We like everything about Paradigm's Cinema 70 except its home theater in a box label. All the other HTIBs we know of consist of an A/V receiver, a DVD player, and speakers, but the Cinema 70 is a speaker package--period. With that little proviso out of the way, we can pile on the praise: this admirably tiny six-piece system belts out big sound on CDs and DVDs. It goes for a list price of $549. The Paradigm Cinema 70 comprises five Cinema 70 satellites and a Cinema subwoofer. The cabinets' curved yet crisp styling is distinctive and easy on the eyes. The sats are teensy, each measuring just 4.25 inches wide, 7 inches tall, and 5.5 inches deep and weighing 3.3 pounds. If you've made the move to a 6.1- or 7.1-channel receiver, you'll need additional speakers, and Paradigm will happily sell you more matching satellites for $159 a pair. For a 6.1 system, you could pick up the $129 Cinema CC dedicated center speaker and use the leftover sat in the center-rear position.
The sub is also on the demure side at 11 inches wide, 13 inches tall, and 12 inches deep. This 20-pound baby boomer is solidly constructed of medium-density fiberboard and rests on four large, plastic feet.
The matte-silver Cinema 70 system comes with gray, knit grilles; the other option is to get everything in black. This is Paradigm's second iteration of the package, sometimes listed as the Cinema 70 v.2. For the update, the designers revamped the satellites' drivers, switching to 0.63-inch polymer-composite dome tweeters and 3.5-inch polypropylene cone woofers. The speakers' sealed, or acoustic suspension, cabinets are unusual nowadays, but they make the sats somewhat less placement-sensitive than the more common ported designs. You can cram the little guys into cabinets or jam them up against the wall with minimal sonic consequences. Speaker-cable connections come in the form of beefy binding posts that accept banana plugs, pins, or stripped wire ends.
The Cinema subwoofer boasts an 8-inch carbon-fiber woofer and a feisty 90-watt (continuous)/270-watt (peak) power amp. The sub's rear panel hosts the amplifier's heat sink, the crossover and volume controls, a single mono RCA input, and stereo speaker-level spring clips. That connectivity covers all the possible hookup scenarios for A/V and stereo receivers. With most affordable speaker packages, we have to experiment with placement before the sound locks in, but the Paradigm Cinema 70 immediately jelled. When we watched Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart DVD, Tom Waits's hot-'n'-heavy jazz soundtrack came out surprisingly full-bodied. Yes, we could quibble that male vocals and Waits's growling voice were a tad lightweight, but the Cinema 70 still handled them better than centers and satellites in other mini HTIBs. Plus, if you stick with five identical sats instead of adding a dedicated center speaker with a unique design, you ensure that your system's soundstage is consistent: whenever a DVD's audio moves across the channels, you won't hear discontinuities in the tonal balance.
The Cinema 70 sang with one voice. The sats mimicked the sound of larger speakers, and the subwoofer achieved deeper bass than we had any right to expect. What's more, the package has the stamina to fill rooms of up to 400 square feet.
The Cinema 70 is equally competent with CDs and DVDs. Their sound, whether we listened in stereo or Dolby Pro Logic II, was consistently rich, and it didn't turn harsh or strained at moderately loud levels. Plus, the easygoing speakers should be right at home with even the humblest receivers. This kit may not offer the detail or the resolution of Klipsch's much more expensive system, but we could listen to the Paradigm for hours on end and never feel fatigued. Another worthy contender for the top spot among affordable home-theater speaker packages is Hsu Research's mated with the subwoofer. It's a true 6.1-channel system with a seriously powerful sub, and its full retail price is only $498.