Paradigm System Two Home-Theater Loudspeaker System
Audiophiles always love to fixate on the really expensive stuff, no matter how impractical it is. Reviewers are particularly bad in this regard. Big, clunky, and (for many people) totally unaffordable -- most likely these are the real lures among the reviewing crowd.
Paradigms System Two is the perfect answer for people who dont have an infinite budget, or perhaps could have the budget but simply dont want to allot a large amount of money to home theater. Its also the perfect system for a reviewer who loves to find great-sounding gems in the low-priced crowd.
The System Two consists of the Atom loudspeakers used for mains ($189 per pair), CC-170 center channel ($199), ADP-170 surrounds ($399 per pair), and PDR-10 subwoofer ($349). All tallied up, the total price is $1136. This doesnt include stands and cables, of course. All speakers are of fairly high efficiency, so most average-powered receivers will have no trouble cranking it all up to reasonable volumes. As an added bonus, all the loudspeakers are pretty small and, therefore, quite easy to place in your living/listening room.
I set up the entire system in my 14 x 16 room. In this space, which I consider moderately sized, I found the speakers to have sufficient output for listening at slightly louder than reasonable levels. Because the speakers are small, they accented more than detracted from the aesthetic of the room. Overall fit, finish, and appearance are good for all pieces. In fact, many people (particularly women) found this system to be more attractive than some much bigger and more poshly finished goods. The subwoofer and the Atom speakers are available in light cherry, black-ash, and Rosenut vinyl, wood-like veneers. I think dark cherry looks best. On the other hand, the ADP-170 is available in matte black and white, while the CC-170 is only available in matte black. While I first I thought this to be odd, black is probably the only color youll really want for them because the CC-170 sits atop the TV (and blends in quite nicely) and the ADP-170s sit off to the side, probably back a bit (and can even be mounted on the wall with small brackets that are included).
The biggest speaker in the bunch is the PDR-10 subwoofer (if you want something a wee-bit smaller, there is also a PDR-8). Still, its only of average size for a subwoofer and reasonably lightweight, so it is easy to pick up and move around in order to find an inconspicuous, good-sounding space. I ended up adjusting its crossover to about 80Hz and placing it off to the right side of my room.
All speakers are pretty standard in terms of their general operation. The Atoms are two-way bookshelf monitors that earned our Reviewers Choice rating for a combination of outstanding value and sound. The CC-170 is a traditional-looking center-channel speaker with two woofers, each aside the central tweeter. The PDR-10 is a self-powered subwoofer with a 10" driver blowing low notes out the front. Its designed to give reasonably deep bass for its price point -- Paradigm rates it down to 27Hz. Finally, the innovative ADP-170s are a combination dipole/bipole design. What happens is that above their non-switchable crossover point (150 to 200Hz) they operate as a dipole -- the drivers on opposite sides of the cabinet work out of phase. The company believes this gives a more spacious sound, which is generally what one wants for rear-channel speakers. Below that threshold the drivers all operate in phase. In this bipole mode the speaker gives better bass extension. Of course, despite all the technical details this operation is all transparent to the user. Set 'em up and don't worry about a thing.
Sound and performace
I played every type of movie on this little Paradigm system. There was the standard demo material -- Titanic, The Matrix, Contact -- and there were countless others. As a system, it never failed to impress me. Certainly it has output limits -- bass only goes so deep and ultimate volume levels are only so loud -- but as a whole, meaning as a complete system, it is tight, integrated, well matched, and balanced. Not surprising given the fine level of performance of the Atoms, it plays music well too. Sessions on West 54th is rendered with good clarity, spot-on tonality, and room-filling ambiance.
While I tend to shy away from movies for purely video and sound-effect reasons (the lousy Lost in Space, for example), there is a place for this type of stuff in a reviewers collection. Whenever people want to discover what the system can do (meaning, if it plays LOUD), I pull out Desperado and cue up the "Bar fight massacre" chapter. Desperado is not quite reference level compared to the very best DVDs, but it's close and fabulous for testing a systems resolution, tonal balance, and, of course, output capability. Granted, its not easy viewing for those who dont like violence in movies, but for those who like this genre, give it a try (or simply listen and dont watch the screen).
There is plenty of detail in Desperado. Listen closely to Banderas voice -- does it sound real and fleshed out? Listen to the subtle cues, room ambiance, clink of the guns, and all the other wonderful things thrown into the mix. These things should all be easily audible, cleanly rendered and room-filling. Director Richard Rodriquez includes music alongside almost all the action scenes. Listen closely to see how well your system handles not just the sounds, but the songs too. Does it play music? This system does. Finally, listen to the bass. Its a warm, reverberant, full-bodied mix. There are also plenty of bodies being thrown around that land in the front and the back. They hit with such a thud that it will test your systems overall output capability, all around.
This disc told me a lot about the capabilities of the Paradigm system, as
Tonal balance is outstanding, an area where I notice that Paradigm speakers always
excel -- they have a slightly warm, full-sounding, and vibrant character that's very
natural. Vocals, in particular, have good clarity, and most importantly, the warmth and
weight that make them sound real. It is here that the System Two, used within its
performance limits, sounds like a much more expensive system. Paradigm gets the sound of
their speakers right, with only minimal compromises. Finally, bass performance is deep and
very fleshed out. I would say that the PDR-10 leans a little more to the warmer than
tighter side of things. Something like NSM's EXP subwoofer I reviewed a month back has a
bit more firmness, but is not quite as room-filling. Some will definitely like PDR-10
because it makes the bass sound more fleshed out, while others may want just a tad more
wallop instead of the bloom. It's a matter of choice.
Paradigms ability to make superb-sounding inexpensive speakers is astounding, and these qualities extend to their System Two loudspeaker system. For just a smidgen over a kilobuck, you get a well-built, tonally matched loudspeaker system that is ideal for small to medium-sized rooms.
For people on a budget, the System Two more or less becomes a no-brainer purchase because it packs so much value and performance at such a low cost. And for people who dont yet have a home-theater system and want to test what its all about, the System Two is a way to dip your feet in the water for less money than you may think and get a flavor for movies at home. And for people with big budgets and really large rooms, I have no doubt that you can achieve better and louder sound for more money (right in Paradigms own line, in fact). However, youll still be more than impressed with what the System Two offers here. Anyway you look at it, for a multichannel home-theater speaker system, Paradigms System Two is a superb combination of performance and value in a reasonably small package.
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