Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Paradigm Reference Millenia 300 Tower Floor-standing Speakers, Millenia 30 Center Channel Speaker, Millenia ADP Surround Speakers, and Studio Sub 15 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

Paradigm Reference Millenia System

Introduction

Talk about mixed feelings! I need to unload all of my biases first since they are sufficient to taint this review. First, I'm a longstanding fan of Paradigm speakers and over the years, I have either owned or listened to a wide range of their products, right from the diminutive Atoms to their flagship Signature models. In general, I have always found it very easy to recommend Paradigms to friends as this company has built their well-deserved reputation by routinely manufacturing very high quality speakers over a wide variety of price points. Moreover, their Research and Development facilities are amongst the best in the world, which sets them apart from the vast majority of other speaker manufacturers. Even their entry level products have benefitted from their impressive R & D capabilities and commitment to high build quality. All good so far.

But here's my second bias and it's a biggy. I generally disdain anything that looks like, smells like, or even could be mistaken for a home theater in a box (HTIB) type package. Usually, my clock radio sounds similar to many of the "pretty" HTIB speakers out there and occasionally better. When I first saw the pictures of the Millenia speakers, HTIB is what they looked like to me. So, even before the Millenia package arrived, I was terrified at the possibility that some bean counter in Marketing had decided to take this great speaker manufacturer in a tragically regrettable direction. I was even more worried that I would be the one compelled to reveal this tragedy and I nearly refused to accept this review. Alright then, if want to learn how a Paradigm fan boy deals with his HTIB angst, read on.

Specifications

  • Paradigm Reference Millenia 300 Tower Speakers
  • Design: Three-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Dome Tweeter, Two 5.5" Mid/Bass, Three 5.5" Woofers
  • MFR: 87 Hz – 20 kHz ± 2 dB On-axis, 87 Hz – 18 kHz ± 2 dB 30° Off-axis
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB
  • Power Handling: 150 Watts RMS
  • Nominal Impedence: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequencies: 1 kHz, 2 kHz
  • Dimensions: 52.5" H x 5.3" W x 6.9" D
  • Weight: 28.5 Pounds/each
  • MSRP: $1,798/pair USA
  • Paradigm Reference Millenia 30 Center Channel Speaker
  • Design: Two-way, Sealed Enclosure
  • Drivers: One 1" Dome Tweeter, Two 5.5" Mid/Bass, Two 5.5" Woofers
  • MFR: 110 Hz -20 kHz ± 2 dB On-axis), 110 Hz -18 kHz ± 2 dB 30° Off-axis
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB
  • Power Handling: 130 Watts RMS
  • Nominal Impedence: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequency: 2 kHz
  • Dimensions: 5.9" H x 35.4" W x 5.4" D
  • Weight: 17.6 Pounds.
  • MSRP: $799/each
  • Paradigm Reference Millenia ADP Surround Channel Speakers
  • Design: Three-way, Sealed Enclosure
  • Drivers: Two 1" Dome Tweeters, Two 4" Midrange, One 6" Woofer
  • MFR: 95 Hz – 20 kHz ± 2 dB
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB
  • Power Handling: 100 Watts RMS
  • Nominal Impedence: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequencies: 300 Hz, 2 kHz
  • Dimensions: 8.25" H x 11.9" W x 6.9" D
  • Weight: 13 pounds/each
  • MSRP: $1,298/pair USA
  • Paradigm Reference Studio Sub 15 Subwoofer
  • Design: Sealed Enclosure
  • Driver: 15"
  • Amplifier: 1,700 Watts RMS
  • Line Level Input Impedence: 10 kOhms RCA, 20 kOhms XLR
  • Variable Phase: 00 – 1800
  • Inputs: Line-Level RCA and XLR
  • Low Pass: 35 Hz - 150 Hz with Bypass Option
  • Dimensions: 19.5" H x 19.5" W x 22" D
  • Weight: 103 Pounds
  • Finishes: Rosenut, Black, Cherry
  • MSRP: $2,799/each USA
  • Perfect Bass Kit (PBK)
  • MSRP: $299
  • The PBK-1 includes an individually calibrated microphone, a microphone stand, two USB cables, and software.
  • Paradigm

Design

Millenia 300 Towers

The Millenia 300 towers are a six driver design housed in a stylish aluminum, magnetically shielded enclosure. A single tweeter is sandwiched between two 5.5 inch midrange drivers at the top of the speaker and three 5.5 inch bass drivers appear below. This is a front ported design, with the port occurring just below the bass driver array. All speaker baskets are die cast aluminum, designed for rigidity and heat sinking capabilities. The speaker sits on a thick glass plate, via a mounting bracket, and speaker wire connection occurs from underneath this plate.

Millenia 30 Center Channel

The Millenia 30 center channel is a five driver design housed in a magnetically shielded sealed enclosure. A central 1 inch S-PAL dome tweeter is surrounded by two 5.5 inch midrange drivers, followed by two identically sized (but distinct) bass drivers. Crossover is specified as being 2nd order occurring at 2 kHz, although crossover details between the midrange and bass drivers are not specified. This center channel can be stand or wall mounted. Its length of nearly three feet may pose some restrictions on placement for some users.

Paradigm Reference Millenia System

Millenia ADP Surrounds

The Millenia ADP surrounds are a compact, aluminum and ABS enclosure which houses five separate drivers. A single six inch bass driver resides in the front panel of the speaker and a four inch midrange driver and tweeter occupy the two side panels. These can be stand or wall mounted, or can reside on a shelf if the additional rubber feet are installed. There are a large number of placement options for this speaker, all of which will ultimately affect the listener's experience. This is stated to be an adapted dipole (ADP) design. Consequently, with a front-firing woofer and side firing midrange and tweeters, the ultimate placement of the speaker will dictate which frequencies are most strongly represented to the listener. For example, with placement to the side of the listener, lower frequencies will be more strongly emphasized while higher frequencies will be directed along the walls. Conversely, rear placement produces a reverberant field for low frequencies and an indirect wash of higher frequencies down the rear walls. Experimentation is critical as these speakers are very responsive to orientation.

Paradigm Reference Millenia System

Paradigm Reference Studio Sub 15

The Sub 15 is comprised of a 15 inch high-excursion driver residing in a sealed enclosure. The built in 1700 watt RMS amp is described as Ultra-Class D and is capable of 3400 watt dynamic peaks. Three adjustable dials on the rear face allow changes to phase alignment (0-180 degrees), output level, and cutoff frequency (35-150 Hz with bypass option). A rear switch enables remote or automatic triggering and a subtle blue light appears on the Paradigm Reference emblem attached to the front grille when the amp is operational. There is a USB port at rear to be used for firmware upgrades or to communicate and interact with the Perfect Bass Kit (PBK-1) for frequency adjustments. Inputs can be either single ended RCA (for LFE input), dual RCA, or a single XLR balanced connection.

Paradigm Reference Millenia System

Perfect Bass Kit (PBK-1)

The PBK-1 includes a high quality, individually calibrated microphone which attaches to a solid, height adjustable stand. Two long USB cables are supplied, one for connection of the microphone and the other for connection of the Sub 15 to your (ideally, laptop) computer. The system requires a PC computer with either a Windows XP or Vista operating system and operates by providing a frequency sweep to the Sub, output detection by the microphone at multiple listening locations, followed by adjustment/optimization of the equalization parameters within the Sub itself. This system is based upon the highly regarded Anthem Room Correction (ARC) platform developed in conjunction with the National Research Council of Canada.

Paradigm Reference Millenia System


Setup

I set up the Millenia 5.1 system in our family room centered around a Sony 52 inch LCD. I used a Denon AVR 3808CI receiver for amplification, with a Denon 3910 multiplayer for DVDs, CDs, DVD-As and SACDs, and a Sony PS3 or Sony BX1 for games and Blu Rays, respectively. There are a few noteworthy points regarding installation for anyone considering this system. First, the ADP surrounds are ideally suited for wall or stand mounting, and while my dry-walling/mudding skills have improved over the years, I chose to rest them on top of my existing surround speakers. This placed them at roughly two feet above ear level, which turned out to be was nearly ideal. If you intend to sit these on a flat surface, additional rubber feet are required and supplied. Otherwise, they will rock due to their concave bottom surface. In my case, I simply used foam to protect both my speakers and the review samples. Second, the Millenia 30 center channel is LONG... almost three feet to be slightly inexact! I had to build a makeshift stand to place it under the TV, as my existing stand could not accommodate this length. It looks fantastic, and can also be wall mounted, but be aware that many cabinets won't accommodate this length.

Assembly of the Millenia 300 towers is a no brainer and simply involves attaching four screws to hold the glass base and adapter to the towers, followed by attachment of the four spikes on the outer perimeter of the glass base. Rubber covers to be placed over the spikes are also included if spikes are inappropriate for your specific flooring material. Bare wires can be attached to the speakers directly (before assembly) or you can use the supplied banana plugs to connect the speakers to bare wire, all of which ultimately connect from underneath the glass base. I set the Millenia 300 towers about 8 feet apart, toed in to hit slightly behind my ears, using my low-tech, laser pointer/sliding clamp system. As a side note, anyone who doesn't point their speakers accurately is giving away a great deal of imaging capabilities from any speaker system. It takes minutes, costs nothing, and I've proven to many friends that doing this "mit da eye" can be grossly inaccurate (although it appears to work well for my one-eyed, German carpenter friend). The SUB 15 was tucked into a corner of the room about 2 feet from each wall. As it turns out, this sub certainly doesn't need corner reinforcement, but it remained there for convenience and aesthetics. More likely, your house will need structural reinforcement to withstand the prodigious bass. Besides, it's also not much fun schlepping 103 pounds of subwoofer around.

Even prior to listening to the Millenia system, the visual impact is quite stunning. This set-up readily garnered spousal approval and also generated a number of oohs and ahhs from visitors who are more familiar with seeing our family room look like a stereo repair shop. In any case, there is no mistaking this system for a cheap HTIB and it mates beautifully with a modern flat panel TV. These were/are the very first HT speakers that my wife loves and wants to keep.

Well that's all nice and good, but who cares? How do they sound? To get to this more important part, I first used the supplied Perfect Bass Kit (PBK-1) to optimize subwoofer performance. The PBK-1 is utter simplicity to use. Well, at least after I updated both my software for the PBK-1 and the firmware for the Studio Sub 15. It's a very well constructed system which includes the necessary software, a high quality calibrated microphone and stand, and two long USB cords for connection of the microphone and the subwoofer to your computer. The supplied USB also handled a required firmware update to the sub via this connection.

Every time I think it's annoying to perform software and firmware updates, I remind myself of how much more annoying it is to not have these updates available. Paradigm is a great example of a company that stands behind their products and their recent marriage with Anthem is likely to spawn some incredible products in the future. After a few minutes of downloading and updating, I let the PBK-1 do its magic. It would take me much longer to describe the process than it actually took to accomplish, so suffice it to say that... voila, you have near perfect bass through computer driven equalization of the sub's output in your own specific listening environment. This system is based upon Anthem's proprietary ARC system, and though not quite as comprehensive as ARC, is a welcome and massive improvement to room correction technology. Besides all that, it's really, really cool. After the Sub 15 was set up, I used the Denon's Audessey MultiEQ XT room correction feature on the Denon AVR 3808CI, although I'm guessing its work was rather light. Good to go.


In Use

October is "Scary Movie" month at our house so we watched a number of new additions to the genre as well as a bunch of old favorites. This included "The Haunting in Connecticut", "Trick 'r Treat", "Drag Me to Hell", "Poltergeist" and "The Amityville Horror". In my opinion, way more than half of the impact of horror movies is derived from the quality of their soundtracks, since this is where all of the aura, suspense and foreboding originate. The modern HD soundtracks are outstanding in their ability to scare the crap out of you or your loved ones. Without flogging the minutia of specific segments from each movie, let me generalize and say that this system was superb at recreating a genuine theatrical experience. In fact, the greatest strengths of the Millenia set-up are its prowess for bringing movies to life. Most noticeably, these are very articulate speakers with exceptional microdynamics and clarity. Dialogue was always crystal clear, but it was the subtleties of leaves blowing or feet scaping or doors creaking where the sound was most impressive. This was especially evident when watching "The Haunting in Connecticut" or "Drag Me to Hell", both of which use amazing soundfields to create their sinister and unnerving mystiques. The front channels threw a wide soundstage and readily separated a multiplicity of distinct sounds into distinct locations, all at the same time. When called for, the Sub 15 delivered low frequencies with fervor. Very scary…….very, very impressive.

Paradigm Reference Millenia System

The ADP surrounds were also a delight for movie viewing. I'm much more familiar with direct radiating surround speakers, rather than dipoles or bipoles so it was a bit of an adjustment getting used to their highly diffuse soundfields. They are definitely more immersive and less in your face (actually, the side of your head) so sounds tend to wash along the walls and room, rather than being clearly identifiable from a specific location. To me, it's purely a matter of personal taste, but both types of surrounds have their merits and I could easily live with either. The ADPs are certainly not an inexpensive speaker, but their capabilities are quite impressive. Their greatest strengths appear in the mid to upper frequencies, but you literally need to go visit them to hear this. The fact that you are listening to a reverberant soundfield makes it rather easy to forget that they are there. It's hard to describe their qualities, since this is much like describing the appearance of the invisible man. In fact, depending upon placement, their contributions can be entirely reverberant, as the "good seat" resides in a null soundfield.

The Sub 15 is, by far, the best sounding Sub I have ever had in my listening environment. It is capable of ridiculous output, as are many, but its greatest strength lies in the quality of bass produced. It certainly goes subsonic, because many times bass was only felt when barely or completely inaudible. Even my reference system (two Genesis 15 inch subs, each with 500 watt amps) produces much more sound than guttural feel. I don't know how to divide the accolades between the PBK-1 optimization/equalization system or the death grip that the Sub-15's 1,700 watt amp must hold on its 15 inch driver, but it's scary good. While big subs can easily hit the lower notes, rarely do they maintain firm control over their woofers. Not true with the Sub 15, as this beast never once sounded sloppy. Even at low volumes, quality bass was there when present in a soundtrack and could be felt throughout the house. The words boomy or muddy are unlikely to ever appear when describing the Sub 15. It's a remarkable and very pleasing experience when the perceived sensation of bass almost invariably exceeds its volume.

With music, the Millenia maintained their virtues on the mids to upper end but even with the massive and ridiculously powerful Sub 15, there was a noticeable gap between mid-bass and below until the Sub 15 kicked in. For music, I changed the crossover frequency to 150 Hz, and after recalibration with the PBK-1, things improved considerably, but I still felt like I was missing the critical snap and punch in this region. Bass and mid-bass were consistently tight, but I found them to be somewhat subdued or constrained for my own personal taste. Stated another way, mid-bass frequencies seemed slightly under-represented. Even though this is a front ported speaker, I'm guessing that the large driver surface area in relation to the Millenia's comparatively small internal volume poses some serious physical restrictions on what it can deliver on the bottom. Certainly not unlistenable, but less punchy or snappy than I'm used to, particularly when listening to kick-drums or toms.

Finally, these speakers lean toward being slightly bright on the upper end. Not over the top or annoying, but again noticeable when listening to certain female voices. If your intended usage is primarily music, I'd consider other higher ranking members of the Paradigm family or from other manufacturers, where choices abound. While I'm not one to believe or advocate that there are good speakers for music and good ones for movies, I do believe the following. It's incredibly difficult to design a speaker that occupies minimal space, looks astonishingly well suited as a companion to a flat panel TV, and still sound great. Are these Paradigm's most musical speakers? Assuredly not. However, style clearly features large into this particular design, so slight detriments to sound quality are largely inevitable. None of these deficiencies were readily apparent when watching movies. However, be prepared to give up a little in musical reproduction if you're wanting to enjoy the stunning aesthetics of this system. Paradigm does make better sounding and more musical speakers, but few, if any, look so well suited for the intended purpose of the Millenia system. I could easily get off my audiophile high horse and live happily with this system if movie or television watching was my primary utilization.

The Millenia 300 towers are not intended as a stand alone set up so I only tested their capabilities in two channel mode briefly. As expected (and clearly stated by Paradigm), these speakers are intended for use with a subwoofer. Devoid of their subwoofer, the limitations in lower bass notes were readily apparent. I'm stating this more as a casual observation, rather than a criticism, since bass deficiency in a speaker with an internal volume of only 0.59 cubic feet is entirely expected. As a multichannel music set-up, my comments described above still apply.


Conclusions

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with the Millenia system. For anyone looking to adorn their new flat screen with an aesthetically pleasing and acoustically satisfying experience, this setup will meet their expectations very nicely. Spousal approval is nearly assured and this has no physical or audible resemblance to an HTIB system whatsoever. A subwoofer is an essential component for the Millenia setup and, while the Studio 15 is almost certainly overkill, it performed flawlessly and produced some of the cleanest low frequencies I have ever experienced. The ADP Surrounds provide a very diffuse soundfield which helps them to disappear, yet continue to add all of the sound envelopment required for a truly theatrical experience. Finally, the striking visual impact of these speakers in an AV environment sets them apart from many competitors. They just feel as though they belong. Strong work, Paradigm!