The Best Soundbar: Wirecutter Reviews

The Paradigm Soundscape (top) has a lot of inputs and great, rich sound. Photo: Dennis Burger

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Paradigm Soundscape

The Paradigm Soundscape is the best overall soundbar because it offers great sound quality, a wide selection of inputs (including Bluetooth with AptX), and simple setup and operation. Setting it up is as easy as plugging it into the wall and TV. An LED readout lets you quickly determine your input and volume, and if you want more bass, the included wireless adapter works with any subwoofer that you choose—a rarity in this age of proprietary protocols.

When you’re paying this much for a soundbar, you want it to sound great, which the Paradigm Soundscape does. It bested almost all its competitors in our testing thanks to a more-accurate lower-mid range that bestows some extra richness and warmth on movies and music. It throws a very large, involving soundstage and offers clear dialogue with its center channel, too.

Frequency response for the Paradigm Soundscape, Monitor Audio ASB-2, Yamaha YSP-4300, and Definitive Technology SoloCinema Studio.

The chart above shows the in-room frequency response for four of the soundbars we tested: the Paradigm Soundscape, Monitor Audio ASB-2, Yamaha YSP-4300, and Definitive Technology SoloCinema Studio. After we normalized the results to 1 kilohertz, the Paradigm exhibited a flatter frequency response than the other models; this is why we heard a richness to the midrange on the Paradigm that we did not on the others. Research by Harman International’s Floyd Toole and others has shown that listeners prefer a flat frequency response. We also saw that despite the lack of a subwoofer on the Paradigm, it had bass response down to 40 hertz.

The Soundscape design incorporates three tweeters (for the left, center, and right channels) and four midrange/bass drivers. Its use of discrete drivers for all three channels, whereas many other soundbars have only one or two tweeters, allows for clarity on both stereo music and dialogue. The mid-bass drivers are a relatively robust 4 inches in size, which prevents the Paradigm from being as sleek as the Yamaha or Definitive Technology models but allows it to provide better bass without requiring a subwoofer. The design also eliminates the effects of when a subwoofer crosses over too high (above 120 Hz or so), a point at which bass sounds become directional.

The DSP (digital signal processor) for the surround effects also does a decent job, but it will not convince you that sounds are coming from behind you. The models that do best with faux-surround effects manage it by dedicating channels to those effects, while the Paradigm reserves its drivers for the front three channels. This design provides better music clarity and a larger, more defined soundstage than if they had been utilized for surround, and it’s a decision we agree with.

The Soundscape’s optical input is enough for you to connect it to any decent TV, and its Bluetooth streaming capabilities mean you can wirelessly play music from your phone, tablet, or computer with no additional equipment. It has no HDMI support, but we don’t think that’s a huge deal in a soundbar. The added difference in audio quality with lossless HDMI versus lossy optical or coaxial is even more difficult to discern when you’re dealing with such a small package. HDMI would also require you to use your soundbar remote in addition to your TV remote, which would likely complicate things for not much gain. There is one exception to this HDMI rule, and we will discuss that later. But again, all but the cheapest 32-inch TVs will have a digital or analog output for audio, so you don’t need to worry about it.

Usability is nice and easy with the Soundscape. The lack of HDMI means that it has no on-screen menu system, which actually makes it much easier to use. The LED readout on the front is simple to navigate and quickly displays the input and volume; models that rely on using your TV for such info are frustrating to use when you just want to listen to music. You have few options to adjust. The included remote offers the controls you need plus direct access to important features. Many of the other bars we’ve seen include remotes that are either too small and simple to be useful or too large and clunky. The Paradigm remote strikes a good balance. And we found it easy to teach the Soundscape to respond to a different remote, so you may not even need the included one.

The included wireless subwoofer adapter makes it easy to add a subwoofer later if you desire more bass. Unlike with most soundbar models, which are compatible only with their own brand of subwoofer, the Paradigm Soundscape’s adapter will work with any subwoofer with a standard LFE input. The Soundscape by itself does well, going down to 40 Hz as we mentioned earlier, but if you add a sub the Soundscape crosses over at a nice 80 Hz frequency, which prevents the bass from being localized as it is with many other soundbars.

Writing for Trusted Reviews, Danny Phillips calls the Soundscape a “stunning soundbar that exudes luxury.” When it comes to performance, the Soundscape does very well: “Soundbars don’t have a reputation for being particularly musical but we were blown away by Soundscape’s two-channel performance.” Although the Soundscape earned a perfect 10 out of 10 in both performance and sound quality, in the review Phillips points out the lack of HDMI inputs. Overall, Phillips finds that the Paradigm is “a worthy purchase thanks primarily to its sumptuous design and outstanding sound quality.”

John Sciacca at Residential Systems feels similarly, saying, “Sonically is where the Soundscape truly shines.” Despite having no subwoofer, Sciacca writes, it is capable of “producing rumblings I could feel and pushing the sounds of exploding cannon balls and splintering hulls well beyond the width of the bar.” He only wishes the Bluetooth range were longer.

Mark Hodgkinson of AVForums calls the Soundscape “The Rolls Royce of Soundbars.” When playing stereo music, the soundstage of the Soundscape “is infinitely superior in this regard when compared to your typical soundbar,” and in Hodgkinson’s opinion “there is no better sounding speaker bar.”

Compared with the model that we think has the best sound quality, the Monitor Audio ASB-2, the Paradigm gave guitars more weight but had slightly less clarity in our tests. Such impressions come down to personal preference, though—while we like the extra clarity of the Monitor Audio soundbar, some people might think it sounds thin by comparison and prefer the Paradigm. Overall both sound great, and in our tests we had to switch back and forth to determine the differences.

The lack of HDMI inputs does not bother us, as most people switch sources on their TV, but a single HDMI input with Audio Return Channel would be a little more future-proof. A couple of TVs out there don’t have optical outputs, so they won’t work well with the Paradigm Soundscape, and adding HDMI with ARC would support those displays. HDMI ARC can be a pain to set up and use, however, which would make the Soundscape more complex.

Paradigm could also clean up the controls on the top of the Soundscape; the labels are confusing to read. With all the space available atop a soundbar, we wouldn’t mind having more buttons to quickly switch between sources. The blue LED readout can be a little hard to read sometimes, and the remote could also have dedicated input buttons to make getting to a specific input easier. Finally, a USB input for plugging in a thumb drive with audio files would be nice so that you wouldn’t have to rely on streaming all the time.

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