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...
Here are the measurements for the BP9060 speaker (click on each chart to view it in a larger window).
Frequency response (main section)
On-axis: ±2.3 dB from 31 Hz to 10 kHz, ±3.5 dB to 20 kHz
Average 30° horiz: ±1.8 dB from 31 Hz to 20 kHz
Average 15° vert/horiz: ±2.9 dB from 31 Hz to 20 kHz
Main section: min. 3.8 ohms/360 Hz/-6.4, nominal 8 ohms
Atmos section: min. 4.3 ohms/280 Hz/-6.5, nominal 8 ohms
Sensitivity (2.83 volts/1 meter, anechoic)
Main section: 88.2 dB
Atmos section: 90.2 dB
The first chart shows the frequency response of the BP9060 from the front. The second shows the effect of the bass control. The third shows the impedance. For frequency response, four measurements are shown: the BP9060 at 0° on-axis (blue trace); an average of responses at 0, ±10, ±20° and ±30° off-axis horizontal (green trace); an average of responses at 0, ±15° horizontally and ±15° vertically (red trace); and the on-axis response of the A90 Atmos-enabled module. With the BP9060, I consider the 0° on-axis and horizontal 0°-30° curves to be the most important. Ideally, the former should be more or less flat, and the latter should look the same but should tilt down slightly as the frequency increases. (I haven't measured enough Atmos-enabled speakers to be confident in proclaiming certain measured characteristics superior to others, but I'm learning.)
It's very tough to do measurements of speakers with powered bass sections, especially speakers that don't have removable grilles, and double-especially when they have rear-firing drivers whose sound does "wrap around" the speaker, and whose contribution can't be fully included in quasi-anechoic measurements. That said, I mostly liked what I saw in the BP9060's curves. Other than a roughly +3dB peak centered at 1.5 kHz, I see nothing in the frequency response measurements that looks like it might be audible as a coloration. What about the rising treble above 10 kHz in the on-axis response? I suspect it might not be all that audible, if at all audible, due to the bipolar design. This speaker is spraying out so much sound and delivers such an even spread of sound in all directions that I think the horizontal listening window curve (the red one in the chart) is probably more relevant, and except for that peak at 1.5 kHz, it's essentially flat.
As you can see in the measurements of the bass control, its adjustment range is very wide. Relative to the measurement with the control set at the 12 o'clock position, I measured maximum boost of +12.7 dB and maximum cut of -21.4 dB. That's a total range of 33.1 dB; saying that's enough to optimize the sound for any conceivable room or personal taste is an understatement. Incidentally, while the control does not affect frequencies above 200 Hz, it does have a significant effect on frequencies between 100 and 200 Hz. At 130 Hz, for example, it boosts by a max of +2.6 dB and cuts by a max of -11.1 dB.
Measurements of the A90 Atmos-enabled module were interesting when I compared them with the ones I took of the NHT MS Tower, which uses a single, three-inch driver for Atmos. The A90's response is admirably flat up to the notch at 3.7 kHz, which the manufacturer says is an unavoidable result of the frame and grille around the drivers. What's interesting (but not unexpected) is that the MS Tower's three-inch driver is more directional--which should create a tighter beam and thus a more convincing illusion of overhead speakers--than the A90's 4.5-inch woofer and one-inch tweeter, although the A90 has been approved by Dolby and performs similarly to other two-way Atmos-enabled speakers I've measured. The maximum reduction in high-frequency response at 30 degrees off axis (which correlates with directionality) of the A90 is -5.4 dB. The MS Tower's response at 30 degrees off axis is down -7.8 dB at 10 kHz and -17.7 dB at 20 kHz.
Sensitivity of the BP9060 is slightly above average at 88.2 dB (measured at one meter with a 2.83-volt signal, averaged from 300 Hz to 3 kHz), which means the BP9060 can hit 100 dB with about 16 watts. But that doesn't take into account the sound reflecting off the wall from the rear-firing drivers, which would give you a couple dB of additional effective sensitivity. And there's also the fact that whatever amp you use won't have to reproduce bass. Even though the minimum impedance is 3.8 ohms, the average is about eight ohms. Basically any amp can drive these speakers.
Because the BP9060 has a powered bass section (essentially a built-in subwoofer), I decided to measure its CEA-2010 bass output. The numbers given are for one speaker; you should get +3 to +6 dB more output from a pair of BP9060s. The numbers are good in the second bass octave; a single BP9060 has just -1.4 dB less average output from 40 to 63 Hz than the Rogersound SW10S, probably the best 10-inch subwoofer I've measured to date. And of course, two BP9060s would outpace a single SW10S. Output of the BP9060 remains strong down to 31.5 Hz, but it starts to take a dive below that, and the speaker didn't deliver measurable output at 20 Hz. The frequency response measurements bear this out.
Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency responses using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone, and the speaker driven with an Outlaw Model 2200 amplifier. I used quasi-anechoic technique to remove the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. The speaker was placed atop a 36-inch (90cm) stand. The mic was placed at a distance of two meters at tweeter height, and a pile of denim insulation was placed on the ground between the speaker and the mic to help absorb ground reflections and improve accuracy of the measurement at low frequencies. I measured the rear speaker array in the same manner. Bass response was measured using ground plane technique, with the microphone placed on the ground two meters from the speaker, and I spliced this result to the quasi-anechoic results at 203 Hz. For the measurement of the Atmos section, I suspended the microphone at a distance of one meter from the driver, directly on axis. Results were smoothed to 1/12th octave. Because the grille is integral to the design of the speaker, I made no attempt to remove it for these measurements. Post-processing was done using LinearX LMS analyzer software.
I did CEA-2010A measurements using an Earthworks M30 microphone and M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface with the CEA-2010 measurement software running on the Wavemetric Igor Pro scientific software package. I stood the speaker straight up, pointing forward toward the mic, with the bass level set to maximum. I took these measurements at two meters peak output. The two sets of measurements I have presented here--CEA-2010A and traditional method--are functionally identical, but the traditional measurement employed by most audio websites and many manufacturers reports results at two-meter RMS equivalent, which is -9 dB lower than CEA-2010A. An L next to the result indicates that the output was dictated by the subwoofer's internal circuitry (i.e., limiter), and not by exceeding the CEA-2010A distortion thresholds. Averages are calculated in pascals. Because I couldn't get a measurement at 20 Hz, I subtracted -18 dB from the 25 Hz result to get the 20 Hz result for calculating the 20-31.5 Hz average. (See this article for more information about CEA-2010.)
The BP9060s have only two real downsides, and one is intentional: the spaciousness of the bipolar sound sacrifices some of the image focus. It's hard to call that a downside, though, because if you want ultra-focused imaging, why would you buy bipolar speakers?
I could find only a couple of tunes where I preferred a more conventional, focused sound. One is the English Beat's "Hands Off She's Mine." In this tune, the BP9060s sounded too amorphous, almost like the six-piece band was playing through a large array of speakers rather than just two. With the Revels, the band's sound congealed better and kicked a lot harder.
The other downside is that the subwoofer section in the BP9060 doesn't produce significant output in the lowest regions of the bass, below 30 Hz. When I played the excerpt of the Saint-Saëns "Organ Symphony" from Boston Audio Society Test CD-1, which features tones down to 16 Hz, the BP9060s' bass didn't distort, but it didn't shake the floor or flap my pant legs. The deep sounds of the submarine engine in the "Face to Face" chapter of U-571 were also muted. Content below 30 Hz is rare in movie soundtracks and even rarer in music, but some home theater aficionados (me included) value the ability of a speaker system to reproduce 20-Hz tones cleanly and powerfully.
Comparison and Competition
If you think of the BP9060 as a $1,099-each tower speaker, it has lots of competition, including the $999-each SVS Ultra Tower, the $999-each GoldenEar Triton Five, and the $1,249-each GoldenEar Triton Three+. Those are just three speakers that I think someone might consider as competitors to the BP9060. There are lots of other great speakers in the $2,000/pair range, including models from PSB, Monitor Audio, Paradigm, and too many others to name. Whether you prefer one of those to the BP9060 is your call; any of the bunch will probably make you very happy.
It's when you consider the powered bass section that the BP9060 starts to look like a fantastic bargain. For example, the GoldenEar Triton Three+ has a powered bass section, but it's $150 more per speaker and uses a 5x9 oval driver versus the BP9060's 10-inch round driver, which has 98 percent more surface area.
Then you get into the world of Atmos, which is a much smaller world. Adding the A90 modules brings the total price of each BP9060 to $1,349. So possible competitors include Klipsch's $1,200-each RP-280FA, which I reviewed awhile back, and the $1,099-each PSB Imagine T tower paired with the $499/pair PSB Imagine T Atmos modules. Of course, any tower speaker can be used in an Atmos system if you add in-ceiling speakers.
When you get right down to it, it's the BP9060's very capable powered bass section that makes it tough for competitors to beat.
I loved every minute of the month or so that I used this system (well, at least every minute that I was using the system). The BP9060s' big bipolar sound is so enjoyable to listen to, and the overall tonality is fundamentally neutral; so, unless you just absolutely demand pinpoint-focus stereo imaging, I predict that you'll love listening to this speaker day in and day out. When you combine this overall great sound with the graceful integration of the Atmos modules and the powerful, easy-to-tune active bass section, you get one of the most safely recommendable speakers I've had the pleasure of reviewing.
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