Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 Reviewed

Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 Reviewed

The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf speaker is one of the more affordable offerings from the company. However, Alex Lezcano's reviews the StudioMonitor 55 and finds out the price is misleading.

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Definitive Technology is one of those brands that needs no introduction, as its reputation for designing and building high-performance, high-value loudspeakers more than precedes it. Despite Definitive's global appeal among budget-conscious consumers, this was my first exposure to the brand and, I must say, without getting too far ahead of myself, I'm not sure I've had this much fun evaluating and reviewing a loudspeaker before. In what has become the epitome of review clichés, the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf speakers, at $598 per pair, made me want to listen to my entire music collection over and over again. But does that make these speakers a good value, or right for you?

Additional Resources
• Read more bookshelf speaker reviews from Home Theater Review's writers.
• Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
• Find an AV Receiver or Amplifier to pair with the StudioMonitor 55.

Definitive Technology has revamped the StudioMonitor series with the StudioMonitor 45, 55 and 65. The StudioMonitor 55 has a nominal impedance of eight ohms and sensitivity of 90dB. Most amplifiers and AV receivers, except for flea-watt amplifiers, should drive the StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf speaker with relative ease. The StudioMonitor 55's stated frequency response is 32 Hz to 30 kHz, which means you don't really need a subwoofer, unless you must rattle windows or listen to bass-heavy music.

I love opening up new equipment, and unpacking the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55s was no different. Once the foam protection was removed, it revealed Definitive Technology's updated bookshelf in a matte black vinyl wood grain finish, which appeals to me, and will to most pet owners, for my glossy Aperion towers can become quite dirty with animal schmutz. The StudioMonitor 55 is adorned with some high gloss details that help to accentuate an otherwise stealthy look. The speaker's footprint is relatively small, so I say the StudioMonitor 55 rates really high on the wife acceptance factor. The StudioMonitor 55 is 13 inches tall by eight inches wide and a little over 12 inches deep. The StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf speaker weighs a non-backbreaking 15-and-a-half pounds, but feels far more substantial than that. The StudioMonitor 55 comes with two pairs of five-way binding posts, allowing you to bi-wire or bi-amp if you choose; personally, I am not a big believer in bi-wiring, but I found my views changed during the course of this review. The front side of the enclosure tapers and the cloth grille are met with a glossy accent on the bottom, with Definitive scrawled across it in white. The top of the StudioMonitor 55 also has a cloth grille, which covers the top-mounted, racetrack-shaped bass radiator used to increase the bass response, in lieu of a rear or front bass port to aid the speaker's low-end frequency response. The top-mounted racetrack bass radiator is ten inches long and six inches wide, covering the majority of the real estate on the top of the speaker itself.

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The StudioMonitor 55 has a specially contoured high gloss baffle around the drivers, coupled with the tapered sides of the enclosure. The gloss baffle is there to enhance the sound quality by minimizing diffraction and distortion, creating a nice bit of form and function from Definitive Technology. The StudioMonitor 55 deals with resonance by placing internal MDF cross braces inside of the speaker to help create an inert and well-dampened speaker cabinet. The StudioMonitor enclosure features Definitive Technology's latest-generation patented Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS) six-and-a-half-inch cast aluminum basket midrange driver and a one-inch pure aluminum dome tweeter. All of the speakers in the StudioMonitor Series have a driver with the Balanced Double Surround System, which means the cast aluminum basket midrange driver cone is supported by specially tuned soft rubber surrounds at both the outer and inner edges. Doubling up the surrounds allows the cone more movement with less distortion. The Balanced Double Surround System has the benefit of providing a higher output from smaller drivers. To extend and amplify bass frequencies, the Balanced Double Surround System midrange driver is pressure-coupled to the top-mounted bass radiator. By coupling the BDSS midrange driver and the top-mounted bass radiator, the two create a total bass-radiating area much greater than a ten-inch woofer - albeit with far more control, definition and speed.

The aluminum tweeter undergoes a process where the tweeter is heat-treated to relax the crystal structure and coated with a ceramic in order to create extended highs without a hint of harshness. This crossover network, which Definitive Technology claims is the heart of the speaker, maintains phase coherence, transients and dynamics by blending all the drivers effortlessly. The StudioMonitor 55's crossover network features audiophile-grade components, such as oversized inductors and Mylar capacitors to aid in linear phase and frequency response in order to help with phase coherence. The crossover network also consists of an integrated Zorbel network to help in flattening the impedance, therefore making it easier for budget amplifiers to drive the StudioMonitor 55 to loud levels without causing distortion.

Definitive Technology also has a new patent pending Linear Response Waveguide, which is supposed to smooth off-axis frequency response and help in dispersing clear sound over a wide area. This has been accomplished by improving the phase plug located at the center of the driver.

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The Hookup
The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 comes with rubber feet, so it can be placed on a shelf or stand without scuffing either your furniture or the speaker itself. The stands are sold separately, but Definitive Technology's Paul DiComo, (now former) senior vice president of Marketing and Product Development, took care of me by sending me the StudioMonitor stands, $150 per pair, to use for the review. He also recommended I put cat litter in the stands to solidify them, preferably unused ... love the sense of humor. I have space for the StudioMonitor 55s on my Standout Design cabinet, but placing them on a stand allows me to review as intended and allows the speakers to really open up. Additionally, the stands show off the StudioMonitor 55s' physical beauty. I have had many people come over and comment on how attractive they look and how great they sound. The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor stands are all metal, easy to set up and they do a good job of getting out of the way. The StudioMonitor stand is 28.5 inches tall and comes with rubber glides for hardwood floors or four carpet spikes. The StudioMonitor stand also comes with plastic wire guides to help with speaker cable management, which will aid in minimizing clutter. I usually place speakers where my Aperion 6T floor-standers go, but I prefer to follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

Definitive Technology recommends placing the StudioMonitor 55s in an equilateral triangle position relative to your seating area. Definitive Technology states that the StudioMonitor 55 is fairly flexible in its placement and I have to agree. The Definitive Technology bookshelf is extremely forgiving with regard to where it is placed. The StudioMonitor 55 and its bigger brother the StudioMonitor 65 need two inches of clearance above them if placed in an actual bookshelf, due to the top-mounted racetrack bass radiator. I did most of my listening without a subwoofer, but I did incorporate one in the latter part of my listening. I used the Bowers and Wilkins ASW608 subwoofer from my review of Bowers and Wilkins MT50 system to get an idea of whether the StudioMonitor 55 needed help in the low-frequency range. I used the subwoofer prior to bi-wiring the Definitive Technology Studio Monitor 55, which was a good marriage of brands. Definitive Technology recommends a crossover setting of 60 Hz, which worked great with no noticeable detection of the subwoofer crossing over. Ultimately, for my taste, I did not feel the Definitive Technology speaker needed a subwoofer.

I connected the 55s to my Emotiva XPA-1 monoblocks, using Emotiva X series speaker cables, forgoing bi-wiring to get a baseline and to listen for whether there was a noticeable difference once I decided to bi-wire the StudioMonitor 55. Luckily, the Emotiva XPA-1 monoblock has an extra set of binding posts for just this purpose. Unfortunately, my original 80 GB PlayStation 3 recently passed on, so I was forced into a replacement SACD and Blu-ray player, the Sony BDP S590. I used my MacBook Pro as my other source. All of my sources are run through my Emotiva UMC-1. I have my MacBook Pro connected to a USB to S/PDIF convertor, the Musical Fidelity V-Link 192, which enables me to get high-resolution music out of my MacBook Pro's USB port. I run the coaxial from the V-Link 192 into the Emotiva UMC-1 and via Decware's discontinued DAC, the ZDAC-1. I was geeked up to play some albums from HDTracks.com to test what Definitive Technology had upgraded in the StudioMonitor 55.

Performance
I opened up iTunes and started with Mariah Carey's Music Box (Columbia Records) as a way to check out how the StudioMonitor 55 handled some diva vocals. The StudioMonitor 55s really excelled in this area, showing they can reproduce accurate and natural vocal timbres. Carey's voice sounded rich and powerful. "Hero" and "Anytime You Need a Friend" were quite good on the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55s. After my initial listening, I decided I had a good enough baseline to try bi-wiring to see whether it actually made a difference. The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor has flat metal jumpers between the terminal posts that must be removed prior to bi-wiring or bi-amping. Failing to remove the metal jumpers could damage your amplifier or the StudioMonitor 55s. Definitive Technology recommends using a heavier-gauge speaker cable for the lower binding post.

Read more about the performance of the StudioMonitor 55 on Page 2.

With the subwoofer out of the equation, I set the StudioMonitor 55s at 40 Hz to have most of the information sent to them. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (Columbia) was up next and the new and improved StudioMonitor 55s magically conveyed their voices. Art Garfunkel's voice on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was captured and portrayed accurately alongside Paul Simon's piano. What great songwriting throughout the entire album. The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf loudspeaker casts a wide net of sound and it does not lack bass at all. I love two-channel music and the StudioMonitor 55 allows me to rock out appropriately.

Starting with my first 24-bit 192kHz music file, I listened to Marquise Knox's Here I Am (APO Records). Many consider Knox to be a blues guitar-playing prodigy who started very young, and it was nice to hear his guitar accompanied by his made-of-molasses voice. The StudioMonitor 55 did not disappoint and the bass radiator was ever-present without being intrusive. I really like the bass radiator idea over rear-ported types, just based on the limitations a rear-ported speaker presents when trying to place speakers. Rear ports can be tricky, for if placed too close to a wall, the bass becomes boomy, but there was no hint of boominess in the StudioMonitor 55's top-mounted racetrack radiator.

Next up, I switched to an SACD by Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia), and dove into the music. The sound of Coltrane and Adderley on saxophone was musical and on the mark. Bill Evans was tickling the piano and the timbre of the instruments sounded incredibly natural. All of a sudden, it hit me: bi-wiring has opened up the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor and my initial feelings about bi-wiring are wavering. With the Emotiva XPA-1's in control of the bi-wired StudioMonitor 55, the sound had become full-bodied and much more lush than it was via the wiring of a single terminal. I started to realize how good the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor was when I played guitar-heavy music, especially electric guitar. That said, it handled all instruments well.

The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 is just about the right fit for my living room. I can live without mating a subwoofer to the SM55 but others will want a subwoofer in the mix. If you are interested in mating a subwoofer to it, Definitive Technology offers the SuperCube 4000 and 6000 subwoofers as possibilities for pairing with the StudioMonitor 55. You can add the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 45 at $398 per pair and the CS-8040HD center channel for $499 to create a 5.1 system. The bookshelf speakers easily filled up the room. For their size, they are really transparent and they excel in the midrange. There was no smearing in the highs, no matter how hard the Emotiva XPA-1 pushed the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55. The StudioMonitor 55 excels in the midrange bass and this is where the "technology" in Definitive Technology starts to shine through. My prevailing thought was, "Damn, I'm having fun listening to my music." No matter what genre I played, the StudioMonitor 55 bookshelf speaker kept spitting out really great sound without a hint of harshness. I also listened to classical music featuring Yo-Yo Ma/New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur in Concertos from the New World (Sony), and I was in for a surprise, since the StudioMonitor 55 proved to be a great speaker for classical music. Talk about keeping up with speedy transients and providing intense ambience. The StudioMonitor 55 really does provide a three-dimensional image that produces amazing imaging and a wide, immersive soundstage for bookshelf monitors. In my home, I could not break the StudioMonitor 55.

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The Downside
If I may be a bit nitpicky, the cloth grilles that shroud the top-mounted bass radiator may look stylish, but they excel at collecting dust and debris, which in my case meant pesky little strands of pet fur. I'm not sure how to curb this issue, other than to suggest that you have a light power duster or Swiffer on permanent standby.

Although the StudioMonitor 55 is fine when placed in or on a bookshelf, I prefer the Definitive Technology speaker on stands, meaning you will incur more cost to get at the StudioMonitor 55's better sound. Thankfully, Definitive's factory stands aren't that much extra, though there are cheaper options if you're willing to shop third party.

Also, to get the best sound out of the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55, you should bi-wire the speaker, though I understand not everyone will be able to do that.

Competition and Comparison
At $598 per pair, it's going to be hard to compete fairly with the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55s, for they are not only affordable, but you gain so much performance with the new enhancements and the top-mounted bass radiator. The Decware DM945 is competitive, albeit at $995. It is rear-ported and more expensive, but built to order. Emotiva sells the XRM-6.1 monitor at $319 per pair, which is an absolute steal, though I'm not certain it outright bests the StudioMonitor 55. There is also the Aperion's Verus Grand bookshelf speaker for $699 per pair, and Wharfedale offers the Diamond 10.1 at $350 a pair, which is also a great deal, but which is ultimately right for you is going to be determined by your personal tastes and budget. I think I'm siding with the StudioMonitor 55 for now, but you are welcome to differ from my opinion.

For more on these great bookshelf speakers, as well as others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Bookshelf Speaker page.

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Conclusion
Fun! Fun! Fun! The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 55 provided the most enjoyment I have had reviewing speakers in a long time. The StudioMonitor is an absolute steal for $598 per pair. Definitive Technology StudioMonitors have been in my home for the last two months and in that time they have proven to be some of the most - ahem - definitive leaders in speaker technology. The StudioMonitor 55 is refined beyond its asking price, which in my opinion makes it an unfair fight against other similar-sized speakers. I love the StudioMonitor 55's control and top to bottom balance when bi-wired, though I found them to be nearly as engaging when not. The new racetrack-style, passive bass radiator supplies enough low-end augmentation that, in certain installations, a subwoofer isn't necessary, which adds to the StudioMonitor 55's value. I can only imagine what a set of five StudioMonitor 55s must sound like for multi-channel music and movies. As a two-channel bookshelf speaker, the StudioMonitor 55 is a hell of a bargain and one of the industry's top budget performers.

Additional Resources
Read more bookshelf speaker reviews from Home Theater Review's writers.
Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
Find an AV Receiver or Amplifier to pair with the StudioMonitor 55.

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