Having grown up a big fan of the Star Wars
films, as many of us home theater enthusiasts did, the label THX has always
had an air of gear-head royalty due to its origins. The Lucasfilm spin off
has long represented a certain standard of excellence when it comes to home
theater equipment, designating the products that carry its moniker as fit to
deliver theater-quality sound in the confines of your personal cinema.
Thus, when I was given the opportunity to
review a set of Atlantic Technology THX Ultra2 certified speakers, I jumped
at it. Atlantic Technology has been making THX certified speakers and
subwoofers for awhile now, and have been lauded for their efforts. A good
old American built speaker system would make a perfect match for my newly
installed THX Ultra2 receiver, and I was quite excited to get going.
The 8200e system builds upon the
series, with a few changes for the better. From the styling, to the sound,
everything about these speakers screams of a very high quality product.
Being a THX Ultra2 certified system, the 8200e system is designed for medium
to large rooms, which is also evident by their size.
Actually, the L/C/Rs are 10" shorter, the
crossovers have been re-designed, and the side panels are permanently
attached. Because of their more compact size, they fit room decor all the
better and the tweeter is now at ear height for the listening position.
Unboxing the speakers was a project unto
itself, but I appreciated the care with which they were packaged. Each
speaker and stand are wrapped very carefully to protect from any possible
The 8200e series are nondescript yet beautiful speakers. Unlike
the previous 8200 series, the side panels of each front speaker are not
detachable. Instead, they feature a wonderful glossy piano black surface,
while the remaining surface is a textured black veneer. Also included are
smoked glass panels to attach to the tops of the front speakers.
They feature a three-way design, including two
graphite loaded homopolymer (GLH) 8" woofers, two GLH 5.25" midrange
drivers, and a 1" Ferrofluid™ cooled silk dome tweeter.
The center channel
is one of the largest I have seen. It continues the side panel motif, and
includes the same compliment of drivers as the front left and right speakers, but
arranged horizontally. The center channel has a curved piece on the bottom
that allows it to fit into the base stand, which also lets you tilt it up
and down. Doing so will allow you to point the speaker directly at the
The triangular shaped surround speakers are
creatively capable of both dipole or bipole functionality. Each of the two
outward-facing sides contain one each of the 5.25" GLH midrange driver and
1" silk dome tweeter. There is a switch which allows you to convert them
between dipole and bipole. This can be useful if you listen to a lot of
multi-channel music and prefer the in-phase firing of a bipole speaker for
your surround channels, as you can simply flip this switch. All of the speakers
include curved metal grilles that attach very simply by way of special
neodymium magnets located along the edges of the speaker.
The final piece of the system is the 642e
subwoofer. This THX Select certified, front-firing sub has a custom 300 watt
amplifier tuned precisely for the 12" driver. Its design includes the same
side panels as the fronts and center. It is capable of using its internal
crossover, which is selectable between 40 and 150 Hz, or having it bypassed
completely if using the LFE channel out of a surround processor or
receiver. It has a standby mode which keeps the power off when no signal is
I placed the speakers in a standard 5.1
arrangement. The front speakers were all fairly close together, as my room
is not huge. Although they come with very attractive and perfectly matched
stands (that no longer contain a subwoofer as the previous version of this
system did), I put them on lower stands I already had, toeing them in slightly.
The subwoofer went against the right wall, slightly down from the corner. I
found this to be the perfect spot to have smooth bass without excessive
boom. I also set the sub to bypass its internal low pass filter, as I was
feeding it only the LFE channel from my receiver.
For the surround speakers , I did make use of
the included stands, which raise the speakers up about three feet off the floor
(you can also mount them on the wall with an included bracket). I placed
each speaker directly to the side of my primary listening position. Next, I
ran my receiver's Audessy configuration setup. This set the correct
distances and levels for the system. I did have to go back and change the
crossovers for the surround and center channels, and set the left and right
speakers to Small, but other than that, it did a great job of configuring
The 8200e system has a few extra settings on
the speakers themselves to adjust for various environmental and
configuration nuances of your room. First, there is an HFE setting, short
for High Frequency Energy. This switch can be set for a reverberant room, a
damped room, or an average room. As I have a mixture of carpeting and bare
walls, I chose the THX/Average setting. Next, is the location switch. The
choices here are Behind Screen or THX/Normal. I set this to the latter, but
for those who place these speakers behind an acoustically transparent
screen, this setting compensates for the reduction in upper midrange
frequencies due to the perforated screen.
Continuing on, there is a setting labeled
Boundary Compensation, which can be set to On or Off. Turning this on
adjusts the lower midrange to "compensate for the typical sound colorations
caused by placing the speaker(s) close to the TV screen or building them
into a wall unit or cabinet". I left this setting to Off as well. Finally,
on the surround channels, I set them to Dipole to begin with. Further
testing showed that multi-channel music did sound slightly better when
setting these speakers to Bipole, so I appreciated this aforementioned
ability to do so easily.
After a nice long break-in period (the
speakers came directly to me from the manufacturing floor, so they needed
this), I eased into the critical listening sessions with some CDs
to test the two-channel stereo performance. I began with Radiohead's excellent
Hail to the Thief. "Go To Sleep" is one of my favorite tracks as it
incorporates a bit of acoustic guitar with synth effects to create a
wonderfully juxtaposed sound. The 8200e's blew me away with this track. I
replayed it several times at both soft and very loud volumes, yet the detail
The stereo imaging was truly fantastic,
although I would like to digress for one moment before continuing the
review. In order to get the absolute best imaging and sound reproduction
from these speakers, I found it critical that the speakers be placed
correctly for my room, more so than with the average speaker. Since I do
not have a huge amount of space to spread the front channel speakers apart,
I chose to toe in the left and right speakers to point directly at my main
listening position. I tested this a few times to make sure I had the best
configuration, and once I found it, I really enjoyed sitting in the sweet
spot and being enveloped in the sound. This is not to say that the speakers
sounded bad when placed otherwise, rather that when you do place them
perfectly, you will thank yourself for taking the extra time to do so.
Moving on, I selected a hip hop album to give
the subwoofer and midrange drivers some work. I chose "The Bizness" from De
La Soul's Stakes is High since it features alternating bass drum hits and
low bass keyboard notes. Alternating between these two gave me a good
indication of how musical the 642e subwoofer could be in relation to its boominess. If you have read any of my previous speaker reviews, then you
will know that I prefer a subwoofer that can reproduce low bass music over a
sub that is strictly there for the rumble of space cruiser or the thunder of
an explosion. Don't get me wrong, I love a good earth shaking sub for movies
as well, but I want one that can also handle music with aplomb. The 642e did
not disappoint one bit. It effortlessly switched back and forth throughout
the track. The left and right speakers seemed to push the vocals forward,
creating a 3D sound field that I enjoyed very much.
Next I went for a classic rock and roll album,
Led Zeppelin III. There is a good mix of styles on this record, from the
hard rock sound of the opening number "Immigrant Song", to the bluesy jams
of "Since I've Been Loving You", to the folk feel of "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp". On
the latter, my room came alive with the beat of the bass drum, while hand
claps really came through beautifully The twang of the guitars on "Friends"
was palatable with the entire track having a wonderful airy sound as the
haunting strings play.
As this system is a THX Ultra2 5.1 system, I
did a large chunk of listening with 5.1 sourced movies, and let me just
preface this by saying that this is what these speakers were born to do! I
recently upgraded my system to include both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD capabilities,
so I can enjoy not only the visual beauty of a high definition transfer, but
also to have the ability to experience the full effect of a high resolution
multi-channel audio track. Not to worry if you don't have one of these
formats just yet, I also watched several standard DVDs., which is where I
I pulled out an old favorite that I hadn't
seen in a while, M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. Chapter 11
begins with young Cole fearing his trip to the bathroom in the middle of the
night. As the camera moves towards him from behind, I was jolted out of my
seat by the sudden orchestral boom accompanying the movement of a ghost
across the screen. The sudden change in volume definitely shocked me and came
through quite effectively. At the climactic end of the film, during the big
reveal (I will spare those five of you who haven't seen the film from further
spoilers), the surround channels fill with the wonderful and haunting music,
which sounded excellent on the dipoles.
Next, I popped in my favorite of the Harry
Potter movies currently available on DVD, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkaban. The 8200e's did high justice to the detailed beauty of the John
Williams score, sometimes giving me chills. Effects sounded less like
effects, and more like the real thing. When they lock down Hogwarts Castle
by closing and locking the huge front doors, I felt the magnitude of the
structure. The Dementor's chilling scenes were augmented by the pristine
detail of the surround effects.
Finally, it came time to feed the speakers
their surf and turf of sound, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. I pulled out my very first
disc of either new format, a film that I had put off seeing until I could
see it in high definition: Serenity . Continuing the story told in the
prematurely-canceled TV series Firefly, the film features plenty of scenes
containing wonderful demo material. The disc uses Dolby Digital Plus for its
premier multi-channel audio track, and the results are excellent. The chase
scene in which the heroes are tailed by the cannibalistic and terrifying
Reavers showcased the 642e sub's fantastic LFE reproduction. This was
another example of how great the deep bass was, yet maintaining sonic clarity.
The system conveyed the intensity of the scene to perfection. During the
final sequence when River fends off the same gruesome creatures all by
herself, the camera slowly spins around her as she fights, and the surround
field matches up beautifully.
I then fired up a couple of tracks from The
Last Waltz on Blu-Ray disc. The classic music found here is encoded as
uncompressed PCM, making it as pure and wonderful as can be. This takes
"putting you there at the concert" to a whole new level. At first I was
listening to the standard Dolby Digital track, and that was very good.
Later, when I switched to the uncompressed PCM track, it was like a veil had
been lifted from my ears. The 8200e's came alive and transformed into stage
stacks right there in my living room. About midway through the film, a young
Eric Clapton graces the stage with a rousing rendition of "Further Up on the
Road". His magical licks back and forth with Robbie Robertson play with the
finest of detail. Later, Joni Mitchell comes on to sing, and her amazing
range comes through clearly and beautifully from the 8200e's.
Finally, I put in the pièce de résistance: The
Fifth Element on Blu-Ray. I had been waiting for the newly re-mastered
version that cleaned up the video, and finally had the disc in hand. I
loaded it up, and instantly went to my favorite demo track, which is likely
favored by many a reviewer. Of course, I am referring to the Opera-Fight
scene on the cruise over Floston Paradise. As the Diva takes the stage and
the music begins, I was again transported into the theater. This scene
illustrates perfectly my contention that the 8200e's are truly a system, and
not just a bunch of matched speakers that were bundled together for sales.
Working together, they create a depth and realism of enveloping sound that
is truly amazing. As the opera moves into the more "futuristic" portion and
is interspersed with the fight between the Warriors and Lelu, I got a
wonderful mixture of music and effects.
Go to Part II.