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Speaker System Face-Off II
by Gene DellaSala

Speakers Tested

1) B&W; 603S2

2) Paradigm Studio 60v2

3) Pinnacle Classic Gold Reference

4) Monitor Audio Silver 5I

Electronics

1) McIntosh MA 6450 Integrated Amplifier

2) Marantz CD-5000 CD player

3) Monster Cable interconnects and Z2 Speaker cables

Introduction

This speaker face off review focuses on mid priced Tower type speakers ($900/pair - $1400/pair), which may be used for stereo listening and/or home theater applications. Although there is a price delta of $500 between the cheapest and most expensive speakers in the review, we feel that is not as big of an issue as price does not always reflect better quality. In addition, in many cases, cheaper speakers from the same company and series tend to outperform their more expensive offerings, as is the case between the Pinnacle Classic Gold Reference and the larger, more expensive Classic Gold Towers.

B&W; DM603S2 Bottom Line:

The B&W; DM603S2 is the latest revision of the original popular and acclaimed 600 series. The 600S2 speaker system (Retail $999/pair, Street Price $800/pair) measures 33 1/2" H X 9 1/4" W X 12" D and weighs 42lbs each. The 600S2 series incorporates many of the technologies found in their more expensive flagship Nautilus Series loudspeakers. The 600S2 series is offered in small bookshelf speakers as well as large tower versions with integrated self-powered subwoofers.

The S2 version has many notable improvements over the original series. It has better treble extension and slightly more detailed midrange thanks to the new Nautilus type tweeter. The most notable improvement about the 603S2 is its superior bass extension over the original 603 series. The 603 series incorporated (1) 7" kevlar midbass driver and (1) polymer passive midbass driver. B&W; got rid of the passive radiator in the 603S2 version, (thankfully!), in favor of a real woofer. Not only does the 603S2 have better bass extension, but it is also much cleaner and tighter than the previous generation. The 603 had very poor bass response for a speaker of its size and price and what it did produce was sloppy. I believe this was attributable to having a passive radiator and port in the same design. In my opinion, this is a big No No! In any event, the 603S2 does not suffer from this problem, and their sound has improved significantly.

I feel the DM603S2 is a good overall speaker but still has weaknesses in its ability to convey clean and detailed midrange. The 603S2 still suffers somewhat from having an overemphasis in midbass and tends to smear vocals during high output. However, the sound and overall value of the 600S2 series of loudspeakers has improved dramatically for little or no cost increase. They have excellent bookshelf offerings and I feel the 601S2 and 602S2 are the best value for the money in the entire line up.  Thus it is my recommendation to consider mating one of B&W's 600S2 series bookshelf speakers with a good quality sub over implementing the larger more expensive tower.

Paradigm Studio60v2 Bottom Line:

Paradigm is a Canadian based loudspeaker company whose primary focus is on performance, no nonsense build quality and value. Enter the Studio series of loudspeakers. These are Paradigms current best product line spanning from bookshelf types to large and heavy floorstanding giants. The Studio 60v2 (Retail $1400/pair, Street Price $1100/pair) is 36 1/2" H X 8 1/4" W X 15 1/4" D weighing a hefty 70lbs each!!

The Studio 60v2 is their middle of the line up in this series and is basically a smaller version of the Studio 80v2 with respect to driver topology but utilizes 6" drivers as opposed to 8" ones found in the Studio 80v2. The v2 in this series stands for the newest version of these speakers as they have been refitting from their original highly successful Studio series loudspeakers. The v2's offer better cabinetry, extra internal bracing from baffles, more finishes, and improved crossovers. However, the drivers remain unchanged from the original series

Upon setting up the Studio 60v2's in the listening room, I was immediately overtaken by their girth and apparent excellent build quality. Lifting them was a chore. When I positioned them for optimal placement, it became obvious to me by their weight that their build quality befitted their impressive looks. These speakers are by far the best-built, most aesthetically pleasing towers out of all the ones reviewed here! My jaw dropped in amazement by the attention that Paradigm has bestowed upon a budgeted speaker system such as this one to make them look and feel so solid. I have seen speakers at more than double the price with no where near comparable build quality of these beauties. Aside from excellent build quality, a speakers most important attribute is sound quality. After all, you're not buying speakers to act solely as nice furniture to fit your room's decor. For at such a contest, you would stand at a disadvantage. One would argue that it is more logical to attempt to buy a piece of furniture than also happens to sound excellent. The Studio 60v2 speaker system has a very pleasant sound overall. They do not sound boomy or hollow as the original Studio 60's tended to do. I believe the extra bracing in the cabinets, and/or change of crossover points really helped in this regard.

The tonal balance of these speakers is excellent, perhaps the best out of all the speakers in this review. I found the midrange to be clean, detailed, but not too forward sounding. The highs were also clean and detailed without sounding sibilant. The weakest point of these speakers is that they are a little bass shy. They are no match for the Pinnacle Reference in this regard. In fact, switching back and forth between the Studio 60v2 and the Pinnacle Reference made this point quite obvious. I was expecting better bass performance with deeper extension considering the excellent build and size of the cabinets as well as the high quality of the drivers utilized. However, I believe Paradigm may have been focusing on creating a more tonally neutral speaker with this version.

The Studio 60v2 is the most expensive, heaviest and best all around sounding speaker in this review. If you cannot afford to shell out $1400/pair for these beauties, the next best logical choice is the Pinnacle Classic Gold Reference. The Classic Gold Reference gives up a little midrange clarity, build quality and appearance to the Studio 60v2 but offers superior bass extension and better overall value.

Classic Gold Reference Bottom Line:

Although these speakers were reviewed in the last Speaker Face Off, we felt it appropriate to incorporate them in this review since they blew away their previous competition. The Classic Gold Reference is the little brother to the Towers standing 33" X 8 3/8" X 13 1/4" weighing 48lbs each. They have a retail price of $895/pair and a street price of around $650/pair.

The driver topology is identical to that of the larger Towers except the Reference utilizes 6" woofers as opposed to 8". The Reference cannot be bi-wired or bi-amped, but we feel this is not much of an issue since most people who purchase speakers in this price range would not use this feature. The Reference stands 4 7/8" shorter than the Towers, but the sound they convey is quite large. While they give up a slight soundstage presence and bass punch compared to the larger Towers, they are superior in midrange performance. The Reference have a better overall tonal balance and sound cleaner and more natural. We feel the Reference is a better value than the Towers because of their better overall sound quality and lower price. The Reference speakers clearly have the best bass performance compared to all the speakers in this review. They really separated instruments well as opposed to most systems in this price range, which tend to smear the finer details. With respect to value, I do not believe a better speaker exists than the Classic Gold Reference!!!

Monitor Audio Silver 5i Bottom Line:

Monitor Audio is a British Speaker company who has been successfully engineering speakers for more than 25 years. One attribute that really stands out with Monitor Audio is their commitment for customer satisfaction. From my experience with this company, they always go out of their way to ensure the customer is pleased.

The initial pair of Silver 5i's we reviewed had a misaligned cone on one of the woofers. When I contacted the Regional Salesman, he was very responsive and resolved this problem immediately by sending us a brand new pair for review. In the past, their speaker line-ups have been geared towards the high-end market with pricing beyond what most people consider "disposable income". Monitor Audio recently introduced a budget minded speaker line-up named the Silver Series. The Silver 5i's stand 31.5" H X 7 3/4 W X 7 3/4 D. The Silver 5i's are positioned in the middle of the Silver Line-up, with a retail price of $999 and a street price of $800/pair. They are offered in several wood veneer finishes as well as black. They are physically the smallest speakers of the ones reviewed here and blend well into any room decor with high Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF).

The Silver 5i's house (2) 5 1/4" midbass drivers and a 1" metal dome tweeter. While the woofers are crossed over at different frequencies, their synergistic combination produces a decent amount of bass punch for a speaker of its size and price. However, a subwoofer is mandatory if your listening preferences desire bass intense music. Bass extension is not a strong point of these speakers by any means, but what they do produce in bass is clean, tight, and free from distortion. However, our listening tests revealed that these speakers tended to favor mid bass frequencies, perhaps a tad too much for our tastes.  I would have personally preferred a smoother transition in bass frequencies.  For this reason, I stongly encourage the user to avoid placing these speakers too closely to side walls or corners. I achieved the best bass response out of the Silver 5is with them spaced about 2 feet from the side walls and about 2 feet from the backwalls.  Loading the little compartment on the bottom with sand did seem to tighten up bass response slightly so I encourage giving it a shot.  I do wish however that the cabinets were better braced so the consumer wouldn't necessarily have to be concerned with this.

We put quite a lot of power from the McIntosh amp into these speakers without any sign of stress or break up in the cones of the woofers. I was quite taken by how much power they could absorb and still sound clean. Perhaps this has something to do with the quasi phase plug used in the woofers to help cool the voice coils.

The overall tonal balance of these speakers was slightly forward in the highs and somewhat recessed in the upper midrange which in many cases sound pleasantly detailed and appropriate. However, I found a few instances such as when listening to George Michael's "Jesus to a Child" song where the Silver 5i's sounded boxy and unresolved in the midrange. However, this becomes a little less problematic when you cross these speakers over at about 80Hz and let a very musical sub produce the deep bass. These speakers are better suited for small rooms as they tend to sound congested when asked to produce high SPL levels. I recommend considering these speakers for limited applications such as for those who want a small budgeted floorstanding tower that has a nice real wood veneer finish and wishes to complement them with a quality subwoofer for home theater and/or music applications in small to medium sized rooms.  However, I strongly feel the less pricey Pinnacle is a more musical, but somewhat less attractive alternative.

Ratings Scale:

The scoring below is based on each speaker doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating equal to:

Performance x Price Factor/Value = Rating


9 - 10 Outstanding
8.0 - 8.9 Above Average
7 - 7.9 Average
5.8 - 6.9 Below average
< 5.7 Very poor
  B&W;
DM603S2
Monitor Audio Silver 5i Paradigm Studio 60v2 Pinnacle Classic Gold Reference
Retail Price (Pair)
$1000
$1000
$1400
$900
Build Quality
8.5
7.5
10
8.0
Appearance
8.5
8.0
10
7.5
 
Treble Extension
8.3
8.0
8.5
9.0
Treble Smoothness
8.2
7.5
8.3
8.0
 
Midrange Clarity
8.2
8.3
9.0
8.5
Midrange Accuracy
7.0
7.5
8.5
8.0
 
Midbass Quality
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.5
 
Bass Extension
7.0
6.0
7.5
9.0
Bass Accuracy
8.0
9.2
8.5
9.0
 
Imaging
8
8.7
9.0
9.0
Soundstage
7.5
7.0
8.5
8.0
 
Value
7.0
7.2
8.0
9.0
Overall
7.7
7.8
8.7
8.4


Ranking (1-4):
With respect to sound quality regardless of appearance or price, I personally believe these speakers should be ranked as below:

Note: 1 to 4 ranking scale with 1 being the most favored and 4 being the least favored.

1) Paradigm Studio 60v2
2) Pinnacle Classic Gold Reference
3) Monitor Audio Silver 5i
4) B&W; DM603S2

 

Please realize that this review is purely subjective based on our listening experiences. At the time of this review, we did not have the proper test equipment to support our subjective listening tests with measurements.  Therefore, I encourage our readership to form their own opinion and if possible perform their own listening auditions to draw their own conclusions. 

 

Enjoy the Music!

-Gene DellaSala (gds@audioholics.com)

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