Paradigm is one of Canada's premiere loudspeaker manufacturers, with one of the widest product ranges in the business. Knowing this, I was delighted to have the opportunity to review one of their newest offerings, the Cinema 100 CT (Compact Theater) Speaker System. Retailing for $999, the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT is aimed at the budget-conscious consumer and serves as a starting point for any budding home theater enthusiast. The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT comes with five matching Cinema 100 satellite speakers and one Cinema Sub subwoofer. The Cinema 100 CT system isn't the first of its kind to try to blend affordability with sound quality, but when it comes to Paradigm, the question is never can they pull it off, the question becomes how well they do it.
The Cinema 100 speakers are heavy, and this really shows off the quality that Paradigm puts into even their budget-oriented speakers. The satellites can be wall-mounted with the included wall brackets (screws not provided) or as bookshelf speakers by using the included table stands. Paradigm does offer floor stands for the satellite speakers, but those are sold separately. The satellite speakers themselves are a little over eight inches high by close to five inches wide and almost seven inches deep. The Cinema 100 satellites weigh in at four pounds each, which is hefty given their compact construction. Their size and finish (gloss black) allows them to blend into the décor, which scores high with the wife acceptance factor. These satellite speakers really get out of the way of the décor and do not muddy up the house by looking too boxy or drab. Actually, the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT is very sleek and modern in its design. The grille covers are magnetic, making removal easy if you wish to show the silver drivers off to friends or prefer the sound of the satellites sans grilles. The Cinema 100 has a reported on-axis frequency of 125Hz to 20kHz and 30-degree off-axis from 125 Hz to 15 kHz. The Cinema 100 satellite is comprised of two drivers, two-way acoustic suspension, mineral-filled polymer enclosure and impedance compatible with eight ohms. The sensitivity for room/anechoic is 88dB/85dB and they can be driven by as little as 15 to 100 watts, with a maximum input power of 50 watts, so this will allow you to use just about any amplifier or receiver on the market.
The powered Cinema Sub has an eight-inch driver and comes with a dual ported design. The Cinema Sub has a reported cutoff frequency response of 35 Hz to 150 Hz and a bypass option with a low-frequency extension of 32 Hz. The subwoofer's amplifier output is 300 watts of dynamic peak power and 100 watts RMS sustained. The Cinema Sub also has a satellite/subwoofer variable phase switch of 0/180 degrees. The Cinema subwoofer has RCA line level inputs consisting of mono, stereo and low-frequency extension. The subwoofer weighs close to 21.5 pounds. The Cinema Sub measures nearly 14 inches high by almost 13 inches deep and wide. The Cinema Sub is finished in gloss black, like the matching satellite speakers, making for a complete ensemble when all six speakers are installed in the same room. A nice feature of the sub, thanks to its finish, is that it can be reconfigured so that its gloss black end caps rest on either the top or to the sides, depending on how you set it up. Either way, how you choose to configure the Cinema Sub shouldn't have a dramatic effect on its overall sound quality. The Cinema Sub is eco-friendly and consumes less than half a watt while in standby; Paradigm does this by allowing the internal amplifier to be left on full-time or set to power up when it senses an input signal, making this subwoofer a "green," low-frequency machine.
The system arrived in a slightly bruised and battered box from a traditional courier, but the contents survived their journey unharmed, which illustrates how well Paradigm packages their products. The Paradigm Cinema 100 satellite speakers are wrapped in soft, cloth-like material that keeps them safe and clean, not to mention improving the pride of ownership factor.
The speakers have push-through binding posts with Easy-Glide Channels that are equipped to handle pin connectors or bare speaker wire. Unfortunately, I was not able to use any of my cables, banana or spade-terminated, and the binding posts weren't able to handle the raw 12-gauge cable I had on hand, partly due to the angle at which the cable must be inserted in the binding posts. With some slight modifications, I ended up stripping some of the copper strands away in order to fit the raw speaker cable into the push-through binding posts. A word to the wise: if you are going to use bare speaker wire, using a higher-gauge speaker cable will make things much easier, provided you don't choose a cable too thick. You should also allow for maximum sound transmission, not to mention more controlled bass.
I set the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT system up in my medium-sized media room, using my Emotiva UMC-1 processor and Emotiva XPA-5 multi-channel amplifier. I used Blue Jeans Cable LC-1 for interconnects and speaker cable for my entire system. The sources used were my MacBook Pro, Sony PS3, XBOX 360 and DirecTV HDR. They remained the same during the entire review period. I let everything marinate for about a week before I did any critical listening.
The satellites sounded great and detailed, although they definitely need a subwoofer to get close to full-range sound. There were only a few times I had to increase the volume on the center channel speaker, because I just couldn't make out the dialogue as well as I normally could, though most of this issue was typically when watching normal television. Music was fairly rich, albeit not quite floor-standing full-range, when all the satellites and subwoofer were engaged. The Cinema 100 satellites' low-end frequency response only goes to 125Hz and the Cinema Sub goes up to 150Hz, which doesn't give you many crossover options.
Read more about the performance of the Paradigm Cinem 100 CT on Page 2.
After toying with the crossover settings, I chose to cross over the satellites and subwoofer at 135Hz, which to my ears was the right setting. I personally prefer to overlap, especially with satellites, so they don't have to do much work with the low-end frequency. The Cinema Sub is quite capable in handling the bass. There were times when I could detect the subwoofer crossing over with satellites, but for the vast majority of my listening, the sound was full bodied and plush and the crossover was undetectable. The Cinema 100 satellites never sounded restricted or insignificant and the dialogue and vocals were vivid and lifelike. The soundstage provided was accurate and expansive. The Cinema 100 satellites have a fantastic midrange and really shine there.
After getting these set up, I decided to do some two-channel listening with Mark Knopfler's Sailing to Philadelphia (Warner). I love two-channel audio so, when given the chance, I like to test out how speakers sound in that realm. In this case, the guitar was clear and realistic and the imaging was spot on, not bad for two little satellites and a subwoofer. I ended my listening session with the Allman Brothers Band's A Decade of Hits 1969 - 1979 (Polygram Records Inc). The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT has a smooth midrange, accurate and quite fluid in its sound, allowing you to really hear and locate all of the instruments, without highlighting speaker locations. The Cinema Sub 100 is a fast subwoofer and did a wonderful job of keeping up with music.
After listening in two-channel sound, I decided to watch Gladiator (Paramount) in Blu-ray, for it comes with a beautifully mastered DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Also, this movie has a ton of action scenes that will push and test any home theater system. The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT did not disappoint, handling the loud and bass-heavy coliseum scenes with aplomb. My partner really enjoyed the soundstage placement, which puts you right in the middle of the action. During the scenes in the coliseum, where chained tigers surround Russell Crowe and his adversary, you can pinpoint the location of the animals behind our hero, allowing you to hear their metal restraints moving in the background.
Up next on Blu-ray, I watched the highly acclaimed television series Battlestar Galactica (SyFy), which I absolutely love. I decided to watch the pilot episode because of the explosion-heavy scenes and initial fights for survival when the Cylons attack. Also, this series has lots of dialogue, so it's a good test of how voices sound. The sound of the Vipers fighting off the Cylon Raiders in outer space made me feel like I was out there with them. The dialogue was crisp and clear. The little satellites and subwoofer showed off their prowess in my media room by shaking the place with forceful low-end sound, creating a dynamic soundstage in 5.1 audio.
After the Paradigms did such a great job with Battlestar Galactica, I decided to watch The Dark Knight (Warner) on Blu-ray. Instantly, I was submerged in a soundtrack that was brought to life vividly by the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT, with Batman dispatching villains and Rottweilers. Later on, the Joker, played by Heath Ledger, has many scenes with great dialogue/monologues, allowing you to hear him accurately with a quite natural-sounding voice. The Dark Knight is a movie filled with quick-moving fight scenes and some pretty radical vehicular chases that are great for testing a home theater system. The Cinema Sub handled the explosions with ease and I really enjoyed the deep bass. The Cinema Sub didn't overdo it or drown out the Cinema 100 satellites, for the Cinema Sub is a perfect match and compliment to the other elements in the sound system. The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT was never bloated or excessive in its presentation.
I was having so much fun with the surround sound experience provided by Paradigm that I decided to watch another Blu-ray movie. This time, it was Avatar (20th Century Fox), which is a visual treat on my 58-inch Samsung plasma. The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT system was able to show off its ability to reproduce little details in sound that added to the immersion and experience, such as the Viperwolves off in the distance. As soon as you land on Pandora, the jungle comes alive in your living room and you feel like one of the Na'vi natives of the planet. You can hear the arrows flying by your head, while the sound of the Great Leonopteryx's wings flapping creates a surround sound whoosh-whoosh that is terrifyingly real and engulfing, almost like it is right above you. The last fight features all the animals native to Pandora stampeding, which can create some problems with a garbling of sound, but the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT accurately reproduced the hoof beats, while the audio trampling of trees and branches was lifelike.
After indulging in music and cinema, I decided to pop in a video game, Gears of War 3 (Microsoft Studios/Epic Games), for Xbox 360. Once again, the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT satellites really shone through with the imaging, for I could easily pick out the direction of the bullets whizzing by. I could also make out the direction of enemies in the game. What a great gaming experience the Cinema 100 and Cinema Sub provided. The bass was deep, tight and had great low-end extension. The Cinema Sub really shook the room and provided a lot of weight for an eight-inch driver. Keep in mind that the subwoofer did not overwhelm the satellites or dialogue. The performance of the sub opposed its size and the Cinema Sub retained great low-end definition.
The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT system excelled by creating an expansive and multi-dimensional experience that would not relent in home theater or music duty.
The satellite sound was clean, clear and crisp, with a great soundstage. As hard as I pushed the satellites and subwoofer, I didn't get any distortion or low-end roll-off. The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT has managed to provide almost a full-range experience.
Honestly, I feel bad nitpicking, since reviewing the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT was such a treat. Although the Cinema Sub whooped some serious audio butt in my home setup, some of you bass-heads may want a bigger subwoofer for a larger room. Don't fret, for Paradigm has several subwoofer options in their stable, such as the Studio Series Sub 12, 15 and the Millenia if you want to make the earth move a wee bit more.
Although the Cinema 100 satellites do a good job of blending in with their surroundings, it would be nice to have more finish options available.
Lastly, the binding posts really require 14- to 16-gauge bare speaker cable or pin connectors, due to the angle at which you must insert the speaker cable. Thankfully, either speaker cable option won't break the bank, as you can purchase spools of the stuff at your local hardware store for pennies a foot.
Competition and Comparison
There is some stiff competition in the 5.1 small satellite and subwoofer genre, such as the Orb Audio Mod1 Home Theater Speaker System at $798, which is the closest in price to the Paradigm, but the speakers are smaller overall, with only a single three-inch driver, as opposed to the two that are found in the Cinema 100 satellites. After that, the prices start to go up, with the likes of Definitive Technology ProCinema 1000 system at $1,595 and the Polk RM95-DSW Pro 400 at $1,225.
Some other competitors out there are Cambridge Audio Minx S325 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System at $1,399, but it's a smaller speaker and Focal's Dôme 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System, which at $2,595 is two-and-a-half times the cost, albeit for a larger overall system.
For more on these speaker systems and others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Bookshelf Speaker Review page.
The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT system is a wonderful-sounding achievement that also looks good and is friendly on your wallet at just under $1,000. You are going to have to spend significantly more to best them if you're shopping for a complete 5.1 speaker system package. The Cinema 100 is more than capable in small to medium rooms, but what sets it apart is how comfortable the system is with music. Don't discount movies and gaming, though, for the Cinema 100 is exceptional in those arenas, too. Furthermore, the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT is extremely forgiving of sources and source material, which means it doesn't need the highest level of separates to perform at its best. All of these factors make the Cinema CT a well-balanced 5.1 system for any occasion.