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Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar review:

Sound bar delivers real bass, sans subwoofer

Setup: Tweak-friendly
Once you clear the hurdle of physically placing the PB-235, there's not much additional setup. You will need to turn off or mute your TV's internal speakers, which can typically be done in your TV's setup menu.

The PB-235's remote control has bass and treble controls, adjustable in 17 steps each. The flat settings were fine, though we preferred the sound with the bass turned up to +3 and the treble adjusted down to -3, but everyone's taste differs and room acoustics will also play a role in determining the settings. With the PB-235 it's easy to make on-the-fly tonal balance changes, which isn't the case with many competing sound bars. The PB-235's remote also has a Speech Enhancement button that does a good job of boosting the intelligibility of dialogue.

The PB-235's speakers don't need any additional setup or calibration. Atlantic Technology stresses that wall mounting will allow the PB-235 to generate the maximum bass output, but that's true for most speakers and sound bar systems. We didn't wall mount the PB-235 for the review, but even sitting on a shelf its bass quantity and quality were exceptional for a sound bar speaker.

Sound quality: No sub, no problem
The PB-235's big performance claim is extended bass response. Looking at the 42.75-inch-wide sound bar, fitted with just a pair of 4-inch woofers, it's easy to be skeptical that this speaker can really deliver truly full-range bass performance.

But over the course of listening through a stack of Blu-rays and CDs, we were convinced the PB-235 can be enjoyed without a subwoofer. Not only was the bass full and rich, bass definition was also quite good. The car chase scene that opens "Quantum of Solace" had no shortage of low-end muscle when we played the Blu-ray, and the bad guys' high-powered machine gun blasts proved the PB-235's home theater credentials were fully in order.

The PB-235 placed in front of a TV.

Switching between two-, three-, and five-channel surround modes, the PB-235's soundstage width expanded in both five-channel modes, labeled 5C and 5E. The PB-235 couldn't generate surround effects that sounded like they were coming from the sides of the CNET listening room, but neither can most sound bars.

One thing that separates the PB-235 from other sound bars is that its sound quality doesn't suffer when going from stereo to surround mode. Surround may have a little less bass, but the character of the PB-235's sound remains consistent in all listening modes. Dialogue clarity is another strength: the PB-235 never sounded processed or hollow in surround modes like some sound bars do. Since the stereo soundstage was narrow, we mostly listened to the PB-235 in 5C or 5E modes. That was true for CD listening as well; the PB-235's stereo soundstage was too small and narrow.

Like most sound bar systems the PB-235 downconverts Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio lossless soundtracks to standard Dolby and DTS. That's not much of an issue, as the difference between high-resolution lossless codecs and standard lossy codecs generally isn't audible with a sound bar.

Next we compared the PB-235 with one of the very best sound bars we've ever tested, the Harman Kardon SB 16. Considering the SB 16's very large, wireless 10-inch subwoofer it didn't look like a fair contest, but the PB-235 wasn't embarrassed by the comparison. We played some of the fiercest battle scenes on the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray over both systems, and sure, the SB 16's bass went deeper and sounded more powerful, but the differences weren't huge. The PB-235 sounded a little more dynamically alive, so the explosions kicked harder and midbass fullness was superior to the SB 16's. The SB 16's imaging was more open and spacious than the PB-235's, which had a slight "cupped hand" box coloration.

All in all, the Atlantic PB-235 sounded better than the Harman Kardon SB 16, despite the latter's full-size subwoofer. The SB 16 is very good, but when you compare it with the PB-235 it's easy to hear the SB 16 is just a skinny sound bar teamed up with a really big sub. Of course, neither is as dynamic or powerful as a good 5.1-channel speaker system used with a decent AV receiver.

The next logical step was to see if adding a subwoofer to the PB-235 would improve the sound. We used used a Pioneer SW-8MK2 ($160), 8-inch, 100-watt sub, and it supplied a deeper foundation to the PB-235's sound, so it was more or less on par with the SB 16's bass performance. Adding the sub to the PB-235 didn't make a night-and-day difference, and the sub's contributions were only noticeable during films with lots of deep bass energy. Most of the time the PB-235 didn't sound better with the sub, so most buyers will be fine without one.

The PB-235 excelled at playing music concert Blu-rays like jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall's "Live in Rio." It was hard to believe the sound was coming from one speaker. The PB-235 conjured the orchestra backing Krall with beguiling ease. But hard rock was less satisfying: The Raconteurs' "Live at Montreux" Blu-ray's sound was slightly lightweight, so adding the Pioneer sub helped improve the balance. We preferred playing CDs in 5C surround more than stereo, but like many other sound bars the PB-235 sounded best playing movies.

The PB-235 delivers on its promise to produce a satisfying home theater experience without a subwoofer, albeit with a cumbersome design and high price. Those drawbacks certainly limit its appeal quite a bit, but the Atlantic Technology PB-2235 is a remarkable accomplishment if you want bass without having to deal with a subwoofer.

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