Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Stephen Hornbrook
- Published on 11 November 2010
Paradigm has been in the speaker business for many years - 28 to be exact - and they have consistently produced some of the finest floor standing speakers and subwoofers on the market. What many may not be aware of is there full line of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. I had the chance to check out their extensive line up at this years' CES. It was also my first time meeting some of the nice folks at Paradigm. They recommended I try a set if in-ceilings in my family room to finish out the surround sound system. At the time, I had only a 3 channel setup - fronts and center. Adding normal direct radiating, or dipole/bipole speakers to the system just wouldn't be practical since our family room is open to the dining area and kitchen. Fortunately, the builder of my home had pre-wired the area for surround speakers and a couple multi-zone speakers. After some discussion we decided the SA-15R-SM model would do a nice job of filling out the sonic space in my family room.
- Design: In-Ceiling Speaker with Coaxial-Mounted Dual Tweeters
- Drivers: Two 1" Dome Tweeters, One 8" Mid/Woofer
- MFR: 58 Hz - 22 kHz ± 2 dB
- Crossover: 3rd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.5 kHz
- Sensitivity: 92 dB
- Amplifier Power Range: 80 Watts
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms - Stereo Input
- Dimensions: 8.9" Cutout; 4.5" Depth
- Minimum Internal Volume Required: 20 L / 0.70 cu ft
- Weight: 11 Pounds/each
- MSRP: $449/each USA
Design and Setup
The SA-15R-SM are an interesting design, with one 8" S-PAL™ bass and midrange cone, and TWO 5-mm (1 in) G-PAL™ dome tweeters. There are also 2 sets of inputs on the back to run a stereo signal to one speaker. This is a great idea for in-wall audio, where ceiling speakers are spread throughout the house. For my setup as surround speakers, I bridged the 2 inputs and fed each speaker a mono signal: separate left and right surround channels. All it takes to bridge the 2 terminals is a small piece of speaker wire running from one terminal to the other. Then you insert your input cable into either one of the 2 binding posts, it doesn't matter which one.
Since I was fortunate enough to have our house pre-wired in the family room for surround sound in the ceiling, there wasn't too much work for me to do to get them installed. The SA-15R-SM features a Full Perimeter Bracket Design, which basically sandwiches the driver around the drywall, creating a tight fit in the ceiling. All you need to do is cut a hole in the drywall using the provided template and then wedge the speaker in, one side at a time. I'd recommend having an extra set of hands around to hold the speaker or hand you tools.
I was happy to have our house pre-wired, but I did not get to specify how the wiring would be setup. In the family room there are 2 pre-wired terminals in the surround positions then one terminal in the kitchen and one in the kitchen dinning nook. I presumed these to be for multi-zone music. I would soon learn to never make assumptions as to how a house is wired.
The Paradigms come with a stencil for marking the hole to be cut for the speaker and since the location of my speakers had already been determined and marked by some wall plates, I didn't have to bother with a stud finder and tape measure (yah! I don't know about yours, but my stud finder is not all that accurate).
After unscrewing the wall plates and disconnecting the speaker wire, I took a peak around in the ceiling hole to make sure there was enough clearance for the diameter of the speaker. Then I placed the template, marked the hole to be cut and used a small hand saw to do the work. One thing to note, I do not recommend sawing holes in your ceiling drywall right after having bronchitis as it creates quite a bit of dust that could bring on a serious coughing fit whilst standing on a ladder. I can't stress enough how important it is to have someone help you with this installation. The extra set of hands would have made everything a lot easier. After the hole was cut, I inserted some standard insulation into the ceiling to help with sound dampening.
However, with some clever balancing, I got the speaker cable connected and wedged the Paradigm into the ceiling. Before tightening the screws I decided to run a test signal from the Onkyo to the speaker. So glad I did, since there was no sound to be heard! Sadness and frustration settled in as I knew without the proper gear it would be very difficult to figure out the problem. That's when I decided to call the company that wired the house during construction and have them send someone out.
The technician brought out his cable tester and, oddly enough, we were getting a signal through the speaker cable, but still nothing from the speaker when hooked up. Hooking the signal tester directly to the speaker yielded sound, so we knew it wasn't the speaker. After some calls to his supervisor and more testing we discovered some volume control plates in the kitchen. Ah ha! These must be controlling the volume on the surrounds! Alas, this was not the case. Turning the volume up and down on these did nothing for the surrounds. After even more discussion, the technician saw a bare plate next to a light switch in the family room and he asked what it was for. Which, of course, I had no clue. After unscrewing the plate we found a bunch of speaker cable wound up and stuck in the wall. We deemed it possible they had planned for another volume control in this location, but never installed one. In any case, the speaker wire was completely disconnected, two separate sections of wire, one leading from the source and one heading towards the speaker. Having the cables wound up tightly together was just enough to pass the cable tester's signal, but nothing that would ever drive a speaker. We simply spliced the cables together and presto! Finally, I had working surround speakers!
Since this is my family room setup and not my main home theater, it gets a lot of day-to-day TV use. Just about every decent show is broadcast in Dolby Digital these days, so it is nice to run the surround sound when watching an episode of your favorite show, if only to bypass the lousy speakers built into the TV.
The crowd atmosphere of a Monday Night Football game was recreated with a subtle spread across the room, so the viewer is never overwhelmed with surround cheering. Having the speakers several feet away and in the ceiling helps a lot to defuse the sound and on top of that, the dual tweeters on the Paradigms defuse the sound even more. With a direct radiating speaker to the side or behind your head, you always know there is a speaker behind you and if all the lights are out in the room you could probably point out the speakers location with zero effort. This is not the case with the Paradigm SA-15R-SM. I've never been startled by surround sound effects more than I have with these speakers. I have turned around to see what was going on at least 10 times since installing these speakers! OK, I know that makes me sound skittish, but a few of those times I was legitimately startled into thinking that someone was behind me.
The Blu-ray of Kung Fu Panda has an amazing sound mix that makes for a great test and I knew it would provide a workout for the Paradigms. In the scene where Tai Long (the evil snow leopard) escapes from the maximum security prison, arrows whiz by from left to right, front to back and vice versa. The surround effects were more tangible and engaging than my main home theater (I'm just running a pair of direct radiating bookshelf speakers for the time being) and have gotten me thinking about what I should do in that room.
Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, also on Blu-ray, has terrific audio that surrounds and pulls you into its gritty world. Overall, the movie sounds great through the Paradigms, but one scene in particular was very impressive. In the scene where Sherlock performs an experiment on flies, glass jars crash and break in the rear of the room. This was an instant where I thought something had fallen in my own kitchen, fortunately this was not the case! Just quality speakers at work. Another great scene is the chase and fight through the shipyard. My family room came alive with the sound of wood splinters and beams creaking and cracking all around me.
I tried some music both in 5 channel stereo mode and running the Paradigms by themselves. I used "It's Not Up to You" from Bjork's Vespertine album. Under 5 channel mode, the family room was full of music coming from the middle of the room. It was kind of an odd effect, but worked very well with Bjork's less-than-conventional sound. Switching to just the Paradigms I could really hear the clarity of these speakers. No excessive bass nodes or rattling coming from the ceiling, just clean, detailed sound. I would be completely spoiled if my house was filled with one of these speakers in every room.
Listening to that album inspired me to blow the dust off an old DVD- "Bjork Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House." This Dolby Digital 5.1 concert has two keyboardists/mixers who use strange devices to mix digital instruments in surround real-time. It too sounded great with the new additions to my ceiling. What really impressed me about the Paradigms was that they never took away from what was going on with the main soundstage up front. They are the perfect supporting cast.
If you are looking to add an in-wall audio system, with high performance ceiling speakers, or just want invisible, wife-approved surrounds in your living room, the Paradigm SA-15R-SM must be on your list. Assuming your wiring is correct, they are relatively easy to install and can even accept a stereo signal if you are going for in-home audio. These Paradigm in-ceiling speakers definitely took my system into the next level of performance and high fidelity.