There's a market for things that are able to please both the partner who wants surround sound excitement with their movies and the partner who will simply not put up with trailing speaker wires and enclosures dotted all around their room.
The manufacturers know this: Yamaha and Pioneer have offered multi-driver single-product surround style items.
JVC and others have attempted to get the wrap-around sound effect with just the speakers attached to the main product.
British-brand Evesham is pushing a different approach. While the Soundstage tested here is listed on the company's website under 'TV stands' - and can house a sensible amount of AV kit on its shelves - it also incorporates a set of powered surround speakers.
And I mean the whole soundstage, not just the fronts; the Evesham uses ceiling reflections and secondary wall-bounce-off to impart the sensation of sounds coming at you from all directions.
There's no psychoacoustic chicanery nor wild claims made in the manual. Instead, there's just a pretty diagram showing the directions of reflection the Soundstage is likely to create in your room if placed centrally.
I'll confess I am grumpy when it comes to making up flat pack furniture and so I was apprehensive about building the product. It turned out to be an utterly needless worry, as even I could assemble this in moments. It took longer to lovingly remove it all from the packaging than it took to make.
You get two big old cartons and already it looks to be scoring brilliantly on the VFM front, as for the cash asked, you are getting wooferage, speakers for all the channels, power amps to drive them all and even a smart TV stand too. It weighs a fat 44kg, too.
You get two subwoofer-looking enclosures, each with a port on the front and a grille on the side. One has a pair of springy steel strips that marry up to another set on the underside of the main speaker and amp-housing crosspiece.
This is to connect the driver that sits within the woofer, as all the power amps are in that main table part. The other enclosure has, erm, nothing in it at all. The second 'woofer' doesn't actually exist - take off the grille and there's a bare wooden panel! So you can kiss goodbye to the idea of 5.2 sound.
Included is a simple stereo RCA cord, a cable with an eight-pin plug on one end and six RCAs on the other, and a small card remote. The latter controls the centre and sub level independently and allows you to switch from 2.0 to 5.1 use as well as control the volume.
All the fixed assembly bolts and corresponding keyholes were perfectly and precisely engineered and solid.
I liked the vibration-isolating rubber 'O' rings on the glass shelf supports, too.
The product looks an awful lot like DUO Acoustics' 77A speakers in that the finish is glossy, piano black and the white-coned 3.5in drivers all have snazzy surrounds and are in deeply-dished horn-loaded housings. In fact, I'd even suggest they came from the same factory.
They are called full-range, but for me the addition of a dirt-cheap tweeter over each speaker to make a coaxial, and a speaker in that other woofer box would have improved the product immensely - another set of slide connectors and some wire and they could even have used the same internal amplifier to run a second sub. Added drivers would have raised the cost but made it into a really sexy piece of kit instead of a merely competent one.
I spun some sounds through it via the five-channel line outs on my reference Denon AVC A1 amplifier, although you could, for example, feed it via the 5.1 analogue outputs on the back of a DVD or Blu-ray player, such as the Samsung BD-P1000. The five channels were carefully connected to the five trailing RCA inputs, along with the LFE feed, and the set was switched on.
The Evesham was pleasant-sounding, but I would hesitate to suggest that the surround effect actually worked well. My wife did look round involuntarily at one point to see where a sound had come from, so must have been on the receiving end of a reflected cue from somewhere, but while it gives a lovely wide stereo effect on the 5.1 input, you just can't call it surround in my opinion.
The 3.5in speakers do an incredible job of managing to move some air and make a decent level in the room but the limitations of such tiny drivers do tell. Robots' cross-town express sequence (DVD, Dolby Digital 5.1) was muted and lost much of its impact, especially the rare and delicious 'ting' treble sounds.
Extra tweeters could really sort this, and as well as enhancing the directional detail reflections, wouldn't even need crossovers if they picked rugged ones for the low power used.
I actually felt cheated by that mock woofer, too. Evesham has spent the money on the grille and the hole-cutting but left out the extra driver! If it's about costcutting, then the costly bit is the woodwork, not the little 5.25in woofer.
For me this is a product that nearly makes it, just on what it can almost do. However, for my house it'd have to compromise a bit better on the DSP front to get my positive vote.
That said, it might just be perfect to stop the debate in your happy home. I'd get to try to hear one first before you buy to see if your opinion is less snotty than mine, though. However, the lack of an onboard digital surround decoder restricts the usefulness of the Soundstage.
You're forced to use DVD players with decoders - and they tend to be either uber-cheap or expensive range-toppers. And what if you're into Sky Digital, or have a DVD recorder - neither of which have 5.1 outputs? Evesham, take note!