Paradigm Premium Wireless Multiroom Audio System Review Page 2

Sure, that was a stupid location for a speaker, but not f’ing absolutely stupid. So I turned the sound system 180 degrees, toward some boxes stacked under the desk. After resetting the ill-treated PW 600 back to its factory defaults, I gave it a listen again—and, of course, it totally sucked, lacking any kind of clarity or warmth in the vocals. What there was of the muddled highs was harsh and brittle, while the bass was louder and boomier than ever. Then I ARC’d the PW 600, using the same microphone locations I’d used earlier.

Gobsmacked isn’t a strong enough word for my response to the overARCing improvements. The bass tightened up to where it was almost as good as the sound with the post-ARC PW 600 firing forward. Vocals and the pluck of guitar strings regained much of their definition, and the highs became softer with more subtlety. ARC wasn’t able to compensate entirely for the poor placement, but it did make astounding improvements—enough to make the PW 600 enjoyable to listen to in that configuration.

Set up in an appropriate listening location and even without the benefit of ARC, the PW 600 is a fantastic sound system that’s definitely a rival in terms of performance to what I consider to be the best streaming system for the money—the similarly priced Sonos Play:5 (Gen 2). The PW 600’s only negative is that it’s designed strictly for vertical placement, and the limited distance between tweeters leaves little doubt you’re listening to a single source location.

The additional 5-inch bass driver gives the PW 800 a slight edge in bass performance over the PW 600, although it’s more in bass tautness and definition than in depth or volume. The 800 was more open, with a tad more clarity, on Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.” Those differences were slight, however. Much more obvious was the 800’s wider and deeper soundstage. I’m not talking about stereo separation, as you listen for in a speaker pair. Instead, it’s the spread of sound across the front that’s important. Thinking of it in terms of video aspect ratios, the PW 600 is 4:3, while the PW 800 is 16:9. As a result, if you have the space, the 800 is certainly worth the extra $200.

Paradigm’s smallish PW Amp is wickedly good and—at 50 watts per channel into 8-ohm loads—modestly underpromises and then seriously overperforms. To prove the point, Paradigm shipped a pair of the company’s new Prestige 75F tower speakers (in a gorgeous Midnight Cherry finish) to use with the PW Amp. I thought it questionable to send a $3,000 pair of speakers to use with a $499 streaming amplifier, but it took only a few minutes of listening before I was sucked in and swallowed up whole by the delicate detail and holographic three-dimensionality the speaker/amp combo produced. I’ve rarely heard a set of towers that could take the incredible panorama of guitar, barking dogs, and recorded conversations at the beginning of Roger Waters’ “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” and spread it so far to the sides of the room. The bass was tight, powerful, and deep, despite the fact that the Prestige 75F towers don’t include powered woofers. [Ed. Note: Our review of the Prestige 75F will appear in a future issue.] Amazingly, that little-but-mighty PW Amp never seemed to run out of steam, motivating all the tower’s drivers in my room.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
I’m totally sold on Paradigm’s PW hardware. The components sound awesome, especially with ARC, and they look great. I’m not so enthralled, however, by the underlying architecture of the DTS Play-Fi technology used for streaming to the PW gear.

One of Play-Fi’s best features is that it’s brand agnostic, so Play-Fi gear from any company will work in a system with Play-Fi gear from any other company—similar, in that respect, to the interoperability of products with Apple’s AirPlay. For best performance, Play-Fi recommends using a max of 16 Play-Fi products on a home network. But if you really want to push it to the limit, a single phone/tablet can simultaneously stream independent audio to up to four zones, each zone containing up to eight speakers grouped together in the app. All Play-Fi apps, by the way, are virtually identical. The main differences are the logos and color schemes. Paradigm suggests using the generic DTS Play-Fi app, which is available for iOS and Android. There’s also a Windows PC version that’s relatively straightforward and allows you to stream audio directly from your computer. The free version allows you to stream to one Play-Fi component. It’ll cost you $15 for the Play-Fi HD upgrade to stream to multiple speakers.

I don’t find the Play-Fi iOS and Android apps to be very intuitive or especially easy to use. DTS has made some improvements since the apps were introduced, and I’m sure the company will continue working on the user interface. Unfortunately, the underlying Play-Fi architecture has, in my opinion, a deeply ingrained flaw. Play-Fi components are “stupid”—as in, the critical software resides in the phone/app that’s actively controlling the component(s). In other systems—such as Sonos, Heos, and Bluesound—the smarts are in the components. In other words, the control apps for some other systems instruct the components where to go to get the streaming audio for themselves. But the Play-Fi app has to actively spoonfeed the streaming audio to the devices the entire time they’re in operation.

So, imagine I’m throwing a party (unlikely as that is), and I’ve used my iPhone to stream music from Tidal to components in three rooms. Halfway through the party, I realize we’ve run out of absinthe (again), so I hop in the car—with my iPhone, of course—and head to the liquor store.

With a Sonos/Heos/Bluesound system, my guests won’t know I’m gone, since there’s no break in the audio; the components blithely keep streaming from their assigned source until commanded to do otherwise. With a Play-Fi system—remember, this isn’t limited to Paradigm but affects Play-Fi gear from all manufacturers—the system goes silent as soon as my phone loses its Wi-Fi connection with my home network.

Up until fairly recently, Play-Fi users coming into an active listening zone with their own iOS or Android device also couldn’t adjust the volume on the stream booted up by another device. Fortunately, the Remote Volume feature introduced late last year addressed this by allowing a user to adjust volume from a second device without interrupting the original stream. However, unlike Sonos and some other systems, this is the extent of the control the secondary device can provide. To change the music source, for example, still requires direct involvement of the master device.

Maybe I’m being a streaming-system diva. In a small Play-Fi system with two or three components in a house or apartment with only one or two users, Play-Fi’s jack-of-all-streams app structure probably won’t be as inconvenient as I’ve portrayed. But from an ease-of-use standpoint, it’s going to become more problematic as the number of components and/or users grows.

I truly love the components in Paradigm’s new Premium Wireless series. The folks in Canada have blended Paradigm’s speaker expertise with Anthem’s excellence in electronics and still managed to keep the PW components at relatively affordable price points. Most important, Anthem Room Correction brings out the absolute best in the sound systems—including optional connected subwoofers—as well as in conventional speakers (Paradigm’s or any other brand’s) that are hooked up to the PW Amp. I’m not so in love with the DTS Play-Fi technology, on the other hand, due to what I consider to be drawbacks in Play-Fi’s streaming architecture.

Other than that, I have to struggle to find any serious negatives with Paradigm’s Premium Wireless components. If you’re a fan of PlayFi, appreciate the technology’s brand-agnostic nature, and aren’t concerned about the potential limitations cited, then I can highly, highly recommend the new Paradigm wireless gear. Paradigm shouldn’t have called it the “Premium” Wireless series. It’s better than that. You might say it’s premium-er than premium. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a fantastic collection of gorgeous, awesome-sounding streaming gear.

Paradigm Electronics
(905) 564-1994

mhdaniels31's picture

anyway you look at it there asking a whole lot of money for some powered speakers and a 50wattx2 amp not that i dont know what paradigm is all about but still once you start reaching prices like that you could start thinking about custom intigration at there cheapest $600 a speaker you could actually start buying some of paradigm premium offerings at these prices