Paradigm Soundscape Soundbar Page 2

With the Music setting selected, a typical pop/rock recording like the Ben Folds Five classic “Army” reproduced with satisfying fullness and crisp attack. (The Movie setting was significantly bassier, a bit too much so for my taste.) It also came across with more headroom and volume than that of several other soundbars I’ve encountered. The Soundscape was able to rock this and similar tracks with considerable authority, so I’d predict its ultimate level should be adequate for most users even in moderately good-sized rooms. In fact, with the volume at its maximum setting of 100, the Paradigm proved able to deliver almost 80 decibels SPL at my listening position from THX- reference-level (–20 dB FS) test noise, which is very good for a soundbar.

814para.rem.jpgMoving to more demanding material, I cued up Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (the famous Telarc CD version from Louis Lane and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). The Music setting provided a surprisingly convincing experience. Perceived soundstage wasn’t very wide (a limitation of all soundbars), but the Paradigm’s differentiation of instruments and richness of tone colors were quite impressive, and the solidity of the huge timpani strikes was more so. The slightly enthusiastic penultimate octave was less of a factor on classical music, of course, and in fact produced a sometimes-welcome extra foundation; nevertheless, I found that when I lowered the Bass menu setting by a single step and raised the Treble by one as well (both tone controls move only in 2-dB increments), it yielded a more pleasing balance. Maximum volume resulted in what I would consider an audiophile-pleasing sound level with little or no sign of difficulties (perhaps a smidge of driver-preserving low-frequency limiting); a few clicks lower yielded my notion of a comfortable serious-listening level.

All good stuff, but any soundbar is going to live or die with movies. The Paradigm continued to impress me across a clutch of favorite scenes, offering lots of clean level while maintaining clear, balanced dialogue and very respectable dynamic impact. A Blu-ray like The Dark Knight Rises delivered some genuine home theater wow factor, but to do so, the Soundscape again needed to reach about 90 percent of its volume-control range. (I determined this by A/B-ing it with my customary multi-speaker system at my usual reference level, typically 8 or 10 dB or so below “official”—i.e., THX—reference.) That said, at least the Paradigm could get there, and it never sounded strained or distorted, even at still higher settings.

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The Soundscape also goes substantially lower than a lot of other soundbars. Paradigm specs its ultimate low-frequency extension as 30 hertz (DIN), and on the Dark Knight disc and others of its ilk, I was inclined to believe it. (This translates to an in-room usable impact of around 40 Hz.) But a brief trial with my regular SVS PC12-Plus sub jacked into the soundbar’s wired subwoofer output underscored what a difference one lousy octave makes: The Soundscape was now far bigger and more authoritative, and of course deep-bass effects gained enormous dimension. (Soundbar users: Add a great subwoofer! Find the room!)

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Paradigm bills the Soundscape as a “surround” soundbar, and there is indeed a non-adjustable Surround option that you can enable for the Music or Movie mode. I can’t say I found it hugely persuasive. In the Movie mode, material like the introductory bat-cave scene from Dark Knight sounded somewhat deeper/broader with Surround engaged. But to my ears at least, there was only modest wraparound, and nothing at all of discrete side or rear effects. (I found the sense of surround sound to be noticeably greater when listening quite close to the soundbar: 5 feet or less.) To its credit, the Paradigm’s modest Surround option caused very little tonal shift on dialogue or music (likely no coincidence), which is a distinct positive.

I’ve already mentioned that I found the soundbar’s display challenging to read; not only that, but the menu structure did little to conciliate my good will. I found it easy to get lost in the menu’s considerable “horizontal” scope, and I kept misconstruing the confusing “set” routine. (Fortunately, everyday users are likely to need the menus infrequently, if at all.) On the plus side, there are direct-access remote keys for the Music and Surround modes, as well as for Bluetooth input, which, by the way, paired up easily and sounded just fine from my iPhone 5 (AptX is on board for use with compatible sources); other sources are selected step-wise. In everyday reality, most Soundscape owners will likely use the soundbar’s learning routine to map their most-used commands to another remote, typically a TV’s or cable box’s. I tried this, and it worked a treat. And every Soundscape function can be mapped, including discrete power on and off (or toggle) and Bluetooth play/pause and skip, so users of an investigative bent will be well rewarded.

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Another Serious Soundbar
So the bottom line is…I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. On one hand, we can definitively add Paradigm’s name to the handful of makers that offer “serious soundbars”: designs that get tonal balance genuinely right, that play loud enough to qualify as high-end reproducers, that can integrate usefully with a true subwoofer (the Soundscape’s sub output is fixed at a sensible 80 Hz), and that eschew plasticky looks and plasticky features. On the other hand, the same $1,500 could buy any number of serious home-theater-in-a-box speaker suites (like Paradigm’s own Cinema 100CT) paired with a reasonably priced AV receiver, to deliver deeper bass, greater peak level, and, of course, some actual surround sound. However, this would be far more involved to set up and much more complex to use, and it wouldn’t fit on the wall below the TV.

Oh—I think I’m beginning to get it!

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Paradigm Electronics
(905) 564-1994
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