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Paradigm Soundscape Soundbar Review

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The Rolls Royce of Soundbars

by Mark Hodgkinson Aug 1, 2014

  • SRP: £1,299.00

    What is the Paradigm Soundscape?

    This beast of a soundbar from Paradigm is almost the polar opposite of the last product of its type I reviewed for AVForums.

    The Humax STE-1000 is the thinnest available speaker bar on the market, where the Paradigm Soundscape is quite possibly the largest. The result of this is that it allows the Canadian manufacturer the opportunity to equip the soundscape with relatively mighty drivers and as we saw with their previous offering, the Shift Soundtrack, they certainly know how to use them. In fact, the Soundscape has an even more impressive specification so it promises to be something a bit special.
    Mind you, priced at nearly £1,300 it needs to be pretty darned good and for that kind of money you could equip yourself with a very respectable traditional 2.1 set up but Paradigm insists this is the first soundbar capable of proper stereo imaging, as all the drivers are physically separated within the cabinet. Said drivers comprise four 4-1/2" composite cone mid/bass drivers and three 1" high-power ferro-fluid-cooled dome tweeters so this should be some ride, when you consider most typical soundbars pack in driver power only a fraction of that.

    Paradigm Soundscape Design & Connections

    This is one very tall soundbar and that could be a concern for some. When table mounted, you will need at least 13.5cm clearance between the base of your TV stand and the bottom of the screen or it’s going to get in the way of the pictures. For some older TVs that will be fine but in our extensive experience, the majority manufactured within the last 4 years, or so, will face the issue. We had a few 2014 manufactured TVs here during the review and it obliterated quite a portion of the screen when on our cabinet so if it were to be a long term stayer, we’d have been down to the local timber merchant to obtain some sort of plinth on which the TV could sit. This is clearly a no compromise soundbar solution but this will be a deal-breaker for some.

    If your TV is wall mounted, this of course won’t be a concern and Paradigm supplies a mounting rack in the box although Paradigm does not supply the anchor bolts or screws because choosing the appropriate ones will be dependent on the surface on which it is to be mounted. There are fairly detailed instructions in the owner’s manual but it’s probably not something for a complete DIY novice to tackle – it would hurt if it landed on your foot, for one thing, as the build quality is bordering on industrial grade. That feel is only given more weight should you choose to remove the protective cloth grille at the front to reveal the driver array. There’s no doubt that this provides an impressive sight but if you have little ones about the house, it’s probably best to keep the drivers protected.
    Paradigm Soundscape Paradigm Soundscape Design & Connections
    Paradigm Soundscape Paradigm Soundscape Design & Connections

    For well over a thousand pounds, one might be forgiven for expecting an HDMI input, or two, but there are none. That actually is no bad thing as far as we are concerned but, again, some might prefer the ‘conveniences’ of ARC (Audio Return Channel) and/or CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). They both can throw up their own set of frustrations however and you can still get a 5.1 signal through either of the two toslink digital audio inputs and there’s a single coaxial digital too, which is similarly capable. For stereo sources the Soundscape is equipped with left/right RCA jacks and there’s also a subwoofer out if you’re really serious about your bass; more on that later.

    Build quality borders on industrial

    Paradigm Soundscape Setup & Operation

    There’s a chance your TV will route 5.1 audio from any connected source via its S/PDIF digital audio output but it’s fairly slim so you’d be advised to check out the manufacturer specifications. If not, we would advise hooking up your most used multichannel sources to the digital audio inputs so, in our case, we had one input taken up by a Blu-ray player and the other to the TiVo. The Bluetooth connection was primarily occupied by a Windows 7 PC with an aptX Bluetooth capable USB dongle.

    There are a five buttons on top of the unit that allow you to set volume levels, select sources and navigate around the menu system with visual feedback being taken care of by a display panel which is positioned top centre at the the front of the unit. That menu system isn’t the most intuitive we’ve ever come across and involves using all four directional buttons to find what you need but you’ll (probably) get to grips with it eventually.
    Paradigm Soundscape Paradigm Soundscape Setup & Operation
    Paradigm Soundscape Paradigm Soundscape Setup & Operation

    We would advise navigating the menus using the supplied remote, rather than the top panel controls, which is quite large by soundbar standards and has additional buttons for mode selection and Bluetooth operations. Some of the key menu options include ‘Install’ which dictates whether you have placed the soundbar on the wall or on a shelf, ‘Surround’ which when activated tells the Soundscape to automatically look for and process multichannel audio and ‘Sub’ which instructs whether you’re using the internal drivers or you’ve hooked up an additional subwoofer by wire or wirelessly…

    Paradigm Soundscape Features

    Probably the most unusual feature of the Soundscape is the included Wireless Subwoofer Receiver unit which allows you to add an external active subwoofer to the package without more unsightly cables trailing from it. Obviously Paradigm made their name by producing subwoofers of epic proportions so they would prefer you bought one of theirs but it will work with any active sub and is very easy to set up. You simply connect a cable between the sub and the receiver, instruct the system you’re hooking up wirelessly, at which point it will send out a pairing signal for 30 seconds, in which time you’ll need to hold down the pairing button on the wireless receiver for 3 seconds , or so, et voila, you’re connected. We tested the unit with a grotty old subwoofer found in the recesses of the attic (it’s silver to give you an indication of age) and it worked perfectly. The question of whether we saw any benefit, audio-wise, we’ll tackle later on.
    Paradigm Soundscape Paradigm Soundscape Features
    The Soundscape is capable of decoding both 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital signals and the ‘Surround’ mode will instruct it to reproduce them all individually. This works tremendously well with a good audio mix, such as Gravity, but be warned that with the Surround mode on, two channel sources will be subject to some virtual surround processing which we didn’t like so much, as it clips the dynamic range quite noticeably.

    The Soudscape is also capable of receiving aptX coded audio streams and whilst this is now an almost standard feature for a soundbar, it’s good to see nonetheless and the quality of the system is such that you’ll definitely benefit from the codec.

    Given the absence of an HDMI input/output, it’s good that the Soundscape is able to learn the infra-red codes from other equipment. In practise, it’s a case of entering the appropriate area of the menus, selecting a command for the system to learn and then pressing a button on your chosen remote – usually your TVs, we would expect. This is a good feature but we would also like to have seen the inclusion of an IR repeater function, allowing you to access the TVs menus and features with ease, should the IR path be blocked. This is a premium grade product and it’s something we’ve seen on soundbars costing far less so we definitely count it as an omission.

    There is no better sounding speaker bar, as far as we've been subject to

    Paradigm Soundscape Audio Quality

    There isn’t normally the need to run in a soundbar, like you would a proper HiFi speaker but the soundscape is an altogether different proposition. It took around 10 hours for the drivers to loosen, up until which point everything was a bit muddy and unrefined so any new purchasers looking in, be advised that things will get better soon. Much, much better, in fact!

    Where to start? OK, beginning with the claims that the physical separation of each of the drivers allows for a true stereo soundstage. Yep, we can testify that the Soundscape is infinitely superior in this regard when compared to your typical soundbar but put up against an equivalent set of stereo speakers, of course it won’t be able to compete but it does an amazing job nevertheless and it does sound like a real HiFi system when driven with two channel music, regardless of type. The presentation is incredibly fast and dynamic but still mellifluous when required and no matter what was asked of it, the Paradigm delivered a tremendously composed performance.

    We have a catholic taste in music so the Soundscape was ‘treated’ to a mixture of old school Hip Hop, female jazz singers, Led Zeppelin, John Grant, Elbow and The Beach Boys as testers and the delivery of each was tremendous. But it’s likely that the primary deployment of the Soundscape will be as a sonic accompaniment to your TVs pictures so how it performs with TV and movies – in particular – is probably more critical and, again, the Soundscape is not found wanting. In fact, it’s like no soundbar we’ve ever heard, in many respects.

    After a short run in, the Soundtrack was breathtaking

    For true 5.1 sources, the Soundcape processes the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel so that it utilises the bass power of all four mid-range drivers for the ‘point one’ and the results are pretty incredible with room-filling, floor shaking energy dispersed with real cleanliness. The low end is therefore very well defined and brilliantly integrated but not all the deepest notes will be present. Even adding a modest sub will give you a little more low end extension but you’d be sacrificing performance in the 40-80Hz region, where the Soundscape is superb. A serious subwoofer partner for this package will probably set you back a few hundred quid but it would be an upgrade worth considering, at some point, and would give you a truly enviable living room setup.

    Not that the Soundcape is really lacking in anything and should come as no surprise that it will play really loud without distorting, thanks to dedicated amplification for each driver unit. This is a spectacular soundbar, without question, but you don’t have to run it full throttle to appreciate it as it will operate at night-time friendly levels when needed and still have enough dynamism to keep you happy. That’s another job well done by Paradigm and further proof of the engineering know-how behind the Soundscape.

    Paradigm Soundscape Video Review


    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Incredible HiFi sound
    • Proper separation
    • Fabulous with 5.1 sources
    • Can add an external sub

    Cons

    • Too tall for lots of TVs when table mounted
    • No HDMI will concern some
    • It's pricey
    You own this Total 5
    You want this Total 2
    You had this Total 0

    Paradigm Soundscape Soundbar Review

    The Paradigm Soundscape is the Rolls Royce of the soundbar sector. It’s big, bold and perhaps a little brash but it goes about its business beautifully, thanks to superior engineering and incredible attention to detail that elicits a performance your typical speaker bar can’t touch . You will need first to consider whether you can accommodate this beast, as it stands 14cm tall and will, therefore, obscure the bottom of many a TV, if it’s to be table mounted. You can, of course, stick it on a wall using the included bracket but otherwise, you may be seeking out some form of plinth or ‘raiser’ for your telly but it’s worth the effort.

    The design of the Soundscape is such that all the drivers are independently amplified and completely isolated from one another, allowing it to produce a true stereo soundstage for two channel, whilst also being fabulously capable with multichannel movie and TV sources. The delivery is accurate, involving and exciting for your typical film soundtrack whilst beautifully composed and assured with musical duties. You can even add a more little low end impact with an external subwoofer, either wired or wirelessly with the supplied adaptor, but it packs a punch regardless and its performance is thoroughly bombastic, in any case, with a refinement in the mid-low notes unique in this product sector.

    This is a premium soundbar in every sense - although some might bemoan the lack of HDMI connectivity and an IR repeater function would be useful – but in terms of how it sounds, it currently has no equal. There will some who claim it madness to spend somewhere around £1,300 on a soundbar, when a perfectly decent separates system can be had for that, but if it has to be a soundbar and you want the ultimate example, then you’ve just found it.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    10

    Connectivity

    8

    Ease of Use

    7

    Sound Quality

    10

    Features

    8

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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