It’s no myth that two-box speaker systems can produce compelling surround sound. Cambridge SoundWorks’ SurroundWorks 200 and Yamaha’s YSP-800 (paired with a good subwoofer) pull it off using head-related transfer functions and digital audio-projection technology, respectively. SoundMatters would have us believe its FullStageHD can work the same magic, but we’re calling bunk.
The $600 system consists of two components: A crescent-shaped cabinet houses an amplifier, a built-in subwoofer, and small speakers for the front, rear, and center channels. A larger powered subwoofer delivers added oomph to low-frequency effects. FullStageHD sparkles with audio CDs. We reveled in The Blind Boys of Alabama’s cover of Tom Waits’ “Jesus Gonna Be Here” as the upright bass’ wood and catgut resonated perfectly with the vocalist’s gravelly tenor.
We weren’t nearly as pleased when we tested the system’s theatrical capabilities, using Tim Burton’s underrated remake of Planet of the Apes. The system succeeded in placing audio events on a wide and tall sound stage, and the subwoofers did a stellar job producing coherent bass. But at no point did we ever perceive that audio events were originating anywhere other than from the front of the room.
After obtaining disappointing results from several other movies, we decided to switch gears and listen to some surround-sound music. We’d just received This Binary Universe, the latest DTS release from electronica pioneer Brian Transeau (BT), so we dropped it in our DVD player.
After listening to 10 seconds of silence, we spent the next few minutes checking settings on the FullStageHD and on the DVD player. Then we double-checked the cable connections between the two devices. And then we finally decided to RTFM. It turns out the FullStageHD doesn’t support DTS. We were even more appalled to learn that SoundMatters doesn’t license Dolby’s technology, either—it uses an old Zoran DSP chip and an audio algorithm that emulates Dolby Digital.
SoundMatters offers a respectable compact sound system for audio CDs, but we thought we’d left this kind of surround-sound hokum back in the 1990s.
Month Reviewed: November 2006