Paradigm SE Series Home Theater Speaker System - Review

Introduction the Paradigm SE Home Theater System System

Paradigm SE Series Speaker System - Front View Grills On and Off
Paradigm SE Series Speaker System - Front View Grills On and Off. Robert Silva

Finding a home theater speaker system that sounds great, looks great with your home decor, and is priced right, is not always easy. If you are looking for new set of loudspeakers for your home theater, check out the stylish and great sounding Paradigm SE Home Theater Speaker System. The system consists of an SE center channel speaker, four SE-1 compact bookshelf speakers for left and right front and surrounds, and an SE 300 watt powered subwoofer. After reading the following review, also check out my Photo Gallery for an additional close-up look at this speaker system.

Product Overview - SE Center Channel Speaker

1. Speaker Complement: Four Drivers/3 Way Bass Reflex Design. Woofers - (2) 5 1/2-inch polypropylene, Midrange - (1) 3 1/2 in aluminum cone, Tweeter - (1) 1 in. titanium dome. 2 rear ports for added bass extension.

2. Frequency Response: ±2 dB from 75 Hz - 20 kHz (on axis), ±2 dB from 75 Hz - 17 kHz (off axis). On-axis refers to listening position directly facing speaker, off-axis refers to listening position + or - 30 degrees to either side or above/below the speaker.

3. Sensitivity: 88db (represents how loud the speaker is at a distance of one meter with an input of one watt).

4. Impedance: 8 ohms.

5. Power Handling: 15 -130 watts, maximum continuous input power: 100 watts

6. Crossover Frequency: Bass to Midrange: 300 Hz, Midrange to Tweeter: 2.1 kHz.

7. Dimensions: (HWD) 7 in x 17-1/2 in x 9-1/2 in (17.8 cm x 44.5 cm x 24.1 cm).

8. Weight: 20.7 lb/9.4 Kg each

9. Finish: Rosenut, Black Gloss

10. Installation Options Can be mounted on optional stand.

11. Suggested Price: $599.

Product Overview - Paradigm SE-1 Compact Bookshelf Speaker (mains and surrounds)

1. Drivers: Two Drivers/2-Way Bass Reflex Design. Bass/Midrange: (5 1/2 in) S-PAL satin anodized pure-aluminum cone. Tweeter: 25-mm (1 in) G-PAL dome, ferro-fluid damped/cooled. Rear mounted port for added bass extension.

2. Frequency Response: ±2 dB from 70 Hz - 20 kHz (on axis), ±2 dB from 70 Hz - 15 kHz (at 30 degrees off axis). On-axis refers to listening position directly facing speaker, off-axis refers to listening position + or - 30 degrees to either side or above/below the speaker.

3.Sensitivity: 85db (represents how loud the speaker is at a distance of one meter with an input of one watt).

4. Impedance: 8 ohms.

5. Power Handling: 15 to 200 watts, maximum continuous input power: 75 watts.

6. Crossover Frequency: 2.0 kHz

7. Dimensions: (HWD) 11 in x 6-1/2 in x 8-1/2 in (27.9 cm x 16.5 cm x 21.6 cm).

8. Weight: 12.9 lbs/5.9 kg.

9. Finish: Rosenut, Black Gloss.

10. Installation Options Can be mounted on optional stand.

11. Suggested Price: $349 (each).

Product Overview - Paradigm SE Powered Subwoofer

1. Driver: 10-inch Diameter, Downfiring, enclosed box design.

2. Frequency Response: 35 Hz - 150 Hz, Low Frequency Extension down to 24 Hz.

3. Phase: 0 or 180 degrees - continuously adjustable (synchronizes in-out motion of sub speaker with in-out motion of other speakers in system).

4. Amplifier Power Output: 300 watts RMS (continuous power output capability), 900 watts Dynamic Peak/

5. Crossover Frequency (frequencies below this point are passed to the subwoofer): Variable 35 Hz - 150 Hz (continuously variable), Bypass mode.

6. Power On/Off: Always on - Standby mode.

7. Dimensions: (HWD) 11-7/16 in x 11 in x 11 in (29.1 cm x 27.9 cm x 27.9 cm)

8. Weight: 14.1 lb/6.4 kg

9. Connections: RCA Line inputs (stereo or LFE).

10. Available Finishes: Rosenut, Black Gloss

11. Suggested Price: $799.

Product Overview - PBK-1 Perfect Bass Kit

The Paradigm PBK Perfect Bass Kit was also provided for this review.

The PBK-1 works by having your PC or Laptop send a series of test signals to the subwoofer via a USB connection. As the test signals are generated by the subwoofer and fill the room, they are picked up by the microphone, which, in turn, sends the signal back to the PC via a second USB connection.

Once a series of test signals is collected by the PC, the software calculates the results and matches the results against a reference curve. The software then corrects the subwoofer's response that is affected by room characteristics to more closely match the reference curve, thus optimizing subwoofer performance as much as possible for your specific listening space, correcting for the negative effects that the room adds to the mix.

Once this process is completed, results are displayed in graph form which can be saved in your PC for future reference.

It is also important to note that this process should be completed before connecting the subwoofer to a home theater system. Make further adjustments either by an equalization/room correction system or via manual tweaking using your ear or a sound meter.

Suggested Price for the PBK-1: $299.

For a visual look at the PBK-1, check out my supplementary photo.

Audio Performance: SE Center Channel Speaker

The SE center channel speaker produced very good dialog and vocal presence and blended will with the rest of the system. Good examples of mid-range vocal reproduction was on Norah Jones distinctive rendition of Don't Know Why, the Dave Matthews/Blue Man Group's Sing Along, and Al Stewart's natural sounding vocal on The Immelman Turn. The SE Center is a solid performing center channel speaker with regards to dialog and vocals. There is just a slight roll off in the high frequency range.

Audio Performance: SE-1 Satellite Bookshelf Speakers

The SE-1 bookshelf speakers, which were used as both left and right mains and surrounds, performed their job well. Although more compact than the center channel speaker, they held their own in projecting sound for both front and surround tasks, and balanced well with both the SE center speaker and the SE subwoofer.

The SE-1's did a great job with surround effects in several notable with movie scenes, such as the first battle scene from Master and Commander where you could actually hear the fine, almost individual, detail of flying wood splinters as the cannonballs ripped apart the ship's deck. With many speakers, the flying wood splinters are just a mesh of sound. Other surround effects scenes that showed off the capabilities of the SE-1's were the arrow assault scene in Hero, the echo game scene from House of the Flying Daggers.

In addition, the SE-1's provided very good surround sound results from music sources, such as the SACD version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the DVD-Audio version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (From A Night at the Opera).

Audio Performance - SE Powered Subwoofer

The SE Sub is an excellent match for the system. With its 10-inch downfiring driver, the subwoofer provided very good low-end response, as well good low-frequency transition from the mid-range and high-frequency response of the SE Center and SE-1's. The bass was deep, tight, and detailed, and complemented both music and movie tracks appropriately, providing excellent bass effect, without being boomy.

In two tests, the SE Sub performed well, with only a slight drop-off in the extreme low end with Heart's Magic Man, and Sade's bass heavy Soldier of Love both of which are examples of extreme low-frequency bass not typical in most music performances. The SE Sub dropped off slightly in the extreme low frequencies a little faster than the Klipsch Sub10, one of the subwoofers I used for comparison, which is also a 10-inch downfiring sub in a much larger cabinet, with a rear facing port for additional bass extension.

That being said, the SE Sub served very well on many other recordings. My overall impression of the bass response of the SE Sub, based on its design and power output, is that it not only did it provide a very satisfying subwoofer experience with both music and movie content but that its impressive bass was coming from such a small cabinet footprint. This little sub can move a lot of air.

What I Liked

1. Overall system sound is very good with both movie and music content.

2. SE center channel speaker delivers excellent vocal presence and detail when properly placed. SE Center products very fine midrange detail and depth, especially capturing the breathiness present in some vocals (such as Norah Jones vocal "Come Away With Me").

3. The SE-1 satellite bookshelf speakers provide excellent all-around performance in both main and surround configurations. The SE-1's project a much larger sound image that their size would indicate, which is perfect for surround sound listening.

4. SE Sub provides excellent, tight, deep bass response, especially considering its size.

5. Very smooth transition and blending between the Subwoofer and rest of system.

6. The SE Center and SE-1 Speakers can be either bookshelf or stand mounted.

What I Didn't Like

1. Although the SE Center and SE-1's produced excellent midrange and overall sonic depth and detail, the very high frequencies can sound a little subdued.

2. The SE Sub rolls off slightly at the lowest frequencies, but more than holds it own with other subs of its size and even some that are larger.

3. The SE Sub, when plugged in, is always in standby mode. There is no master on/off power switch. If you are leaving on a vacation, unplug the SE Sub from its AC power source.

4. The magnetically attached speaker grills can slide off easily when picking up or moving the speakers. Do not put any weight or side pressure on the speaker grills.

Final Take

As mentioned in my introduction, balancing style, sound quality, and price is not easy when choosing a home theater speaker package. The Paradigm SE Series Bookshelf Home Theater Speaker System definitely satisfies in the style and sound quality department, there is little to criticize those two points.

However, the Paradigm SE system is not something you will find at a big-box store at a bargain price or on sale. The cost of the entire system(including the bass tuning kit) totals $3,093.00. This may seem expensive for some, but when you consider how well this system performs, you will find it hard to find something in this price range and lower that sounds as good and, in fact, may even put the brakes on those who think they need to spend more on a speaker system to access the equivalent of the SE Series' performance.

There is not much to complain about the Paradigm SE Series speaker system that is the subject of this review. Are there better speaker systems? Yes, of course, but you may end up spending a lot more money for just a small degree of improvement. Paradigm has put together the right combination of style, performance, and price to make this package a good choice for a quality home theater speaker system that also does well with straight music listening.

For a visual look and additional perspective on the Paradigm SE speaker system discussed in this review, check out my supplementary Photo Gallery.

NOTE: After a successful production run, Paradigm has discontinued the SE Series speaker system. For more current product offerings from Paradigm, check out their official website. Also, for additional home theater speaker system alternatives, refer to my periodically updated listing of Home Theater Speaker Systems

Additional Hardware Used in This Review

Home Theater Receivers: Onkyo TX-SR705, and Harman Kardon AVR147.

DVD player: Oppo Digital DV-980H.

Blu-ray Disc Players: OPPO Digital BDP-83 and Sony BDP-S350

CD-Only Players: Denon DCM-370 and Technics SL-PD888 5-Disc Changers.

Audio/Video connections made with Accell cables.

16 Gauge Speaker Wire used in all setups.

Level checks for speaker setups were done using a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter

Software Used

Blu-ray Discs used included scenes from from the following: Across The Universe, Avatar, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Godzilla (1998), Hairspray, Iron Man, Red Cliff (U.S. Theatrical Version), Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, and UP.

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Moulin Rouge, and V For Vendetta.

For audio only, various CDs included: HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Al Stewart - A Beach Full of Shells, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible, Sheila Nicholls - Wake.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.