All of the wireless systems to date involve proprietary solutions, forcing users to stick entirely with one brand and offering little in the way of variety or option. DTS (yes, the same surround sound DTS) is looking to be the Switzerland of wireless audio, licensing its Play-Fi wireless audio streaming system to any company that wants it. This opens the technology into products covering a variety of performance and budget levels, and means that any Play-Fi product will work with any other, letting users mix and match as performance, budgets, brand preference, or aesthetics dictate.
Play-Fi is currently licensed to MartinLogan, Definitive Technology, Polk, Wren, and Fusion Research, with Wadia, McIntosh, and Sonus Faber also planning to release products. Paradigm (along with sister company Anthem) is one of the latest companies to join the Play-Fi ecosystem with its new Premium Wireless Series, which it premiered at CEDIA 15.
Paradigm’s PW series includes two powered speakers and an amplifier. (A preamp version will be coming shortly, perfect for adding Play-Fi to any amplifier or home theater receiver.) Besides the premium sound quality that the company is known for, Paradigm is looking to place its stamp on Play-Fi and elevate itself from the crowd by incorporating the company’s renowned Anthem Room Correction (ARC) in all of its products, ensuring that the products all sound their very best regardless of the room’s acoustics.
Both speakers have a matching masculine, executive look to them, with muted black grilles and side panels, a thin silver base that gives an air of richness, and a dark, wood-grain laminate top. I could definitely see these being at home sitting on a desk in an office, or on a bookshelf in a family room. Either speaker can be mated as a stereo pair in the app, letting you enjoy real fidelity, plus both include an RCA out to connect a powered sub. The PW 600 features a single 5-inch S-PAL (Satin- Anodized pure-Aluminum) high-excursion bass/mid driver and two 1-inch S-PAL dome tweeters driven by a 200-watt RMS Anthem Class-D amp. The PW 800 adds a second 5-inch S-PAL bass/ mid and ups the wattage to 230.
Paradigm’s PW Amp
The PW Amp is a small but mighty little marvel, packing a 100-watt stereo RMS Anthem Class-D amp. The amp can also produce 200-watt dynamic peaks and handle a 4-ohm load, meaning it should be able to drive two pairs of most speakers. The amp can also be made into stereo pairs, allowing you to bi-amp a demanding speaker. The binding posts can accept banana plugs or spring lock for bare wire.
To demonstrate how the Play-Fi ecosystem works across brands, I also used MartinLogan’s latest soundbar, the Motion Vision X. Beyond Play- Fi, the bar has received some tuning tweaks and updates from ML, but fundamentally remains the same as when I reviewed the original Motion Vision (Review available online at residentialsystems.com).
This was the third Play-Fi system I’ve reviewed, so I was familiar with the setup and configuration process, but kudos to Paradigm for making it as painless as possible for newbies by including separate setup sheets for PC, Android, and iOS users. While all of the PW components have an ethernet connection, wireless is the hook here, so I went Wi-Fi for all three. If the router supports WPS, then you’re only a 4-second button press away from connection. Otherwise setup involves opening your Wi-Fi connections tab and connecting to the device such as “PlayFi2Device032D44.” Once connected, the Play-Fi app connects the device to your Wi-Fi network.
As mentioned, one of the big deals here is the inclusion of Anthem’s ARC. To utilize this, each Paradigm PW product comes with a calibrated microphone and USB cable. To perform ARC you need to go to anthemav.com and download ARC for Play-Fi. Once installed, the program walks you through taking five measurements. Once the measurements are complete you can tweak the target curve, adjusting EQ cutoffs, max EQ frequency, set subwoofer high-pass order and frequency. The program then calculates the adjustment filters and you upload the results to the speaker or amp. The whole process is very quick, taking less than five minutes from start to finish. Also very cool, ARC gives you the ability to print a results summary to present to your client to show them exactly what the product is doing in their room. That’s a great level of documentation detail that really says this is a premium product.
Once ARC has been performed you can toggle it on and off by pressing and holding the mute button on any of the devices for five seconds. When turned on the speaker emits a Bing! tone, and when off, a Bronnng!
The entire system is controlled via Andoid or iOS app. (There is an app for Windows as well, with a limited free version and a premium “full” version for $14.95.) DTS has made leaps and bounds in developing the app since its first release, but there are still some limitations and quirks that might bother some users. For example, there is a couple second delay between songs, which is really noticeable when listening to “gapless” albums like live recordings. Fairly frequently there also is a digital pop! or click in between songs when streaming, which can be quite loud depending on the volume level. (Interestingly, I didn’t notice this nearly as much with the Martin Logan bar.) Sometimes when I would get a call on my phone the music stopped playing. There’s also no way to create a playlist or queue any music.
Occasionally, I noticed some kind of scratchy, sparkling static in the upper frequencies. For example, listening to “Rey’s Theme” from The Force Awakens soundtrack there is some crackling over the flute notes. This happened on a variety of music services, but seemed most noticeable on Tidal. I confirmed this was a Play-Fi issue, and not a Paradigm one by connecting my phone directly to the analog audio input and playing the same tracks.
Play-Fi has continued adding services and now supports Deezer, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Songza, Spotify (Connect) and Tidal. (By the time you read this, iHeart Radio, Pandora, and Prime Music should also be supported.) You can also play music stored on the device (provided it isn’t older DRMwrapped content), a ton of internet radio stations from around the world, and stream content from an attached media server, though it wouldn’t see the drive connected to my DLNA router. (It does work well with JRiver Media when I had that running on my laptop.)
Fortunately sonics are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to a music system, and sonically, the PW series delivers in spades, with music that will more than satisfy any listener.
The PW 600 delivers far bigger sound than I expected, with an ability to reach bass notes that a speaker its size has no business playing. I placed it in my kitchen on a granite counter tucked back under cabinetry and ARC really did a great job of cleaning up the audio in this awkward space. The dual tweeters really present a wide, room-filling sound.
On paper, the PW 800 doesn’t appear to offer much more than the PW 600, reaching just a single Hz lower (39 Hz versus 40) in the bass range. However, this is definitely a case where the numbers don’t tell the whole story, as the 800 delivers significantly fuller and richer audio, not only in bass depth but in complexity and detail in the mids. Macklemore’s “Downtown” has a steady and deep bass line throughout, but there’s a significant BOOM at the 10-second mark that is lost on most speakers, but the PW 800 hits this like it is rocking a sub. The speaker’s shape also produces a wider presentation, making it ideal for single-speaker solutions in bigger rooms, and letting you actually experience stereo audio. I placed it atop a dresser centered in a bedroom and you could clearly get left and right detail along with a detailed center.
It is staggering how much output the PW Amp can produce. I connected it to a pair of tower speakers as well as some large, 8-inch Monitor Audio in-walls that I have found difficult to drive. The PW Amp never sounded like a small, digital box, but rather like I was listening to a traditional two-channel amplifier. It coaxed gobs of bass from the Monitors and was able to reach volume levels that were far beyond comfortable. Be confident that the PW Amp allows you to use any speaker you like, delivering audio performance that can satisfy any listener.
Without question, Paradigm’s PW Series of speakers sound terrific, and the inclusion of ARC is a huge bonus for wireless audio systems in the way it can significantly improve real-world, in-room performance. Further, Play-Fi can be another tool in your installation tool belt. While DTS has shown it will continue to invest in the technology, before deciding whether the system is right for your customers, I would suggest bringing a system into your home or showroom and living with it for a bit.
Terrific sound quality; PW Amp has gobs of power; ARC delivers noticeable improvements
Play-Fi system has variety of quirks
◄ DTS Play-Fi app currently supports Deezer, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Songza, Spotify (Connect), Tidal, and Internet radio
◄ All products feature 2.4 and 5.0 GHz 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, ethernet connection, analog audio input, subwoofer output, USB for firmware updates
◄ Includes calibrated microphone for Anthem Room Correction (ARC) 4 PW 600 45Hz-20kHz +/- 2dB; includes two 1-inch S-PAL dome tweeters, one 5-inch S-PAL bass/ mid; Anthem Class-D amp 200-watt RMS, 400-watt dynamic
◄ PW 800 44Hz-20kHz +/- 2dB; includes two 1-inch S-PAL dome tweeters, two 5-inch S-PAL bass/ mid; Anthem Class-D amp 230-watt RMS, 460-watt dynamic
◄ PW Amp 2 x 100-watt RMS (4 ohms), 2 x 200-watt dynamic peak; can be configured as mono for bi-amping