Atlantic Technology System 170
Atlantic Tech's System 170 ($1,496) has already been kicking around for a few years, so it predates many of the "mini" subwoofer/satellite home theater speaker packages that have cropped up since. The System 170's vintage probably accounts for its conservative design - hard-edged black boxes everywhere you look. But a speaker's looks are only skin deep, of course, and come a distant second to what matters most: performance. Let's hold that thought while we get into the nuts and bolts of the Atlantic Tech system.
The system consists of two 171 LR front left/right speakers, a 173 C center speaker, a pair of 174 SR surrounds, and a 172 PBM powered subwoofer. The 171 SR has a pair of coated-graphite woofers above and below a silk-dome tweeter, an arrangement that cuts down on ceiling/floor reflections by limiting vertical dispersion. According to Atlantic Technology, this enhances imaging and makes dialogue more intelligible. Bass starts to taper off around 90 Hz, making a separate subwoofer a necessity.
The 173 C center speaker is basically the same but designed for horizontal mounting above or below a TV. It has two nice touches that distinguish it from other center speakers. The first is a set of curved rails on the bottom that fit into a grooved baseplate and let you aim the speaker up or down toward the listening position. The second is a tweeter-level control for tailoring the treble response to match that of the 171 LR speakers flanking it. If you've ever put a center speaker on top of a huge rear-projection TV and wondered why sounds panned across the front soundstage don't seem continuous, you'll recognize the value in having such a control.
Atlantic Tech's 174 SR is a typical THX-type dipole surround speaker with a woofer and tweeter on two sides of its semi-triangular cabinet. Basic hardware is included for wall mounting. Besides the usual line-level and speaker-level connections, the 172 PBM subwoofer also has a pass-through input/output designed for daisy-chaining multiple subs or looping a signal back to a surround processor or a receiver. Controls include a low-pass filter that's continuously adjustable from 50 to 150 Hz and a 0/180° phase switch. In another nice touch, the sub's level control is located underneath the front-panel grille for easy access.
To set the system up, I put the 171 LRs on Atlantic Tech's optional 176 ST speaker stands, the 173 C on a shelf in my TV stand, and the 174 SRs on high stands located behind the couch, directly against the side walls. After placing the sub in a front corner of the room, I used the center speaker's level control to timbre-match it to the front L/R speakers - a quick adjustment that proved surprisingly effective.
Getting down to business, I pulled out The Transporter to see where it would take me. Right off, the system's punchy dynamics and powerful bass let me know it could handle over-the-top action-movie soundtracks, and the dipole surrounds presented a convincing sense of atmosphere in the beachfront scenes. Moving on to Dances with Wolves, I cued up the buffalo-hunt scene and let it rip. The 172 PBM sub did a great job of capturing the low rumble of the galloping herd, considerably exceeding my expectations. The report of the rifle shots sounded clean and precise, and the narration was equally clear over a wide listening area.
The Atlantic Technology system also proved to be good with music. In Thompson's "King of Bohemia," it presented a solid, focused image with a convincing sense of depth. The 172 PBM subwoofer did a very good job of articulating the low notes of the bass solo in Frisell's jazzed-up "Moon River." Overall, the system's performance struck me as well detailed, although at louder volumes the acoustic guitar sounded slightly etched, with a clipped quality to the decay of plucked strings.
Although there's some controversy on this issue, my experience using dipole surround speakers while watching movies with 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks has been generally positive. Movie soundtracks steer ambient sounds to the rear most of the time, which is what dipoles do best. Playing multichannel music on the System 170, however, proved to be a mixed bag.
On some tracks, like "Finest Worksong" from R.E.M.'s Document, a DVD-Audio disc, the 174 SR surrounds sounded great, with their diffuse character helping to tame the overly aggressive surround mix. They also worked fine with multichannel classical music discs, which tend to put only ambience in the rear channels. But on discs that tastefully employ discrete surround effects, like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon SACD, the 174 SRs dulled the presentation to a degree.
Atlantic Technology's System 170 isn't the newest compact sub/sat system on the block, but it can hold its own against just about anything in its price range. If you're short on space but still require big sound when watching movies and listening to music, I guarantee you'll be impressed by its performance. And at around $1,500 for the package - $1,620 with a pair of speaker stands - it's definitely a steal.
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