Single-speaker surround speakers had already been around for a couple of years when Polk Audio introduced the original SurroundBar in 2005. Polk has since followed up that unit with two more SurroundBar offerings: the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater (due later in 2008) and the subject of this review, the SurroundBar 50. The latter speaker is an even wider version of the elegant original: it's 51 inches wide versus 42.6 inches, and it features new midrange drivers and tweeters, along with a revised crossover design. We didn't have the original SurroundBar on hand, but if our memory serves, the SurroundBar 50 is a very significant advance over the smaller model. It sounds better with music and movies.
The SurroundBar 50 can be shelf-mounted above or below flat screen TVs with the supplied "cradles," or wall-mounted with the included bracket. The speaker's extruded aluminum cabinet's deep curves and contemporary design was sized to match the width of 50-inch plasma and LCD screens: it measures 51 inches wide, 4.5 high, a little more than 5 inches deep, and weighs 15 pounds. It's available in Titanium or Black anodized finishes with matching cloth grilles.
The SurroundBar 50 is a five-channel speaker, but uses nine 3.5-inch midrange drivers and three 0.75-inch tweeters. The speaker's high-quality binding posts accept bare wire ends, spades, or banana plugs. You use your own cables or the included 15-foot-long five-channel flat cable to hook up your SurroundBar 50 to an AV receiver or amplifier. The latter might be preferable if only because Polk's color-coded cable eliminates the confusion some buyers might experience when hooking up so many wires on the speaker's crowded rear panel (and making a mistake with five pairs of otherwise identical speaker wires would be easy indeed).
Speaker setup is a little easier than a standard 5.1 channel system: just bring up your AV receiver's setup menu and adjust the front left, center, and right speaker levels to "0 dB" and the surround channel to plus 3 dB. Next, turn off all of the speaker delays (usually referred to as "speaker distance") by setting them to 0 feet. If you can set your AV receiver's crossover control, Polk recommends using 100 or 120 Hertz.
If that sounds a bit high, there's a reason: Polk doesn't claim the SurroundBar 50 is a "full range" design, so plan on adding a subwoofer. We used a Polk PSW111 sub to supply the missing bass for all of our listening tests, but any worthwhile sub should do the job.
The SurroundBar 50's User's Guide describes an alternative hookup method Polk claims produces even better blending between the speaker and sub, but the straightforward approach referred to above worked perfectly well. One gripe: each information section in the multilingual User's Guide has six languages, making things a little hard to decipher. It would have been more readable if each language's text were laid out in separate sections, as is the norm.