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Paradigm Shift Soundtrack 2 (Soundbar and Subwoofer) Review

ARTICLE INDEX

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).

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