SLS (Superior Listening Systems) Audio is best known for its high-performance, ribbon driver-equipped monitoring speakers—the kind used in recording studios and high-end sound reinforcement applications. It came as a surprise, then, when SLS announced an affordable, $799 surround-sound-in-abox package called the Q-Line Silver system. The system draws its name from the famous musician and producer Quincy Jones (Jones endorses the system and consulted on its development). Though targeted toward budgetminded enthusiasts the Q-Line Silver package incorporates serious components, including ribbon driver-equipped satellite speakers with tabletop stands, a mediumsized powered subwoofer, and a real, full-function A/V receiver. We should tell you up front the Q-Line package is one of the most compelling surround systems we’ve heard at its price. Here’s why.
Rockin’ with Ribbons
At the heart of the Q-line system are five magnetically-shielded, two-way QS-SAT24R satellite speakers, each sporting two 4-inch “polycomposite” woofers that flank a central 1.25-inch ribbon tweeter. More commonly seen in higher-end speakers, ribbon tweeters are fast and responsive enough to capture the small, evanescent treble details that can make instruments and voices sound real.
The Q-Line satellites impressed us with their unexpectedly rich and vivid sound, and plentiful detail. Unlike many inexpensive sat/sub systems, the Q-Line system never sounded shrill, thin, or overworked. On the contrary, the speakers had sufficient weight to handle Leonard Cohen’s dark, sonorous voice on “In My Secret Life” [Ten New Songs, Columbia], yet enough delicacy to capture the intricate guitar and mandolin lines woven in between Sara Watkins’ vocal phrases on Nickel Creek’s “Speak” [This Side, Telarc]. What’s more, the speakers played loudly enough to fill the relatively large Absolute Multimedia listening lab with cacophonous battle sounds from The Last Samurai without strain.
While the SLS’s may not equal the levels of transparency you’d hear from speaker systems in the $1000-and-up range, they come closer than you’d think and surpass many offerings in their class. The only drawback we observed were occasional slight textural discontinuities between SLS’s lightning-fast ribbon tweeters and the good (but somewhat less responsive) conventional mid-bass drivers. But this might be nitpicking; few speakers in this class even offer ribbon tweeters—let alone good ones.
Completing the system is SLS’s 100-watt QS-SUB100 subwoofer whose voicing matches well with the SLS satellites, and whose output capabilities are surprisingly high. The woofer’s strengths are great warmth and mid-bass weight, though it can sound a touch overripe at times and is not the last word in low bass extension. But it generally has enough clout to handle aggressive, bass-rich scenes without running out of steam, which is more than we can say for many competing budget-priced subs.
And a Real AVR, Too
Finally, the pièce de résistance is the QS-AVR500 A/V receiver, manufactured for SLS by Sherwood. The receiver puts out 100Wpc and provides everything you need for good basic sound, but with few superfluous gongs and whistles. Accordingly, the receiver features standard DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic II processing modes, plus a handful of proprietary surround modes. For best sound quality when listening to stereo sources in surround, however, stick with the Dolby Pro Logic options (the proprietary modes sound somewhat crude by comparison). The AVR500 also provides a quite decent multichannel analog input for listening to SACD or DVDAudio material. Finally, the receiver’s user interface is simple and blessedly straightforward.
Our only complaint is that the AVR’s composite video pass-through function adds some visible noise, so users would be better off cabling source components directly to their displays, where possible. Overall, the receiver offers a pleasingly smooth sound, with enough power and finesse to tap most though not all of the speaker system’s potential. Again, the most important point is that the system includes a real A/V receiver (many HTiB systems do not).