Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 Speaker System
Price: $2,494 At A Glance: Top-mounted, passive radiator • Dual binding posts • Enhanced phase plug
Whether you think a decade is a long or a short period of time depends on your perspective. If you’re discussing cosmology with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the word “decade” probably won’t even make it into the conversation. If you’re Apple, you crank out more than 300 million iPods in that period of time. If you’re a momma elephant with a particularly frisky elephant husband who likes to party, you might be able to birth five elephant progeny. (Although the stretch marks will simply be impossible to get rid of after that third one, no matter what exercise club you sign up with.) At the Glenmorangie distillery in the Scottish Highlands, you’re trying to decide whether or not to bottle the batch of single-malt scotch that’s been aging in the barrels for the last decade or to wait another eight years and ship out cases of Glenmorangie 18 Years Old instead. But if you’re Definitive Technology, you take your sweet time and eventually come out with…wait for it…three (as in one more than two) totally redesigned monitor speakers.
Is It Time Already?
The folks at Definitive Technology say the three new StudioMonitor speakers (SM45, SM55, and SM65) “are the first new bookshelf-style speakers from Definitive in nearly 10 years.” People in the know at Definitive Technology also say that every part has been redesigned and improved for better performance and appearance. (Now, I doubt that when they say “every part” they’re including little things like screws and wires, but you never know.) The new models replace Def Tech’s StudioMonitor 350 and StudioMonitor 450, both of which had the signature Definitive Technology look: a rectangular box wrapped in black grille cloth and covered top and bottom with high-gloss-black, lacquer end caps.
Although they retain elements of their cosmetic design heritage, the StudioMonitor 55 ($299/each) and StudioMonitor 45 ($199/each) speakers Definitive Technology sent my way look definitively different from the previous models. For starters, the black, grille-cloth wrap is gone, replaced by a removable, black, front grille with a nice quality, black, wood-grain vinyl veneer everywhere else. The top of each speaker is slightly rounded—a departure from the original flat top (and a real annoyance for those who like to set their beer cans or cocktail glasses on top of speakers during parties). While the top of the SM45 uses the same wood-grain veneer, the SM55 has another black grille to hide a top-mounted, 6-inch x 10-inch, passive radiator. (Not only is the darn thing curved on top, but that passive radiator is going to rattle your glass off the speaker for sure.) The vertical edges along the front and back of the cabinets are beveled, taking the new models one more step away from the historic boxy look. However, for fans of the classic Def Tech style, the new StudioMonitors have a 1.5-inch, gloss-black strip with the Definitive Technology logo along the bottom of the front grilles. Behind the grille of each speaker is a sculpted, gloss-black, front baffle that’s quite attractive; so much so, in fact, that my wife and 11-year-old daughter actually preferred the look of the speakers with the grilles off. With the grilles on, a small sliver of the gloss-black, front baffle peaks out above the grille along the top—an homage to the past and a design element that gives the speakers a subtle touch of class. Another nice touch is the use of high-quality, five-way binding posts for speaker-wire connections. In fact, the SM55 has two sets of posts with jumpers—so you can biamp or biwire the speakers, if you so desire.
Top o’ the Radiator to
The StudioMonitor 55 uses a single, 1-inch tweeter with a pure-aluminum dome. According to Def Tech, the aluminum dome gets a heat treatment to “relax the crystal structure.” (The company doesn’t say whether a massage is involved or not.) Then, before it even has a chance to get a pedicure, the dome gets coated with ceramic. All of which, of course, is to make the shiny transducer “produce extended highs that reveal nuance and shimmer without a trace of edginess.” The StudioMonitor 45 incorporates the same tweeter, and this helps make it a great match as a surround speaker with the SM55s in the front.
When it comes to the bass, however, the drivers in the two models are different. The SM55 incorporates a redesigned, 6.5-inch, cast-basket driver with what Def Tech calls its Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS), a technology that uses a surround at both the inner and outer edges of the speaker cone and is said to result in longer, more linear cone excursion. But BDSS has been around for a while; what’s new is an updated phase plug Def Tech calls a Linear Response Waveguide (LRW). It’s essentially a pockmarked mushroom sprouting from the center of the speaker cone that’s designed to keep short, high-frequency waves launched from one side of the driver cone from interfering with those coming from the other side, all of which is supposed to smooth the overall frequency response and improve off-axis response. To extend the low-frequency output of the SM55, Def Tech adds the aforementioned 6-inch x 10-inch, passive, bass radiator to the top of the cabinet. This, says Def Tech, gives the SM55 a “total bass radiating area” that’s greater than what a single, 10-inch driver can provide.
The StudioMonitor 45 doesn’t have as much junk in the trunk as the SM55 does, but that’s to be expected, seeing as how it’s smaller in dimensions as well as price. But the SM45 is no shrinking violet when it comes to the double-digits hertz region, using an updated 5.25-inch BDSS bass driver that also includes a version of the new LRW phase plug. Unlike the passive-radiator design of the SM55, though, the SM45’s cabinet has a hole in the back. Definitive refers to it as a “double-flared bass vent,” denoting that it is flared on both ends. I’ll admit that “bass vent” does sound a bit more magical than the more common “port,” but whatever you decide to call it, the opening is there to contribute to the bass response of the smaller driver-cabinet combo.
To complete the home theater system, Definitive Technology sent along a CS-8040HD ($499/each) center channel and one of its new SuperCube 6000 ($999/each) subwoofers. The low-profile CS-8040HD features a 1-inch, aluminum, domed tweeter flanked between a pair of 4.5-inch, BDSS/LRW, bass drivers. As with the SM55, the CS-8040HD includes a top-mounted, 5-inch x 10-inch passive radiator. The SuperCube 6000 subwoofer is the bigger brother to the SuperCube 4000 I had a chance to review in our April 2012 issue (and liked quite a lot; review available at HomeTheater.com). Both the center channel and the subwoofer offer more of the traditional Def Tech cosmetics, with black-cloth wraps and gloss-black end caps—although the end caps on the sides of the CS-8040HD are slightly beveled in a way that visually bridges between the older and newer looks.
The nearly cubic (12.75 x 12 x 13 inches) SuperCube 6000 has the same set of extremely useful features found in the SC4000, including an IR remote control, a disappearing LED display, and an adapter slot for an optional wireless receiver. (Up to four subwoofers can be used in a single room using one transmitter.) Far from being a frivolous toy, the slim IR remote that comes with the SC6000 is a true tool that makes it easier and faster to set up the subwoofer’s important parameters: adjust the low-pass filter (from 40 to 140 Hz); select one of four phase settings (0, 90, 180, 270 degrees); and raise or lower the sub’s volume. While all of these adjustments can be done using controls on the back of the SC6000, it’s far nicer being able to make these changes from the listening position rather than having to run from the couch, to the sub, and back, multiple times until you finally get it dialed in.
But ease of initial set up isn’t all the IR remote is good for. In addition to the flat frequency-response curve built into the SC6000, there are four other EQ modes from which to choose based on your choice of source material, personal preferences, and varying listening circumstances, and the IR remote lets you easily toggle between them. EQ1, for example, maximizes the deepest-octave bass output—a setting Def Tech suggests is good for listening to pipe organ and symphonic music, although the company also suggests not using this setting at high-volume levels. On the other end of the scale, EQ4 is recommended for when you really want to crank the heck out of your system but don’t necessarily need superlow bass response. From the remote, you can also engage the SC6000’s Night mode that compresses the dynamic range and reduces the peak-bass volume level, something your sleeping family members and neighbors might appreciate more than you will. The remote will also let you turn the red, LED display hidden behind the grille cloth on the upper-left-hand corner of the sub on or off.
Two of the more custom-install-related features are the IR remote jack and the 12-volt trigger input, both of which are found on the back of the SC6000. The IR remote jack allows you to use an optional remote eye for the remote control for situations when the sub is hidden in a cabinet or otherwise out of sight. Although the subwoofer will automatically turn on when it senses a signal, the 12-volt trigger input can be used to turn the SC6000 on/off with the system if your pre-pro or AVR has a 12-volt trigger output.