Niles StageFront Home Theater Speaker System Page 4

The Short Form

Price $12,100 (as tested) / / 781-762-6300
A hideaway speaker package that requires no excuses, the StageFront provides an excellent, stealthy way to bring high-performance home-theater sound to a decorator-sensitive home.
•Wide array of adjustments to tweak the sound for personal taste and room •Capable of very high-output levels without distress •Separate movie and music modes can be triggered automatically
•Huge subwoofer requires space and careful positioning •Limited bass from the main speakers makes sub crossover settings critical
Key Features
PRO2870LCR ($1,500 each) •1-in soft dome tweeter; 4-in midrange; (2) 8-in woofers; 19 in high; 57 lb IW770FX ($2,400/pair) •(3) 1-in soft dome tweeters; (2) 4-in midranges; 7-in woofer; 12 in wide; 43 lb PRO770FX ($1,600/pair) •(3) 1-in soft dome tweeters; 1¼-in dome midrange; (2) 4-in midranges; 7-in woofer; 16 in high; 41 lb PRO15SW ($1,800) •15-in carbon fiber driver; 1,000-watt amplifier; 17½ x 25 x 19¼ in; 110 lb
Test Bench
At left/right, the PRO2870 exhibited a depression between 800 Hz and 3 kHz, and highs fell off at about 1 dB/octave. At center, it was largely free of off-axis lobing. The IW770FX, measured as a dipole, had a notable upper-bass peak; interestingly, the traditional dipole null only showed up in bipole mode. The back surround's rolled highs are normal in this position. The sub's dynamics were superb; it did 90 dB SPL at 20 Hz, and 115+/dB at any frequency above 25 Hz. - Tom Nousaine

With P J Harvey's "Missed," from her Rid of Me CD, I liked the way the tweeters sounded open and uncolored, without the cupped-hands effect you often hear with horn-mounted drivers like these. While the maximum volume potential was never in question, dynamically the system was occasionally a bit too polite-sounding, softening a little of the slam and edge that I know are in the Harvey recording. The crossover between the speakers and the subwoofer was a tricky area as well, and at times I felt that a slightly smaller and perhaps more agile sub would give the system a touch more midbass punch, albeit at the expense of its maximum volume capability. Installers might also welcome a more compact model that could lend itself more easily to hidden multi-sub setups.

Movie Performance After switching the surrounds to bipole and loading up Peter Jackson's King Kong on HD DVD, it soon became clear that this system really comes into its element with movie soundtracks. The overall balance remained on the warm side, but the center channel did a great job of resolving nuances in the dialogue while all hell was breaking loose around it. The PRO15SW is certainly capable of moving plenty of air, providing a solid foundation for the surrounding effects in the engine-room scenes on the boat.

With the bone-crushing low-bass and dynamic effects on the DTS soundtrack of The Haunting, I was able to raise the volume to an uncomfortable level without any signs of distress from the speakers. Similarly, the available dynamics on Mission: Impossible III could be startling, although the system's fist-in-a-velvet-glove presentation never made me shy away from increasing the volume. As you'd expect with a 7.1-channel rig, surround envelopment was a strong suit, helped here by the close timbral match I achieved through the speakers' available adjustments.

Bottom Line With StageFront, Niles has shown us that installing a great audio system that can placate even the fussiest decorators doesn't necessarily mean you're limited to in-wall or (heaven help us) in-ceiling speakers. Niles has wisely chosen to tip the overall sonic balance slightly toward the warm and forgiving side of neutral. Still, this punchy and dynamic system has plenty of flexibility built in, allowing just about anyone to have top-notch home theater sound that's truly heard but not seen. If only raising children to be the opposite could be quite so simple.