Niles StageFront Home Theater Speaker System Page 3

Due to its unique setup requirements, this system was auditioned in the Sound & Vision testing studio. And although we didn't go so far as to build the front channels into a cabinet, we did go to considerable effort to ensure that the test conditions reflected what might be encountered in many high-performance home theaters. The three front speakers were kept equidistant from the front wall and pointed straight ahead without any toe-in, ending up some 29 inches from the wall, with the outside edge of the left and right speakers about 3 feet from the side walls.

Even in-wall speakers that have a full enclosure need to be mounted flush into a wall to perform as intended. So Executive Editor Rob Sabin built a pair of custom floor-to-ceiling drywall enclosures for the side surrounds that mimicked as closely as possible the conditions encountered in a true in-wall installation. Making life a little easier were the on-wall back surrounds, which we just hung on the diffuser panels that line the rear wall.

The studio is in an office building in New York City, and getting smooth bass response can be tricky because of the acoustic isolation treatments. But with experimentation, we found that by using one sub against the left wall, firing forward but pulled 5 feet into the room, the linearity and tunefulness of the bottom octave could be improved significantly. Adding another sub near the opposite corner, but at a much lower level, improved things a little further still - though that second sub wasn't really required here.

Once the positions were sorted out, I tweaked the various adjustments to get the best timbral match among the speakers. In the well-damped S&V room, I found I could goose up the tweeter levels quite a bit to eke out a little more detail. And for music listening, I started with the surrounds in dipole mode.

Music Performance To get my bearings straight with this somewhat less-than-conventional setup, I stuck mostly with well-worn favorites I know inside and out - so don't blame me if some of the choices seem a bit predictable! Starting out in stereo with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue on SACD, I was immediately impressed by how well this system could deliver a stereo image, with fine focus and impressive depth and width to the soundstage. Tonally, there was plenty of bloom in the lower midrange, while the upper octaves were clean and clear if ultimately just a bit soft in the sparkle and detail departments.