As with most well-designed bookshelf speakers, setup with the AT-2s wasn’t too fussy. I plopped them on 28-inch-high steel stands filled with kitty litter (to eliminate ringing of the metal), placed each speaker so its back panel was about 18 inches from the wall behind, and toed the speakers in to face me directly.
With a little experimentation, I found that toeing in these speakers is critical. The high-frequency response is smooth, but a little on the tame side; if you want a more vivid treble, you will definitely have to toe these in. You’ll also want to flip the tweeter level switch to the up position to boost the highs a bit. Tribeman told me there’s no “correct” position for the switch — whatever you like is fine — but I’d say unless you have a very reflective room, start with the switch in the + position. Fortunately, the grilles have very little effect on the sound, so if you want to protect the AT-2’s drivers from damage by kids, dogs, drunken houseguests, etc., feel free to use ’em.
Let’s discuss the bass first, since that’s what we’re all curious about. Play any rock tune through the AT-2 and it’s obvious that there’s more low end than most bookshelf speakers can muster. When I played my go-to, all-’round #1 test track, Holly Cole’s recording of Tom Waits’ “Train Song,” the AT-2 not only played the brutal low notes in the intro loudly and without apparent distortion, it even managed to give a sense of pressure in the room, as a good subwoofer would.
I also got great results with my go-to, #1 rock test track, Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart,” all the solid groove of Tommy Lee’s furiously pumping kick drum coming through clearly with no sign of strain on the little woofer. It took “Falling,” from the synth-pop band Olive, to reach the AT-2’s limits in my listening room — cranking it up gave me some audible distortion on certain of the super-deep bass notes, but it was still quite listenable.
Because the AT-2’s intended mainly for stereo use, I didn’t play a lot of movies through it, but those I did watch didn’t leave me pining for a sub. Limitless, a vastly underrated psychodrama starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, had plenty of deep bass hits in its soundtrack, yet through the AT-2 it sounded clean and full even at pretty high listening levels in my fairly large (about 3,000 cubic feet) room.
So what do the mids and treble sound like? Pretty darned good. True to Atlantic’s claims, the crossover between the woofer and tweeter is exceptionally smooth, with no trace of response errors in the midrange or lower treble, and not even a hint of the “cupped hands” coloration that drives me crazy in so many other speakers.
The treble tends toward a smooth and slightly soft sound, which especially suited pop and jazz. Ron Sexsmith’s “Words We Never Use” sounds harsh on many speakers, yet those through which it doesn’t sound harsh often dull the charming coarseness of Sexsmith’s voice. The AT-2 struck a perfect balance here, sounding smooth without smothering the character of the vocal.
Same with R.E.M.’s “7 Chinese Brothers”; the AT-2 gave me all the jangly goodness of Peter Buck’s guitar, the slight edge in Michael Stipe’s voice, and all the tight groove of the drums and bass without subtracting anything.
So what material didn’t work as well through the AT-2? Audiophile stuff with lots of treble energy, such as the Chesky CD The Coryells. The Coryells is mostly acoustic guitars with light percussion such as castanets, recorded in a reverberant New York City church, and it relies heavily on treble energy to convey its huge, spacious sound. The AT-2’s slightly soft treble made this recording a little less involving than I’d like.
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