For my first test run with the Atmos, I wanted some material that would drive it to its limits. So I chose a home theater classic (in its Blu-ray form, that is): the intro of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It starts with a somber scan across a landscape littered with skulls, then jolts you to attention with a full-scale bass hit when a robot’s foot crushes one of the skulls with the force of an 18-wheeler slamming into a brick wall at 60 mph.
A truly great subwoofer can scare you on this scene, even when you know what’s coming. I can’t say the Sunfire Atmos scared me, but it did play loudly without any audible distortion. It also did a great job portraying T2’s chase scene through the aqueducts of the Los Angeles River; it didn’t quite shake my floor but did deliver a hell of a punch. Basically, it sounded like there was a decent-size subwoofer in the room.
Some minisubs with heavy-duty drivers do a mediocre job of differentiating the pitches of the notes in melodic bass lines. But the Atmos sounded quite tuneful on slickly produced pop like Toto’s “Rosanna” and Joni Mitchell’s “Car on a Hill,” delivering all the rhythmic subtleties that made those 1970s L.A. studio bass players so much in demand.
However, when the notes rose up into the higher bass range, around 80 or 100 Hz, the Atmos seemed to lose some of its attack and punch. It seems that Sunfire tuned it for maximum sound quality in the 40- to 63-Hz region — probably a wise decision given the sub’s limited driver area, but this makes it harder to match up with satellite speakers, many of which have limited bass output below 80 Hz.
Really deep notes, such as those below the low 41-Hz E note on a standard bass guitar, revealed the Sunfire Atmos’s limits. When I played tunes with deep electronic bass, such as M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” (from her Kala CD) and Olive’s “Falling” (from Extra Virgin), the Atmos subwoofer was able to reproduce the lowest notes, but it seemed to throttle itself down at times, compressing the notes so that they wouldn’t distort.
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