Paradigm SHIFT A2 Active Speakers Review - AVRev.com
Paradigm SHIFT A2 Active Speakers Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Thursday, 05 July 2012

Paradigm has been a mainstay of the high-end two-channel, home theater, and lifestyle speaker market for so many years now, it's easy to take them for granted. I bet some audiophiles do. Not me. My home theater system is all Paradigm, and I use their SHIFT e3m earbuds for portable listening. Paradigm’s Reference Series monitors and floorstanders always sound excellent to me at audio shows, and they offer great value.

The aforementioned SHIFT series also includes the new SHIFT A2 active monitors. They are geared towards the desktop and computer audiophile markets, among others. There are a number of very interesting things about the A2’s. First, they are modeled sonically in Paradigm’s 35,000 square foot research facility in Canada, using various techniques to develop the most balanced performance at this price point. They also are available in several high gloss colors, and are sold individually for $279 each, with a premium for the high gloss finishes.

Design & Feature Set:

The A2’s are two-way monitors similar to Paradigm’s own venerable Atom’s, which function as my Left and Right Surround speakers in my home theater. The A2 is a sealed box however, with 50 watts of internal amplification in each speaker, utilizing a digital crossover and Digital Signal Processing (DSP). Incoming audio is converted to digital at the 48 Khz sample rate. There are independent rotary volume controls on each speaker, a set of 3.5 mm mini jack and RCA line in inputs, and a power switch. There is also an AC outlet to power other devices including wireless streamers. Lastly, there is a switch to set the speaker to mono, left, or right.

Around the front, the drivers are trickled down from Paradigm’s Reference line, with modifications, and are protected via a magnetically attached grille. The A2 is available in five very attractive finishes. My review samples arrived in a brilliant Vermillion Red Gloss. By the way, all necessary cables are supplied in the package so you are ready to roll right out of the box, which is a big time saver and a really nice plus.

Set Up & Listening:

The fit and finish on these little self-powered speakers was very impressive. These are well made and put together products. As far as aesthetics, they are lovely to look at, will easily fit into any decor, regardless of whether they are on stands, a shelf, a desktop, or even a table top. Speaking of tabletops, after removing the speakers from the packaging, I could not wait, so I immediately set up the A2s on my dining table, with my Dell Netbook as a source.

I first plugged each speaker in the wall outlet with the supplied C7 power cord, then connected them together via the supplied mini jack cable. I set one speaker to Left, the other to Right, and made sure the volume knob was set low initially, so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises. I then connected the Dell via another 3.5 mm cable from its headphone out jack. Using Foobar2000 playing back FLAC files, I dialed in what I thought was an appropriate volume setting for the Dell. The Paradigms took me aback with their room filling, viscerally exciting presentation. I literally did a double take. This was real deal, high fidelity sound that in no way resembled classic “computer speakers” in any shape or form.

I am talking about authentic, tuneful, believable bass, liquid, totally satisfying midrange textures, and silky high frequencies. Of course, the limiting factor was the fidelity of the Dell’s headphone output that, while respectable, could be better. I then connected Musical Fidelity’s V-DAC II via USB to the Dell, selected it as the output device, and ran entry level Transparent RCA interconnects into the A2 speakers. Now the sound was even more refined, bold, and tuneful.  Bear in mind, a tabletop is certainly not an optimal set up!

I then setup the A2s on Atacama 24" stands, driven by a Belles Soloist 3 preamp, a pair of 2 Meter Transparent MusicLink interconnects, and my Squeezebox Touch/Musical Fidelity V-DAC II combo as a source. With a high quality preamp like the Belles and good cables, I found the A2's performance nothing short of astonishing considering the price and size. Bass quality and quantity are the best I have heard from a mini monitor. Period. Now, of course, this is in comparison to passive speakers with no onboard amplifier or digitally voiced response. I hope I am not exaggerating when I say that what I heard bass wise equaled some floorstanders I have evaluated.

As matter of fact, I am not even sure the Belles was helping much in the gain department, but my guess is it was a contributing factor to the bass quality, since the Belles is a super clean sounding preamp and bass articulation is one of its strengths. The A2 excelled in other departments as well. The midrange was clean, clear, and revealing, and the treble range was crystalline and in proper balance with the rest of the presentation. On Ray Lamontagne’s God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise, an album I have been using to evaluate gear for about a year now, the recording's virtues were as apparent as ever. Lamontagne’s amazing voice, the accompanying acoustic guitar, and other textures were, amazingly, just right.

Last up, naturally, was a computer desktop set up, using Paradigm’s optional A2 Stainless Stands. I connected the A2 to my Mac Mini's headphone output, and adjusted the volume correctly, making volume adjustments thereafter with my Mac Mini volume control and Audirvana when playing back FLAC files from my music library. I also used Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, and other Internet sources.

Streaming the new album by Irish singer songwriter Glen Hansard, Rhythm And Repose, from Spotify was pretty eye opening. To tell you the truth, once I got started, I found it hard to shut it off and start up my main system. That is how pleasing, uncompressed, and uncompromised the sound was.  Remember, this was with a lossy mp3 stream. Even better was using Audirvana to playback FLAC encoded files, like various titles from the legendary Australian band The Church. Their finely textured, neo psychedelic compositions glimmered with texture and there was even remarkable soundstage depth. Neil Young’s classic mid-70’s foray into country rock, Comes A Time, sounded fresh and alive with acoustic instruments and Young’s voice having real presence.

Paradigm Shift BD-1

Paradigm also sent along their optional BD 1 Bluetooth Audio Receiver.  It is a small dongle that plugs into the A2 mini jack and connects wirelessly to a Bluetooth enabled laptop, smart phone, or tablet. I synced it with my wife’s iPhone and it worked like a charm. From a good 20 feet away, I was able stream music stored on the phone with no interruption and with pretty impressive fidelity. I think Paradigm was very smart to cover all bases, almost leaving no stone unturned.  

Some final notes on performance. I found the A2 very quiet, and it went into Stand By mode when no audio was available. Paradigm supplies attractive magnetically attached grilles, but I did virtually all my listening without them, simply because I like the way they looked sans grilles. It is interesting to note that higher end Paradigm speakers are designed for better dispersion with the grilles on, as is with my Monitor 9 floorstanders.

Conclusion:

At $279 each (standard finish), with onboard 50 watt amplifiers, multiple connection options, and a nice choice of premium finishes, I believe the Paradigm Shift A2 powered monitors are exactly what I have come to expect from Paradigm -- smartly engineered, attractively packaged and, most importantly, great sounding products. Otherwise, all the flexibility, connectivity, and looks would be of no value.

Paradigm’s A2 monitors are designed for real world use, eschewing unnecessary “pro” audio connections, questionable styling, and other oddities common with that market. A2s are designed to be used in the home, with a variety of possible sources, including computer, hand held device, DAC, tape deck, and even a traditional preamp.  Actually, any source with a 3.5 mm or RCA phono output is compatible. There is plenty of power available in the onboard amplifiers to provide satisfying, room filling sound with knock out bass and dynamics, and overall presentation has been voiced with great craft.

I easily recommend an audition of the A2. They will blend into any decor, with a choice of several attractive finishes. There are number of available accessories, including the BD 1 Bluetooth kit, that allow for wireless connections to handheld devices. You can also plug in a WiFi device like an Apple Airport Express into the A2's AC socket, or you can connect them via wires on stands, a desktop top, or on shelves. If I wanted for anything, it would be nice to have markings for volume level on the volume control wheel, or even a volume control on the front baffle.  Lastly, a digital input would have been pretty awesome. Other than that small wish list, the Paradigm SHIFT A2 is a fun and great sounding product.


Specifications


Paradigm SHIFT A2 Powered Monitors: $279 each.

Tweeter: 1" Anodized pure-aluminum dome
Woofer: 5-1/2" Satin-anodized pure-aluminum cone
Frequency Response: 55 Hz - 20 kHz (+/-2 dB)
Amplifier: S/N Ratio: >85 dB A-weighted, 2Vrms
Amplifier Power: Biamplified: 2 x 50 W RMS, 80W Dynamic
Peak Dynamic Power: 100 Watts Dynamic Peak, 50 Watts RMS
Low-Frequency Extension: 30 Hz
Power Requirements: 120V~60 Hz 2A*
Dimensions (H x W x D): 11" x 6-5/8" x 8-7/8"
Weight (unpacked): 11.6 lb
Warranty: 1-year limited

Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT, Unison Research Unico CDe
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Rogue Hydra
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Belkin Gold (USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genisis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold







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