Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Mixing and Matching: The Paradigm Reference Signature C5 Center Channel Cone Speaker vs. Electrostatics


The Design

Back when home theater began to take off, center channel speakers were designed to sit on top of your TV, and that was when TVs were still the big boxes that had a CRT as its display. They worked fine as long as they were magnetically shielded, but they also had to be rather small, because even the largest CRT TV was about 35" diagonal.

Spring forward to now, and everyone has a flat panel HDTV, maybe 6" depth at the most. The newest ones are only 1" deep. Kind of a small platform on which to be putting a center channel speaker.

Also, home theater aficionados wanted BIG speakers to go with a BIG subwoofer, so that the nuclear weapon detonation in the DVD movie would have a BIG sound. So, they bought BIG speakers. But, the center channel was a problem. If it was as big as the others, where would you put it?

Now that you have a huge choice of speakers that go in-wall, on-wall, in-ceiling, on-celing, and in-floor, the problem started to go away. This is the current preference apparently with custom installers, or rather, their customers. Out of sight, out of mind, but not out of sound.

One little problem still haunts us, well, maybe just a few of us. What to do with the aficionado who likes not just BIG speakers, but REALLY BIG speakers, such as those 6 foot ESLs that I have (I also have four Carver Amazing Mark IV ribbon speakers in a second lab, and one pair is nearly 6 feet tall)? And then there is the pair of Maggies I have in a third listening room, which are also in the 6 foot range.

There is no way around it. I had to get a REALLY BIG center channel speaker, and it could not be a flat panel speaker. It had to be a cone speaker that would sit horizontally.

I have been thinking about this problem for several years.

Then, at CEDIA 2009, I went by the Paradigm booth, and they were displaying their latest version of the Reference Signature line. I was awestruck with the new C5 center channel speaker, shown below. It is a 3-1/2 way, six driver speaker that is more than 3 feet wide and has six drivers. Not to mention weighing 81 pounds. It uses a pure beryllium 1" dome tweeter, a 4" upper midrange, two 7" mid/bass, and two 7" woofers. This speaker met my specification of REALLY BIG.

We reviewed the complete Reference Signature System a while back, but was using the C5 with the S8's and ADP's, not my ESLs. Even after they were repacked and shipped back, there was this little spark in my brain that the C5 might - just might - work with the ESLs and maintain the neutral soundstage. But, I only had the time to do the review of the Paradigm package, and didn't get around to testing the C5 with the ESLs.

So, having now been re-exposed to how REALLY BIG the C5 was, and the fact that there was yet a new version with ribbed surrounds (I am referring to the rubber surround at the perimeter of the midrange and woofer drivers, shown in the photo, not surround speakers), I said to myself, "It's time to see if I can replace that center channel ESL with something that will get the job done." So, Mark Aling sent one to me, and included the J-18C stand. The photo is actually the one that I received, and you can see part of the stand underneath. The ribbing in the surround eliminates "dimpling" that occurs in a conventional rubber surround at high SPL. The dimpling causes distortion in the sound. To me, this is a HUGE advancement in speaker cone design, and no other manufacturer has it, yet.


So, here is a photo of the front of the home theater lab, with the two six foot ESLs as front left/right speakers, and the C5 on the stand in the center. The screen now can be lowered to the level I really want, and the C5 is just below it. There are four 18" subwoofers behind the screen, two dipole side speakers, and two 48" ESLs for the rear surrounds. Notice the small area carpet on the floor in front of the C5. This helps to absorb sound that would otherwise be reflected off the floor towards the main listening position on the couch at the back of the room.