If I had a dollar for every time a young person said to me, “I need an inexpensive speaker that doesn’t suck,” I’d have enough money to buy all my under-20-year-old nieces and nephews Paradigm Mini Monitors. For $239 each, the newest iteration of Paradigm’s second-least-expensive speaker provides more than a taste of what music is like when played through speakers made by people who care about the sound of live music.
What’s Inside and Outside the Box?
Made completely in North America, the Paradigm Mini Monitor V.6 consists of a 1" H-PTD dome tweeter coupled with a 6 ½" M-ICP coned midrange/woofer. The woofer’s basket uses Paradigm’s proprietary GRIP material, which is a special carbon-plastic composite that couples strength and rigidity with extremely low mass. The cabinet has a fairly large rear-firing quasi-third-order resistive port that allows the modestly sized speaker to deliver bass to 70Hz at –2dB down. Paradigm doesn’t supply any specific impedance curves but its literature does claim that the Mini Monitor’s impedance is “compatible with 8 ohms.”
Special attention was devoted to the Mini’s cabinet rigidity and interior damping. The ¾"-thick MDF box with a 1" thick baffle has especially rigid cross bracing and mitering to reduce cabinet resonances to a bare minimum. The one-piece combination front baffle cover places both drivers far enough away from the front of the cabinet to reduce the most pernicious diffraction effects.
Given its very modest price point, Paradigm’s designers had to choose carefully how and where they were going to spend their money. They opted to put it inside rather than outside the speaker. Prospective purchasers have a choice of four different cabinet finishes—rosenut, black ash, wenge, and cherry. The review samples were covered in what I assume was the rosenut finish. I hesitate to call it wood veneer because anyone with a critical eye will immediately see that this finish bears very little resemblance to real wood. Wood-textured-vinyl-covering is a better description. Once you remove the black front speaker grilles you’ll be greeted by one of the ugliest colored midrange/woofer speakers in the history of audio. The speaker surround has a pale beige tone while the driver itself is a greenish yellowish/ golden color that emphasizes the ghoulish pallor of the surround. The midrange/woofer driver’s surrounds possess a slightly tacky texture that makes an especially welcoming surface for cat hair. Every couple of days I had to use some duct tape to remove the hair accumulation from the surround’s edges. Of course, you can always just leave the grilles in place.
Play it Loud, Play it Proud, and Play it Mini?
The Paradigm Mini’s most endearing characteristic is easily its musicality. Instead of trying to deliver a wide frequency range at the expense of midrange purity, Paradigm opted to get the midrange right and let the frequency extremes fall where they may. Since most of what we refer to as music is in the midrange, the Minis sound more relaxed and realistic than most speakers with a similar price tag.
A couple of lower-bit-rate MP3 tracks have slipped into my music library thanks to iTunes. One particular track by Faith No More is especially nasty. The Minis manage to retain this track’s essentially groddy nature while still making it aurally tolerable. How do they accomplish this seemingly impossible feat? By presenting the midrange cleanly while gently rolling off the upper-frequency hash and low-frequency junk.
Even on first listen the Minis have a very euphonic personality. Many—no, most—speakers with dynamic drivers require multiple hours of break-in before they sound anywhere near their best. The Triangle EX speakers I reviewed recently were a case in point. The Triangles really did require 100 hours of break-in to settle in. Some, especially less expensive models, can be downright unlistenable until their mechanical parts loosen up a bit and their electronic innards become fully formed. But from the very beginning Paradigm Minis have a sweet disposition that makes even rude sources tolerable. For listeners with little tolerance for audiophile games like marathon white-noise break-in sessions, the Minis are a refreshing change from the norm.
Despite their easy-listening nature the Minis still manage to achieve an acceptable level of audiophile-approved overall performance. They image as well as most comparably sized but far more expensive speakers. Even without curved front baffles or physically time-aligned drivers the Minis create a seamless soundstage with excellent lateral image placement and reasonable depth. Only when compared to far more expensive speakers, such as the Paradigm Signature S1s, does the Minis’ recreation of depth seem somewhat shallow and their lateral imaging slightly less precise.
Timbrally, the Minis err on the warm side of neutral, which I think is preferable to the alternative, especially in a modestly priced mini-monitor. Typically, Minis will be mated with lower-cost electronics that often deliver less than optimal sound. So if the Mini can help music sound more like music, so much the better. Even if you use more expensive gear, as I did for most of the review, the Minis never give the impression that they are the weak link in the reproduction chain.
I had no trouble matching the Mini speakers with several subwoofers. However, in every case the final result was a bit on the rich side of neutral. The Minis create extra energy in their lower midrange and upper bass that gives them a thick-around-the-middle balance. When driven to higher SPLs this characteristic goes from warm and reassuring to mushy and ill-defined. Think of this change as a sort of aural governor—when the sound goes south, you’re listening at too high a level.
Rarely do I get an opportunity to go directly from a manufacturer’s top-of-the-line offering to one of its budget products. I was so impressed by the Paradigm Signature S1 speakers [winner of TAS’s 2008 Entry-Level Speaker of the Year Award] that I held onto them to compare with other small monitors. When the Mini Monitors arrived I plopped them into the same system that had been hosting the Signature S1s. The sonic similarities between the two speakers outweighed the differences. Both image beautifully with the Signatures beating the Minis in depth and lateral specificity, as previously noted. Both also have remarkably smooth upper-frequency response. The Signature speakers have a smidgen more top-end air and extension, but on most standard commercial releases this extra dollop of treble information won’t add much to your listening experience.
The Paradigm Signatures have a more neutral harmonic balance with less of a lower-midrange and upper-bass bump. The Signatures also can play much louder without signs of strain. This greater neutrality and ease also translates into greater dynamic contrasts, especially on classical recordings with large orchestral forces. Mahler works on the Signatures, but not so much with the Minis. On my own recordings the Minis did a fine job at my desktop, but in a room-based environment they couldn’t quite keep up with the wide contrasts of a live concert recording. If wide dynamic classical music is your thing I’m afraid you’ll need to ante up for the Signatures S1s.
Next I pitted the Minis against the less expensive (roughly half price) Aperion 4B speakers. The Aperions didn’t image any better than the Minis in a room-based system, but on a desktop the Aperions’ smaller size made for less cabinet diffraction and a better vanishing act. Despite their more complete sonic invisibility the 4Bs produced a smaller soundstage when used on a desktop as well as having a substantially smaller listening window. I got used to being able to move around in my chair with relative impunity while listening to the Paradigm Minis, but Aperion 4Bs placed definite limits on my mobility.
The 4Bs were “duller” with less top-end sparkle and life. The 4Bs also had a more subtractive character; they passed less musical information. Low-level details don’t quite get to your ears, so the overall effect is less involving. On the plus side, if you’re using electronics that have a really harsh edge the 4Bs will deliver more listenable results. I thought the Paradigm Minis’ top-end was a trifle less open than higher-priced speakers I’ve reviewed recently, but compared to the 4Bs the Minis seemed quite extended.
A Lot for a Little
I don’t expect everyone who is looking for small monitor speakers to buy a pair of Mini Monitors regardless of how bad the economy gets. But even folks with unlimited funds may find much about the Minis that will encourage them to pick up a pair, or two, or three. The bottom line, which appeals to everyone, is that the Minis offer a surprisingly high level of sonic quality for a ridiculously low price. Sure, they aren’t elegant looking and taking off their grilles results in an even less décor-friendly appearance, but if you close your eyes they look mighty fine, indeed.
If you want to play audiophile Santa Claus, buy a couple of pairs and give them to some deserving young music-lovers. Although trickle-down didn’t work for the economy as a whole, when applied to the development of future audiophiles it might be just the ticket to a brighter future.
SPECS & PRICING
Paradigm Mini Monitor V.6
Driver complement: Two-way, 6.5" M-ICP woofer, 1" H-PTD dome tweeter
Sensitivity: 92dB (in-room), 89dB (anechoic)
Impedance: Compatible with 8 ohms
Frequency response: 70Hz–20kHz +/-2dB; low-frequency extension: 43Hz (DIN)
Recommended amplifier power: 15W to 100W
Finishes: rosenut, black ash, wenge, and cherry
Matching Speaker Stand: S-26, J-29 (sold separately)
Dimensions: 13 1/8" x 7" x 11 3/16"
Weight: 34 lbs. per pair
Price: $478 per pair
Paradigm Electronics Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1