The Paragon is a stereo speaker system installed in a single cabinet. It is based on a diffusion principle developed by Richard Ranger as consultant to JBL. The midrange drivers fire towards a curved wood panel that reflect the sound waves to create a wide, spacious stereo image. The principle is explained above in Richard Rangers own words.
How Richard Ranger came to JBL is somewhat of a mystery. He was renowned for technical work in the movie and theater industry. It is believed that he was independently developing the diffusion principal for professional applications. It has been speculated that he was using JBL drivers in his experiments and that this was the connection that brought him to JBL. It is known that in 1958, he installed the first amplified sound system used in a Broadway theater and that this installation was based on the same Paragon diffusion concept using JBL drivers.
A little known fact is that the Paragon was originally envisaged as a center channel speaker to be flanked by separate left and right speakers that would be similar in configuration to the Hartsfield. This was related to research conducted in the 1930's by Bell Labs that purported the most stable stereo image was achieved with a center channel speaker. However the cost and space requirements for such a system would be prohibitive and the concept was revised to be a standalone stereo system.
The stunning industrial design for the Paragon was developed by Arnold Wolf. He was hired as a consultant to this project and later went on to become President of JBL in 1970. The Paragon was a very complicated system to construct. In the 1960's, JBL estimated that 112 man-hours were required to complete a single system. Much of this time was invested in cabinet finishing. Eight hours was spent sanding the entire enclosure after assembly. Then a single coat of oil was applied by hand and allowed to dry overnight. Two more coats of oil were applied the next day before six hours work was applied for final touch ups. Subsequent to this, yet another coat of oil was applied and hand rubbed. The Paragon was available in numerous finishes that included Teak, Rosewood, Birch, Mahogany, Walnut, Oak, Antique White and Ebony. In addition, special finishes could be ordered at higher costs such as piano lacquer.
The original configuration of the Paragon consisted of two 150-4C bass drivers mounted in separate, front-loaded horns. Two 375 compression drivers were mounted to H5038P-100 elliptical horns and each was aimed at one side of the curved panel. Two 075 ring radiators were mounted in the back of the cabinet and aimed at the center listening position. The drivers were crossed over at 500hz and 7000hz. At the same time that the home version of the Paragon was introduced, there was an industrial variant that was intended for built-in applications such as studio monitoring and stereo movie sound reproduction. However, there never was a great demand for this application and the industrial variant was soon dropped from the lineup.
The driver complement of the Paragon went through numerous changes over the years. The early 60's saw the 150-4C replaced by the newly developed LE15A. The option of ordering the Paragon as a powered system was also introduced at that time with the availability of the SE408S power amplifier installed in the cabinet. The powered option was removed by the 70's and the driver complement changed again 1979. In that year, JBL converted the magnetic structures of all of their bass drivers to utilize ferrite magnets instead of Alnico V. It resulted in the replacement of the LE15A with the ferrite LE15H. In addition, the 375 midrange driver was replaced with the Alnico 376 which used a new diamond pattern suspension for extended response. This configuration remained until the product's discontinuance in 1983.
Up until the system's discontinuance, there was a devoted manufacturing space set aside at the JBL plant just for the Paragon. At it's peak, Paragons were produced at the rate of five per week. By the 1980's, this rate had been reduced to one or two per month. No records were kept of total production, but it is thought that around 1000 systems were built over a period of approximately 25 years. To this day, it is arguably the most sought after vintage loudspeaker system ever made. Pristine examples can command over $20,000 in the collector's market.
It is interesting to note that there was no complete set of plans for the manufacture of the Paragon. Many of the construction procedures existed only in the minds of the builders. In most cases, it would not be possible to substitute cabinet parts from one Paragon into another since they were individually hand crafted for the system at hand. Plans were available in the 1960's for sale to home builders that dimensioned the the individual parts, but even these have subsequently become lost to JBL.
© 2000 Don McRitchie