Tower speakers

Atlantic Technology’s AT-3 Tower Speakers Overview


This week Atlantic Technology started shipping their ~$3k a pair tower speaker, the AT-3. This is a new speaker that makes improvements over the AT-1 they debuted back in 2011. This speaker sports a single woofer (instead of dual midranges) and a bunch of improvements. But what are the AT-3 tower speakers, how do they work, and why should you care? We walk you through this very unique (to most people) speaker design.

Getting that Audiophile “Feel”

If you’ve ever visited a “true” audiophile trade show, you’ll notice a lot of very large speakers with only one or maybe two drivers. “Full range” is the goal of these speakers and the way to get there is a single driver within a big cabinet. These speakers are invariably exorbitantly priced and usually sport furniture-quality finishes. Beautiful but out of the reach of most people.

Atlantic Technology’s AT-3 is looking to capture that market at a much more affordable price point. The AT-3 tower speakers sport a single woofer and tweeter pair. The tweeter is a soft-dome silk design and the woofer has a 6.5″ fiberglass cone. Atlantic Technology spends a lot of their marketing material talking about how quick the drivers are but what they really mean is that they are light and that the woofer has a large extension.

The Case for Bass

The real technology that the AT-3 tower speakers employ they call H-PAS (Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System) and is what most of us call a folded horn. If you look at the back of the speaker, you’ll notice that the connections are way up near the top. In fact, they’ve included “cable management” wire guides to keep your cables from being too visible. Why are the connections so high? Because the bottom 2/3rds of the cabinet is a folded horn.

While their design is proprietary so they don’t show pictures of it, we can make some inferences from the marketing speak:

“…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…”

AtlanticTechnology.com
Here’s an example of a single-driver, folded horn design by Madisound.

This sounds like a folded horn that starts off wider and gets narrower toward the end (or maybe does that a couple of times, we don’t know). Regardless, a folded horn is a great way to get low bass out of a single driver. The horn is connected to the back of the woofer to take advantage of the back-wave. The sound is funneled through the horn and exits out the front-facing port. Atlantic Technology claims the AT-3’s will play down to 29Hz. That’s pretty impressive for a single 6.5″ woofer.

Other AT-3 Technology

Atlantic Technology’s AT-3’s have included a bunch of other upgrades and changes from the AT-1’s. Let’s look at them all.

Foam Surround for Tweeter

The AT-1’s had a single 1.1″ silk-dome tweeter nestled between two 5.25″ woofers. The AT-3’s have a single 1″ silk-dome tweeter and a single 6.5″ woofer. The tweeter has a bit of foam stuck to the cabinet around it. This is normally to reduce diffraction that can occur at the edge of the cabinet. Most speaker manufacturers “solve” the diffraction problem by rounding the edges of their cabinets. Historically, audiophiles that like to “tweak” their gear have lauded the effects of adding foam or wool around the tweeter. Atlantic Technology has done that for them. As the cabinet has a protruding frame along the left and right sides for the magnetic grille, the foam likely helps with diffraction as the sound waves hit that frame.

Low Tweeter Crossover Point

Both the AT-1 and AT-3 speakers have a very low crossover point for the tweeter at around 2kHz. This is done to prevent lobing between the woofer and the tweeter. Lobing is when sound from both drivers interact and interfere with each other destructively. Most commonly, this happens in the off-axis response. By lowering the crossover, the frequencies that both drivers are playing at the same time (around the crossover) are such that they don’t interact.

The downside of having a lower crossover is that you are asking the tweeter to play lower than it is generally designed to do. In most speakers that have such low crossovers, we see some sort of waveguide employed. Tweeters (especially your typical 1″ sized) don’t like to play very low as they start to distort and they get very directional. Waveguides help these problems. Atlantic Technology has clearly created a very robust tweeter for their AT-3 tower speakers. That should solve the distortion issues. We’re not really sure how they dealt with the directionality issue.

We did find it interesting that Atlantic Technology rated the AT-3 tower speakers differently at the 13kHz point. They are rated at +/-3dB from 29Hz to 13kHz, but +/-4dB from 13kHz to 20kHz. This suggests that something weird is going on at the highest frequencies. Designing a tweeter to play so low may have affected its stability at the highest frequencies. As most of us can’t hear sounds that high anyhow, it shouldn’t make much of a difference to most listeners.

Lowered Sensitivity

The AT-1’s claimed an 89dB sensitivity while the AT-3’s are rated at 85dB. What this means for you, the end-user, is that you’ll need more amplifier power to get the AT-3’s to play at the same volume. With a 6-ohm nominal impedance, you were probably going to pair these with an amplifier anyhow.

Tweeter Energy Control Switch

Like the AT-1, the AT-3 tower speakers have a Tweeter Energy Control switch which can boost or cut the tweeter’s response. They say this is for personal preference or to “compensate for different room acoustics.” If your room acoustics are harming the high frequencies, cutting them doesn’t solve the problem. It simply removes the frequencies. Some sources (we won’t link them here) claim that cutting the high-end energy of a speaker “controls” for room interactions. There is no empirical evidence that this is true. Room treatments control for room interactions, not switches on a speaker.

Other “Audiophile” Features

The AT-3 tower speakers have a bunch of additional features to spark interest in the audiophile crowd. We’ve already mentioned the extension. The audiophile wants a full range speaker. They don’t like subwoofers and think that all sound should come from their speakers. While 29Hz is pretty low at -3dB, it still leaves out the lowest frequencies. If you never plan to listen to organ music or movies, you might not care.

They also sport cast-iron carpet spikes, something we love the look of, but suggest NEVER using. They also come with rubber feet to protect hardwood floors. We suggest you use the rubber feet on all surfaces. You may also consider some sort of speaker platform to fully decouple these speakers if you plan on running them full range, not that we would recommend that either.

Are the Atlantic Technology AT-3 Tower Speakers for You?

The AT-3 towers tick all the audiophile boxes. Limited drivers, “full-range” extension, foam around the tweeters, tweeter switch to “tune” the high-end response, cast-iron carpet spikes…the list goes on. For an audiophile style speaker, the price tag at $3300 a pair, is extremely tempting. Speakers with these same design elements from an audiophile brand would cost much, much more. If you are looking for that type of speaker, but don’t want to outlay the cash they are asking, the AT-3’s should be a great option.

The fact is Atlantic Technology has made many speakers that we have liked. We have no reason to think that the AT-3 tower speakers will be any different. These are not speakers you’ll want to buy blind, however. The audiophile touches that Atlantic Technology has added has likely introduced a character to these speakers that may make them perform differently from any speaker you’ve heard before. Check them out. They may be the perfect speaker for you.

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