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.