Fresh off my review of Definitive Technology's Studio Monitor 55s, I was more than willing to embark on another adventure with their new fully-powered 5.1 soundbar, the SoloCinema XTR. I have to admit to being a bit of a skeptic when it comes to achieving surround sound from a soundbar. At best, two-channel is as good as you will achieve from most of today's bars. But this ain't your daddy's soundbar.
The Definitive Technology SoloCinema XTR is a fully-powered 5.1 soundbar with a wireless subwoofer, and the buy-in is not cheap at $1,999. Most consumers will pass on such an expensive bar, considering all of the soundbar options available and at a far cheaper cost. I was on a mission to find out if the SoloCinema XTR 5.1 surround soundbar really is able to produce surround sound. With many bars that make this claim, the sound never gets past the ear. I have a hard time believing this claim, as I have not experienced a soundbar that can provide surround effects when the sound is coming from one main direction.
The SoloCinema XTR showed up in a huge box, which was more for protection than due to the bar's size. I appreciated Definitive's packaging of the accessories in pretty black boxes, which made the whole unearthing experience really cool and fun. The XTR soundbar is sleek, long and shallow, making it a perfect marriage for today's current flat-panel televisions. The SoloCinema bar has a curved back with ribbing on top. Definitive Technology's XTR comes with wall-mounting hardware and two different types of shelf or bookshelf mounts. Unfortunately, I was not able to test out the sound via wall-mounting, because my television is on a stand. Definitive Technology includes a small, plastic remote control, which I will discuss in more detail later.
The reported frequency response is 30 Hz to 30 kHz, which is a solid frequency range. The bar is 43 inches long and not very deep at 2.38 inches. Definitive Technology calls it "ultra-slim," and I agree. Even if you choose to wall-mount the SoloCinema bar, it is still 2.75 inches deep, and the bar weighs in at less than 12 pounds. Once I unpacked everything, I added the shelf mounts to the XTR and the rubber feet to the wireless subwoofer. The XTR sound bar, with feet, is about 6.75 inches tall. Luckily, it sits without obstructing my view, but it does block my plasmas IR receiver. This can be remedied with the IR Repeater option provided in the soundbar's onscreen menu. The repeater retransmits the signal from any remote to the television's IR receivers if the SoloCinema bar blocks the receiver, another well-thought-out design by Definitive Technology.
The XTR subwoofer is not the traditional shape and size (usually a cube). It has a rectangular shape, measuring almost 20 inches wide, 13.31 inches tall and 6.5 inches deep - quite shallow for a subwoofer. Definitive Technology really wants to provide consumers with aesthetically appealing audio equipment that performs well and matches your flat screen's looks. The XTR wireless subwoofer is acoustically sealed and aircraft-grade extruded aluminum is used for the soundbar enclosure, which creates a stiff and resonance-free enclosure. Taking the soundbar out of the box was easy, because the bar weighs 11.5 pounds and the wireless subwoofer weighs a hair over 19 pounds. Talk about light, compact, sleek and ultra-slim: this soundbar hits all the right notes aesthetically.
Drivers in the SoloCinema consist of three one-inch pure aluminum dome tweeters. The crucial technology for the XTR soundbar is Definitive's patent-pending XTDD aluminum dome driver technology. The mid and low end is comprised of six 3.5-inch XTDD anodized aluminum dome drivers. Definitive Technology has given each driver a 25-watt Class D amplifier, except for the center channel's XTDD drivers, which share one amplifier. Providing individual amplification for each driver removed the need for passive crossover networks. The bar is powered by 200 watts of amplification, and the addition of a 250-watt wireless subwoofer makes the SoloCinema XTR 5.1 sound much more powerful than any soundbar system I have heard. The black cloth grille is magnetically attached. The soundbar has major wife acceptance factor ... I am talking major. Very few wires are needed, it takes up very little space, and it packs a punch for a bar. These are all good things, but I prefer separate speakers - I know, I am biased. I feel it is difficult for soundbars to envelop you. Some of the soundbars do a decent job, but most do not come close to replicating surround sound.
There are a few things that Definitive Technology does to help in creating surround sound, basically playing tricks on our brains and how we process sound. In order for the SoloCinema soundbar to attain surround sound without rear speakers, it has to fool our listening mechanisms and how our brains and ears perceive sound. The company is able to do this with its proprietary Spatial Array technology for crosstalk cancellation. The other method used to hoodwink us into thinking there are speakers behind us is called HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function), which is where SRS Labs' TruSurround HD4 comes into play. Definitive Technology has patented their Spatial Array Technology and combined it with SRS TruSurround HD4 to help create a three-dimensional experience and extend the listening experience past the ears, replicating surround sound like no soundbar I have heard.
The SoloCinema XTR is one of few soundbars capable of supporting lossless surround-sound file playback, because its three HDMI inputs support the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats. Basically, you should hear the movie or music as intended by the artist. The wireless subwoofer has an eight-inch driver in a sealed enclosure and functions in the 2.4GHz frequency with a range of 45 feet, giving you a ton of freedom for subwoofer locations. I would say the wireless connection is impervious to dropouts, for I never experienced one throughout the entire review. There are three rubber feet to screw into the back of the subwoofer, allowing you to change the orientation. This is a cool feature because you can place it on its back and under a chair or table to get it out of the way.
Definitive's SoloCinema XTR provides full audio and video switching, which is not common amongst all soundbars. Connections include three HDMI, one optical and one analog input. There actually four total inputs, because the optical and analog share the fourth input, so whether you are plugging in a Toslink digital cable or RCA, the XTR system auto-detects the signal being used. There is a USB port for future firmware updates. The XTR eliminates the need for a processor or receiver. Also, the XTR keeps cable, components and clutter to a minimum, which makes the wife happy.
The SoloCinema soundbar comes with multiple placement options, but I placed the XTR on my plasma stand in front of the television, right at ear level. Getting the XTR bar in a prime position is far easier to do than properly positioning five individual speakers or satellites ... it's kinda nice to set it and forget it. For some of us in the hobby, tinkering with placement and the multitude of audiophile things to consider is what being an audiophile is all about, but sometimes it is nice to just plug and play. You pull the SoloCinema XTR soundbar and subwoofer out of the box, plug them in, connect a few sources, and you are ready to go. I moved the subwoofer around the room per Definitive Technology's instructions to get the best bass response in my room, and I settled on the left side of the soundbar, with the two pieces almost parallel to each other. That location worked best for the subwoofer in my room, and I also kept the subwoofer upright rather than on its back. You don't have to do anything for the subwoofer and bar to recognize each other, since they are paired at the factory. Should the bar and subwoofer not recognize each other, there are instructions on how to reconnect them. Hooking up the SoloCinema XTR was easily one of the quickest and most seamless setups I have experienced.
My sources (DirecTV, a Sony Blu-ray player, and an XBox 360) were connected via HDMI, while initially my MacBook Pro was connected via Toslink. When hooking up my MacBook Pro, I had two options: use the Toslink input or use HDMI in order to use my plasma for my laptop screen. I tried both and preferred HDMI for my music playback. I was able to get up to 24/96 playback from my MacBook Pro, and I was stunned at the size of the soundstage. I do wish there were more HDMI input options to maximize the audio equipment I currently have and to maximize Definitive's engineering and technology used in the SoloCinema XTR.
The SoloCinema XRT Ergonomic remote control matches the bar and subwoofer in its sleek black nature. The remote control has a tacky back for comfort and grip, hence the Ergonomic title. There are tactile rocker buttons to help with selection at night when the lights may be off. The remote has all the buttons you need: mute, source selection, center channel volume, overall volume, bass, menu, movie mode and music mode. The Movie and Music modes use Surround Sound Audio Immersion (SSA), based on a 21-position scale from -10 to +10. The Movie mode, which is preset from the factory to +10, enhances the surround sound experience and definitely brings the bass to the forefront. The Music mode, preset to zero, focuses on the vocals more than anything and is less bass-heavy. I chose to leave the Movie setting alone after I played around with the scale, but I moved the Music mode to -7, which I really felt was the right balance of sound for my ears and room.
The remote is made from extremely light plastic - it pales in comparison to my Emotiva UMC-1 remote, and you want to be sure not to sit on it at night or you might break it. (If you have any problems with the remote, there are touch buttons on the front of the SoloCinema XTR soundbar.) I like the size, weight and feel of the remote control, but I noticed right away that you need to point it right at the bar for it to register. If the remote was off to the left or right, I would not get a response, which was a hassle when something loud came on and I needed to mute or lower the volume right away. The SoloCinema XTR does have Dolby Volume, which helps keep commercials from being annoyingly louder than what you were just watching.
The video switching was an easy task for the SoloCinema soundbar, and going from source to source took about five seconds. The video itself looked good and as intended. In my room, I never came close to breaking or exceeding the limits of the SoloCinema XTR soundbar or subwoofer, for both pieces of the puzzle were more than up to the task. What I heard from the bar was expansive, and the layering of the instruments was accurate and three-dimensional. I am amazed at how well the soundbar images and presents audio in an encompassing manner.
I started off with the Blu-ray disc of The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony). This movie allowed the XTR bar and wireless subwoofer to show off. Talk about putting the bar through some drills. The movie is full of action scenes and sequences fraught with explosions, gunfire, sirens and much more. The XTR wireless subwoofer was up for the challenge; it was fast and kept up great in the action scenes, not bad for a non-traditionally-shaped subwoofer. For my medium-sized room. there was plenty of hard-hitting bass. Spider Man's webbing shot out in a very clear and accurate way.
After I fed my superhero craving, I thought to watch The Shining (Warner Bros.) with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. "Redrum, redrum, redrum." (Sorry, I could not resist.) This 1980 movie, based on Stephen King's novel and directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Kubrick & Diane Johnson, is creepy and heart-pounding. I love to watch stuff like this late at night to add to the freak-out value. It works, trust me. The Shining is a movie with bass that permeates the soundtrack throughout the intense scenes, and the SoloCinema XTR 5.1 did not fail at conveying the intensity and full-bodied bass, which felt a lot like my heartbeat. I swear Stanley Kubrick did that on purpose.
The SoloCinema soundbar proved adept at handling home theater duties, so I went for the jugular by listening to music, switching sources to my MacBook. First up for the XTR and wireless subwoofer was U2's Best of 1980-1990 (Island) and the first track "With or Without You," followed by "All I Want Is You." I played this in remembrance of a friend I just lost, so my emotions were running high, yet the bar had me singing out loud. Bono's voice was syrupy and dynamic through Definitive Technology's sweet bar of sound. The SoloCinema XTR is no slouch in the music department. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying and appreciating the music I was playing through Definitive's soundbar.
I still had a wee bit of rebel left in me, so I beckoned on Jack White and his White Stripes. Listening through the SoloCinema, White's guitar was superb for a soundbar, especially one so thin. The bass during "Seven Nation Army" was so intensely full-bodied and impactful, I had to play it again just to be sure I was not getting ahead of myself. Once I got that out of my system, Sade called to me, and what a great way to see how female vocals fare on the SoloCinema XTR soundbar. I played "Smooth Operator" from Sade's Greatest Hits (Epic Records). I love Sade and her sultry, melodious voice, and I hoped this would not be lost on a soundbar. Thankfully, the bar did not let me down; it really did Sade's voice justice.
The last home theater element I tried was playing a game on my Xbox 360 to see how well the surround sound experience could be replicated. I played BioShock 2 (2K Games). Due to its first-person nature, you need to hear the direction of enemies and/or clues. I have to say the XTR 5.1 fared better than expected with rear sound placement. Overall, the subwoofer kept pace with game's frantic pace.
One of the downsides I encountered was running out of HDMI inputs, because my Blu-ray player and Xbox 360 had to fight for turns - although, admittedly, many active soundbars don't have HDMI inputs at all, so Definitive is still a step ahead in this respect. I find the lack of crossover options and fine-tuning a bit maddening for someone who prefers to have choices and options in my sound, but the SoloCinema still does a great job considering the constraints. More importantly, isn't simplicity exactly what Definitive Technology is going for in this soundbar and wireless subwoofer combo?
Competition and Comparison
Definitive Technology decided to draw a line in the sand with the SoloCinema XTR 5.1 and take the active soundbar genre to another level. For $1,999, Definitive isn't marketing to everyone, but the company is selling ease of use, aesthetics and, best of all, its famous performance, so the XTR had better hit its mark. MartinLogan's Motion Vision Soundbar is another favorably reviewed soundbar and retails for $1,499. The MartinLogan does not come with a subwoofer, but has a wireless subwoofer feature, as well as hardwired subwoofer connectivity. The SoloCinema XTR soundbar and wireless subwoofer are married to each other, so there can be no other partners. The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama is another solid competitor, as is Yamaha's long-standing YSP Series of soundbars.
Lucky me, I was able to put the SoloCinema XTR through its paces and see if the XTR could make a believer out of a skeptic. Well, it did not take long for me to become a believer in Definitive Technology's 5.1 channel surround soundbar. At $1,999, not everyone will be able to afford this soundbar, but those who are will be thrilled to have Definitive Technology's SoloCinema XTR in their homes. It's one hell of a game changer in the simplified soundbar world. If you do not want the hassle of purchasing an A/V receiver or processor with five speakers, a subwoofer and tons of cables, I strongly suggest you go this route. For great sound and ease of use, the SoloCinema XTR is hard to beat.