Paradigm Soundscape Review
|Pros||Wonderful bass for the size, detailed sound, wireless subwoofer transmitter|
|Cons||No HDMI with Audio Return Channel, Small LED Display|
|Summary||Paradigm has placed sound-quality first and created a sound bar that handles movies and music with ease|
|Value||4 / 5|
|Performance||5 / 5|
|Overall||4.5 / 5|
When looking for a high-end sound bar, the first thing you should look at is what drivers they use. While you can get good sound with a single driver for each channel, a sound bar that uses multiple drivers for each channel will invariably sound better. When the music gets complex or a movie has rapid-fire dialogue and sound effects, the clarity of a multi-driver system will really pay off.
The Paradigm Soundscape sound bar features left, right and center channels that each have separate drivers. Combined with a well designed port system, the Soundscape is able to produce deep, meaningful bass while still maintaining clarity on difficult movie and music passages. While it lacks an HDMI connectivity, most people won’t miss it and will be happy with the experience that the Paradigm Soundscape provides.
A Simple Design
|Outputs:||1x Sub Out|
|Inputs:||2x Optical, 1x Coaxial, 1x Stereo RCA|
|Review Date:||April 15, 2014|
The input selection might seem a bit retro in this world of HDMI, but it should work fine for most people. Sound bars are often about simplicity, with all your devices running through your TV and then the audio output from your TV to the sound bar. With dual optical inputs, an analog and a coaxial, the Soundscape will work well in this setup. Integrated Bluetooth allows for streaming from your smartphone, laptop, or tablet. AptX support provides the best quality Bluetooth streaming you can get today.
A unique feature on the Soundscape is the wireless subwoofer adapter. The Soundscape has an RCA sub out, but most people want their subwoofer to be out of the way, without wires connecting it. With the built-in wireless transmitter and included external receiver, the Soundscape can work with any subwoofer across the room. If you have an old subwoofer around you can use it with the Soundscape, and if you want to buy one you aren’t limited to just a few models.
Part of what makes the Soundscape integrate with a subwoofer so well is the 80Hz crossover point when an external subwoofer is used. This is the THX standard for subwoofers but it is one that most sound bars cannot achieve. The Paradigm Soundscape can, letting you attach a subwoofer without having directional bass issues. The subwoofer will take over the deep bass duties for those that need to feel their explosions.
The menu system in the Paradigm operates through the front with an 8-character display and is simple. It makes it easy to set it for wall or table placement (which affects bass and lower-mid response) but more importantly to have it learn remote commands. Teaching it the volume controls from your TV remote is quick and easy, allowing you to dispense with the remote for most tasks.
Great Detail and Bass
Guitar through the Paradigm Soundscape is crisp and clear. There is a metallic edge to the guitar that can be in-your-face with how distinct it is. I worried that might lead to fatigue during extended listening sessions but I had no such issues. While listening to “Lost Cause” by Beck the vocals remain well anchored while the guitars steal the song through the Paradigm.
The amount of bass you get from the Soundscape is impressive. “So What” from Kind of Blue features a bass the resonates with the Paradigm. Bass is clear and powerful, but not bloated, coming from the sound bar. The sax solo kicks in and is set off to the left, though not as wide as with a pair of speakers. The soundstage is large enough to set the sax apart from the other instruments though not massive.
Watching movies on the Paradigm Soundscape is an enjoyable experience. During the opening scene of Skyfall, the chase sequence with Bond comes alive. The Soundscape has the bass to bring across the rumble of a train and the impact of a car crash. The dedicated center channel speaker keeps dialogue anchored in the center of the action and always clear. Where lesser sound bars with fewer channels lose clarity during heavy action sequences the Paradigm thrives on them.
The transition from the opening sequence to the credits is even more impressive. The rushing river that carries Bond fills the room with energy. The theme song from Adele sounds wonderful. Her voice is as powerful as it always is and the Paradigm handles movies and music well. What it can’t do on these sequences is place the action behind you. Using the movie mode with a surround signal creates a wide soundstage but not a fully enveloping one.
To push the Paradigm Soundscape to its lower octave limits I use Tron: Legacy. The opening of the light cycle battle has thunderous deep bass and pushes speakers and subwoofers to their limits. The Paradigm is capable of bringing across the message of the bass, though not to the point that a dedicated subwoofer can. Those that are bass obsessed will want to add an external subwoofer, but the bass the Paradigm Soundscape can create will please everyone else.
The Paradigm Soundscape sounds wonderful, but is missing a couple of features I would like to see. While I feel most people don’t want to switch HDMI through their sound bar, since it adds another remote, I would like to see an HDMI port with Audio Return Channel support. Some TVs are dropping optical output, or only output stereo over it, and are moving to HDMI with ARC for output.
I also want the LED readout to be larger. It is only 8 characters and using a fourteen segment display. Using an LED dot matrix display that is 2 lines and 20 characters per line would display more information and be easier to read. Or even copying the phenomenal remote that Vizio is including with their sound bars now as it is the easiest to use today. I prefer the on-bar display to the on-screen display of many other bars, but it can still improve.
I measured the Paradigm Soundscape sound bar using a UMIK-1 calibrated microphone and RoomEQ Wizard software. Six different positions are each measured 8 times to reduce any measurement anomalies. I average all 48 measurements to reduce room effects using the method described by Brent Butterworth.
Looking at the measurements we see bass response that is good down to below 40Hz. Response is relatively flat out to 15.5 kHz and then there is a steep roll-off after that, likely due to tweeter directionality during measurements. Relative to 1 kHz the frequency response is +5dB/-2.5dB flat, excluding the deep bass where room modes come into play. For a sound bar this is nice and flat.
Looking at six different positions, we see that the frequency response is relatively equal for all listening positions. If you have a group of friends over on the couch, or are listening to the Paradigm Soundscape solo, the sound will be good for everyone.
Sound First, Features Second
Paradigm has put sound quality first and features second and I think that is the way to go. Most extra features are never used by people, but the benefits of better sound quality everyone will hear. The most impressive aspect of the Paradigm Soundscape is the amount of bass this bar can create. It isn’t as small as some of the sound bars out there, but it plays much deeper than you’d ever expect it to.
I’ve heard a huge number of sound bars through my work with The Wirecutter, Secrets of Home Theater, and Reference Home Theater. The Paradigm Soundscape might be the best that I’ve heard to date. It doesn’t have any major flaws, and it sounds superb. It offers a huge step up over the speakers built into your TV without the complexity of separate components. For great sound quality with little hassle, the Paradigm Soundscape is the sound bar you should go listen to.
|Pros:||Wonderful bass for the size, detailed sound, wireless subwoofer transmitter|
|Cons:||No HDMI with Audio Return Channel, Small LED Display|
|Summary:||Paradigm has placed sound-quality first and created a sound bar that handles movies and music with ease|