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Definitive Technology's Mythos SSA-50 takes a unique approach to soundbar design. In addition to including bona fide tweeters for the left, center, and right front channels--already a big departure from the tweeterless designs of most competitors--the tweeters sit directly in front of their corresponding channel's mid/bass drivers. The result of the design gambit is a more refined and accurate sound, more like a good-quality five-channel satellite system. Definitive dubbed the SSA-50's unique tweeter/midrange arrangement "Axially Aligned" and it's at least partially responsible for the SSA-50's precise sound. The soundbar is finished to a high standard and we think it's really quite attractive.
Unlike the Yamaha Digital Sound Projector series of soundbar speakers (or any self-powered soundbar), the SSA-50 must be used with an AV receiver or amplifier. However, that allows the SSA-50 to be used with additional surround speakers. So if the owner wants to switch over from virtual (soundbar only) to genuine surround sound (soundbar plus rear speakers), that's possible with the SSA-50.
The Mythos SSA-50's mix of curves and sharp angularity makes for a distinctive design. The speaker measures 46.25 inches wide, 5.4 high, and a little more than 4 inches deep. The SSA-50's cabinet is fabricated from aircraft-grade extruded aluminum, finished in either pearlescent black or brushed aluminum (otherwise known as "silver"). The 31-pound cabinet has some heft to it, and the cloth grille is removable. The speaker's all-metal, gold-plated binding posts accept bare wire ends, spades, or banana plugs. However, they're grouped very close together, so the hookup process can be tedious--the back panel on the competing Polk Audio SurroundBar 50 is considerably better arranged.
The Mythos SSA-50 can be shelf-mounted above or below a TV, or wall-mounted with the included bracket. (Again, it would've been nice if Definitive threw in the small plastic table stands found on the Polk unit.) The speaker's deep curves and contemporary design was sized to match 50-inch plasma and LCDs. It can be used with smaller or larger displays as well, though those with 40- or 42-inch TVs will probably want to defer to the smaller Mythos SSA-42.
The SSA-50 is a five-channel speaker, but the front left, center, and right channels feature five 4.5-inch mid/bass drivers, three of which have 1-inch tweeters inset in the center (Definitive calls that "Axially Aligned"). The surround channels are handled by four 3.25-inch mid/bass drivers. The SSA-50 can be used on its own or--for more abundant bass--with a subwoofer. We opted for the latter, and used a Definitive Technology ProSub 800 for most of our listening tests.
The speaker produces surround ambiance with SSA technology (Spatial Array), which is based on the SDA Surround (Stereo Dimensional Array) technology of Definitive's sister company, Polk Audio. SSA technology doesn't use active electronic processing or bounce sound off walls to create surround effect, instead relying on driver spacing and "crosstalk cancellation" to produce surround effects. We think it's pretty effective.
Definitive recommends against using your AV receiver's auto setup or calibration with the SSA-50. Thankfully, that shouldn't be a problem--setup is streamlined compared with a standard 5.1-channel system. If you're using a subwoofer, select the "small" size for all five channels (left, center right, surround left, and surround right) on your receiver's setup menu. Then adjust the front left, center, and right speaker levels to "0 dB" and the surround channel to plus 3 or 4 dB. Next, turn off all of the speaker delays (usually referred to as "speaker distance") and set them to 0 feet. If you can set your AV receiver's crossover control, Definitive Technology recommends using 100 or 120 Hertz; we split it down the middle and used the 110 Hz setting on our Denon AV receiver.
Before we listened to any music or movies, we ran test tones through the SSA-50 and noted the front left, center, and right channels tonal balances were perfectly balanced, a rarity with soundbar speakers. The surround channels weren't nearly as clean, but they were projected well ahead of the SSA-50.
The first Blu-ray we played, Speed, quickly demonstrated the speaker's ability to handle high-impact dynamics. There's an early scene where a bomb planted on a city bus explodes, and the speaker didn't dynamically compress the sound of the bomb. Later, as the bus speeds through Los Angeles city streets, with cars swerving and screeching to get out of the way, the sound remained detailed and distortion-free.
The imaging of the front left, center, and right channels was excellent, without any of the crowding we sometimes get with soundbar speakers. Surround effects like the police helicopters following the doomed bus were harder to localize, but still sounded spacious. The sound never came from behind our listening position--a feat that only the Yamaha Digital Sound Projectors occasionally pull off. That said, we much preferred the SSA-50 on a sound-quality basis. It was a giant step closer to the sound of a five-channel satellite speaker system.
That was just as evident when we played CDs over the SSA-50. The speaker's clarity was exceptional and the blend with Definitive's ProSub 800 subwoofer was above par. Mid-bass punch and power were again first rate. That allowed rock music to sound convincing, even when we turned the volume up a bit. K.D. Lang's Ingénue CD sounded lush and warm, on a par with a good set of satellite speakers.
We also listened without the ProSub 800 and sure, there was a lot less bass, but the SSA-50 still sounded pretty good. If your room is very small and/or you don't want to feel the rumble with special effects driven flicks, try the SSA-50 first on its own. You can always add the sub later.
To finish up we compared the SSA-50 with Polk's SurroundBar 50. To better ascertain the differences between the two, we listened sans subs and felt the two soundbars were similar, just that the SSA-50 was somewhat more "full-range," and therefore less dependent on the subwoofer. The Definitive and Polk are both very, very good soundbars, but we'd go with the SSA-50.