If you’ve been shopping sound bars lately, you may have noticed the Front Row Sys 8210 from Pinnacle Speakers popping up on Amazon’s daily deal site, Woot! In a move that would turn any bargain hunter’s head, the 8210’s $900 MSRP is often slashed to a mere $300, placing it in the sweet spot of entry level sound bars that promise mega sound for minor bucks.
While the 8210’s original price tag seems like a real stretch, the 2.1 sound system does offer some impressive specs, including 350 watts of power, a multi-driver sound bar array, and a dual-driver wireless subwoofer that claims to reach an impressive 37Hz of warbling goodness at the low end of the frequency spectrum.
With the holidays coming up and all, we decided to take a detailed look at the family-owned company’s latest in compact sound to see how it stands up in the exploding field of small fry home theater solutions. After a solid week of real-world evaluation, here’s how it fared.
Out of the box
The 8210 isn’t one for ostentatious entrances, and removing it from its featureless box revealed a workingman’s design. The square face is guarded by a stern layer of hard plastic, with no fancy wood paneling or gloss lacquer plating to ogle over as we placed it on our TV stand. What we did find was a welcome inclusion at the center of its rectangular frame in the form of a full-on digital display, complete with time, date, and mode indicators, as well as an easy-touch row of capacitive keys for volume, mode, input and power.
At the back of the bar we located a trio of 3.5mm Aux inputs, a single digital optical input, and the main power port, hidden in a rather awkward little cubby.
The compact subwoofer sports an equally conservative design, with a sharply-angled rectangular cabinet and only a thin cap of mirrored plastic on the top face and an exposed bottom level to give it some character.
Inside the box was a packet of accessories including a manual, two power cables, a 3.5mm cable, an RCA to 3.5mm cable, a short optical cable, and, perhaps the most modern looking component, a curvy remote control.
Features and design
The 8210’s dimensions are about average for its class, stretching 39-inches across, 3.5-inches high, and 2-inches deep. Though remarkably light and innocuously plain in design, the 8210 is peppered with an impressive selection of drivers to fill out its slender frame. Beneath a plastic speaker screen rest six 1.75-inch fiber drivers, and two 1-inch fabric dome tweeters, all powered by a Class-D amplifier that pushes half of the system’s 350 watts of total power.
The other 175 watts are all reserved for a deceivingly powerful dual-driver subwoofer. Beneath its vinyl-clad cabinet rests a pair of 5.25-inch high-output fiber woofers, aligned head-to-head inside the enclosure in a push/pull compound configuration. Like its counterpart, the sub is powered by a Class-D amplifier, and both units include “Pinnacle Power Protection Circuitry” to prevent overloading.
Conspicuously missing from the 8210 is a Bluetooth connection to link your smartphone or tablet …
The system is bolstered by a suite of DSP for 8 different EQ/effects modes which include the usual suspects such as TV, Game, and Movie modes, as well as some less common choices like Opera and Large Hall. While it’s nice to have options, most of the effects were a little over-the-top for our ears, creating a good deal of metallic-sounding echo, so we ended up going with TV mode for almost all applications. The effects can be selected from the control keys on the bar, or via the small remote control, which also handles volume, mute, power, sub level, input, and display brightness.
Conspicuously missing from the 8210 is a Bluetooth connection to link your smartphone or tablet so you can play tunes wirelessly. While the exclusion of Bluetooth may have been a much more forgivable offense just a year or two ago, it has become something of a deterrent in today’s market, even at the entry level. Sure, you can connect your phone via a 3.5mm cable, but let’s be honest, we passed that level of physical interaction a long way back. Maybe we’re spoiled, but to us the wired connection feels about as modern as a rotary dial on a TV.
Getting started is relatively simple if you’re using an analog input: just plug the RCA to 3.5mm cable into your TV’s stereo output, and connect it to one of three Aux inputs on the bar. The wireless sub links to the bar automatically, but there’s also a pair button on the back if it loses connection.
For a digital signal connection, however, you may need to go a bit deeper. The Digital/Analog Converter (DAC) onboard the 8210 requires that you feed the system a Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) signal only. Try to feed it a Dolby Digital or DTS stream and you’ll get a sound no unlike a horrifying 8-bit helicopter sound from an old-school video game. A lot of TVs don’t offer a PCM downmix, so you may have to go through your Blu-Ray or DVD player’s output instead, making adjustments in the audio menu to ensure the right signal type is delivered.
We connected the bar via one of its RCA inputs for regular TV programming, and via our Sony Blu-Ray player’s optical output for movies after selecting the PCM downmix option from the player’s audio settings. You may want to check with your manufacturer or do an online search to find out what your TV’s digital audio output options are before considering the 8210.
The most impressive aspect of the 8210’s sound came from its massively powerful subwoofer. We got our first taste of what the sub could do while checking out Iron Man 3 on Blu-Ray. From the intro narration by Tony Stark we heard some nice, thick foundation that blended fairly well into the lower midrange of the bar’s small drivers. But the first real impact moment came when Tony has his panic attack in the bar with Rodey. The camera zoomed in and suddenly the sub stepped up and said a great big “Hello!” booming massive waves of sound that rumbled through the floor.
Overall, the system proved adequate for basic music listening, but it wasn’t a strong point.
Throughout our evaluation, the sub continued to rain down thunder, and while it was a little laggy, occasionally failing to meld with the bar in perfect unison, it brought that visceral punch of explosive power that underlines what people have in mind when they look to supplement the weak-kneed performance of their flat screen TV. In fact, as far as 2.1 sound bars go, Pinnacle’s dual-firing compact might just be the most powerful sub we’ve encountered.
When it came to the rest of the sound signature, the 8210 tended to be a bit more hit and miss. As mentioned, TV mode offered the best compromise of clarity and balance, allowing the midrange to show some moments of real brilliance, especially in the dialog. Viewing well-mixed programming like Criminal Minds and Dexter, the bar provided fine detail in the nuances of the voice, outlining the consonances well, and pulling out the grittier timbers at the back of the throat. However, while TV mode was our best shot for clarity, it also pumped up the treble, which rendered more subtle moments like footsteps on tile or a pen dropping on a desk a little light and stale, lacking the depth we look for.
We experimented with other EQ settings like Movie and Game mode for content like action movies, but while they tended to offer a richer sound, they also pushed the midrange into the background and TV mode continued to be the only way to get dialog to cut through clearly. As a result, effects like explosions, car doors shutting, and shattering windows all came through more icy at the attack than we wanted. Gun shots were especially pale, carving out more of a slap at the impact than a punch.
Still, the bar provided a good level of detail, and the powerful pulse down below mixed with the firmer presence in the upper regions to combine for an overall pleasant result. Combining that with the bar’s above-average stereo field and separation made for an engaging audio experience, far above what you’ll hear from your TV’s paltry onboard sound system.
As for regular music, the 8210 did an average job. Songs like Dave Matthews’ “Dreaming Tree” offered a cascade of detail in the cymbals and percussion, with plenty of well spread stereo movement. Lower register instruments and deeper vocals held their own thanks to the boom from the sub, and, not surprisingly, hip-hop and electronic music had all the power they needed thanks to the little cabinet.
But more organic instrumentation like acoustic guitars were often too synthetic and tinny for our taste. And piano tracks from artists like Ben Folds and Elton John came through thin and over-sculpted, less like a grand piano, and more like that little toy piano that Schroeder from Peanuts used to play – although now that we think about it, his tiny piano always sounded pretty good thanks to the magic of cartoons. But we digress.
Overall, the system proved adequate for basic music listening, but it wasn’t a strong point. Then again, we don’t expect people to spend a whole lot of time listening to music without a Bluetooth connection anyway.
While Pinnacle’s Front Row Sys 8210 isn’t as warm or expressive as we’d like, the system’s aptitude for detail, wide stereo image, and huge wallop of horsepower down below make it a formidable option in the entry-level sound bar genre. We hit the bar’s score a little for its lack of a Bluetooth connection, something we think should be as standard these days as electric windows in a car. But, if your main aim is giving some punch to your TV and movie experience, Pinnacle’s new 8210 is a solid option; just make sure you buy it on sale. At full retail, this sound bar is way overpriced.
- Powerful, visceral bass response
- Good midrange detail
- Multiple DSP modes and full digital display
- Wide stereo field
- Upper register occasionally flat and icy
- No Bluetooth connection
- Optical input may not be compatible with all TVs
- Not worth it at full price