Soundbars are a hot topic in today's ever-changing home theater world. A soundbar can fall into one of two categories: powered and passive. Powered soundbars have built-in, usually digital, amplifiers that drive the speakers inside so that all the consumer needs to complete their home theater is a source and a display. Powered soundbars generally feature some sort of DSP (digital signal processing), allowing them to create faux surround sound effects and even decode multi-channel surround sound formats such as Dolby Digital; they also often come with a small subwoofer. Passive soundbars are a bit different, employing none of the before-mentioned features, instead opting for purity. Passive soundbars are essentially three discrete loudspeakers contained within a single chassis, meaning three sets of binding posts and three sets of speaker wire all going to your multi-channel amplifier or receiver of choice.
The Fineline FC-3 Ultra-Thin Soundbar reviewed here is a passive design employing, essentially, what are three discrete loudspeakers in an LCR configuration within a very slim, very minimal chassis. The FC-3's 42-inch wide by four-inch tall and two-inch deep cabinet houses six three and a half inch midrange drivers and three one-inch textile-dome tweeters. The drivers are arranged with the tweeters each falling between a pair of midrange drivers that are spaced evenly across the FC-3 entire 42-inch width in an LCR style fashion.
The FC-3 has a reported frequency response of 80-20,000Hz with a 90dB sensitivity rating into a six-Ohm load, making it ideal for most of today's modern receivers. However, due to its limited frequency response it also means prospective buyers will have to bring a subwoofer or two to the party. The FC-3 comes in every finish so long as it's black and costs $745. I should also point out that all Fineline Speakers, the FC-3 included, come with a money-back, 30-day in home trial which takes the worry out of buying a product blind and from a fairly new company.
The FC-3 can be wall mounted under your HDTV or placed on a table in front of it and comes with all the necessary hardware to facilitate both installations. The FC-3 also comes with small crimp style spade lugs to make connecting your speaker cable to the FC-3's screw post style binding posts. Sorry, no five-way or push-pin style posts here, meaning higher-end cable such as Transparent, Cardas or Kimber are out of the question - in fact, anything short of hardware store spool wire is going to be too thick and bulky to work with the FC-3.
In terms of sound quality, the FC-3 is on par with many other of the best passive soundbars that I've demoed recently. The FC-3 has a slightly lean midrange but no so much so that it feels anemic and/or harsh at high volumes. Its treble performance is good, a bit rolled off at the extremes and lacking the air and snap you'd get from thicker bookshelf speakers. Still it's pretty darn good considering its thin size. The FC-3's high frequency performance doesn't glare nor fall to pieces when pushed like others in the class, in fact at higher volumes it backs off subtly so as not to cause adverse attention to itself, which I appreciate.
In terms of bass there isn't any really to speak of (nor should any be expected from a speaker of this size), meaning a subwoofer will have to be employed if you're hoping for any semblance of full-range sound. In my system, I used GoldenEar's ForceField 4 Subwoofer with excellent results, though Fineline does make a subwoofer in their Sub-8, which retails for $679. While adding a capable sub is a must with the FC-3, its presence also helps open up the FC-3's sound and changes its performance dramatically.
Read about the high points and low points of the FC-3 on Page 2.
Dynamically, the FC-3s can dance and has a bit of quickness to it that makes watching action scenes such as those found within the film Fast & Furious (Universal) a real treat. In terms of soundstage it really depends on how you've chosen to mount the FC-3 that will make the biggest difference. For instance, I placed mine atop a table in front of my HDTV so I was able to get a fairly wide and surprisingly deep (say a foot or two) soundstage. However, when I placed the FC-3 up against the wall the soundstage width remained largely the same but the depth collapsed inside the speaker itself. This isn't really a knock against the FC-3, just something that happens when you place speaker to close to a wall or boundary. I will say this: the FC-3's performance benefits greatly from some of today's modern room correction programs and software such as Audyssey EQ.
• The FC-3 is one of the narrower soundbars you'll find today making it ideal for uber-thin LED based HDTVs.
• The FC-3, like all Fineline Speakers is made in the USA, which is bound to make many enthusiasts very happy. I know it makes me happy.
• The FC-3's fit and finish is quite nice and feels rather robust, which is surprising considering nearly the entire enclosure is wrapped in black grill cloth.
• Within its limits or in medium to small sized rooms (think: a bedroom or a den, not a greatroom) the FC-3 is a capable performer with a pleasing sound that is a touch lively at times but never really fatiguing and always enjoyable.
• When mounted on a table in front of or just below your HDTV, the soundstage depth the FC-3 is capable of generating is a nice surprise.
• The FC-3 does an admirable job with music but really shines with movies, especially when paired with an AV receiver with some digital room correction.
• The FC-3's binding posts are terrible. I cannot express my disappointment when I discovered that they were meager screw posts, which not only limits the type of cables you can use but also feels cheap on a product that otherwise exudes excellent build quality. Other soundbars, including ones less expensive than the FC-3, manage to have proper binding posts yet Fineline misses the mark here.
• Because the FC-3 has no real bass to speak of, you need to bring a capable subwoofer to the party and that adds to the total cost of ownership, which if you purchase Fineline's SUB-8 means you're out close to $1,500 and that's before you've added an AV receiver, surround speakers, Blu-ray player and/or an HDTV.
• At its asking price, the FC-3 faces tough competition from other top soundbars that have more features, internal amplification, DSP and in some cases also include a subwoofer at the same price. Those aren't made in the United States, tend to not be as thin and/or as nicely built, but the competition is stiff at these price points.
Competition and Comparison
There aren't a lot of passive soundbars out there but one that comes to mind is Atlantic Technology's FS-5000 which at $1,499 is more expensive; however in smaller rooms and bedrooms it doesn't necessarily require a subwoofer like the FC-3. Remember, with a subwoofer the FC-3's true cost is closer to $1,500 all in. Boston Acoustics' P400 is another passive soundbar that comes to mind and at $899 retail it's a lot closer in price to the FC-3 than the Atlantic Technology FS-500. The P400 isn't as compact as the FC-3 but because of its increased size and girth it's also capable of more output, especially bass.
The Fineline FC-3 Ultra-Thin Soundbar has some things going for it: it's extremely compact and designed with today's LED HDTVs in mind. It's made in the United States and comes with a 30-day in home trial period and provided you don't expect it to fill a large room with copious sound pressure levels then you're going to be pleased. It doesn't have a great deal of bass to speak of but few soundbars do and it's an issue easily remedied with a subwoofer. While its binding posts may suck, sonically, when powered by a mid-level receiver with some digital room correction, the FC-3 is very capable - especially with Blu-ray discs.