I’d love to see the stats: How many audiophiles in 2016 bought parts of their system -- or their entire system -- online or over the phone, without ever having heard the component(s)? I know from the letters I receive that many of you do, if only out of necessity. The number of dealers stocking high-end audio gear has shrunk over the years, and sometimes it’s just not feasible to hear the component you’re considering buying before you actually buy it. And comparing two different brands side by side -- the two specific brands you’re most interested in -- is often next to impossible. Many dealers carry only a few brands, and typically complementary rather than competing brands.
Of course, listening to and comparing the products you’re interested in is always best -- it’s the ideal -- but if you just can’t do that, and a thick wad of cash is burning a hole in your pocket, here’s a system I feel pretty comfortable recommending that you consider, sound unheard, if no other option is available to you. Of course, I’m pretty familiar with the brands in question, so in this case system compatibility is based on a lot more than a hunch. I’m betting I could be quite happy with this setup.
The speakers I recommend are the new Paradigm Persona 7F ($25,000 USD per pair), the next-to-top model of the Persona line. The very top Persona is the 9H, which has an active bass section with four 8.5” woofers. The fully passive 7F has a 1” beryllium-dome tweeter and, surprisingly, a 7” beryllium-cone midrange. The bass range is handled by two 8.5” woofers -- half the number in the 9H -- that must be powered by your own amplifier. Although I love the thought of the active bass in the 9H, a pair of them costs $10,000 more and I suspect that the 7F would produce plenty of low end for most folks in most rooms. Plus, a lot of people like the more conventional passive approach, because that’s what they’re used to. And that’s OK. Being a large three-way speaker, the 7F should be able to handle practically anything you throw at it, including doing double duty with movies and music. I hear that you can get them in blue -- Aria Metallic Blue, to be specific. That’s what I’d choose.
To drive these bad-boy Paradigms, I’d pick up a McIntosh Laboratories MA8000 integrated amplifier-DAC ($10,000). In addition to its 300Wpc into almost any load, this 100-pound beast comes standard with 15 inputs, five of which are digital. Its onboard 32-bit/192kHz DAC section should make your digital files all they can be, and the MA8000 even has phono inputs for that new turntable. Another feature I find super-intriguing is the eight-band tone-control section. This equalization circuitry would give the user the ability to fine-tune the sound of those Paradigm 7Fs in the room, giving the owner exactly the tonal balance he or she prefers. The massive power output would certainly motivate the Paradigms to reach their utmost capabilities in terms of output level and bass extension, so again, home theater would be no problem.
Since the MA8000 has built-in phono inputs, I believe I’d be inspired to order my first turntable. I’d get the European Audio Team C-Major ($2495). It’s not crazy expensive, and I like its classic look and the fact that it comes with EAT’s C-Note 9” tonearm and an Ortofon Quintet Blue cartridge. Now to find some yard sales and start building my vinyl collection . . .
My main source would be the new Apple MacBook Pro laptop, which was hopefully announced just hours before this article goes online. Although at the time of writing the connectivity options are a little sketchy -- I’m not precisely sure how I’d hook it up to the McIntosh -- the MacBook’s new, rumored OLED touchbar, faster flash storage, and upgraded processor should make a new 13” MacBook Pro a perfect addition to my listening room for around $1500.
As for hooking it all up, I’d opt for one of the three cable brands I’ve grown most familiar with over the past ten years: AudioQuest, Nordost, or Siltech. As to which specific models, I like the all-copper Siltech Explorers, something from AQ’s Rocket series, or Nordost’s Leif line. You should be able to wire the entire system for around $1500 -- which, considering the pedigree of this setup, is just right in my book.
How would it all sound? I imagine punchy and warm, with good bass extension and ample detail in the highs and mids. The big Mac would likely bring some fullness and body to the ultraclean sound of the Paradigms, but of course you could shift the tonal balance to suit with the MA8000’s tone controls, and your choice of analog or digital input would also have a profound effect on your listening experiences. I also think the McIntosh’s blue meters would look right at home next to the Paradigms’ blue finish -- and that matters!
. . . Jeff Fritz