|Classé SSP 30 MKII AV Preamplifier/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ed Masterson|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2003|
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I started my critical evaluation with ‘Austin Powers: Goldmember” (New Line Home Entertainment), the latest Austin Powers adventure. I am entranced by this series; I could watch these movies over and over. Near the beginning of the movie, Austin Powers says that the movie about him is missing “mojo.” He then proceeds to explain with a dance routine. The video switching on the SSP 30 MK II appeared to introduce no apparent degradation when compared to a direct connection to my video source. This is particularly important in today’s world, where there are many necessary inputs, including games and more that need to be switched, often in the surround processor. The soundtrack was open and detailed, with no added sibilance on the voices.
The next movie in line was “Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever” (Warner Home Video). This film turned out to be a nice surprise for me. I had no idea what this movie was about when it started, but I soon realized that it primarily concerned secret agents with guns and bombs. Lucy Liu plays Sever, a disgruntled agent out to avenge the death of her child. She is one badass chick as she kills countless people, blows up cars, buildings, trains and just about everything else possible. I watched this flick by myself, which meant that there was nobody to complain about it being too loud. One thing I noticed with the SSP 30 MK II was that I kept increasing the volume. The dynamic range of this processor was as good as I have heard in any processor, regardless of cost. With the voices at a normal level, the action scenes were loud enough to shock me the way that I am certain the director had intended. In one scene, Antonio Banderas as Ecks lights a cigarette just before heading into the next action sequence. The sound of the cigarette lighter was very believable, while the ensuing fight was powerful and exciting. In fact, this is one example where an apartment dweller may wish for a dynamic compression feature that is absent on the SSP 30 MK II. I watch an incredible number of movies and I love surprises.
I rented “Clockstoppers” (Paramount Home Entertainment) so that my kids could watch a movie with me. I was not expecting much, so when I realized that this movie has a great soundtrack, I was stoked. The SSP 30 MK II did great with the pop-rock soundtrack. It was full of songs like “All the Small Things” by Blink 182 and “Never Let You Go” by Third Eye Blind. Once again, I noticed the volume level increasing with each new song that we heard. In case you have not noticed, I generally consider this to be a good sign of the musicality of a piece of equipment. When something sounds wrong, the volume level usually goes down. The SSP 30 MK II proved easy to listen to with just about everything I played on it.
During another of my kids’ movies, “Stuart Little 2” (Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment), I got a good demonstration of the surround performance. In one scene, Stuart accidentally starts a model airplane and ends up flying it around the room. The SSP 30 MK II did a great job of creating seamless transitions from speaker to speaker as the airplane circled.
In testing musical playback on this unit, I started out with a multi-channel music disc, the Police’s Every Breath You Take (DTS Entertainment). Track One, “Roxanne,” is probably one of the Police’s most famous songs, partially made popular by the movie “48 Hours” with Eddie Murphy. This multi-channel remix is very well done. The surround channels are used only for ambience, as the mains and center create the stage in front of you. The SSP 30 MK II did a great job creating a huge soundstage that extended well beyond the boundaries of the room. The highs were extended, with only a slight hint of grain. This grain was only noticeable when compared to the best two-channel gear that I have heard. In fact, there was nothing noticeable in the sound that really made me think about the equipment. The images were well defined, with good separation, similar to what I have heard from other similarly-priced processors.
Switching over to two-channel mode, I put in On Every Street by Dire Straits (Warner Brothers). Track Four, “Fade to Black,” has long been one of my favorites. With great equipment, the soundstage in this cut can extend over the horizon. Through the SSP 30 MK II, the stage was huge, although not as big as I have heard with the very best two-channel equipment. It performed extremely well for an A/V product in its price range. Track Eight, “Iron Hand,” serves as a great bass definition test. The combination of a well-timed bass guitar and kick drum can become mashed together and sound like one instrument on some equipment. The SSP 30 MK II did a great job defining both instruments. Another very lush and well-recorded piece that I really enjoy is the CD Folk Singer by Muddy Waters (Mobile Fidelity). Track Three features a solo guitar that can sound like it is in the room with you. With low-end equipment, this recording can be pretty ordinary-sounding. The instruments can sound as though they are coming straight out of the speakers. However, the SSP 30 MK II did a great job of creating a complete soundstage in front of me. It did not paint as complete a picture as I like to hear from my two-channel reference gear, but it did as well as other, more expensive theater processors like the Aragon Stage One.
The Classe' SSP 30 MK II has a lot of competition. It is missing some critical features that are available from other processors in this price range, one of these being component video switching. All of the newest and best DVD players, as well as HDTV receivers, provide their best picture through their component video output. If you purchase this product, you will have to purchase additional video switching equipment to achieve optimum picture quality.
For just a little more money, you can find processors that have the THX Ultra 2 certification and all of the set-up features that this offers. Some of the set-up features can be helpful in achieving optimum sound in difficult rooms, but again, I was not disappointed with the sound that I was able to obtain through the Classe’ in my room. Additionally, the remote was very well designed and constructed, although it lacked the illumination feature. This is only a minor downside, as many remotes share a similar deficiency.
The Classe’ SSP 30 MK II is an extremely well-built and beautiful-sounding theater processor. It is representative of a company that clearly takes pride in their craftsmanship. The SSP 30 MK II is one of the smaller packages available and has an abundance of features to support a multi-room home entertainment system. Professional installers will love this product with one exception - they might be forced to add separate video switching systems. I would expect that anyone putting together a system of this caliber would require component video switching. Installers who sell Classe’ rave about the line because of its reliability. At one point in AV history, the only thing that mattered was performance. Not today. Entire high-end audio brands have been ruined because of gear that breaks all the time. Reports from the field and my personal testing suggest that Classe’ is extremely durable.
If you already own a SSP 30 and want to run the extra set of rear channels and the newest in SSP modes, the $500 upgrade is hugely worthwhile. If you are in the market for a new theater processor, the SSP 30 MK II is a solid contender that needs to be auditioned. This is a product with exceptional performance and build quality that exceeds its price bracket, resulting in a specific value that will make the music lover and home theater enthusiast drool.