Budget Paradigm or Bowers & Wilkins?

To Doug Schneider,

First off, let me extend a big “thank-you” for an outstanding review you wrote on the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.7 speaker. I’m about to make a purchase that I consider long overdue, and have done countless number of hours of research on avsforum.com looking for my answer. I’m hoping you can provide me with some true subjectivity and make a worthwhile recommendation. My current setup is a budget-friendly 5.1 setup consisting of a Denon AVR-1610 audio/video receiver, Pinnacle Audio 5.1 speaker system, Sony PlayStation 3, and a 46" Samsung LCD TV. I’m researching upgrading my front soundstage to a nice pair of bookshelf speakers, in hopes to create a hybrid 2.0/4.1 sound system, if you will. Once I purchase new L/R channels, I'll likely do away with my center-channel to prevent a poor match within my front soundstage.

My question to you: My shortlist has been narrowed down to the Bowers & Wilkins 686B, and the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.7. Which should I buy? I must say, I’m leaning heavily towards the Paradigm, but I don't want to regret my purchase and always wonder “what if . . .?” Your review nearly single-handedly sold me on the Paradigm, but I figure that someone with your breadth of knowledge may have a valid argument towards the 686Bs as well.

I understand you probably get an influx of e-mails asking for this very type of recommendation, but I truly hope you'll take some time to respond. I sincerely appreciate your time, knowledge, and hopeful correspondence.

Best regards,
Matthew Proudfit

It’s obvious from the Atom Monitor v.7 review that I’m a big fan of that speaker. But what about the 686B? Unfortunately, that’s a Bowers & Wilkins speaker that I haven’t reviewed, or even heard, and I certainly wish I had because that’s also a company that tends to produce good speakers. On the other hand, I lay the blame on my not knowing anything about this speaker, or others in their line that also look quite interesting, rather on them than us. We’ve requested review samples fairly often, but they don’t tend to send much out. A little bit here and there, but hardly anything compared to the breadth of the line. So I can tell you about the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.7, but that’s about all.

Your comment about your center-channel intrigued me. If you get a new set of left and right speakers then definitely ditch the center you have now -- it won’t match tonally and will likely mess up the front stage. But don’t give up on center-channel speakers completely, particularly from a company such as Paradigm. It’s very difficult to make a good center-channel speaker, but Paradigm makes some of the best ones I’ve heard in terms of matching the sonic characteristics of the left and right speakers. The result is a seamless blend across the front of the stage. So if you buy the Atom Monitor v.7s, then also consider the Center 1 that’s part of the Monitor series. . . . Doug Schneider