"...the powerful pulse
down below...firmer presence in the upper regions...above-average stereo
field and separation made for an engaging audio experience,
what you’ll hear from your TV’s paltry onboard sound system."
"…the system’s aptitude
for detail, wide stereo image, and huge wallop of horsepower down below
make it a formidable option…"
"The most impressive…sound
came from its massively powerful subwoofer."
PINNACLE FRONT ROW SYS 8210 REVIEW
By Ryan Waniata, Digital Trends, November 2013
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
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.
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 not
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.
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
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
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
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
A bargain if you find it at $300
Upper register occasionally flat and icy
No Bluetooth connection
Optical input may not be compatible with all TVs
Not worth it at full retail price