Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Last April, after we published my SoundStage! Global blog about setting up the Paradigm Founder 100F loudspeakers, the many e-mails and other messages I received make me think, as I type these words, that this might turn out to be the most-read review I’ll write this year. If so, I think there will be three main reasons for that.
First, any new speaker from this company is bound to generate interest. Paradigm was established in 1982, and in the four decades since has become popular for consistently making speakers of excellent sound quality at not-very-high prices. Second, the Founder 100F’s price of $5199.98/pair (all prices USD) gives it broad appeal—it’s not cheap, but it’s not expensive for a high-end hi-fi speaker. Finally, the Founder Series comprise the first new Paradigm models to be introduced since Scott Bagby, one of the company’s two cofounders, and his son John, bought back full ownership of Paradigm from Shoreview Industries, which had come in as a partner in 2005, when cofounder Jerry VanderMarel left. According to Paradigm, Bagby oversaw the development of the Founder models, and even delayed their release a year to give the designers the time they needed to create speakers he could be personally proud of—hence the series’ name. Was the Founder 100F worth the wait?
Paradigm’s Founder Series slots above the Monitor SE and Premier lines but below the flagship Persona models. Of the six Founder models, the 100F sits between two other floorstanders: the 80F ($3799.98/pair) and 120H ($8499.98/pair). The 120H, however, has an active, DSP-based bass section with built-in Anthem Room Correction (ARC). (Anthem is also owned by the Bagbys, along with MartinLogan.) However, because the 120H’s midrange and tweeter are passive (the H stands for hybrid), the 100F is actually the largest and most expensive, fully passive Founder floorstander. Fleshing out the line are three stand-mounted models: the 40B ($2199.98/pair), the 90C center ($2599.99 each), and the 70LCR ($1699.99 each), the last model able to be oriented vertically or horizontally for use as a left, right, or center speaker. All Founder speakers are made in Paradigm’s 225,000-square-foot factory in Mississauga, Canada.
The 100F’s slightly tapered cabinet of MDF measures 42″H x 9.5″W x 12.75″D at its highest, widest, and deepest, and weighs 72 pounds. Two inches of that height are due to four short outrigger legs with feet that attach to the cabinet’s bottom. In my SoundStage! Global blog I surmised that those legs might be made of plastic, but John Bagby has since told me that they’re cast in aluminum and painted black.
However, the first thing anyone notices about the 100F is something it shares with all Founder models except the 70LCR: The cabinet tapers both from bottom to top and from front to back: its bottom is wider than its top, and its rear panel is, overall, narrower than the front baffle. What’s most unusual, however, is an angled bevel that diagonally bisects each side panel, to add style and beauty.
Not so obvious at first glance but more noticeable over time was that the 100F’s proportions are exactly right. This surprised me—I’d seen pictures of the 100F and the other Founders before the review pair arrived, and had thought there was something a little off about the floorstanders’ look. In photos of the 100F, for example, the rear panel didn’t look wide enough, the cabinet didn’t look deep enough, and the bevel looked weird. Now I think the photos just didn’t do this speaker justice, perhaps because of the way the bevel on each side catches the light. In real life, it’s a different story. From the moment I set them up until now, as I write this, I’ve loved this speaker’s look.
The Founders come in the buyer’s choice of three wood veneers—Walnut, Black Walnut, or Midnight Cherry—or high-gloss Piano black. Typically, I don’t like speakers in any sort of black finish, even high-gloss, but for Paradigm’s Black Walnut I make an exception. The way the black paint has been applied so that the wood grain shows through strongly looks great. Plus, the blend of the black cabinet with the front baffle of matte-black aluminum, and the contrast of the latter with the shiny trim ring around each driver and the tweeter’s waveguide, elevates the speaker’s overall look to flat-out fabulous. I’m pretty sure that this is the finish I’d get if I bought these speakers—but only after first taking a close look at the speaker in Walnut and Midnight Cherry.
The Founder 100F is a three-way speaker with five drivers: a 1″ tweeter with a dome made of Paradigm’s AL-MAC material, a composite of aluminum, magnesium, and ceramic; a 6ʺ midrange driver with an AL-MAG (aluminum and magnesium) cone; and three 7″ woofers, each with a cone of Carbon-X mineral-infused carbon fiber. The tweeter and midrange are crossed over to each other at 2.1kHz, the midrange and woofers at 500Hz. Second-order crossover slopes are used throughout. A huge port on the underside of the cabinet increase the bass output of the three woofers.
The tweeter’s dome is covered with one of Paradigm’s proprietary Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lenses, which affects its dispersion at higher frequencies, and is surrounded by the biggest waveguide I’ve ever seen on a Paradigm speaker. The waveguide acoustically amplifies the tweeter’s output without the amplifier having to drive the dome harder, and it controls its dispersion at lower frequencies, to better blend with the midrange driver’s output in the crossover region. The midrange, at its center a traditional dustcap, is entirely covered by a much larger PPA lens. The woofers have no PPAs—the frequencies they reproduce are of wavelengths too long to be affected by them—but their surrounds include the third generation of Paradigm’s Active Ridge Technology (ART), visible in their concentric ribs and claimed to result in greater excursion and lower distortion than with conventional half-roll surrounds.
Scott Bagby told me that the Founders were designed “to produce high output levels and low distortion, to allow for proper recreation of lifelike dynamic range,” something he highly values in a speaker. To help achieve those goals, the tweeter is ferrofluid-cooled, the midrange has “a 2″ high-temp multi-layered voice coil with ventilated Apical former,” and each woofer has a 1.5″ version of the same.
In the Founder 100F, resonances are controlled in a number of ways: with an abundance of braces inside the cabinet, the largest running diagonally from bottom to top of each side panel, exactly in line with the beveled edges on the exterior; with Paradigm’s Advanced Shock-Mount Isolation Mounting System of affixing the midrange and woofers to the cabinet, to minimize the transfer of resonances from drivers to cabinet; and with the Advanced Shock-Mount Feet, which are claimed to “decouple the cabinet from the floor, not just once, but twice, for extremely effective vibration decoupling.”
Those feet are a new feature that I expect will soon pop up on more new Paradigm speakers. It works like this: Each foot has a conical metal spike with a flat top, from the center of which rises a metal post. Above this, in the speaker’s metal leg, the socket that receives the post and flat top is filled with a spongy material. The foot’s post is inserted in the central hole in this material until the foot’s flat top rests against the spongey material’s flat bottom surface, which decouples speaker from floor and floor from speaker. Oleg Bogdanov, who leads Paradigm’s engineering department, told me that he was sold on this approach after his group found, through measuring and listening tests, that it indeed significantly reduced vibrations in the cabinet.
The Founder 100F’s published specifications include: sensitivities of 93dB/2.83V/m (in-room) and 90dB/2.83V/m (anechoic); a frequency response of 42Hz-23kHz, ±2dB; low-frequency extension of 26Hz (DIN); an impedance “compatible with 8 ohms”; recommended amplification of 15-350W, with a “maximum input power” of 250W. On the rear panel are two pairs of binding posts, to permit biwiring or biamping. For this review, I left the jumpers on and single-wired the speakers.
I briefly wrote about the Founder 100Fs in May, in my “System One” column, when I drove them with a Rotel RA-1572MKII integrated amplifier. But that was mostly to break the speakers in. For all of my listening impressions below, the 100Fs were set up in my 36′L x 16′W room (though only a space of 18′L x 16′W is used as a listening area, with a big opening behind the main listening chair). The speakers were set up in the same places I put all speakers in this room: 6′ from their rear panels to the wall behind them, 8′ from tweeter center to tweeter center, about 4′ from each speaker’s outer side panel to the nearer sidewall, and my ears about 9′ from the tweeters.
Using QED Supremus speaker cables, I drove the Founder 100Fs with an NAD C 298 power amplifier specified to deliver at least 185Wpc into 8 ohms—more than enough power. Ahead of the NAD was an Anthem STR preamplifier, which has a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and a digital-signal-processing (DSP) section running ARC. The NAD and Anthem were linked by Crystal Cable Standard Diamond balanced interconnects. Shunyata Research power cords (Alpha NR for the Anthem, Venom HC for the NAD) and power distributors (Sigma S12 for the STR, Venom PS8 for the C 298, both with Venom HC cords) delivered power from my two dedicated 20A outlets: one each for preamp and power amp.
A Shunyata Research Alpha USB link connected my Asus Zenbook UX303 laptop computer, which runs Windows 10 and Roon, to the Anthem STR preamp. I used to rely on streaming services for most of the music used in listening sessions, but for a few months now I’ve been playing ripped or downloaded files stored on an external SSD connected to one of the Asus’s USB ports.
I switched off the Anthem STR’s ARC and began my listening to the Founder 100Fs with Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club (16-bit/44.1kHz WAV, Polydor), which I bought on CD the day of its release and promptly ripped to my SSD.
I’d already listened to this album often through several different speakers, so I knew its sound well. But no more than 30 seconds into track 1, “White Dress,” I could tell that there was something very different about the sound of the Founder 100Fs. This track has a bright, bass-light sound, with a wispiness to Del Rey’s voice that, through too-bright speakers, can be off-putting. Through the 100Fs it was still a bit bright, but not too much so, and that wispiness, while still quite audible, was now more pleasing than offensive. The track also sounded a bit smoother and richer than I’d heard it before. In fact, it was the best I’d heard it reproduced.
The four tracks that follow “White Dress” are less trebly, and without that wispiness in Del Rey’s voice. Here the 100Fs’ midband was as neutral as I’m used to hearing from my reference Revel Ultima2 Salon2 speakers ($21,998/pair), as well as clearer and a bit more detailed—which speaks well for the 100Fs at less than a quarter the price. And while the 100Fs’ highs weren’t quite as sweet as the Salons2s’ with these tracks, they were still clean, very refined, and with a good amount of air when the recording included that.
But it was the clarity through the midrange that took me aback, so after those four tracks I turned the STR’s volume control from low to high and listened again to “White Dress,” trying to figure out why its inherent brightness and wispiness weren’t bothering me as much as they do through other speakers. I concluded that while the 100Fs weren’t hiding these flaws in any way—all details were crystal clear—nor were they forcing them in my face, let alone exacerbating them.
Then I played track 6, “Dark but Just a Game,” the only one on this album with super-deep bass. All hell broke loose—the bass energy from the 100Fs was close to what I get from my Revel Salon2s, which stand more than a foot taller and have three 9″ woofers apiece. I could hear and physically feel that the 100Fs didn’t go quite as low in frequency as the Salon2s can in my room—i.e., down to 20Hz—but they got surprisingly close. More impressive was that they delivered all bass frequencies above about 30Hz with as much power and control as the Revels. The 100F isn’t that big a floorstander—you can’t expect much more extension from a trio of 7″ woofers in each moderate-size cabinet. I then played “Dark but Just a Game” several more times, turning up the volume each time and expecting to hear nasty sounds as the 100Fs’ woofers reached their limits and began to distort—yet the sound remained utterly composed and clean.
I played Bruce Cockburn’s Crowing Ignites (16/44.1 WAV, True North) at least three dozen times. I love it. Crowing Ignites is an instrumental album centered on the sound of Cockburn’s acoustic guitar, which is close-miked throughout. An acoustic guitar doesn’t produce deep bass, but nonetheless, the effortless sound of the Founder 100Fs’ powerful woofers was a strength here—the speakers consistently projected the sound of his instrument into my room at real-life volume levels—i.e., as if he were playing it live 9′ in front of me—with no hint of strain.
What stood out was the sound of Crowing Ignites’s final track, “Bells of Gethsemane,” in which Cockburn plays a baritone guitar and overdubbed Tibetan percussion: cymbals, chimes, and singing bowls. At low to high volumes, the percussion rang out with such clarity from the 100Fs that I struggled to find anything in the sound to criticize. All I came up with was that the highs weren’t quite as refined as I’m used to from my Revels—but even that is me straining to find something wrong. The fact was, the 100Fs projected the sounds of these instruments with a realism as stunning as what I hear from my Revel Ultima2 Salon2s.
Wanting to further explore the Paradigms’ bass reproduction, I played the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (16/44.1 WAV, RCA), a long-trusted reference recording with not only meaningful bass content down to 20Hz, but a delicate balance of bass output with the rest of the audioband. If a speaker’s bass output is too great, it will cloud Margo Timmins’s voice and the instruments occupying the midrange and highs. Too small, and Timmins’s voice and the instruments will stand out, but the sound will be thinner than it should be, and the vast soundstage not as enveloping.
Listening mostly to “Misguided Angel” and “Sweet Jane,” I again heard low-end bass extension that came scarily close to the Salon2s’, with everything above 30Hz again reproduced with just as much power and control—the latter most obvious when I concentrated on Peter Timmins’s drumming. And when I focused on sister Margo’s voice, I could tell that the 100F’s bass wasn’t jacked up too high, as I’ve heard from some speakers—it sounded as clean as it does through the best minimonitors, which can’t produce enough deep bass to cloud the midrange.
Still, I could tell that some low frequencies from the Founder 100Fs were exciting resonances in my room and were thus exaggerated—the same room modes that the Revel Salon2s trigger here. This sort of common problem is what ARC is mostly designed to fix: tweak the speakers’ output at certain frequencies to eliminate such resonances. I pulled out the microphone Anthem supplies with the STR for the ARC calibration process, for which I used my Asus laptop—a quick and easy procedure that takes all of five minutes. ARC can be used to linearize a speaker’s output within a wide range of frequencies, but in this case I applied it only to the bass region—in this case, the frequencies below 250Hz. Calibration completed and ARC enabled on the STR, I played the same two The Trinity Session tracks.
The Founder 100Fs still output bass down to about 30Hz, but the upper bass, ca 70-120Hz, was a bit less prominent (the frequencies of the room modes, which I could see graphically during the calibration process), and thus less forceful, but was also better controlled and more detailed. Taming the bass with ARC didn’t make Margo Timmins’s vocals more clear—her voice was clear to begin with—but it did make Peter’s drumming and Alan Anton’s bass playing clearer and a lot easier to follow. Likewise, when I replayed Lana Del Rey’s “Dark but Just a Game,” the midrange and higher frequencies didn’t change at all, but the bass frequencies, while still powerful, weren’t projected as wildly into my room—the bass sounded better controlled and better defined.
During the listening period for this review, I also set up a system of satellite speakers and subwoofers based on Vivid Audio’s Kaya S12 minimonitors and two KEF KC62 subwoofers, a combo I wrote about in my May “Opinion.” The Vivids cost $6500/pair and the KEF subs $1499.99 each, for a speaker-system total of $9500. I used the Anthem STR’s ARC to ideally marry subs to speakers. The rest of the electronics and wiring was the same as for the Founder 100Fs, so it seemed a no-brainer to compare the two rigs.
With “Dark but Just a Game,” and pretty much any track from The Trinity Session, both systems provided very deep bass and the room-filling sound that the Revel Ultima2 Salon2s provide—but, as I wrote in May, “the Vivids and KEFs fell short of the Revels . . . in what I like to call effortlessness”—the Salon2s didn’t seem to have to work as hard as the Vivids and KEFs to energize my room. The Paradigms, while still not sounding quite as effortless at the Revels, came pretty darn close—much closer than the Vivids and KEFs. That mostly had to do with how adept the 100F was at delivering deep, powerful bass.
In terms of clarity throughout the mids and highs, it was a draw between the Vivid-KEF combo and the Paradigms—both rigs sounded crystal clear—though the Vivids and KEFs were a bit more open through the midrange. I suspect that openness had mostly to do with the Vivid Kaya S12’s small, smooth, bulbous cabinet shape, which lets it better project sound without interference. I also thought the Kaya S12s’ highs sounded a touch purer than the 100Fs’ highs, if a little brighter—the trebly, wispy sound of “White Dress” was more obvious and a touch more objectionable through the Vivids and KEFs than through the Paradigms. Overall, in terms of sound, there was no clear winner—each system exhibited different strengths and few weaknesses. But in terms of cost? The pairs of Vivids and KEFs total $9500, the Paradigm Founder 100Fs $5199.98/pair. Draw your own conclusions.
One last thing before I wrap up: Experimenting with ARC with both the Founder 100Fs and the Vivid-KEF system made me think that, while Paradigm’s Founder 120H is larger than the Founder 100F, and therefore theoretically able to produce even deeper, louder bass, its active bass section, which includes ARC, might be the ticket for those who want more control over room resonances but lack a preamp with built-in room correction. Although I haven’t yet heard the Founder 120H, this is no doubt something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about choosing between it and the 100F—the ability to tweak a speaker’s bass output as well as ARC can is no insignificant thing. That Paradigm offers a Founder floorstander with built-in ARC makes perfect sense.
I was floored by the prodigious bass produced by Paradigm’s Founder 100F—it was incredible for a modest-size floorstander. I was just as impressed by the speaker’s overall neutrality from its lowest lows to its highest highs, by its uncanny midrange clarity, and by how it could reproduce a high level of detail from low to high volume levels without ever sounding in-my-face or offensive. The Founder 100F is superbly voiced, able to simultaneously showcase its considerable sonic strengths while effectively hiding any small weaknesses it might have. And I thought the Black Walnut finish stunning—not just for this price, but for any price.
The Founder 100F is a bona-fide hit. It’s a high-water mark for Paradigm, and was worth a year’s wait. It not only provides high sound quality for a reasonable price—the very thing Paradigm built its reputation on—it provides them with dashing good looks. If the other Founder models offer similarly formidable combinations of sound, appearance, and price, I suspect that this series will become the sweet spot in Paradigm’s entire range of speakers. It makes me wonder: What do the Bagbys have in store for us next?
. . . Doug Schneider
- Speakers: Revel Ultima2 Salon2, Vivid Audio Kaya S12
- Subwoofers: KEF KC62 (2)
- Preamplifier: Anthem STR with ARC room correction
- Power amplifier: NAD C 298
- Integrated amplifier: Rotel RA-1572MKII
- Computer: Asus Zenbook UX303U laptop running Windows 10, Roon, Tidal, Qobuz
- Digital link: Shunyata Research Alpha (USB)
- Analog interconnects: Crystal Cable Standard Diamond balanced (XLR)
- Speaker cables: QED Supremus
- Power distributors: Shunyata Research: Sigma S12 and Venom PS8 with Defender
- Power cords: Shunyata Research: Alpha NR, E-Tron Alpha HC, Venom HC
Paradigm Founder Series 100F Loudspeakers
Price: $5199.98 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994