Processors

Classe SSP-800 Surround Sound Processor

ARTICLE INDEX

The Design

The Classé SSP-800 is basically designated at 7.1 because it has one XLR/RCA output labelled as SUB. However, there are two XLR/RCA output jacks labelled AUX, which means you can configure the processor with up to three subwoofers (the AUX outputs can be assigned to other tasks as well). This is the reason Classé calls it a 10-channel processor.

Two Texas Instruments DSP chipsets operate at 2800 MIPS (I guess we need to start using the acronym BIPS, or Billion Instructions per Second, in which case the chipsets operate at 2.8 BIPS).

Classé gave me the following, more specific, details about the circuit design: "The DAC is a current output DAC, so there is an I/V converter followed by a reconstruction filter (TI OPA2134), then the volume control, then a buffer stage (National LM4562) followed by a gain stage (also LM 4562). The signal is differential thru the output and biased in Class A. The single-ended output just uses the non-inverting side of the LM4562. There are two DSPs and both are the TI TMS320DA710."

The inside of the chassis, shown below, is Spartan compared to some other processors on the market (this is the HDMI v3.1 chassis, which had four HDMI input jacks - the latest version has a v1.4 board, and five HDMI input jacks). This compact, short conductor path design is integral to the unit's very low distortion rating (and bench test results later in this article).

Classe SSP-800

The SSP-800 does not perform video processing, except for up-converting composite video and component video for HDMI output.

This is primarily a product for handling digital input signals, but there are three pairs of analog audio inputs including one XLR and two RCA sets. There is also a 7.1 channel analog bypass input that is primarily used for multichannel SACD sources. The analog audio output stage operates in pure Class A bias, and consists of stereo op-amps, each configured in a balanced design for an individual channel output.

Most processors and receivers these days come with Automated Room Correction, which means you set a microphone in several listening positions, and the unit outputs test signals through each channel, then calculating and adjusting for the frequency response of each speaker as well as its distance from the listening position (or averaged for several listening positions).

The SSP-800 allows for frequency response and distance, but it is performed manually, which is to say that there is a five-band parametric EQ for each channel, with each band adjustable in 1 Hz steps from 1 Hz to 200 Hz, then 10 Hz steps from 200 Hz to 2 kHz, and 100 Hz steps from 2 kHz to 20 kHz. You can also adjust individual speaker levels (volume) and enter the distance to each speaker. So, it's not as sophisticated as the auto room correction circuits in other products, but it is also one less step in digital processing that can induce distortion. Frankly, I am on the fence about automated room correction. In general, I like the results, but sometimes, when I change the furniture and run the Auto EQ function, the results are not quite what I expect, so I re-run the program using different microphone placement, and re-run it again if I have to, in order to end up with something that sounds pleasant. I have to say at this point that the Classé, even with no EQ added at all, sounds better than any processor - with Auto EQ - that I have ever encountered. I may take the time to tweak the EQ at some point, just to make the sound more laid back, because my aging hearing likes it that way, but that is a personal preference, and it would not be a flat response.

Below is a series of screen shots illustrating the main menu and sub-menus.

The first one is what you see while using the SSP-800. You can select the source (for me that is the Blu-ray player - Input 1, and the HDTV cable box - Input 2). The Mode button accesses the available playback/surround modes. Touching the Video Preview button will bring up whatever video signal is passing through, and the Controls button gives you access to Configurations (different speaker combinations or configurations of levels and subwoofer settings) and the System Trims, which is a second set of volume controls that allows you to adjust individual channels' volume levels for the particular program you are watching. This defaults back to 0 adjustment when you change sources, or turn the SSP-800 off. The reason for this is that as part of the setup, you are able to listen to some white noise in each channel and adjust the volume of each speaker so that it is whatever you want it to be at the listening position. So, by using the Trims to adjust a channel(s) volume when watching a particular program, this does not disturb the calibrated volume control settings.

Classe SSP-800

When you press the Menu button on the front panel or on the remote control, here is what you see:

Classe SSP-800

The next step - when you are first using the SSP-800 - is the System Setup.

Classe SSP-800

I selected Configuration from the menu above, and this is what was next.

Classe SSP-800

Pressing Configuration 1, I now had the ability to rename Configuration 1 to whatever I wanted (I left it as Configuration 1 just to keep myself from getting lost in a maze when I first used the processor). The box on the right says, "In Use" which means it is enabled. With up to six configurations available, you may choose to not use all of them, so disabling the unused configurations removes them from the list. In every day use, when scrolling through your configurations, you only see those that you have set up and are "in use." Then there are the Distance and Levels menus for putting in the distance from each speaker to your sitting position, and the volume level settings for each of the speakers. The Speakers menu lets you choose which speakers you want in the configuration (for instance, if you have no Center channel, this is where you would configure the system for no Center channel), and what crossover frequencies and slopes for each speaker if your speakers are not full range. A typical setup might be no crossover for the front left right, but a crossover for the remaining speakers, either 12 dB/Octave or 24 dB/Octave.

Classe SSP-800

Classe SSP-800

In this menu set (above), you can choose what you want the two Aux outputs to be connect to - if anything at all - which includes bi-amping (e.g., the front left/right channels), and having up to three subwoofers. All in all, a very flexible and easy to use menu structure.

The rear panel is a sea of connections, and fortunately, the jacks are far enough apart that I could easily get my fingers in between other connectors to insert a plug here and there. Isn't it amazing how long it has taken to pare down the sets of component and composite video connections and move towards a full array of HDMI connectors?

The remote control is Classé all the way. It's made of anodized and brushed aluminum, and the battery compartment is at the bottom end. The buttons are tactile, shaped so you can recognize them by feel, and there is bright blue backlighting when you press any button.