Review: Definitive Technology Mythos XTR-SSA3 Soundbar, XTR-20BP Surround Speaker, and Supercube 4000 Subwoofer

“It looks like a car ran over it,” a visiting friend said. But I doubt Definitive Technology employed that technique in the creation of the Mythos XTR-SSA3 soundbar.

The XTR-SSA3 is the latest in a line of speakers that I thought were too skinny to work. Definitive Technology designed the ultra-thin Mythos XTR models to hang next to today’s ultra-thin TVs, and this soundbar is just a little more than 1.5 inches thick — so slim that it sticks out less than a typical inch-thick TV and its mount. The XTR speakers are so thin, it seems impossible that they could sound any better than a $49 iPod dock. But they do.

The new soundbar picks up where the XTR-50 left/center/right speaker (read the review here) left off. It combines left, center, and right speakers into one enclosure. Each channel gets two 3.5-inch woofer/midrange drivers and a 1-inch tweeter. Unusually, the midwoofs use tweeter-like dome-shaped diaphragms rather than cones.

Mount the XTR-SSA3 under your TV, add a couple of surround speakers and a subwoofer, and you’ve got a full 5.1 home theater. You’ll need an A/V receiver to power the system; unlike many other soundbars, the XTR-SSA3 has no built-in amplification.

At just 43 inches wide, the XTR-SSA3 easily fits under flat-panel TVs with 46-inch-diagonal and larger screen sizes. This places the tweeters for the left and right speakers 32 inches apart, nowhere near enough distance to get a decent stereo image. To help the sound break free of the little bar, Definitive employed its Spatial Array technology. Spatial Array uses interaural crosstalk cancellation: It sends a filtered, phase-inverted signal from the left channel into the right and the right into the left. In essence, it prevents your left ear from hearing the direct sound from the right speaker and vice versa, so you get a broader stereo soundstage.

Definitive has also created a new surround speaker for the Mythos line. The XTR-20BP is a bipolar model with two of the same 3.5-inch midwoofers found in the XTR-SSA3, but they’re pointed at angles to spread the sound out more. It’s got the same tweeter, too.

I knew the XTR-SSA3 wouldn’t give me any bass, so I was happy to see that Definitive sent along its new SuperCube 4000 subwoofer. The latest SuperCubes look a lot like the old ones, but they have a new feature: a digital signal processor. Definitive uses the DSP to smooth the SuperCube’s response, and also to offer four special EQ modes. The internal crossover can be adjusted from 40 to 150 Hz. All this is controlled through a tiny remote, and you can monitor your adjustments on a bright red alphanumeric display that’s visible through the grille.