In a time-saving gesture, the folks at Definitive broke in the XTR-50s before sending them my way for review. I began my first listening session with a familiar multi-channel DTS 96/24 track, Blue Man Group's "Sing Along" featuring Dave Matthews (DTS Entertainment). If you've heard this track, you know that it's a great test of a speaker's mettle when played as it should be - loud. The song features a combination of homemade instruments, ranging from PVC pipe to strange whips made out of flexible boat antenna that the Blue Men refer to as Airpoles. If you haven't heard it and you have a decent system, I suggest you download it in the highest resolution possible. Anyway, I was pretty astounded with the sound these incredibly thin speakers were able to produce. I've listened to this track on floorstanders, in-walls, on-walls, bookshelf speakers - you name it. Amazingly, the XTR-50s displayed remarkable coherence and dynamic range equal to that of floorstanding speakers versus on-walls. As I turned up the volume, I kept expecting the speakers to roll off, but it never happened. Time and time again, using different source material, the XTR-50s never failed to surprise me. This is due, at least in part, to the polyimide material (also used to manufacture space suits) Definitive uses in the XTR voice coil. Definitive has a reputation for going above and beyond with their research and development and the result is a speaker that defies logic.
Continuing the multi-channel music trend, I cued up the DVD-Audio of Steely Dan's Two Against Nature in DTS 5.1 (Image Entertainment). Those who know Steely know that their records and CD's are very well recorded, thus perfect fodder for testing gear. On the track "Jack of Speed," the vocals were open, airy and the imaging was simply stunning. The background vocals also stood out and were highly articulate. Closing my eyes, always recommended for critical listening, gave the sense of being in the recording studio with the artists. The horns were bright and engaging, without sounding the least bit etched. I'm familiar with this track and have listened to it on 5.1 speaker systems costing twice what this system costs and the Mythos speakers truly held their own. I ended up listening to this DVD a couple of times and really had a good time doing it.
Next up, some lossy two-channel music in the form several MP3s played through my Mac using iTunes. I was expecting a bit of a letdown, given the drop in resolution from DVD-Audio and DTS recordings. While the MP3 tracks were certainly less detailed, it wasn't a deal breaker and gave me an idea of the versatility of the XTRs. Specifically, Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" from The Essential Billy Joel (Sony BMG) sounded alive and the piano had some nice pop to it. Billy's voice was well rendered through the front left and right XTRs and the bass was just right without having to make any adjustments.
In most homes these days you're not going to find one system for music and one for movies, thus speaker systems and source components need to be equally adept at playing both. The XTR-50s had passed my initial music tests, so I moved on to movies and went straight for the big daddy - Avatar on Blu-ray (20th Century Fox). Having seen it on a massive screen in 3D, I was a bit concerned about a letdown watching it at home. Well, worry not as it's just as much fun without the 3D if you have a decent system. In chapter seven "First Sortie," the sound of the blades on the futuristic helo flying over the waterfall was immersive. The transition from left to right and then to the rear speakers as the helo moves across the screen was as smooth as silk. Once Jake and Grace hit the jungle of Pandora, the sounds of the various birds and critters creeping about the jungle was brilliantly rendered through the Gem surrounds. Dialogue from the XTR center channel was beautifully delivered and highly articulate. There's nothing more annoying in a home theater rig than a muddy center channel, as it will quickly ruin a movie watching experience; no such problem here.
These speakers exhibit great channel separation, which is critical for on wall speakers which are typically positioned fairly close to one another. In chapter 10 "Viperwolves," as the creatures encircle Jake, the XTR's conveyed the sort of hyper-realism you want with this type of film. The XTR's convincingly captured the shrill sounds of their barking, and the low frequency sound of Jake swinging his flaming torch was palpable through the SuperCube II sub. It was difficult to take notes on speaker performance as I kept getting lost in the film; obviously a sign that the speakers were doing a commendable job. Avatar is an audio assault, virtually from start to finish and I couldn't have been more impressed with the resolution, coherence and dynamic range of the XTR-50s.
Keeping with the action theme, I fired up The Hurt Locker (Summit Entertainment). The opening scene starts with a bang, literally, and it absolutely rocked my listening room. The audio in this film really pounds all 5.1 channels and I couldn't have been more impressed with the way the speakers meshed with one another (all speakers in the Mythos line are voice-matched). The transition from a loud and chaotic downtown, to three soldiers quietly strategizing was well rendered and didn't necessitate a frustrating center channel level increase. The SuperCube II sub and Mythos Gems were the stars in this scene, producing the necessary low level bass and rear-channel detail to provide a truly visceral experience. I thought I might miss my floorstanding speakers with a war film, but that wasn't the case.
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Read reviews of other Definitive Technology speakers including: the Mythos Two On-Wall Speakers, the Mythos Ten On-Wall L/C/R Loudspeaker, the ProSub 1000 Powered Subwoofer, and the floorstanding BP7006 Loudspeakers.� To learn more about Definitive Technology as a company, click here.
My experience with the Mythos line is that they tend to sound better at higher volume. This is not to say that they lack resolution at lower listening levels, just that I find them to be more open and engaging at higher volume. If you do most of your listening at lower levels, you might be better served with some floorstanding speakers assuming that they fit into your d�cor.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, the proprietary speaker wire connector doesn't allow much flexibility, so get ready to swap your audiophile-grade speaker cable for something that will fit in the smallish holes on the connector. It's certainly no deal-breaker, just something worth mentioning. On another note, the manual is a scant four pages and although it does cover connecting and mounting the speakers, as well as a brief mention of receiver/speaker setup, if you want to learn about the technology behind the speakers, you'll need to visit their web site. Not a major deal in today's Internet age, but sometimes when unpacking some fresh new gear, it's nice to peruse the manual for tidbits on the technology before firing it up. Maybe that's just my inner-geek speaking out?
It's worth noting that I have a rather large listening room at just under 400 square feet, I'm not trying to incite jealousy here, just making the point that the XTR-50s are more than capable, given proper amplification, of covering larger rooms. If you're trying to decide between on-wall or in-wall, keep in mind the fact that in-wall speaker installation is best left to a professional, while just about anyone can install a set of XTR-50s.
While this isn't a subwoofer review, it's worth noting that the SuperCube II is a highly capable performer that blended seamlessly with the XTR's and Gems. I've been a bit disappointed with the boomy bass exhibited by a few of the subs that have made their way into my system lately, not so much here as the SuperCube II displayed taut, well defined bass. This sub is a serious bargain at $899 and if you're considering the Mythos line for your home theater, don't overlook Definitive's line of subwoofers. Just be sure to take the proper amount of care with regard to placement, crossover and volume level - it will provide a much more fulfilling listening experience.
Do you lose some punch when moving from floorstanders to on-wall speakers as I did for this review? Sure. Although in this case, the drop off was not precipitous and well worth the space it created on the floor and conversation-piece styling it created on my wall. The common reaction when showing off the XTR-50s was "Wow," followed closely by a "Who makes those and how do they sound?" Apologies if I sound overly effusive in my praise of the XTR-50s, it's simply a by-product of being truly taken aback by their performance, especially given their size. It's nice to see that Definitive didn't overemphasize aesthetics at the expense of performance. Rather, they pushed the envelope with their engineering team for years and it paid off in spades. Consider this system if you want bleeding edge design, audiophile-grade performance and a solid price to performance ratio. As should be obvious by now, I was thoroughly impressed with the XTR-50s and recommend them highly.
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