In all my years working as a professional in this industry, I'm not sure I've ever come across a product that surprised me as much as Atlantic Technology's 3.1 HSB H-PAS TV speaker base system ($799). Quite frankly, on paper, it looks like the sort of thing that might appeal to, like, three people in the world. First of all, it's a speaker base (or sound base, or sound pedestal, or whatever nomenclature you prefer)--which, let's face it, is hardly a sexy product category. Second, it isn't even a fully powered speaker base. Although it features a power cord and 80 watts of amplification for its down-firing 6.5-inch woofer, its trio of L/C/R channels (each featuring a pair of three-inch mid-bass drivers and a 0.75-inch soft dome tweeter) is completely passive, requiring the addition of an AV receiver or some other form of external amplification.
Before you count out the 3.1 HSB, however, consider this: it is the product of Atlantic Technology, which has been doing some pretty intriguing things in the past few years with a technology known as H-PAS (Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System). H-PAS is to standard, ported bass-reflex speaker design what the Corvette C7.R is to a solid-axel gen-one convertible with a Blue Flame straight-six engine. H-PAS relies on a combination of acoustic suspension, acoustic transmission line, bass reflex, and inverse horn technologies to create pretty massive bass output from pretty tiny cabinets. The result, in part, is that the 3.1 HSB--with a cabinet measuring less than 36 inches wide, five inches tall, and 17 inches deep--boasts reported low-frequency extension down to a stunning 35 Hz, with audible sub-30-Hz bass output in my 13- by 15-foot bedroom. That's actually a good bit better than some 10-inch subwoofers I've auditioned as of late, and it's just one of the things that makes this curious speaker base more than just a mere curiosity.
As you might have gathered already, setting up the 3.1 HSB is hardly different from setting up three speakers and a subwoofer. Around back, you'll find three binding posts of the spring-loaded variety. This is normally not my favorite connection method, but in this case it definitely works--since you might find yourself stretching across the cabinet itself to make said connections, and the quicker the better. Of course, there's also an LFE input for the built-in woofer, variable controls for LFE level and low-pass (with settings from 40 Hz to 220 Hz), and dipswitches for low-pass bypass, phase inversion, and standby power (on/off/auto).
Up front you'll find (perhaps rather surprisingly) a removable cloth grille with more than enough bracing to protect the soft-dome tweeters. When inspecting the driver configuration, you will notice that the tweeter for each channel is elevated slightly as compared with its mid-bass drivers. This doesn't wholly solve every one of the dispersion problems inherent to horizontal M-T-M (mid-tweeter-mid) driver arrays, but it does seem to greatly reduce any potential lobing issues.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Before we can talk about anything performance-related, we've got some more setting up to do--because, as I said, the 3.1 HSB is, aside from its deep bass driver, a passive speaker system. Therefore, much of the setup that needs to be done has to be done within your AV receiver. In my case, I relied on an Anthem MRX 710, with its LCR and subwoofer output fed directly into the 3.1 HSB. After a good bit of listening, I added a pair of ELAC Debut B5 bookshelf speakers as surrounds. That's kinda the beauty of Atlantic Technology's intriguing speaker base: you can use it alone (well, with a receiver) or use it as the centerpiece of a complete 5.1, 7.1, or even Atmos/DTS:X object-based surround sound system, if you so choose.
You may be thinking, "Wait, why would I use such a high-performance receiver to drive a $799 speaker base?" The real answer to that question is, "Because I could." Seriously, though, using the MRX 710 and its accompanying Anthem Room Correction 2 software allowed me to take a snapshot of the speaker base's performance in my room and make more intelligent, informed decisions about bass management, room correction, and so forth.
The first thing I noticed about the 3.1 HSB's performance in-room is that its L/C/R speakers perform rather unevenly below 500 Hz, so I set my Max EQ frequency to that point (and no higher, since I didn't want to tweak the voice of the speakers themselves in the most crucial midrange and high frequencies). The second thing I noticed is that, although the LFE driver (I just can't bring myself to call it a subwoofer) does indeed deliver deep, smooth low bass, it also performs really admirably up above 200 Hz.
That gave me a good bit of wiggle room in terms of bass management. Atlantic Technology's instruction manual recommends a crossover point of 125 Hz. My measurements (and my ears) said this was far too low. In the end ARC2 suggested (and I agreed) that 160 Hz was pretty much the perfect crossover frequency for this system.
With a normal speaker system, this would be less than ideal (he said, in obvious contention for Understatement of the Century). Crossing over at such a high frequency would normally lead to a serious disconnect between sub and satellites, not to mention a significant degree of subwoofer localization. However, with the 3.1 HSB, the "subwoofer" is right there, built into the speakers. As such I was able to get a good blend between then even with crossover frequency set so high.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...