Paradigm Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar Review Highlights
Paradigm can be defined as a “model for something that may be copied”. Based on their successes, the Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm is a company many of their competitors would like to model.
Introduction to the Paradigm Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar Review
Paradigm was founded in the early 80’s with the goal of the building high quality speakers at high value price points. They offer an extensive range of speakers from small bookshelf speakers like their Cinema 100 to their top of the line Signature Series Tower Speakers at $4,500 dollars each. In this review, we take a look at what I would consider one their midrange speaker offerings, the Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar.
PARADIGM SOUNDSCAPE 5.1 POWERED SOUNDBAR REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Soundbar; Bass Reflex
- Drivers: Three 1″ Aluminum Dome Tweeters; Four 4″ Mid/Woofers
- Amplification: Each Driver has its Own Power 50 Watt (Peak) Amplifier
- Connections: 1 x Digital Coax, 2 x Digital Toslink Optical, 1 x Analog Coax Pair, 1 x RCA Subwoofer Output, 1 x Wireless Subwoofer Output, 1 x Bluetooth
- Channels: Three (Right, Left, Center) with Paradigm DSP
- Crossover Frequencies: 80 Hz, 2 kHz
- Frequency Response On-Axis: 40 Hz – 20 kHz ± 2 dB
- Finishes: Gloss Black
- Dimensions: 5.5” H × 42″ W × 5″ D
- Weight: 20 Pounds
- SECRETS Tags: Paradigm, Soundscape, Powered Soundbars, Soundbars
I consider soundbars to be the entry level of home theater. With respect to sound quality, cost, and complexity soundbars fall between integrated TV speakers and a discrete multi-channel speaker setup. Soundbars generally package both the speakers and electronics to drive them into a single, decor friendly enclosure. Soundbars are marketed as a step up in sound quality from what a TV offers. In the case of the Soundscape, it’s a significant step up.
Design of the Paradigm Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar
The Soundscape packages 7 individual speaker drivers into its attractive 5-1/2 in x 42 in x 5 in gloss black enclosure. The 7 consist of 3 tweeters and 4 bass (aka woofer) drivers. One pair of tweeter and bass drivers is dedicated to the typical Left / Center /Right (LCR) speaker channel. The extra bass driver is allocated to the center in a MTM (midrange –tweeter – midrange). I suspect this configuration was made to improve clarity of the heavily used home theater center channel. All woofers use the same enclosure in a bass reflex design (e.g. ported). The engineers at paradigm tell me that this design choice was made to achieve a”… built in sub” bass at low frequencies and play discreet L/C/R tracks at higher frequencies above 120 Hz.” All of the drivers appear to be of decent quality. According to Paradigm the tweeters are aluminum domes using ferrofluid cooling to maximize power handing. The bass drivers are both stiff and light weight to react quickly and provide non-distorted bass.
The Soundscape dedicates a 25 watt RMS digital amplifier for each speaker (50 watt peak) to crank out sound and is rated for a frequency response of 40-20kHz.
The Soundscape has four audio inputs to connect to your collection of audio peripherals be it PS4s, TVs Blu-ray or whatever you’d like. The connections include: 2 x digital optical, 1 x digital coaxial, and 1 x analog RCA.
If you prefer, you can instead use your TV as the hub of you audio system and use it to select the audio source. In this case only a single audio cable must be connected to the Soundbar (this is what I chose).
Noticeable absent from the list of available connections are HDMI inputs. While this shouldn’t be an issue in most systems, verify your setup isn’t limited to HDMI before choosing. If your system is HDMI dependent all is not lost, there are HDMI to optical Toslink converters available.
While HDMI is missing, a fifth audio input is offered, Bluetooth. This delighted my wife. As my guinea pig, I had her pair her iPhone 4s to the Soundscape in order to enjoy some of her music (I removed the quotes around music so I don’t get in trouble). The process was seamless and easy for her and was rated “cool”.
In addition to the inputs, the Soundscape provides subwoofer outputs. There is an analog subwoofer out for connecting to a powered subwoofer. The output is a typical RCA with the THX approved 80 Hz crossover. Atypical is the wireless subwoofer option. The Soundscape features an integrated wireless transmitter for which a receiver is provided. This means that you can place your subwoofer within 50 feet of soundbar without worry about running an unsightly wire.
I tested the performance of the wireless sub connection with my ERA Design 5 subwoofer (no way I was going to move my pyramid and amp upstairs – I’m no longer a young man). I found the process wirelessly connecting the soundbar to the sub to be seamless and the sound to be satisfactory. However there is always a risk of interference so if you are picky choose the wired option.
Finally, the Soundscape includes a simple remote control. More interesting, the Soundscape can be programmed to respond to second remote control. This is a nice feature to reduce the number of remotes to lose.
Setup of the Paradigm Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar
I evaluated the soundbar outside of my typical home theater. Open to two sides, my typical theater room was a tough task for the Soundscape to fill the room with sound. Instead I chose what I thought would be a more appropriate room for the evaluation, a smaller 12 by 20 foot room. Typically, I use a simple stereo system in here using components and speakers demoted from the main theater so I am comfortable with how things sound in the room.
For source material, I primarily used my Panasonic DMP-BD35 Blu-ray player as a source. I let my TV handle the switching of audio sources so all that was required to connect the soundbar was a Toslink optical cable, simple. I didn’t use the wireless subwoofer because I wanted to focus on the surround processor. I made sure to configure the soundbar for the internal subwoofer mode.
The Soundscape can decode Dolby Digital, DTS™ Digital Surround, Digital PCM, and Digital Stereo so any digital input should be covered. However, note that the lossless Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio available on Blu-ray are not included. While not optimal, this is not a huge deal since the core surround formats are there.
Other than a music or theater mode, there wasn’t any further configuring the Soundscape for optimal performance. Unlike the Audyssey feature in my Marantz receiver or Yamaha Intellibeam sound bar technology, the Soundscape did not sample my room’s acoustic properties to configure itself for best possible sound. While this simplifies installation, it was a feature I would have liked to see.
The Sound – Home Theater
To evaluate the home theater prowess of the Soundscape I went with a familiar Blu-ray, Mr. and Mrs. Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. This is an action film with a dose of comedy centered on the marital troubles of affluent suburban couple – who happen to be deadly assassins. It offers up the typical dynamics of an action flick a.k.a. things blow up. Dialog and the soundtrack throughout the movie was intelligible and lifelike throughout. It was a vast improvement over the TV alone especially in A / B comparison.
Scenes with a lot of dynamics like the climatic final shootout were again an improvement over the TV, but weren’t perfect. I missed the sense of impression I got in my main theater. The Soundscape has a theater mode to expand the sound field, but it was not a replacement for rear surround speakers. Also, when pushed the sound of the soundbar became harsh. With 25 watts RMS and 50 watts peak, the Soundscape ran out of juice when things were going boom.
My expectations were probably a bit high being skewed by my main theater, so I tried a sitcom that wouldn’t push the system so hard. The DVD of season four of IT Crowd was the next demo material. This BBC comedy was introduced to me a few years ago by my engineering and IT colleagues. While technical folks will enjoy some of the references more than others, even my Mom enjoyed the show (no offence mom – but you are a self admitted “techno-idiot”. Unlike the movie demo where the surround field and maximum dynamics let it down, the Soundscape offered a solid step up in sound quality.
The Sound – Music
To evaluate the music capabilities of the Soundscape, I chose a selection of my high quality Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Ultradisk II. First up was Steely Dan’s Aja. To set the baseline, I first played track 1, “Black Cow”, through my TV speakers, pure crap (if the smell fits…). The sound was lifeless and limited. Next, I tried the same track through the Soundscape. While not up to the caliber of my mulit-kilobuck main theater, it was a night and day difference. Clarity and bass impact were much improved, and I found myself listening to the full album before I realized I was only doing a quick demo.
Even stereo imaging was surprisingly good considering the limited separation of the speakers using the music mode of the soundbar.
Next up was the grunge rock classic, Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit from Nevermind. The hard driving sound was a departure from Steely Dan, but was no less enjoyable. The Soundscape did justice to this song rated best all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.
If you are limited to music playback through the TV or a small Bluetooth speaker, the Soundscape will be a big improvement.
Conclusions about the Paradigm Soundscape 5.1 Powered Soundbar
So you are probably wondering what the bottom line is – should you spend some of your hard (or hardly) earned cash on the Paradigm Soundscape? Well it depends. Ask yourself the following:
- Do I live in an apartment?
- Do I value simplicity?
- Do I value how nice the theater looks?
- Do I want to improve rather than optimize my theater sound?
- Do I need to put my speakers underneath my flat panel display to save space in the room?
If you answer yes to the above (items # 2 and 5 in particular), then you are a good candidate for a soundbar. Among soundbars, the Soundscape is a top, feature rich, performer and you can’t go wrong. If you consider the Pareto principal, you will get 80% of the performance and enjoyment from the Paradigm when compared to a dedicated theater, especially for normal TV viewing.
However, for me, any soundbar can’t compete with my home theater built around high quality separate components. I always found myself comparing the Spoundscape and my regular system. While I appreciated the great improvement the Soundscape made to my auxiliary theater, I missed the impact of my main theater. If you want an immersive theater experience, invest in a receiver and small bookshelf speakers like the Cinema 100 offered from Paradigm.