The Soundmatters FULLstage HD is a two-piece system consisting of a self-powered, threedriver MAINstage HD head unit and a self-powered, one-driver/dual passive radiator SUBstage 100 subwoofer. The MAINstage can accept stereo analog or digital audio signals, and creates virtual surround effects via a Zoran 38601 DSP engine running the Zoran VMD surround algorithm. The compact, 100- watt SUBstage 100 subwoofer extends bass response down to about 35Hz.
The makers of this system named their company appropriately. It’s clear that to them, sound does matter. Another small enclosure system, even smaller and lighter than the ZVOX, the Soundmatters FULLstage HD puts its technology to good use. Like the ZVOX, it achieves a very palpable soundstage but with broader frequency response than the ZVOX, and thanks to its included subwoofer, it dips into low bass with gusto and character. The “Echo Game” from House of Flying Daggers, a perennial favorite test piece, had the kind of resounding echos of beans striking multiple drums you need in order for this scene to achieve its intended effect— almost. The beans striking the stone floor after bouncing off drums in a 360 degree circular array didn’t quite have that same behind-the-listening-position impact you get with a full traditional surround sound setup, but it didn’t miss by much.
On music, the FULLstage HD performed similarly to the ZVOX, with middle range sounds having best fidelity, and thanks to the subwoofer, capable lows. It’s not perhaps up to the dynamic challenges of an organ concert, but Higdon’s “Movement IV” from The Concerto for Orchestra [The Absolute Sound SACD Sampler, Telarc], which uses percussion, winds, strings, and soprano voice to produce eerie effects and build intensity was capably reproduced and with believable, if not completely convincing, surround staging.
The FULLstage HD gets an A-plus for versatility with inputs for an iPod or MP3 player; its small size, again, makes it ideal for dorms, condos, and generally space-deprived rooms.
The M&K MP-4512 is a passive, five-channel speaker that provides three forward-firing tweeter/ mid-bass driver arrays for the front channels and two side-firing, widerange drivers for the surround channels. The speaker achieves surround effects via M&K’s proprietary Tripole Surround Matrix technology where Phase- Focused crossovers run one surround speaker out of phase with the other drive units. The MP-4512 requires an outboard powered subwoofer.
The MP-4512—more than other systems in the survey—is voiced liked a traditional, audiophile-grade sat/sub system. This means the MP-4512 offers open, natural-sounding midrange with delightfully smooth and extended treble response. The sound of the MP- 4512 is immediately likable precisely because it doesn’t have the aggressive, “I’m-tryingtoo- hard-tosound- big” midrange/ treble edginess so many small speakers have. The three biggest differentiators between this system and the less expensive ZVOX and Soundmatters systems involve the MP-4512’s puristoriented audiophile voicing, its robust dynamic capabilities, and its full-bodied, three-dimensional presentation.
For optimal results, the MP-4512 should cross over to a subwoofer at 100–200Hz, meaning it is vital to choose a sub whose upper range is clear and well-defined. We used M&K’s excellent Kx12 sub ($749) during our tests, though it might have been “overkill” for the job.
The MP-4512’s enclosure is relatively narrow, and the speaker therefore presents a soundstage of only average width; both the Polk and Yamaha produce wider stages. However, apparent soundstage width increases significantly when you sit closer to the MP-4512, which makes sense given that one design goal was for the MP-4512 to serve as multichannel near field monitor (that is, a monitor designed to be heard from close range). Surround effects, as observed in the moderately large TPV Audio Lab, were reasonably effective, though they mostly gave the illusion of sound wrapping from the front to the sides of the room—never the illusion that rear channel speakers were in play. We suspect, however, that the MP-4512’s surround effects might work better in smaller spaces.
One surprise was the MP-4512's gutsy dynamics, which opened up in a big way on large-scale action scenes such as the shootout from Open Range. But the MP-4512 is at its best on wellrecorded, richly textured multichannel music pieces, such as the Reiner/ Chicago performance of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste [RCA/Living Stereo, SACD], where the composer juxtaposes high and low percussion instruments against the eerie sound of string glissandos. Overall, this little speaker sounds extremely refined.