Cinema Product Reviews

Dolby SA-10 Surround EX Adapter
Manufacturer:  Dolby Laboratories
Grade:  B-
Reviewed March 2000 by Joe Redifer

Ahhh, Dolby SEX.  Does the world really need it?  Is it the quantum leap forward in theater sound technology that is so desperately need right now?  Is it even a well conceived idea?  Is analog matrixing of digital surround sound the best way to go?

The answer in NO to all of those questions, but still Dolby Surround EX manages to impress me when the right sound mix comes along, like Toy Story 2.  Even Mission to Mars has a scene where a speaking character's voice travels from the center channel, over to the right, then to right surrounds, then moves extremely smoothly to the point where he is behind you, then moves slowly over to the left surround channel.  Really impressive!  Too bad that was the best part of the movie.  It also makes the left and right surround channels sound much more discrete, since only the side walls are reproducing their sound and the speakers on the back wall aren't interfering with the phasing and location of the sound.

But make no mistake--Dolby Surround EX is a gimmick made to sell product.  They used the release of Star Wars Episode 1 to hype it up.  This is not uncommon in our industry.  I wouldn't be surprised if for the next huge Hollywood release THX came up with some sort of THX ULTRA or THX PRIME where only "super special" theaters could qualify.  (Of course, anybody with the cash could qualify.)  It really doesn't matter how your theater sounds.  I say this only because THX hasn't done much lately, and theaters are not installing as much THX product as they used to.  But I digress.

The Dolby SA-10 is a good unit for your EX needs.  It gives you back your rear surrounds (in stereo) in default mode.  Each channel (left, right, and rear) has it's own EQ and level settings.  The EQ is better than that found on the surrounds of standard sound processors.  But when it plays back the surrounds in non-EX mode, the left and right EQ is also applied to the rear speakers.  Not a really big deal, but there should be separate EQ settings for EX and normal mode.

Open up the SA-10 and inside you will find lots of empty space.  The reason for this is Dolby couldn't sell their CP-45s, so they decided to use those chassis as SA-10s.  Setting up the SA-10 is pretty easy, even though it does not include many pre-assembled cables required for the wiring.  You will need to assemble your cables, which is just stupid.  It does include a logic cable to mounts between your SA-10 and your CP500, which tells it to go in and out of EX mode with cues from your automation.  If you do not have the proper software or automation, it will stay in EX mode during SR and non-EX trailers.  The SA-10 cannot automatically detect EX encoded film and switch on its own.  That is unfortunate.

Overall I'd say the SA-10 is a very good unit for what it is meant to do.  I have had no reliability problems whatsoever, and the sound quality is very good considering that it is not discrete.  It is not quite as good as the DTS-ES unit, however, which provides separate EQ for EX and stereo mode, plus automatic detection of EX encoded film.  All that and the unit is only 1/5 the size of the SA-10.

Bottom Line:  The SA-10 does it's job, but it won't necessarily increase customer attendance.

--Joe Redifer
Dolby can be contacted at

Joe Redifer has been a projectionist for the last few years.  He learned at Mann Kipling, went on to the UA Greenwood and finally spent 2 years at Mann Chinese.  At the Chinese, Joe performed most of the daily maintenance on the equipment.  Joe is not a technician and has no test equipment, but is an experienced projectionist.  These reviews are representative of the performance of the equipment/services from his perspective.

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