Paradigm Shift A2

Device Type: Powered Desktop Speaker
Input: (1) 3.5-mm stereo mini jack, (1) pair RCA
Output: (1) 3.5-mm stereo mini jack, (1) pair RCA
Tweeter: 1" Pure aluminum done
Woofer: 5/1/2" Satin-anodized pure-aluminum cone
Frequency Response: 55 Hz - 20 kHz
Amplifier: 100W Dynamic Peak, 50W RMS
Dimensions: 11" x 6-5/8" x 8-7/8"
Weight: 11.6 pounds
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $279/each Ash Black Grain, $329 Premium Finishes (Vermillion Red Gloss, Polar White Gloss, Gunmetal Grey Gloss, Strom Black Satin)

Paradigm Shift A2 Re-Viewed
If you read my initial review of the Paradigm Shift A2 speakers, you'd have read that I found they made too much noise on their own. Specifically, the tweeter hissed no matter what else was going on and the apparent reason for this noise level was they were run very hot—the gain level from the dedicated tweeter amp had them hissing at a level I found too distracting to enjoy. While other reviewers noted this as well, some felt it was OK. Livable. Well after my review and a few others, Paradigm decided to take another crack at this formula of gain v. noise level. And I sure am glad they did. If you liked the A2s before, you'll like them better now.

The other change from v1 is Paradigm has added a self-mute after 30 seconds of no signal and an auto-shutdown after 30 minutes. I found this feature to be more and less unpredictable. I'd imagine this has to do with a number of things including what's going on on the computer that's driving your A2s. I mainly had them connected to my iMac while working, which is how I'd imagine a lot of people will use them as a desktop speaker for their computer, and this makes for unpredictable sounds coming from among other things your system sounds as well as internet sites that annoyingly start playing music as soon as you load their page.

While I had my system sounds set to play back through the internal speakers, they still appeared to awaken the A2s from their sleep. I'd call this a bit of an annoyance if anything but seeing as the new and improved A2s are to my ears quiet enough even when awake, its not a deal breaker.

The main features of the Paradigm Shift A2s which did not change include their 1" anodized pure-aluminum dome tweeter and 5-1/2" satin-anodized pure-aluminum cone woofer each driven by a 50W RMS amplifier. Frequency Response is a claimed 55 Hz – 20 kHz (± 2 dB). There are volume controls on the backside which I found most comfortably set at 11:00 providing the right balance between self-noise and useable volume level. Let me state that the Paradigm Shift A2s are much quieter than their older louder selves and I find their self-noise level completely within the range of what I'd call a non-issue. They are in fact quiet speakers that can play very loud and very clear.

The A2s are sold as singles but I'd recommend buying a stereo pair so you can stick your head into the music like swimming in sound. When using a stereo pair of A2s, you use the included 3.5-mm stereo mini cable to connect from the left A2s Output to the right A2's Input. There's also a switch located next to the Outputs of each speaker that reads "L", "M" and "R" that you need to set in order for them to work correctly. Once you've connected your A2s to each other, you need to connect them to your source which in my case was mainly my iMac. I tried direct-connecting them using the included 3.5-mm stereo mini cable as well as with a pair of RCAs which were connected to the output of a Wavelength Proton USB DAC which was connected to my iMac with an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable.

The Sounds of Silence
The Paradigm Shift A2s can play loud. As a matter of fact, they can play loud and clear with a precision and knife-edged clarity that'll tickle your adrenal gland if that's something you fancy. Raucous rock like Prince's finer moments on The Undertaker unravel before your ears with heart-pounding precision. Jimi Hendrix's live version of "Gloria" which I recently ripped from vinyl as part of my upcoming review of Channel D's Pure Vinyl software sounded righteously badass cranked up past 11. If you appreciate impact, you may very well appreciate what the A2s are capable of. My internal volume limiter kicked in well before the A2s were ready to break up or break a sweat.

Paradigm Shift A2 in Polar White Gloss

If there is an area where I'd ask more of the A2s than they're ready to give it would be timbral density. Because their voice leans toward the fast and lean, something like piano can have less body than I'd ideally like to hear, as if the soundboard got shrunk. Acoustic instruments in general do not fare as well as their electronically enhanced cousins and I'd imagine Paradigm's target market for the A2s might never experience this kind of A/B difference.

My main recommendation for the A2s, which is the same advice I'd offer for any desktop speaker that's intended to be used to listen to music as a focused activity is to feed it with something better than your computers analog output. In other words skip the 3.5mm headphone output and put your tunes through an external DAC before amplifying and playing back that signal. Your music will thank you and your ears will forever be in your debt. And this external DAC does not have to cost an arm and a leg where something like the Audioengine A1 ($169) which I reviewed would work just fine and will sound a billion times better than your computer as source and DAC. OK maybe a billion times better is a bit of an exaggeration but I want to make the point that I view this as a necessity and not a nice-to-have option.

Back to our quieter-than-they-used-to-be Paradigm Shift A2s, another thing I view as a must-do is get them up off your desk (if that's where you intend to put them). I preferred raising them up about 5" to where my ears were roughly between their two drivers if you drew an imaginary line between them. And if you sit the A2s flat on your desk without tilting them back and getting some distance between that woofer and the surface of your desk, you're shortchanging the A2s, your music, and your musical enjoyment. While I like the look of the A2s optional stands, I preferred them with more vertical lift. One more note of personal preference—the premium finishes are worth it if you care what your speakers look like. The contrast of gloss finish and matte baffle is tasty.

Subtle, They're Not
When used with an external DAC and sitting up above the clutter of a typical desktop, the Paradigm Shift A2s can entice by offering a musical attack that's at once nimble, quick and impact-full. These relatively little speakers can kick some ass. If you've said to yourself, "I'd like to get some speakers for my computer that can kick some ass" you may have found your perfect dancing partner.

kavon yarrum's picture

Thanks for the follow up. I am about to pull the trigger on these babies in Vermillion Red. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Paradigm and their longevity is proof that they have been oferring value and performance across most price points.

They look cool too! All you need is a CD player with variable outputs, a DAC with a volume control, or even a Squeezebox and you have a nice little office system.


Mr. T's picture

...that you use a magnifying glass and a hammer with your iPad, iPhone and iMac. I didn't know that Apple makes it so difficult to hammer all those pixels into the right place cheeky

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...for screen scraping!


jmcgowan's picture

Anyway to visually distinguish V1 from V2? Love to get a set for the office.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But I'll ask my contact at Paradigm and if there is, I'll post the information here.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I heard back from Paradigm:

On the speaker itself there's no way but on the packaging there is. We put a green dot in the top left hand corner of the UPC code.

drblank's picture
I just got my A2's in 2013 and the speakers were shipped to the Store when I ordered them because they didn't have the color I wanted in stock. So, I'm going to have to ask Paradigm to get these repaired/replaced if possible. Mine do have a slight hiss, but it's only noticeable from about 2 to 3 inches away, but my listening position is about 6 to 7 feet away from the speakers, so I don't really hear it.
Lunanote9's picture

Is it wrong to ask for a comparison to the before mentioned audio engine brand self powered speakers?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But the Audioengine 5+s ($399/pr) would make for what I consider a more relevant comparison (roughly the same size as the Shift A2 with a 5" woofer and 50W amp). Unfortunately I do not have the Audioengine 5s.

I own 2 pair of Audioengine 2s ($199/pair) which our daughters use and enjoy daily. Since this is a much smaller speaker (roughly half the size of the Shift A2s with a 2.75" woofer and 15W RMS amp) there are physical limitations to what it can do versus a speaker nearly twice its size.

tdizzle's picture

You mention that acoustic instruments don't fare as well as their electronic cousins - would this be a deal breaker for someone who would tend towards listening to majority acoustic music?  Would you recommend another speaker instead (in this price range)?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I very much enjoyed the ADAM ARTist 3s ($1,000/pair but you can find them for less) but these include an internal (and somewhat limited) DAC so I'd be more interested in the ADAM A3X ($640/pair on Amazon) which use the same drivers and amp but leaves out the DAC and fancy cabinet.

I also have the Audioengine 5+ ($399/pair) here for review and I'd recommend these as well. I've also heard very good things about the Emotiva Pro airmotiv 4 ($349/pair) and the larger Emotiva Pro airmotiv speakers but have not heard them myself (I hope to soon).

While I know its difficult, I would recommend listening before commiting to a purchase. Audioengine and Emotiva offer 30-day trial periods and certainly you can return purchases from Amazon so in a sense you can 'try' these but the return shipping costs may begin to add up. Speaker preference is a very personal matter, at least in my experience.

I would also recommend using an external DAC instead of the computer's analog output.

Frank's picture

But how do the Aktimate Mini's + fit into the equation?

drblank's picture
last year and they do have a little hiss when you put your ear about 2 to 3 inches away from them. I would love it if Paradigm took another stab and fixed the problem so we could send back for an update. What would be nice if someone out there has figured out what needs to be replaced so some of us can break out a soldering gun and replace the actual component in question. Anyone ever figure out what could remove that hiss altogether that we could replace on our own? If so, let me know!!!!! I do suggest getting decent interconnects. I bought the Transparent Cable The Link and they work great. They got rid of any harshness in the upper frequencies and actually brought out better bass definition. To me, I though it was a tremendous improvement, although at a little premium. But for those interested, I would check them out if you can.