Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
If you want a stereo system capable of delivering truly deep, penetrating bass near the bottom end of the audible spectrum, you generally have two options: get yourself a pair of beefy tower speakers—ideally hybrid ones with powered bass sections—or opt for a 2.1-channel system with a subwoofer or two. But what if neither of those options works for you? What if your room requires something a bit more compact, and you either hate the look of subwoofers or you just don’t have the floorspace? That’s where something like Atlantic Technology’s AT-3 ($3298 per pair from authorized dealers or $3629 per pair via the company’s website, all prices USD) promises to be your best friend.
Measuring in at a positively petite (for a tower) 39.6″H × 9.5″W × 12″D (without outrigger base and feet), the AT-3 nonetheless has a -3dB point of 29Hz and delivers usable bass below even those depths. All that despite having only a single 6.5″ concave fiberglass woofer and a 1″ liquid-cooled silk-dome tweeter, crossed over at 2200Hz.
The real bass magic of the AT-3 happens in the cabinet, though, thanks to H-PAS (Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System), which Atlantic Technology describes thusly: “a unique, proprietary internal cabinet design where the woofer’s back wave travels through an internal multi-compression chamber with an inverse horn structure for a continuous compression of the bass wave and couples it to an acoustic bass trap chamber.” The system is sort of akin to a transmission line but not. It’s sort of like bass reflex but not. The takeaway is, it’s designed to deliver deeper, more dynamic bass than a system of this size should be able to deliver, without making the whole system difficult to drive. Atlantic Technology specifies the speaker as a nominal 6-ohm load, with recommended amplifier power from 50 to 250Wpc, and a sensitivity of 85dB.
There are a few noteworthy things about the design of the speaker, many of which I touched on in my unboxing blog post, so be sure to check that out. If you’re just looking for an overview: Since the transducers and crossovers are all housed within the top 12″ of the cabinet and most everything below that is H-PAS, the binding posts (two sets, in case you want to biwire or biamp) are pretty high up on the back of the cabinet. Atlantic Technology includes two wire-management brackets you can install to keep your cabling close to the back of the cabinet and not flapping in the breeze. (I mean, assuming you have a breeze in your listening room.)
There’s also a foam window surrounding the tweeter, which is a hack you may have seen on DIY audiophile forums or on Danny Richie’s YouTube channel. That points toward some thought given to baffle diffraction.
The speaker grille is a curiosity, though. It’s solid except for small windows where the drivers are and where the H-PAS system ports out. Those are covered with the same fabric as the rest of the grille, so when the speakers are clothed, you can’t really tell where the windows are. But the bulk of the grille is 3/8″ of solid material, either MDF or something like it, covered in a thin sheet of metal. If you pull the grilles off, be careful putting them back on, lest you lose a finger. When the grille gets within about an inch of the face of the baffle, it’s snapping into place whether you want it to or not, with a crack that sounds like a bullwhip.
Setting up, positioning, and tweaking the Atlantic Technology AT-3
You’ll forgive me if I somewhat break with tradition in this review. In most cases, I keep my commentaries about setup and performance as separate as possible, to make it easier for readers to skip what they may not want to read. But with the AT-3, perhaps more than any speaker I’ve auditioned, performance considerations are so intertwined with somewhat unintuitive positioning considerations that things are going to get a little commingled here. I apologize in advance.
I started the setup process by removing my reference Paradigm Studio 100 v5 tower speakers and plopping the AT-3s in the exact same positions, connecting them with Elac Sensible speaker cables to the SVS Prime Wireless Pro SoundBase I was in the final stages of reviewing. I didn’t conduct any serious critical listening with this setup, since the SVS had to be boxed up for return shipping the next day, but I did confirm that it had no trouble whatsoever driving the living hell out of the Atlantic Technology speakers, and I let them play moderately loudly for a couple of days while I worked on other things.
With the SVS packed up and gone, I subbed in my reference Classé Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier, first using its own back-panel USB input and later, for reasons I won’t dwell on, switching to my iFi Audio Zen One Signature DAC running into the Line 2 in of the Classé.
Lest you think I was done with the setup at this point, though, hold thine horses. As I said, this one is kind of a convoluted affair, but this is where I need to start talking about listening impressions and the adjustments I made to my setup as a result, so join me if you will in the performance section.
How does the Atlantic Technology AT-3 perform?
After a few days of casually listening to the AT-3s in the background as I stood at my standing desk, I decided it was time to finally sit down for a listen. My chair in my two-channel listening room is a Steelcase Amia with a seat height ranging from 16″ to 21″, and I’m usually at the upper end of that range, given that my legs go all the way to the ground, as we say here in Alabama. (Translation for you foreigners: I’m tall.) Presently, though, as I recover from surgery, I’m sitting on a Cushion Lab pressure-relief seat cushion (Husky sized), which adds three or four inches to my ear height.
Why am I telling you this? Well, my default ear height is presently at around 48″, which is just fine for my Paradigm towers (perhaps not textbook ideal, but I’m not hearing enough compromises for it to be a problem in the short term), but when I gingerly took a seat, I knew it wouldn’t work for the AT-3s. I was looking straight over the tops of the speakers, which stand at 42″ with the outriggers installed, but have a tweeter height of more like 38.5″. Mind you, 38.5″ is on the low end of what works for this room, so it’s not the biggest deal, but still—when conducting a thorough listening evaluation of a speaker, you want your ear to be as near to the acoustic center of the speaker as possible.
So I lowered my Steelcase seat to its lowest height and briefly, uncomfortably, ditched the cushion. That brought my ears down to a somewhat more suitable 43″ when I reclined, but it still didn’t seem low enough. So I raised the front spikes on the AT-3s as high as they would go and removed the rear spikes altogether to give the speakers some significant lean-back.
At this point, I felt the system was finally ready for some critical evaluation, so I cued up one of my go-to test tracks: Björk’s “Hyperballad” (Post, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, 143 - Lava - Atlantic / Qobuz). The first thing that struck me was the delivery of the near-pure-sinewave bass, which was rendered so forcefully, evenly, dynamically, and confidently that if Atlantic Technology ripped out the tweeters and marketed this as a passive subwoofer system, I’d be inclined to give it top marks.
During the chorus, though, I was struck by just how uneven Björk’s vocals were. Sometimes they would get buried in the mix, and sometimes—like with the word “happier” at around the 1:36 mark—they would leap out and assault me right in my face. Image specificity also seemed a little vague. So I played around with toe-in a bit, but that didn’t change much. Turns out, the horizontal dispersion of the AT-3 is such that you don’t really need to worry as much about toe-in as you might otherwise. Still, something wasn’t right.
Fast-forward to “Enjoy,” three tracks later, and again I was simply blown away by the bass performance of the AT-3. The bass line legitimately moved the hair on my legs from roughly 6.5′ away without a hint of audible distortion, no compression, and no port noise that my ears could detect. But something was still amiss. The high frequencies of the percussion were stabbing me in the brain. And the brief horn bursts (like the one at around 0:56) nearly scared me right out of MeUndies.
It was at this point that I figured I would try turning the High Frequency Energy Control switch of the speakers to the “-” position to see if that helped, given that the specified frequency response of the speaker is an intriguing “29Hz to 13kHz (±3dB), 13k to 20kHz (±4dB).” Atlantic Technology says the switch affects “the tweeter’s output by very slight amounts over its entire operating range, from 2kHz to 20kHz.” Indeed, the difference was slight—almost unnoticeable—and at any rate, it seemed to my ears that the problem frequencies were more in the range from 500 to 1000Hz, with some frequencies getting swallowed and some tearing through the mix like chainsaws in a bad 3D horror movie.
When I switched to “Crosstown Traffic” from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (16/44.1 FLAC, Legacy Recordings / Qobuz), things mostly sounded fine until the chorus kicked in. The backing vocals by Noel Redding and Dave Mason, instead of sort of wafting left to right and back again, sounded like bunny rabbits hopping back and forth across a cabbage patch. Some of Jimi’s rhythm guitar riffs just came and went. And when they went, they really went.
But this is when I finally figured out what was wrong. As I was standing up to make more adjustments to speaker positioning, the sound went . . . lenticular, for lack of a better way of putting it. All of the issues I was hearing seemed to come from vertical dispersion. Removing the grilles helped a bit, but didn’t eliminate the problem entirely, and the speakers frankly look unfortunate without them. And even with the grilles off, I knew I needed to get my head down, but I couldn’t get my seat any lower, and the only way to get the tweeter aimed any higher was to prop the front of the speaker up with a couple of L. Sprague de Camp’s less-readable Conan paperback pastiches I plan on taking into Trade ’n Books, a local used book store, once it reopens and once I’m able to drive again.
Without the benefit of a laser level, it wasn’t easy to tell exactly where the tweeter was pointing, but it looked to be pointing above my eyes. My best guess is that the top of the woofer was aimed more at my ear. And with this, a good bit more of the unevenness went away, Noel and Dave drifted left to right and back again instead of boinging around. And on the whole, I was presented with a much more even listening experience. The soundstage was deep and wide, and although image specificity perhaps wasn’t the best I’ve ever heard, and the speakers definitely felt like they were missing something in the “air” region of the audible spectrum, there’s no doubt that, when the listener is sitting low enough, the AT-3 definitely has a distinctive voice that’s fun to listen to with the right material.
Wrapping up my critical evaluation, I turned my attention to Beastie Boys’ “3-Minute Rule” from Paul’s Boutique: 20th Anniversary Remastered Edition (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol Records / Qobuz), one of my go-to subwoofer setup tracks. The bass in this one hits so hard, so consistently, that it’s a wonderful tool when you’re setting up a sub to make sure you have even coverage across the listening area. Frankly, I don’t expect most subwoofers to recreate the relentless bass without bloat or struggle, so throwing it at the AT-3 was almost more of a challenge than anything else. The speakers had proven themselves so capable with deep, impactful, dynamic bottom end that I wanted to see how loud I could play “3-Minute Rule” before they started to whimper.
They didn’t flinch. In fact, I go back to what I said before: if Atlantic Technology ripped out the tweeters, set a lower low-pass filter on the woofers, and sold this thing as a passive tower subwoofer, I’d give it an A+. Hell, most powered subs don’t perform this well with the lowest octaves.
What other speakers in this price range should you consider?
If I had $3000-ish in my pocket right now and needed new stereo speakers, there are four models in particular that I’d be seriously considering. This is, of course, assuming you’re looking for a pair of full-range-ish towers with passive bass sections, and you don’t want a subwoofer. If you’ve read this far, that’s probably a reasonable assumption.
Sonus Faber’s Lumina V (reviewed by yours truly in 2021) originally sold for $2699 but now goes for more like $2999 per pair. It’s still a bargain, in my opinion. It’s a gorgeous three-way bass-reflex tower with a frequency response of 38Hz to 24kHz and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. The Lumina V blew me away with its handling of “Hyperballad,” as noted in my review, even if it didn’t play as deeply and dynamically as the AT-3.
The now-$3400/pair Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G reviewed by Philip Beaudette on SoundStage! Hi-Fi is also very much worth a listen. It’s a three-way bass-reflex tower with a rated frequency response of 27Hz–35kHz (-6dB). If that’s a little too much speaker for you, but you still want something that plays deep, has wonderfully neutral sound, and looks like hot-buttered sex, you might also consider checking out its little sibling, the Monitor Audio Silver 300 7G, which I reviewed earlier this year.
I also simply adore the somewhat older GoldenEar Triton Five ($3000/pair), one of the company’s few non-powered tower speaker options. The rated frequency response of this one is 26Hz to 35kHz, though to be fair, it doesn’t play quite as cleanly and dynamically at the bottom end as does the Atlantic Technology speaker.
TL; DR: Is the Atlantic Technology AT-3 worth the money?
This is a tough one for me. On the one hand, the AT-3 doesn’t really suit my specific needs, since it’s nearly impossible for me to sit low enough in my two-channel listening room to enjoy truly balanced sound from the speakers, unless I’m willing to replace my bougie Steelcase chair with one of the old beanbag chairs I have in storage.
On the other hand, I’m struggling to think of many other speakers in this price class that do what the AT-3 does best: deliver gut-punching, dynamic, even-keeled bass of the sort that would normally require a subwoofer or two. The fact that it does so in such a petite cabinet is a testament to the virtues of H-PAS. I do wish Atlantic Technology had made the cabinet taller, to make it easier to get the tweeter at (or a little above) ear level, or at least designed the outriggers and spikes such that you could tilt the cabinet back more than is possible with the current design. I would also greatly prefer a speaker with more tonal neutrality in the midrange. And given the price of the speakers, I think the rubber-ball-on-screws spike tips, which fall apart quite easily if you shift the speakers on carpet, are a bit of a cheap-out.
But if what you’re looking for is a speaker that does what this one does, it’s hard to deny that it’s pretty darned impressive.
. . . Dennis Burger
- Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible speaker cables.
- Sources: Maingear Vybe media center PC, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iFi Audio Zen One Signature DAC.
- Power protection: SurgeX XR115 surge eliminator.
- Amps: SVS Prime Wireless Pro SoundBase; Classé Audio Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier.
Atlantic Technology AT-3 Loudspeaker
Price: $3298 per pair from authorized dealers or $3629 per pair via the company’s website.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
50 Earl’s Way
Franklin, MA 02038
Phone: (781) 762-6300