Paradigm's Speakers On a Stick

Paradigm Millenia 20 Trio
Yeah, never mind the missing second “n” in Millenia, because Paradigm’s forte is speakers, not spelling. The Millenia 20 Trio ($999) is an odd beast that combines left, right, and center-channel speakers into a single bar-shaped cabinet. Trying to fool your ears into thinking you’ve got separate speakers instead of a one-piece job is usually an exercise in futility, but the Trio is wide enough that it can actually do a pretty bang-up job in small rooms. It helps a lot if your home theater receiver has a decent virtual surround feature, but even if not, paired with a subwoofer the Trio is great for movies in tight (and ultra-hip) spaces.

The Millenia 20 Trio is a very classy looking one-piece speaker with a glossy curved enclosure that’s made of thin extruded aluminum with a smooth painted resin look. The bar-shaped cabinet measures roughly 5.25 by 4.25 by 41 inches and houses a total of nine separate speaker drivers: four 4.5-inch full-range drivers, two 4.5-inch woofers, and three 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters. The whole thing looks pretty impressive with the grille off.

Good speaker placement is key when you’re setting up the 3.5-foot long Trio in your living room. I started out with it sitting on top (crosswise) of my cable box, but it kept almost rolling off, so I attached the feet included in the package, which keep the speaker steady. Ideally you’d have it on top of your TV set or on a wide shelf above it. Keep the back and sides as far from walls or other objects as you can — a good general rule is about 2 feet of space on any side.

The three sets of speaker-connection posts on the back can take regular speaker wire, though crimped-on contacts help a lot. You can also use wires with banana plugs, which are much easier to deal with — you just plug them into the end of the post. The speaker is rated at 8 ohms, so make sure to check your receiver’s power output matches that.

Paradigm intended for people to use the Trio with a subwoofer, which is understandable since the speaker’s largest drivers are only 4.5 inches in diameter — not big enough to produce a serious rumble. So I borrowed a friend’s Bose subwoofer for testing, though I also made sure to check out the speaker’s performance by itself too.

The Fifth Element has some scenes where there’s plenty of action and dialogue going on all at the same time. The Trio adeptly put the dialogue up front so it wasn’t drowned out by the hover-car engines as Bruce Willis ‘s character speeds away from the cops in one of the early scenes. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, swordplay was brought into sharp relief as much as the dialogue, making everything a bit more nerve-tingling. The clarity is impressive, though part of that is due to well-engineered audio mixes on the DVDs.

Surround effects aren’t conveyed as clearly with the Trio (plus subwoofer) as they would be with a full 5.1 setup, but when I turned on my receiver’s virtual surround feature, I got the general idea even if I didn’t duck and cover during shooting- or ninja-heavy scenes.

Music sounds very clear on the Trio, with rich sound from the lower mids up through the highs, but without a subwoofer everything becomes a bit thin. Still, if you’re in a very small space and are concerned about neighbors, you may find that the speaker’s lack of low and mid bass is a good thing. The extra-stiff bass cones manage to pack a good enough punch in the upper bass to give you some idea of what’s happening at the bottom.

I cranked the speaker up loud enough to make me physically uncomfortable (thanks to a pretty powerful receiver), but I didn’t hear any distortion.

As a complement to a full home theater setup, the Trio would fit in best in a smaller room, since you don’t want to be too far away from left and right speakers that are only 3.5 feet