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.
Read about the performance of the SoloCinema XTR soundbar on Page 2.