Paradigm’s Newest Atom…

I often get criticized for only being interested in the mega gear, but nothing could be more wrong. As much fun as the big bucks stuff is, no one starts there, and for me, hifi is a journey. One of the most exciting parts of the journey is the beginning – what got you excited about all of this wacky stuff in the first place.

Though my journey started all the way back with a pair of AR-7s, my journey with Paradigm started back in the early 90s; I needed a pair of great compact speakers for my darkroom. As my photography career took off, so did the amount of time spent in the darkroom, meaning a better sound system was a must.

Enter the original Paradigm Atom

A quick trip to my local hifi shop led me to the little white Atoms you see here. $198 for the pair and I was rocking. Hooked up to a Nelson Pass powered Nakamichi receiver and matching cassette deck, marathon burning and dodging sessions were a breeze. I ended up selling those little white speakers to the guy that bought all of my darkroom gear about ten years later when digital imaging took hold. Paradigm has come a long way since then. But a quick trip to EBay had a pair of original Atoms in the studio – this time for $39 and free shipping. The ad said, “non working for parts,” so the original thought was photos only, but when I plugged them in they worked just fine. And sounding good as ever. But a side by side comparison to the new ones shows off how much the design staff at Paradigm has learned over the years.

Their new Monitor SE Atom is only $298 a pair! That’s crazy. But that’s what a major manufacturer that designs and builds their own drivers can do. Another speaker company that does not enjoy the economies of scale that Paradigm does would have to charge 3-4 times this much for a speaker that probably wouldn’t be as rewarding to listen to.

Start your journey here

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “What’s a great pair of speakers for a couple hundred bucks?” I’d probably have about a thousand dollars. More than enough to buy a PS Audio Sprout and a pair of new Atoms.

Great as the Atoms sounded when hooked up to high end hardware, using them with a wide range of vintage receivers, the PS Audio Sprout and that $298 Pioneer integrated we reviewed in issue 91’s 995 column is still very satisfying. A pair of Atoms is the perfect place to start your audio journey. As with the originals, the new Atom is very “tube friendly,” so if you’re considering building a tube amp, or using something vintage, they are a perfect match. We paired them up with new and old Dynaco Stereo 70 amplifiers with stunning results.

Listening to the first movement of David Chesky’s  New York Variations, brings forth an immersive soundstage, with major image width. Ditto for Jean-Michel Jarre’s latest release, Equinoxe Infinity – music extends well beyond the speaker boundaries. What you don’t get for this price is super extended, deep bass and an incredibly deep soundstage. But again, $298 a pair? You don’t get super extended, deep bass in the $25,000 Raidho D1.1s we just reviewed either. And much as I love the Raidho’s, there isn’t a $24,701 delta between these speakers.

One aspect of these speakers that has not been overlooked is their basic linearity. They play incredibly loud for a small speaker, yet at low level, they hold the stereo image together, remaining highly involving. Again, something that a number of high price/high pedigree speakers can not accomplish.

Paradigm has trimmed the budget in all the right places. The cabinets and binding posts (i.e. all the fancy stuff) are functional, with a matte finish. Not a penny has been wasted on unnecessary bling – all the performance is inside the box. And the more time spent listening to the Monitor SE Atom, the more we are all convinced that these are incredibly easy speakers to live with.

Finally, the Atoms are very easy to set up. Thanks to very wide dispersion, they pass the “just throw them anywhere in the room and go” test with ease. And they do it on budget speaker stands. Those wanting every last bit of performance these speakers have to offer, will get a bigger stereo image and a bit more low frequency extension by putting them on more massive stands and spending about 30 minutes fine tuning speaker placement. But you don’t have to go through it to fall in love with these speakers.

In the end – fantastic!

Just as Paradigm set the high-end world on its ear two years ago with their Persona speakers, delivering six figure sound for about $30k a pair, they return to their roots with the Monitor SE Atom. I’ve heard a lot of budget speakers and most of them are rubbish. These little Paradigms are high quality compact speakers. I dare you to find better. This is truly one of the most exciting products I’ve had the pleasure to review. Well done, Paradigm!

The Paradigm Monitor SE Atom