When considering or shopping for a soundbar you have one of two choices: first, an all-in-one left, center, right loudspeaker in a single cabinet powered by traditional electronics or second, an all-in-one loudspeaker with internal amplification and DSP processing capable of creating a faux surround sound performance. The SLIMstage30 reviewed here is the latter of these two choices. The SLIMstage30 is a powered soundbar with internal DSP distributed by Aperion Audio as part of their Signature Series of products.
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Soundmatters, a research and development company based out of Reno, Nevada designs and manufactures the SLIMstage30. However, the units delivered to Aperion Audio go through several alterations including revisions to voicing, preset EQ and surround modes, according to Aperion. I didn't have a SLIMstage30 straight from Soundmatters for comparison so I have to take Aperion at their word with regards to the changes made by Soundmatters at their request. Aperion is very upfront with consumers about the origins of their new soundbar; they don't even bother to hide the fact that it is made by another manufacturer, for the Soundmatters name is not only on Aperion's website but also on the product itself. Normally, when a more established company uses an OEM product, they re-badge it and charge a premium for the brand recognition. In the case of the SLIMstage30, Aperion has done the opposite-- they've lowered the price from $699 to $599 retail. I've never heard of that happening before.
The SLIMstage30 can be purchased from Aperion Audio's website in one of two configurations; first as a stand-alone soundbar and second as a soundbar subwoofer combo. This review will focus on the SLIMstage30 and 8A Subwoofer combo, which retails for $799 (a savings of $119 if you were to purchase the two units separately).
The SLIMstage30 is a compact, modern looking powered soundbar measuring in at 31 inches wide by three and a half inches tall and nearly four inches deep. The SLIMstage30 is designed to compliment HDTVs ranging in size from 30 to 40 inches diagonally and can be wall mounted or can sit on a table or entertainment center thanks to its EZ-tilt leveling feet. The SLIMstage30 is finished in a combination of black surfaces ranging from high gloss for the outer enclosure to matte black for the speaker grill and underside. The face of the SLIMstage30 features a moderately large display that is readable from across even a large room and lets the user see information such as input/source, signal, EQ and volume. To either side of the display rests the SLIMstage30's manual controls of which there are mute, source and volume up and down. The SLIMstage30 also has front mounted inputs for a pair of headphones as well as portable MP3 players such as an iPod.
Around back the SLIMstage30 has a variety of inputs and outputs that allow it to be connected to a range of sources. It has a single digital coaxial input along with two optical digital inputs and two analog audio inputs that are of the 3.5-millimeter variety. The SLIMstage30 also has a 3.5-millimeter output to connect to a pair of powered rear channel speakers as well as a 3.5-millimeter output for a subwoofer. Aperion Audio goes the extra mile in this regard by supplying you with ALL the necessary cables to take full advantage of the SLIMstage30's unique input and output options.
Inside the SLIMstage30 features four 50x50 millimeter high requency/midrange drivers with LMD Neo-sandwich magnets mated to two Active High-Energy 3 inch LMD Neo-sandwich magnet woofers with dual three-inch passive bass radiators for each. The soundbar's unique
drivers and their arrangement inside the SLIMstage30 allow for the maximum SPL output in a standalone, compact chassis. How loud you ask? Try a 103dB maximum SPL rating. The drivers are powered by internal Class-D amplifiers generating a total of 80 Watts to the high
frequency/midrange drivers and 60 Watts to the woofers for a total of 140 watts of power (RMS at 0.8% THD), giving the SLIMstage30 a reported frequency response of 55Hz-20kHz.
The SLIMstage30 by Soundmatters can decode Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound formats. It can also convert two channel analog signals to a faux five-channel surround sound thanks to its internal Euphony HD 5.1 surround sound processing. The SLIMstage30 has four surround sound modes: Stereo/Bypass (no surround sound effects), Wide Stereo, Movies and Games. Along with its various surround sound modes, none of which require the use of reflections off of sidewalls or rear speakers, the SLIMstage30 also features a digital EQ, allowing you to manually tailor the speaker's sound to your tastes and listening environment.
While the SLIMstage30's bass output is impressive given its dimensions and driver compliment, it still requires a dedicated subwoofer for true, full-range sound reproduction. Enter the Bravus 8A subwoofer from Aperion Audio. The Bravus 8A is a powered sub featuring an internal 100 watt amplifier powering a single eight inch Aluminum driver. The Bravus 8A has a reported frequency response of 36Hz to 160Hz, allowing it to blend beautifully with the SLIMstage30. While not as compact as the SLIMstage30, the Bravus 8A is far from a monster at 15 inches high by 13 and a half inches wide and deep. The Bravus 8A's gloss piano black finish is first rate and makes the sub appear far more expensive than it really is. The Bravus 8A subwoofer retails on its own for $319; however when purchased in tandem with the SLIMstage30 it's asking price is a cool $200.
Before I get into installation, I have to take a moment to point out that no one packages their products better than Aperion Audio. That's a fact. Upon opening the box for any one of their products, the SLIMstage30 and Bravus 8A subwoofer included, you'd never guess you'd just purchased budget conscious home theater equipment. The pride of ownership factor is off the charts when it comes to Aperion Audio products and it begins way before you ever integrate them into your system or listening environment.
The entire system came packaged in two boxes, one for the SLIMstage30 and the other for the Bravus 8A subwoofer. The SLIMstage30 comes complete with all the necessary mounting hardware and cables needed to integrate it into your existing system. When I say "all the necessary hardware and cables" I do mean ALL the necessary hardware and cables, and it's not the cheap stuff either. All the cables were substantial but still pliable and were finished in décor friendly white. The Bravus 8A subwoofer was wrapped in a Velvet bag keeping it free of unwanted fingerprints and smudges from the factory.
I installed the SLIMstage30 system in my master bedroom, which features a 46-inch Samsung LCD HDTV, AT&T U-Verse HD DVR, Sherwood Blu-ray player and an AppleTV. I placed the SLIMstage30 in front of my Samsung HDTV, letting it rest on its adjustable feet atop my Sanus Accurate Series TV/AV stand. I connected the SLIMstage30 to my Samsung's digital optical audio output via the supplied optical cable from Aperion. I connected the Bravus 8A subwoofer to the SLIMstage30 via the included 3.5-millemeter to RCA cable and ran it down the back of my stand to the sub which I placed on the floor to the left of the stand. In terms of time I had the whole system unpacked and connected in less than ten minutes.
Click to Page 2 for The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion.