Paradigm Mini Monitor Speaker System
I envy the Paradigm Monitor Series 7 speakers, the latest in a durable line. Over time, the Monitors have gotten better and better, while I have only gotten balder.
Audio products renew themselves in a steady drumbeat of new and improved models—although the first part doesn’t guarantee the second. In A/V receivers, lines typically turn over once a year, often with no more than small, incremental changes or the occasional new fad feature. In loudspeakers, a manufacturer with a successful line has no reason to kill it entirely—but may well wish to improve it as new parts and construction techniques become available. In general, manufacturers need something new to tell their dealers once in a while, to continue the narrative, to extend the train of thought.
My colleague Steve Guttenberg reviewed the Monitor v.4 in 2005 and the v.5 in 2008 with systems based on tower models. This review will bring you up to date on the seventh-generation line and shift the focus from towers to the stand-mount Mini Monitor. At $299 each, a matched set of five will cost you $1,495. Depending on what you pay for the necessary sub, you could keep the system quite affordable. With Pardigm’s DSP-3200 sub and its room correction option, the system in this review totals $2,393.
Off the Wall
Paradigm is a Canadian outfit that offers a vast array of products spread across 20 lines. If you prefer your speakers to stay on the down-low, you may be interested in the compact Cinema Series, the on-wall Millenia, or one of the company’s many in-wall lines. But for hard-core home theater buffs, Paradigm’s most significant (and heavily revised) speaker lines are, from the top down, the Signature, Studio, SE, and Monitor Series. The first generation of the Monitor Series came out in 1990.
This is where the nomenclature gets confusing. For starters, monitor is Home Theater’s institutional term for a stand-mount speaker, so I’ll avoid using it here. The plot thickens when we start discussing model numbers, in which the numeral refers to pecking order in the line, not to the series.
Like previous Monitor lines, the Monitor Series 7 includes a Monitor 7 tower ($449 each), along with larger Monitor 9 ($599) and Monitor 11 ($799) towers. Stand-mount alternatives include this month’s poster boy, the Mini Monitor ($299), and the smaller Atom Monitor ($199). For the center channel, consider the Center 1 ($379) or Center 3 ($599). For surround use, there are the Surround 1 ($279) and Surround 3 ($399).
This review will cover five matched Mini Monitors plus a sub (my favorite configuration). For those who’d like to mix and match—while sharing my personal (but not technically based) fetish for size-matched drivers—the Center 1’s 5.5-inch woofer would match those in the Atom Monitor, Monitor 7, Monitor 9, and Surround 3. The Center 3’s 6.5-inch woofer is similar in dimensions to those in the Mini Monitor and Monitor 11. All Monitor Series 7 models share the similar tweeters.
The Mini Monitor’s two-way driver array uses considerably different diaphragm materials than its Monitor Series 6 equivalent, although the driver sizes haven’t changed. A 1-inch titanium tweeter and 6.5-inch copolymer woofer in the Series 6 have both given way to S-PAL, Paradigm’s satin-anodized pure aluminum, in both drivers. Note that polypropylene drivers have survived in the three Monitor Series 7 towers, both of the centers, and one of the surrounds. But because this review uses only the Mini Monitor, all five channels and 10 drivers are served exclusively by S-PAL diaphragms. The benefit of using S-PAL in a tweeter is that its stiffness-to-weight ratio is high, pushing breakup above 20 kilohertz, beyond the range of human hearing. In the woofer, breakup is pushed out to 5 kHz, beyond the crossover point.
Transferring design features from upper lines to lower ones is a traditional Paradigm strategy. So the Series 7 borrows heavily from the Studio Series. Paradigm has added a mesh guard and reshaped the tweeter’s waveguide to improve high-frequency dispersion. The geometry of the woofer’s foam rubber surround has been redesigned for longer excursion and better damping. There are new high-temperature voice coils and upsized ferrite magnets. Other features new to the Monitor Series 7 include thickened enclosures of 0.75-inch fiberboard and self-aligning magnetic honeycomb grilles.
If I may waver a bit from the subject of the Mini Monitor, the latest towers have a more stable plinth and a 20-percent reduction in their footprint. The Monitor 7 tower has three drivers (versus the original four), and the Monitor 11 now has five (versus the original four). The two centers also have reduced footprints. The two surrounds have been redesigned “in keeping with the way sound is being mastered and mixed in today’s recording studios.” That means the former bipole/dipole models have given way to direct-radiating models with wide dispersion.
Perfect Bass Forever
For this review, the Mini Monitor is joined by the DSP-3200 subwoofer ($799), a model that Paradigm introduced in 2008 but that Home Theater hasn’t reviewed. This v.2 version has a modest width profile but expends more inches on height and depth. In an inexpensive sub, increasing cabinet size is an effective way to boost performance. On the front are a 12-inch woofer sporting a polypropelene cone with added carbon/aramid fiber and dual ports. The efficient Class D amp is no slouch, rated at 300 watts RMS and 900 watts peak power.
What’s special about the DSP-3200 is easy to miss unless you spot the USB port on the back panel. That little port lets this sub get its marching orders from Paradigm’s Perfect Bass Kit (PBK-1). This is a $99 option, but skimping would be a serious mistake. With the PBK, you can tune the sub to compensate for flaws in room acoustics: specifically, the bass unevenness that occurs in a high percentage of real-life home environments. How much of a standing-wave problem you have depends on your room’s dimensions and the location of the loudspeakers and listeners. Square rooms are problematic, as are rooms where dimensions are multiples of each other. But most systems benefit from correction in the bass frequencies.
The Perfect Bass Kit consists of a setup microphone, shaped like a cylinder, not the Hershey’s Kiss used with most other room correction schemes; a surprisingly heavy metal mike stand, so you can leave your tripod in the closet; two USB cables to connect the mike to your PC and the PC to the subwoofer; and computer software supplied on CD-R. A newer version of the software may be available, but depending on how old your PBK is, you’ll still want to install the software from the CD-R because it includes a profile of your microphone’s individual characteristics. Thus, Paradigm has removed sample-to-sample mike variations from the PBK’s calculations. You can always follow up by downloading the latest version of the software (2.0) from Paradigm’s Website. The PBK measures from up to 10 listening positions.
If you already use an A/V receiver with room correction, you may wonder whether you should bother with the PBK. There are a few possible answers. Some audiophiles object to what they believe are the undesirable side effects of room correction—so restricting it to the bass frequencies may be a good idea if you like your room’s midrange character. You may also find that the PBK works better than your AVR’s room correction. Or you may use the PBK to supplement the AVR’s room correction. In that case, Paradigm recommends that you set up the PBK first, then the receiver. Finally, you may need the PBK to supplement your AVR’s room correction if the latter doesn’t EQ the sub channel (example: Audyssey’s bottom-of-the-line 2EQ or Yamaha’s YPAO in at least some models).
The PBK installation ran quickly but took a few tries. First I needed to set the sub at two-thirds of its volume control’s range (versus the recommended half). The software rejected my next try due to low-level street noise from an open window. After that, it was smooth sailing. Despite the hang-ups, the process only took a few minutes. It takes me longer to eat a sandwich.