Soundbar

Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 (Soundbar and Subwoofer) Review

ARTICLE INDEX

Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 Review Highlights

In the crowded sub-$1000 sound-system-in-a-box market Paradigm distinguishes themselves by making the most of what is possible within both the fiduciary constrains, as well as the engineering challenges of the unorthodox form factor. We reviewed Paradigm's Soundtrack System last year. Now in its second iteration, the Soundtrack 2 is the subject of today's critical look at this oft malign category.

Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 Review

Paradigm Shift soundtrack 2 Highlights Summary

  • • Good build quality
  • • Decent sound
  • • Easy setup
  • • Bluetooth with AptX CRS
  • • Requires very little power
  • • Virtual surround

Introduction to the Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 Review

The soundbar business continues to thrive, or at least I infer as much given the push manufacturers are doing in that market space. The Secrets team has reviewed quite a few Soundbar systems over the years.

PARADIGM SHIFT SOUNDTRACK 2 REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS

  • Main Chassis
  • Design: 2 Isolated, Identical Channels for Left and Right. Left Channel: 2-driver, 2-way Plus Single Passive Radiator. Right Channel: 2-driver, 2-way Plus Single Passive Radiator. Molded ABS Enclosure with Matte Finish
  • Crossover: 3rd-order Electro-acoustic at 2.4 kHz
  • Amplifier Power: 2 x 25 Watts RMS; 2 x 50 Watts Peak Power
  • MFR: On-Axis: ±2 dB 140 Hz – 20 kHz
  • MFR: 30° Off-Axis: ±2 dB 140 Hz – 20 kHz
  • High Frequency Driver: 1 x 1" S-PAL™ Satin-anodized Aluminum Dome Tweeter (per channel).
  • Midrange Frequency Driver: 1 x 4” Mineral-filled Polypropylene Cone, 37-mm (1-1/2”) Voice Coil (per channel)
  • Passive Radiators: 1 x 4” Mineral-filled Polypropylene (per channel)
  • Low Frequency Extension: 105 Hz (DIN)
  • Sensitivity: Room / Anechoic: 88 dB / 85 dB
  • Finishes: Black
  • Inputs: Toslink Optical Digital, Coac (RCA) Analog, Bluetooth
  • Dimensions: 5.3" H × 36.4" W  × 2.9" D
  • Weight: 7.4 Pounds
  • Accessories Included: Snap-in stability feet and screws; on-wall bracket.
  • Wireless Subwoofer
  • Design: Single Driver, Ported Enclosure
  • Amplifier: 100 Watts RMS; 250 Watts P
  • Low Pass Filter Frequency: 130 Hz Fixed
  • Low Frequency Driver: 8" Reinforced Mineral-filled Polypropylene Cone, 1.5" Voice Coil
  • Low Frequency Extension: 40 Hz (DIN)
  • Finish: Black
  • Dimension: 14.2" H × 18.3" W × 6.3" D
  • Weight: 12.5 Pounds
  • Accessories: Vertical Floor Cradle, Feet and Screws for Horizontal Placement
  • Paradigm
  • SECRETS Tags: Paradigm, Paradigm Shift, Paradigm Soundtrack 2, Soundbar Reviews 2014, Bluetooth with AptX CRS, Soundtrack 2 System

While we at Secrets are known for uncovering out namesake, it's no great secret that there is a lot of junk out there. The marketing promise of a soundbar, with or without a bass module, is to instantly turn your living room into a home theater by “upgrading” the audio from a television

That in and of itself, with some qualified exceptions, is not hard to do as television speakers are by and large horrible with their characteristic midrange focus (so that dialogue can at least be understood) coupled with a complete lack of treble and bass.

As such even the worst soundbar elicits a “wow” from the initiate. At first they are impressed at hearing more than a bandpass. They crank it when friends come over, thinking that flatulent one-note bass and piercing treble is a good thing.

A few weeks later though, their ears get tired. They may not even know why. Some even go back to the TVs built in speakers and use the soundbar only when entertaining guests. They lose interest in high fidelity and the industry looses a potential customer.

Paradigm is not so short sighted. They saw the demand for decor friendly audio solutions years before the rest of the industry. They recognise the relation between a gateway product like a soundbar and a lifelong customer. It should come as no surprise then that Paradigm’s take on the proverbial soundbar promises performance a cut above the department store norm.

Go to Page 2: Design and Setup

 


Design and Setup of the Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2

Consisting of the proverbial bar plus base module, the system arrives in an ample box with all the pieces well protected in good quality (and recyclable) #6 styrene.

The bar itself takes on a tall but thin stature.: Wall mounting is facilitated by supplied brackets while for placement on a surface a pair of snap-in feet are provided. Behind a removable, magnet fastened grill we find a decidedly sensible driver compliment: a strait forward left/right channel arrangement. Working from the outside in, each channel consists of a 1” dome tweeter, 4” poly cone midrange, and 4” poly passive radiator.: These are driven by TI TAS series Class D amp chips. The exact model is not disclosed but Paradigm quotes the power as “2 x 25watts RMS” (25watts being asymmetrically shared between the tweeter and woofer which each have their own channel off the amp chip). On the back, in addition to the requisite power cable jack we find an optical digital S/PDIF type input, and both RCA and 3.5mm type stereo analogue inputs. A woofer output is also provided. On the top of the bar control facilities include the power button, vol+/-, input select, and woofer sync.

The woofer unit has a unique, sculpted profile to it. For horizontal placement, rubber feet are provided, for vertical a plastic stand. The ported enclosure is mated with a single 8” poly cone driver powered by another TI class D chip, this one quoted as “100 Watts RMS”. Anecdotally there is precious little internal volume and even less potential for air displacement so clearly some DSP is at work, something we will delve into later.: The crossover to the soundbar is specified as 130Hz nominal so the only control facility on the unit is a solid old-school gain knob.: There is also a tiny “wireless/wired” selection switch: the woofer unit is designed with a wireless connection to the soundbar, though a wired option is also provided. The wireless connection we are told incurs 10ms latency (roughly equivalent to the sub being 10 feet further back from the soundbar). This is likely of little consequence given the fixed crossover and lack of any sort of phase or time alignment control, but the wired option is there for completeness.

The remote is actually one of the more visceral changes in this 2nd iteration of the Soundtrack. With it Paradigm has eshued the credit card sized mushy button version for something a little more substantial. Facilities include power, Vol+/-/mute, input select, Bluetooth select, Play/Pause/Forward/Back, and Movie/Music mode select.: You can of course teach the Paradigm codes to a learning remote if you have one, though the Soundtrack 2 can also be taught the codes from your existing remote: a couple of button presses and the Soundtrack 2 will respond to your TVs remote instead of its own (at which point the Soundtrack 2 will no longer respond to the corresponding code from its own remote). This can be a double edge sword in that some TVs (like our Sharp) can't not respond to their own remote code so your millage may vary. Interestingly, on our stand, the Soundtrack 2 was just tall enough that it blocked the TVs IR receiver making it work despite the Sharp’s shortcoming in this respect.

Paradigm has elected to use an Intersil D2Audio DAE-3 SoC for the Soundtrack 2 which handles all the bistream decoding, audio processing (including crossover), and outputs PWM to the Class D amps. Paradigm has customized it with DSP routines similar to what they have done on their other Shift brand products, namely EQ’ing out both electrical and mechanical non-linearity's, output limiting and compression routines, as well as Paradigm’s own take on “virtual surround”.

Go to Page 3: In Use

 


The Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 In Use

I do wish Paradigm (and others) would provide a built-in test-noise for setting the woofer level. Even something as rudimentary as what was provided in the early Pro Logic receivers of 20 years ago would do. Couple that with an iOS/Android SPL meter app (doesn’t have to be crazy accurate for this) and you’d really have my praise. Without that time honored routine you are, literally, chasing the wind trying to set it by ear. Paradigm does provide a detent to the gain knob at the midway which they say gives a correct level “in most listening environment”. Of course as a hardened audiophile and Secrets writer I eventually broke down and dug out a DiscMan (can’t believe I just typed that) with the Delos Surround Spectacular CD and got a semblance of calibration (in one location it was very close to the detent, in another, more corner loaded, it had to be dialed back).

That notion aside I was pleasantly surprise to hear mostly well balanced audio from this modest setup. With driver construction and technology pulled from Paradigm’s much lauded Monitor series one might think this is a matter of course but as we know, it is the implementation of the admittedly spartan amplification which these sub kilobuck system employ which is the most influential. Class D amplification has as its key virtues compactness and efficiency with virtually no excess heat compared to solid state amplification (this is why it is so popular with megawatt subwoofers) but is very hard and/or expensive to design and implement it in such a way as to truly compare favorably with traditional amplifier topologies. Ever notice how manufacturers rarely (if ever) disclose the part number of the opamps, DSP, or amp chips they use (even in very high end gear sometimes)? It's not because they are super secretive, it's because there is a tremendous variable to how these components can be implemented making comparisons on “model number” alone less than meaningful. In the case of something like the TI TAS chips, the accompanying power supply is as critical a design element as the amp itself! All that to say that while there is “only” 25/25/100 watts present of class D chip amplification, Paradigm seems to have made the most of a less than perfect starting point, milking a semblance of hifi from it. We’re not talking miracles here: if you reach for cinema level output the DSP is going to say hello, first compressing the dynamic range and eventually limiting the output outright. Nevertheless at judicious output, the kind likely to be demanded of a family in a living room at 10 feet who still want to hear each talk other during Frozen’s “let it go” sequence, the Soundtrack 2 will be right at home.

A full sounding midrange coupled with a clear, if slightly brittle, treble, and bass reach which is on par with what one might expect from a pair of decent “2-way 6-incher” bookshelf speakers. That’s the Soundtrack 2.

Nota bene: All this with the system in the so called “music” mode, which is to say no nonsense stereo audio. Switched to “movie” mode the Soundtrack 2 implements Paradigm’s own take on “virtual surround” sound. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the various SRS systems which have been around for a couple decades now. Switch it on and you get what to my ears amounts to an unnatural, almost ethereal sound which is anything but surround sound in the classic sense and which is actually quite distracting.

The other big add on in this second Soundtrack iteration is the incorporation of Bluetooth wireless. Now, I can't say I’m a big fan of using a technology designed around transmitting low bitrate voice-only telephone quality audio for my music listening pleasure. When I’ve tried it before, the results have been almost unlistenable for a hardened audiophile like me. Paradigm’s answer: they are one of the first few to implement AptX CRS, a set of transmission/reduction audio codecs adopted as a higher quality alternative to SBS (sub-band coding) in Bluetooth’s A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). aptX even includes a lossless codec!: It's just a shame that next to nothing supports it at this time. I have my entire CD collection ripped lossless on my iPad Air and it would sure be nice to play that back on something like the Soundtrack 2 without ruining it (Apple, I’m looking at YOU!).

In terms of usability, the Soundtrack 2 proved reliable, never requiring a second command to do what it was told as can be the case with cheaper systems. There is a bit of an interface issue for me in that there is no volume level indicator (I’d like a small 2-digit LED on the front, even if lit only during adjustment) and the way you know which input you just selected is to count the number of red light flashes.: Standby power is in line with modern expectations (less than 1 watt).

Go to Page 4: Conclusions

 


Conclusions about the Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2

Paradigm distinguishes themselves by making the most of what is possible within both the fiduciary constrains, as well as the engineering challenges of the form factor. It is in fact the best sound-system-in-a-box I’ve come across so far south of a kilobuck.

While it's not a stretch to think that the Soundtrack 2 might be bested by a pair of the company’s own Mini-Monitor speakers coupled to a modest receiver, there is a plethora of people who have no interest in a bunch of big boxes and the rat’s nest of wires which come with, and who just want better sound than what their TV is giving them. For such applications Paradigm has I think hit a sweet spot delivering a product which satisfies both in terms of cost and sound quality.