Affordability for the truly average audiophile isn't exactly an abundant resource at the High End show. Yes, there is the occasional amplifier or DAC with a retail price under €3000, and a raft of manufacturers from the Far East with loudspeakers for around the same price. On the latter front, we simply don't know enough about these manufacturers, as they often come and go with a blink-and-you'll-miss-them alacrity. So it is that "average" here becomes €30,000 for a pair of full-range loudspeakers, and anything less than that is a welcome surprise. Well, Paradigm of Canada and Piega of Switzerland are bucking that trend with loudspeakers that are both designed and built in their respective countries of origin.
Piega's new Classic Series speakers are knockouts. With three available models -- the 40.2, 60.2, and 80.2 -- I was particularly drawn to the proportions and driver complement of the middle child, the 60.2, which sells for €10,400/pr. Piega is known for its ribbons, and the 60.2 uses a ribbon configuration I've never seen before -- a coaxial ribbon. A high-frequency ribbon is placed in the middle of a much larger midrange ribbon for a true point source, with the coaxial unit handling all frequencies from 400Hz on up. Below 400Hz, the three-way 60.2 makes use of two MDS woofers that are approximately 8.5" in diameter. Frequency response is listed as 24Hz to 50kHz.
The 93dB-efficient, 4-ohm design is a beauty. A number of manufacturers make various types of curved cabinets, but Piega’s 114-pound creation, with a 25mm-thick wooden cabinet, has excellent attention to detail. It was no surprise to find out that the 60.2 is made in Switzerland, a country renowned for its fine precision -- think watches. Its white-lacquered finish looked gorgeously done to my eyes, while the contrasting Napallete material (which feels suspiciously like black leather) on the front and top panels gives the Piega tower a real sense of occasion. Unfortunately, the 60.2 was not playing at the show, but we're hoping to get a listen to this Piega model, or one of its siblings, in the near future.
Paradigm's Concept 4F made quite the splash here in Munich, demonstrating materials, a shape, and a style that are very un-Paradigm in execution. Built by hand entirely in Canada, the Concept 4F features a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter and -- quite an uncommon sight -- a 7" beryllium midrange driver. Perforated phase plugs are placed over both units. Bass is handled courtesy of four 8.5" woofers in a vibration-cancelling arrangement, with two mounted on the front and two in the rear. The 4F is also a partially active loudspeaker, with two 700W amplifiers per channel driving the 8.5" woofers. The curved cabinet is made from multilayered MDF and a composite material to maximize stiffness and minimize resonances. Finally, it also includes Anthem Room Correction, from sister-company Anthem. Prices were not available for this concept loudspeaker, but expect it to be reasonable by High End standards.
How'd it sound? Big. Like big big. The Paradigm concept had dynamics in abundance, with easygoing and sailing high-frequency performance. Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" rang forth from the 4Fs with excellent transparency through the midrange. The Paradigms produced an expansive soundstage in just about every dimension, and their bass performance was some of the deepest and most voluminous at the show. These things pounded out bass with Copland's signature piece. While it's only a concept speaker, I'd be shocked if the final version wasn't remarkably similar to the 4F. Great things appear to be just over the horizon, then, for Paradigm.
The $20,000 price point is one where a customer can expect to get a full-range loudspeaker a mere stone's throw away from reference-level performance, while also enjoying beautiful cabinetry and aesthetics. While I can only speak to the Paradigm on the former, these two designs are strong arguments for asking rhetorically, "Do I really need anything more than this?"
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!