The Paradigm Shift A2 speaker can be used alone or in stereo pairs with iPods and other music players, desktop computers, home DJ decks, and game consoles.
The A2 is bi-amped, with one amp for the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, and another amp for the 5-inch, satin-anodized aluminum woofer. There are a total of 100 watts of power per speaker. Connectivity is a little unusual in that each speaker has stereo RCA and 3.5-mm minijack inputs and outputs. It is also compatible with AirPort Express. The speaker doesn't have a bass port; it's a sealed (acoustic suspension) design. The A2 is 11.1 inches high by 6.6 wide by 9.2 deep, and it weighs 11.6 pounds. Since it's a powered speaker it must be plugged into an AC power outlet.
The A2 comes in Vermillion Red Gloss, Polar White Gloss, Gunmetal Grey Gloss, Strom Black Satin, and Ash Black Grain. A tabletop stand and iPod/iPhone dock will also be available. The A2 sells for $279 each for Ash Black Grain and $329 each for the premium finishes.
The A2 shares a kinship with Paradigm's Atom speaker, which has always been one of my favorite budget speakers. The new speaker's build quality feels substantial and the crisp styling is attractive.
I did notice one small problem as soon as I hooked up the A2s to my desktop audio system: there was audible "hiss" coming from the tweeters. I thought at first that it might be coming from my Mac Mini computer, so I disconnected it, and the noise remained. Apparently, the noise is generated by the A2's internal amplifiers. I was only 30 inches away from the speakers, and when I played rock music the hiss/noise was drowned out by the tunes. The noise was audible when I played some types of acoustic music. Another nitpick: the blue LED just below the woofer is distractingly bright.
On a more positive note, the A2 sounded really powerful when I cranked up Sallie Ford's rootsy "Dirty Radio" CD. It was immediately obvious that these speakers like to play loud, and the sound is loaded with detail. That may be too much of a good thing for some listeners, as the tweeter can sound too forward and aggressive on some recordings. That was the case when I was listening at about 3 feet from the speakers; moving back a couple of feet helped smooth out the sound somewhat.
Play a well recorded piano album and the A2 really comes into its own. The instrument's natural soft-to-loud dynamics are intact, which isn't true for most smaller computer or desktop speakers. The A2's imaging is wide open, but the soundstage is flat. There's not a lot of depth or dimensionality coming from these speakers. Emotiva's Airmotiv4 desktop speakers ($399 a pair) have a sweeter balance and a more full-bodied sound (review in the works).
Jakob Dylan's "Women and Country" CD had a satisfying weight through the A2, which can sound brawny, but vocals seemed a little too thin and reedy. The bass is extremely well defined, but it doesn't go very deep. So if you want to feel bass energy from your music or games, you'll need to add a subwoofer.
So my feelings about the A2 are mixed. It can play loud, has powerful (if not particularly deep) bass, and it looks cool. But the speaker's self-generated noise and bright treble might become irritating over the long run. The price also seems too high. I'd feel better about the A2 if it sold for $200.