They're called sound bars, but the truth is that an external subwoofer is often what separates the so-so sound bars from the good ones. That's why the claims behind Atlantic Technology's PB-235 PowerBar ($720 street) are so bold: true, deep bass sans a sub, thanks to its proprietary H-PAS bass system.
The crazy thing is the PB-235 largely works, delivering full, subwoofer-worthy bass without an actual subwoofer cluttering up your living room. It has the best sound quality of any sound bar we've tested recently, besting even our reference, external-sub-equipped Harman Kardon SB 16 ($550 street). Of course, that's assuming you want what the PB-235 is offering: an expensive, jumbo-size sound bar that isn't exactly the most attractive on the market. And for this price you can pair up a cheap AV receiver (like the Onkyo TX-NR414, $275) with some inexpensive tower speakers (like the Pioneer SP-FS52, $260 per pair) and get much better sound, although in an admittedly bulkier package.
But if you want Atlantic's subwoofer-free design and are willing to pay for it, the PB-235 is an outstanding performer with truly innovative speaker technology.
Design and features: No sub means a big bar
Sound bars are getting ever thinner, but the PB-235 stands in stark contrast to that trend. The big black bar measures 42.75 inches wide, 6.5 inches tall, and 6.5 inches deep and weighs 20.3 pounds. It's nothing like the plasticky sound bars that line the shelves at your local Best Buy.
That 6.5-inch height also makes it tough to place it in front of a TV -- the traditional placement location for most sound bars -- as it will likely obscure part of your TV screen and perhaps your TV's remote sensor. In fact, Atlantic Technology only shows the PB-235 with wall-mounted TVs in the manual. There are keyhole brackets on the back if you want to mount the PB-235, although be forewarned that its weight makes that a significant job. Another alternative: Atlantic's new 2405 "speaker shelf" (PDF link) lets you mount the PB-235 to the top of a large-screen TV -- but it'll set you back another $119, and we'd be reticent to balance a 20-pound weight on the TV in that fashion, especially in a home with children.
If you can't wall-mount, your two alternatives are using a TV riser to elevate your set, or going with a TV stand that has enough shelf space to house the PB-235 directly underneath.
The PB-235 is largely symmetrical, save for the awkward-looking hump along the top. The bulge houses the front panel controls, as well as a basic display and a minijack input. The display is nice for visual feedback as to how loud the system is, although the hidden-behind-the-speaker-grille display on Zvox sound bars is much sleeker.
On the back of hump you'll find the PB-235's connections hiding. There are plenty of options, including two optical inputs, one coaxial input, and an analog input. There's also a subwoofer output (if you choose to use a separate sub), as well as an IR input. The extra connectivity is nice, although not entirely necessary if you plan on using your TV as a switcher.
The included remote is disappointing for a $700 sound bar. It's a credit-card style clicker, with a cheap feel and mushy buttons. It's clearly possible to make a solid-feeling remote within a reasonable price range (see: Bose Solo), so it's frustrating that it's so often an overlooked aspect of sound bars. On the plus side, it includes direct buttons for adjusting bass/treble and the buttons are well laid out.