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Crystal Audio SSB-1 Surround Soundbar - Crystal Audio SSB-1 Soundbar
Crystal Audio assists the installation procedure by putting a wall mounting kit in the box, and the setup process is made simple by the limited options available. You can adjust the levels of the left, right and subwoofer channels and, er, that's about it. There are a couple of other modes to play with - EX-BASS, a three stage bass booster, and EQ, a bunch of presets that seem geared towards music playback with names like Rock, Pop, Classic and Jazz.
The supplied zapper is of the credit-card sized variety with those little bubble buttons that can be fiddly to press. Thankfully it's neatly laid out - the volume and up/down keys are arranged in a cross, while the other buttons are sensibly placed and boast clear labelling. You can toggle through the EQ and EX-BASS modes or activate VSS using the dedicated buttons, and at the bottom you'll find forward/back skip and play buttons for controlling iPod playback.
To check out the SSB-1's credentials we fired up The Return of the King on DVD and fed the signal into the coaxial digital input. Jumping to the movie's astonishing battle scenes, its sound quality is surprisingly powerful for such a compact unit and it handles the cacophony of effects with surprising speed and force. The driving score that underpins the action also sounds rich and majestic, making it quite easy to get carried away by the energy of it all.
However, the slightly harsh tone with more aggressive effects - such as the screeching beasts and clattering swords - betrays the soundbar's budget price tag, and voices sounds a bit boxed in, particularly when there's a lot going on around them.
With VSS activated, the sound is reasonably expansive. Echoing voices are nicely emphasised and the sound of catapulted fireballs can be heard wide to the left and right of each speaker, but as is so often the case there's no indication of the effects getting behind you. Another positive to take away is the SSB-1's bass performance, which is deep and responsive enough to eliminate the need to add a separate subwoofer.
A blast of Frank McComb Live In Atlanta on CD reveals the soundbar to be more at home with music than movies. The instruments are relayed with a crisp, energetic feel and a decent sense of rhythm, propelled along by the solid bass, while McComb's vocals are suitably smooth. Make sure you switch off VSS though, as music gets too overpowering with it switched on.
For £200, the SSB-1 was never going to beat soundbars like the B&W Panorama or the Marantz ES7001 on sound quality, but it's better than you might expect for the money, and trumps your average TV speakers any day of the week. The lack of surround sound decoding and limited inputs might be an issue for those with expansive home entertainment systems but for some buyers (and iPod users) the decent performance and excellent price will make up for this.
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