Review: Sony SS-CSE Atmos Speakers Elevate Home Theater
Anyone looking to add the sensation of height-directed sound effects to their Dolby Atmos-enabled home theater system for not a lot of money, will want to check out Sony’s 2018 Dolby Atmos and DTS:X SS-CSE height speaker modules.
Available now at leading retailers for an everyday retail price of $199 a pair, and $158 on special, the Sony SS-SCE features a compact, angled design to sit flat atop front and/or rear speakers where sound is directed forward and upward, to reflect effects off the ceiling and down on the listener.
In addition, the speakers come with mounting brackets enabling them to be placed high up on a wall to further enhance the directional overhead sounds. We expect most users will place these modules on their right and left front-channel speakers (typically towers) in 5.1.2-channel setups, or on front speakers and rear speakers, in 5.1.4 configurations.
This will require connection to a Dolby Atmos or Atmos/DTS:X supporting AV receiver to decode the height channel effects from supporting content and power the passive speakers via a standard pinch-style wired connector. No banana plugs are offered with these add-ons.
The Sony SS-CSE upfiring Atmos speakers come in an MDF cabinet with flat black laminated wood grain, and a matching removable cloth grill. This houses a 6 ohm, 3.93″ full-range driver with a mica reinforced cellular cone, which is rigid to hold its shape under high pressure, affording louder volumes without distortion.
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Maxmium input power is 100 watts per channel, while the frequency range is listed at 70Hz-32000Hz.
These are positioned as budget-class upfiring speakers (alternatively, they can be used as wired rear speakers), but we found the sound to be very full and disperse and the intended reflected effects to be impressively realistic when bouncing effects off of a standard 8-foot sheet rock ceiling. Effects were somewhat more muted when we tried them with a system in a space using dropped ceilings with acoustical tiles, but still audible.
These presence speakers also widened the sound field and delivered pleasingly immersive effects that appeared to be coming from above us, if not directly overhead, when playing supported Atmos and DTS:X Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray soundtracks at elevated volumes.
The sound of exploding flack and spraying bullets convincingly thrilled and alarmed us watching scenes from the Dolby Atmos-supported Blu-ray version of Ready Player One, while the sound of stalking velociraptors surrounding us kept us transfixed watching the DTS:X-enhanced Blu-ray version of Jurassic World.
Although intended to match and compliment Sony’s CS series speakers, the SS-CSEs can be used with any tower or bookshelf speaker. In our demos, the Sony SS-CSE modules matched well with affordably positioned Polk TSi300 speaker towers in a 5.1.2-channel setup, although the SS-CSE’s footprint didn’t match exactly with the top depth of TSi300. The 5-3/4″ width of the TSi300 aligned perfectly with the SS-CSEs, which have a full footprint dimensions of 7 1/8 x 5 3/4 x 7 1/8 inches.
The tonality and timbre of the SS-CSEs were also pretty close to the TSi300’s so that effects weren’t overpowered by the accompanying channels. Naturally, the more volume we gave the speaker the more noticeable were the spatial effects.
However, the sound matching (and footprint dimensions) weren’t as close when we tried the SS-CSEs atop a pair of significantly more expensive B&W CDM towers. The overhead effects were harder to pick up, although we did add to slightly wider sound space. In this scenario, the SS-CSEs were driven by the Denon AVR-X6400 11.1-channel AVR.
In such situations somewhat beefier height speakers like SVS Prime Elevation ($199.99 each) or Klipsch R-140SA ($398 pair).
In a Sony CS speaker system, the SS-CSE will match perfectly atop the SS-CS3 floor standing speakers, and SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers.
As mentioned, the SS-CSE use standard pinch-style wire terminals. Ease of set-up will depend on the AV receiver or amp/preamp used to decode the soundtracks and drive the speakers. Connections on the AVR are typically made through the dedicated height channels or assignable back-channel speaker terminals depending on the receiver model used.
We found the process pretty painless using two different Denon AVRs (the X1200 and X6400), each running an Audyssey room calibration system (of different capabilities) to make necessary adjustments to the sound reflections in the room and seating positions of the listeners.
We found the height effects to be more pronounced and convincing positioning the speakers higher up on wall behind the towers with drivers in the cabinet angled down at the listener. This, of course, will require more work and drilling some holes, compared to just plunking the speakers down atop the front towers. However, Sony nicely provides wall-mounting brackets to assist in the process.
The Sony SS-CSE Dolby Atmos speakers are a recommended buy for anyone looking to get into the new world of 3D immersive surround sound, with the all-important overhead effects available at a reasonable price. Those with more elaborate and expensive speaker systems might want to look for models with a little more power and presence to avoid getting washed out the mix, but for a majority of mainstream home theater systems these will be sufficient to bring the movie theater experience home in a spectacular way.
We therefore award the Sony SS-CSE Dolby Atmos upfiring speaker system four out of five hearts.
The Sony SS-CSE speakers used for this review were a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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