Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Cory Potts
- Published on 07 April 2011
Paradigm has made a name for itself around the globe for delivering speakers that are consistently strong in accuracy, gigantic soundstage, very precise imaging, deep, powerful bass (which usually significantly increase the cost of other speaker manufacturers offerings) all while keeping the cost below the competition. They do all engineering in house, all speaker component manufacturing in house, all assembly in house and all testing in house. #1 Best Price/Value for 20 years in Inside Track Magazine and #1 Overall 6 times. The MilleniaOne is a satellite speaker that can be used in all five (or seven) channels, along with a subwoofer. Only the MilleniaOne satellite speakers (set of five) are reviewed here.
According to Paradigm, they wanted to produce a speaker that would fit into today's more modern lifestyle. They also saw an opening in the market for a higher end lifestyle system that would sell for the same price. They used some new tricks to improve the sound of their satellites. For example, bass response was improved by lengthening the rear port, and, with using the same materials as the rest of the Studio series, they were guaranteed great frequency response. Design cues allowed them to get a fairly large internal volume without the cabinet appearing larger.
- Design: Two-way, Ported, Aluminum Enclosures
- Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 4" Mid/Bass
- Crossover 3rd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.2 kHz
- MFR: 120 Hz - 20 kHz On-Axis
- Sensitivity: 89 dB
- Suitable Amplifier Power Range: 15 - 100 watts
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Dimensions: 7.75" H x 4.5" W x 5.75" D
- Weight: 5.4 Pounds/each
- Finishes Gloss Black, Gloss White
- MSRP: $249/each USA
Satellite sound systems have come a long way since their inception. Companies are now spending vast amounts of money on driver materials, enclosure engineering, crossover components, etc. so relatively good and even great sound can now be achieved. The only obstacle that remains is the innate, physical limitation which generally prohibits the satellites from producing usable low frequencies (there is often a "hole" in the frequency affecting male voices and other sounds in this frequency range, which isn't a problem if you only listen to The Bangles and watch Sex in the City reruns). For this reason, when I see a new system come to market the first question that pops into my head is "how well is the "hole" covered and how well do the satellites integrate with a subwoofer." Read on to find out.
Design and Setup
The satellites and sub were packed very well in cotton bags around each satellite. After removing the sacks it takes exactly once second to get finger prints on the sexy high-gloss piano finished speakers. The speakers, though compact, are very sturdy, heavy speakers with magnetic grill covers in addition to their child thwarting tweeter covers (thank YOU Paradigm). These speakers are not the traditional MDF material, but a trickle down technology from Paradigm's Signature S1 employing tapered aluminum enclosures for absolute rigidity and reduction of internal standing waves (though they are smaller and it appears that the crossovers and drivers do not hail from that recent line). Trying a rap test on these speakers will only get you hurt.
I think it's pretty interesting that both the 1" high frequency driver, as well as the 4" midrange, both utilize the satin-anodized pure-aluminum dome. This seems to be a design choice intended to give better tibral match and more consistent sound when panning from speaker to speaker. The recessed binding posts are nice for wall mounting but they do not accept spade or banana terminals, bare wire only and not much bigger than 16ga. The Millenias come with both wall-mounting as well as table stands so they can be set up for either configuration. The brackets are fully adjustable for horizontal and vertical movement to accommodate any normal listening space. The brackets are a necessity as the speaker cabinets are rounded on all sites and cannot stand by themselves. The sub is a very easy to set up device that requires connecting the supplied power cord to the wall and the LFE cable to your receiver. For the first several weeks of the review period I used the sub in a front corner configuration behind my corner mount TV. When Paradigm sent me the wireless transmitter the sub was moved to an under the couch listening position which required less volume, less delay and provided much more tactile bass.
I listened to the system for about a week just casually and at low levels as the manual states the speakers can benefit from a little break in time. At the 7 day mark I ran the Audyssey MultiEQ setup in my Denon receiver which greatly improved the coherence and focus of the music and, to a lesser extent, the movies. The sound changed from sounding like 3 speakers ~3 ft. between each to one speaker that was 10 ft wide, it was not a subtle difference and I left the Audyssey engaged for the rest of the review. I did experiment with the removable grilles off and found that, although one can perceive a little more detail to voices and string instruments, the high frequencies are a little less stable and tended to resonate a bit. Paradigms engineers have run through thousands of hours of design and speaker measurements with their speakers and if they say to leave the grilles on, I'll leave them on These speakers are offered as a 2.0 package or a 5.0 package with the sub optional.
Sub Placement- I initially noticed that the system was a little thin sounding in the ~60-100 Hz region (a 3 Hz increment frequency sweep confirmed this). The Audyssey setup did not completely correct this but increasing the crossover range from 80 to 100 Hz and again to 110 Hz did. The only drawback to this can be increased localization of the sub, being able to "see the subwoofer" and telling that low frequencies are coming from it, but as long as you mount the sub inside the front L and R speakers (or under your couch) most people will not be able to tell the difference.
I would avoid placing this sub to the side or behind the listening area as it would be a little distracting to hear all of the bass coming from the left wall when the TV/speakers are in front of you. Also, adjusting with the phase switch on the sub helped the coherency of this region of sound. It may seem terribly obvious to some of you but one of the best ways to conceal where the bass is coming from is to conceal the speaker that it is coming from. Paradigm is onto this idea with the invention of a sub that is basically just a smidge larger than a PS3. The possibilities of hiding this are endless when paired with the wireless transmitter (just keep a line of site with the receiver). It could go behind a plant, under a couch, loveseat , recliner, coffee table, end table, inside decorative baskets, inside open entertainment centers, inside air handler return grills (I'm saving all the really creative ones for Paradigm's "Hidden Sub" contest…if they ever have one.)
After a few weeks I moved the sub from the corner of the room to under my couch and used the wireless kit Paradigm supplied with the kit. Super easy setup; plug the wireless transmitter into your sub pre-out from your receiver and plug it into the wall, press the "sync" button and plug your sub in and it automatically finds it! (the sub has a built in receiver which adds to the cost of manufacture). Though the wireless feature is RF the sub has 3 different lag settings (15ms, 25ms, 35ms) that ensure you don't have dropouts due to obstructions or other devices operating on the same frequency. I experienced no dropouts in everyday use in 15ms mode unless I was specifically trying to interfere with the signal (placing myself directly in front of the transmitter and talking on multiple wireless phones).
In placing the sub beneath the couch two things were immediately evident. First was that the volume needed to be turned way down with the sub crossed over at 100hz as it played almost constantly and was distractingly unbalanced at higher volume. Second, oddly enough the sub was much easier to localize under the couch. Even though the bass and tactile response was immediate, instead of having to travel across the room, it was obvious that the low frequencies were NOT emanating from the speakers themselves (or the TV).
I also found out how musical this sub really was as it handled a great deal of soundtrack information below the 100 Hz mark, but I repeated the a 3 Hz increment frequency sweep and found very little difference in the ability of the system to completely cover the spectrum with different sub placement and I preferred the sound of the sub back in the corner. So, back to the front of the room it went. Eventually I settled on 90 hz as the crossover point for this system but your mileage may vary depending on your room size, floor/ceiling/wall treatments, furniture and speaker placement in relation to walls, corners, etc. This sub is the little sub that could. Some remarkable observations I had were that, in my room, I got playback from ~23 hz and a very usable playback level at ~27 Hz…this extremely low for a sealed sub no larger than a PS3 (and it will rattle test your room for you). I watched numerous movies that I heard completely new LFE information for (like entire bass lines in the 20s Hz region that I had totally missed with my older sub).
The first thing that strikes me about this system is this: nothing . . . at least not at first. In true Paradigm fashion these speakers, generally speaking, are fairly neutrally voiced with a smooth sound, though-laid back, that is very reminiscent of my own larger Studio 20s. I'd first like to comment on using these without a sub…please don't. Though they are rated down to the range where you might think you can get away running them full-range with no sub, you'll miss the very bottom end and the speaker itself will sound a little strained and edgy and you will basically miss everything the Paradigm engineers strived to create when they invented this little speaker. Second, it might be counter to what one may think but these babies crave power.
I initially ran the system in DPL IIx which employs all 5 speakers in the system but when critically listening to acoustic and solo vocal efforts I switched my Denon receiver to 2 channel stereo + sub mode which gives a significant increase to the front two speakers by cutting the power to the other 3. This extra amount of power really made the stereo pair sound dynamic, with much better clarity, detail and, ironically a phantom center that was much more expressive than when the center had actually been playing.
I think this system would benefit from a separate 5 channel amp pushing at least 125 watts continuous with all channels driven (and 150 would be even better). This speaker system really grew on me. I'm not sure how much of this is due to break in and how much is due to it being a really easy-listening natural-sounding speaker that does very little wrong and will really wake up when you want it to. On the other hand, after we put our twins to bed it also did an excellent job with low-level listening and allowing us to hear dialogue without blaring loud intermediates.
On the Telarc CD, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, the cannon shots were conveyed very nicely, and I was surprised by the Millenia's ability to recreate the concussion associated with the artillery rounds (again due almost completely to the great little sub) . By comparison, my own speakers definitely reached a little deeper when running full range, but I can assure you that neither my Studio 20's nor the Millenia have any business running full range on the 1812 Overture or on any action movie soundtrack. The speakers were more alike than different when crossing both over to a sub.
Norah Jones' Come Away with Me proved that these speakers really shine on piano and breathy female vocals. On "One Flight Down" the Paradigm displayed great layering of her vocals and piano keys being pressed with great pacing. On the "Painter Song," they again showed off their ability to effortlessly reproduce vocals and acoustic guitar (and piano) with aplomb. The speakers and sub integrated remarkably well with almost any material I threw at it. I did notice in switching off the sub that it is very necessary in order to reproduce all frequencies.
On The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in the "The Bridge Of Khazad Dum" scene where the party is fleeing the Balrog, the orcs screaming and drum beats are lifelife and visceral. When the cavern begins to collapse and the bridge falls into the chasm the low frequency effects from the MilleniaSub were not for the faint of heart (I felt like the sub was trying to suck the air out of my lungs). Later, when the party forces itself onward toward Lothlórien, a real sense of loss was conveyed through the Paradigms at the loss of the party's leader.
The Millenia's sound is very natural, laid-back yet realistic in the true spirit of Paradigm speakers. My family puts the 2 yr old twins to bed before watching TV and my wife can attest that there were numerous times where a baby crying in the background of a TV sitcom had us both sitting forward on the couch proving my theory that "the better a speaker is, the dumber it will make you look." (think door bells, honking horns, thunder, etc.)
The main difference in the Studio 20's and the Millenia system is that the Studio speakers throw a little bit deeper soundstage, which is their calling card and probably due to the larger enclosures. I also noticed a little bit more laid back feel to the Millenia's top end (and the Studio 20s are already fairly laid back). The Millenia, on the other hand, integrates into setups that the Studio 20s could only dream about at roughly four times the size. I urge anyone considering this system not to forego the surrounds or excellent sub as this will greatly diminish the effectiveness of this system to cover the frequency range with an adequate amount of volume and takes away from the magic that comes from this mighty little system.
The value proposition is usually where high end speakers begin to come apart, but not Paradigm. Understand that in the realm of high end speakers it is a common occurrence to have to ante up twice (thrice?) as much money for a negligible difference. Compare these to any similar sized satellite speakers at the local big box store and I will be blown away if you can find anything that comes remotely close to this speaker for the money.
The intended audience for this system is very simple. Someone who desires high end sound without cashing in the kid's college fund or taking up valuable floor space with refrigerator sized floor standing speakers. If you want to spend a little more and have a little more room, I can attest that Paradigm also has other equally attractive options. Paradigm's claim for all of their speakers is that they provide "an audibly better product", and when a barely audible difference is worth several magnitudes in price, an audibly better product is really all that matters. Bottom line though: For those on a budget and who have a small room, the Paradigm MilleniaOne's are "keepers". Add a subwoofer, and call me in the morning.