Atlantic Technology FS-7.1 Soundbar Speaker System
Writing about consumer electronics for the past two decades has taught me a few things: Always take good notes, don’t believe everything you read in press releases, and at least try to keep an open mind. Case in point, the soundbar. The very idea of a single box containing the amplification, processing, and all of the loudspeakers necessary to adequately present home theater audio was met with early disdain. But hearing was believing, and now it’s a viable (and thriving) product category.
Then a crate recently arrived containing the Atlantic Technology FS-7.1, a redesigned, upgraded version of the company’s well-regarded FS-7.0 seven-channel home theater soundbar. My first thought: It’s a soundbar, so the moniker is probably a tad disingenuous, perhaps referring to the intended illusion of a full state-of-the-art speaker suite, one probably crafted by keen algorithms and sonic slight-of-hand.
Damn, what happened to my open mind? Turns out the FS-7.1 does in fact contain the speaker-level inputs for seven discrete channels. And as for the amplification and audio processing we’ve come to associate with powered soundbars, well, there isn’t any. This speaker array is completely passive, meant to be driven by your seven-channel receiver or power amplifier. After all is said and done, it does reproduce sound, and it is conveniently bar shaped, but its resemblance to the all-in-one, single-cable convenience products I’m used to might well end there. It doesn’t even come with, or need, a remote control of its own. While it’s hard to beat an all-in-one powered soundbar for simplicity of operation and installation, if you’re looking for good sound quality, you might be more likely to get it from the high-quality amplification of an AVR or separates. So, let’s see how the Atlantic Technology fared.
Seven in One
Peel back the classy cloth packing sheath, and you’ll discover the AT’s lustrous piano black finish. Behind the grille, there’s an assortment of ably sized and presumably well-designed drivers that effectively handle the incoming discrete signals. The individual drivers have been designed and are exploited to keenly distribute the sound reproduction duties. The two front woofers (4 x 6 inches) utilize dual-voice coils and the surround drivers positioned at the opposite ends of the wide cabinet are double-voice-coil designs.
The center channel is reproduced by the center tweeter plus one coil in each of the 4 x 6 drivers. The left and right main channels utilize the corresponding outside tweeters plus the second coil on those 4 x 6 woofers. The surround speakers have three coils, one in series with the left or right channel, one for the side surrounds and the other for the back surround inputs. These seven total drivers are spaced and angled across the FS-7.1’s ample 3.5-foot width, a good fit above or below a 50-inch display such as my Samsung PN50C8000 plasma. Other than the 2.5-kilohertz passive crossovers, there are no electrical circuits inside. Around back is an array of clearly marked, gold-plated binding posts, solid and spring-loaded to securely grab onto bare-wire or pin plug terminations only; 16-gauge-or-thicker cables are recommended depending on the length required.
Setup options are more varied than we might suspect at first glance. Beyond a straight 7.1-out-to-7.1-in configuration as I tried, it can also work well when connected to the speaker outputs of a 5.1-channel receiver or amplifier, or even as a simpler left-center-right speaker array, with the addition of separate surround speakers. The surround drivers fire off towards the sides, relying largely upon room reflectivity to do their thing. This obviously allows your particular room design to dictate much of the quality of the left/right rear-channel/side-channel effect.
I connected the soundbar to a trusty Onkyo TX-SR606 A/V receiver I keep handy for such occasions, a 90-watt x 7 workhorse with both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel decoding. Never one to give the ".1" short shrift, Atlantic Technology recommends combining the FS-7.1 with its SB-900 subwoofer, sold separately, and so we paired the bar and the kicker for this review.
I positioned the hefty 37-pound soundbar under my display, roughly at ear height as prescribed. No feet are attached to the smooth underside, but Atlantic Technology supplies a Baggie full of peel-and-stick rubber discs. Keyhole mounting slots are integrated on the back panel, and a template is provided to assist in placing the nails/screws into the wall—specifically into the studs, considering the imposing weight.
Not surprisingly, right out of the box and without any setup adjustments, the FS-7.1 offers an enjoyably wide, full-bodied spread of audio, though it does tend to sound like it’s all localized to the front of the home theater. Atlantic Technology advised that any automated setup routine inside the receiver is unlikely to work properly, as that sort of smart calibration is intended for individual satellite speakers that are placed around the room in a traditional configuration. Instead, following the instructions in the manual and with tape measure in hand, I noted the distance from the left, center, and right drivers to the listening position (in my case, 9 feet each) and then manually entered these numbers in the AVR’s speaker distance setting. Also according to the instructions, I took a welcome shortcut and simply entered that same number for the four surround channels, pretty quickly and easily.
While in the receiver settings, I turned off any preset EQ modes and switched to manual, and then adjusted the channel levels to –3 decibels for the three front channels while keeping the four surrounds at zero. For larger rooms, or if you just happen to like a lot of surround action, you can also nudge the surrounds up to +1 or +2 dB, while leaving the front channels at –3.
For the sub, Atlantic encourages us to enter the receiver’s bass management/speaker setup menus and make sure all of the speaker sizes are set to Small. If the subwoofer-to-satellite crossover frequency is adjustable, we’re further directed to begin with a setting of 80 hertz for left/center/right and 120 Hz for the surrounds for “the smoothest blend between the subwoofer and the soundbar.” (The manual also includes separate suggestions for optimal reproduction without a subwoofer.) I found the SB-900 sub extremely proficient, with an undeniable oomph, but when driven hard it could sound distractingly boomy in my room, so I adjusted its rear-panel Level knob with discretion.