Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar Soundbar Page 2
So where’s this magic bass-maker in the PowerBar that’s somehow capable of getting audible amounts of frequencies under 50 Hz out of a pair of 4-inch midrange drivers mounted in a 42-inch-long, 6 x 6-inch box? My initial thoughts were that the PB-235 must use special built-in cylinders of compressed bass that work the same way my SodaStream carbonator does. Whenever a frequency under 100 Hz needs to be reproduced, the bar lets loose a blast of gas from the internal bass cans. I scoured the literature, certain that somewhere I would find a mention of replacement bass canisters for $29.95 each. (A great recurring revenue stream for Atlantic Tech.) Wasn’t this, in fact, what the H-PAS (Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System) technology in the PowerBar was all about?
Somewhat disappointingly, there are no canisters of compressed bass inside the PowerBar. (It would have been pretty cool, though, right?) Instead, H-PAS is the name for a bass system that combines principles of four different box technologies: acoustic suspension, inverse horn, bass reflex, and transmission line. (In other words, this Frankenbar uses Frankenbass.) The technologies are cascaded one to another, terminating with a port on the opposite side of the cabinet.
Noted speaker designer Philip Clements developed a forerunner of the technique over 30 years ago. More recently, Atlantic Technology’s H-PAS chief technology officer, Boaz Shalev, worked with mathematician extraordinaire Martin J. King, using finite element analysis to significantly refine and improve the engineering process for H-PAS speaker systems. The new H-PAS designs rely on the back-pressure chamber configuration to do the heavy lifting of the lower frequencies, which allows for the use of smaller, high-resonance drivers (4 inches in the case of the PowerBar), that are much faster in reaction time than a larger driver would be. The intended results are snappier bass and lower overall distortion since the midbass drivers aren’t being equalized like crazy or overdriven into the sonic equivalent of a nervous breakdown.
Interestingly, although it took plenty of computer number crunching to perfect H-PAS (something like 2 million calculations per model), it is ultimately an air-moving analog-domain technology. On the other hand, getting a couple of 4-inch bass drivers and 0.75-inch tweeters to sound even vaguely like a five-speaker setup takes plenty of built-in on-the-fly DSP horsepower. Once a DTS or Dolby Digital signal gets inside the PowerBar via the coax or optical inputs, special DSP programming on a CSR-brand SoC (System-on-Chip) looks at all the channels, determines where all the directional cues are, and then re-interpolates it all in a way that creates a psychoacoustically plausible three-dimensional soundfield—even though it’s being played back through what is essentially a stereo pair of speakers built into one 42-inch-long cabinet. On the flip side, the Powerbar can also take two-channel input signals, extrapolate directional and spatial cues buried in the left and right source channels, and then create a larger simulated three- or five-channel experience through those same two speaker channels.
Penguins, Battleships, and a Pair of Cellos
It’s hard to decide whether to talk first about the PowerBar’s bass response given the size of the cabinet and drivers or its overall sound quality. Each was equally jaw dropping. It turns out that the H-PAS technology built into the PB-235 performed, at least for me in my room, exactly as advertised. Mounted on the wall beneath my Samsung plasma HDTV, the PB-235 managed to smoothly go down to what my test tones and SPL meter told me was 47 Hz before it started running out of gas (literally, I guess). It’s one thing to measure the output, of course, and another to experience it. Often times with a ported speaker, there’s what I’d describe as a softness or gentleness to the bass. That’s not the case with the PowerBar. Although it doesn’t hit you as deep in the gut as a dedicated subwoofer extending down into the 20-Hz range would, the PowerBar’s bass is tight, and punchy. And, unlike some small-cabinet speakers in which the bass gets goosed around 50 Hz or so in order to give the impression of more bass, Atlantic Technology’s bar sounded smooth and natural until it rolls off.
To be clear, I’m not saying the PB-235 wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a subwoofer, especially for action movies. I am saying, however, that for a wide variety of people and applications, the PB-235 will do just fine all by itself. During the final scenes of Happy Feet Two, for instance, the deep voices of the arguing elephant seals are impressively full and rich. What’s more, thanks to the PowerBar’s ability to go to depths other soundbars fear to descend, each seal’s voice is a coherent, stable, and intelligible whole rather than something that’s skewed and stretched across the room as the words straddle the divide between soundbar and sub. Although I hesitate to mention it because I’m currently suing the studio to get the 131 minutes of my life back, in the movie Battleship, there are scores of scenes filled with explosions, vibrations, machine gun fire, and other low-frequency effects—especially during the final battle between the un-mothballed U.S.S. Missouri and the alien mother ship. Due to the PB-235’s taut, dynamic bass, I never once felt the movie experience to be lacking oomph and power (except in terms of plot, character development, and acting).
The PB-235’s ability to create a simulated multichannel experience in the room was absolutely uncanny, as it time and again reproduced a soundfield that seamlessly stretched from the center of the screen, across the front wall, then down each side wall until it wrapped almost completely around my head and melted into itself. The spinning destructo-balls fired by the aliens in Battleship were quite spectacular as the PowerBar clearly placed each element of the resulting mayhem throughout the room—even to the point, at times, of placing effects slightly behind my head. Similarly, in Lockout, during the final assault on the prison ship MS-1, the dialogue is extremely clear and locked into place in the center while the music background spreads all the way across the front wall of the room. At the same time, there is utterly explosive chaos along the side walls and even slightly toward the rear. With the sole exception of being able to place surround effects more distinctly in the rear of the room, there are precious few other $900 soundbars that can even dream of coming close to creating such a fantastic panorama of sound.
The PowerBar is a musical knockout as well. The bass in Carole King and James Taylor’s version of “Fire and Rain” from their Live at the Troubadour DVD was mesmerizingly super-smooth and, once again, absolutely astonishing in its depth considering the size of the box it was coming from. Taylor’s voice was full, rich, and…well…real, something I attribute almost exclusively to the PB-235’s ability to reach down so low without assistance. Guitar strings, piano notes, and drum hits were all crisp and alive with detail. Luka Sulic & Stjepan Hauser’s two-cello version of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” on the duo’s self-titled 2 Cellos disc showed off the PowerBar’s ability to re-create the sense of space around the cellists, especially at the end of the piece when the dying echoes of the upper notes of a single cello can be heard fading away. The upper strings were smooth and natural, while the lower notes came through with heft and authority.
Say Hello to the HTIBB
I could go on about the PB-235’s musicality and theatricality, as well as the way in which it turned standard-fare television—such as The Newsroom or Dr. Who—into an exciting wall of sound. I could mention the Speech mode, in which the dynamic range of the upper and lower frequency ranges is limited to make the dialogue more intelligible for late-night movie or TV watching. I could complain that I misplaced the PowerBar’s tiny IR remote more than once (until I programmed the functions into my Hopper remote), or that switching video inputs on the TV and audio on the PowerBar is a pain in the ass. (Okay, it was and I will.) But, I’ll also say this: Peter Tribeman wasn’t only dead-on right with his seemingly outlandish claims for this new soundbar—he just might be a friggin’ home theater prophet. Atlantic Technology’s H-PAS PowerBar is a marvelous combination of affordability, performance, and simplicity. It’s home theater in a better box.