Definitive Technology Mythos XTR-50 On-Wall Speaker System
How Perfect Can Perfect Get?
It’s always a big deal when Definitive Technology introduces a new speaker. Why? Well, as I’ve written in the past, the company has hit as many home runs as Mark McGwire—without the engineers taking any banned steroids, testosterone supplements, male-enhancement products, or vitamins. (That last part about the vitamins probably isn’t true. I’ll leave it to your imagination about the rest.) In the same way fans watched with anticipation and cameras flashed every time McGwire came up to bat, those of us who are lucky enough to do this sort of thing for a living eagerly await the chance to get our remote-control-stained hands on any new Definitive Technology speakers. Unlike with McGwire, it would be big news for the Definitive Technology team to strike out. None of us sitting in the press box really expect that to happen, though. We’re most interested in finding out how good the new speakers are going to be.
That’s the way it was with the company’s first bipolar tower speakers (the design that gave Definitive Technology its start) as well as those that followed: the ground-breaking (almost literally) bipolar towers with built-in subs, the gut-punching SuperCube subwoofers, the initial svelte members of the Mythos line, and most recently, the near-mythic Mythos ST speakers, to name a few. The newest member of the Definitive Technology family offers us more of the Mythos ethos; or maybe it’s better to say less, because the new Mythos XTR-50 speakers are the slimmest on-wall speakers Definitive Technology has ever produced. For a speaker today, being slim as a characteristic by itself isn’t really that newsworthy. There are plenty of slender on-wall speakers—lots of HTIBs feature them. But a highperformance, super slender speaker that’s only 1.5 inches deep (even when mounted on the wall), now there’s a story.
As if a pushing-the-limits-form-factor speaker from Definitive Technology weren’t exciting enough, there’s an added twist. Six years ago, Definitive Technology went from being a privately owned speaker company to one that was beholden to a bigger corporate overlord. I’ve got nothing against big companies per se. Some are good, and some are bad, just as with everything else. But in case you’re unfamiliar with some of this industry’s history, more times than I care to tally, a company has gone to complete and utter doo-doo after the founder sells and leaves. Time and again, we’ve seen the folks who buy the company lose the focus that made the company successful in the first place. Before long, there’s the inevitable attempt at salvaging the investment by going mass market. Fisher and Marantz are two well-known examples—although after a tumultuous period, Marantz has come back as strong and vibrant as it was in the early days. In this case, Definitive Technology’s new daddy took great pains to assure all who asked that it intended to maintain the company, including its musically oriented soul, as it was. And to the parent company’s credit, it did—even to the point of keeping the management and design teams mostly intact.
All manufacturing companies—even those that have nothing to do with plumbing—have pipelines. Definitive Technology is no exception. It takes time for products to move from conception to the reality of a retail store shelf. Sometimes it’s a while before a new owner’s influence begins to show up in a product line, and now is about that time for Definitive Technology. So the new XTR-50 on-wall speaker should offer a pretty clear insight into the company’s future direction. Has management chosen to suck out the soul and cheapen the line with gimmicky designs in order to chase sales volume? (The technical term, I believe, is “to whore them out.”) Or will it remain true to its heritage and continue to push the limits on performance and innovative style at relatively affordable price points?
I know appearances can be deceiving; but if the looks of the Mythos XTR-50 are any indication, the Definitive Technology crew hasn’t missed a pitch yet. Like its companions in the Mythos line, the new model is made from what Definitive Technology describes as aircraft-grade extruded aluminum, incorporating stiffening ribs and channels to help keep the 27-by-6-by-1.5-inch-deep cabinet rigid. Although the speaker includes a slender wall-mount bracket (really not much more than a plate with knobs on which to hang the speaker), you can mount it directly on the wall using a screw without the bracket. This means that in many installations, the XTR-50s will only stick out from the wall a mere 1.5 inches. It’s hard to imagine even the slimmest flat-panel HDTV being able to beat that depth once you hoist it up and bolt it to its mount on the wall. Even if a technological miracle were to happen, and Mitsupanisonishiba introduces a flat-panel HDTV that’s only an eighth of an inch thick and can be hung on the wall using one of the late Billy Mays’ Hercules Hooks, the XTR-50s still won’t look too thick or out of place thanks to the bow-shaped curvature of the front of the cabinet. Seen from the front, the curve reminds you of an airplane wing. If you look down at the speaker from the top, you’ll see that the left and right sides of the cabinet curve inward instead of continuing the outward curve from the front as you’d find with a wing made for flying instead of playing music. Definitive Technology says this inward curve helps to make the speaker look as thin as possible from nearly any angle in the room, and it’s right.
A black grille covers approximately four-fifths of the front of the speaker, and the remaining fifth is a strip of high-gloss black aluminum. In a normal installation, you’d mount the speakers with the black strips facing away from the HDTV. When you use an XTR-50 horizontally for the center channel, you can mount the speaker with the strip on the bottom for under-TV placement, or on the top for above-TV installs. Of course, this is merely an aesthetic issue—the XTR-50 performs the same regardless of the way you orient it. Definitive Technology also ships the speakers with two adjustable support feet that include tempered smoked-glass bases (à la the other Mythos speakers), so you can also use them off the wall.
Of course, the real question is how the hell it’s possible to get decent drivers and a crossover into a cabinet like this. The depth of most tweeters generally isn’t a problem, and the center-mounted high-frequency driver here is akin to the silky-smooth tweeter found in those incredible, I-bow-down-before-thee Mythos ST floorstanding speakers. The low-frequency drivers are unlike anything you’ll find in any other Definitive Technology speaker. That’s because the engineers rethought, retooled, redesigned, and re-engineered just about everything in order to come up with a ridiculously thin mid- and low-frequency transducer. In true Definitive marketing-speak, the company calls it XTDD technology (not to be confused with an STD, the catching of which doesn’t require much technology at all). It’s quite ingenious.
First of all, these black anodized aluminum (Definitive Technology must have cornered the market on aluminum) domeshaped drivers use catenary geometry. A catenary curve is the shape you’ll observe if you hold the ends of a rope made of hemp, the chain between a pair of handcuffs, a string of freshwater pearls, or a diamond necklace that supposedly belonged to Zha Zha Gabor (but you bought it on eBay for $200) between your hands. The traditional iconic image of St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Arch, is a 630-foot-tall modified catenary curve. People who spend their lives dreaming about curves (other than the feminine kind) claim that the catenary curve is the most structurally sound arch shape. Definitive Technology says that’s because, at each point in the structure, opposing tension and compression forces are balanced (that sounds like the belt around my waist). The result is a shape that’s stable and strong (oh, not like my waist) and provides important stiffness without requiring added mass.