Atlantic Technology FS-7.1 Soundbar Speaker System Page 2
Big Guns and Little Princesses
For my hardcore listening, I chose two recent, quite different Blu-rays, each with a high-resolution 7.1-channel soundtrack. Yes, The Expendables 2 is the first title ever optimized for a DTS Neo:X 11.1-channel-encoded soundtrack, which is wonderful if your home theater can handle it, but it’s still pretty darned impressive even in its humbler DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 version. The movie’s opening sequence is pretty exhausting right from the very start, a string of explosions and chaotic mayhem ensue with little pause. Even with the subwoofer turned off, the FS-7.1 did a fine job suggesting the bass even while not reproducing much of it, while left/right separation was impressive, dialogue was always clear (the talk in this scene can tend to get lost on lesser systems amid all of the noise), and I noted an appreciable depth to the soundstage across the front of the home theater.
The music, in particular, seemed to play out on its own plane, apart from the gunshots and crashes. The more subtle resonances of musical beats and even the echoes of explosions went a long way to filling out the home theater space, and occasionally I could almost believe that a drumbeat or a gunshot was indeed originating behind me. Specific chunks of debris, too, could be heard landing here and there. And with the sub active again, the heroes’ heavy metal machines displayed more than ample low-end presence throughout a series of action beats that seemed to go from big to bigger to biggest. And, unlike what you might expect from many smaller or self-powered soundbars, the FS-7.1 did a fine job of handling that power without punking out at the most demanding moments.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track on Disney/Pixar’s animated Brave, by contrast, offers more refinement than crash-bang-boom with which to test these speakers. The presentation of Merida’s suitors in Chapter 7 is graced with the playing of bagpipes, which convincingly filled the room, both on screen and in in my space, too, enjoyably embracing me and helping to establish the mood and the environment. Both the hard sounds of characters scuffling and many instances of quiet reverberation do an excellent job of conveying the tremendous size of that chamber of the castle and the many virtual people in it. I noted a pleasing directionality as the comic violence ensued, with a believable surround effect.
Later, as Merida journeys to visit the witch, the floaty and distinct wisps that guide her and the many other discrete elements play with lively separation across the soundbar’s ample width, but also beyond: There’s a lot of off-camera activity in this movie and this hardware managed to create the illusion of a living, breathing world, with occasional sonic cues apparently behind me. A real trump card here might be the sharp bass put out by the SB-900 subwoofer, which seamlessly reinforced and enhanced the soundfield and went a long way toward moving the audio out and away from the speakers to more fully engage the listener. While not absolutely mandatory, the companion Atlantic sub is a highly recommended accessory.
Songs for Seven
I took a break from movie watching for a bit and switched to a variety of music formats, beginning with the familiar title track from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Immersive Edition Blu-ray. Separation with the Linear PCM two-channel track was crisp and distinct, and seemingly all of the minute details and the character of the music were maintained, especially the true flavor of the acoustic guitar. Vocals were reproduced flawlessly, and even in stereo, seemed to come out in front of the instruments, the drums in particular. With the 5.1 version of this track, different instruments were even more distinct, and the mix continued to expand if ever so slightly as the song progressed. In short, the FS-7.1 sounded stunning with music via Linear PCM. Perhaps because it’s utilizing output from the many available drivers even for a 2.0 track, I didn’t find the comparison of stereo to 5.1 here to be night-and-day different. But I do recommend the multichannel version for the fullest appreciation of the artistry that went into this timeless track.
Loading up the PCM stereo mix of The Beatles’ LOVE DVD-Audio disc, I marveled at the spaciousness of both the original recording and the modern remix, although over the FS-7.1 system, it didn’t offer the expansiveness I was expecting. Even the genuinely-surround Dolby Digital 5.1-channel mix wasn’t a thrilling, enveloping sonic experience, with no discrete surprises, although the music did seem to extend well past the ends of the speaker bar with some subtle indications of movement across the soundfield, and the instruments were clean and well defined. Driven hard, however, the sound became somewhat bright, and vocals in particular tended to sound hampered. At least MP3s were reproduced with a decent clarity and fullness that exceeds what I typically hope to hear from these compressed digital tracks.
It's What's Up Front That Counts
In the end, the Atlantic Technology FS-7.1 soundbar and SB-900 subwoofer combo is something of a mixed bag in today’s evolving audio market. It’s unquestionably serious gear from a highly respected manufacturer, and I approached it as such. Its ability to handle the power and the detail of challenging movie soundtracks was surprisingly strong. With my mind fully opened, I became a believer of how good all seven channels front and center can sound, with a convincing, detailed (albeit limited) surround effect. A two-box solution like this is a more convenient (and potentially more affordable) alternative to seven matched loudspeakers plus a sub, particularly if size, space, and esthetics are issues. And connection to a dedicated receiver brings the perks of easy switching between multiple sources and the bonus of some sophisticated audio processing capabilities, not to mention the robust amplification of a standalone component. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this is currently said to be Atlantic’s best-selling product!
The other side of the coin is that this system at its $1,300 price, or even just the FS-7.1 at $950, faces serious competition these days in the soundbar category, including some excellent self-powered models favorably reviewed by Home Theater (among them Atlantic Technology’s own PB-235 PowerBar). The FS-7.1 does require the user to own, hook up, configure, and operate an A/V receiver, and the eight total cables—none included—are a far cry from the convenience, affordability, and single-cable simplicity of more mainstream soundbars. Still, for those situations where its unusual form factor suits the bill and the benefits of having an AVR outweigh the hookup or operational convenience of an all-in-one, the seven neatly boxed, high-performance channels of the FS-7.1 might be just the ticket.