Issue 93


Old School:

Jeff Dorgay revisits the Nakamichi 400 Stack


The Puffin DSP Phonostage
By Rob Johnson

Journeyman Audiophile:

McIntosh MA252
By Shanon Swetlishnoff

Mine: It Should Be Yours

Grinch Slippers

Shinola Clock

Oreo Turntable

BMW Bicycle

and more….


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

In Praise of the Party Table! – Technics 1600
By Jeff Dorgay

Future Tense

Avid Ingenium Plug & Play

Brinkmann Edison II Phono

Van Alstine Power Amp

and more…

Cover Feature: TONEAudio’s Awards

Exceptional Value Awards

Publishers Choice Awards

and, the 2018 Products of the Year

Paradigm’s Persona B

Listening to the intricate fretboard work of Bill Frisell on his Good Dog, Happy Man album, I’m reminded of three things: Frisell’s remarkable performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival a few years ago, how much the Persona B captures the essence of their top Persona 9H, and how incredible these little speakers are. Every Paradigm speaker carton has a logo proclaiming “Crafted in Canada.” The pride is justified.

The Paradigm Persona B is a perfect example of vertical design and production excellence. Utilizing the same Beryllium tweeter and a unique to this cabinet 6 ½” mid/woofer, the $7,000/pair Persona B brings the same sonic excellence of the flagship Persona 9H to smaller listening rooms and budgets. If the standard five shade color palette (white, silver, grey, 2 shades of black and a very nice dark blue metallic) isn’t enough, you can order any one of 18 additional “premium finishes” for an additional $1,050 per pair.

Considering the luxury auto grade finish on these speakers, this is an incredible bargain for someone wanting to customize their speakers more to their environment. You can usually never go wrong with black, white, or silver, (and the two other standard colors) but some listening rooms just beg for a spot of color. Congrats to Paradigm for recognizing the needs of their customers.

Paradigm raised the expectation for mega speakers upside down two years ago when they released their Persona series. Known for decades for producing incredibly high performance/high-value speakers at their facility in Toronto, their engineering team brought their creative force together to make a “cost no object” speaker. The result was the Persona 9H, tipping the scales at an incredibly modest $35,000/pair.

In a day where we have cost no object speakers from other manufacturers with $625k/pair price tags, this is indeed a breath of fresh air. The Persona 9H earned our “Speaker of the Year” back in issue 86, and justifiably so. Centered around Paradigm’s own Beryllium drivers, this 3 ½ way incorporates 4 woofers, powered by a pair of 700-watt amplifiers and Anthem Room Correction to optimize the low-frequency response.

Not everyone has room for this

For those craving the level of musical accuracy that the flagship Persona delivers, but perhaps in a smaller room, Persona B is an outstanding and far less expensive choice. Pretty much for the price of a pair of Persona 9Hs, you could build an entire system. Even less if you choose the Anthem STR integrated amplifier and a great turntable of your choice.

We did just that in our 13 x 15-foot room to tremendous success, combining the $4,000 Technics SL-1200G, a $750 Hana SL cartridge, and some Cardas Clear Light speaker cables. The entire system cost is just over $20k, and we defy you to build a tidier system offering more capability than this. Many different amplifiers from ARC, Esoteric, Gold Note, Pass, and PrimaLuna were all tried with the Persona Bs to excellent effect, but the bulk of our review listening was done with the STR in-house. That way, you can easily stop by your Paradigm/Anthem dealer and hear what we are talking about.

However, rest assured, thanks to the 92db/1 watt sensitivity, these speakers will jam with any amplifier you have without issue. We even used the Persona Bs with the 20 watt per channel Nagra 300B amp and the Coincident Dynamo amplifier (only 8 watts per channel!). Both provided way more dynamic range than necessary to make ears buzz!

Room friendly

The Persona Bs definitely pass the “just throw them in the room and see how they sound test,” thanks to their fairly wide dispersion characteristics in the vertical and horizontal planes. However, the basic rules of stand mount speakers still not only apply but will give you even better performance. A little careful attention to the speaker rake when you’ve optimized them in the room for the best bass/midrange balance will give them that last bit of magic, and open up the soundstage significantly.

These are high-performance speakers, so pay attention to setup, and you will be rewarded. If you don’t choose the Paradigm B-29 stands made specifically for the Persona B and Prestige 15B speakers, at $600 each, use the most massive stands that you can, and be sure to use something sticky (like BluTack) to improve the speaker cabinet to stand interface. This will wring every last molecule of available bass out of the Persona Bs. The advantage to the Paradigm stands is twofold – the factory stands screw right into the speakers, and they offer the best aesthetic match as well.

We were all very impressed with how much bass these speakers can generate, zooming through our favorite EDM and electronica tracks. A little room gain goes a long way with the Persona B, and those in small to medium rooms may not be clamoring for a sub at all.

There was plenty of fun to be had listening to Aphex Twin, and the bass extension at our disposal proved fantastic and engaging. Briefly bouncing back to the 80s, a quick spin of Thomas Dolby’s Aliens Ate My Buick (full of synth bass funk grooves) ended with the George Clinton classic, “Hot Sauce.” Which of course led to at least another hour of the real deal – Clinton’s Maggot Brain had us all bouncing around the listening room, finishing with the massive bass line in George Michael’s “Hard Day.”

Because the Persona B is a two-way system with both the tweeter and mid/bass driver being beryllium, there’s a consistent voice that comes from all drivers being the same material. Transient attack and decay are perfectly uniform, making these speakers act more like a single driver.

Beyond bass

Much as we love bass, the Persona Bs paint a large sonic picture that could easily be mistaken for a big pair of ESLs. (where do you think that came from?) Instantly disappearing in the room, listening to Keith Jarrett’s “I’m Old Fashioned” comes alive via the Persona Bs. The timbral accuracy of these speakers is nothing less than stunning.

At this point in the review process, I’ve brought them out into the main 15 x 26 foot living room and have made them a part of my central system, with a pair of Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks and a full Pass XS Preamp/XS Phono chain of electronics, with the $45,000 Grand Prix Audio Monaco table and Koetsu Jade Platinum cartridge.

The point of putting a $7,000 pair of speakers in a system that’s worth more than my house? To show just how much music they can deliver. Many speakers at this price point (and some well beyond) sound great with your favorite $5,000 amplifier – no shame in that. Yet, when you make them an integral part of a system with much higher performance, they can’t really resolve the delta. Not here.

Bottom line: the only limitation to how much sound the Persona B can deliver will be the ultimate volume of your room and the quality of the electronics you pair them with. At that point, your only real question is, do you want to go up to a bigger Persona model to get more low end.

As we did with the top of the range Persona 9H, the Persona B is more than worthy of our last Exceptional Value Award for 2018. Perhaps even more, because so many more people can budget $7,000 for a pair of speakers than those that can spend $35,000. Everything comes together to perfection here: sound quality, ease of use and finish are all world class. Because Paradigm has such a significant scale of economy, you can have a $30,000 pair of speakers for $7,000. Very highly recommended.

The Paradigm Persona B

MSRP:  $7,000/pair in standard colors, premium finish about $1,000 more


Digital Source                          dCS Rossini DAC/Clock

Analog Source                         Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5/Koetsu Jade Platinum

Preamplifier                            Pass XS Pre

Phono Pre                                Pass XS Phono

Power Amplifiers                  Pass XA200.8 Monoblocks

Cable                                        Tellurium Q Silver Diamond

Power                                       PS Audio P20 regenerator, w/Cardas Clear Beyond power cables

Racks                                       Grand Prix Audio Monaco

ARC’s top effort yet – The REF160M Monoblocks

Some products you have a casual, cursory exposure with, and others you have a relationship with. Audio Research is a brand I’ve had a long relationship with.

They are one of about six brands that I go back decades with, having owned nearly 20 of their products before I even started reviewing hifi gear. And like any relationship, it hasn’t always been a love fest.

There are definitely ARC models that I’ve liked more than others. I still have their legendary D79 – considered by many to be one of their finest achievements. Though the D79 is a fairly complex design, it started a trend that led to the Reference amplifiers; a solid amplifier circuit combined with a massive power supply. Anyone who has heard the D79 knows that this amplifier plays much bigger, louder, and more dynamic than you would ever expect a 75 watt per channel amplifier to play. And it had bass grip like precious few tube amplifiers did, back in the 70s, or even today.

The amplifier that came really close to the sound of the legendary D79, was the now discontinued GS150 – offering a touch of warmth, yet with plenty of dynamic reserve. And those beautiful meters. The industrial design sense of Audio Research entered the modern age with the GS150, now a beautiful piece of audible art to proudly display.

Great as the GS150 was, there was a subtle lack of resolution that kept it in the “really great amplifier” category, instead of “one of the best amplifiers I’ve ever heard category.” The 160Ms smash that wall down. And while you might be tempted to exhaust your adjective gland, this result is more logical. Audio Research has building great amplifiers for over 40 years now. They’ve learned a lot, having tried a lot of things that don’t work during that period.

Yet these amplifiers go beyond that. I don’t want to spoil the review, but that’s going to take a while, and if you’re thinking about a holiday gift for yourself, or someone you know that would like a pair, do it.

Much as I hate to use superlatives, because it leaves you nowhere to go in the future, the 160Ms reveal more music than anything else I’ve ever heard from Audio Research. And they are one of the finest designs I’ve had the pleasure of listening to at any price. Considering how disappointing a number of six figure amplifiers I’ve heard have been, these are a mega bargain at $30,000 a pair. I wouldn’t be surprised decades from now if the 160Ms are spoken about in the same hushed tones as the D79. They are that good. Better, actually.

If you’re looking for an overly “tubey” sounding pair of power amplifiers, these will not be for you. However, if you are looking for power amplifiers that offer an incredibly rich musical experience that will make it easy for you to forget about the gear entirely, and 150 watts per channel is enough to drive your speakers, these are my choice.

As they used to say, “Run, don’t walk” to your Audio Research dealer and get in line for a pair of the REF160Ms. Further review spoiler: the 160Ms are our Product of the Year choice in the amplifier category for 2018. Watch for the in-depth analysis in issue 95. As I like to say, “Just buy em.”

The ARC REF160M Monoblock Amplifiers

MSRP: $30,000/pair

Please click here to visit the Audio Research website