"We've designed this system to give you all of the sound without all of the boxes." That's Atlantic Technology's marketing pitch for the FS-7.0, and it's basically the philosophy behind every sound bar speaker on the market. Unfortunately, even the best ones don't live up to the hype; no single speaker really compares with a full 5.1 speaker system. The FS-7.0 doubles the hype factor by being the first seven-channel sound bar speaker, but the extra channels didn't do anything for us--we didn't hear any surround effects, let alone discrete surround back channels.
Marketing aside, the FS-7.0 is a solid sound bar speaker. Its exterior design is the most stylish we've seen on a sound bar and its sound quality on movies is quite good, even if it is only stereo. On the other hand, the price is high, especially when considering that it requires an AV receiver and really needs a separate subwoofer to sound its best. (Atlantic Technology sells the $300 SB-800 as a companion subwoofer.) Overall, there's nothing bad about the FS-7.0 system, but we couldn't shake the feeling that competitors such as the Polk SurroundBar 50 (better surround effects) or Definitive Technology Mythos SSA-50 (better overall sound) would be better fits for most buyers.
Design and features
The Atlantic Technology FS-7.0 exudes quality from the second you pull it out of the box. It comes packed in a soft cloth sheath. You remove the sheath to reveal its high-quality glossy black finish, which puts the tacky finishes from companies such as Samsung and LG to shame. Adding to its quality feeling is the FS-7.0's substantial weight. At 37 pounds, it's the heaviest sound bar speaker we've tested, weighing nearly 6 pounds more than the Definitive Technology Mythos SSA-50. Most sound bar speakers, such as the Polk SurroundBar 50 or Canton CD 50 SB, weigh 15 pounds or less. The Atlantic Technology FS-7.0 is expensive, but at least you get the impression that it's worth it.
Every sound bar speaker we've tested has the same basic shape and the FS-7.0 is no different, with its long pole-like shape measuring 40 inches wide by 4.75 inches high by 5.25 inches deep. If you're planning on place it in front of your HDTV on a TV stand, it's worth measuring your arrangement to see if the FS-7.0 will be blocking any of the TV screen.
The FS-7.0 is wall-mountable, but unlike most sound bar speakers, the FS-7.0 neither comes with wall-mount hardware nor does Atlantic Technology sell a kit. Instead, Atlantic has provided rubber spacers and built-in keyhole brackets to screw the FS-7.0 directly into a stud. However, the FS-7.0's considerable weight make it a substantial DIY job. We'd feel more comfortable having a professional doing it than worrying about our $800 sound bar speaker ripping out of the wall and crashing to the floor.
The front of the FS-7.0 is covered in a removable black cloth speaker grille. Removing the grille reveals the drivers; there are two 4x6-inch dual voice-coil woofers and three 1-inch tweeters. The dual voice-coil design of the woofers let it handle one of the front stereo channels (either left of right), plus "half" of the center channel.
The only design tweak that really separates the Atlantic Technology FS-7.0 from other sound bar speakers is its pair of side-mounted speakers. Each end of the FS-7.0 has a 3.25-inch triple voice-coil driver that handles both the surround and surround back channel. These are positioned straight out to the sides, slightly angled back, reflecting sound off the front/back walls of your home theater to create its surround effect. Usually we'd make a strong recommendation to consider only the FS-7.0 if it would have an unobstructed path to the walls of your home theater; however, since we didn't hear much surround effect even in a near-ideal listening environment, we wouldn't worry about it.
On its back you'll find a row of speaker jacks with a spring-loaded design. At this price, we really would have preferred high-quality binding post speaker jacks. This is a seven-channel sound bar speaker that means you'll need to make a ton of connections; it's a lot of messy speaker wire and since we didn't hear much in the way of surround effect, it seems completely unnecessary. If the FS-7.0 is part of a custom install, this might not matter; however, if you're doing a DIY install, dealing with hiding those wires is another hurdle.
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.