High end audio stalwart Definitive Technology is back with a Dolby Atmos system that will make even the most demanding home theater enthusiast salivate. Definitive sent us a 5.0.4 Dolby Atmos setup—that zero means sans external subwoofer. No subwoofer might seem surprising at first—especially considering that Definitive Technology’s subwoofers were commissioned for the digital organ at Trinity Church in New York City. But Definitive wanted to prove a point: That their tower speaker solution can compete with and even outperform some of the most ambitious 5.1.4 or 5.2.4 systems you can assemble for the same price point.
Lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a deeper dive into Definitive Technology’s distinctive approach to speaker design and the unique feature set of each speaker in our review setup. Then you’ll have a better idea why Definitive Technology was so bold in their approach.
Definitive’s Bipole Approach and Its Advantages
There are two main traits that separate Definitive Technology speakers from the competition. The first is their bipolar speaker design. Definitive’s bipolar speakers have drivers positioned in both the front and rear of the speaker, radiating sound in phase in both directions. Definitive’s bipolar design has the distinct advantage of creating a huge, deep sound stage that most direct radiating, traditional speaker designs just can’t match. That feature alone has an addictive, realistic quality that has entrenched Definitive Technology’s status in enthusiast circles.
Definitive Technology’s powered, bipole speakers have a slender styling
No speaker design is perfect. The downside is that bipolar speakers can’t quite achieve the pin-point imaging of direct radiating speakers. There are tradeoffs in any technology, including direct radiating or bipole speakers.
Definitive’s tradeoff, however, is euphonic. A large, deep soundstage is addicting. Such a large image presents music and movies with a more lifelike sensation. (Allow me to note that Definitive’s center channel speakers are not bipolar). Your personal listening tastes will determine if Definitive Technology speakers are ultimately your cup of tea. It’s worth noting that back in the day, the Bose 901 employed a rear-facing driver, but probably went too far in the forward-facing and rear-facing design.
To get the most from Definitive’s bipolar design, you cannot put the speakers directly against a wall. You’ll need to give at least 6-inches of breathing room behind the speakers to let them do their magic.
What’s the Difference Between Bipole and Dipole?
Now, whatever you do, don’t confuse bipole with dipole. Home theater enthusiasts will recall we had dipole designs in older, triangular-shaped surround speakers. In dipole designs, one set of drivers produced sound in phase while a mirror set of drivers delivered the same signal out of phase for a diffuse soundfield. Dipole speakers were originally intended to create a diffuse sound field for smaller rooms. However, with today’s multichannel, discrete soundtracks and the pioneering research done by Dr. Floyd Toole on acoustics and psychoacoustics, you rarely see manufacturers offering such designs in surround speakers any longer.
Bipole speakers usually feature two arrays of drivers which face in opposite directions but unlike dipoles, they are in phase with one another. The idea is to fire the surround information into the seating area, but not directly at the listener, to avoid hotspotting.
For more information, see: Bipole vs Dipole vs Monopole: Which Surround Speaker is Best
No External Subwoofers Needed
The second distinctive trait of Definitive speakers is that they have built-in subwoofers powered by a Class D amplifier. This is a huge advantage that can’t be underestimated. We know from the pioneering research done by Todd Welti at Harman International that multiple subwoofers deliver smoother and more consistent bass response across multiple seating positions.
Let’s emphasize the point: The goal of multiple subs isn’t to get louder bass. Rather, multiple subs (when properly placed) produce smoother bass across multiple seating positions in your room. Multiple subs help eliminate nulls, which you can’t correct completely—even with the best room correction software. Physics is physics. To be technically correct, let me note that the best place to locate subs in rectangular rooms, (room corners, 1/4 and 3/4 points of the walls, or opposing middle of the walls) may not necessarily match where you’d place a set of Definitive Technology speakers.
The BP9080X, BP9060, and CS9060 all feature an LFE input and volume control.
So think about it for a second. With a Definitive 5.0.4 setup, you are getting five on-board subwoofers with your speakers as part of the cost of the speakers. Now think through the practicality of putting two, three, or five subwoofers in your listening space. How many of us truly have the room (or the aesthetic tolerance) for multiple subwoofers? Further, how many spouses will tolerate speakers and subwoofers in a typical living space? For enthusiasts who crave maximum performance in an aesthetically confined space, this Definitive Technology solution is a dream come true. The huge advantage Definitive brings to the table is that you get true full-range speakers via Definitive’s multi-sub approach without taking up an inch more of floorspace. Addressing the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) and value proposition in a single package? Now that’s worth noting.
And don’t mistake Definitive Technology’s approach to calling large drivers a subwoofer. On the contrary, the on-board subwoofers are driven by a dedicated Class D amplifier embedded into each speaker. You also get all the benefits of a true subwoofer too—including an optional LFE input and volume control.
The volume control is strictly for the bass notes and doesn’t muddy up the midrange. During the peer review of this article, Audioholics own Steve Feinstein noted that Boston Acoustics had ‘powered towers’ in 1998, the VR960/965 and 970/975. Steve served as Boston Acoustics’ product manager and these were his design. They had a control called “Active Bass Contour.” Even though the woofers (powered by on-board amps) crossed over to the mids at 150Hz, the ABC control only affected the bass below 60Hz. No mid interaction at all. Also, these speakers had both LFE line inputs and regular speaker-level inputs. Most customers used speaker-level connection, but the LFE option was there if you wanted it.
Note: For this review, following Definitive’s recommendations I set the Denon AVR-7200WA to a 5.0.4 configuration with all floorstanding channels set to large and the subwoofer output off in the AVR). In case you’re wondering, there’s no dedicated subwoofer phase control or low pass filter on the Definitive speakers. In discussions with Definitive, I should note that if you do plan to use the LFE channel, and have the ability to adjust phase in your AVR, processor, or external EQ, leave phase in the positive setting. If you have the ability to pull measurements you can feel free to experiment to see which setting yields the best integration between the subwoofers, drivers, and other speakers. As always, listening tests with bass intense source material that you’re intimately familiar with should help you confirm the proper setting.
View of the BP9080X’s integrated Dolby Atmos height-enabled speaker. Notice how the driver is angled to fire sounds towards the ceiling.
Let me emphasize that the speakers are treated as a composite whole rather than a monitor and subwoofer combo. In fact, if you want the best performance, Definitive Technology recommends that you do not use the LFE input. The powered subwoofer is there to make the tower speaker truly perform across the audio band and into subsonic frequencies. Here at Audioholics, we have some additional recommendations that you can check out in our YouTube Video posted here below:
How to Set Up Powered Towers YouTube Instructional Video
Of course, should you wish to tweak or experiment, you can feed the Definitive Technology towers via the LFE input and treat the subwoofers independently. You could then use your AVR’s on-board room correction suite to adjust phase, etc. The pros, cons, and nuances of this approach and are far beyond the scope of this review (but addressed in our YouTube video above). Suffice to say, it’s there if you want it but it’s not recommended by Definitive.
For more information on setting up multi-subs, see: Bass Optimization for Multi-Sub with mDSP
My 5.0.4 review setup consisted of a pair of BP9080x towers (for the left and right main channels) with built-in Dolby Atmos speaker modules; two BP9060 towers along with a pair of A90 Dolby Atmos enabled speaker add-on modules; and Definitive’s CS9060 center channel speaker.
The BP9080X has a built-in Atmos-enabled module with a magnetic grille cover.
All in all, those five discrete speakers can theoretically deliver a maximum 5.5.4 system (5 speakers, 5 subwoofers, and 4 height channels)—or variations in-between. As I mentioned, each tower speaker (and the center channel!) has a discrete LFE input should you choose to use it. Definitive Technology recommended that for optimal performance I not use the LFE input for the review and connect them in a traditional manner, using the speaker’s internal crossover. That’s exactly what I did. My review system was thus configured and tested as a 5.0.4 setup with speakers set to large and the subwoofers turned off in the AVR. The sonic results spoke for themselves.
Note: For more advanced users that employ manual PEQ, you may still wish to run ALL 5 subs through LFE input to do global EQ to the system. The choice is there for you. This would also allow all 5 subs to receive LFE signal instead of just the front two speakers when the AV receiver is set to “large fronts” and “no sub” in the bass management.
The BP9060’s top aluminum plate lifts off to reveal a plug for the A90 Dolby Atmos enabled speaker height module.
Definitive’s Speaker Lineup
But before we get to the listening tests, let’s take a deeper dive into each speaker model.
The nearly 52-inch tall BP9080x ($3,498/pair MSRP) feature a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, two 5.25-inch midrange drivers, two 12-inch bass radiators and a single 12-inch subwoofer driven by a 455-watt Class D amplifier. The rear driver array, which handles the bipolar aspects, consists of a 1-inch dome tweeter and 5.25-inch midrange driver. As you’ll see with Definitive’s design, the front tweeter and midrange are mirrored on the back. The speaker is easy to drive with a sensitivity of 92db and an impedance of 8 ohms.
The BP9080x’s top sports an embedded Dolby Atmos enabled speaker. You cannot remove the Atmos module nor can you order a BP9080x without the Atmos enabled speaker. The BP9080X’s Dolby Atmos enabled speaker consists of a 1-inch aluminum tweeter and 5.25-inch mid/woofer. It’s the same driver configuration as the A90, which I describe in more detail below. There are two sets of binding posts on the lower rear of the speaker. The top set is for the Atmos-enabled speaker and the bottom set is for the tower. You cannot biamp any of the models. The BP9080x boasts a total frequency response of 16Hz-40kHz. Definitive technology does not provide consumers with a ±db rating. Some manufacturers provide frequency measurements at ±3db, others at ±6db, and we’ve even seem some rare cases of ±10db. We want to call out Definitive Tech on this issue and that they should be more transparent with the consumer about their measurements. Irrespective, many tower speakers and dedicated subs don’t achieve those specs. You’ll have no problem playing the deep notes of Saint Saëns Organ Symphony with these babies.
The BP9060 ($2,198/pair MSRP) is a smaller sibling of the BP9080x. Each speaker sports a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter with two 4.5-inch midrange drivers, two 10-inch bass radiators, and a 10-inch subwoofer driven by a 300-watt Class D amplifier. The speaker’s rear bipolar array is comprised of a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 4.5-inch midrange driver. The system’s total frequency response is rated at 18Hz-40kHz (again there’s no ±db rating mentioned) and it’s easy to drive with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and a sensitivity of 92dB. You can use the BP9060 as a traditional tower speaker or, if you lift off the speaker’s top aluminum panel, it exposes a slick dock to house the complementary A90 Dolby Atmos enabled speaker module for height effects. There are no cables to connect, the dock for the A90 is literally plug and play. As with the BP9080x, there are two pairs of binding posts with the top pair handling the A90 module.
A90 Atmos-Enabled speaker
Speaking of which, the A90 Dolby Atmos-enabled speaker module retails for $499/pair and is timbre-matched for the BP9060 and BP9080x’s Atmos-enabled module. When it’s connected, you can’t tell aesthetically that the A90 is an add-on module. The A90 is a significant upgrade to the subpar A60 first generation Atmos-enabled speaker that featured a 4″ full range paper whizzer cone driver.
The A90 sports a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 4.5-inch midrange driver. As mentioned, the BP9060 has a pair of binding posts on the speaker’s rear that connect to the A90. This feature keeps your speaker cabling neat and even allows you to use four-conductor speaker cables for clean runs. The A90 has a frequency response of 86Hz – 40kHz. That’s a larger than expected frequency range for a height speaker. Many competing Dolby Atmos enabled speakers don’t deliver as wide a frequency response as Definitive’s. In fact, most are crossed over above 150Hz so it’s good to see this speaker actually has usable bandwidth almost an octave lower than most Atmos-enabled speakers.
Most people don’t know that Dolby Atmos’s spec for height speakers provides a fairly limited range. Dolby’s latest Atmos specifications call for the frequency response of height speakers to be “100Hz to 10kHz or wider”. In case you’re wondering, the A90 (and any Dolby Atmos-certified speaker) is compatible with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X speaker layouts. Dolby Atmos enabled (ceiling-bounce) speakers are not compatible with Auro-3D layouts. Auro-3D requires discrete on-wall or in-ceiling speaker channels.
CS9060 Center Channel
The CS9060 center channel is Definitive’s flagship. The $699 speaker isn’t your typical center channel. It boasts a frequency response of 32Hz – 40kHz. The 1-inch dome tweeter is flanked with two 4.5-inch bass-mid woofers and an 8-inch powered subwoofer. The CS9060 is not a bipole design. There are no rear-firing drivers. It’s therefore easy to put the CS9060 inside or on top of a cabinet.
All speaker models (save the A90 add-on) are powered by a Class D amplifier. You’ll therefore need to make sure you have an electrical outlet close to each speaker location.
When the speakers receive an audio signal and turn on, Definitive Technology has a cool feature on the speakers where the letter “D” on the front base of the speaker lights up. If you’re in a dark theater environment and don’t want the distraction, you can turn the light off with a switch on the speaker’s rear panel.
Note: If you’re going to route LFE to this system, I’d suggest doing it only to the BP9080x and BP9060 speakers but NOT the CS9060. The CS9060 can however be run fullrange without any issues.
shadyJ posts on February 06, 2019 04:36
Pedro Alvarado, post: 1296543, member: 82811
i for one am surprised to see this review of the most hated speaker company on this forum.
i don’t hate them. I’m sure the guy tweeking the components could have done a better job for my audition though.
Definitive Technology is the most hated company on this forum? That is news to me. I have always thought their speakers were fine. Their subs leave a bit to be desired, but they are only responding to market demand for small subs, and there is only so much you can wring out of a small form factor for subwoofers.
8OhmsHolmes posts on February 06, 2019 03:45
I cannot believe Theo used these speakers with Autosetup. I guess the software has come a long way? My BP9060s sounded horrible when I ran Audyssey on my Marantz SR7010 back in 2016. Very thin sound. No bass. I had to do my AVR setup fully manual with the SPL meter and measuring tape. Thanks to Gene, Hugo and Marshall for all the videos to help me through that. I was new to any receiver with an on screen menu, or even an HDMI connection. I came from a pair of Mission 703 floor standing speakers from the late 90s and a cheap Technics stereo receiver to the modern world.
I went back months later and tried Audyssey again hoping maybe a second roll of the dice would not come up snake eyes. I wanted room correction to magically flatten out some horrible 50Hz room issues, but the same results. Even Def tech tells you right in the owners manual that autosetup does not work on speakers with integrated powered subwoofers. They are right. I also tried using the LFE connection for a while, and running the towers as small, but the BP9060s definitely sound better with just speaker wire like the manual and customer service recommends. I even tried an advanced method, suggested by Gene in his video on setting up speakers with powered subwoofers, to run the speakers full range AND use the LFE connection. In the video Gene claims that most receivers limit the amount of Bass being sent from all your speakers set to small to the L&R speakers set to large, in the absence of any subwoofer with an LFE connection. Unfortunately the Marantz SR7010, in its infinite wisdom, keeps insisting on a crossover point for my towers when they are set to large, if you indicate you have 2 subwoofers. I was hoping I could trick my system into sending a more complete amount of Bass from the other channels for movies to the towers through the subwoofer out to the LFE input on the towers. Not because I thought the Bass is lacking in movies, but Gene put the seed of doubt in my mind that I might be missing out on something. Maybe Optimus Prime crushing a Decepticon behind me in my dining area. Not wanting to have to pick a crossover of 40Hz or higher for the towers, turning my speakers into a 4 way crossover design, I scrapped the idea.
Pedro Alvarado posts on February 06, 2019 01:41
i don’t hate them. I’m sure the guy tweeking the components could have done a better job for my audition though.
gene posts on February 05, 2019 23:14
This system under review features: 2x BP9080x Front Towers with built-in Atmos A90 modules, the center CS9060, and the BP9060 rear towers with built-in Atmos A90 modules. All 5 speakers feature built-in powered subs for extended bass. No external subwoofers are needed in this system. This review discusses the set up and configuration and how it was able to pull off the immersive experience in a home theater environment.
Read: Definitive Technology 5.0.4 Atmos Speaker System Review