Again, I'll start with the easy stuff: the Triad OnWall Mini LCR 3.0. I happened to have a few mass-market soundbars around while the Mini LCR 3.0 was here, and the differences were obvious, with the Mini LCR 3.0 playing a lot louder and delivering superior midrange performance. The best showcase I found for the soundbar's talents was the appearance of the band Okkervil River on Austin City Limits. Okkervil River doesn't conform to the "four guys who know three chords" paradigm; the ACL stage was cluttered with a Hammond B3 organ, a grand piano, a pedal steel guitar, maracas, a marching-band bass drum, a full string section, and various guitars, vintage amps, and stomp boxes. Thanks to the Mini LCR 3.0 and ACL's superb miking, I could appreciate the rich character of each instrument. Vocals sounded smooth and natural, even when singer Will Shef pushed his voice to the edge of breaking.
More critical listening revealed the Mini LCR 3.0’s ability to reproduce a wide variety of voices accurately; it sounded great on movie and TV dialogue. The treble did seem dull in places, partially obscuring ultra- high-pitched instruments like splash cymbals. Honestly, the only real sacrifice that the Mini LCR 3.0 forces on you is that its left and right tweeters are just 39 inches apart, so there’s no way it can reproduce a broad stereo soundstage or create a convincing wraparound effect when mated with surround speakers.
The SlimSub/4 struggles against the laws of physics just as every other skinny- driver subwoofer must, but it fights a smart fight. I was surprised to hear it reproduce my ultra-deep-bass test scenes, such as the brontosaurus stampede in Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the spaceship flyover that begins Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The pair of subs occasionally sounded strained when playing these deep tones, but I admire Triad’s decision to let the SlimSub/4 give it a try rather than clamping down hard with a limiter the minute you’re starting to have fun.
Of the other “mud-in” speakers I’ve heard, I can’t say much more than to confirm that sound does indeed come out of them. With the Designer Series, the sound comes out with surprising fidelity. It does a better-than-good job with most dialogue and vocals, despite some bloating of deep male voices. It really does have some treble (although not a lot), and the pair can create a fairly decent stereo image — better than the Mini LCR 3.0 can, in fact. I would be perfectly happy using the Designer Series’ “solutions” with my multiroom audio system to listen to my local NPR affiliate or play a few jazz tracks during a dinner party. And the speakers do a reasonable job as surrounds, although they don’t blend as well with the Mini LCR 3.0 as Triad’s conventional surround speakers would.
The Designer Series’ bass compares with what you’d get from one of those little cube-shaped satellite speakers — i.e., there ain’t none. For background music or talk radio, that’s okay. For music at louder levels, or for home theater, you need a subwoofer. As with those little cubes, you’ll probably hear a gap between the sub’s response and that of the Designer Series speakers.
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