Paradigm Millenia HT Speaker System

Audio|Video|Misc
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LISTENING IMPRESSIONS


The wee oval thing atop is the subject of this review.

The MilleniaOne speakers, despite their appropriately small size, are not meant for use as desktop speakers at a PC desk. Since they are bonafide hi-fi speakers with no apologies for size, they were hooked into my main audio-only system in place of the my usual speakers.

The reference system is composed of:

The signal source is mostly CD or higher quality digital audio files (some 24/96) from my home network streamed via a SqueezeBox Touch.

The digital signal from the Squeebox is converted to analog by a Benchmark DAC1 192-kHz 24-bit D/A audio converter via the coax SPDIF connection.

The output of the Benchmark DAC1 feeds the AV5105 — a discontinued 100 w/ch stereo power amplifier from Linn.

A pair of NHT 2.9, a fairly large (over 3 cu. ft.), 78-lb, 4-way speaker system one step down from the brand's then-top 3.3 model. Sold for $2,500~2,600/pr in its day, the NHT 2.9 has a claimed 26Hz-26kHz, ¬Ī3dB frequency range.

No exotic cables are used, but the interconnects are high silver content wire with good quality phono plugs. Speaker cables are Linn multistrand dipole (about 12 gauge) terminated with bannaa plugs. For the MilleniaOne, DIY twisted cable runs of 15' made from CAT5 were used. The bare speaker ends were twisted together to fit into the spring loaded terminals.

The Benchmark DAC1 is a well recognized top performing D/A converter. The NHT 2.9 speakers and Linn amplifier are older and probably nowhere near "real high end", but the system still sounds excellent, capable of convincing musical realism at fairly high volume. The room is quite large and lively, 30' x 13' with an 8' ceiling — a living room that extends into the dining area. The NHT 2.9 speakers are about 7' apart, 1.5' in front of a wall that is mostly sliding glass doors to the front deck, and the listening area is about 10' in front of the speakers.

The MilleniaOne speakers were placed atop the NHT 2.9 speakers (which puts them slightly high for a seated listener). Only the SqueezeBox was used for a sound source. As the photo suggests, it is a David-Goliath speaker comparison.

1. MilleniaOne Only

The sound that emerged from the MilleniaOne was immediately arresting — detailed and clear, with excellent transients and imaging. It was lacking in bass, sounding thin with most bass instruments. Positioned so far from any reinforcing room boundaries, this was no surprise.

Paradigm suggests a break-in period of 100 hours for the MilleniaOne. This was accomplished by moving the speakers into the anechoic chamber and running white noise through them continuously for several days at ~85 dB/1m.

Upon returning to listening, the initial impressions were confirmed. The MilleniaOne is a very neutral sound reproducer with excellent linearity and transient quickness. If the <100Hz thinness could be ignored, the sound was top notch, easily the equal of the NHT 2.9.

The system could play quite loudly without strain, upwards of 90 dB from 3 meters away in this large room, but as volume increased so did the thiness of the sound. Despite their obvious high fidelity, this is not a speaker system most people will enjoy without a sub.

2. MilleniaOne + MilleniaSub (2.1)

The MilleniaSub was soon called into play, positioned between the MilleniaOnes. The easiest way to hook it up was via the Paradigm PT-2, which took the signal from the Benchmark D/A converter and sent it wirelessly to the sub. The internal crossover of the sub was adjusted manually. This left the MilleniaOne with a full range signal without bass rolloff, which denies some of the advantages of a 2.1 speaker setup, as it forces the 4" driver to reproduce low bass notes already being handled by the sub. A proper 2.1 setup would have to wait for an AV receiver with a high pass output for small main speakers.


MilleniaSub placed just to the left of the right speaker.


The $140 PT-2 takes a full range signal from either speaker outputs (with a pass-through for the main speakers) or preamp outputs, converts it to digital (48 kHz / 16 bits) and sends it wirelessly to the radio receiver and D/A coverter built into the sub. There are no controls on the sub relating to this wireless function. The PT-2 has a latency delay switch for 15, 20 and 25ms, and a sync switch in case the sub does not recognize the signal from the PT-2. In my time with the MilleniaSub and PT-2, they worked flawlessly together. The sync button was never needed, and the latency switch was never moved from 15ms. There was no audible (or measurable difference) between hardwiring the feed to sub compared to using the PT-2. A 15ms time delay seems too short to be significant in the context of the multiple time paths in any audio recording/reproduction process. Consider at the recording stage, the different time paths from various instruments to the microphones. There would be far more than 15ms delay, for example, between a trumpeter 5' to the left versus a conga drummer 9' away on the right.

The sub crossover was set to 80Hz, then both the phase (0~180°) and level controls were manually set by ear while listening to music. Naturally, I sought to replicate a tonal balance similar to what I am used to hearing with the NHT 2.9. A reasonable balance was reached in a couple of minutes without much effort. The sub was moved around a bit between the two main speakers, but the position did not seem critical. The result was strikingly good, even with so little tweaking: The bass was taut, deep and powerful, the transition from bass to higher frequencies quite smooth. It was not possible to localize the source of the bass; as with the NHT 2.9, on well recorded program material, the entire wall came alive with music. In fact, the sound was good enough that I just became immersed in the music instead of analyzing the speakers... for many weeks.


The control panel on the MilleniaSub: Level, x-over frequency, phase.

Just a small sampling of the music I employed and enjoyed thus:

Jeff Buckley's unmatched rendition of Hallelujah which turned this once-obscure Leonard Cohen song into a modern classic and challenge for many a torch singer. The explosive vocals and guitar work come through beautifully on the Millenia.

When I first heard Melody Gardot crooning Your Heart Is As Black As Night in her distinctive vibrato, shivers ran down my spine. A lush, richly-instrumented arrangement that retains the focus on the singer, from the album, My One and Only Thrill, 2009.

Water Is Wide by the Indigo Girls, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan from a Lilith Fair (Vol 1, CD2) concert at the end of the last century has a soaring, rich bloom of vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars. If we could hear angels sing, they'd sound like this.

Alabama 3's Woke Up This morning, which became the opening song for The Sopranos TV series, growls with driving menace.

The vibrant, soulful R&B energy of Joss Stone in Some Kind of Wonderful is a fantastic wakeup call any time of day. The drum kit in her tight band demand great transient response, and the Millenias deliver.

Mozart Sonatas on the Philips label played immaculately by piano grande damme Mitsuko Uchida are probably known to all classical music fans. A lone grand piano played masterfully is no simple thing to reproduce well.

Not long before he died, Johnny Cash teamed with Glenn Campbell to record this seminal song from the 60s. The evocative lyrics of Gentle on My Mind, released posthumously on 5-CD album Unearthed, combined with the fragile mortality of JC's aged voice is poignant.

Dave's True Story was a NYC duo of deceptively simple vocalist Kelly Flint singing composer/guitarist David Cantor's twisted, witty Cole Porterish songs. The 2002 album Sex Without Bodies features many great tunes, including Misery, I'll Never Read Trollope Again and the title track. Recorded at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, the 96 kHz, 24-bit version has a great, live sound.

Drab Zeen: Electronic-tinged jazz boogies trombone, sax, piano, French lyrics, with traditional Mideast motifs and instruments in this brilliant unique fusion album of excellent fidelity by Toufic Faroukh. Great percussions, dense textures... What a workout for the audio system! (And the mind!)

I Want to be Seduced by Irish singer Mary Coughlan on her 1985 debut album, Tired & Emotional, a relaxed melange of folk, jazz, country. Just her and an acoustic bass. (I transferred the track from the original LP to 96/24 WAV/FLAC using a Linn Sondek LP12 and an M-Audio sound card.)

Despite the musical immersion, I managed to jot down enough notes and make a couple of switches back to my reference speakers to conclude that the combination of MilleniaOne and MilleniaSub, even in this non-ideal 2.1 setup, is a touch better overall. The bass extends deeper and has a bit less artificial mid-bass warmth, and is every bit as quick and taut. The Millenia combo also edges the NHT 2.9 in sound stage imaging, and clarity with both male and female voices.



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