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.