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LISTENING IMPRESSIONS (continued)
3. MilleniaOne + MilleniaSub (2.1), with Perfect Bass Kit Treatment
PBK mic on supplied stand.
The $300 Perfect Bass Kit optimizes the bass response curve of a Paradigm subwoofer to the room in which it is used. You still have to set the relative levels of sub and main speakers, the xover frequency of the sub, and the phase, but most of the deleterious sub-150Hz effects imposed by the room can be compensated. There usually are room-specific effects, especially in the bass, which are very difficult to correct without active equalization. In our age of ubiqutous computing, the PBK is a marriage of acoustics and digital technology which is furthering the goal of perfect sound reproduction, a recreation of the original musical event.
The kit includes a calibrated mic, mic stand, two sets of USB cables (one for the mic, one for the sub), and a software disc with the compensation curve for the specific mic in the kit (since microphones are also subject to sample variance). Every detail has been thought of! All you need to provide is a Windows or Mac PC, ideally a laptop.
Once the software is loaded, the mic and sub are both connected vis long USB cables to the laptop. A low-to-high-frequency sweep is run through the sub, the sound picked by the mic, and saved by the software. This is repeated four more times, with the mic in a different position each time, hopefully covering the range of listening positions. The data is compiled, optimized solutions are calculated, then finally, the compensation curve is uploaded to the sub.
I ran the PBK several times, with the sub in different locations, but always between the two main speakers. The measured presonse varied surprisingly little, though this may be specific only to my room. I also listened to the system with the compensated sub, using several bass-demanding pieces of music.
I recalled a concert of Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars, a large mostly-brass jazz ensemble from Cuba at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on the University of BC campus. The Chan Centre has stellar acoustics, and upon returning home to play a CD of the music I'd heard earlier that evening, I had been struck at how thick and heavy the bass of my stereo system sounded in contrast. The PBK compensation did not transform the sound of the Millenias into the live Chan Centre experience, but there was a distinct and audible improvement reminiscent of that difference. Bass lines became cleaner, somehow lighter yet more realistic. After listening at length, there was no question that given the choice, I would usually opt for the PBK-ed sound. I say usually because there are times, and some pieces of music, that always seem to sound better with the bass and volume cranked. I'm sure you all know what I mean. Accuracy isn't always what we seek.
PBK only measures and corrects the response of the sub. The uncorrected response, the target, and the calculated response after correction are shown. Both peaks and valleys are smoothed, and the correct high frequency roll off is applied. Note that uncorrected, there is a rising boost in the bass below about 60 Hz, reaching as much as +5~6 dB by 30 Hz. Corrected, it becomes smooth and flat to 30Hz, with useful output to probably 25 Hz. The SPL at which this correction was made is modest; the deep bass probably cannot be maintained at very high levels, say >95 dB.
4. MilleniaOne + MilleniaSub in a proper 2.1 setup, with PBK and a good AV Receiver
When Paradigm heard about my lack of an AV receiver or amplifier to drive the Millenia system in a proper crossover setup, the company rep arranged to have an Anthem MRX 300 AV receiver delivered to me. Anthem happens to be the AV electronics division of Paradigm, and made its reputation with products like the Statement D2v surround processor which sells for somewhere around $8,000. The MRX 300 is the most basic of Anthem's more modest AV receiver line, but at $1,000, it is still not exactly "budget". The MRX 300 has a huge array of features, which I won't go into in any detail here. You're welcome to check out the above link to the product page.
The most important aspect of the MRX 300 is that it has a bass management system with built-in electronic crossover that provides a proper bandwidth-limited output for the main speakers in a 2.1, 3.1 or 5.1 setup. The MilleniaOne will receive a signal that is rolled off below the crossover point, which can be set at 60, 80, 100, 120 or 150 Hz.
The MRX 300 was inserted into my stereo system in place of the Linn AV5105 amplifier. To familiarize myself with whatever changes the receiver wrought in the sound, to establish a baseline reference, the NHT 2.9 speakers were hooked up in standard stereo, and the receiver was used in the system for upwards of a week. Overall, the sound was similar to that obtained with the Linn amp, perhaps a touch livelier in some ways and in other ways a touch coarser, mostly in the treble. These differences were subtle and could easily have been imagined or exaggerated.
After this period of normalization, the MilleniaOne/Sub system was hooked up in proper 2.1 configuration. The crossover was set to 100 Hz, and the PBK re-run. Then listening ensued again.
Human acoustic memory can be fickle and unreliable... but with that caveat out of the way, I can say this setup sounded better than the previous 2.1 setup where the MilleniaOne speakers received the full bandwidth signal. Interestingly, while the improvement in bass clarity and musicality was expected, there was an unexpected bonus. At higher volumes, a touch of haze seemed to be lifted from the midband as well. This could have been the effect of reduced intermodulation distortion due to the reduced excursion of the 4" mid/bass drivers of the MilleniaOne now that signals below 100 Hz were being rolled off at 12 dB/octave.
5. MilleniaOne + MilleniaSub in a proper 3.1 setup for HD Home Theater
With the Anthem MRX 300 receiver on hand, it became simple to set up the Millenia speakers in a 3.1 system around a 1080p large screen TV in a much smaller, 10' x 12' room dedicated to HT. A horizontally configured MilleniaOne speaker was placed in the center of the stand on which the TV sits. Two other MilleniaOne speakers were placed on 2' stands on either side of the TV. The stands are very heavy, open frame, steel pedestals with spiked feet, built originally for the Linn Kan speakers a couple decades ago. The sub was placed on the floor just in front of the TV a little left of center. PBK was run to tune the sub to this room before any extended listening was done.
With the very first Bluray screening, the impact of the Millenia system was obvious: This is the best sound I've heard from my HT setup. Dialogue was more intelligible at both lower and higher volumes, the drama of musical scores considerably heightened, the ambient sound fields more involving, and sound effects more visceral.
The speaker systems I'd been using with the big TV were not chopped liver by any means. It was quite good, in fact. In use just before the Millenia speakers were a pair of 2-way, high quality speaker systems in hefty 40" tall transmission-line enclosures I'd designed and built personally using top notch Focal driver components with a 24 dB/oct Linkwitz-Riley crossover designed for them using a computer acoustic simulation / system design program called LEAP. These speakers are capable of good bass response, about -3 dB at 35 Hz at ~95 dB SPL. An AudioEngine A2 was used for the center speaker, all of this powered through a slightly older Denon AV receiver. The Anthem MRX 300 receiver is subtly better sounding than the older Denon, as it was tried with the original speakers first. The Millenia 3.1 setup, however, is more obviously better than the previous speaker system.
6. MilleniaOne + MilleniaSub 3.1 with ARC
One of the more sophisticated features of the Anthem receiver is Anthem Room Correction, which is basically a full-range version of PBK, one that applies corrective equalization for every speaker, over the entire 20~20,000 Hz range. It was a no-brainer to try this room correction feature with the Millenia, as the ARC kit (software, mic, stand and cables) is supplied with every Anthem receiver. The setup process is the same as with PBK, albeit longer because each speaker is tested, not just the sub. The end result, captured from the computer screen, are shown below.
ARC correction on the Millenia 3.1 system.
With ARC, the MilleniaOne speaker equalization curves are applied within the Anthem receiver. It's not clear whether the curve is uploaded to the sub as with the PBK, but this does not matter.
What matters is the end result, which was an overall improvement, particularly in the mid to high bass, and the midrange. This was with mostly Bluray movies , either straight from the disc or ripped to 720p or 1080p video files. Again, the intelligibility of dialogue was improved, and the uniqueness of individual voices, accents and phrasing became more marked. Movies full of booms, bangs and other big sound effects such as Terminator Salvation, Toy Story 3, Lord of the Rings or Saving Private Ryan benefitted as expected, but so did subtler soundtracks of movies like Eastern Promises, Hereafter, or WALL-E. In a word, the Millenia 3.1 system with ARC makes the soundtrack of movie and other video programming more immersive, convincing and realistic... although it is also accurate enough to expose poorly done sound effects or recordings at times.
A 5.1 setup was tried with reasonably good effect, but only briefly. The room is just too small to be comfortable for the side speakers, and the stands and wires they require. Suffice it to say that the Millenia speakers certainly don't get in the way of delivering the sound goods in 5.1, either.
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