When you consider that modern flat-panel TVs are less than two inches thick,
feature bezels measured in millimeters, and have speakers on the back of the
display firing away from the listener and into the wall, it’s no wonder they
produce anemic audio with dialog that people have difficulty understanding.
It’s also no surprise that soundbars are practically becoming a requisite add-on
to most flat-panel sales. The limitation of most soundbars, however, is their
anemic bass output. With small drivers fitting into thin cabinets designed
to match the look of modern displays, they can’t produce any weighty bass
info. And unless you like listening to everyone sounding slightly castrato, the
solution is adding a subwoofer. But what if you are dealing with a homeowner
that doesn’t want an extra black box sitting on the floor?
| Paradigm’s Soundscape Powered Soundbar|
The Soundscape, hailing from the Paradigm’s
successful Monitor Series, is the company’s first
foray into the 5.1-channel powered soundbar
category. While Paradigm clearly borrowed some
design cues from sister-company MartinLogan’s
Motion Vision bar introduced in 2012, the principal
difference is that the Soundscape uses Paradigm’s
PAL anodized pure aluminum tweeters instead
of MartinLogans’ Folded Motion high-frequency
drivers, and features significantly more amplifier
power. This additional power coupled with longer
mid/bass driver excursion (and I’m sure additional
Paradigm secret-sauce engineering prowess) allows
the Soundscape to produce far more bass. So much
so that when I first experienced the Soundscape
during this past CES, I asked which sub they had it
paired with. When Paradigm’s marketing manager,
Erin Phillips, coyly smiled and said, “There’s no
subwoofer; that’s just the bar,” I had to bring this
in for review.
The bar installs like any other, coming with a
wallmount bracket. (There is an integrated foot/
base if you want to set it on a tabletop or mantle,
and an EQ setting accounts for either location.)
There are multiple inputs, but I used a single
Toslink optical from my TV, letting me hear
audio from my Kaleidescape, DISH, and Control4
system. Soundscape decodes both Dolby Digital
and DTS audio along with Paradigm’s proprietary
Virtual Surround (which can be turned off). The
bar features music and movie EQ modes, and the
music mode definitely de-emphasizes the center
channel, giving better stereo width, and less “locked
to the speaker” sound. Besides increasing center-channel
focus for dialog, movie mode emphasizes
bass a bit–a feature I quite prefer.
While most owners likely won’t need a separate
subwoofer, there are two ways to add one. First
is a standard RCA output to a wired sub. Second
is via the included wireless receiver from which
Soundscape beams a signal up to 50-feet to any
powered sub. I paired it with two different subs and
it worked as promised, and, yes, an outboard sub
did best what the bar could do on its own. When an
external sub is connected, the bar adjusts crossover
points ensuring a more seamless integration.
The bar can learn remote codes for all of its
commands, letting you use your favorite third-party
remote or a simple handheld. I had a minor
issue with this where it wouldn’t ramp volume up or
down with my DISH remote, instead only raising
or lowering by click-click-clicking.
Sonically is where the Soundscape truly shines, however, keeping the often difficult-to-understand dialog from the opening ocean battle scene of Master and Commander centered and intelligible, while still producing the distant wind and atmospheric ocean sounds, giving nice width to the sonic image. Equally impressive was how the bar handled the deep bass and bombast of the cannon battle, producing rumblings I could feel and pushing the sounds of exploding cannon balls and splintering hulls well beyond the width of the bar.
The Soundscape demonstrated its ability to deliver weight and depth in reproducing the weighty voice and foot stomps of Smaug from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was amazing how the bar made Smaug’s voice boom and rumble around the room, seeming to come from nearly everywhere at once, producing a very real faux-surround effect.
I used the Get a Horse short from the beginning of Frozen to test the bar’s ability to produce a swirling sound image. Having watched this several times with my daughter on my reference nine-channel system, I know there are a lot of discrete effects as the plane flies around the back of the room. While the Soundscape couldn’t produce true rear-channel audio, it did a nice job of sonically transporting the plane around the room well beyond the speaker’s boundaries.
Another of Soundscape’s cool tricks is the
inclusion of Bluetooth with AptX, including
AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control profile)
enabling the Soundscape to control–play/pause,
skip forward/back–the source. This was a great
way for me to beam audio from my iPhone5 and
laptop to the bar, making it a potent second-zone
audio system. I did find the Bluetooth range a bit
more finicky than other products I’ve tested, so it is
definitely best for near-field transmission.
While the Soundscape is pricey by soundbar
standards, it certainly has the features and
performance chops to back it up. And when clients
hear how great it sounds without requiring an extra
black box, they’ll likely consider it a bargain.