CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar review: Sound bar delivers real bass, sans subwoofer

It's pricey and cumbersome, but Atlantic Technology's PB-235 sound bar works near-magic by producing credible bass without a subwoofer.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
Matthew Moskovciak
7 min read

They're called sound bars, but the truth is that an external subwoofer is often what separates the so-so sound bars from the good ones. That's why the claims behind Atlantic Technology's PB-235 PowerBar ($720 street) are so bold: true, deep bass sans a sub, thanks to its proprietary H-PAS bass system.


Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar

The Good

The <b>Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar</b> is a truly innovative sound bar, capable of producing credible bass performance without a separate subwoofer. Its sound quality is best-in-class for a sound bar, even compared with competitors that include a sub. It also has more connectivity than the average sound bar, including three digital inputs.

The Bad

The PB-235 is massive. It's tall enough to obscure most TV screens so wall-mounting (of the sound bar or your TV) is almost a must. It's also very expensive, and you can get better sound with a pair of tower speakers and an inexpensive receiver. A system this high-end deserves a better remote.

The Bottom Line

It's pricey and cumbersome, but Atlantic Technology's PB-235 sound bar works near-magic by pumping deep bass without a subwoofer.

The crazy thing is the PB-235 largely works, delivering full, subwoofer-worthy bass without an actual subwoofer cluttering up your living room. It has the best sound quality of any sound bar we've tested recently, besting even our reference, external-sub-equipped Harman Kardon SB 16 ($550 street). Of course, that's assuming you want what the PB-235 is offering: an expensive, jumbo-size sound bar that isn't exactly the most attractive on the market. And for this price you can pair up a cheap AV receiver (like the Onkyo TX-NR414, $275) with some inexpensive tower speakers (like the Pioneer SP-FS52, $260 per pair) and get much better sound, although in an admittedly bulkier package.

But if you want Atlantic's subwoofer-free design and are willing to pay for it, the PB-235 is an outstanding performer with truly innovative speaker technology.

Design and features: No sub means a big bar
Sound bars are getting ever thinner, but the PB-235 stands in stark contrast to that trend. The big black bar measures 42.75 inches wide, 6.5 inches tall, and 6.5 inches deep and weighs 20.3 pounds. It's nothing like the plasticky sound bars that line the shelves at your local Best Buy.

PB-235 side view
With most TVs, the PB-235's height will obscure part of the screen.

That 6.5-inch height also makes it tough to place it in front of a TV -- the traditional placement location for most sound bars -- as it will likely obscure part of your TV screen and perhaps your TV's remote sensor. In fact, Atlantic Technology only shows the PB-235 with wall-mounted TVs in the manual. There are keyhole brackets on the back if you want to mount the PB-235, although be forewarned that its weight makes that a significant job. Another alternative: Atlantic's new 2405 "speaker shelf" (PDF link) lets you mount the PB-235 to the top of a large-screen TV -- but it'll set you back another $119, and we'd be reticent to balance a 20-pound weight on the TV in that fashion, especially in a home with children.

If you can't wall-mount, your two alternatives are using a TV riser to elevate your set, or going with a TV stand that has enough shelf space to house the PB-235 directly underneath.

The PB-235's front panel controls and display.

The PB-235 is largely symmetrical, save for the awkward-looking hump along the top. The bulge houses the front panel controls, as well as a basic display and a minijack input. The display is nice for visual feedback as to how loud the system is, although the hidden-behind-the-speaker-grille display on Zvox sound bars is much sleeker.

The PB-235's connections are labeled on the top.

The back of the PB-235 houses its connectivity.

On the back of hump you'll find the PB-235's connections hiding. There are plenty of options, including two optical inputs, one coaxial input, and an analog input. There's also a subwoofer output (if you choose to use a separate sub), as well as an IR input. The extra connectivity is nice, although not entirely necessary if you plan on using your TV as a switcher.

The PB-235 remote.

The included remote is disappointing for a $700 sound bar. It's a credit-card style clicker, with a cheap feel and mushy buttons. It's clearly possible to make a solid-feeling remote within a reasonable price range (see: Bose Solo), so it's frustrating that it's so often an overlooked aspect of sound bars. On the plus side, it includes direct buttons for adjusting bass/treble and the buttons are well laid out.

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.


Atlantic Technology PB-235 PowerBar

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 10