Determining which side was which of the SLIMstage30's cabinet wasn't immediately apparent--the front and bottom panels both have drivers--and that threw us. Once we sorted that out, we were a little concerned about the SLIMstage30's six down-firing woofers that project bass directly onto the shelf supporting the sound bar, or if you've wall-mounted the SLIMstage30, reflect off the wall.
So we weren't surprised when the SLIMstage30 "excited" buzzes and rattles from our equipment stand. The fix was easy enough: we removed all of the remotes and stray cables from the stand, and that eliminated the buzzes. In any case, the SLIMstage30 put a lot of bass energy into the stand; we could feel the whole stand vibrating with our fingers, and we were concerned about how that might affect the speaker's sound.
Speaker setup was complicated by the SLIMstage30's lack of an onscreen display; you have to use the menu on the speaker's small LCD screen, and navigating through the menu's layers isn't an intuitive process. The SLIMstage30 doesn't have an auto setup program; you manually set the listener-to-speaker distance, surround volume level, subwoofer setup, and EQ (equalization). Regarding setting the distance, rather than inputting the specific number of feet between the prime listening position and the speaker, the SLIMstage30 gives just two options: less than 2 meters or more than 2 meters.
With most sound bars and home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems you're stuck with very limited sound-tailoring possibilities, but the SLIMstage30 goes too far in the other direction. There are two groups of options: "Room EQ Parameters" and "EQ Remote," and each has 10 separately settable frequency bands, from 31 Hertz to 16KHz. Since the SLIMstage30 lacks an auto setup program or measuring microphone, you're on your own to figure out how to use the EQs to improve the sound. We also were never really sure which EQ, Room or Remote, we were using.
The SLIMstage30 is one of the few sound bars that produce satisfying deep bass without a subwoofer. In fact, we'd guess most buyers will use the SLIMStage30 on its own.
The SLIMstage30's tonal balance can be tweaked to taste. The "flat" setting was pretty good, but we liked it even more after we added small bass boosts at 62 and 125 Hertz, and cut the treble at 8KHz by a few decibels. We can't think of another sound bar or HTIB that can be fine-tuned to that degree, although you'll need to be a home theater enthusiast to take advantage of this functionality.
Celine Dion's "Taking Chances World Tour" DVD sounded great. Dion's voice was clear and dynamically alive; the band's rhythm section had terrific punch. The SLIMstage30 could play fairly loud, but when pushed too far, bass definition went south. Surround ambiance spread across the front wall of the CNET listening room, but couldn't muster much surround envelopment. It was no better or worse in that regard than most sound bars (Yamaha's YSP-4100 and YSP-5100 are the exception to that rule).
The SLIMstage30 sounded better than average with two-channel music from CDs. The newly remastered Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" rocked with a vengeance. We briefly checked out the SLIMstage30 with headphones, but the sound was rather thin and hard. The headphone jack might be useful in a pinch, but not something we'd listen to on a regular basis.
We continued with the "House of Flying Daggers" Blu-ray, and were impressed by the way the SLIMstage30 handled the sword fight scenes. The metallic clangs of sword against sword were very clear, dialogue natural, and the circle of drums scene didn't overtax the SLIMstage30's woofers. Bass was powerful, but not on par with what you'd get from a subwoofer.
So we hooked up our Aperion Bravus 8D ($500) powered subwoofer, which radically improved the SLIMstage30's sound. Sure, the bass was more powerful and definition firmed up, but the speaker was more dynamically alive; the drums impact was significantly improved. Two-channel music sound also benefited from the Bravus 8D's assistance.
Aperion sells the SLIMstage30 with the smaller Bravus 8A sub for $800, adding $200 to the SLIMstage30's price. Though we still think that the SLIMstage30 sounds great on its own, adding a good sub just makes it better and is the only way to get truly deep bass.
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