The single-box surround speaker category is really hot, with new manufacturers trotting out new models on an almost monthly basis, each vying for a piece of the action. It seems like most manufacturers are busily cramming more and more features into ever skinnier and skinnier surround systems. That’s all well and good, but sound quality too often gets short shrift, so I was pleased to note that Definitive Technology went the other way and built a gizmo-free design that’s intended for use with a decent quality A/V receiver. The SSA-50 Mythos Solo Surround Array is that speaker.
The SSA-50 features five 4.5-inch mid/ bass drivers, three of which are axially aligned with 1-inch tweeters. Yikes! Bona-fide tweeters are pretty rare in single-box surround speakers, and these tweeters are placed directly in front of their respective channel’s mid/bass drivers in order to produce sharper image focus and detail.
The surround channels are handled by four 3.25-inch mid/bass drivers. While the SSA-50 can be used on its own without a subwoofer, I relied on a Definitive Technology ProSub 800 sub for most of my listening tests.
The SSA-50 doesn’t have onboard amplifiers or surround-sound processing—it uses passive SSA technology (Spatial Array) to create a large soundfield. The technology doesn’t bounce sound off walls to create surround effects.
The SSA-50 must be used with an A/V receiver, but Definitive recommends against using the receiver’s auto setup or calibration with the SSA-50. Even so, setup is super easy—you just select the “small” size for all five channels (left, center, right, surround left, and surround right). Adjust the front left, center, and right speaker levels to “OdB” and the surround channel to plus 5-7dB. Next, turn off all of the speaker delays (usually referred to as “speaker distance,” and set them to 0 feet). I used a 120Hz crossover setting with our Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver’s bass management. I had the SSA-50 and ProSub 800 up and running in under 10 minutes.
But since the SSA-50 doesn’t have its own electronics, you can add actual surround speakers if you have a 7.1-channel receiver. Turn virtual surround into the real thing.
The SSA-50’s curvy cabinet, fabricated from aircraft-grade extruded aluminum, is available in gloss black or brushed aluminum finishes. The SSA-50’s all-metal, gold-plated binding posts accept bare wire ends, spades, or banana plugs.
Judged purely on the basis of sound quality, the SSA-50 gets closer to sounding like a good set of separate L/C/R and surround speakers than any single-box surround system I’ve yet heard, though it’s not in the top rank when it comes to creating the illusion of surround sound. Combined with Definitive’s ProSub 800 subwoofer, the SSA-50’s sound is dynamic and seriously punchy.
The SSA-50 strutted its stuff with The Thin Red Line DVD’s World War II battle sequences, and no matter what, the sound remained highly detailed and clear. Dialog was exceptionally clean, even in the midst of the worst mayhem. The ProSub 800 never called attention to itself; the bass always seemed to come from the SSA-50. During the quieter scenes set in the jungle, I noted the surround effects stretched out a few feet wider than the speaker’s dimensions, but didn’t really project forward into the room to wrap around to the sides of my listening position. Off-axis listeners were out of luck; you have to sit centered to get any surround effects at all.
Most single-box surround speakers can’t take the heat, but the SSA-50’s kept it composure during my maximum-volume bouts with the R.E.M. Live concert DVD [Warner]. Dynamic impact was strong, even when the band totally rocked out.
Listening to My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges CD [Ato Records] in stereo proved the SSA-50/ProSub 800 was no less adept with music. Again, that’s a rare feat for single-box surround systems, which tend to sound overly processed when playing CDs. Not this time. Jim James’s soaring vocals weren’t the least bit reigned in by the SSA-50. Treble detail was state of the art as single-box systems go, since the SSA-50 has something most competitors don’t: tweeters!
Definitive Technology has managed to make a single-box surround system that doesn’t sound like one—the SSA-50/ProSub 800’s sound is on a par with Definitive’s ProCinema sat/ sub systems. Still, today’s best single-box rigs can create more spatially convincing soundfields than the SSA-50, so if believable, wraparound surround effects are what you seek, the Definitive may not be the system for you.