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Reference Studio 20v3 loudspeakers
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Are you searching for monitor loudspeakers that are ultramusical, linear, and of very high value? Do you want to be able to use them with an SET amplifier or other low-power, high-resolution tube amps? Do you want to spend only $800 per pair, but want spiffy looks and solid construction? Look no further than the brand-new Paradigm Reference Studio 20v3s. I was shocked at their near-super-speaker performance and high-quality fit and finish, especially since the interconnects I used in this evaluation were more expensive than the speakers!
I own a pair of Reference Studio 20v2s, which several reveiwers noted were the best speakers on the market for under $1000. They are very good, and work nicely with a 10-watt SET amp in my second system, but they have their flaws. They are a bit polite in the mids, and a tad thin and steely in the upper highs. With their 89-dB sensitivity, they work well with low-power gear, but more efficiency would be nice. Their bass is very good, but more definition and whomp would improve their already-lovely sound. I have not heard any speakers that beat them for under $1000, and they compare favorably with the Reference 3a De Capos in many respects.
Enter the 20v3s. Priced at $800 (up from $650 for the v2s), they are much improved. They now have really high-quality tweeters that are extended and silky smooth. The woofers are now 7 inches instead of 6.5, with a serious built-in phase cone. The port is now mounted in the front, the way the legendary Bud Fried would have liked it—always in phase. The v3s are a bit larger and heavier, but still no bigger than a four-slice toaster. They still work best with the grille cloths installed, as they are designed that way. The binding posts are improved, and are further apart (bi-wire for the best sound, and put the speakers on stands at least 18 inches tall). All of these improvements are audible, and marvelous!
The 20v3 loudspeakers are more detailed than the v2s. The highs are extended, sweet, layered, and very musical. The mids are more present and dynamic, more detailed, and more sophisticated. The bass is deeper, bolder, and more immediate. The integration of the drivers is flawless—no joke! I heard no crossover distortion whatsoever. They play louder with less power. They are spec'ed at 90dB sensitivity, and a pair of 300Bs brings them to life. Their musical performance is stunning. The new RCA/BMG Stokowski Rhapsodies SACD will blow you away. You will hear layers and layers of cushy, airy sound and mountains of detail. The differences between the 20v3s and the 20v2s were much greater than I expected. The v3s sound significantly more fleshed out and detailed. They also have enhanced depth perspective, and they image a lot better. Based strictly on performance, I'd say that these speakers should sell for at least $2000. They are a boon for audiophiles on a budget.
The Paradigm 20v2s were the best monitor speakers for under $1000. The 20v3s are the best monitor speakers for under $2500. They are bested, slightly, by the Reference 3a De Capo i monitors at $2500, but only slightly. I think that the Paradigms' drivers will blend better in a small room than the De Capos', and the 2-v3s will play louder with less power. Both will give you delicious mids and highs, with the De Capos sounding a bit fuller and more sophisticated—as they should, given the fact that they cost three times as much.
The Paradigm Reference 20v3s are superb monitor loudspeakers with nearly flawless performance. They take the phrase “high value” to an all-time high! Use reference-quality gear with these little beasts, and you will be entertained in high style. These $800 loudspeakers reveal musical nuance comparable to any other speakers you can buy for a small- to medium-sized room. Paradigm has done it again, but this time they have done it even better! Robert H. Levi
Reference Studio 20v3