We auditioned the FS-7.0 with an Onkyo HT-RC180 AV receiver, and as per Atlantic Technology's recommendation, performed a manual speaker setup. (Automatic speaker calibration systems won't work with the FS-7.0).
Atlantic recommends setting the front Left, Center, and Right channels' volume at -3 dB, and all four surround channels at 0 dB. For large rooms you can turn up the surround channels a bit, up +2 dB. If you're not using a subwoofer, run all speakers Small, with the crossover set to 60Hz for the front Left, Center, and Right channels, and 100Hz for the surround channels.
We were using Atlantic Technology's SB-800 subwoofer, so we set all channels to Small with the crossover set to 80Hz for the front channels and 120Hz for the surround channels. We briefly listened to the FS-7.0 without a sub and found it was acceptable, but it sounds a lot better with the subwoofer. We strongly recommend using a sub.
Determining the delay (distance) settings was slightly confusing, because the text of the owner's manual is hard to follow on that feature. First, measure the distance from the FS-7.0 to the main listening position, which in our room was 10 feet. The surround channels were trickier to calculate--because you have to take into account how it reflects off the side wall--but we wound up with 18 feet. A company representative later told us that higher distance settings enhance the surround effect, so we increased it to 25 feet. In other words, you don't have to get it exactly right.
The FS-7.0's refined sound quality is much closer to a true $800 5.1 speaker system than most sound bar speakers. However, that ignores the true cost of the FS-7.0, because it really needs to be partnered with a subwoofer. Most sound bars sound acceptable without a sub, or they come with subs. Also, you have to use the FS-7.0 with a receiver, which increases the investment cost compared with a self-powered sound bar (see our list of top all-in-one sound bar systems).
Also, as we mentioned before, we really didn't hear any kind of surround sound spaciousness in the CNET listening room--even after rearranging it several times to make it as close to ideal as possible. There may be seven speaker channels inside that long, sleek cabinet, but the FS-7.0 sounded like stereo to us. At least it was great sounding stereo.
The FS-7.0 came alive when we played the "Quincy Jones: The 75th Birthday Celebration Live from Montreux 2008" DVD. A cappella group Naturally 7's amazing take on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" was remarkably vivid and clear. Herbie Hancock's funk-fueled big band brought "Killer Joe" to life and the hard-hitting rhythm section propelled the tune and Hancock's spunky keyboard jumped out of the mix. However, the audience applause and cheers from the surround channels were stuck to the FS-7.0; we didn't feel as if we were in the audience.
We experimented with the setup, turned the surround channels' volume way up, readjusted speaker placement, but we never got much more surround envelopment from the FS-7.0. An Atlantic spokesman said the FS-7.0 will produce excellent surround immersion when wall-mounted. Since we could not wall-mount the speaker in our room we couldn't verify that claim, but the fact that we couldn't hear any surround effect in any configuration makes us skeptical.
Surround sound aside, the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray Disc's visceral power came through like gangbusters. Before the fateful helicopter crash, soldiers are deployed into the Somalian city of Mogadishu and quickly encounter heavy gunfire and exploding mortars. Few sound bars have fared as well reproducing the mayhem as the FS-7.0 did. The weapons "pop" is louder, scarier, and violent. The SB-800 sub supplied the helicopters' massive throbbing pulse while perfectly meshing with the FS-7.0 speaker. Even in the thick of battle, the FS-7.0 kept the movie dialog intelligibility and clear.
When listening to CDs, its sound was rather small, but switching on the Onkyo HT-RC180's Dolby Pro Logic II surround processing opened up the soundstage somewhat. Still we didn't hear a "surround" effect, but at least the sound didn't feel as if it were stuck inside the speaker. Norah Jones' laid-back jazzy tunes sounded really nice, but U2 cranked up loud revealed more of the speaker's limitations compared with what's you'd hear from a pair of Klipsch RF-62 tower speakers (about $900 per pair), without a subwoofer.