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

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.