Product: Aperion Signature SLIMstage30 by Soundmatters
It was literally a dark and stormy evening when Aperion's Signature SLIMstage30 arrived here at Unplggd headquarters over the holidays and there was immediate concern our review unit might have been damaged by the deluge in-transit. Fortunately our unit revealed itself to be untouched by the moisture that seeped all the way through the outer packaging, and so we've been testing the SLIMstage30 for a few weeks now, comparing it both to our own older sound bar unit, alongside a second built-in sound bar model which is hard installed onto a brand new HDTV. Here's what we think of space saving surround sound speaker
If you've been following the category of sound bar speakers the last few years, you'd understand the comparison to the disposable razor market, where "more" is marketed as "better". Aperion has decided to forgo going the route of a bazillion miniature tweeters/woofers and instead equips their space saving model with a more modest 4 50x50mm main tweeter setup, partnered with a woofer+bass radiator array to project Dolby Digital, DTS 5.1 and plain ole stereo for music.
Comparing it to our older Yamaha YSP-800, the SLIMstage30 is much more compact, despite the same width.
The SLIMstage30 also is surprisingly heavy; at 16lbs out of the box, it was much slimmer and compact than our ancient Yamaha YSP-800, but it still was heavy enough to require two hands while moving it around. This isn't necessarily a knock agains the SLIMstage30, since the unit feels convincingly well constructed, with a front speaker grille design and piano black finish on the sides which should complement most modern HDTV models. The unit can also be wall mounted with an included kit, which we'd use ourselves if considering a more permanent setup and for a cleaner presentation.
Setup can be an easy plug and play affair. We got everything up and running with just the power plugged in and an optical line running to our cable box, though many of the unit's options aren't accessible or recognizable without a little delving into the Setup Menus, where equalizer and room setup options can fine tune specific to your setup. A front facing LCD display greets you when turned on the SLIMstage30, which ends up being an important feature of the unit due to the slightly confusing remote control, a non-illuminated unit with a non-sensical navigation layout. You'll have to crack open the instructional manual for this device if you want to get to its finer features or just do what we did and use a Denon receiver code for volume control with a universal remote once everything is setup for final use.
At first we weren't sure why Aperion went with this rocking feet design, but the optional included EZ-Tilt shelf mounting accessory allows for the unit to be aimed up or down.
We used the SLIMstage30 in three everyday test situations: playing NBA2K11 on the Playstation 3, watching HD cable broadcasts (primarily sporting events), and watching movies via Apple TV. Our setup: HDMI video signal through the HDMI connections and audio with an optical digital input directly to the SLIMstage30, situated in a rectangular 4 wall apartment living room. There's no need for the addition of an amp, as the SLIMstage decodes DTS, Dolby Digital and regular/wide stereo for music, which for apartment dwellers like ourselves, is a strong selling point (less tech clutter).
Inputs (6) on the rear:
Connections include 2x Optical / TosLink inputs, 1 coax, and 3 analog. You might notice there's no HDMI connectivity now common on the latest sound bar models, but that's been explained due to the fact this is actually a rebranded Soundmatters SLIMstage30 unit with an older tech pedigree. If you're wanting the latest with HDMI connection, this isn't the sound bar you're looking for.
Sound tends to be subjective, but compared to our older Yamaha sound bar model, the SLIMstage30 was immediately more clear and full, something we'd credit to the unit's bass reproduction, while respectfully protecting center speaker dialogue. This is definitely worth noting for apartment dwellers with neighbors who live underneath; there's nothing like a subwoofer to sour the relationship between upstairs/downstairs neighbors.
Out of the box, occasional surround sound elements can be a bit too artificial and require adjustment. There are three surround sound presets, Movie, Game (noted for TV use), and Wide Stereo (Music). Like any sound bar solution, a caveat emptor in regards to surround sound: you'll be experiencing a reproduction of a reproduction, so don't expect anywhere near the effects of a discrete 5.1 setup.
The SLIMstage30 also did well against our Mitsubishi 55" Unisen LED LCD display, which comes armed with an "integrated sound projector". Not a surprise, considering the Unisen's audio system is a licensed version from Yamaha. The Unisen's surround sound capabilities were more pronounced and superior when used specifically for movies. But we felt the SLIMstage30 projected a more natural sound for both music and cable television shows, with an absence of the harsh highs we'd sometimes experience using the Unisen.
The price of the SLIMstage30 was recently dropped from $599 down to $499 and we think this reduction makes it product worth considering if a sound bar solution is in your home audio plans. We don't think it's necessarily the nicest looking sound bar (we love the Definitive Technology Mythos SSA-50, but it's $1000+) nor does it top in the category of surround sound effects. Yet, in a category where restraint isn't a valued virtue, the Aperion Signature SLIMstage30 created fairly natural sound quality with a little tweaking and proper placement, with a subwoofer-free performance that really does offer a one component solution if space is an issue. Apartment dwellers, minimalists and people with a need for a secondary home theater audio system will likely enjoy the solid performance attributed to the SLIMstage30's balanced design.
Pros: Solid construction, no receiver required, natural sound with both music/television broadcast, plug and play setup, bass reproduction notable even without a subwoofer, wall mounting kit included, excellent music performance in smaller rooms in stereo mode, MP3 player front auto connection.
Cons: Design is a bit stodgy, no HDMI, remote control needs an overhaul, surround sound capabilities are modest.