I still remember a Definitive Technology demo that I got at an AV trade show years ago. The room was set up to make me believe I was listening to pair of tower speakers, then a curtain was pulled back to reveal a pair of relatively puny ProCinema 1000 bookshelf speakers. Turns out, I had been listening to them all along. It was an effective bit of trickery that allowed my ears to experience the surprisingly expansive soundstage that those small speakers produced without my eyes trying to convince my brain that it wasn't possible.
Fast-forward to 2018. A new crew may be running Definitive Technology these days; but, judging from the Demand D9 bookshelf speakers ($749/pair), the company is still adept at delivering premium sound from modestly sized bookshelf speakers. The Demand Series is meant to replace Definitive's older Studio Monitor line and represents a step up in size, design, and price from the compact ProCinema and ProMonitor lines.
Sound United, which owns a handful of respected audio brands in addition to Definitive, says that its mission is to "Bring joy to the world through sound." Well, if joy is defined by a grin, then mission accomplished--because the D9s brought plenty of smiles to my face as I spent several weeks listening to them, both casually and critically.
In truth, my reaction wasn't at all surprising. The Demand Series--which is comprised of the D7, D9, and D11 bookshelf speakers--has garnered rave reviews from both consumers and press alike. In fact, the praise has been so prodigious and lavish, I was somewhat concerned that I might be disappointed in the D9s, in the same way great movies sometimes disappoint because they can't possibly live up to your friends' hype.
Another reason why the D9s could've fallen short of my expectations was that they had an incredibly difficult act to follow. My go-to loudspeakers for nearly a decade have been a pair of Definitive's Mythos ST SuperTowers. These babies have been around for a quite a while, but so has a lot of other really good stuff: Rolex watches, Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine, The Beatles' music, and James Bond movies, to name just a few. On paper, this wasn't like Pierce Brosnan supplanting Roger Moore--it was more like George Lazenby trying to replace Sean Connery. The Mythos STs are big and brawny, both physically and sonically. Weighing in at 75 pounds and standing more than four feet tall, each tower has a built-in 300-watt amplifier that powers a 6- by 10-inch active woofer, supplemented by a pair 6- by 10-inch passive bass radiators. Even most avid action movie buffs and hardcore dub music devotees will find no need for a separate subwoofer with this setup. Subwoofer? Mythos STs don't need no steenkeen subwoofer.
A look at the spec sheet suggested the D9s might ... especially for bass buffs. Measuring a mere 6.5 inches wide and about 12 inches tall and deep, the D9 relies on an active 5.25-inch round bass-midrange driver and a 5- by 9-inch oval passive radiator to deliver the lower octaves. As is the case with other compact bookshelf speakers, there's no sign of an integrated bass amplifier tucked away inside the D9's MDF cabinet.
The D9 has a big brother in the Demand Series that brings a bit more brawn to the bass battlefield. I didn't audition the D11 ($999/pair), so I can't attest to its sonic punch, but its specs suggest it should pack more bass in its cabinet, which measures 13 inches high by 7.25 wide by 12.5 deep. Its 6.5-inch bass-midrange driver and 6- by 10-inch passive radiator are larger than the D9's comparable components, and it is nominally capable of handling from 20 to 200 watts, compared with the D9's 20 to 150 watts. The D7 ($499/pair), rated at 20 to 120 watts, is the smallest sibling in the family. It derives its bass from a 4.5-inch driver and a bass port at the rear (no passive radiator) of its cabinet, which measures 9.75 inches high by 5.5 wide by 8.75 deep. Definitive provides a non-transferable five-year warranty on the drivers and cabinets and a three-year warranty on the electronic components.
All of the Demand Series loudspeakers require an eight-ohm impedance and employ the same 1-inch dome tweeter. This is the Demand Series's most distinctive feature. Instead of being centered naked in its mounting plate like a conventional tweeter, this little guy is offset laterally by five degrees and fronted by what is described as a "20/20 Wave Alignment lens." The thing looks like a cockeyed eyeball or maybe a techno-geek's version of the ancient Egyptian Eye of Horus. According to Definitive, "offsetting the tweeter by five degrees delivers a more precise center stereo image by eliminating undesirable symmetric diffraction off the corners of the front baffle." I share that for those of you possessing a Ph.D. in physics. I studied English lit, so I'm satisfied with Definitive's explanation that the setup delivers "smoother high-frequency response and improved dispersion for a rich and balanced listening experience."
We'll soon get to my assessment of how well the D9 delivers on the above claim, but first I'm obligated to share a bit about the speaker's build and how I tested it.
Aesthetically, the D9 loudspeakers look great, with styling and workmanship that is beyond reproach. Definitive proudly boasts that the gloss black cabinets are slathered with five coats of premium paint before being buffed to a near-mirror finish. It's the type of finish you'd expect to find in a Bentley automobile or on a Steinway piano and explains why a polishing cloth is included with the D9 owner's manual. The eye candy doesn't end with the glossy finish. A bead-blasted, extruded-aluminum baffle about 1.4 inches deep forms the front of each cabinet. In addition to providing a rigid platform for the driver and tweeter, this piece contributes to the impression that the D9s are high-quality components.
Further adding to that impression is what Definitive calls a "Linear Response Waveguide." This can best be described as a slotted dome that sits centered on the mid-bass driver cone and is supposed to extend on- and off-axis frequency response "while improving dispersion for more natural midrange timbre and more precise imaging." That description sounds nearly as cool as the waveguide looks. Suffice it to say that, between its snazzy driver and offset tweeter, the business end of the D9 is so eye-catching that most owners are likely to keep the speaker grilles in a drawer somewhere.
Since I lacked the matching ST1 speaker stands ($399/pair) that enable the D9s to perch at their recommended 30-inch height from the floor, I plopped them on my robust and roomy BDI entertainment center. The thing is built like the proverbial brick commode, constructed of solid wood and thick glass. And it doesn't vibrate. But it's only 24 inches high, so I slouched on my sofa when listening critically to the D9s. No kidding. Also, my BDI stand fell a few inches shy of providing the minimum six feet of speaker separation recommended by Definitive, which would theoretically have resulted in an even wider soundstage from my listening position, which fell within the recommended distance from the speakers' axis.
The D9s were connected to a Pioneer VSX-1020 integrated receiver, but not before I examined the back of their cabinets to see which speaker belonged on the left and which one belonged on the right side of the stand. The offset tweeters dictate each speaker's placement and explain why these loudspeakers are only sold in pairs. There's no need to remove the magnetically mounted grille covers to figure out which speaker goes where; a large "R" or "L" sitting just above the five-way, gold-plated binding posts on the back of each speaker tells you where they belong.
In my case, the D9 speakers flanked a Definitive Mythos 10 center-channel speaker, while a pair of Mythos Gem XLs served as the left and right rear surrounds. During testing, when I wasn't trying to assess the D9's bass, I added a 300-watt Definitive ProSub 1000 10-inch subwoofer to the mix. My only concern with the setup was that the Mythos 10 center-channel speaker might overwhelm the D9s, but a Definitive rep said that my combination of loudspeakers should be fine.
Turns out that statement wasn't quite accurate. Saying the D9s would work "fine" with my existing center and rear channels wasn't giving them enough credit. They meshed beautifully and sounded great. Frankly, I was more than a little surprised that these compact loudspeakers worked so well with the Mythos 10 center, which dwarfs them. The nearly three-foot-wide, 17-pound Mythos 10 cabinet houses a pair of 5.25-inch mid/bass drivers and pair of 5- by 8-inch passive oval radiators that can handle up to 300 watts of power--yet the D9s blended well when listening to Dolby Digital and DTS multichannel material.
The only times I could tell which speakers were active was when the sound engineer clearly wanted me to--for example, when Maximus (Russell Crow) "unleashes hell" during the opening battle scene of Gladiator. The sound of fireballs and flaming arrows whistling across the soundstage was so realistic, I could track the projectiles from launch to impact and was tempted to duck. Similarly, like the supposedly blind protagonist in House of Flying Daggers, I could close my eyes and tell exactly where each flicked and flung pebble struck in the Echo Game scene. And I could hear the bullets whizzing past me, plinking off nearby objects, tearing into the water or gruesomely landing with a thud in some nearby soldier's torso as I slogged through the water toward German defenses in Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach landing scene.
When they were supposed to, the D9s melded magnificently with the other speakers. The sheer mayhem of the Saving Private Ryan scene and the hand-to-hand combat in Gladiator were palpable, thanks in part to the D9s' ability to render realistic audio and play nicely with my other loudspeakers. However, those soundtracks were not nearly as convincing when I disconnected the ProSub 1000 subwoofer, despite the presence of the bass-friendly Mythos 10 center channel. Of course, it would be unfair to expect any bookshelf speaker the size of the D9 to deliver the kind of concussive punch that renders realism to a film's exploding fireballs or canon shells.
I'm not nearly as convinced, however, that you'll need a sub if you're primarily interested in listening to music. It would be misleading to say that the presence of a subwoofer wouldn't be noticeable or even welcome, depending on your taste and musical preferences. Still, I believe the D9s deliver enough bass that music listeners with moderately sized rooms or small apartments won't feel a pressing need for a separate sub. For the most part, the bass delivered by these little loudspeakers met my music-listening needs and even exceeded my expectations at times.
For example, I didn't expect to be as pleased as I was with the bassline of The Beatles' "Come Together/Dear Prudence/Cry Baby Cry" from the Love album. Paul McCartney's heavy bass riff sounded great: low and mellow. The same can be said for Ringo Starr's accompanying bass drums. Both were tight and well defined enough to be easily distinguished yet complementary. The bass line of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" also sounded great. No, the D9s don't deliver the kind of sonic punch that can be felt in your solar plexus, but bass deprivation shouldn't be an issue for the majority of music listeners who opt for a pair of these bookshelf speakers.
What many buyers also may find is that the D9s sound sweet and pleasant. A former colleague described them as sounding "like a warm hug." I can't explain it or say it better than that, so I won't try. The D9s are so pleasant sounding, in fact, that they made the music I liked more appealing, and the stuff I disliked marginally tolerable. For example, they made Ice T's horribly grating "Step Your Game Up" listenable, and the D9s reproduced the artist's voice so accurately that I could picture the sneer on his face. I could also envision Brian Johnson's veins bulging as I listened to AC/DC, which usually makes me feel like I'm chewing on aspirin. But the D9s enabled me to tolerate his screeching vocals for the entire five minutes of "Thunderstruck" without having an uncontrollable urge to poke pencils in my eardrums.
I subjected myself to those tortuous pieces of alleged music to see if there was anything that would make the D9s sound unappealing. There might be, but I didn't encounter it. When I listened to material I actually enjoy, the D9's transparency, imaging, and accuracy made that music sound great. Definitive's bookshelf loudspeakers melted away to the acapella opening of Jette Torp's rendition of Eleanor McEvoy's "Only a Woman's Heart." From the first note, Jette's vocals were immediately haunting and mesmerizing, casting a spell that was broken only by the strings that join in after about 20 seconds. The D9's soundstage made it seem as if Jette was front-and-center while her accompaniment was somewhere beyond the walls of my room.
With "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Love album, not only could I hear each instrument, but I could hear each string of each instrument.
In a similar way, the D9s' imaging enabled me to isolate Freddie Mercury's vocals, John Deacon's electric bass, and of course Roger Taylor' drums and Brian May's lead guitar and ukulele throughout Queen's still remarkable A Night At the Opera album. Hmmm--I wonder why I can't pick out the synthesizer?
As noted above, I was pleasantly surprised by the D9's bass performance with music, but there's only so much bass you can get from speakers this size. If you're planning to use the D9s in a home theater surround system, you probably should also plan to spend some money on a dedicated subwoofer.
Another D9 drawback stems from one of its attributes. The same offset tweeters that help give Definitive's bookshelf loudspeaker such great imaging also make it effectively unusable as a center channel, even if you were able to purchase a single unit ... and the Demand Series does not include its own matching center channel for home theater use.
Finally, the passive radiator at the top of the D9 cabinet means you won't be able to crown it with a height speaker module to get next-gen, immersive Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio (although you can, of course, add ceiling speakers to achieve that goal).
Comparison and Competition
The D9's $749/pair list price may be a bit higher than other loudspeakers to which I've seen it compared, such as KEF's Q150, ELAC's Uni-fi UB5, and Pioneer's Elite SP-EBS73-LR--but the D9 is in a class of its own when it comes to workmanship and presentation.
Definitive's D9 is a premium bookshelf loudspeaker with superb clarity and imaging, an expansive soundstage, and a deliciously pleasing sound. Although I tested them in a fairly large, 24- by 18-foot room with hardwood floors and was pleased with their bass when listening to music, the movies I watched could have used a bit more punch. You may not feel that way if you use the D9s in a smaller space or your taste in films leans more toward romance and comedies than my penchant for action flicks. Add a small, affordable subwoofer such as Definitive's ProSub 800, and you'll have a compact speaker system that will sound as good as it looks.
• Visit the Definitive website for more product information.
• Check out our Bookshelf Speaker Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• Definitive Debuts New Demand Series Bookshelf Speaker Line at HomeTheaterReview.com.