Paradigm is on a tear as of late, and their newest line of products, the Shift Series, is among the brand's most ambitious to date. Rather than simply make another line of loudspeakers, Paradigm has focused its attention on more lifestyle-oriented products, such as powered desktop loudspeakers, headphones, soundbars and even wireless speakers. The A2 powered loudspeaker, reviewed here, is arguably the Shift Series' crowning achievement and, as I would find out, possibly the best all-round loudspeaker Paradigm has ever made.
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The A2 retails for $279.99 each in its Black Ash finish or $329.99 each when clad in automotive gloss skin. Regardless of finish, the A2 is sold direct via the Paradigm Shift website, as well as at select Paradigm Shift dealers. The A2 is a two-way, self-powered monitor loudspeaker that measures eleven inches tall by nearly seven inches wide and nine inches deep. Despite its internal amplification and robust construction, the A2 only weighs a scant eleven pounds. The A2 can be had in one of five standard colors: Polar Gloss White, Vermillion Red Gloss, Gunmetal Grey Gloss, Storm Black Satin and Ash Black Grain. All of the A2's finish options are beautiful and of a quality you'd expect from boutique shops such as Wilson Audio, yet here they are for around $300. The included grilles are magnetic and cover the A2's driver complement nicely.
Around back, things get really interesting. Working from top to bottom, the first item you'll encounter is the A2's volume control, followed by a single AC power input (North American models only) for use with powered wireless dongles or to power a second A2 if only one outlet is present. Along the bottom rests the A2's input options: a single 3.5mm mini-audio jack and a pair of RCA-style inputs. There is also a mirrored set of audio outputs as well, which are important if you're going to be daisy-chaining multiple A2s. Next to the A2's input/output options is the speaker's Setting Switch, which allows you to tell the A2 whether it is a left, right or even center speaker - again, this is important when interconnecting multiple speakers. Lastly, there is the A2's master power switch, along with its AC power outlet.
Behind the scenes, the A2 employs a single one-inch pure aluminum dome tweeter that is powered by its own fifty-watt internal amplifier. Midrange and bass are handled via a single five-and-a-half inch satin-anodized, pure aluminum woofer, which is also powered by its own fifty-watt internal amplifier. It should be noted that the internal amps are capable of up to 100 watts of dynamic power. The two-way design and internal amplification give the A2 a reported frequency response of 55Hz to 20kHz, with low-frequency extension reaching a reported 30Hz, according to Paradigm.
Optional accessories for the A2 include stainless steel table stands ($34.99 each), as well as the BD1 Bluetooth Receiver dongle ($59.00). Both are sold separately and are available via Paradigm's website or your local Paradigm Shift dealer.
I received my pair of A2s finished in the ever-classy Gunmetal Grey Gloss finish, which is very reminiscent of Wilson Audio's Titanium or Gunmetal Grey paint scenes that I've grown accustomed to on their MAXX and Watt/Puppy (now Sasha W/P) lines. Each speaker is boxed individually and is well-braced and packaged for a safe travel. Paradigm also sent me a pair of stainless steel stands and the BD1 Bluetooth Receiver to use in my evaluation. I decided to start by setting up the A2s in my office, where they would replace my trusty but aging Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 desktop loudspeakers. At more than double the MM-1's size, the A2s did require some minor rearranging when it came to fitting them on my desk, but nothing too strenuous. In their final resting places atop my workstation, the speakers sat approximately four feet apart and roughly six inches off my office front wall, with shallow side walls resting about a foot outside the speakers' outermost edges. This near-field configuration is one I'm very familiar with, for every desktop suitor has pulled a tour or two on my desk before either being promoted to one of my two listening rooms or being demoted back to their respective manufacturers.
I set the A2 up in a variety of ways, though for most of my critical listening, I connected the left speaker to my computer via a single 3.5mm cable (included) then daisy-chained the right speaker off the left via another 3.5mm cable (also included). From there, I simply told each speaker whether it was left or right via the included switch and was off and running. Well, not quite. I also took time to level match each speaker to the other, since both A2s possess independent volume controls, something that is uncommon among most desktop speakers. Music was played via my media center software of choice, J River, which is among the most versatile computer-based AV front ends one can hope to find on either PC or Mac.
Other setups included daisy-chaining the two speakers together, then feeding them a Bluetooth signal via the optional Bluetooth Receiver and my Android smart phone, as well as utilizing the A2s as better stereo speakers for my Panasonic plasma. Needless to say, the A2's versatility is most impressive and among its greatest attributes - until you hear them, of course.
I kicked things off with Barenaked Ladies' Born on a Pirate Ship and the track "When I Fall" (Reprise). "When I Fall" features a stand-up bass. Via the A2s, it was rendered with aplomb; each pluck of the strings resonating with a real sense of weight and body that you'd expect from larger, dare I say, floor-standing loudspeakers. The accompanying drum kit, especially the cymbals, sounded positively organic, with natural air and decay surrounding each hit. The vocal track was nestled neatly in the center of the well-defined soundstage, possessing a true sense of weight and scale despite the A2s' diminutive size and driver complement. Tonally, the A2s sounded neutral to my ears, though some may view them as ever so slightly cool; I'd argue we've simply grown accustomed to speakers being voiced too ripe and thus our perception of neutral has shifted (see what I did there?). The delineation between the instruments was incredible, as was the sheer level of detail that was heard via the self-amplified drivers. In their near-field setup, the issue of "the room" was all but removed from the equation, thereby allowing the music to sound that much more nuanced than if the speakers had been set up in a more traditional manner. The A2s' soundstage presentation was rather surprising, possessing boundary-defying width and depth. Dynamics were incredible, but in some ways I expected the A2s' dynamic prowess to be better than that of traditional two-way monitors, for any time you can properly amplify drivers individually, one of the byproducts is going to be proper dynamic reproduction.
Read more about the Paradigm Shift A2s on Page 2.