Atlantic Technology FS-7.0 Soundbar and SB-800 Subwoofer
Ever since TVs morphed into something we can hang on the wall like a picture, the tolerance for speakers that take up as much space as regular furniture has gone the way of the Mediterranean-style walnut console. Audio gear is now expected to be just as slim as flat-panel HDTVs, and for many people this means buying a soundbar and maybe a subwoofer rather than a cumbersome six- or eight-box speaker package.
Some soundbars have all of the audio processing and amplifiers required for multichannel sound built right inside. This may be convenient, but it leaves little room for personalizing the system to fit one's own needs. Atlantic Technology's FS-7.0 takes a different path by packing multiple passive speakers into a single box that you drive with a traditional A/V receiver. The result is a lot more flexibility, even if it can't quite match the simple single-wire hookup of an all-inone solution.
As I extracted the FS-7.0 from its protective cloth stocking, I immediately noted just how chunky and reassuringly solid it felt, with its beautiful high-gloss black finish. The rear panel sports an impressive-looking row of recessed, gold-plated speaker connector pairs, although I was a bit disappointed to discover that they only work with stripped wire or pins. Keyhole slots let you hang the FS-7.0 on the wall, while small rubber feet can be added for tabletop use.
By popping off the grille, you'll find a grand total of seven drivers, but don't let that fool you into thinking that the FS-7.0 simply uses one driver per channel. Three equally spaced softdome tweeters deliver high frequencies for each of the three front channels, but the clever part comes with the four remaining drivers, which are designed to do double and even triple duty. Two 4-by-6-inch woofers with dual voice coils are positioned between the tweeters; these handle bass for all three front channels, with centerchannel bass split evenly between both woofers. The wide-range 3¼ -inch drivers mounted on either end of the FS-7.0 are even more clever in their operation. By using triple voice coils, these are able to deliver their respective side's surround as well as back surround channels, adding in a dash of the front left- and right-channel information to make the front soundstage even more spacious.
Atlantic Tech refers to the FS-7.0 as a sevenchannel surround bar, and sure enough, there are enough terminals on the back to connect an A/V receiver's full seven channels. To be fair, however, with separate voice coils running a single pair of drivers, there's not much differentiation going on between the output of FS-7.0's side and back surround channels. (From what I could hear, at least. Our measurements told a slightly different story; see Test Bench on page 54 for details.) The upshot is that there's little sonic benefit to using a 7.1- channel surround receiver; any recent-vintage model should work fine with the FS-7.0.
By using oval woofers with significantly more surface area than a round driver of similar height, the FS-7.0 has better bass extension than its slim height might suggest, but you'll still need to add a sub if you want any real lowend impact. At just over 1 cubic foot, the ported SB-800 sub, which uses an extra-long-throw 8-inch woofer, can move a surprising amount of air for its size. Rather than being dedicated specifically to the FS-7.0, it's a universal sub with a pretty comprehensive feature set, including a bypassable crossover, adjustable phase control, and an automatic power-on mode.
Connecting seven individual speaker cables from a receiver to the back of the FS-7.0 is easy enough, but you'll need to dress the resulting bundle of wires carefully if you want to prevent a sloppy-looking mess. The FS-7.0's side-firing drivers are angled slightly backward. According to Atlantic Tech, this arrangement opens up the soundstage by letting the soundbar's output reflect off a room's front and side walls. My room's layout is perfectly symmetrical, and by centering the FS-7.0 under my TV, everything looked pretty much like the diagram in its manual. Still, I'm not sure how well this reflection approach would work in a more open room that lacks nearby sidewalls. The subwoofer was positioned in my normal spot in the front left corner, turned at a 45° angle to face the listening position.
I customarily use a sound-pressure-level meter and tape measure to optimize channel delay and loudness settings when setting up speakers, but Atlantic Tech has specific level recommendations along with a delay-calculating formula that it suggests you use when setting up the FS-7.0. Always curious, I checked the prescribed settings with my meter and found that they pushed the surround channels about 4 dB higher than the fronts. While I was tempted to make everything level, I figured I should at least start out with the factory settings, leaving experimentation for later. The company suggests using crossover points of 80 Hz for the front channels and 120 Hz for the surrounds, and those settings proved to be just about perfect.