The Short Form
|$1,099 / DEFINITIVETECH.COM / 410-363-7148|
|The SSA-50's ability to deliver surprisingly satisfying surround sound without lots of speakers and wires makes it perfect for bedrooms, vacation homes, and media rooms.|
|• Big, enveloping sound
• Sleek, discreet look
• Plays plenty loud
|• Still requires a receiver and five cables|
|•(3) 4 1/2-in woofers with coincident- array 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeters; (2) 4 1/2-in full-range drivers; (4) 3 1/4-in full-range drivers; 46 1/4 x 5 3/8 x 4 1/4 in; 31 lb|
When highbrow artists loan their talents to lowbrow productions, magic often follows. Think Philip Seymour Hoffman's turn as the bad guy in Mission: Impossible III. Paul Giamatti's portrayal of a sleazy gangster in Shoot 'Em Up. Or Definitive Technology's new Mythos SSA-50 Solo Surround Array speaker.
Like Hoffman and Giamatti, Definitive Technology enjoys an elevated reputation among the cognoscenti, who revere it for speakers that blend technical innovation with conservative, no-nonsense engineering. Although the company's products enjoy broad popularity, they're sold primarily through specialty dealers.
So it comes as a surprise to see the emergence of its Solo Surround Array. This type of product is better known as a soundbar, a single speaker that reproduces all five main channels of a typical surround system. Most soundbars are built by mass-market companies for a non-enthusiast customer; many audiophiles would tell you that these speakers are for people who are too cheap, lazy, or disinterested to put in a real surround system. When I heard that Definitive was designing a soundbar, I had to know: Could the company's formula of serious engineering, high-quality materials, and solid construction turn one of these compromised products into a conqueror? Or would Definitive's engineers merely be casting pearls before . . . well, you know what I mean.
Lift the SSA-50, and you realize it's no mass-market soundbar. The cabinet is made from extruded aluminum, and it's packed with a dozen speaker drivers. The whole shebang weighs in at a hefty 31 pounds. Many soundbars use electronic trickery to make you think you're listening to five separate speakers placed all around the room. The SSA-50 takes a more natural approach. It actually does incorporate five channels: front left, center, and right and rear left and right. It even has five separate sets of binding posts, one for each "speaker."
Why have a dozen drivers when fewer would be sufficient for five channels? Because the SSA-50's Spatial Array technology uses those extra drivers to trick you into thinking you're hearing surround speakers.
The key principle behind Spatial Array is interaural crosstalk cancellation, a technology that's been around for decades. The idea is that your brain identifies the location of a sound source based in part on the delayed arrival of sound at the ear that's further away from the source. Spatial Array uses two drivers each for the left and right front and the left and right surround channels, with each pair of drivers separated by approximately the same distance as the spread between your ears. Sound from the opposite channel is phase-inverted and then fed to one of the drivers; for example, sound from the left surround channel is fed to one of the right surround drivers. Thanks to the extra drivers and the phase manipulation, the SSA-50 essentially prevents your left ear from hearing the direct sound from the right surround speaker. This effect helps free the sound from the confines of the speaker cabinet.
Spatial Array also employs filtering to mimic the effect that the outer part of your ear has on sounds coming from behind you. The result of all the extra drivers and filtering is sound that doesn't seem to originate from a single speaker under your TV.
Definitive sized the SSA-50 to suit flat-panel TVs measuring 50 inches or larger. It's available in gloss-black or brushed-aluminum finishes. A smaller version for 42-inch sets, the SSA-42, uses the same basic configuration as the SSA-50 but with smaller drivers.
Definitive includes a wall-mounting bracket with the SSA-50 plus a couple of little leveling feet that allow the speaker to sit atop a table or stand. The soundbar is inherently easy to install because you don't have to make that dreaded wire run to the back of the room for surround speakers.
The easiest setup solution is to put the SSA-50 and the TV on a stand, with your receiver and sources underneath. But your best bet aesthetically is a full on-wall installation, which is what I did (albeit with a few wires temporarily hanging out). The cool thing about the on-wall setup is that all you see is a screen with a small speaker below; there's nothing to distract you from the visual presentation.
The SSA-50 is designed to be used with a subwoofer. I paired it with Definitive's ProSub 800 ($399), an 8-inch model we previously profiled. The ProSub 800 proved an ideal match for the SSA-50.
You don't need to do any channel balancing or delay adjustment in your A/V receiver. Just set all the speaker distances and the levels for the three front channels the same, and then crank up the surround channels 5 to 7 dB. This doesn't give you that annoying effect you get when people crank their surround speakers too high because the SSA-50 is designed to deliver a realistic presentation at these elevated levels.
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