instead of trying to mimic wood grain. Frankly, though, the speaker looks much nicer in person than it does in photographs, and I’d quite like to see what the white model looks like in my room. But the black does its job, and the lack of gloss goes a long way toward making the speakers not stand out so much in the room.
Setting up, dialing in, and (eventually) relocating the Monitor SE 8000F
That last observation is important because, if it weren’t obvious from the stats listed above, Paradigm’s new budget flagship is a relatively large speaker. Here in Alabama, we would call it a “hoss.” And I’m dwelling on that fact because I should have known the instant my review samples came out of their cartons that I was looking at too much speaker for my two-channel system. But sometimes, the only way to be certain is to mess around and find out.
So I moved my reference Paradigm Studio 100 v5s out of my 10′ 1″ by 12′ 4″ listening room and started playing around with the placement of the 8000Fs. Compared to the Studio 100 v5s, they needed a little more space behind them (although not much), a bit less toe-in, and an extra 18 or so inches of space between them. I connected them to a Rotel A12MKII integrated amplifier via Elac Sensible speaker cables and spent a few days listening casually before settling down for some critical listening. Due to circumstances that I won’t fully spell out here—some architectural, some personal, some decorative—I wasn’t able to get more than about 5.75′ away from the speakers, which didn’t feel like enough distance to my ears. And that wasn’t a consequence of their being too loud, mind you. It simply felt to me as if the output of all five drivers (well, all ten if you count the speakers as a pair) wasn’t reaching my ears in equal proportions.
So I pulled them out of my stereo room and hand-trucked them into my much larger media room, which measures closer to 17′ x 19′. I don’t have as much wiggle room in terms of speaker placement in that room, given that I have a big credenza, a 75″ display, and two massive SVS PB-4000 subwoofers along the front wall. To be frank, if the 8000Fs hadn’t sounded great placed pretty much exactly where my GoldenEar Triton One.R towers normally reside, I’m not sure what I would have done. But they did. I really only had to toe them out ever-so-slightly from my starting position to arrive at a setup that sounded fantastic from a seated position about 6.5′ away and pretty much perfect by the time I was around 7′ away. I did all of my listening with the 8000Fs unclothed.
As you might expect, electronics in that room are geared more toward home cinema than stereo music listening, so I made a few temporary tweaks to the setup. For the duration of my critical listening, I kept my Marantz AV8805 A/V surround preamp in Stereo mode and disabled my subs to take the rest of my speakers out of the equation, but I avoided Direct mode because my media room isn’t as well treated as my two-channel space, and I need room correction to combat room modes. I re-ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction of the AV8805 with a maximum filter frequency of 770Hz. (More info on how and why I calculate and set max filter frequencies for room correction can be found in this article.) I also connected my laptop to my Oppo UDP-205 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player via USB so I could stream Qobuz, since for whatever reason none of the myriad streaming boxes connected to my home theater system support the service natively. Speaker-level connections between my Anthem A5 power amplifier and the Monitor SE 8000Fs were Straight Wire Encore II speaker cables pre-terminated with banana plugs.
How does the Monitor SE 8000F sound?
I honestly had no intention of starting my critical listening with Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” (The Platinum Collection, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Hollywood Records/Qobuz). Mind you, it’s almost always one of the first songs I throw at any new speaker or headphone because it’s sort of a canary-in-a-coalmine song for me. By that I mean it may not bring out the absolute best in any given speaker, but if there are egregious problems, it’ll draw attention to them quickly. It’s also super handy in my media room for dialing in the distance from the speakers to the wall behind them, which unfortunately isn’t as well-treated as I’d like because this room is a multi-use family space. Too much boundary reinforcement and this track can get real boomy real quick.
I’ve also found that if “Radio Ga Ga” sounds right, just about everything else sounds right, so it’s a great setup tool if nothing else. If tonality isn’t pretty well-balanced from 500Hz to 5kHz, Freddie Mercury’s vocals can sound shrill or sibilant at one extreme or buried in the mix at the other. I’ve heard speakers and headphones that managed both at the same time.
Through the 8000Fs, his voice shined through the mix with brilliance, exceptional detail, no harshness, no edginess, no shyness—but hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself here. The first thing that impressed me was the speakers’ delivery of the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer beats and Roland JP-8 synths. If Mercury’s voice has a tendency to sound off with more idiosyncratic speaker designs, the drum beats can become borderline unlistenable at higher SPLs, especially if there’s anything kooky going on at around 3kHz to 4kHz—which, incidentally, is right around the crossover point between the tweeter and mid of the 8000F.
Simply put, the speakers’ delivery of the beats and bass grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let me go. I grabbed my notepad and started throwing adjectives at it like Jackson Pollock slinging paint at a canvas: “bold, dynamic, punchy, tight, effortless, clean, authoritative, powerful but beautifully controlled.” The bass drop at right around the 24-second mark also surprised me with its depth and power, its extension and authority, but also its lack of flab and bloat. It seemed neither too far forward nor too far back in the mix, which is a tricky needle to thread with this song. The speakers also delivered a wonderful soundstage with good image specificity, and I was able to crank the volume knob a lot higher than expected without bumping into a wall of fatigue. In fact, the only discomfort for me came when I tried to push the speakers as loud as I could tolerate for the briefest of moments. At peaks of around 105dB, I frankly felt more unease in my chest than I did in my ears.
OK, so we’ve established that the 8000F can play loudly and confidently, as long as you give it room to breathe. But the truth of the matter is that I rarely let the volume knob twist that far to the right except during critical evaluation. So for me, it was far more important to hear how the speaker would handle something more delicate, played at much lower listening levels. One of my go-to tracks for this is “Something in the Way” from the original CD pressing of Nirvana’s Nevermind (DGC DGCD-24425), which I prefer to any of the remasters released since.
With peaks hitting at right around 74dB at my listening position and average SPLs somewhere in the low 60s, I found the 8000Fs’ delivery of the track to be incredibly intimate, not to mention delicate, but with a presentation that was appropriately out-in-the-room. Attack and decay were spot-on, and the bed of tape hiss lying underneath the vocals was present but not overbearing.
When the chorus kicked in at around the one-minute mark, I was duly impressed by not only the dynamics and spot-on attack of Dave Grohl’s drumming but also the depth, power, and even temper of Krist Novoselic’s bass playing.
For something a bit more cleanly recorded and, depending on your perspective, a bit more modern, I turned my attention to a recent cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” that was released as a single by Glüme (24/48 FLAC, Italians Do It Better/Qobuz). I like this one a lot, not only because Glüme’s vocals are as lush as they are whispery, but also because the track was recorded (or mixed?) with so much reverb that the vocals and sparse piano accompaniment decay at the pace of a pitch drop experiment. Though wholly artificial as best I can tell, the sense of space is staggering, and the Monitor SE 8000Fs rendered the depth and width of the recording unimpeachably. Tonality across the listening window sounded very well balanced to my ears, and everything from detail and dynamics to soundstaging and imaging were accurate at listening levels ranging from a kitten purr to a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
What other speakers in this price class go toe-to-toe with the Monitor SE 8000F?
Keeping the comparisons as Granny-Smith-to-Golden-Delicious as possible, I quite like the Revel Concerta2 F35 at $880/each. This one is a 2.5-way tower with three 5.25″ aluminum bass and midrange cones, along with a 1″ aluminum tweeter with an acoustic lens waveguide. Mind you, it’s not quite as large a speaker as the Monitor SE 8000F, standing as it does at just 40.25″ by 8.42″ by 12.2″. And based on published specifications, it doesn’t appear to be as sensitive. In terms of aesthetics, the speakers are largely similar, except for the fact that the F35’s teardrop cabinet gives it a slightly more refined look. Whether it can play as loudly and cleanly near its limits, though, is a question that I cannot answer without doing a head-to-head test, but it’s the first thing I would listen for if auditioning them both.
Similarly, while it may not quite look the part, a speaker with which I have more listening experience and which I think might give the 8000F a run for its money is the SVS Prime Pinnacle at $899.99/each. A three-way design with a 5.25″ composite glass-fiber mid driver over a 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter, and a trio of 6.5″ bass drivers below, with crossovers set at 2.1kHz and 300Hz, the Prime Pinnacle is about the same size as the Revel—meaning it’s a good bit smaller than the Paradigm—but I’ve heard it holler in some pretty sizable demo spaces. Whether it could keep up with the output of the 8000F is, again, a question I can’t answer.
Interestingly enough, a more direct competitor to the Paradigm Monitor SE 8000F is the Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-8000F at $829.00/each. This particular 8000F is a two-way tower featuring dual 8″ ceramic/metal composite woofers crossed over at 1750Hz with a 1” titanium tweeter loaded in a Tractrix horn. Measuring 43.12″ by 10.90″ by 17.56″ and weighing in at 60 pounds, it’s a pretty close match for the Paradigm in terms of overall size. It’s an unusual design to be sure, and I haven’t heard it myself, but a number of people whose opinions I respect have spoken highly of it. In terms of aesthetics, I dig the copper-colored woofers and the wood-grain look of two of the speaker’s three available vinyl finishes. I have little doubt that the RP-8000F can crank out raucous SPLs in larger rooms. I guess the one question I have—and the one thing I’d be listening most closely for in a direct comparison—would be whether or not it’s as tonally well-balanced across the listening window as is the Paradigm Monitor SE 8000F.
TL;DR: Should you buy the Paradigm Monitor SE 8000F?
If what you’re looking for is a speaker with clean and simple styling, good tonal balance, great dynamics, and controlled directivity that maintains its composure at listening levels ranging from “let’s have a nice dinner party” to “Motörhead ain’t got shit on this,” well, the truth of the matter is that you have a lot of options.
If you want all of the above and don’t want to spend more than $900 per speaker, though, you’re getting into a niche that few speakers aside from the Monitor SE 8000F can fill. As such, I’d be inclined to forgive it if it had a few reasonable flaws, such as port noise (I didn’t hear any), some high- or low-frequency tonal colorations (none that my ears could detect), or what have you. The fact that it doesn’t suffer from such distortions to any appreciable degree is perhaps one of the most impressive things about it.
As I said in the setup section, the 8000F isn’t the right speaker for every room or every end-user. It’s far too much speaker for my stereo listening room, and if it were to take up permanent residence in my family room/media room, I might like it to have a few additional styling refinements, like capsule-shaped grilles or—if displayed in the altogether—some accents around the driver surrounds. But the aesthetic quibbles seem like such minor nits to pick, especially when the 8000F delivers where it matters the most: in terms of performance.
. . . Dennis Burger
- Amplifiers and preamplifiers: Rotel A12MKII integrated amplifier; Marantz AV8805 A/V preamp; Anthem A5 amplifier.
- Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible speaker cables; Straight Wire Encore II speaker cables.
- Sources: Maingear Vybe PC; iPhone 12 Pro Max; Oppo UDP-205 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player.
- Power protection: SurgeX XR115 surge eliminator; SurgeX XC18 space saver surge eliminator.
Paradigm Monitor SE 8000F Loudspeakers
Price: $1699.98 per pair.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994