My impression of the SSA-50 might be best expressed by the fact that sometimes, when I played a scene from a DVD or a Blu-ray Disc to ferret out some aspect of the speaker's performance, I forgot I was supposed to be testing the product and ended up watching the movie all the way through. It's not that the SSA-50 dazzled me. In fact, it's just the opposite. The sound was so satisfying and natural that I rarely noticed it.
Let's get this out of the way first: The SSA-50 doesn't sound like a standard 5.1-channel speaker system. It only hints at surround effects, which means you probably won't think sounds are coming from behind you. When I played my favorite surround-sound test - the tiger-attack scene from Apocalypse Now - the birds that are supposed to circle my head seemed to confine their flight to the front half of the room. But while it's not wraparound sound, it is spacious and involving. And the spaciousness doesn't disappear if you move off the speaker's center axis; when I moved to the side of my couch, the sound was perhaps 90% as good as it was from dead center.
I noticed a hint of "cupped hands" coloration in voices from time to time, but the effect never distracted me, and I doubt that any conventional 5.1 system in this price range could do dramatically better. I haven't heard every soundbar on the market, but I haven't heard another that has such a natural sound.
Plus, you can really crank this thing. Even in a fairly large room, the pairing of the SSA-50 and the ProSub 800 played free of noticeable distortion at levels several dB higher than what most people could tolerate for long.
Although soundbars are built for movies, not music, the SSA-50 does hook up to your receiver, so at some point you'd probably want to listen to music through it. While you won't sit on your couch marveling at the sound, it's adequate for light listening. From a tonal standpoint, the stereo sound is a bit dull, and the soundstage isn't terribly wide. Playing music, the SSA-50 sounds more like a good table radio than a good hi-fi system.
Definitive Technology stresses that the SSA-50 isn't a replacement for a 5.1 system, but I disagree. I know it can't replace all 5.1 systems, but it could replace a lot of them. In a media room or a bedroom, the compact chassis and the ease of installation actually make the SSA-50 more desirable than a conventional system. It just goes to show you: Pay attention to the fundamentals of sound quality, and the rest will follow.
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