/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Aperion Signature SLIMstage30 review: Aperion Signature SLIMstage30

OVR
7.0

Aperion Signature SLIMstage30

The Good

Sound bar home theater system; no AV receiver required; adequate bass output without subwoofer; solid sound quality even with two-channel music; can handle six total devices (three digital inputs, three analog).

The Bad

No HDMI connectivity; relatively expensive; tons of adjustability can overwhelm home audio novices; no wireless subwoofer option.

The Bottom Line

The Aperion Signature SLIMstage30 costs more than most sound bar home theater systems and lacks HDMI connectivity, but it's one of the few sound bars that put out enough bass without a sub.

Editors' note: The Aperion Signature SLIMstage 30 has been discontinued and is no longer offered by Aperion. See our list of best sound bar home theater systems for more buying advice.

The Signature SLIMstage30 is officially Aperion's first entry into the sound bar market, but in reality the SLIMstage30 is largely a rebranding of the Soundmatters SLIMstage30, which made its debut back in 2007. That helps explain it's somewhat outdated feature set. At $600, it lacks any HDMI connectivity, which is available on the Sony HT-CT150 and the Panasonic SC-HTB10. That being said, the SLIMstage30 has some perks that put it ahead of competitors. It's one of the few sound bars that doesn't necessarily need a subwoofer, as it puts out an adequate (although not overwhelming) amount of bass on its own. It also does a decent job with standard two-channel music, which most sound bars just can't handle convincingly. In all, most mainstream buyers will probably be better off with less-expensive options, such as the Samsung HW-C450 and the JVC TH-BA1, but the SLIMstage30 is worth considering if you don't want to deal with a subwoofer or expect to listen to a lot of music on your sound bar.

Design
Most sound bars opt for a cylindrical or flat design, but the SLIMstage30 breaks from the ranks with its rectangular look. It's also a good deal heavier than competing sound bars HTIBs, coming in at 16.5 pounds. Most sound bars only feature speaker grilles on the side that faces forward, but the SLIMstage30 is nearly completely covered in grille on the front, top, bottom, and back. Toward the middle of the front panel are some front-panel buttons and an LCD display. The display is handy for making adjustments, but it's small enough that you'll need to be standing over it to see what you're doing. The bottom of the SLIMstage30 is outfitted with rubber feet, for placing it on TV cabinet, but strangely those feet are round, so the SLIMstage30 won't sit level. Aperion includes accessories that attach to the curved rubber feet to create a level stand, but the whole process seems more complicated than necessary.

The SLIMstage30's rounded rubber feet
The SLIMstage30's rounded rubber feet mean it won't lie flat on a TV stand. Aperion includes accessories to slide over the feet, but we don't understand why the rubber feet aren't flat in the first place.

We weren't fans of the included clicker. There are some nice elements, such as buttons to directly access each input, but there are too many confusing design choices, such as two diamond-shaped directional pads, one for navigating menus and the other for bass level and volume. Even more confusing is that the volume up/down buttons are horizontal, rather than the more-standard vertical alignment. On the upside, we did like that some buttons featured helpful icons--like a moon for night mode--which are easier to see than tiny text.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key features
3D pass-through No Subwoofer No
Remote Yes LCD display Yes

Though the SLIMstage30 has an extensive feature set, it doesn't quite have all the features available on the latest sound bar home theater systems. For example, there's no video pass-through at all, let alone 3D video pass-through, which is available on the Sony HT-CT150. It also doesn't come with a subwoofer like many of its competitors, although that's more acceptable considering the SLIMstage30 is one of the few sound bars that produce a respectable amount of bass on its own--more on this in the performance section. On the upside, it does have both a remote and an LCD display, which are sometimes left off these units.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 0 Analog audio inputs 0
Optical inputs 2 Coaxial inputs 1
Minijack input 3 Max. connected ext. devices 6

The big missing feature on the SLIMstage30 is HDMI connectivity, which is available on the similarly priced Sony HT-CT150 and the Panasonic SC-HTB10. If you don't need HDMI, however, the SLIMstage offers more connectivity options than most competitors, with the ability to connect six total devices. Our only nitpick here is that all of the analog audio connections use minijack connectors. Yes, Aperion throws in a minijack-to-RCA adapter cable for free, but we'd still prefer the more-common stereo RCA jacks.

Aperion SLIMstage30's accessory pack
It's nice that Aperion includes so many accessories with the SLIMstage30, but it can be overwhelming for home theater neophytes.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby Digital Yes DTS Yes
Dolby Digital Plus No DTS-HD HR No
Dolby TrueHD No DTS-HD Master Audio No

Only standard Dolby and DTS decoding are handled by the SLIMstage30. In our opinion, that's not a major loss, as the superior sonic fidelity of high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is likely to be lost on a single-speaker system like the SLIMstage30.

Setup
The SLIMstage30 can be wall-mounted with the included bracket or shelf-mounted. We opted for the second approach.

Aperion SLIMstage30's wall-mount
The SLIMstage30 comes with a heavy-duty wall-mount.

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.

Audio performance
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.

OVR
7.0

Aperion Signature SLIMstage30

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 8