- Written by Gabriel Lowe
- Published on 30 September 2013
The Atlantic Technology PB-235 Powered Soundbar In Use
For my music listening I used two sources. Starting with SACDs, I set up my Sony SCD-CE775 using its standard analog audio out since the player does not output SACD audio digitally via the optical digital output. Furthermore, since the PB-235 only accepts a single L/R input for its analog in, I set the player to 2 channel direct mode, which also allowed the full range signals to be sent to the sound bar.
I began with the SACD Deluxe Edition of The Who's Tommy. One of my favorite parts of the classic album is "The Amazing Journey" into "Sparks". As the drums build, the psychedelic sounds move through the music, and the gradual volume increase all makes for a beautiful sound, which the PB-235 rendered wonderfully.
"We're not going to take it", one of the last numbers in the Rock Opera sounded fantastic from the sound bar. The vocals came out clear and crisp, standing out in front of the music. The epic finale "Listening to You" came through beautifully and with the power it deserves for a concluding overture.
Next, I fired up some tracks from Aerosmith's Oh Yeah! - a collection of their greatest hits. Starting with the radio version of "Just Push Play" I noticed the unit producing very well balanced, melodic bass. In addition, I noted some very good blending from the mid-range into the bass. For this track, I also tested out the two surround modes (5 channel and 5 channel enhanced), just to see how they worked with music. I actually felt that how it creates a simulated surround field was pretty impressive. I noted that it doesn't quite push the sound "behind" me, but fills the room very well. If I had to choose between the two surround modes for music listening, I'd probably stick with the non-enhanced 5C version most of the time.
Next, I played the seminal classic "Walk This Way". I tried pushing the system to higher volumes and found that it maintained clarity with no distortion through any reasonable volume. However, as the volume got marginally beyond where I would normally listen, I started noticing some volume separation between ranges that I wasn't hearing at lower levels. I was not concerned though since this was only noticeable at dangerously high volumes.
Then I moved to another favorite, "Sweet Emotion". This track featured some very good bass, though I realized here that I really needed to engage the tone controls to equalize the sound. Making some small adjustments definitely helped. Obviously, a more granular equalization control would be great, but that is not something typically found on such a unit.
Moving to a couple of CDs, I dusted off my excellent Sony DVP-S7000 DVD player, which happens to function as a fairly high quality CD transport. I began with one of my favorite Beatles tunes, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" from the stereo remaster version of the White Album. The bass was reproduced warmly and delightfully as the harmonic tones of backing Liverpool Lads were placed perfectly.
Next I put in Phish's first return album, Round Room, using the final track "Walls of the Cave" which includes sections in which each instrument takes a turn at being the lead. The track starts off with bass and cymbals being featured. I really applaud the crispness with which the latter was rendered, and of course bass being the strong suit of the PB-235 allowed the instrument to have a full, rich sound.
Arguably the most important use case for a sound bar is to produce great sound for television and movie viewing without the need for a full complement of speakers. As mentioned earlier, the PB-235 has a 3-channel mode, a 5-channel mode, and a 5-channel enhanced mode. The first one generates a phantom center channel, while the latter two project the surround channels derived from the internal DSP system so that they appear to come from the sides and behind you. I was quite excited to see how well this was accomplished for Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.
The other interesting feature of the unit is a speech mode. I spoke with one of the engineers at Atlantic Technology to get a better understanding of the speech feature (he was very helpful and you could tell he cared a lot about the technology). Not surprisingly, it "punches" the dialog up by enhancing those frequencies associated with human speech. At first I felt the effect was not working correctly, but after getting a bit of an education, I realized that it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do (hint: it is not meant for music!). The engineer suggested some heavy dialog-driven programming that would most benefit from this feature, such as Aaron Sorkin shows. As it so happened, I was just ready to begin the second season of The Newsroom. I watched the first episode all the way through with the speech feature on, and then went back and tested a few of the scenes with and without the feature engaged. I was immediately convinced of the benefit - it really improved the experience. As anyone who has seen any of Aaron Sorkin's shows can attest, the dialog is not only heavy, but also rapid and rhythmic. If you miss any part of it you can get lost very quickly. The speech feature seemed not only to boost the volume but also push it closer to me as I was enjoying the show.
I proceeded to test some of my favorite ear-candy scenes from various movies with the PB-235. I started with the launch scene from Apollo 13, and tried it in various combinations of using the speech feature with the various surround modes. I settled on 5-channel enhanced with speech disabled as my preferred configuration. The roar of the engines was deep and powerful, and the enveloping surround was quite impressive. I did notice that as the volume got to very loud levels there was a small amount of clipping, but I wouldn't normally watch films quite that loud.
Next, I played the scene from Batman Begins where Batman rescues Rachel from Arkham Asylum in the Batmobile. Again, I was impressed with the imaging panorama. The sound filled the entire front of the room adequately. The engine of the Batmobile took center stage though, as it drove across the rooftops of downtown Gotham. All the while the score blended beautifully to the sides and above - more example of the great imaging of the unit.
Finally, I threw in one of the ultimate surround scenes - storming the beach at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan. As the explosions began in the distance, the PB-235 did another fantastic job of creating the surround effect - pushing those explosions to the back and sides of my head. Meanwhile as the action escalated on screen the sound of machine gun fire was reproduced magnificently; projecting out and up front. The clanging of the bullets off of the Czech hedgehogs was precise. As they took the beach, the sound of gunfire and bomb explosions in the background was truly an impressive feat for the sound bar. Yes, it passed these tests with flying colors.