Unpacking the new BP9060, I realized that Definitive Technology is the Taylor Swift of the speaker biz. Just as Swift's mainstream success has made most people forget her country roots, Definitive's mainstream success has made most audiophiles forget that the company got its start with a relatively unknown and mildly controversial technology: the bipolar speaker.
A bipolar speaker has drivers on the front and rear of the enclosure, so it directs sound forward and backward. This creates a more spacious, but less focused, sound. It's similar to the way electrostatic and magnetoplanar panel speakers work, except both sides of a bipolar speaker operate in-phase, and all the bipolar speakers I've seen use conventional drivers that offer better dynamics (with, some would argue, less delicacy) than panel speakers.
With the $1,099-each BP9060 and the rest of the new BP9000 line, introduced last May, Definitive Technology gets back to its roots. As with the previous BP8000 Series, the output of the rear driver array is toned down in level to achieve a more satisfying compromise between the spacious bipolar sound and the more focused sound of a conventional speaker. The company says the rear array is reduced in level by -6dB relative to the front array. The rear array in the BP9060 also has just one 4.5-inch midrange driver, compared with two in the front array. Both sides sport a single 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter.
As has been common in large Definitive towers dating back to the mid-1990s, the BP9060 features a powered bass section, with an active 10-inch woofer powered by a 300-watt Class D amp. One new twist is the Intelligent Bass Control knob on the back. Rather than simply adjusting the volume of the subwoofer section, the IBC knob is said to affect only frequencies below 100 Hz, and thus not interfere with the upper bass and midrange frequencies.
The company's $499/pair A90 module turns the BP9060 into an Atmos-enabled speaker, with upward-firing midrange and tweeter drivers matching the ones in the BP9060. The A90 is designed so that it simply plops into place and looks like a part of the BP9060 rather than an add-on module. Take the aluminum top plate off, put the A90 in place, then use the top pair of speaker terminals on the BP9060 to connect the modules to the receiver or amplifier.
The BP9060 is the second-most-expensive tower speaker in the BP9000 line. Prices range from $649 each for the BP9020 to $1,749 each for the BP9080x. Definitive Technology offers matching center and surround speakers; I tried the $699 CS9060 center channel, which has its own built-in eight-inch subwoofer.
I used the BP9060s, the A90s, and the CS9060 primarily with a Sony STR-ZA5000ES AV receiver, using Sunfire CRM-BIP bipolar speakers for the surround channels. I also did stereo listening sessions comparing the BP9060s with my Revel Performa3 F206 speakers, using a Classé CP-800 preamp/DAC, a Classé CA-2300 stereo amp, a Music Hall Ikura turntable, and an NAD PP-3 phono preamp, plus an Audio by Van Alstine AVA ABX switcher for level-matched comparisons. I used Wireworld Eclipse 7 interconnect and speaker cables. Incidentally, the speakers have a line-level LFE input that you can connect directly to your receiver or surround processor to gain additional adjustment range and flexibility (and maybe even use an external EQ if you wish, I guess), but I didn't use this feature. I never felt the need to.
The BP9060s are beautifully packaged, with all the accessories laid out in a kit that makes everything easy to put together. An aluminum base screws onto the bottom of each tower to provide added stability, and either carpet spikes or polymer feet can be screwed into the bottom of the base.
I didn't need to do any fancy tweaking with the BP9060s. Definitive Technology's Aaron Levine, who delivered the speakers, decided to put them where my Revels were, and they sounded great there. We then focused our attention on getting the IBC knobs dialed in. For most of my listening, I used the IBC knobs set either at halfway or about one o'clock. I had to turn them down to about 10 o'clock for comparisons with the Revels, in order to match the Revels' bass level. Incidentally, there's a little LED-lit "D" logo at the bottom of each tower to show the amp's on; a switch on the back lets you turn it off if you find it distracting.
I did end up making one change later, though: I removed the 6.5-inch-thick foam panels that usually sit behind my front left and right speakers and replaced them with half-cylindrical diffusers. The foam reduced the contribution of the rear-firing speakers to the sound; I liked the sound of the BP9060s better without it, and I thought that using the diffusers rather than the absorptive panels was more true to the design intent of the speakers.
I had such a good time with the BP9060s that it's hard to know where to start in describing the sound. Sure, there's that added spaciousness of the bipolar configuration, but with a reasonable amount of focus. Perhaps most important, the sound is neutral, without significant sonic colorations, and the bass rocks.
Here's an example: "Sundancers" from the LP Scores! by the L.A. Four. This assemblage of studio veterans practically embodied the laid-back vibe of 1970s jazz, and the BP9060 portrayed their balanced, slick sound beautifully. Nothing leapt out of the mix, and the sound had a big sense of space without seeming artificial--which is the way I think it should sound, considering it was recorded live at the 1974 Concord Jazz Festival. I wouldn't look to any live concert recording as a reference for imaging; however, through the BP9060s, Bud Shank's flute struck a satisfying balance between focused stereo imaging and live ambience, and Shelly Manne's snare sounded like it was really on a stage and I was really sitting about 30 feet away.
For me, recordings made by Chesky Records are the reference standard for stereo imaging and soundstaging...and the perfect way to judge what the BP9060 was doing right and wrong. "No Flight Tonight," from the Chesky CD The Three Guitars, features guitarist Larry Coryell hard left and Brazilian musician Badi Assad combining her guitar playing with percussion done by her hands and mouth. The interesting thing about this recording is the contrast in the artists' sounds: Coryell focused in the left speaker and Assad's "organic" percussion reverberating in the church where this was recorded. I expected the BP9060s to make Coryell sound excessively spacious and reverberant, but no--the sound seemed exactly as focused as it needed to be, while Assad's percussion exhibited the exciting spaciousness it should have.
No, the BP9060s didn't image as solidly in the center as my Revel F206s did, but vocals and other center-oriented sounds were focused enough to seem realistic. On "Stepsister's Lament" from Cécile McLorin Salvant's For One to Love CD, the BP9060s couldn't achieve that gratifying pinpoint image focus that a good conventional speaker can, but it's not like Salvant's voice was unfocused or unrealistic, and the bipolar arrangement didn't seem to add any coloration to the speaker's inherently neutral sound. It didn't hurt that the bass on this track had so much weight, focus, and definition through the BP9060s.
I always put on at least one fairly crude, low-quality recording when I do a speaker review--just to see if the speaker makes a harsh recording too harsh or a muddy recording even muddier. For this review, I used legendary Memphis studio guitarist Steve Cropper's version of "Land of 1000 Dances," from his 1969 album With a Little Help From My Friends. This might be the most hard-grooving recording I've heard in my 40-plus years of collecting records and CDs. It's far from clean and well-defined, but the BP9060s made it sound better than I thought it could. I was surprised to hear how little the sound varied when I switched between the BP9060s and the Revel F206s; to me, that indicates the tonal balance of the BP9060 is spot-on. Honestly, the BP9060s sounded better on "Land of 1000 Dances" because bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn's notes sounded tighter and punchier than they did through the F206's dual passive 6.5-inch woofers.
I watched a lot of movies and TV with the BP9060s, and I was pleased to hear that the CS9060 matched the tonality of the BP9060s well, and that its reproduction of dialogue was clean and colorless. But what I loved the most with movies was the bass. I watched the second Star Wars trilogy through the system (that's movies IV through VI, from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi), and I loved the sense of punch and impact that the BP9060s lent to, for example, the speeder chase scene from Return of the Jedi.
I noted something interesting when using the Atmos modules: They seemed to have less of an effect with bipolars. I've observed before in my reviews that the benefit of Atmos-enabled speakers (the upward-firing ones that sit atop your front and rear speakers) is not that they produce a real sense of sounds coming from overhead, but that they simply make a small system sound like a big, powerful custom-installed home theater speaker system. Bipolar speakers also have that effect. Watching the best Atmos scenes from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gravity, I was surprised to hear that there seemed to be less of a difference between the Atmos and non-Atmos sound than there would be with most Atmos systems. Is that a plus or a minus? You decide.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...