When it comes to single-box surround speakers, thin is in. Yes, most manufacturers offer models that visually complement the popular 42- and 50-inch screen widths, but the girth of some is, shall we say, more substantial than others. Measuring a mere 3.7-inch deep, Soundmatters’ SLIMstage 40 is thinner than most. The handsome speaker cabinet is covered with a black perforated metal grille, and the low-slung, 4-inch-high SUBstage 100 subwoofer has a curved grille covering its top surface. Build quality of both pieces is solid.
The self-powered SLIMstage 40 has a total of 13 drivers deployed across its front and bottom panels. In addition to Dolby and DTS surround processing, the SLIMstage 40 uses proprietary Euphony HD to produce surround sound from a single speaker. Better yet, it doesn’t need to bounce sound off side walls to create an immersive soundfield.
The SLIMstage 40 has such a vast range of EQ (equalization) features I was confused as to which was which. There’s Room EQ Parameters, EQ Remote, and Input EQ. Each EQ offers 10 frequency bands, from 31Hz to 16kHz. Thing is, there’s no measuring microphone, so you’re on your own to figure out how to use the EQ to improve the sound. Or do what we did and think of the various EQ controls as remarkably flexible tone controls.
A wall-mount bracket is included, and for shelf mounting, there’s a set of adjustable- angle “EZ-Tilt” feet.
The speaker’s front baffle features a large display, control buttons, an input for iPod (or similar device), and virtual surround output jack for headphones.
Connectivity is adequate, but since the SLIMstage 40 lacks video switching, you’ll have to change inputs on your TV whenever you change from, say, your cable box to DVD player.
Possible future software upgrades may be implemented via the SLIMstage 40’s RS-232 port. Speaking of upgrades, Soundmatters will happily sell you a second SLIMstage speaker for use as a separate rear-channel speaker.
The remote’s button layout is good, but it’s not backlit and the volume ramp up/down is oh-so slow. The remote offers direct access to speaker + sub bass level, pre set EQ, and surround modes. You can also easily adjust the degree of surround effect, from barely noticeable to oh boy!
The SUBstage 100 subwoofer is skinny enough to fit under a couch or to wedge between a cabinet and wall.
The SLIMstage 40 was a hard one to pin down. Some DVDs and Blu-rays sounded fine, with good tonal balance and a generously proportioned soundstage. But I was always fussing with the bass/subwoofer levels when I changed discs. Often the bass seemed either overly heavy or much too lightweight, making it hard to find a just-right level.
The Mad Men: Season One Blu-ray three disc set shined, dialog was clear, and the sumptuous score was nicely handled by the SLIMstage 40. It sounded so good I didn’t think about it.
Next up, the Saw DVD, one of the scariest, creepiest movies in my demo arsenal relies on a very active surround mix to keep the tension up, and the SLIMstage 40 didn’t miss a beat. Disturbing noises and groans seemed to come from way out to the sides of my home theater. The SUBstage 100 is powerful for its size, but definition is merely acceptable.
I briefly listened with the sub turned off, and while there was less bass, I was impressed with the amount of bass the SLIMstage 40 made on its own. I noted, however, that the speaker’s down-firing woofers excited buzzes and rattles in my open TV stand. Ninety percent of SLIMstage 40s are sold without a sub.
With the sub switched back on for more intense workouts like the plane crash scene from The Flight of the Phoenix DVD, the inherent limitations of the SLIMstage 40 were revealed. As the soundtrack became more vigorous, dynamics were noticeably flattened, bass grew muddy, and dialog clarity suffered. Soundmatters aims to correct this problem with a “variable dynamic compression” circuit for the woofers, which will be included in units shipped after October (with free software upgrades for earlier units).
I finished with Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey, and Lenny White’s Traffic SACD [Chesky]. The fusion-jazz sound was anemic. While adding more bass and subwoofer volume helped, I still wasn’t happy with the speaker/sub integration. Treble detail was somewhat harsh. Other CDs confirmed the Soundmatters system was better suited to movies than music.
The Soundmatters SLIMstage 40 and SUBstage 100’s compact dimensions make them especially easy to place in small rooms. I couldn’t help but feel that size constraints took their toll on sound quality. That said, the system did its best work with straight dramas and comedies. The SLIMstage 40 and SUBstage 100 bundled together go for a discounted price of $1,199.