We replaced our decade-old Panasonic plasma television with a Sony OLED about a year ago. The industrial design of the Sony is a lot sleeker and made the separate wall-mounted LCR speakers around the television look a bit clunky. Of course, one solution would have been to replace those old LCRs with any number of gorgeous passive soundbars on the market, but I was really looking for something that would wrap around the television in a "U" shape and hide the mounting holes from the old speakers.
I came across the Paradigm's Décor line in my search for a new solution. One thing in particular that stood out to me about the line was the ability to customize the speaker configuration. The Décor line starts with six models with between one and three channels per cabinet. There's a mono soundbar/center channel; a stereo soundbar; an LCR soundbar; a pair of vertical stereo speakers; a pair of vertical L and R speakers with a dedicated center channel incorporated; and the configuration I tested, which is a center channel soundbar with a pair of vertical speakers for the left and right channels.
All of the Décor variants share common attributes. Paradigm's one-inch, aluminum X-PAL tweeters and 4.5-inch aluminum cone midrange drivers are used in each model. Most models have one tweeter and two midrange drivers per channel, with the exception being the Décor 2SC, which uses an extra tweeter and midrange driver in each of the L/R stereo cabinets to create the center channel. The X-PAL tweeters are placed behind Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) lenses that not only protect the dome drivers but are also said to act as phase plugs, which boost output while blocking out-of-phase frequencies for a "smoother, extended high frequency response with incredible detail." The bass/midrange driver features a specially designed motor structure designed to fit into a shallow cabinet. Extruded aluminum heatsinks help drain heat away from the 1.5-inch voice coil.
The Décor speakers all use a 2.06-inch-deep, extruded, anodized aluminum cabinet that is cut to order at the exact length needed. The back of the cabinet has an integrated wire management channel and recessed connection terminals to make for neat, low-profile mounting. Each aluminum cabinet has a vinyl-wrapped, MDF front baffle to provide a stable, inert mounting plate for the aforementioned driver arrays. The whole package is topped off with a hand-stretched grille. If your particular television has a bump out as a design detail or for an IR sensor, Paradigm will custom contour the grille for a perfect match. All of the models in the Décor series have the same specifications. The stated frequency range is 140Hz-21kHz +/- 3dB; in-room sensitivity is rated at 92 dB (one watt/one meter), and impedance is listed as "compatible with 8 ohms."
The Décor series ranges in price from $1,499 for the Décor 1C center channel to $3,998 for the Décor 2S/1C, three-piece stereo plus center. This price includes fixed wall mounts. Articulating wall mounts and television brackets are also available. The mounting option I selected was the television bracket system so the speakers would move with the television.
The Décor series are all custom built to order. To get started you go to the Décor Custom Collection page on the Paradigm website, choose the configuration you want, then select your television from an extensive dropdown list. For now, the available models include a wide range of offerings from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Sunbrite, but don't worry if have another brand of TV; there is a way to enter the dimensions of your television manually, as long as it's not curved. The whole ordering process can be completed by you or your Paradigm dealer in just a few minutes.
Once the order is placed, Paradigm will ship your custom speakers to you in three days. I have ordered many non-custom, in stock speakers that do not ship any faster, and some much slower than this. Granted, if you order a custom grille, the speaker build time is increased by two to three weeks, but that's still pretty fast for a custom-built speaker.
When the speakers arrived, I called my local custom installer as I did not feel comfortable taking my 65-inch Sony XBR65A1E OLED television down from the wall by myself. Once the guys from the installer had my television off the wall, they carefully placed it face down and removed the mounting brackets. The Paradigm Décor mounting brackets were installed between the television and the wall mount, adding about 1.5 inches of depth. The twin parallel bars of the Décor mount extended past each side and the bottom edge of the television and attached to the speakers. Adjustments on the mounting brackets allow the speakers to be adjusted to make them perfectly flush with the television. The television and speakers were then re-hung on the television mount and the speaker cables connected.
The speakers were driven by my Denon AVR-X4400H, which was fed by my Oppo UDP-203 and a DirecTV receiver. While I used my Bowers & Wilkins ceiling speakers as surround and height channels, Paradigm notes that their Millenia and Custom Install lines of speakers are a good match. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with those speaker lines, but will be doing a review shortly on the pair of Paradigm Defiance V10s that filled out the bottom end of this system.
Once everything was hooked up, I ran Audyssey on the Denon. The initial results were fine, but I found myself making some tweaks to the response curve on the Audyssey MultEQ app after a couple of days of listening. I bumped up the response a bit on the high end and began fiddling with the integration between the Décor speakers and the subwoofers. The relatively limited low frequency extension of the Décor speakers makes a proper integration with any subwoofer(s) important.
The first few days after having the Décor speakers installed, my family primarily used them for watching television and background music. As these speakers are designed to accompany a television, I will start my discussion with television audio. My family has the same KTLA news on just about every day so the voices and musical cues are extremely familiar to us. I am happy to say that the voices were instantly familiar, clear, and distinct from a multitude of on- and off-axis listening positions. The deeper vocals in the lower midrange area were a bit challenging, as they were being reproduced by both the Décor speakers and the subwoofers. This caused these deeper vocals to be less distinct. It took me a little while of making adjustments, but with careful tuning of the crossover points and levels I was able to clean this up.
As I suspect with most families, the living room television gets lots of use, for a variety of sitcoms, sports, and drama, as well as movies. With the recent Stanley Cup Finals, the Décor system did a good job with clearly reproducing all the sounds, from the ice to the fast-paced announcing during the more exciting portions of the game. I was also able to clearly understand what profanities the Blues were favoring as they hoisted to the Stanley Cup after their game seven victory. We also watched a selection of prime-time drama/action, shows such as NCIS, SWAT, etc., which have a bit more in the way of dynamic soundtracks than the morning news.
Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, is one of the movies we watched both before and after tweaking the Audyssey settings, and this UHD Blu-ray in particular provided the speakers with a true workout. Prior to tweaking the settings, the music was fine and dynamics were good, but the soundstage was on smaller side. Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, was hard to understand at times, as if he was mumbling. This may be due to the thickened mid-bass at the crossover area, but this was the only voice and only movie that I noticed this issue with. We watched the movie again after making some adjustments, and the second time Malek's vocals were noticeably clearer, and the "polite" character of the speakers became a bit more forward, providing more edge on the electric guitars and detail throughout, without any harshness. I also noticed a slight expansion and even more detail in the soundstage, with more texture in the individual instruments. Needless to say, I left the revised EQ / speaker setup in place.
My son was watching The Terminator on Blu-ray one weekend, so I sat down and watched it with him for a little while. The Décor system did a really nice job with all voices, including Schwarzenegger's iconic "I'll be back" line. The crashes and explosions were dynamic and clear at all reasonable volumes. When I pushed the volume up past what I found to be comfortable in our mid-sized living room, the Décor speakers began to run out of steam a little bit. The change was gracious, with no hard bottoming out, but the dynamic range compressed noticeably. After all, even the best-designed on-wall soundbars can only do so much in terms of total volume output.
I thought that "Variations" by Submotion Orchestra from the album Kites (Tidal Hi-Fi, Smo Recordings) would be a demanding test for the Décor speakers, so I cued it up next. The track starts out with piano notes and ambient noise in a large soundstage, followed by a female vocals and deep synthesized bass. The vocals were solidly positioned slightly past the pane of the television. As with any smaller satellite with a separate subwoofer, I was concerned that the Décor speakers would not integrate smoothly, but the Décor / Defiance combination delivered fantastically. I had similar results with Lil Nas X's single "Old Town Road" (Tidal Hi-Fi, Columbia), which features vocals from both Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. Both sets of vocals were clear and natural sounding. The vocals integrated well with the guitar and bass lines.
Wrapping up with an MTV classic--Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" from Brothers in Arms (Tidal Hi-Fi, Warner) is another track that can be challenging for a smaller speaker system, and again the Décor speakers pulled through quite nicely. The drums in the opening riff imaged properly in the soundstage, despite being at the low end of the Décor speakers' range, while the electric guitars had plenty energy and dynamics on the other end. Of course, the vocals of Mark Knopfler and Sting are instantly recognizable and familiar to most, making it easy to hear if something is not quite right. Thankfully, the Décor speakers had nothing to worry about in this department.
Throughout my listening sessions, with both music and movies, I noted that I had to turn the volume up more than with my prior speakers, despite the Paradigms having supposedly higher sensitivity. While this was not a problem for my mid-power receiver, it is something to keep in mind if you have more anemic amps. However, given that the Décor speakers are a higher-end, custom-ordered speaker, I would be surprised to find them paired with an amplifier that could not provide ample power to drive them.
Last but not least, the Paradigm Décor speakers were significantly slimmer than my prior on-wall speakers, and their integration with the television greatly improved the aesthetics. More than one guest noticed the speakers and commented on how clean and neat the system looked and isn't that one of the main reasons why one would buy a higher end soundbar system?
Competition and Comparison
There is not much in the way of competition for the Décor speaker system. The one system that comes to mind are the custom Horizon soundbars by Leon Speakers. I have not had the opportunity to listen to their current offerings, but I am told they are massively improved from past products that I've heard at long-ago CEDIAs.
Triad also has an extensive on-wall lineup, including everything from one-channel LCRs to in-corner surrounds and on-wall surrounds with dipole configuration, with custom sizing and finishes available.
While not a true custom soundbar, the Sonance SB46 soundbars are an LCR design and come in four sizes, with adjustable grilles that can be tweaked to perfectly match the width of your display. The Sonance soundbars cost $1,750 or $2,000, depending on size.
The slim cabinets of the Décor speakers contribute to a more limited low frequency extension. These size limitations apply to nearly all of the smaller satellite systems and can mostly negated with careful setup, but it takes some effort.
Another double-edge sword to consider is that the speakers are custom-made to fit your television. I normally keep my televisions for quite a while, but if your television dies or if you update your display on a frequent basis, that could severely shorten the lifespan of your custom speaker system.
The Paradigm Décor system provides listeners with lots of configuration options to suit a wide variety of needs. The build quality, fit, and finish are good, providing for a precision fit with the television specified by the listener during the ordering process. This system is a great option for those seeking a speaker system that sounds good and will look great around your television.
Our system is mounted in our living room where everyone who visits our house sees it. Understandably, there is a great demand for a good looking, low profile system, and the Paradigm Décor system does that. While some, perhaps many, would be happy with good looks alone, I suspect most readers of this publication will also demand a system that provides solid audio performance, and the Décor delivers in this regard as well.
I think a Paradigm Décor soundbar will be on my short list of speakers when we replace our bedroom television. The low profile and good aesthetics will keep my wife happy, and the sound quality will keep me happy when listening to music or watching television. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.