Introduction to the Paradigm MilleniaOne CT
Is it Home Theater, or Media Center?
Most of us here at Secrets have been Home Theater enthusiasts for a very long time, reaching back to the early days of Laserdiscs and Dolby ProLogic. Then the big screen TV market exploded, surround sound became accessible to the mainstream, and now everyone is into home theater….or are they?
Truth is, home theater in the classic sense remains very much niche. How many people claiming to have a home theater actually devote living space to it, or even make concessions in a multipurpose space? By and large what is mistakenly referred to as home theater is in fact a more general purpose “media center”, a technology hub for consuming audio and video in a modern living space.
Paradigm saw this trend coming a mile away which prompted them to launch crossover products such as their “lifestyle” speakers: designs which ensued the traditional utilitarian box motif for more decor friendly formats without compromising audio performance. More recently they moved the paradigm (pardon the pun) further with their Shift brand whose initial offerings spoke to the MP3 player generation: powered desktop speakers and high fidelity earbuds.
The subject of the current review rounds out the Shift product line: a simple to setup and use audio “upgrade” for the proverbial big screen TV. The MilleniaOne CT is in essence Paradigm’s essay at enabling high fidelity audio in a modern, almost anti-home theater, living room. We previously reviewed the MilleniaOne’s as a set of five satellite speakers, and here, we review them as a pair, powered by two amplifiers inside the included subwoofer.
PARADIGM MILLENIAONE CT SPECIFICATIONS
- Deisgn: Two-way, Sealed Enclosure
- Drivers: One 1″ Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 4″ Mid/Bass
- MFR: 120 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 2 dB
- Crossover: 3rd-order electro-acoustic at 2.4 kHz
- Sensitivity – Room / Anechoic 89 dB / 86 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Dimensions: 7.75″ H x 4.5″ W x 5.75″ D
- Weight: 6.5 Pounds/each
- Finish: Black Gloss
- Design: Sealed Enclosure
- Driver: One 14″ x 3″
- Amplifiers: 100 Watts RMS to Subwoofer, 50 Watts x 2 for Satellite Speakers
- Auto-On / Standby, Soft Clipping
- Subwoofer Cut-Off Frequency: 150 Hz Fixed
- Input Optical Digital; 3.5-mm Auxiliary Analog
- Dimensions: 14″ H x 5″ W x 12″ D
- Weight: 4.4 Pounds
- Finish: Textured Black
- MSRP: $1,199 for the Satellite Speakers and Subwoofer
- SECRETS Tags: Speakers, Subwoofers, Audio, Speaker Systems, Satellite Speakers
The Design of the Paradigm MilleniaOne CT
Putting the C in “Compact”
“Compact Theater” is where the CT comes from in the model name, and more apt an adjective they could not have chosen. The system comes in just one box, complete with suitcase style handle, almost magically small considering the contents: A pair of very small yet high end satellite speakers and a subwoofer with not just power for itself, but the satellites as well. An “I/O” box, a credit card sized remote, and all required cabling rounds out the ensemble. Some assembly required, but not much: from opening the box to hearing sound it took me less than 20 minutes (sans tidying up).
While this is a new product, much of the technology is quite mature. The satellites are in fact the MilleniaOne from the Paradigm Reference lineup. Extensively reviewed and munch lauded, they are a statement in preserving accurate audio reproduction in as small an enclosure as possible (without deep bass of course). The steel grills I particularly appreciate, perhaps because we have a cat with a penchant for cloth grills. They are removable, held in place by magnets, and thus present a very clean look if omitted.
The heart of the design is the cast aluminum enclosure, something which would be entirely impractical for any conventional sized speaker, but in this format it permits the walls of the enclosure to be quite thin compared to traditional wood derived materials, thus maximizing internal volume relative to external dimensions. The basic design is that of a bass reflex with a tuned tubed bent 90deg to squeeze it in.
I find it an unusual choice for a speaker which by definition requires splicing with a subwoofer, something which always works better with sealed alignments, but we’ll see how Paradigm’s crossover works in this respect later. The rest of the satellites’ internals are of course the usual litany of quality materials and manufacturing we have come to expect from Paradigm. Love ’em or hate ’em, metal domes and cones are here to stay in speaker design and while I was not enamoured with even Paradigm’s early efforts over a decade ago, things have of course improved.
Even these diminutive speakers feature Paradigm Reference’s aluminum tweeter and midrange, the former sporting a “heat sink” beryllium magnet, the later a traditional but rather generous doughnut. The simple and traditional crossover yields a nominal 8 ohm load.
The unique cabinets is where some of that “assembly” required comes in to play in that they cannot stand on their own and must be fastened either to the included heavy metal table-top stands or wall mount brackets. The attachment point is articulated which permits one to set a tilt on the speaker and until the nut is tightened down the assembly is a clumsy handful.
The speaker connections are something of a contention: Paradigm boasts gold plating but they are in fact basic spring clips, which wouldn’t be of concern if you could easily thread the speaker wire into them. Because they are recessed for the sake of wall mounting it’s something of an exercise in dexterity to get a bit of bare stranded wire in there without it splaying on you, and of course terminated speaker wires are out of the question (though I concede the likelihood of someone replacing the supplied lamp cord is slim).
While the speakers are part of Paradigm’s off-continent manufactured portfolio, the “subwoofer/amp” is still made in Canada. The unit can certainly be described as unique in appearance, casting aside all preconceived notions about subwoofers being a box (big or small). The oblong dimensions permit placement in some unconventional places, such as the somewhat cliché “under the couch”. For such horizontal placement rubber half spheres are provided. For a vertical position a plastic cradle is supplied.
The un-grilled driver is all Paradigm with its corrugated surround following the silhouette of the cabinet. To give some perspective to the unusual shape, its surface area is just about equal to a single 7.25″ conventional cone, so in truth this is a very small “subwoofer”, more of a “bass module” really. As a sealed alignment one might think it is starved on internal volume, as thin as the aluminum walls of the enclosure are, but we’ll see in due course how Paradigm has addressed that in the realm of DSP.
At the back are terminals for the left/right speaker connections (same as on the speakers themselves), power cord receptacle, bass (gain) knob, and connection for the I/O box (more on this last in a moment).
In terms of amplification Paradigm employs four single ended 100W (4ohm) Class D amps, one each for the Left and Right channels, and a pair bridged for the sub. The literature responsibly quotes only half that, “2×50” for the left/right speakers and “100” for the sub, because the speakers are 8ohms nominal, the sub 12ohm. Mathematically one might attribute a little more for the sub but it is purposely limited to 100W we are told in order to reserve some headroom for the limiters. Anecdotally this is a decent bit of juice given that it is continuous and can swing current into to the impedance dips of its loads.
The “I/O” box, for which Paradigm minces no words about its resemblance to the Apple TV, acts as the interface with the rest of the system, including the human in that it houses the remote receiver. On the back, in addition to the requisite umbilical connection to the sub/amp, are an optical digital input plus a 3.5mm stereo analogue input (basic patch cords for both are provided…they’ve really covered everything).
On the front there is nothing beyond the Paradigm name save for a single blue light to indicate power and, when flashing, IR signal reception. Inside, the box houses a microcontroller for IR reception/LED function, and a single-ended to differential drive conversion for both inputs which facilitates a long umbilical without picking up or radiating excess noise. The optical/digital input supports 2 channel PCM up to 20bit/48kHz, and Dolby Digital/AC3 up to 5.1 (downmixed to 2.1 of course).
The last piece of hardware is the minimalist remote with power, input select, mute, and volume control.
All in all it’s a nice bit of kit. Simple. Small. But how does it perform?
The Paradigm MilleniaOne CT In Use
Some Practical Considerations
There is clearly a juggling act here in terms of high fidelity vs. simplicity and usability. As I mentioned at the onset, from opening the box to hearing audio from our HD cable box was 20 minutes. But what about setting the subwoofer (bass module) level? In due course I of course dug out my Yamaha 5-Disc changer (dating myself here), dusted off my Delos Surround Spectacular CD and used it to get things into alignment.
Ok, the lion’s share of the target market may not be enthralled with the idea of test noise and SPL meters, but without that time honored procedure we can scarcely claim “high fidelity”. Sure one is free to play with the setting, yet just as there exists a sacred relationship between woofer and tweeter in even the most basic speaker design, so too is there a correct balance between satellite and sub. Could Paradigm have helped? Possibly. A button on the back which engages some ear-friendly test noise maybe? An iPhone app perhaps? I gather there is already a half decent facsimile of an SLP meter on the AppStore.
The gear head in me had trouble getting past the fact that there is nothing, NOTHING on the I/O box except for the single blue LED. No buttons. Nothing. On the one hand you don’t really need to know which input is active, partly because there are only two, but moreover the box intelligently will switch itself if it senses signal from one and not the other (slick!). On the other hand it might have been nice to have a small display on the front of the i/o box, even if just a two digit LED, to indicate volume level.
The remote itself is remarkable only in its diminutive appearance, something which may or may not hold appeal to a given user. My wife felt it was too small (tended to get lost) and we both found that the buttons were a little mushy and not very positive in their engagement (just turning it on often required a couple presses).
While Paradigm does have an excellent service reputation, and as such a replacement remote should never be difficult to source, it’s a little disconcerting that you cannot even turn the thing on let alone adjust the volume should you drop, break, or loose that precious sliver of a control piece. If you have a programmable remote, teach it the Paradigm codes!
In terms of power consumption I’m pleased to report that Paradigm is finally on board: <1 watt when “off” is as good as we can ask for, and as we expect from Class D amps, 19 watts when on/idle is acceptably low.
For the bulk of my evaluation I had the MilleniaOne CT in the very environment it was specifically designed for: A typical living room with a flat screen sitting in it.
It’s no stretch to say that in terms of audio presentation, the MilleniaOne CT will likely be a religious experience for someone who’s idea of good sound up until this point has been an iPod stuck in a bedside dock, but at the same time we are not expecting the same sort of thing a Paradigm Reference, Anthem AVM, and PVA combo are going to deliver. Still, even as a hardened audiophile I have to say I was thrilled to hear high fidelity from an integrated solution such as this.
Past-held prejudices began to melt. My wife’s initial reaction, with a smile on her face: “Will you have to give these back?” She never asks that. Before we go on though, we should talk about Paradigm DSP.
Crossover and volume control are of course in the digital domain, but more interestingly so are equalization, dynamic range control, and a special dynamic loudness function.
It’s like pulling teeth to get a manufacturer to divulge exactly what they are doing in situations like this, but a learned distilling of marketing suggests that they’ve applied some sort of fixed filter to smooth the sub’s response and/or extend it as much as is reasonably possible. A lot of subs, even some high end ones, do this.
Like the Shift A2 I previously reviewed, Paradigm’s main effort here is to leverage DSP to dynamically limit output to within the empirical limits of the actual motors and amplifiers: At nominal output dynamic range is more or less untouched, at elevated output it will be compressed, strategically within the frequency spectrum such that one can be “irresponsible” with the volume control without actually damaging the hardware… the audio however will suffer in terms of dynamics and to a lesser extent balance but better that than the destruction of your investment by an overzealous finger on the volume.
The loudness function is perhaps the most interesting of all Paradigms manipulations. Some of you may recall the days when receivers had a “loudness” feature either as a fixed on/off or as a variable adjusted with a knob. In oversimplified terms, what such a feature does is apply the “smiley face” EQ curve to the signal (boost both the base and the treble) to counter our hearing’s diminished reception of those frequencies at overall lower playback levels.
In the MilleniaOne CT Paradigm has implemented a loudness function which automatically slews with volume level: more at lower listening levels, less or none at elevated playback levels. In practice this makes for a somewhat abnormally “full” sound when watching something like the evening news but also a subjectively very pleasing presentation when low level music is piped through. Its categorically not “pure” but that boat sailed as soon as the phrase DSP was uttered so we might as well make the most of it.
On the whole the MilleniaOne CT pleases with a big sound which bellies its slight presence, and that’s pretty much the point. Natural, if a tab laid back, and full are thoughts which repeatedly came to mind when contemplating the ensemble. I couldn’t in fairness say the bass was particularly robust but it was most certainly present, comparable to what one can expect from a decent pair of 2-way 6 inchers, which is to say loud enough and deep enough to satisfy, but not the sort of novelty one gets from something like my incumbent bar fridge of a sub with its dual 12-inchers.
With the decidedly high 120Hz splice between the sub and speakers, placement of the bass transducer is not quite a free for all as it really needs to be in relative proximity to the soundstage else it starts to groan “I’m over HERE…”. In our setup with the bass box in very close proximity to the speakers we experience a seamless splices in the spatial domain, though a slight suck-out was noted, but in fairness that may well have been attributed to the room’s acoustics. At modest output the sub is good down to a solid 30Hz and then drops off rapidly. That about as good as my first sub 15 years ago which cost almost as much as this entire ensemble!
So much of the final performance in pieces like this are attributable to the implementation of the Class D amplification. Paradigm’s science in this respect continues to mature and improve with crisp, yet not brittle treble and a neutral, believable, and wholly unfettered midrange. Testament to this perhaps is that at some point after installation, our cat became a fan of Nature on PBS: When he hears the birds courtesy MilleniaONE CT, coupled with HD video, we’ve been much amused to see him intently watch, and on occasion lunge, at the screen!
Mid volume music listening was pleasant, articulate, which is pretty good considering any speaker is going to be challenged when placed adjacent to a big flat screen in the acoustic nightmare which is the typical living room. Compression was only noted at particularly elevated playback, characterized as a shallowed bass and mushy treble, but this is somewhat academic: if you crank it so that music can be heard in the backyard, who in the backyard really cares if it’s a little soupy?
Conclusions about the Paradigm MilleniaOne CT
The bottom line for me as a reviewer is my attitude towards the product at the end of the eval period. With some products I’m indifferent, with some I am enthusiastic, and with a rare few so good was the performance that I feared going back to my reference equipment. From that perspective we are in trouble: it will be hard or perhaps impossible for us to go back to a living room without the MilleniaOne CT. Gripes about things like the size of the remote seem trite when faced with the prospect of having to box-up the set.
Honestly, the question is less about how good the MilleniaOne CT is and more about where it stands in terms of value.
From a pure audio performance perspective, it’s not a stretch to suggest that for $1199 one could do as good or better with a receiver and a pair of decent loudspeakers (several options from Paradigm come to mind). But that would be a narrow viewed conclusion. My years as a reviewer, audiophile, and videophile, have left me with surplus equipment, including receiver and speakers to spare (literally)…yet I never bothered to setup a chain in the living room.
I’ve craved high fidelity there but had no place to put it (at very least a traditional outfit would have messed with my wife’s décor). The value of the MilleniaOne CT’s ability to “sneak” into such a space virtually undetected is the key, though not entirely an exclusive (there have long been small outfits like this). Doing so with still decent fidelity though is the genius.