Sound enthusiasts tend to cringe when they see any sort of “self-powered speaker,” and for good reason: Most are designed to be nothing more than cheaply-priced and even more cheaply-made add-on computer accessories. As a result, many of these systems also sound dreadful. So dreadful in fact, most audio folks will bypass using computer speakers altogether and route the sound to their full-sized, multi-component A/V systems instead.
But if you count yourself among those who exclusively use your computer and Apple TVs as your entertainment sources, you probably don’t want, or need, a full-size receiver or surround sound system. And if you care at all about sound quality, the last thing you want is to subject your ears to some el-cheapo powered “computer speaker” system.
Recognizing that there may be folks looking for an audiophile-grade, self-powered speaker system, Paradigm hopes to answer the call with its Millenia CT, or “Compact Theater,” system. At $699, the Millenia CT’s price alone certainly puts it in the upper-echelon of compact speaker systems. But does it deliver upper-echelon sound? We put the Millenia CT through its paces to find out.
Out of the Box
The Millenia CT system is compact enough to fit inside a single, large but still tote-friendly box, which made unboxing it easy work. Dense packing foam separately clamshells the satellites and subwoofer and ensured all internal pieces arrived unscathed.
Once we un-wrapped the speakers from their protective bags, we couldn’t help but be impressed with their design and build quality. The Millenia’s enclosures looked so smoothly finished, we couldn’t resist running our hands over their flawless, gloss-black paint. Even the sub, painted in a lower-gloss black, was still fondle-worthy, with no flaws to betray the Millenia’s premium price tag.
We also appreciated the finishing quality of the Millenia system’s less visible areas, like the rubberized speaker baffles and the control module’s wraparound, gloss-edge trim.
Other items found inside the box included a card-style remote control, a rubberized plastic subwoofer cradle, all necessary connection cables, rubber footers for the subwoofer, and several owners’ manuals in various languages.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Paradigm’s Millenia CT system is also the most visible: the main satellite speakers. They’re the same high tech, cutting-edge speakers used in Paradigms top of the line Millenia One system which we favorably reviewed. Each one contains a 1-inch tweeter and 4″-inch bass/midrange driver, both of which are satin-anodized and made of pure aluminum.
The enclosures are made of a rigid, anti-resonant, thermoplastic (ABS) material. Paradigm claims the Millenia’s integrated baffle and chassis design allows for larger drivers than typical in speakers of this size. Pedestal stands for the satellite speakers are included and come pre-attached.
The Millenia CT’s subwoofer features a side-mounted, 8˝ reinforced polymer composite bass woofer cone housed in a molded polymer cabinet. The cabinet is said to be anti-resonant and vibration-resistant. Around back is the sub’s analog level control; dual reflex ports reside in the front. The sub also comes with a cradle for vertical positioning and rubber feet for horizontal placement.
But what separates the Millenia CT from more traditional speaker systems is its onboard amplification. The 3-channel, class D amplifier makes its home inside the cabinet and sends 40 watts RMS to each of the speakers and 80 watts RMS to the subwoofer. The built in amplifiers means the Millenia CT can be used in systems where a traditional A/V receiver is neither required nor desired, such as with a computer or Apple-TV-based system. In fact, the Millenia’s controller box is even the same size and shape as the Apple TV. A card-style remote control interfaces with the controller box for power, volume and input adjustments.
We were a bit bummed, however, to notice that the Millenia CT control unit only has two inputs around back: a 3.5mm analog connector and a Toslink/optical jack. We suspect many users will find this adequate, but be prepared to purchase an input selector or other appropriate hardware should your system have more than two sources.
Setting up the Millenia CT was quick and easy. Since the speakers’ pedestal stands come pre-mounted, the only thing left to do was run the wires, tweak each speaker’s position, and fine tune the sub’s level for best integration. We tested the Millenia system with a Samsung BD-C5500 Blu ray Player, Dell Latitude D810 laptop, and a Samsung UN40C6300 LED TV.
We let the system break in for about 20 hours or so before doing any serious listening. But once that was done, we cued up some choice lossless files and the Paradigm Millenia CT immediately filled the room with some of the most naturally refined and distortion-free sound we’d ever heard from a speaker this size. The Millenia’s overall sonic character can be defined by its almost dead-neutral and even-handed tonal balance, with just a bit of warmth through the lower mids and a slight recess in the upper treble.
We cued up that modal jazz tour de force, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and heard a bass-to-treble coherency often missing from other compact speaker systems. There was a highly realistic, un-hyped shimmer and decay to James Cobb’s cymbals, and the Millenia’s slight warmth served to make Bill Evans’ piano sound appropriately rich and woody.
We then fired up Kruder and Dorfmeister’s classic, The K&D Sessions, turned it up to 11, and marveled at the way this little Paradigm system was kicking out jams. Bass was full, deep, and highly articulate, just missing out on the lowest octave. The svelte little CT sub was woofing like a much bigger sub, producing thunderous bass that was completely satisfying in its output and impact.
The Millenia CT’s instrumental separation was also exceptional. This cleanly delineated separation, coupled to a wide open, distortion-free midrange, made for some of the most vivid imaging and soundstaging we’ve experienced yet from a small speaker. Listening to that same K&D album, with Janine Jansen’s Britten violin concerto thrown in for good measure, we could easily hear every instrument within densely-layered tracks, each one retaining the proper perspective within the mix.
We then tried the usual torture-test movies, such as the chase scenes from Casino Royale and The Dark Knight, to see if we could catch out the Millenia CT. Never once did it cry “Uncle!” and always kept its composure regardless of volume.
We were more impressed, however, with how this little system handled sonic nuance. Right from the opening narration scene of Casablanca, the Millenia CT delivered remarkably clean, articulate dialog. Even with this movie’s quick dialog and dense ambient effects, we could easily follow every verbal utterance and inflection. What’s more, we never strained our ears to understand any of it—something many lesser-quality speakers struggle to do even half as well.
Moving back to music in the form of Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple album, we kept the Millenia CT’s volume at full-tilt and the sound always remained clear, wide open and completely free of any audible distortion. And we mean no distortion whatsoever. This was an impressive feat by any measure, and one that made extended listening effortless.
Unfortunately, this distortion-free presentation does come at a price, albeit a minor one—the Millenia CT’s ultimate loudness seemed somewhat limited at times, especially when used in our largest rooms. Occasionally we found ourselves wanting just a bit more volume and impact during those super intense listening sessions.
Dynamics were also a bit restrained overall. The Millenia seemed to ever-so-slightly truncate some of the softest and loudest sounds during some bombastic symphonic music, perhaps as a result of the system’s aforementioned loudness limitations. Still, there should be more than enough dynamic range on tap for all but the most demanding music.
We also found the subwoofer’s level would occasionally max out before the volume does. Keep turning up the system volume with some big-bass music, and eventually the sub will have no more to give while the satellites continue to get louder. We had to really push the Millenia system to make this happen however, and we don’t expect it to be an issue for most users.
It should be obvious by now the Paradigm Millenia CT wowed us big time. Its unique combination of near-flawless neutrality, eminent listenability, and its relaxed yet refined nature gives it a level of sonic goodness seldom heard from any speaker system, let alone one of the Millenia’s size. Add in its receiver-less operability, and you have the perfect, no-holds-barred sound system for your computer or video streaming device. Sure, we would have liked just one more input, and maybe a beefier amp, but these are minor quibbles for such a good-sounding product.
We also recognize that its $699 price tag puts it in some rarified company; but its sound quality puts it in a class of its own. The Paradigm Millenia CT system is, by a good margin, the best self-powered, compact speaker system we’ve heard yet. It truly does deliver upper-echelon sound, and for that reason alone easily earns an Editor’s Choice recommendation. Well done, Paradigm!
- Class-leading sound quality
- Supremely neutral tonal balance
- Relaxed yet refined nature
- Awesome bass from a svelte sub
- Inconspicuously-small form factor
- Only two component inputs hinders flexibility
- Slightly limited dynamics and output capabilities
- Sub output hits volume ceiling before speakers do