What We Think
|These trim speakers provide surprisingly big and refined sound at a good price.|
Truth be told, huge speakers are a pain, especially when you've got six or more crammed into your living space. In today's world, where aesthetics often trump sound quality, boasting about your big speakers has become passé. We like our speakers small, if not invisible. That's all fine, of course, but pesky laws of physics dictate that small speakers often don't perform as well as big ones. And this has driven a dramatic transformation in speakers, as designers find new ways to get big sound from small boxes.
Emblematic of the new breed is the Paradigm Cinema 330 home theater speaker system, comprising Cinema 330 satellites, Cinema ADP surrounds, and Ultracube subwoofer. The largest in a line of siblings that also includes the Cinema 110 and 220, the 330 satellites follow a design trend that thins cabinet depth to accommodate wall-mounting with plasma and LCD TVs. At about 4 inches deep, the speakers are flatter than most flat-screens. Thoughtfully, Paradigm supplies beveled mounting brackets to create an angle toward the listening position. Absent wall-mounting, the contour of the rigid plastic cabinets makes it impossible to position the 330 vertically without speaker stands, though an included bracket lets you use it horizontally for the center channel. Cleverly, the Paradigm badge is attached to each of the grilles with fridge magnets, so they can be made readable with either orientation. (Or you can skip all that and use them in the kitchen to post your grocery list.)
The ADP surrounds are dipoles, with a pair of drivers firing from each side and none in front. Much ink, and some blood, has been shed debating direct radiator vs. dipole speakers. The former provide more precise imaging, while the latter provide the more ambient sound often preferred for movie soundtracks. The lightweight ADPs are easily wall-mounted using their keyhole slots.
The Ultracube subwoofer showcases another design trend, that of the Incredible Shrinking Mini Sub. Understandably, huge bass output and a small cabinet are hard to reconcile, but the Ultracube tackles the problem: three of its six sides have radiators. There's a 10-inch active driver firing downward (powered by a 650-watt RMS digital amplifier) as well as two passive 9-inch radiators on opposite sides.
SETUP For this short visit, I skipped wall-mounting and attached two of the Cinema 330s to Premier LS25 steel-and-glass speaker stands supplied by Paradigm ($139 a pair). Once assembled, this pair handsomely flanked my Samsung DLP display. For center-channel duty, I placed a third Cinema 330 horizontally under my TV. A pair of ADPs went along the side walls and a third ADP along the back wall. Since these are dipoles, I aimed the side-wall ADPs with their drivers pointing to the front and back, and the rear-wall ADP with its drivers aiming toward the side walls.
To complete the decimal point in my 6.1 system, I dropped the Ultracube at a proven spot along my front wall. Bass response is significantly affected by subwoofer placement, so if you're a newbie, take some time to find the best spot. For example, you'll generally get more bass in a corner but sometimes tighter bass when you move the sub out and into the room. After a little bit of tuning with test music to get the sub to blend nicely with the three front speakers, I was ready for some serious listening.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE Seal's self-titled 1994 album had a string of hits, but the stereo mix of its intricate accompaniments always felt confined. The six-channel mix on the CD+DVD version (which also supports DVD-Audio) frees the album from that constraint. The baroque vocal arrangements and lush orchestration of "Kiss from a Rose" create a fully enveloping experience. Imaging was spot on, with a smooth transition across the soundstage. The rear dipoles created a nice wash of sound, with nothing extremely localized - a problem that can haunt smaller speakers. In this mix, lead vocals are spread across the front, with the center channel reproducing solo vocals in the final refrains, joined by a single harmony on the very last note. This detail pointed up a flaw: the horizontally oriented Cinema 330's timbre sounded different when heard off-axis from when heard at the prime position. This happens all too often with center-channel speakers and in this song resulted in a slightly unnatural vocal quality.
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