Soundmatters' tagline, "One box, two wires, and $300 make any TV a home theater," sums up the Mainstage's appeal. This set-top powered speaker is refreshingly simple to install and use. For big sound anywhere in your home or office, just add the Mainstage to a digital or analog source, such as a DVD player or a TV--you'll have a complete virtual-surround system. We like the $299 Mainstage's trim good looks and hearty audio, but don't expect the unit to deliver surround effects like a true multispeaker ensemble. In cramped quarters, however, where a 5.1 setup is out of the question, the Mainstage will serve with distinction.
The Mainstage is sleek, weighing 4.85 pounds and measuring 16.7 inches wide by 2.5 inches tall. It's available with a charcoal orfinish.
A rocker-style power switch is at the rear, but we relied on the automatic on/off feature, which shuts down the Mainstage one minute after the source stops transmitting a signal. The only front-panel control is a button for selecting the input.
The contoured remote felt extracomfy in our hands, and its five buttons--Volume Up, Volume Down, Surround, Source, and Mute--were easy to see in the dark. Whatever you do, don't misplace the remote. It's the only way to set the volume and the surround mode.
Designed to be a self-contained sound source, the Mainstage has a pair of 2-by-2.75-inch speakers and a top-mounted 4-inch woofer. The unit's amp delivers 10 watts to each speaker and a whopping 20 watts to the woofer.
Considering the Mainstage's size, its connectivity quotient is generous. You get one stereo minijack for computers and portable audio devices; one set of RCA inputs for conventional home-entertainment gear; two digital-audio ins (one optical and one coaxial) for your DVD player, PlayStation 2, or satellite/cable box; and a minijack subwoofer output that will work with any powered sub. A bass-level control is also back there. As we write this review, Soundmatters is adding a free optical digital cable to the package.
Soundmatters' two-year warranty on parts and labor is a darn sight better than the usual 90-day coverage.
When our friends listened to the Mainstage, they were knocked out. Most of them thought we were using our sub/sat system. Everyone said something like, "Wow, all that sound is coming from that little thing?"
The Mainstage maintained the authority of bluesman R. L. Burnside's big, booming voice, and the energy of our Rolling Stones tunes gave us plenty of satisfaction. Buzzing occurred occasionally at high volumes but never with bass-heavy CDs. In fact, we didn't detect any problems as we blasted through the Pearl Harbor DVD. The Mainstage again surprised us by flattering dialogue with rich, full sound.
Despite the way it fooled our friends, the little speaker can't generate true surround. The full-tilt bombast of Pearl Harbor was scaled down compared with the output of even the humbler home theaters in a box, and the Mainstage's virtual (that is, two-speaker) surround effects sounded a bit more diffuse and wider than stereo.
When we hooked up the Mainstage to our iMac and sat only 18 inches away from the unit, we discovered some hiss. We hadn't been aware of the noise earlier while playing CDs and DVDs, but after we'd noticed it, we could hear it from across the room.
Finally, we connected the Mainstage to ourpowered subwoofer. The Mainstage's potent 4-inch woofer already has enough oomph to fill small rooms with bass, so you don't really need bass augmentation, but a sub will also lighten the woofer's load, thus allowing the little Mainstage to play more loudly without distorting. The S8.2 is an excellent model, but even after we'd adjusted its crossover and level controls, it didn't blend all that well with the speaker. Your sub might not work, either; you may have to wait for the upcoming Mainstage powered subwoofer.