Port Noise with Totem Skylight and Paradigm Premier 100B Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

I live in a high-rise condo building and I’m in the market for a new pair of speakers. I can’t play music really loud or have a subwoofer, but I think a pair of small bookshelf speakers would be great. My listening room is small—approximately 12′ by 12′. I listen to music like Blue Rodeo, the Eagles, Bon Jovi, etc. I hope you don’t mind getting this e-mail—I got your name from the article you wrote about the Totem Acoustic Skylight speaker.

I’m looking at this speaker, and the Paradigm Premier 100B. My question is this: Do you know about the Stereophile review on the Skylight, where there were some comments made by readers about the rear port causing a problem with the sound? They kind of downgraded this model. I don’t know the technical part of what they were talking about, but I thought maybe you would know. I would be running these speakers with a recapped NAD 7250PE receiver from the late ’80s (50Wpc). I only play CDs and vinyl.

I’m only going to listen to the 100Bs and Skylights as I don’t want to listen to a lot of speakers. Don’t want to get confused, LOL. Anyways, if you’ve got this far, thanks for reading this. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Steve M.

Thanks for writing in. I’m always happy to hear from our readers. I haven’t looked at what was written in Stereophile about the Totem Skylight, but, if I have to guess from what you’re describing, it probably has something to do with port noise. This is a potential issue with any speaker that has a port—and most of them do, including the Skylight I reviewed and Paradigm’s Premier 100B, which Diego Estan reviewed for SoundStage! Access in 2019.

A ported speaker is also known as a bass-reflex speaker. Some people also call them vented speakers. These ports, vents, or whatever you want to call them help to deliver more bass output. This also allows the designer to make the speaker more sensitive than a sealed-box design (one with no port or vent); in other words, so it can play louder with the same or even less power.

Basically, there’s an opening in the cabinet that allows air to escape when the bass driver is moving rearward. It’s tuned to a specific bass frequency so that the escaping air augments the output the bass driver produces when it moves forward. This results in more bass output around certain frequencies compared to a similarly size sealed-box speaker. The trade-off is that the air passing through the port or vent is subject to friction, which can cause turbulence and noise. This effect is often more noticeable at higher volumes. As a result, designers do all kinds of things to reduce the turbulence and noise, such as shaping the ports in innovative ways and using special materials. Making the opening on the back of the speaker so it faces away from the listening position also helps to reduce the apparent noise, because that way you can’t hear it so easily. The Skylight and 100B are rear-ported designs.

Port noise from the Skylights didn’t bother me. As far as I know, Diego wasn’t bothered by it with the 100Bs, either. But that’s just me and Diego. What I’m glad to see is that you’re going to audition both speakers and make your own decision. That’s really the only way to do it because you’re the one who ultimately has to live with whatever speakers you choose. When you do audition them, listen in front of the speakers, obviously, but also go behind one speaker as it’s playing the music you’re familiar with. Listen for any port noise and determine if you think it will bother you. The proof of the speaker is always in the listening. . . . Doug Schneider