Surround Sound System Reviews

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Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 24, 2015  |  0 comments

SoundSpot MT-3 Speaker System
Performance
Features
Value
SUB-8X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
1mm-thick steel sphere Concentric drivers Superb imaging, soundfield
Minus
Predictably modest bass Satellites pricey

THE VERDICT
Morel’s MT-3 Music Theatre combines steel truncated-sphere enclosures, concentric drivers, and a unique grille pattern to create a visually striking and high-performing compact sat/sub set.

The advent of Dolby Atmos casts a shadow over existing 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround systems. Some home theater buffs want the new technology and want it now, while others may decide not to go all in. In between are those wondering whether to leave the door open for Atmos. And that brings us to the Morel MT-3 satellite/subwoofer set. The 5.1-channel configuration reviewed here does not support Atmos; at least, these satellites lack the up-firing drivers that constitute an “Atmos-enabled” speaker system. However, their base provides for wall-, ceiling-, or tabletop positioning with no additional hardware, and surface-mounting an extra pair (or two) of satellites on a ceiling would indeed bring this speaker system into Atmos territory with a 5.1.2 (or, better yet, 5.1.4) configuration.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 12, 2012  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,297 (with updated X Series models)
At A Glance: Dual orbs in front, single orbs behind • Full-range drivers in steel enclosures • Rod or pedestal stand

Spherical loudspeakers are perhaps too easily dismissed: “Oh look, it’s round. Cute gimmick. Next…” That box speakers are easy to build certainly doesn’t guarantee sound quality. In fact, designers of quality speakers are constantly rebelling against the limitations of rectangular enclosures. To curb cabinet resonance, designers build bracing into the box and stuff the interior with damping material. They curve the sides to stop standing waves from developing between parallel walls. But rather than tweak boxes, some do away with them altogether. So if you think the spherical steel shells of Orb Audio’s People’s Choice satellite speakers are mere gimmicks, think again.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 14, 2012  |  0 comments

MilleniaOne Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
MilleniaSub subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $2,648 At A Glance: Die-cast aluminum satellites • Flat-form-factor subwoofer • Remarkable transparency

Not often do I begin a review with an apology to readers. But I owe you one.

It’s taken me an unconscionably long time to get around to reviewing the Paradigm MilleniaOne satellite speaker system and MilleniaSub. The products made their retail debuts in November 2010. Since then they’ve languished on my to-do list despite the fact that Paradigm is one of my favorite speaker manufacturers. In fact, I never fail to cite my reference speakers, the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4, in every A/V receiver review. Now that I’ve gotten an earful of the MilleniaOne and MilleniaSub, I’m kicking myself. I should have recommended these stellar satellites and innovative subwoofer to you a whole lot sooner, whether you’re in the market for a sat/sub set or not. This is the kind of high-performance sat/sub set that might make believers out of people who weren’t even interested in the product category to begin with.

Tom Norton  |  Oct 16, 2013  |  3 comments

Monitor 11 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Monitor SUB 12 Subwoofer
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,895 (updated 3/10/15)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, powerful bass
Superior speaker-to-speaker timbre match
Excellent value
Minus
Slightly tipped-up highs

THE VERDICT
An immensely satisfying speaker system with both music and movies.

Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm makes a bewildering variety of loudspeakers. Its offerings top out at around $9,000 for a two-channel pair of Signature S8s—remarkably sensible considering the recent and alarming inflation in high-end audio prices. But while the speakers that make up the Paradigm’s Monitor Series 7, latest version of the company’s long-lived, bread-and-butter line, are far less expensive, they’re anything but an afterthought.

Al Griffin  |  May 08, 2019  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,144 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive performance for price
Surround speakers provide flexible installation options
Subwoofer with app control and room correction
Minus
Basic build quality and looks

THE VERDICT
This entry-level Paradigm speaker package delivers performance reminiscent of the company's higher end models, along with a few sophisticated and well-considered features.

Canada's Paradigm offers a truly impressive range of speakers for audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts alike. The company makes so many speakers, in fact, that I sometimes have trouble keeping track of what's what in the Paradigm lineup. With luscious, hand-lacquered cabinets and Beryllium drivers, the Persona line is the flagship offering, one that Sound & Vision reviewed in a 5.1-channel configuration in our September 2017 issue. While we found plenty to like about that Persona rig, at $31,000 it clearly represented a luxury purchase. Fortunately, the Paradigm family also includes speakers aimed at budget-conscious listeners, such as the Monitor SE series.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Jul 28, 2017  |  9 comments

Persona 3F Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Persona SUB Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $31,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Beryllium tweeter and midrange drivers
Hand-polished, high-gloss finish
Slender, curved cabinets
Minus
Expensive
Heavy

THE VERDICT
Paradigm set out to create the best, state-of-the-Paradigm-art speakers the company has ever produced, bringing together top-notch cabinet construction and finishing capabilities and advanced driver technologies in hopes of achieving something greater than the sum of its already great parts. They’ve succeeded.

Paradigm, the Canadian loudspeaker company founded in 1982, has a long and respectable history of building excellent-sounding, great-looking speakers at relatively affordable prices—not outrageously expensive but not stupidly cheap, either. Somewhere along the way, though, somebody at Paradigm accidentally said out loud at a company meeting: “What if cost were, well, not no object, but at least less of an object? What if we combined all our best technologies and maybe threw in a bit of new stuff, too? Just how awesome of a speaker could we make? We should try that someday.” And thus the company’s latest and greatest-ever series of speakers was born.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jan 31, 2019  |  6 comments

Premier 700F Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Defiance X-12 subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,700 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp detail
Big, powerful sound
Minus
Tower unstable on thick carpet
Poorly designed grilles

THE VERDICT
The Premier range is far from the most expensive in Paradigm's speaker lineup, but the performance and build quality that it offers lets it compete with speakers twice the price.

The other day a friend who's neither a videophile nor an audiophile dropped by my home to watch a movie. A pair of loudspeakers I had just finished reviewing for Stereophile, our sister publication, were sitting in a corner, waiting to be packed up. When I told him their price—$6,000/pair—he appeared shocked. Even Paradigm's affordable new 700F speakers, then as now serving as the left/right channels in my system, are pricier than he would like were he to invest in a system of his own (unlikely!).

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 14, 2015  |  8 comments

Prestige 15B Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Seismic 110 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $6,145

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Advanced driver designs
Fine-grained, transparent, dynamic playback
Compact but powerful subwoofer
Minus
Boxy, non-curved enclosures

THE VERDICT
Paradigm’s Prestige series speakers and Seismic 110 sub employ unusual driver design to achieve remarkable transparency and punch.

As I sat down to write this review of the Paradigm Prestige speaker system, I couldn’t get a seemingly unrelated subject—the Pono hate—out of my head. No joke, folks: I sat at the keyboard for hours mulling it over. What chance did I have to convince readers that a $6,145 speaker system is worth hearing when a $400 music player is greeted with language like “don’t buy” and “snake oil”?

OK, I know I’m preaching to the converted. You probably wouldn’t be reading Sound & Vision if you weren’t open to the idea that a well-designed speaker system has the power to bring you closer to music. That’s what the Paradigms did for me when I informally played a few recent additions to my high-resolution music library (more on them later). I felt as if a curtain had been lifted and music was in the room with me—not just recorded music, but music.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Mar 16, 2017  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $48,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audyssey MultEQ XT Pro room equalization
Variable-axis soft-dome tweeters on surrounds
All speakers are biamped or triamped
Minus
Expensive
Status LEDs on amplifier are bright and can’t be dimmed
Requires professional installation

THE VERDICT
When it comes to the evolution of loudspeakers, Phase Technology has an enviable pedigree filled with innovation. The company’s newest dARTS speaker/amp package is a spectacular achievement that mitigates the effects of room acoustics and creates a highly theatrical, intensely musical experience that’s extremely rare.

One day last summer, I found myself grumbling more than usual as I stood staring at 550 pounds of speakers and amps that Phase Technology had shipped to my house. (Actually, because the gravel road I live on is very unfriendly to tractor-trailers, I had to drive to the depot, load a couple of pallets of heavy boxes into two vehicles, drive home, and then unload it all.) The gear makes up the top-of-the-line version of the company’s new, second-generation dARTS system.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 20, 2013  |  1 comments

V52 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Power FL-10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,880 At A Glance: Innately musical monitors • Bipole/dipole surrounds • Powerful subwoofer

Phase Technology is one of the great American loudspeaker makers. The man behind that achievement was Bill Hecht, a genuine first-generation audio pioneer. This review can’t begin without noting his passing last fall at age 89, the end of a life devoted to bringing movies and music into both the public and private realms.

Hecht began his career as an expert in Cinemascope Stereophonic Sound, installing systems at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and other pleasure palaces. His company United Speaker Systems (USS) launched in 1955 as he hand-built speakers, including drive units, in his garage. USS got a boost when Avery Fisher offered a commission to build the first Fisher loudspeakers. Hecht earned several patents, most notably for developing the soft-dome tweeter. He also patented a self-damping woofer voice coil, a manufacturing process for flat piston drivers, silicon-injected drivers for resonance damping, and a basketless midrange/woofer mounting system.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 30, 2014  |  1 comments

Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,996

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sweet dedicated midrange
Solidly musical bass
Multilayer lacquer finish
Minus
Sub is merely average

THE VERDICT
The Pinnacle Black Diamonds are stellar performers with a winning personality, delivering consistently pleasing sound.

Even in our industrial twilight, the USA still has a cornucopia of great loudspeaker brands, and Pinnacle Speakers is one of them. Since the company’s founding in 1976, it has always been a family-owned business—and if there’s one kind of outfit you don’t want to mess with, it’s a family outfit. I haven’t reviewed a Pinnacle product in eight years, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

A limousine screeched to a halt outside my building, and two bulky guys in Men’s Wearhouse suits got out. They didn’t leave me much choice: I was blindfolded and driven around for hours and hours until I had no idea where I was. At one point, I thought I smelled Secaucus, New Jersey. Another time, the blindfold slipped, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Satriale’s Pork Store.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 12, 2015  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos–enabled monitors
Laser-like focus from coaxial driver array
Minus
Just-average subwoofer performance

THE VERDICT
Andrew Jones’ excellent Atmos-enabled speakers are equally at home in a 5.1-channel footprint as they are transforming surround sound as we know it.

Dolby Atmos bids to change the landscape of surround sound at home. One thing it has already changed is my mind.

I am that 5.1 guy. I’ve spent much of my tech-writing career promoting the standard 5.1-channel speaker configuration and defending it against all comers. This has pitted me against two-channel loyalists who mistakenly believe there is no such thing as a surround audiophile. But I’ve also opposed what I deem to be useless additions to 5.1.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 15, 2012  |  5 comments

SP-BS22-LR Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
SW-8MK2 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $450 At A Glance: Affordable designer speakers • Second gen with improved parts • Clearer, meatier sound

Looking for a great sounding set of home theater speakers but on a tight budget? Read on and find out why Pioneer's newest speakers might be just what the doctor ordered and learn how gifted designer Andrew Jones met the challenge of building a high-performance speaker ensemble that can be had for only $500. Even he can't believe it.

Al Griffin  |  May 05, 2021  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,195 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, near full-range performance
R900 module delivers immersive sound
Impressive build quality for price
Excellent value
Minus
Revealing sound can be slightly bright with some sources

THE VERDICT
Packed with tech developed for Polk Audio’s flagship Legend series, this Reserve series speaker package delivers dynamic and immersive sound at a budget-friendly price.

Back in 2019, Polk Audio rolled out its Legend series speakers. For a brand known to maintain a laser-like focus on value, the Legends, with their finely constructed cabinets (featuring real wood veneer) and fully redesigned driver complement, not to mention an enhanced version of the company's SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array) technology in the line's flagship L800 tower, seemed an atypically cost-no- object offering.

Michael Trei  |  Feb 25, 2016  |  0 comments

T50 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PSW108 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $690 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound, small price
Efficient and easy to drive
Proper surround sound at a soundbar price
Minus
Black vinyl is the only finish

THE VERDICT
Polk’s T50 system is all about value with a capital V— delivering a real 5.1 experience including a powered subwoofer and floorstanding tower speakers at a soundbar price.

“What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”—Thomas R. Marshall

American vice presidents aren’t usually remembered for much, but Woodrow Wilson’s VP Thomas R. Marshall will always be remembered for saying that America needed good cheap cigars. If you figure in a hundred years of inflation, Marshall’s five-cent cigar would still be well under a buck today, so clearly he was a man who wanted real value for the money. With that in mind, I reckon that if Marshall were alive today, he would be a huge fan of the Polk T Series speaker system.

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