Atlantic Technology 3.1 HSB Soundbase Review Page 2

The real story here, though, is the bass. I’ve never heard this kind of low-frequency extension in a soundbase (or standalone soundbar, for that matter). In fact, the 3.1 HSB plays way lower than any monitor I’ve heard without subwoofer reinforcement, and it might even embarrass a so-so mass-market floorstander. [Ed. Note: We measured the –3 dB point at exactly 35 Hz and the –6 dB point at 32 Hz, bass we’d not expect to see from such a compact box. See Test Bench.]

I often break in review samples with B-movies, taking notes that may never make it into the review. Annabelle, a horror thriller about a malevolent doll, unexpectedly made the cut with a recurring bass effect. Whenever evil approaches the hapless family, an ominous low tone slowly ramps up, reaching a crescendo with doll-on-human violence. The bass buildup was commendably even. In one scene, the pounding on a door was robust, with realistic impact, woody resonance, and super-tight decay; that little augmented bass driver could really punch. After reviewing two active soundbases with fake surround, I enjoyed having real surround effects from real surround speakers again. Was that why more than one scene actually raised goose bumps?

More than other titles, X-Men: Days of Future Past (with its slightly bright soundtrack) highlighted the timbral difference between the 3.1 HSB and the two Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4s used as surrounds. Perhaps it was because the Studio 20s measure closer to ruler-flat than I’d expect a soundbase to, though many aspects of a design affect timbre. Despite careful setup with test tones, the Paradigms imaged a little more strongly. Sitting closer to the 3.1 HSB solved the problem in this situation—though if it had recurred, I would have tried to ameliorate it by adjusting the channel levels. The soundbase showed impressive output capability as it held up its end of scenes with loud, all-channel effects—those with whizzing copters, flying robots, and general mayhem.

In the setup menu of Exodus: Gods and Kings, a low exhalation of synth bass brought a smile; H-PAS was strutting its stuff before the movie even got underway! Pounding hooves in cavalry scenes and the earthy terror of mud and rockslides also poured through the bottom-firing woofer. There’s nothing like a plague of locusts to show off a surround system. The third season of House of Cards, Netflix-binged in Dolby Digital Plus, is short on cavalry and natural disasters. Rather, it allows an extended meditation on the human voice, especially Kevin Spacey’s musical baritone (fake Southern accent and all). In none of the movie/TV demos did the integrated bass driver ever localize voices, including resonant male voices. If it had, a quick adjustment of sub volume (either in the base or in the receiver) would likely have fixed the problem. However, the level of my initial setup—with the 3.1 HSB’s knob one-third of the way up and an unusually low setting in the receiver’s surround processor—was a hole in one. The 3.1 HSB doesn’t bloat but still had plenty of bass headroom at this listening position.

Brahms Will Tell
Any well-executed orchestral recording is a great test of timbre and imaging. But Brahms’ German Requiem also reliably reveals dynamic performance—as long as you play it loud. I applied an in-concert volume level to the 5.0-channel SACD with Mariss Jansons leading the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam on the orchestra’s own RCO Live label. High levels weren’t just more realistic; they improved the perceived resolution of the orchestra and chorus and the imaging of the vocal soloists. With the surrounds used only for subtle ambience, the net effect was less a continuous soundfield than a solid front soundstage gently tugged slightly outward from the soundbase. This time, there was no discernible disparity in timbre matching (though your mileage may vary, depending on what speakers you use for surrounds).

The biggest limitation of most soundbases and bars is the width of the perceived soundstage being restricted to the physical width of the enclosure, a problem manufacturers often attempt to mitigate—though not here—with a width-enhancing listening mode. Even so, in this case, the perception was influenced by sight and expectation. When I closed my eyes, banishing the sight of the 3-foot-wide speaker, somehow it seemed a foot or two wider; when I opened them, the sonic image snapped back to the narrower physical image, as if by magic. So what you see is not necessarily what you get—in fact, it can be misleading. That’s why a good audio system sounds better in a darkened room. Relieving the brain of processing visual stimuli makes it better able to process sound.

I bought the Expanded Edition of the Steely Dan compilation Gold (CD) for the bonus tracks, but the mastering of familiar ones is especially good. The relative restraint of the top end unshackled the bottom end, especially in the prominent (but here, not excessively prominent) bass line of “Black Cow.” Later Steely Dan albums pride themselves on their sophisticated but meaty grooves, and H-PAS proved an ideal way to deliver them. While the 3.1 HSB wasn’t especially beamy, it offered a little more tone color in the aromatic horn charts of “Deacon Blues” when I sat directly on axis, on the floor, with a pillow to comfort the fundament. If I were permanently installing the 3.1 HSB, I’d raise it as close to on-axis as possible without noticeably inducing keystoning or other off-axis side effects in the video display.

The 3.1 HSB was as adept with the string bass on Jorma Kaukonen’s Blue Country Heart (CD) as it was with Steely Dan’s electric bass, which helped when bluegrass veteran Byron House stepped out for a couple of tasteful solos. What I appreciated even more was how the 3.1 HSB delivered the percolating ecosystem of the other stringed instruments, including acoustic guitar, dobro, and banjo. They were utterly natural and well imaged, more woody than metallic, and never glassy, mechanical, or exaggerated.

Atlantic Technology’s 3.1 HSB isn’t just a boldly reimagined soundbase but one of the few that can serve as the cornerstone of a true 5.1-channel surround system. It’s also an excellent value: For only $799, you get the equivalent of three high-performance speakers and a more than respectable subwoofer, along with the aesthetics of a consolidated up-front speaker solution. If you’re all about that bass but still want to banish audio gear from the floor, here’s an ingenious way to meet that goal.

Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (

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