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Review and Measurements of Paradigm PW Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Paradigm PW Amp streaming capable power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The PW Amp normally costs US $499 but is being sold currently for just US $225 from company's website. Needless to say this has generated a lot of interest in the unit.

Due to use of class-d amplification and likely switching power supply, the PW Amp is quite compact and light:

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

Please pardon the plastic over the controls. When someone send me a unit this way, I like to give them the privilege of removing it. :)

Beside the obvious controls, the one with arrow changes the input from streaming to back analog RCA and back. In use, I thought that when you streamed to it, it would take priority and play that input.

Here is the back panel:

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg
Not wanting to mess with configuring Wifi, I did my testing using Ethernet port.

The speaker connectors are push in type, not banana. Fortunately the hole accommodates a banana plug and that is how I connected my dummy load to it.

The key differentiator for Paradigm PW Amp is inclusion of a measurement mic and Anthem (sister company) room correction (ARC). I have not had time to test it but in past experience, ARC works well and above other mass market solutions in consumer Audio/Video Receivers.

Streaming apps require obligator app on your portable device to control them and the PW Amp is no exception. So I downloaded a DTS Play-Fi app which proceeded to take any confidence I ever had in DTS away. While the App immediately recognized there was a Play-Fi device on the network, it gave me a four digit ID for it rather than its name. Really? Someone was too lazy to put in the protocol a way for the manufacturer to identify its devices?

Next thing after that was the DTS App telling the unit was out of date and wanted to update it. I said go ahead and it started with step 1 out of 2 only to hang there for minutes. I let it sit there until it gave up telling me it failed and whether I want it to try again. I said yes and this time it downloaded something and pushed it to the device as again, step 1. It then said it was rebooting the unit. I sat there for good 10 minutes with the Amp rebooting but the app hung there.

I restarted the app and this time it did not tell me anything about an update. So I told it to browse my music and found my test file to play. It did this a few times but then gave me the hour glass and proceeded to hang completely. At this point I gave up on using it. I mean really, how can the app/system be so untested as to not be able to play a dozen times a file locally on my phone? I shudder to think what it would do if I tried to play networked content.

There is a rule among software engineers that says to never trust a hardware company with software. DTS exemplifies this. Who thought they should trust this company with building a streaming solution? These things seem simple but even large companies have trouble pulling it off properly. DTS needs to close shop given this dismal experience. I also can see why Paradigm is likely trying to clear stock on this unit. Support costs must be through the roof!

Power Amplifier Audio Measurements
I started my testing using the RCA input as that allows me to run the full suite of tests:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Yuck. We not only have high distortion but also high noise floor to go with it, resulting in less than acceptable SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) of just 71 dB.

Best Audio Amplifiers Reviewed 2019.png


Thinking the input is digitized so digital streaming using the app may do better, I fired up the Play-Fi with the same signal:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Streaming Audio Measurements.png


Sadly the performance is the same. Don't mind the shape of the FFT. It is a bug in APx555 analyzer in that it can capture data continuously from external sources reliably. Likewise ignore the Gain measurements as the analyzer is not aware of the input signal level.

Seeing how the performance was the same, I did the rest of my testing with RCA input. Here is the signal to noise ratio:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier SNR Audio Measurements.png


We have confirmation of the high noise floor contributing to below average SINAD.

Most important test is power versus THD+N:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Power into 8 ohm Audio Measurements.png


There is no escaping of the high noise and distortion. The competing products have far lower distortion and hence the reason their graphs keep declining until we get to or near clipping. Not so with Paradigm PW Amp. Distortion starts to creep in as low as a couple of watts and by max power we are at whopping 0.36% distortion. The Amazon Link Amp in contrast remains clean up to its clipping point with similar power rating.

Frequency response measurements shows a very sharp cut-off above 20 kHz:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Frequency Response Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Even at 20 kHz we are down 1.35 dB. Even with sample rate of 44.1 kHz, there should have been flatter response. Ideally it would use 48 kHz for sampling.

THD+N versus Power and Frequency confirms what we already know:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier THD+N vs Frequency vs Level Audio Measurements.png


I had to rescale to graph to 10% THD to see the response in red. Protection trigger was a bit scary in that there is no indication that it has occured other than the unit muting. I thought I had damaged the unit until I power cycled it and it came back to life.

Removing the AES-17 (40 kHz) filter shows this as far as ultrasonic noise:
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier FFT Spectrum Audio Measurements.png


Some of you have asked for time domain/scope display and I have shown that in the inset. Naturally you see the thickening of the sine wave with high frequency riding on it.

Someone asked for measurements at lower frequencies and I happened to run that by accident and was surprised by its output (in streaming mode):

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier 50 FFT Spectrum Audio Measurements.png


What's with all that garbage above our tone? I know, it is noise leaking from its streaming subsystem into the output of the amplifier.

Intermodulation distortion shows what we already know:

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier IMD Audio Measurements.png


IMD using two high frequency tones (19 and 20 kHz) makes it hard to see our signal from all the distortion!
Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier 19 + 20 kHz Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation products rise up to just -50 dB. Admittedly this is at full power and such tones are not going to occur in your music.

Conclusions
As many of you, I was very hopeful going into this review. Room EQ and streaming functionality with decent amount of power would be a killer product. Alas, this was not meant to be. The streaming functionality is flat out broken. Use as a power amp alone shows very much sub-par performance. It is clear no attention was put in designing a clean amplifier. When a company can farm out a design to get a clean amp and Paradigm can't, you know there is trouble.

No doubt room EQ will make a bigger difference than any of these measurements do in the sound of the amplifier. So there is good value there. Then again if you can perform that function upstream of the amp, then there is no value here.

It is with a heavy heart that I say I can NOT recommend the Paradigm PW Amp.

----------------------
Questions, comments, critique, etc. are welcome.

I like to suggest to the owner that we take out the Paradigm PW Amp and bury it in my backyard to save him the aggravation of streaming functionality. The owner would want to be reimbursed for the cost of the unit so please donating sufficient funds using:

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

SEKLEM

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#3
The performance shown here is alarming to say the least. As you said, it’s not surprising they are discounting these units so aggressively. It would be logical to assume this is in large part due to the Play-Fi feature being basically inoperable. If the unit had SPDIF or USB it might almost be worthwhile for ARC if one can accept the distortion and poor noise performance.
 

SEKLEM

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#4
And the search for a $200 amp you want continues...
In this regard, the less expensive Klipsch Powergate has far more appeal to those who need real power and can live with the broken network audio features.
 

gvl

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#5
Is the analog inset showing ultrasonic widening to scale? Seems the switching frequency is almost 2Vp-p, kind of high isn't it?
 

amirm

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#6
Is the analog inset showing ultrasonic widening to scale? Seems the switching frequency is almost 2Vp-p, kind of high isn't it?
That is what it looks like.
 

TimW

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#7
I have a PW Link and I hope it measures a bit better. At least the ADC could have a SINAD greater than 71 dB. I usually just use the unit for room correction with its optical input and output. @amirm do you plan to measure the PW Link as well? If so I would like to see optical output measurements if you can.
 

invaderzim

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#10
I have a PW Link and I hope it measures a bit better. At least the ADC could have a SINAD greater than 71 dB. I usually just use the unit for room correction with its optical input and output. @amirm do you plan to measure the PW Link as well? If so I would like to see optical output measurements if you can.
Now that is an intriguing idea. Mostly I'm looking for quick and easy room correction and that sounds like that would take care of that for me.

It seems Paradigm is selling those on their site for $157 and on ebay for $349

This month is a no spending money online month for me so maybe they will still have some in July.
 

TimW

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#11
Mostly I'm looking for quick and easy room correction
The PW Link is probably a good option for you then. Once the updates were out of the way, the room correction process was pretty painless. If you run ARC on your computer you just connect the microphone to it via usb and it connects to the PW Link over your network. The measurements don't take much time, the target response is easy to manipulate with the simple software, and the corrections are uploaded to the the Link very quickly. Results are better than any AVR system I have used. About equal to REW results I can get now, better then my first attempts. Not on the same level as Dirac Live but $157 for a full hardware solution with mic is a bargain.
 

mi-fu

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#12
Thank you for the review, Amir. The measurement is consistent with my experience with the PW Link. I guess both PW Amp and PW link share similar design.

Using the optical input of the PW link probably would give better performance. Maybe the ADC is the weakest link? Anyhow, I just couldn't get the Toslink working with Roon for more than a few minutes. Another bummer.

It is disappointing anyway. I really wished it would work, because that would be a simple and neat solution for room measurement. Too bad it does't deliver.

I just don't get it. While many Chinese manufacturers can do it quite successfully, is it THAT difficult to make a properly designed ADC/DAC and amp? I don't even mean exceptionally well made products like Benchmark and THX 789. Just a decently designed one with easy room measurement would already make me happy.
 

Tks

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#13
Everyone I've heard speak tells me designing a headphone amp is far more of a complex thing than designing a power amp.

Why are all power amps aside from a handful seemingly pure bin-tier ?
 
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#14
Amir, I was one of the ones bugging you constantly for you to test this amp. To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. :(:confused:

As I was writing on other thread, having a room correction software should be mandatory for poor measured amps. People on other forums are saying that they are selling their expensive HiFi gear because the Lyngdorf 2700 and 3400 are the bee's knees. Room perfect should perform miracles to hide all of the amp's failures.

If Paradigm was a decent company, they should be selling this equipment cheaper than the Powergate amp. As Mr. T said, I pity the fool that bought this at full price.

Sooo, it seems that the searching for a sub $200, hell, even sub $500 well measured power amp continues.
 
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#15
Having owned the PW Amp for almost 2 years now (and having paid full price for it!), and although I really do like ARC Genesis, the review here make me think I should try something else to see how much of an improvement it'd be. I bought the PW Amp initially because I wanted some type of room correction in a small integrated amp that would fit inside my small console under my TV. The PW Amp served the purpose nicely but I did suspect that it wasn't the cleanest sounding, runs hot and doesn't have any digital input.

The problem is it is difficult looking for something that is small, clean sounding and has good integrated room correction. I'd like an hdmi ARC input too since I use my system with my TV and would like to use my TV's remote. The NAD M10 would be nice, but it's $2500 and has features like BluOS that I don't really need since I'm perfectly happy streaming through my Sony Android TV. I'm also wary of going the MiniDSP route + amp since it would add a lot more complexity. Any suggestions would be welcome.
 

JQNY

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#16
Everyone I've heard speak tells me designing a headphone amp is far more of a complex thing than designing a power amp.
Why are all power amps aside from a handful seemingly pure bin-tier ?
I’ve been designing and building audio components for a few years now to help develop my analog electronics skill and I can tell you that you’ve been utterly misinformed.

Building a 120 dB SINAD headphone amplifier is not trivial, but is not that hard either—even for a relative beginner like me. Designing a 120 dB SINAD power amplifier on the other hand requires true mastery of the skill, at least, in my humble opinion.
 
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GGroch

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#19
First, thanks to Amir for measuring this. As a happy owner of the PW/Amp I have conflicted feelings about the results.

Measured as a power amp, I am pretty sure that Amir's testing was fair and accurate. In fact, the few published mfg specs of the PW/Amp (and Identical Martin Logan Forte) are largely in alignment.
  • 2 x 50 Watts per channel into 4 or 8 ohms (20 Hz-20kHz, 0.5%THD)
  • 2 x 100 Watts per channel into 4 ohms short term peak, 2 x 200 Watts per channel instantaneous peak
  • Frequency Response +/- 1dB 20-20k
Compared to recently tested power amps...the results are mediocre...significantly better than a few, significantly worse than others...but they seem in alignment with Paradigms published specs and assumed design goals. That is, Paradigm must have felt that this kind of performance would not result in noticeable distortion for the intended audience. Mine sounds just fine to me. I have not done objective blind listening tests with ARC turned off.

So why am I satisfied with mediocrity? Lets focus on the PW/Amp rather than my worldview;)

The PW/Amp (and PW/Link I also own) have had a greater positive impact on my two audio systems sound than any components I have changed, besides upgrading speakers. My experience corroborates Amir's statement that "No doubt room EQ will make a bigger difference than any of these measurements do in the sound of the amplifier". In one of my setups the impact of ARC is large, in the other, a very difficult desktop setup, it is phenomenal.

My conflicted view is that measuring the PW/amp's speaker amplifier does not accurately describe how it impacts the sound of most systems.
I have attached below a print out, done this morning, of the results of the PW/Link's ARC equalization of my active HiVi X4 desktop monitors.
Corrected1.jpg


The monitors have dip switches to adjust HF/MF/LF and Low Pass...and the red lines are the best I could do with careful listening. The Green is the Corrected ARC response. The change is not subtle. In fact, my wife, who was vaccumming upstairs suddenly...never mind ;)
So while I am pleased that Amir took the time to measure the PW/amp and believe his testing was accurate; I am also convinced that what you measure is equally important, and the real benefit of this kind of device on sound quality was referenced, but not measured.
 

mi-fu

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#20
@GGroch made an interesting point: Room correction vs Measurement of Amp - which one is more important in affecting perceived sound quality?

@amirm, one question I have is: Is the high noise floor and distortion of the PW Amp audible?
 
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