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Speakers

Game changer: A sound bar an audiophile can love

The Audiophiliac spends quality time with Paradigm's Soundscape, it's clearly the best sound bar he's heard in ages.

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Paradigm Soundscape, shown with its grille removed Paradigm

It came as a total surprise to me, but when the Paradigm Soundscape sound bar appeared in the CNET office I thought why not give it a spin? Unpacking the super solid 'bar it was easy to see Paradigm's build quality shames the more typical plastic or lightweight wood sound bars, the Soundscape metal clad, 20-pound, 5.5 by 42 by 5 inch cabinet looks sleek. The speaker houses seven drivers, four 4-inch woofers and three 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters, each driver is powered by a 50-watt Class D amplifier. A subwoofer isn't part of the system.

Connectivity is nothing special, there are two optical and one coaxial digital inputs; Bluetooth; one stereo analog RCA input: and a subwoofer output jack. Too bad HDMI didn't make the cut, and there's not much in the way of sound tuning options, and the ones that are available are buried in the tough-to-navigate menu system.

The sound was decidedly bass heavy, I guess Paradigm's engineers wanted to show off the Soundscape's prodigious low-end muscle. This kind of massive bass oomph is fun for about five minutes, so I wasted no time before I tackled the Soundscape's multi-level, single-line, horizontally scrolling LED menu system. I've seen worse, but I would expect a better and easier to read menu from a premium-priced 'bar. The cheap looking remote control, with a four-way cursor set that doubles as volume up/down and input select is nothing special. After a few false starts I successfully accessed the menu's Loudness, Bass and Treble settings, and turned Loudness off and the bass down 6 decibels. Ah, that sounded much better!

The Soundscape is significantly more powerful than any other subwooferless sound bar, and clarity and dynamic punch were superb. Soundstage and imaging were good, but not particularly wide or spacious. This sound bar doesn't attempt fake surround, which is fine with me.

Next, I explored the Soundscape's performance outer limits with the "Gravity" and "King Kong" discs, and man, this sound bar is a force to be reckoned with! Whether it was Kong wrestling with dinosaurs or space station hijinks, the Soundscape's dynamic punch easily KO-ed what passes for merely excellent everyday high-performance sound bars, like the new Klipsch R10-B. That one is pretty terrific for the money ($600), but the R10-B sounded puny next to the Soundscape.

The Soundscape comes with a wireless subwoofer transmitter box, so you can add a sub, or use a wired connection to a sub. I couldn't resist, and hooked up our Aperion Bravus 8D sub, and it took the Soundscape's performance to the next level. Yes, the bass went deeper, and at the same time the sub liberated the Soundscape's overall clarity.

Still, it's a sound bar, and a pair of powered speakers, such as the Emotiva Stealth 8, spaced 6 or more feet apart will produce a substantially larger, more dynamically alive and room filling sound than the Soundscape. Right, I'm thinking like an audiophile, trying to get the best possible sound for my readers for the same prices as the Soundscape, but most folks prefer a single speaker, easier-to-setup solution. So for them the Soundscape is highly recommended. The price in the US is $1,274.