Paradigm Founder 80F Floorstanding Loudspeaker Review
Paradigm Founder 80f
AUD $6,499 RRP
The Paradigm Electronics factory is located in Mississauga, Canada, about half an hour out of Toronto. It's a beautiful part of the world, and also where Martin Logan and Anthem products are designed and often manufactured, entirely in-house. The impressive modern facility has significant resources, including a special research centre with the largest privately-owned anechoic chamber in North America, no less.
Scott Bagby was one of the co-founders of Paradigm back in 1982, before forming a partnership with US Investment firm Shoreview Industries in 2005, as a result of the exit from the business and buyout of co-founder Jerry VanderMarel. In 2019, Bagby took back control of the company, ending the partnership with the private equity firm. He set to work to create a new line of loudspeakers with all the core values of the brand; custom drivers and cabinets, the intelligent use of technology, great sound and affordability. The Founder series was born, with a wink at the fact that he was back at the helm, keen to reinvigorate the portfolio.
The new Founder series sits just below the flagship Persona range and has six models, comprising two home theatre speakers, a standmount and three floorstanders. The 80F may be the smallest of the floorstanding loudspeakers, yet it doesn't feel entry-level. Paradigm engineers started with a clean sheet of paper for this new series and looked at every single component, no matter how small. They also considered how the speaker interacts with the room it's played in and came up with some interesting solutions. The result utilises entirely new drivers, mounting hardware and cabinets.
The Founder 80F has four drivers; a 25mm tweeter, a 152mm mid/bass driver and two 152mm woofers in a two-and-a-half way configuration. The tweeter cone is made from a special combination of aluminium, magnesium and ceramic (AL-MAC) materials, creating a light and strong low resonance driver. It has a small Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) tweeter lens or cover fitted to assist with dispersion; the tweeter is contained within a large inverted horn-like dome known as an Oblate Spheroid Waveguide (OSW) to aid dispersion.
The large 152mm mid/bass driver is made of an aluminium and magnesium (AL-MAG) cone with a third-generation ridged surround known as Active Ridge Technology (ART), also used on the bass drivers. Contributing to the distinct look of the loudspeaker is the large PPA lens, with lovely shapes perforated into the cover. It takes over from the tweeter at 1.8kHz, the manufacturer says.
The two 152mm bass driver cones are made from mineral-infused carbon fibre or CARBON-X, which is extremely stiff and strong and resists cone break up within its bandpass. The company says that its ribbed ART surround, which is shared with the mid/bass driver, allows for large cone excursions with lower distortion as it keeps its shape better than regular conventional half-roll surrounds. Paradigm first used this patented technology in its subwoofers with success. The bass drivers kick in from 500Hz downwards. Both these and the mid/bass drivers and the cabinet feet are attached via an Advanced Shock-Mount system that decouples the drivers and feet from the speaker chassis mechanically.
The cabinet has seen significant design effort with what Paradigm calls Cascade-Fusion bracing. Internally a large reinforcing diagonal brace from top to bottom is used, with cascading horizontal supports, which creates an extremely rigid and strong support structure that dissipates any standing waves generated by the powerful bass drivers. The unique outer shape also contributes to its strength, with a taper from the front to the rear of the enclosure adding to the overall stiffness. All of this creates a solid platform for the drivers to work from, with minimal influence from the cabinet on the overall sound quality.
On-axis frequency response is quoted as ±2dB from 50Hz to 23kHz, with low-frequency extension down to 28Hz without stating a tolerance. Sensitivity is quoted as 93dB in-room or 90dB in an anechoic chamber, which is a good and healthy number. As for the speaker's impedance, it is said to be “compatible with 8 ohms”.
The 971x298x356mm, 23.6kg cabinet has a large floor-firing bass reflex port hidden from plain view. The speaker comes in a choice of four finishes: Walnut or Black Walnut smooth satin veneer finish or Midnight Cherry and Piano Black. My review pair came in Piano Black and looks sophisticated and modern with a small footprint and four lovely crafted aluminium adjustable feet, each with an optional push-in spike. These hold the loudspeaker rock-steady, and thankfully the level adjustment is from above rather than underneath the foot.
A black magnetically attached grill fits across the front, but I left it off both speakers for my listening tests as it changed the sound slightly. There are two sets of multi-way speaker terminals at the rear that offer bi-amping or bi-wiring. I removed the jumper bars and bi-wired back to a single amplifier, using various integrated amplifiers, including the Cambridge Audio Edge A and the Leema Acoustics Quasar.
I set up the Paradigms in my normal listening position, which worked out to be very similar to the recommendation in the user manual, with the rear of the loudspeakers 70cm from the front wall and about 2m apart. They were toed-in to touch my shoulders and intersect behind my seat. I found that they're not particularly sensitive to location.
Founder 120h model shown, highlighting the cabinet's internal components.
The Founder 80F is a great sounding loudspeaker that seems to go louder than its modest dimensions would suggest and plays cleanly with clarity, detail, texture, and dynamics. I've heard Paradigms in the past, but the Founder 80F seems more balanced, disciplined and factual than I recall. It has decent bass extension, which is always tight and punchy, and a fine sense of balance, accuracy and poise – plus a large soundstage.
Listening to the violin of Nicola Benedetti playing the Baroque track Allegro fitted with period-correct gut strings fitted was a pleasure through this speaker. Her instrument came to life and sounded expressive and multi-dimensional. The tweeter was never harsh or piercing, the progression from treble to midrange and bass was seamless, and I couldn't catch it out despite listening to many musical genres.
The bass notes of Yo-Yo Ma's cello in Atashgah were reproduced with no overhang or unwanted resonances to distort the sound and plenty of textural information. While it may not satisfy headbangers, this speaker's bottom end has a surprising amount of bass extension and is clean, tuneful, and musical. I didn't hear the typical bass-reflex bloat of energy in the upper bass so that down-firing port works well.
The ability of this speaker to get out of the way in the midband, sounding clean and detailed in a cohesive way, is a fine attribute. For example, Hazey by Glass Animals has lots of effects going on throughout the track. The Founder 80F translated this as a believable and enjoyable sound, with great precision but without it coming over as clinical or confused. I Didn't Change My Number by Billie Eilish was reproduced with all the snap and speed required; this applied to both the midband and bass.
There is no problem with the Founder 80F playing loud; it doesn't seem to get easily stressed or fatiguing in any way. This unflappable quality translates to all genres and volume settings, with a cohesion that is endearing. Listen to Robert Plant's Can't Let Go and through the Paradigm, and you'll love the infectious rhythm and evenness in the lower registers, for example. When connected to my AV system, this pair of Paradigms showed their ability to make dialogue understandable and easily cope with movies' dynamic nature.
It's a similar story spatially. The opening of Barefoot In The Park by James Blake featuring Rosalía produced a huge stereo bubble that extended well beyond the placement of the Founders and entirely filled the front half of my listening room. Off-axis performance is also very good, with a creditable soundstage available even when sitting to the side of one of the loudspeakers, with no tonal changes perceived.
Compared to my reference JBL HDI-3800 floorstanders, of course, the substantially less expensive Paradigm couldn't match the former's voluptuous bass. It sounded a little less engaging and visceral, as you'd expect. The bottom octaves are fuller and more dominant with the JBL, and the latter is capable of larger dynamic swings. Yet it was interesting that the Founder 80F seemed better in terms of neutrality, focus and precision.
Paradigm's new Founder 80F is a thoroughly modern mid-price floorstander that gives a polished, precise yet musical sound. I enjoyed using my review pair and could happily live with them – although the larger model, the Founder 100F, would probably suit my larger listening room better. Scott Bagby and his team at Paradigm have achieved something special, and I'd strongly recommend you audition a pair if you're looking to purchase such a speaker.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.