Paradigm MilleniaOne Speaker System Page 2
Associated equipment included a Pioneer Elite VSX-53 A/V receiver, Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE phono cartridge, and Onix OA 21s integrated amp serving as phono preamp. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc.
The MilleniaOnes defied the stereotype of compact satellite speakers as unambitious performers cowed by their larger siblings. True, like any satellites, they needed bass reinforcement from a subwoofer. But there were no obvious compromises in any other aspect of performance. Imaging was extraordinary: These speakers could produce a seamless soundfield in 5.1 channels and, the harder trick, a convincing soundstage in 2.1 channels. Off-axis listening gave up only a little of this seemingly miraculous mastery. These speakers could depict objects in space better off axis than most speakers can on axis. Midrange was on the revealing side, though it was richly detailed and voluptuous, not merely thin or hard. And the top end was up there with the best—not just the best satellites, but the best speakers, period.
The detailed and refined top end became immediately apparent with Safe House, a spy thriller with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds that mixes a too-modest amount of nonetheless gripping psychological depth with loads of noisy action scenes. When the latter ultimately persuaded me to lower the master volume just a tad, it wasn’t because the speakers were harshing out—there was just more upper-midrange and high-frequency information in the lusty car-chase scenes than my ears could tolerate. The needed adjustment didn’t prevent every word of the script, sotto voce or otherwise, from subsequently reaching my ears. I also fiddled with the sub volume, raising it via both the receiver’s surround processor and the sub’s volume control, to better accommodate my sub placement (side-firing, 3 feet from the front wall, nowhere near the side walls). And I fine-tuned the sub crossover to 120 hertz, beyond which the speakers seemed capable of bearing the load with no noticeable gap.
In Rampart, with Woody Harrelson as an exceptionally complex rogue cop, the MilleniaOne’s resolution continued to impress. It was easy to follow overlapping speaking voices in busy dinner-table conversation. At one point I heard a siren and had to pause the disc player to determine whether it came from the speakers or the open window—it came from the speakers. Exactly the same thing happened a few minutes later. That I was having trouble distinguishing between the speakers and the real world says something about the speakers. A techno onslaught in a nightclub was thrillingly immersive, as you’d expect with five identical high-resolution speakers. Just like being there, the formerly longhaired and thin version of me reminded the present-day bald and plump version of me.
The Devil Inside uses a faux-documentary format to tell the story of exorcist-priests and laypeople struggling with demonic possession. The vérité-style dialogue recording gave the MilleniaOnes a more subtle way to excel at reproducing dialogue ranging from hushed whispers to full-frontal raving. The premise that a character was recording everything with a camcorder and mono mike didn’t prevent the soundtrack from adroitly using side-to-side panning and occasional surround effects, which the soundfield-loving satellites rendered in startling fashion.
I scarcely thought it possible that my assessment of the MilleniaOne could improve, but as it faced musical challenges, that’s what happened. The Wine of Silence is a unique CD: guitar-synth “soundscapes” improvised by Robert Fripp, arranged and recomposed for orchestra by Andrew Keeling, performed by the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jan Stulen. The recording was then freely remixed by David Singleton—which involved multiplying the orchestral images, among other unusual techniques (which would probably make for a great 5.1-channel format release). Even in merely two CD-quality channels, I’ve listened to it with numerous systems, headphones, portable players, and docking speakers and gotten something different out of it each time. But the MilleniaOnes beat all of the above with the most breathtakingly complex layering, multi-hued timbres, and astonishing transparency. I could hear into the music.
The Oxford Girl and Other Stories CD celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Oysterband, British folk-rock veterans, with unplugged re-recordings of classic songs, arranged with voice, acoustic guitar, fiddle, cello, and other instruments—there seems to be no stringed instrument the band cannot play. The MilleniaOnes took an appropriately mercurial approach, flattening the busier and poppier mixes while bringing out the spatial richness of songs arranged with more sparse instrumentation. I can’t repeat enough times how much I love the voice of lead singer John Jones, who is to folk-rock tenors what a Stradivarius is to violins, and the speakers thoroughly mined this magnificent instrument for abundant beauty, eloquence, and humanity.
In three afternoons and evenings I listened through all 10 LPs of Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear Concerts, which includes five improvised-piano performances recorded in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Sapporo. I hadn’t intended to make the full traversal—for only the third time since I bought the box on its 1976 release—but once I got started, it was hard to stop. The purity and resolution of the satellites enabled me to hear more of the piano’s harmonics, and how they varied from city to city, than I’d ever heard before. I often talk about how a piece of equipment deals with a pianist’s left-hand bass lines, but in this case, I was acutely aware of the piano’s status as a percussion instrument across the keyboard, soundstage, and frequency spectrum. Even when Jarrett moved to the extreme right-hand side of the keyboard, the high notes still had the palpable impact of hammers striking tightly stretched metal strings. The only flaw in the presentation was a slight relocalizing of bass at the sub crossover—I could hear descending figures move from the satellites to the sub as they passed the sub crossover.
The Paradigm MilleniaOne sets a new standard in performance for the compact satellite speaker category, and in terms of build quality and cosmetics, it’s top notch. As for sound quality, if you want satellite speakers, the MilleniaOne is simply the best I’ve heard—and if you don’t want satellites, it just might change your mind. The MilleniaSub is equally impressive, and equally well built, though otherwise its strongest skill set is in ergonomics. It takes up little space and will go almost anywhere you tell it to, a function of both the flat form factor and the fine-tuning possible with the Perfect Bass Kit. Whether you buy these two products together or mix and match, they are extremely compelling. Paradigm has redefined the compact sat/sub set for the better.