As of late, there have been many sound bars flooding the market as more users want a quality surround sound experience in a single package. It's nice to see dedicated audio manufacturers obliging this desire and a sign of good audio to come. Definitive Technology
, a company that specializes in high-quality loudspeakers, has two sound bars, the SSA-42
and the SSA-50. The major differences between these two products are size (the SSA is 40 inches long and the SSA-50 is 46 inches long), price (SSA, $1099; SSA-42, $799) and things like power and frequency response. SSA stands for Solo Surround Array
, which is what you get from this speaker: surround sound from a lone speaker.
As with all sound bar manufacturers, Definitive Technology has their own proprietary blend of virtual surround technology, very similar to that of their sister company, Polk. Theirs is called Spatial Array, which uses psychoacoustics to trick your ear and brain into believing surround sound is coming from five separate speakers. Unlike some other virtual surround technology, Spatial Array does not bounce sound off the walls in your room, so it will work great in any room (we don't recommend sound bars for large home theaters). Additionally, front left, right and center drivers use Definitive's Balanced Dual Surround System (BDSS) technology, which places two surrounds in each speaker instead of one. This, according to the company, does things like suppress cone resonance and offer higher output. Then there is the issue of tweeters. Many speaker manufacturers put the tweeter directly in front of the driver to save space. In order for Defintive Technology to keep the SSA-50 at a size complimentary to 46- and 50-inch flat panel displays, they had to do the same. However, doing this can mess up the driver's sound. Definitive Technology corrected for this by housing the tweeters and venting them to avoid interference. We give Definitive Technology kudos for including tweeters in a sound bar in the first place; many manufacturers don't. Of course, my guess is that if you are purchasing a sound bar like this for your home theater, you are more interested in aesthetics and performance than technology. Accordingly, the SSA-50 has very handsome styling. It's not the sleekest unit of all time (we like the look of Denon's sound bars better). However, it's made from extruded aluminum and can be had in a gorgeous black or brushed aluminum. Even more important than appearance is how well the thing performs, and the SSA-50 is no slouch.
However, before I get into performance, first let me comment that the SSA-50 must be used with a receiver, as it is not self-powered. It is therefore not necessarily a speaker for those who just want a plug-and-play audio system to go with a high-def TV. It's really a high-performance sound bar, and you are getting what you pay for. You can also use it as a speaker in a true surround sound system, but I'm not sure why you would want to. Additionally, you can either shelf-mount the unit or wall-mount it with the included bracket. We recommend the SSA-50 for flat panel TVs above 42 inches. If you have a 40- or 42-inch set, check out the smaller SSA-42, mentioned earlier.
Now for the juicy stuff. Blu-ray soundtracks, like the reference-quality one on Kung Fu Panda, sounded incredible. Dialogue was attached to the image and extremely lifelike, while ambient effects seemed as though they really were coming from you at all angles. This Blu-ray has a great LFE channel track. We recommend pairing the SSA-50, or any sound bar, for that matter, with a subwoofer for low-end oomph. This said, even without one, the SSA-50 sounded very good. At higher volumes, the soundtrack held up, bringing three-dimensionality to the room that we've heard from only a handful of sound bars. The epic fight scene at the end of the film is especially noteworthy.
CDs, like The Colorful Quiet's The Sun is Melting, were warm, detailed and precise. We loved the melancholy alt-folksiness of "Darkness." Again, even without a subwoofer, this surround bar performed like a champ.