Here’s a great way to get quality sound from your TV without going for a soundbar or a multi-speaker setup.
LATELY, THERE’S BEEN a lot of fanfare around soundbars, which have become an enormously popular way to improve the sound of modern flat panel TVs. The unobtrusive form factor of a soundbar makes a great deal of sense in any environment that’s either short of space or bereft on the willpower to have speakers dotted all over the room.
There is of course another way to make a flat panel TV sound good – just apply the old fashioned sub/sat principles, delete some of the speakers and discard the complicated home theatre receiver. That’s exactly what Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Paradigm has done with the Millenia CT, which is billed as a ‘Compact Theatre System’.
Features & Construction
Two small egg-shaped speakers are partnered with a compact subwoofer to form the basis of a fully powered 2.1 home theatre system. The owner has to do without a centre speaker, or the rears for that matter, but the Millenia CT is unassuming, compact and effective.
It’s also discrete and good-looking with its gloss black and matt silver finish. The small speakers don’t take up much room and with their supplied table stands, they’ll fit in well alongside any modern panel (wall mounting brackets are an option). The speakers are remarkably solid for their 2.27 kg weight, and they’re resonance-free too. The cabinets are sealed and are fitted with a 1-inch satin-anodized pure-aluminium dome tweeter and a 4-inch satin-anodized pure-aluminium cone midrange driver. The claimed frequency range of the speakers is 140 Hz – 20 kHz (±2 dB) but their outright low frequency extension is said to be 80 Hz (DIN -3dB).
They match up well with the partnering subwoofer, which provides the power to the speakers via a built-in three-channel Class D amplifier (40 watts to each speaker and 80 watts to the sub itself). Clearly marked cables connect the sub to the speakers and provide the link to the control box.
The sub is a single driver, bass reflex design packing a single 8-inch side firing reinforced polymer-composite cone. Paradigm claims that the sub gets down to 28 Hz, again in a DIN measurement of -3 dB in a typical listening room, but even if that extension seems a little optimistic, the sub has no trouble adding a lot of weight to the bottom end and is entirely happy to reach up and meet the roll-off of the speakers to provide a seamless integration. The narrow profile of the sub means that it’s easy enough to place and if it needs to sit near the TV or entertainment unit, it doesn’t look too obtrusive. It can also be laid flat if desired.
The tiny control box is exactly the same size and shape as an Apple TV, which is part of the plan because the Millenia CT is designed to be as simple as possible. Hook an Apple TV up to the control box via its optical input (and the supplied cable) and you’re away. The Millenia CT can also be connected directly to a TV with an optical or 3.5mm output, or to any analogue device with a 3.5mm output, but connecting it to an Apple TV or Airport Express or a similar network player turns the Millenia CT into a wireless sound system, and that’s the approach that Paradigm assumes most users will take. There are only the two inputs, so that’s worth bearing in mind if you have a number of devices, but if everything plugs into the TV anyway, then it makes sense to run the Millenia CT from the optical output on the TV.
The only way to interact directly with the Millenia CT (mute, change inputs) is via a slimline remote control, so don’t lose it. A decent learning remote will pick up the codes from the Millenia CT’s remote, which would make it even easier to use.
It took only a few minutes to set the Millenia CT up and then only a few more to get the subwoofer properly integrated with the speakers. There’s a detent on the sub’s rear-mounted volume control which gives what Paradigm reckons is the optimal balance, and I found it to be close but needing a touch more weight. A slight increase in level led to an almost perfect integration, with loads of bass but no boom and no obvious upper bass suckout.
The metal drivers in the speakers give a sound much like the Paradigm Studio Series 7 Mini Monitor loudspeakers that I reviewed here, only deeper in the bottom end thanks to the sub. Which means that they sound far bigger than they look, with hi-fi level dynamics and clarity. In short, the Millenia CT puts on a really good show with music. It really is like listening to a small hi-fi system, and that’s just with a 3.5mm input from an iPod stocked with 320kbps files. Hooked up to my Marantz SA8260 SACD player from the optical output, the Millenia CT revealed even more detail and macro dynamic energy; much more than I’d expected. The top end is marvellously extended and the bass is lucid and refreshingly taut. It doesn’t get down as far as Paradigm says it does but given the form factor of the sub, it does a bloody good job.
In terms of the sonic balance, there’s a slightly more pronounced bright edge to the sound than there is with the Studio Series 7 Mini Monitors, especially at the top end, but it’s not harsh or overbearingly bright, and while it isn’t the smoothest sound around, it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment. In fact, with movie soundtracks, I found the well-lit top end to actually enhance the experience, showing off the tiny nuances that make a good movie even better. There’s more than enough weight and power at the bottom end to lift action movies right into home theatre territory, albeit without any surround effects. As anyone who’s tried a good 2.1 home theatre system, you tend not to miss the effects as long as the overall sound quality is good enough, and here, it definitely is.
The system will go loud enough to satisfy most tastes; it managed to cope with the Massive Attack frenzy that I’m currently working through, even at high levels, but when pushed too hard, the sub started moving into compression. The levels at that point were getting over the top, so under normal conditions, the Millenia CT is more than powerful (and loud) enough.
As a compact dedicated home theatre system, the Millenia CT is up with the best of them at the price. It’s a real star with music playback too, which is a cherry on top. From a sound quality perspective, it’s way ahead of any chain store home theatre in a box that I’ve ever heard; even the better ones at a similar price point. And so it should be, given the limited speaker set on offer, but quality kills quantity every time when it comes to audio.
While you could beat it sonically with a set of good standmount speakers and a capable budget integrated amp, you’d still need a source and the price would blow out in a hurry. In any event, that kind of thinking completely misses the point of this type of small system. Soundbars are the Millenia CT’s most obvious competitors, but it would take a special model to match it sonically. If the main use is to be movies and TV, then a good soundbar may make more sense, because of the sheer simplicity of the installation and its low impact on the room’s décor.
However, if music is on the agenda, then I’d have no hesitation in stating that this system is very much in the small hi-fi category, which would make it a very good small theatre choice unless it was possible to find a huge heap more money for the new Sonos Playbar and its matching subwoofer (review forthcoming). That’s quite a tour-de-force performance from Paradigm’s compact theatre system, but it’s not a huge shock to me considering how strong the company is in the budget speaker arena. ASHLEY KRAMER