Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Paradigm Mini-Monitor 5.1 Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Paradigm is increasingly becoming a unique entity in the world of audio equipment manufacturers. The industry continues to conglomerate itself into ever larger multinational corporations in the hopes of leveraging economies of scale, and optimizing cost of goods by outsourcing components and sub-assemblies. Paradigm, by contrast, remains thoroughly vertically integrated. With rare exceptions, the entirety of any given product, from the voice coil to the enclosure, is manufactured on-site at Paradigm's headquarters in Ontario, Canada.

Specifications

  • Mini-Monitor
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Dome Tweeter, One 6.5" Mid/Bass
  • Crossover: 2nd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.0 kHz
  • MFR: 70 Hz - 20 kHz ± 2 dB
  • Sensitivity: 92 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 13.3" H x 7" W x 11.8" D
  • Weight: 17 Pounds/each
  • MSRP $249/each USA
  • CC-190 Center Channel Speaker
  • Design: Three-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Dome Tweeter, One 3.5" Midrange, Two 5.5" Woofers
  • Crossovers 2nd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.8 kHz, 2nd-order Electro-acoustic at 300 Hz
  • MFR: 90 Hz - 20 kHz ± 2 dB
  • Sensitivity: 93 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
  • Dimensions: 7" H x 22.3" W x 10.2" D
  • Weight 20.5 Pounds
  • MSRP $349/each USA
  • ADP-190 Surround Speaker
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: Two 1" Dome Tweeters, Two 5.5" Mid/Bass
  • Crossover 2nd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.0 kHz
  • MFR: 110 Hz - 20 kHz ± 2 dB
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 10.3" H x 7.4" W x 6.4" D
  • Weight: 8 Pounds/each
  • MSRP $249/each USA
  • DSP-3100 Subwoofer
  • Design: Powered Subwoofer, Ported
  • Driver: 10"
  • Amplifier: 200 Watts RMS, 600 Watts Peak
  • MFR: 30 Hz - 150 Hz; Low Frequency Extension - 24 Hz
  • Connections: Line-Level Inputs RCA (L/R-Mono) for L/R Line-Out or Sub-Out / LFE-Out, USB for PBK
  • Dimensions: 16.25" H x 12.25" W x 16.75" D
  • Weight: 40 Pounds
  • MSRP $599 USA
  • Paradigm

Also, somewhat uniquely, Paradigm over the years has maintained a core line of speakers. Somewhat akin to automotive manufacturers, the model names remain the same year to year but there has been a steady stream of improvements, with occasional overhauls to the models. So just like the 1984 Honda Accord shares little more than the nameplate with its modern predecessor, the current iterations of the Paradigm speaker line up share little more than the name and color. So here is a look at v.6 of a Paradigm Monitor 5.1 system.


Design

The system was selected to fit within a budget constraint of $2,000, so can be considered a very reasonable mid-level system for someone looking to fill out a home theater system. The system is comprised of the Mini Monitor, CC-190, ADP-190 and DSP-3100. The entire Monitor line is available in a selection of finishes including: cherry, rosenut, black ash and wengé. The DSP subwoofer line is only available in black, and the ADP line is optionally black or white. My system was provided in the rosenut finish. As would be expected in the price range, it is an MDF cabinet with a faux woodgrain applique.

I distinctly recall looking at the first iteration of the Titan with its polypropylene woofer. A white woofer seemed such a peculiar thing, why not black like everyone else? The Titan was certainly not in the price range where you could get away with whimsy while espousing the acoustic benefits of such. After almost two decades of white woofers, it would seem strange to see anything else gracing the front of a Paradigm. The Monitor line has since moved beyond the polypropylene cones to what is presumably a higher performing co-polymer. There is little detail as to the composition of the co-polymer but it is christened the M-ICP, short for Minimum-Mass Injection-Molded Co-Polymer. The entire Monitor line utilizes M-ICP drivers for the mid or mid/bass. Dedicated bass drivers in the larger speakers use carbon-infused polypropylene cones. The same H-PTD (High-Efficiency Pure-Titanium Dome) tweeter is used across the line. The shared tweeter designs between the models in the line should result in tonal consistency throughout the lineup.

The Mini Monitor is third largest bookshelf speaker in the lineup, but I would hesitate to characterize the speaker as large. The Mini Monitor is built with a 6 ½" mid/bass and the aforementioned 1" H-PTD in a bass reflex enclosure. The center and surrounds are the smallest within their respective lines.

Although, I would like to note that the CC-190 is one of the larger center channels I have tested. Given the number of drivers that Paradigm stuffs into the CC-190, the size is understandable. The CC-190 is a 4-driver, 3-way bass reflex design. Given the driver count, it is obviously not a standard MTM or D'Appolito array. Rather, the CC-190 positions the mid and tweet at the centerline of the speaker, vertically aligned. The vertical mid/tweet array is flanked by two bass drivers. Given the content, and directional considerations of mid versus bass frequencies, it would seem a good array configuration.

The ADP-190 maintains the same basic configuration and design of its predecessors while incorporating the new drivers. It is a dipolar mid/tweet array housed in a molded cabinet. The driver arrays are angled somewhat relative to each other, which one might think would reduce the dipolar effect somewhat as the radiation patterns could be misaligned. Further consideration of the design leads me to think the angle has been introduced to account for the boundary effects of the wall. A strong reflection off the wall should be evident when a driver fires coplanar with the wall in such close proximity. The slight angle away from the wall should mitigate some of the reflections and potentially allow for a cleaner overall output by reducing the ratio of early reflections to direct output from the driver.

Rounding out the system is the DSP-3100. The subwoofer line has been overhauled over the past several years, with the PS and PW lines having been phased out in favor of the DSP line, and the addition of the SE and UltraCube lines. Recently, as well, the Perfect Bass Kit has expanded its support of the subwoofer lineup to include the DSP series. Regrettably, I did not have access to a Windows machine to run the necessary software. The DSP-3100 is the smallest unit the DSP series, with a single 10" driver. The cabinet is a bass reflex design with a prominent pair of flared ports on the front of the unit. The subwoofer driver receives its own material acronym Advanced CAP, short for Carbon Aramid-Fiber Polypropylene. The reinforced polymer is touted to have a high stiffness to weight ratio. Carbon fiber and aramid (aka Kevlar) are certainly commonplace in applications requiring a high stiffness to weight ratio. The subwoofer is powered by a Class D amplifier.


Setup

My listening room has gone through a myriad of changes over the last year, moving from a rather cozy condo in uptown Toronto temporarily into a finished basement west of the city. Currently, and more permanently, my listening is situated in my finished basement, which is open at one end up to the second floor, a distance of nearly 30 feet. The ceilings in the basement are nearly nine feet, and it is a medium sized (9'x14') rectangular room. I positioned the Mini Monitors on a pair of stands provided by Paradigm. The center channel was placed just off the floor, tilted upward toward the listening position. The front wall acts temporarily, until I get the projection screen mounted again, as the screen for the projector so the center channel could not be mounted higher or it would interfere with the picture. I mounted the surrounds around 6 ½ feet high in line with the listening position. The biggest room limitation is the presence of a bulkhead in rather close proximity to the surrounds. I am not certain how much the additional and early reflections off the bulkhead affected the performance of the dipoles. The subwoofer was positioned at the front left of the room. I set the relative position and gain of the speakers using the automated setup program on my receiver, which is fairly accurate except for the subwoofer settings which were adjusted afterwards. The receiver compensates for room effects, and attempts to provide a flat response for the system. As noted previously, I was unable to test the Perfect Bass Kit as I did not have access to a suitable PC capable of running the software package.


In Use

The majority of my listening was comprised of movies and television. Over the past year, I have become a strong proponent of full size towers for the front channels. The Mini system almost makes me reconsider my recent towers or bust stance. Throughout my listening, I was impressed at how close to a larger system the Mini Monitor system performed. Upon further consideration, I am lead to think that most of this can be attributed to the large center channel. As most are aware, the majority of sound in a movie or on television comes through the center channel. With the CC-190 nearly approaching size of some smaller floorstanding towers, it was easy to see (or hear) why the system as a whole carried so much depth and fullness. On pure stereo source material, some of the depth was lost with only the Mini Monitors, but even here the Paradigms perform admirably. This is doubly true if one were to consider the size and cost.

Toy Story 3

Leave it to Pixar to create a third entry in a series that is as captivating as the first. There are a couple scenes of particular note. The opening scene has the explosion of a large wooden truss bridge spanning a canyon. The DSP-3100 was a little light in conveying the impact of the explosion. It was certainly felt, but it was missing a bit from the bottom end which is not unexpected for a subwoofer in this size/price range. Another scene later in the movie takes place in the rain. This being my first extended listening experience with dipole surrounds left me a bit unsettled. The surrounds came off a little unnatural to my ear. Not in the reproduction of the sound per se, but rather from sitting in the null of the dipole. I am not accustomed to hearing the surround coming from in front and behind my listening position but directly toward the position.

Paradigm Mini Monitors 5.1 system

Ip Man

Ip Man is a romanticized telling of the modern history of one of the more influential practitioners of Wing Chun. There is an elegance and fluidity to Wing Chun Kung Fu that has been overshadowed more recently by a much more brutal brand of martial arts, and Ip Man is a refreshing break from the hyper real fight scenes so prevalent today. The soundtrack was in stereo, so I auditioned the movie using DPL II processing to utilize the additional channels. With this source material, I was not so keenly aware of the dispersion pattern of the dipoles. Generally, I have not found DPL II to be too aggressive in sending signals to the surrounds, and that may have worked to the benefit of the ADP-190s. There was enough to create the sense of immersion but so much that attention is drawn to the speakers.

Paradigm Mini Monitors 5.1 system

Norah Jones - Come Away With Me

It seems one of the recordings that is inevitably played on any system I have reviewed. The difficulty of reproducing the alto voice as well as the ensemble makes it a great test. Running the tracks through the system both in straight stereo, and with DPL II processing provide a few insights into the system performance. I have a couple criticisms of the system. First, the subwoofer is not quite up to the task of reproducing of the stand-up bass in the band. It is not an easy feat as it requires a combination of depth and agility that are seemingly opposite requirements for a single subwoofer. Second, in straight stereo, the bass is hinted at more than fully reproduced, but at least it is there. Criticisms aside, the vocals and the rest of the ensemble were an absolute pleasure to listen to through the Paradigms. There is a good depth to the vocals, without sounding unnaturally deep or clouded.

Paradigm Mini Monitors 5.1 system

Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album

Coming through the holiday season, the Glee Christmas album received a fair amount of play in the household. While there are a number of tracks that I enjoyed, I found the male duet recording of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" particularly well done. The countertenor/tenor duet provides a slightly different challenge to the system. A countertenor is up the same registers as a lower female voice but there is a distinct male tonality present. The Paradigms did a great job in reproducing both voices without sounding muddled or chesty.

Paradigm Mini Monitors 5.1 system


Conclusions

The systems was selected to fit within a budget of $2,000. Bigger and better usually come with bigger price tags. This was a case of bigger, smaller and better. Bigger center, smaller subwoofer and mains and better sound than one might reasonable expect given the relatively small price tag. The biggest change I would make if I were to select over again would be to swap out the dipoles for another set of Mini Monitors and put the difference toward a larger subwoofer. As they say you can never be too rich or have too much bass, and I have become far too accustomed to deep bass and direct radiators for my surrounds.