Paradigm Millenia Speaker System
The loudspeaker sat in his doctor's examining room. His weight was up, and the results of the cholesterol test were not good.
"You have to go on a diet," the doctor said.
"But I love having a large woofer," replied the loudspeaker, patting his midsection.
"Perhaps. But if you keep on this way, your days in the living room are numbered."
The loudspeaker sighed: "My wife is after me to lose weight, too. She says I take up too much space."
"You should listen to your wife. Here," said the doctor, handing his patient a Paradigm Millenia brochure. "This is what you need to look like if you want to survive."
The loudspeaker looked at the brochure and saw a slim form factor with no driver larger than 4.5 inches. He sighed again. This was the reality of modern life.
The Millenia is a totally new line from Paradigm, a large Canadian speaker maker that sells exclusively through A/V specialty stores. It consists of two stand-mount or on-wall models, including the one reviewed here, plus two floorstanders, a stand-mount/on-wall surround, and a speaker designed to handle all three front channels in a surround system.
The Millenia 20 is 26 inches tall. You can wall-mount this LCR (left, center, right) speaker with the supplied hardware or place the speaker on a stand. There is no dedicated center model—and that's a good thing, because it means you can have three identically matched speakers across the front for the most seamless soundstage possible. In fact, you could have a matched set of five or seven if you chose. For center use atop a microdisplay, you can position the speaker horizontally with the logo at the side.
Optional stands include a floorstanding one or a shorter one that's designed to sit on a low shelf next to the video display. The stands are handsome with their glass bases and not unduly hard to assemble. Because the stand blocks the binding posts, with speaker cables snaking down the slender pillar, your speaker-cable options are limited to zip cord. However, if you go for wall mounting and conceal the wiring in the wall, you can use whatever kind of cable you want—if local zoning allows it, that is.
To make a slender speaker sound good, designers need to shy away from the old way of doing things. The usual method of reducing sympathetic resonance in a speaker enclosure is to build it out of thick, medium-density fiberboard with substantial internal bracing. But thinning out the MDF to make a skinnier speaker is a recipe for muddy sound, so the Millenia 20 uses extruded and curved aluminum that, according to the manufacturer, provides "exceptional structural integrity with no significant internal resonances."
Further solidifying the design is a high-pressure, die-cast aluminum driver chassis, a thick slab of metal that's acoustically inert. The baskets that hold the drivers (and their large magnets) have heat sinks, enabling the speakers to take more power and play louder.
Paradigm describes the Millenia 20 as a two-way design, although it actually has three types of drivers, numbering five in total. The S-PAL tweeter is a 1-inch satin-anodized, pure aluminum dome that rests in a 3-inch-wide waveguide. That ensures wide dispersion across the seating area—a design goal that cuts across all Paradigm speaker lines. There are two 4.5-inch bass-midrange cone drivers made of MLP, or mica-loaded polymer, with phase plugs to improve airflow, plus two more 4.5-inch mineral-filled polypropylene bass drivers.
Dipoles and Passive Radiators
Filling the surround position is the Millenia ADP. It is designed to diffuse surround effects by firing midrange and high frequencies in two directions. Rather than aim directly at the seating area, it places listeners in a null field, making for more diffuse surround effects. The main argument in favor of this kind of speaker is that it calls less attention to the position of the surrounds and keeps your mind on the screen. Nevertheless, they also place multichannel music mixes and certain panning effects at a disadvantage. In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons, but I'll get into that later.
The ADP has a single 6-inch woofer in front and, on either side, matched pairs of 1-inch S-PAL tweeters and 4-inch MLP midranges. Paradigm describes it as an "adapted dipole" as opposed to straight bipole or dipole, explaining: "We actually switch it in the crossover from a bipole to a dipole. This gives the speaker the bottom end of a bipole and the spaciousness of a dipole." There is no user-selectable switch to reverse the direction of the drivers.
The Seismic 10 subwoofer hails from the Reference line. A sexy, black-glass top panel raises it above the level of the visually mundane. In addition to the usual controls, there's a knob that boosts 60 hertz between 0 and 6 decibels. The internal amp is conservatively rated at a ferocious 1,500 watts.
A ribbed copolymer driver, nesting in another die-cast, heat-sinked chassis, fires down through a metal grille. Visible on either side are two passive radiators made of metal in a rubber suspension. Typical of Paradigm's attention to detail is a proprietary guide within the driver that allows "large-gauge wire connection directly to the voice coil for unrestricted cone movement while eliminating the possibility of 'cone slapping' of lead-in wires in this high-excursion application."
Mega Movie Music and Effects
The Millenia 20 was slightly on the forward side of neutral, something I prefer in a speaker that mounts to the wall or sits close to it. Yet it was also one of the smoothest of its type I'd ever heard, with a midrange that was clean and natural. Metal tweeters can sometimes sound ringy; this one didn't. At no point did my senses send out any urgent "you're killing me, turn it down" messages. These speakers were innately musical and cinematically versatile. There was just enough bass to work with a sub crossover of 80 to 100 Hz; I stuck with 100 Hz.
Mega Movies is a compilation of movie-score excerpts with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. The hybrid, multichannel SACD illustrated the system's strength with orchestral music, including a silky string sound. The brass section and solo trumpet in L.A. Confidential shined: brassy and sweet, not grating or excessively hot.
Effects were variable, especially certain kinds of front-to-back pans. For example, the excerpt from The Rock preceded the 5-minute musical selection with 14 seconds of helicopter flyover—a clever prefiguring of the music's opening percussion fanfare. But when the roaring copter zoomed from front to back, I could hear the diffusing power of the adapted dipoles kicking in, as the sound went from precisely focused in front to a vague wash of sound in the rear. Meanwhile, the "Day at the Races" sequence from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace circled the soundfield quite effectively, possibly because the whooshing engine noise was fairly diffuse to begin with.
New Moon is a two-disc set of recently unearthed Elliott Smith tracks from around the time of Either/Or. Most of these achingly beautiful songs are finished, small-studio recordings, not just demos, with Smith's characteristic double-tracking of both vocals and acoustic guitars and many songs written in waltz time. These light but complex textures thrived through the Millenia 20, taking on a richness of tone color to which lesser speakers couldn't (and my iPod didn't) do justice.
Take Ten is a Paul Desmond solo album whose title track is the follow-up to the Dave Brubeck Quartet's phenomenally popular "Take Five," a 48-year-old recording often heard in high-end demo rooms to this day. Both are written in 5/4 time and bear a strong family resemblance. The Millenia 20s emphasized the buttery side of an already soft-focused recording but still managed to precisely define the ambient trajectory of the bandleader's suave saxophone and the brushwork of drummer Connie Kay.
Cabaret and Bustle
The highlight of the movie sessions was The White Countess, the final film from the Merchant/Ivory team. Set in Shanghai on the eve of World War II, the movie's numerous cabaret scenes knit a rich musical fabric with intimate small-band arrangements and solo instruments, including skittering violin and jazz clarinet. While none of these moments lingered (this is a historical drama, not a musical) they gave the Millenia 20s several chances to show their high-rez prowess with non-electric instruments in an acoustically rich nightclub setting. The sheer beauty and grace of these scenes, aurally as well as visually, repeatedly moved me.
The other sonic component of the film, with Ralph Fiennes as an eccentric nightclub impresario and Natasha Richardson as the object of his affection, was the urban bustle of old Shanghai, delivered by the soundtrack and speakers in a half-dozen different ways. The ADPs hit their stride in the final street scenes, a full-scale urban panic driven by the Japanese invasion. By diffusing the aggressively panned aircraft, the dipole surrounds actually made them more palpable. It was the difference between a speaker delivering an effect versus a speaker creating an acoustic environment and placing the effect within it. The latter approach can be much more evocative and scary.
Primeval gave the surrounds another chance to scare me half out of my seat—this time with machine-gun fire—but the belligerent sounds of the giant-croc attacks were too amorphous to impress. About Norbit, the less said the better.
With the Millenia 20, Paradigm shows just how good slim a tower can sound. The parts and build quality alone are more than worth the cost. This speaker is at its best right where it counts, in the musically sensitive midrange, and the sub takes up the slack in the bass department. These are among the few wall-huggers that sound not just good but great.
• Slim, elegant form factor
• Better sound than size implies
• Dieting isn't so bad after all