Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Jared Rachwalski
- Published on 24 April 2012
Introduction to the Paradigm Cinema 100CT 5.1 Speaker System
Ok, I'll admit it. I was not expecting much from this diminutive 5.1 budget speaker system that arrived at my house in a single box. The entire system fits inside the shipping box for my reference subwoofer (MartinLogan Descent i). Granted it is massive and costs more than three of these 5.1 systems, but still, five speakers and a sub that take up less real-estate than even my Husky-Shepherd? Could these possibly produce full sound in my large listening space?
PARADIGM CINEMA 100CT 5.1 SPEAKER SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
- Satellites (5):
- Design: 2-way Sealed Enclosure
- Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 4" Polypropylene Midrange
- MFR: 125 Hz - 20 kHz, ± 2 dB
- Sensitivity: 88 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Dimensions: 8.4" X 4.8" W x 6.8" D
- Weight 4 Pounds/each
- Subwoofer (1):
- Design: Single Driver, Ported
- Driver: 8" Polymer
- Amplifier: 100 Watts RMS, 300 Watts Peak
- Variable Crossover: 35 Hz - 150 Hz
- 2 position Phase Switch, 00 or 1800
- Inputs: Line-level (RCA)
- Dimensions: 13.4" H x 12.8" W x 12.8" D
- Weight 21.4 Pounds
- System price:
- 2.0 - $299 US / $329 CA
- 3.0 - $449 US / $499 CA
- 5.1 - $999 US / $1099 CA (as reviewed here)
- Subwoofer only - $349 US / $379 CA
- SECRETS Tags: Cinema, Speaker, Paradigm
Design of the Paradigm Cinema 100CT 5.1 Speaker System
The Paradigm Cinema CT100 includes five identical satellites which are made from molded plastic with a high-gloss finish. They are small, roughly 8.5" tall, 5" wide and 7" deep. On the back are push-thru binding posts that will accept 14 gauage and smaller bare wire. On the front are removable grills with magnetic badges. These badges can be placed accordingly based whether the speaker is horizontal or vertical. The satellites must be mounted with either bookshelf stands or wall brackets (included). Under the removable grills you will find a 1aluminium domed tweeter and a 4polypropylene midrange that has been injected with minerals to increase the stiffness. Overall the speakers feel solid despite the low weight and plastic components.
The Cinema Sub is roughly a 13" cube with dual ports, and houses a single 8" driver and a 100 watt RMS amplifier. There are variable controls for both output level and cross over point, which goes from 35 Hz to 150 Hz, and is defeat-able. Also on the back panel is a phase switch (0 or 180 degrees) and an on/auto/standby power switch. There are no speaker-level inputs, only line-level (RCA). The sub also has a removable 2 prong power cord and comes with a mounting template and four rubber feet that the user must install themselves. You have the option of mounting the feet (with included adhesive tape) to the glossy side, or using screws to to mount to the grill-cloth side. This allows the user to change the appearance of the sub. I will admit I was unable to find the pre-drilled screw holes for mounting to the grill-cloth side, and choose to mount to the glossy side. I do prefer the look of the sub this way as it now has a glossy top and wrap-around grill-cloth. I can see no performance issues with either mounting location. Over-all the sub is solid yet light compact and easy to move around.
Setup of the Paradigm Cinema 100CT 5.1 Speaker System
I placed the speakers on my wide equipment rack that is directly under my display. I did remove the huge MartinLogan Stage center Channel to make way for the relatively tiny Cinema 100 speaker. Paradigm includes 4 vertical stands for the speakers and one horizontal stand for the center. The vertical stands are screwed into the speakers, while the center rests on the horizontal stand. As my reference center is huge I had enough room to place the center speaker vertically to match the LT/RT speakers. The stand held it in place although it is clearly not designed for this as it is not secure. I choose this method to give the front stage three identical speakers. Horizontally aligning speaker drivers can cause phase issues, lobbing, comb filtering and other nasty artifacts due to having the tweeter beside and not above the midrange. Given the choice I always prefer vertical centers especially when they are identical to the LT/RT speakers as this improves blending of the front stage.
I then wired everything up to my Denon 4308AVR. Sources included a PS3 for Blu-ray playback and my HTPC served up music and recorded HDTV. The speakers were installed in my main listening room, which is very large and open. My reference subwoofer system was switched off and I used only the single 8Cinema sub.
The Paradigm Cinema 100CT 5.1 Speaker System In Use
For testing the capabilities of this svelte system, I loaded up Pink Floyd's recently remastered Wish You Were Here on BluRay. My current system is fully capable of resolving this beautiful transfer, which has become my new surround sound reference. Using the track Welcome to the Machine I listened for bass extension and the integration of the subwoofer and satellites. The limits of the small speakers were apparent with this track. It was easy to override the small sub and push it into distortion and it was obvious where the sub was located. Turning down the gain on the sub was necessary in order to play back this track at high volumes. There was decent clarity and imaging from the small satellites, however the lack of low frequency extension was apparent as most of the midbass is handed off to the subwoofer.
Next track was Wish You Were Here. You may have listened to this song countless times as I have, but unless you have listened to the blu-ray surround sound version you haven't heard the song the way it was meant to be. At first when you hear the intro coming from the right rear it can be startling, it all comes together and makes cohesive audio sense. This is a great track to check the surround sound blend of the five speakers. And there was decent cohesion between the five speakers, with seamless blending. I did have to move the surrounds closer than my reference speakers, which was both necessary and possible due to their small size. When they were at the normal distance (8 feet from listening chair) the sound was disconnected. Overall they did well in resolving the guitar tracks and gave a good sense of depth and soundstage.
First up in the movie queue was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This slower paced movie is not the first one the comes to mind when reviewing home theater gear, however the Blue Cut Train robbery is a fantastic mix of gun fire, train brakes screeching and dramatic score. The Paradigm Cinema CT system did well at resolving the score and reproducing the chaotic sounds of a train coming to an abrupt halt. While the speakers admirably placed the gunfire which emits from multiple locations, in front to the sides and behind the listener, they did not properly reproduce the snap-bang gun fire sounds as realistically as is possible with more resolving (and more expensive) speakers.
Next I loaded up Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. This disc is great for testing dynamic range, surround effects, bass response and center channel (vocal) clarity all at the same time. Using the shipyard fight scene the speaker system was put to work. At reference levels this scene was able to overdrive the subwoofer causing noticeable port noise, not surprising given the 8driver. Pleasantly though the vocal track was clear and defined despite the abundance of effects and bass. Most effects were seamless and well presented regardless of the low frequency shortcomings.
After that workout I switched to my HTPC and cued up some 2ch music. I choose 2 tracks, one difficult and one easy. First up was the difficult track, the title track to Tool's 1998 Lateralus. This track is a torture-test of sorts starting out with a soft guitar rift and light percussive track. It builds into a frenzy of electric guitars, rock-solid bass lines and a thundering drum sequence all centered on Maynard's vocals. At low, to mid volume levels the system handled this disc surprisingly well. It wasn't until I cranked the volume that things fell apart. Again the high crossover point required by the small satellites meant the subwoofer had to play very high (above 100 Hz) which caused some midbass bloom that bled into the vocals.
The second track I played was the easy one. The National's 2003 album Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers was next in the queue, specifically track 6 Thirsty. The slow build of this song is hauntingly lead by the baritone vocals of Matt Berninger. And his voice is crucial to the sound this Cincinnati/Brooklyn band is known for. While I anticipated the high crossover point to cause issues the sound was surprisingly coherent and properly weighted. I was expecting worse considering a Baritone can stretch from below 100Hz to above 250Hz, and the system is crossed over at 120Hz. The song starts with a simple drum line with guitars, bass and piano being added as the song progresses. The few moments of anticipation building breaks are followed by dynamic swings, which the Cinema CT's handled easily. The bass notes were tighter and more defined with this album than the others I had tried. Clearly the cleaner more structured sound of this album was where the Cinema's shined.
While the HTPC was running I tested the Cinema system with some surround sound HDTV. With the limited dynamic range and less bass heavy effects of HDTV the system worked quite well. Programs such as the new Alcatraz and The Walking Dead were easily handled by this compact system. Vocal clarity is the key here and even though the center channel is only producing 120 Hz and above there was no loss of weight to male voices. Even with effects and dramatic scores you could still clearly make out the dialogue in most shows.
I realized that my big room was no the best space for such a small system, so I moved two speakers and the subwoofer into my much smaller 9' by 10' two channel room. I connected the 2.1 system to a Marantz PM 8003 integrated amp and Onix XCD-88 cd player. For comparison sake I played back two tracks I had played on my HTPC, Lareralus and Thirsty this time off CD. Two things about this room that made a big improvement was boundry reinforcment and sitting much closer, at only 4' from the speakers. I found the small speakers sounded fuller and less strained in the bass region. There was no noticeable high frequency distortion in this room and I did not need to drive the speakers with as much power to achive the same perceived loudness as in my big room. This contributed to increased midbass response and decreased distortion and compression.
Conclusions About the Paradigm Cinema 100CT 5.1 Speaker System
I was surprised - make that pleasantly surprised. Both by the sound the Paradigm Cinema 100CT produced and just how much I enjoyed them in my room. Sure they looked tiny and they were not up to my reference speakers quality of music reproduction. But for TV and movies they were plenty of fun. Lacking in midbass purity and output they still threw a large sound stage, blended seamlessly as a set (note to Paradigm: please consider a vertical stand for the center) and had decent bass at low listening levels. Dialogue was easy to understand and effects were accurately placed and defined.
Could these replace my Electrostatics in my big system? I'm afraid not. But they are at the top of my list for a secondary TV and light music system. If your room is not overly big and as long as you can place the sub up front, close to the mains will make a nice discreet 5.1 system.