- Powerful, polished sound quality
- Elegant design for all speakers
- Solid build quality
- Fiddly tabletop stands and binding posts
- Expensive compared with rival compact systems
- Review Price: £949.00
- 90mm S-PAL bass/midrange drivers
- 25mm S-PAL dome tweeters
- 300W powered subwoofer with 8in driver
- Comes with tabletop stands and wall mounting brackets
- Gloss black finish
Although it’s not a household name in the UK, Paradigm is Canada’s largest speaker manufacturer, revered for its Signature and Reference subwoofers and high-end, high-performance speakers. But the Cinema 100 CT sees the company wandering into more affordable territory.
It’s a 5.1 channel system with five identical Cinema 100 satellites and the Cinema Sub, bringing you a complete living-room friendly speaker setup for just under a grand. That may sound pricier than most compact speaker systems, but when you consider the price brackets Paradigm usually operates in, it’s actually cause for celebration. The idea is to bring the company’s renowned sound quality to a size and price point that a wider audience can enjoy, not just super-rich cinephiles with their own cinema rooms.
The CT stands for Compact Theater, and design-wise it ticks all the compact system boxes. Gloss black finish? Check. Elegant curves? You bet. Diminutive dimensions? Check… well, sort of. These aren’t the most streamlined compact speakers we’ve ever encountered, with a J-Lo like back end that makes them seem quite chunky – but at 122(w) x 212(h)mm they still won’t take up much of your space.
These are gloriously good looking speakers, giving off a palpable sense of quality both visually and to the touch. The cabinets, fashioned from mineral-filled polymer and coated in a sexy gloss black finish, have a satisfying robustness about them – confirmed by the dull, solid thud that comes back when you tap one as opposed to the hollow thonk that some speakers reply with. What’s more they’re fairly hefty, which is always a positive sign. The little Paradigm badges come separately, so you can keep them anonymous if you wish.
They can be installed in a variety of ways. In the box are all the fixings you need to attach them to the wall – screw the metal brackets into the wall, screw the plastic clips into a hole in the back of the sats and then slide it onto the wall bracket. This Easy Mount system is an easy, secure mechanism that ensures a clean installation.
Alternatively there are tabletop stands that screw into the same hole on the back, each one crafted from a rubbery material that feels sturdy and secure. These stands have holes that you need to feed the wires through before attaching them, which is a bit awkward but keeps the cable nice and tidy. Finally Paradigm sells optional floor stands (MC-30) for £150 per pair.
The speaker cables attach to ‘push-thru’ binding posts with ‘Easy-Glide’ channels, which hold the wires firmly but make it fiddly to feed them through, plus the small holes don’t accept particularly thick wires.
The subwoofer is styled with an equal sense of panache. A black cloth grille is wrapped around the front, top and bottom of this cute cube, while the sides are lustrous gloss black panels, giving the Cinema Sub a level of cosmetic class that few subs can match – you can flip the sub and have the gloss panel on top if you prefer.
Given the company’s penchant for making massive, super-powerful subs, we’re also surprised by how compact it is (322(w) x 342(h) x 322(d)mm) – Paradigm’s engineers must have really held themselves back when making this one. You can attach the supplied feet to the bottom using the self-adhesive pads.
The centre speaker is one of the Cinema 100 satellites, which can be mounted horizontally or vertically. When mounting horizontally, it sits in the supplied cradle – fashioned from a similarly rubbery material to the other tabletop stands – and this provides a snug and secure base, with the added bonus of allowing you to tilt it to the angle you want.
Inside the Cinema 100s lurks a wealth of impressive sounding speaker tech, using components all crafted by Paradigm’s own fair hands. They’re a two-way design with two drivers – a 90mm S-PAL satin-anodized pure aluminium bass/midrange cone, filled with mica minerals to stiffen it up, and a 25mm S-PAL dome tweeter. The mid/bass cones are moved by oversize ceramic/ferrite magnets, while the tweeters’ magnets are of the neodymium variety. In front of the tweeter is a wire mesh guard and WaveGuide tech in the speaker grille that aids the dispersion of high frequencies into the room.
The Cinema Sub is equipped with an 8in high-excursion driver, fashioned from a reinforced polymer composite, and is powered by a 300W amplifier. It uses a dual ported design and offers a decent array of controls on the rear panel, which are used to integrate it with the satellites. They include a cut-off frequency dial, a volume dial and a phase switch (0° or 180°). Two line-level inputs are also provided for hooking up to your AV receiver.
In action this all translates into a mesmerising performance. We’ve been blown away by several compact speaker systems of late, but this one really takes the biscuit. It’s a step up from most compact systems in terms of clarity, subtlety and composure, resulting in a sound that’s exhilarating, immersive and not lacking in large-scale ambition.
Despite Paradigm’s high-end reputation, the beauty is that you don’t need a big, expensive amp and processor to power this system – it really sings with more mainstream receivers like our Onkyo TX-NR1009 and even did Yamaha’s budget RX-V473 proud.
The sound is clean and free from nasty clipping and harshness, even at neighbour-bothering volumes. Its beautiful high-frequency reproduction brings a wonderfully airy and spacious feel to the sound, while midrange reproduction is superb, allowing voices to burst forth with warmth and richness.
The fronts and centre are a combined tour de force at the front, blending seamlessly with each other and crossing over to the sub in the smoothest, most harmonious way possible.
The most remarkable aspect of the Cinema 100 CT’s performance is how it sounds much bigger than it is. They move the air with a level of gusto that you’d normally associate with floorstanding designs, making raucous action scenes sound immense.
Surround effects are precisely placed and timed by whichever Cinema 100s you select for rear channel duty, blessed with more of that sparkling top-end detail and smoothness. This gorgeous texture at the back of the room makes immersive scenes that much more realistic. Effects sweep between channels smoothly too, leaving no holes or glaring jumps in tone.
But what sets this system apart from its rivals most is the sheer brilliance of the subwoofer. Tight and thunderous, its potency defies its modest dimensions. Yet it’s about more than mere muscle. There’s a sensitivity and agility about its contribution that impressed us greatly, gently reinforcing everything from the score to deep-voiced dialogue. But when called for it’ll thump right through your chest.
We tried a wide range of movies with this system but the scene that stands out is the train crash from Super 8. From the moment the train zooms into view with a deep rumble and hits the van, the Cinema 100 CT shows its class.
A carriage smashes through the station building with a vigorous crunch, explosions are delivered with astonishing slam, sounding tight and forceful, plus the creaking and pinging of metal has a realistic ring to it. As Joe ducks for cover from a huge panel flying through the air, you can hear the fire crackle and pop crisply.
This sensational movie performance is backed up by first class music playback, which sounds smooth and detailed. With albums like Lianne La Havas’ Is Your Love Big Enough?, it displays wonderful openness and neutrality, adeptly conveying the delicate top-end wisp and occasional huskiness of the singer’s vocal tones, with twinkling hi-hats, clean guitar twangs and nimble basslines to back it up.
The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT is an outstanding speaker system. It boasts luxurious build quality and performance that’s a cut above your average compact package. That’s largely thanks to the subwoofer, which harnesses Paradigm’s considerable expertise in that particular field with tight, agile and muscular bass, but the sats play their part with a beautifully open and composed performance. Most impressive is how it makes you believe you’re listening to much bigger speakers, offering presence and authority beyond the norm – the mark of a truly triumphant compact system.
The only things that count against it are the fiddly table top stand and cable tidy arrangement, and the price, which is cheap for a Paradigm system but will sadly rule out many buyers on tight budgets.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 10
|Number of Speakers