Paradigm Premier 600C: Making movie magic

Paradigm’s Premier 600C centre channel is not only the perfect partner to the 800F floorstanders in a home theatre system, but a key role player in achieving movie sound magic.

In home theatre terms, the centre channel is arguably the most important member of the AV speaker family. It carries so much of the critical soundtrack information that it should be a priority purchase – and yet, its role is often underestimated.

Truth be told, much of the direct soundtrack content, including the primary dialogue, is the preserve of the centre channel. Together with the front left and right speakers, it also creates the vital front stage, where much of the sonic action happens.

The surround, back and height speakers are there to recreate ambient information and steering effects, but in sheer bulk of and breadth of sonic information, the centre channel plays the primary role.

And yet, we tend to underrate that role. To be fair, accommodating a sizeable centre channel speaker isn’t always easy, especially in more compact spaces, where the centre channel speaker often needs to slot in below a TV, almost demanding a slimline, unobtrusive design. It’s less challenging in projector/screen-based set-ups, of course.

However, where possible, installing a more substantial centre channel centre channel, speaker, especially one that’s voiced to match the left and right front channel speakers, will make a significant contribution to the realism and enjoyment of the movie experience.

The Paradigm Premier Series offers a choice of two floorstanders, two standmount monitors and two centre channel speakers. When a pair of the largest of the floorstanders, the Premier 800F, was recently submitted for review, local importer/distributor Audio Specialists included a Premier 600C centre channel speaker.

My intention had originally been to evaluate the 800Fs in a stereo role (see review here), but the availability of the 600C begged they be evaluated in a multichannel context too, with the 600C naturally fulfilling the centre channel role.

AT FACE VALUE

The Premier 600C is a substantial piece of kit, weighing in at 19,5 kg, and measuring 10 cm short of a full metre wide. It’s best accommodated on a dedicated stand, certainly from a sonic perspective.

Available in gloss black or white, as well as a woodgrain finish, the 600C exudes a certain tactile quality. The enclosure feels solid and reassuringly inert, thanks to its construction from thick, 19 mm MDF.

A 25 mm baffle adds to the overall rigidity and substance, and provides a solid foundation for the six-driver complement. A magnetically located, black cloth grille is provided to protect the drivers from prying fingers.

Like the 800F, the enclosure is tapered towards the rear, and also features rounded endpieces finished in composite. At the rear, a dual pair of binding posts allows for bi-wiring, while a bass port confirms the enclosure’s bass reflex status.

UNDER THE COVERS

The six drivers are horizontally arranged, with the tweeter and midrange centrally located, one above each other. A woofer and bass radiator on either side of the tweeter/midrange duo completes the array.

The tweeter and midrange both feature what Paradigm calls a perforated phase-aligning lens – a device that is meant to address the phase differences caused by the sound emanating from different parts of the driver arriving at the listening position in different states of phase.

The lens blocks out the out-of-phase elements, and therefore evens out the on-axis and off-axis response. On a secondary level, the perforated lens also serves as a useful protector of the tweeter’s aluminium dome, and the aluminium cone of the midrange.

The 165 mm woofers are identical to the ones employed in the 800F, and feature a carbon-infused polypropylene cone, combined with injection-moulded, serrated surrounds. These boost excursion, leading to a 3 dB increase in output, while significantly reducing distortion. The bass radiators provide further, controlled, low-frequency extension.

A second-order electro-acoustic crossover allows crossover points at 700 Hz and 2.5 kHz.

SETTING UP

The Premier 600C was positioned on a dedicated centre channel stand with coupling spikes to optimise performance, and located centrally, equidistant from the two 800F floorstanders on either side.

Our regular Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver was tasked with amplification and surround sound processing duties, while our reference Atlantic Technologies surround and surround back speakers, as well as the Atlantic Technologies subwoofer, remained on duty.

The system was calibrated using Marantz’s Audyssey room correction, and the levels subsequently tweaked manually, after which the 600C was afforded some time to settle in before any serious listening commenced.

SOUNDS LIKE …

The benefits of running closely related, voice-matched speakers across the front stage of a surround sound system became immediately clear as soon as I sat down to listen to the Paradigms. There was a seamless cohesion and a clarity of purpose that made the soundtracks come alive.

Also obvious was the ability of this full-range front and centre combo to deliver its sonic wares with more meat and substance, leaving the subwoofer to concentrate on delivering sub-bass frequencies.

The transition from bass to midrange was seamless and pleasingly linear, adding to a smooth and enveloping rendering of the front stage, while the all-important dialogue was delivered with presence and power.

The 600C easily coped with complex soundtracks and densely populated mixes, always retaining a talent for precision and composure, while also expressing timbre and tone with a pervasive sense of authenticity.

As much as I like staying up to date with the latest movie releases, I often find myself reverting to some of my favourite classics, with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, featuring Hans Zimmer’s marvellous soundtrack, among them.

The opening battle scene is a particularly good system test, both in terms of surround sound scope (even though it’s only a 5.1 mix) and the level of detail and ambient information the soundtrack contains. It’s a stern test for both the AV receiver, and the speaker set it’s driving.

The Paradigms endowed the on-screen action with an almost visceral presence that propelled me right into the centre of the action.

You could hear as much as feel the flaming arrows being released, the hooves of galloping horses hitting the ground, the clash of metal on metal as swords and lances engage with shields, the impact of weapons into human flesh – all fanned by the crescendos of Zimmer’s excellent soundtrack.

Impressive resolution and seamless staging allowed the sound to perfectly match the on-screen action. And Russel Crowe’s commands rang out clear, despite the sheer density of sound.

The 600C rose to the challenge with enthusiasm, expressing the rich canvas of sound with conviction, and doing well to deliver both substance and detail. It never sounded stretched, even at higher listening levels, and allowed passages of dialogue to rise above the action effects with clarity and conviction.

Moving on to The Last Jedi saw the Paradigm centre maintain its  adept sonic traits. The Battle Of Crait scene has plenty of action sequences and explosive (literally) effects, but the 600C was always up to the task, delivering its sonic wares with succinct realism and pace.

For all its tonal breadth, it never sounded too rich or oversaturated, steering a clear and engaging sonic path that guaranteed full access to the sonic information. Again, I was impressed with the centre channel’s composure, regardless of the complexity of the soundtrack, and its talent for tracking dialogue, effects and music with equal conviction.

Also, the ability to create a close and cohesive sonic partnership with the 800Fs allowed a wide, accessible and thoroughly realistic front stage that made the movie come alive, proving the key played by the LCR array in a surround sound setup.

The 600C’s performance was equally adept when listening to music. Both the electricity and the live ambience of Gary Clark Junior’s appearance on the 2013 edition of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival was conveyed with eloquence and clarity, despite the fuzz-laden guitars and thick, almost ponderous bass lines.

The Paradigm array provided good insight, but was also able to express the impact and excitement of the performance. With the subwoofer sharing the low-bass duties, there was plenty of low-frequency definition, together with ample pace and momentum, while the percussion was rendered with just the right level of snap and punch.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Paradigm 600C underscores just how important the role of a centre channel speaker is. It delivers on all fronts – pace, precision, tonal breadth, definition – while displaying a talent for composure that allows it to easily cope with movie and music soundtracks.

The way the centre channel seamlessly partners with the 800F allows both the 600C and its floorstanding siblings to show off their capabilities to best effect, creating a wide open, generous and engaging front stage.

Yes, the 600C is a substantial speaker, and one that benefits from proper location on a dedicated stand to ensure minimal interaction with furniture and floors. Regardless, the sonic dividends paid by this speaker are considerable, and once you’ve heard its capabilities, home movies will never be the same again.

Deon Schoeman

VITAL STATS
Enclosure type: Bass-reflex centre channel
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm aluminium dome tweeter
– 1x 102 mm aluminium cone midrange
– 2x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene woofers
– 2x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene passive radiators
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 94 dB in-room
Frequency response: 66 Hz – 22 kHz (±2 dB)
Power handling: 120 watts maximum
Dimensions (WxHxD): 908 x 197 x 342 mm
Weight: 19,5 kg
PRICE: R17 045
SUPPLIED BY
Audio Specialists

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Paradigm Premier 800F main front loudspeakers
Atlantic Technology surround, surround back and subwoofer
Optoma HD80 DLP projector

SOFTWARE
Gladiator (Blu-ray)
The Last Jedi (Blu-ray)
Various – Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 (Blu-ray)