Pros: Room filling sound, gets loud, sounds great, DSP, cost effective, small footprint, looks great, ultra portable, great connection options
Cons: Quality control, hiss, bright blue power LED
UPDATE 6/24/13 10:30 E. S. T. : I just received my second replacement A2 and it too is faulty. That means of the four I have had, three have been have faulty. If you read my review, you should note that this most recent faulty speaker is expressing the same symptoms as the first replacement speaker. However, if you so dare to try these speakers yourself and happen to get non-faulty ones, you will not be disappointed by them! (my one working speaker is awesome!). Needless to say, I'll be taking them back to the store tomorrow and going with something completely different. Paradigm, you're doing something wrong. Also note that my ratings are not taking into account the faulty speakers and assume I had a pair of good speakers.
And so the process began of figuring out what to get for my dorm room...
Don't stop reading there! Just because I'm a teenager doesn't mean I can't write a great review. I come from a family where sound quality is of the utmost importance. My dad personally started, owned, and operated a whole house audio/video business and installed home theaters and audio for a long time before selling the business for a considerable profit. Good sound has always been a priority of his, so naturally, it is a priority of mine too. Growing up around this audio has led me to an appreciation of music and good stereos most kids my age (18) don't have. Now that you may actually consider what I have to say, I will get on with the review.
I drove an hour and a half to my dad's old co-workers store to pick up the beginnings of my first stereo system. I walked out with a pair of Paradigm Shift A2 speakers ($279 each), a Calyx Coffee DAC ($199), and a couple pairs of Monster Cable RCA interconnects. Needless to say, I was geeked to get home and set up my new stuff. I got home and unboxed things as quickly as possible and set everything up in the middle of the living room. The Paradigm Shift A2's each have the following connections on the back: RCA input, 3.5mm input, RCA output, 3.5mm output, and a groundless AC outlet (apparently for powering something like an Apple AirPort Express for streaming music). Also on the back is the gain control. Paradigm recommends half gain for use with sources such as DACs and full gain for use with iPods, etc. To connect my speakers, I ran one RCA cable from the left output of the DAC to the left input on the left speaker, and the opposite for the right speaker. They are also able to be daisy chained and so have a "L, M, R" switch on the back to set the speaker to left, mono (if you have one a2 or a center channel possibly), and right.
Short story: One of the two speakers I got was faulty. I returned it, got a new one, and it too was faulty (different symptoms). Now I'm waiting for the third one which is currently somewhere in the hands of UPS.
Long story: Now on to my first trial run. I tried to make a little bit of a soundstage by moving the coffee table to one side of the room and placing one A2 on it and placing the other A2 on a chair on the other side of the room. I connected everything to my laptop and started the jams. Man it sounded great and got loud! Then, after about 15-20 minutes, while I was playing Truck Yeah by Tim McGraw and feeling pretty awesome the left A2 cut out. There was about 10 seconds of silence from the speaker and then boom! High pitched squeal reminiscent of when I used to run the soundboard for the middle school drama club plays. I ran over and pulled the plug. After calming down a little bit, I plugged it back in and tried again. Starting with the volumes very low, I turned the speakers back up to the volume they were at before, and all seemed well. Then I left for work. Upon my arrival home, I found my dad playing some music through them and everything sounded great. Then we noticed the same A2 which caused the terrible sound sounded weaker than the other. We proceeded to mess with the gains and found the problem speaker's gain wasn't working and it was sounding terrible (lacking certain frequencies and distortion). Something was obviously wrong. I called up the placed I got them from and notified them. A week later they had a new one at the store so I made the trip again to pick up the new one and drop off the faulty one. I listened to part of a movie while at the store to ensure I was getting a good speaker. Everything sounded just fine to me. Then I get home, plugged it in, and I get a pop from the speaker every time I turn it on. And I also notice the midrange is lacking, although not nearly as much as the first bad speaker. Again, I notify the place and they let me know that they will get another one in and Paradigm will personally check this one over before it gets sent to the store. Now I am waiting for the third A2 to be shipped to me from the store (as I wasn't about the drive 3 hours again).
The sound: I find the sound to be pretty amazing for the price! Not only does it get loud from each woofer getting 50wrms and each tweeter getting 50rms (that's right, 100rms per speaker), but they sound amazing doing so! In reviews I had read that they produce a sound much larger than they look like they should be able to and this is definitely true. I set them on speaker stands next to my dad's B&W CM7 floor standing speakers, and they really surprised me. I'm not going to say that they sounded as good or filled the room as much as the CM7s, but they definitely were satisfying... everywhere except for the bass department. But really, what do you expect from a 5.5" woofer? A subwoofer would definitely be a great partner for a pair of these speakers. I did some digging and you are really going to need a subwoofer which has a high pass filter placed on it's outputs. That really is the only way (other than maybe something like a MiniDSP) to get the speakers to not try to play the bass. One key feature of the A2's though, is its DSP. It allows them to play at high volumes without distortion because it limits those bass frequencies.
Bottom line: If you can get a pair (and I definitely do recommend a pair, as it is amazing how much fuller the sound is) of non-faulty speakers (I'm probably just super unlucky) they will definitely kick some ass! They have amazing, full, impact-full sound and sound great at loud volumes too. They are extremely versatile and would be perfect for a bedroom, office, or dorm. Get some!