We have a tendency to talk about soundbars (and their more recent bigger brothers, “sound consoles”) as if they’re the sole stop on the road between piddly little built-in TV speakers and full-blown, 7.1-channel, rack-filling home cinema systems.
The thing is, though, anyone who has even been entertained whilst sitting at a desktop computer is probably already hip to the 2.1 speaker concept, and in fact, my friend Steve is a huge proponent of stereo home theater, especially as an alternative to cheap 5.1.
So, in a lot of ways, Paradigm’s Millenia CT (the CT stands for Compact Theater) has a lot of precedent behind it as a concept. And yet, in so many ways, this little system feels like a whole new thing.
Aesthetically speaking, Millenia CT shares a lot of common ground with the company’s MilleniaOne Music and Home Theater System. The materials are a little different, and of course the connections are simpler, but the look is very much the same. Unlike the MilleniaOne, though, Millenia CT is a completely self-contained audio system. Aside from sources and a display, everything you need is included in the box—the proprietary speaker cables (with more than enough length—TWSS—for any setup situation I could come up with), the RJ-45 cable that connects the subwoofer to the Apple TV-sized control box (providing both audio and power connections), even an optical cable and 1/8-inch mini cable.
With all of that included, setup is a snap, especially if you’ve ever set up a computer audio system. Simply plug in the power to the subwoofer, connect the left and right speaker cables from the sub to the speakers, plug the control box into the sub, and connect your sources. You can have up to two—one optical and one mini-jack—if you connect direct, but you can also cheat and use your TV as a source switcher. In my case I ran my Dish Hopper and OPPO Blu-ray player to my TV via HDMI, and ran my TV’s optical audio output to the CT control box.
The one thing you’ll notice about the Millenia CT’s remote control right off the bat—after you get over its itty-bittiness—is that it’s also simplicity incarnate. You get volume controls, mute, power, and an Input toggle, and that’s it. Don’t bother looking on the control box for any additional controls, because there aren’t any there (which means you probably ought to put some Velcro tape on the back of the remote, affix it to your coffee table or night stand, and threaten to stab anyone who so much as hints at the possibility of walking away with it right in the kneecap, because if you lose the remote, you’re screwed).
Really, though, those are all the controls you need, because the Millenia CT doesn’t do any kooky faux surround sound processing. It doesn’t feature different EQ modes or anything of that sort. Because it really and for truly doesn’t need to. Given that the two satellite speakers aren’t locked to any certain width the way soundbar speakers are, you’ve got a lot of wiggle room to place them quite far apart, and the built-in stands feature adjustments for height (with an included Allen wrech—super nice touch), so it’s super easy to find a spot where they sound fantastic. Once I found that spot, I queued up one of my go-to scenes from the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition Blu-ray (because you guys are smoking drugs if you think I’ve been watching anything else this week), and was blown away by the incredible dispersion of these little speakers. The image is both wide and deep—brilliantly immersive, wonderfully balanced, and genuinely enveloping in a way that faux surround processing never is. Granted, you’re never going to think to yourself, “Self, that Nazgûl sounded like he was sitting on my shoulder,” but the soundfield is so naturally, effortlessly inviting and blanketing that you really don’t miss the fact that sounds aren’t coming from behind you.
What really shocked me, though, is how rock-solid and stable dialogue is via the Millenia CT system. Those bits of dialogue in the Mines of Moria sequence that I usually use as a torture test for center channels? Positively flawless here, without even the benefit of a center channel. If I had one nit to pick, it’s that a few of the voices are a weensy bit bright, but I’ll take that any day of the week for dialogue clarity this superb.
The little subwoofer included with the system is also quite the little monster. Despite the fact that the sub packs in an eight-inch woofer, in addition to the three channels of amplification for the entire system, it’s an incredibly space-efficient sub, owing to its stretched-out-capsule shape (quite similar to the MilleniaSub, at least in its overall shape, although the driver configuration and electronics are quite different).
This little sub has an incredible amount of kick, and despite having a total system power of only 80 watts RMS sustained (240 peak), pumps out way more volume than I’ll ever need for my secondary home theater (aka my bedroom).
Now, granted, the very deepest rumbles of Mûmakil stomping in the climactic battle of Return of the King might get a little lost. The sub’s low frequency extension is listed as a respectable 28Hz, my testing with a tone generator revealed that it started giving up at closer to 36Hz or so. No matter, those battle sequences at the end of the film positively slam, and had I not watched this film so many times I can nearly recite all eleventy-three hours of it by heart, I doubt I would have ever noticed the lack of ultra-super-crazy-bottom-of-the-barrel deep bass.
And I seriously doubt most of you sit and watch films thinking, “Oh, that scene with the sub-30Hz rumble is coming up soon,” so really, it’s not an issue. Bottom line: Bass = yummy. Dialogue = yummy. Imagining, dispersion, and enveloping-ness = yum yum yummy. Really, what I’m trying to say is that I just want to slather the Millennia CT system with peanut butter and eat it.
That same big bass performance also carries over to the musical realm. I did most of my musical listening with my iPhone, connected directly via 1/8-inch mini cable, and almost as a dare, the first thing I queued up was Beastie Boys “Hey Ladies,” just to see if the bass was even moderately respectable.
One word: BOOM.
Okay, two words: KA BOOM. Even with really gnarly bass tracks like Björk’s “Army of Me,” the Millenia CT system just downright roars. But it’s not all huff and gruff. The same gorgeous dispersion, wonderful imaging, and beautiful penetrating nature of the system made anything I threw at it sound gorgeous. I’ve been rocking out a lot lately to a slightly dubiously procured remastered version of Bukckingham Nicks lately, and the luscious midrange of the CT system makes it sound absolutely delightful: incredibly warm, sumptuously rich, with a spot-on tonal balance and near infinite depth. I also really love how dynamic the system is. In that respect, it really calls to mind the Paradigm Cinema system I reviewed last year: even the quietest moments really reach out into the room without an ounce of struggle, and when called upon to rock, the speakers rock righteously.
If you’ve got a simple TV setup with an Apple TV, I simply can’t think of a better sound upgrade for $699—especially when you consider than the Millenia CT’s little control box is designed to stack perfectly with Apple’s little media box. Granted, this isn’t an upgradeable solution. If you ever decide to go 5.1, you’ll be starting over from scratch. But hey, given that the Millenia CT system would also make a really incredibly rocking 2.1 sound system for a PC or Mac, it’s not as if it’ll be obsolete should you decide to upgrade down the road.
Most of you probably wouldn’t, though. Seriously, most people never get to experience sound this good at all.