Atlantic Technology FS-7.0 Soundbar and SB-800 Subwoofer Page 2

PERFORMANCE

Some soundbars use tricky phase manipulation to steer sound to various parts of the room. While this approach can provide an ersatz sense of envelopment, it often comes at the expense of coherency and naturalness. The FS-7.0 doesn't attempt any type of audio ventriloquism, but instead puts the emphasis on getting basic sound quality right. What it delivers is an accurate tonal balance and punchy dynamics, with a refined, non-fatiguing top end that's especially well suited to movie dialogue. A "surround effect" is still part of the equation, but instead of putting you in the center of an enveloping circle of sound, with the FS-7.0 it's more like you're at the edge of a circle listening in. There's pretty good left-to-right width and even decent front-to-back depth, but any sense of real envelopment that you'd get from a multiple-speaker setup is lacking.

I find Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" from his Heart Shaped World CD useful for subwoofer setup, as its bass tends to sound a bit thick and thumpy if you overcook a system's sub level. Once I had the sub/ soundbar balance tweaked, I was immediately struck by how clear and punchy the overall sound was. "Wicked Game" can come across as kind of bright and nasty on less-than-forgiving speakers, but the top octaves sounded smooth yet detailed with the FS-7.0, without any spittiness to the vocals. The rich twang of Isaak's unique Gibson semi-acoustic guitar also came across well, while the bass line was easy to follow and reassuringly tuneful.

As I mentioned earlier, Atlantic Technology's suggested level settings tend to pump up the surround channels somewhat, presumably to maximize the FS-7.0's sense of spaciousness. This can lead to problems, however, especially with surround-rich material. On "Fear of the Dark" from Iron Maiden's Flight 666 Blu-ray Disc, the track starts with the 30,000-strong crowd singing along, and I found that the crowd sounds almost totally drowned out the band with FS-7.0's Standard settings selected. I mean, this is Iron freakin' Maiden; the band should be louder than pretty much everything else. By dropping the side and rear surrounds by about 3 dB, however, I restored a lot of punch and bite without robbing the sound of its open quality. Afterward, going into headbanger mode and cranking it up to 11, I confirmed this combo could play very loud indeed without sounding particularly stressed or distorted.

The drivers mounted at either end of the FS-7.0 are designed for the tripleduty, conveying side and back surround information along with a dash of front left/right sound for added spaciousness.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Blu-ray gives any system a good workout, especially the first battle scene. Subtle details like the creaking of the rigging and the sails fluttering in the wind prior to the arrival of the first shots were clearly defined, while the sub provided plenty of sock when the cannonballs hit the ship. As the battle progresses, the film cuts back and forth between the open-air deck and the ship's interior, and the FS-7.0 provided an engaging sonic contrast between these two environments. Dialogue was especially strong; I never had difficulty understanding what was being said even when the soundtrack got especially busy.

BOTTOM LINE

Some soundbars use sonic tricks to try and recreate the sort of envelopment you can get with a multibox speaker package, but too often the resulting sound lacks tonal coherency and richness. The designers of Atlantic Technology's FS-7.0 took a simpler approach, focusing on the primary goal of good basic sound quality. The result is a soundbar with smooth yet powerful and dynamic performance, with a tidy soundstage that sits out in front of you instead of wrapping around you. Most important, when mounted under a flat-panel TV, the FS-7.0 will all but disappear, meeting most people's expectations for a slim, TV-friendly speaker system.

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