Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Jim Milton
- Published on 12 August 2013
The Paradigm Soundtrack System in Use
My review sample arrived with very high quality packaging and after several minutes of carefully unpacking things, I had it set up in about 15 minutes. The instructions are easy to follow and since there are not a lot of accessories to mess with, I think the average person would have the system up and running without difficulty. Simply run a TosLink from the digital audio output on you TV to the optical input on the soundbar and you are half way home. Plug the bass module into an outlet near the position use plan on using in your listening environment, push and hold the button on the bar that pairs the system and you are done. Though you can hard wire the sub, its special feature is for it to go wirelessly. This allows you to place the sub under your couch or across the room in an unused space or corner. It also permits you to find the spot that provides you with the best bass response from your critical seating area. When I first paired the 2 units, I actually had the sub in my lap while I sat on the couch. This revealed perhaps the only weakness with the system that I noticed during the rest of my testing evaluation. Because the cross over is fixed at 130 kHz, I could clearly hear (deep) voices through the sub module. This could pose more of an issue if you choose to set the module very close to (or under) your seat. Since I eventually placed the sub along the front wall by the TV, I was never bothered by this issue again. In anycase, once the 2 units paired, they never failed to re-connect with each other at anytime during the several weeks of my review. Upon occasion, my wife noticed that the soundbar did not turn on/off when the remote powered off the TV and she had to re-point the remote directly at the Soundtrack to get it to power on/off. Another "feature" I wish they did not omit was the auto-off. Most soundbars that I have reviewed will power off automatically after several minutes of having no audio signal fed to them. The Paradigm stays on until you power it down with the remote or hit the power button on top of the bar. Not a big deal, but more than once I saw the blue light on when I got up in the morning.
One should not have to go through life hearing, "Honey, you left the soundbar on again last night!", if you catch my drift.
Let's move on to the sound quality and performance of the Soundtrack System. Let me say up front that any soundbar system will not duplicate the audio experience of a decent 5.1 surround system. That said, almost every soundbar will blow the fidelity off of the anemic speakers found on your current flat panel HDTV. An ideal soundbar should be able to engross you in the action on the screen by providing good dynamic range (crystal clear highs and thunderous bass) and perhaps more importantly, intelligible dialog. I am happy to say that the Soundtrack System does these two things very well. The only real short coming for me was in the lower midrange level, where I felt the crossover left a bit of a hole. Baritone voices seemed a bit hollow for my taste and moving the bass module around did not help matters at all. Dialog, as a whole, was very clear and detailed. The treble lacked the ultimate sizzle on the high end, but also did not sound overly sibilant like some esoteric tweeters can exhibit. The bass was quite punchy and I never ran the volume on the bass at more than 40%. Placing the module in a corner would probably allow you to dial it down even more. I watched the movie Identity Thief and enjoyed the overall clear presentation of the voices and music from the soundtrack.
Perhaps it is because I am very accustomed to my ZVOX that I could easily distinguish the low midrange softness. Perhaps it just a matter of preference on my part, but I missed that extra heft. The voices were clear, but lacked a bit of weight and warmth in that low mid-range. I probably wouldn't even have noticed had I not had the 2 sound systems in place for a comparison. Streaming most of my TV watching from Netflix and Hulu Plus, I can say that the overall presentation was very good and having a single digital cable from the TV to the soundbar made for a fool-proof set up process. Moving on to music, with a wire Bluetooth dongle, the Soundtrack can stream music from you iPhone. This makes the Paradigm a good choice (over the ZVOX) for those of you that want to listen, and not watch your favorite entertainment. Music sounded very good, especially acoustic instruments and female singers. I listened to Loreena McKennitt's The Visit and the mix of exotic instruments with her voice were beautifully rendered with the Soundtrack. The drums had punch and definition. Strings were smooth and not strident. Loreena's voice, angelic.
The Paradigm sounded great with both classical and rock music. Stereo separation was very reasonable for a bar that only has several inches between the R/L channels. I liked that the Soundtrack does not offer any enhanced "surround" features like most other soundbars. Frankly, it just didn't need them. It was able to cast a wide soundstage all on its own without any manipulating. Volume wise, it could blow you out of the room before any distortion and straining takes place. And speaking of the volume, the Soundtrack does not display a numerical value with the volume. Not a big deal, but almost every bar I have reviewed does have a display for that. The Soundtrack will default to the last volume setting the person before you set it to, so hopefully, that was not you teenage son. When you change the volume, the blue light on the front panel blinks to let you know that it is obeying your command. It then stays lit until it powers down.