Definitive Technology Studio Monitor 65 review

Boomzilla -- Sun, 04/28/2013 - 15:11

 Definitive Technology Studio Monitor SM65 review  By Boomzilla  [image]    DESCRIPTION:  The “Studio Monitor” series is Definitive Technology’s premium bookshelf speaker line. The models include a 45, 55, and 65. The SM65 is the largest and most complex of the trio. Using two five and a quarter inch diameter woofers with a single aluminum dome tweeter, the drivers are arranged in a vertical “D’Appolito” configuration (tweeter centered between the two woofers). The woofers have “Mr. Potatohead” looking dust caps in their centers with “golf ball” texturing. Definitive Technology (DefTech) claims this helps with dispersion. The tweeter has a “wave guide” over it, again intended to increase dispersion.  What makes the SM65 different from most 2-way bookshelf speakers is that the top of the cabinet sports a six by twelve-inch “racetrack” passive radiator, intended to extend bass. DefTech (optimistically) claims 30 Hz response for the speaker. Actually, using the Stereophile test disc, I could still hear 31 Hertz in my room, although significantly down from the average sound pressure level (SPL).  The unit comes in black (no surprise) and sports bi-wire capability with the standard gold-plated brass jumpers between plastic knurled wire terminals. The terminals can be used with single or bi-wire cables terminated with bananas, spade lugs, pins, or bare wire tips.  The standard going rate for a pair of SM65s is about $900, stands not included. SETUP: These speakers have been the most devilishly difficult to place of any I’ve owned. One would think that since the speakers use the D’Appolito configuration, that the horizontal dispersion would be very broad with limited vertical dispersion. Maybe in theory, but in practice, the speakers are VERY sensitive to both placement-width and toe-in. If the speakers are the slightest bit too far apart, one gets clumping of instruments on both speakers with a clear center image and absolutely nothing in between. If the speakers are the slightest bit too close together, then the speakers disappear sonically, but the center image remains sans depth! I eventually found a location where the speakers would image well, but then had to experiment with toe-in until I got the soundstage that I knew the speakers were capable of. If you aren’t willing to tinker with placement and toe-in, then these aren’t the speakers for you! The speakers have also shown themselves to be highly amplifier sensitive. I first tried using a Rogue Audio Tempest Magnum vacuum tube integrated amp that uses the KT-88 output tube. The Rogue allows the user to run in either ultralinear mode (60 wpc) or in triode mode (30 wpc). The speakers sounded better in triode mode, but never sounded very good. I then switched to an Emotiva Mini-X amplifier (50 wpc, solid-state) and the speakers began to open up a bit. I finally exchanged my Mini-X for an Emotiva XPA-2, and the soundstage of the speakers not only opened up more, but the bass became significantly tighter. Obviously, the SM65s like both current and a high damping factor. I finally plugged in a Dared SL2000A vacuum tube preamp. That front-end along with the Emotiva XPA-2 have (so far) given the best results yet. BREAK IN: These puppies have taken longer to break in than any other speaker I’ve owned. The out-of-the-box bass is not very dynamic and is excessively boomy. My speakers took almost a month before the bass developed pitch and quickness. For the first month, using the speakers was like riding in a boom-box car. Fortunately, once the speakers broke in, the bass became quick, articulate, and surprisingly deep. One of the reasons I bought these speakers was because I wanted to eliminate a subwoofer from the living room. With the broken-in speakers, the bass goes low enough that I no longer feel the need for a sub, even on movie soundtracks. I’m sure that the passive radiator plays a big part in the bass extension. SOUND: The speakers’ sound depends strongly on how much effort you exert in positioning them. On axis, the speakers can be shrill. Off axis, there is a suckout in the midrange (just below the crossover maybe?). Therefore, to get the best from the speakers, one can either toe them in (but slightly) for the best compromise between on and off-axis performance, or one can use some equalization to even out the frequency response.  For those with audio-video receivers or audio-video-preamps that incorporate room EQ, these would be excellent speakers. For those (such as myself) using a “stereo only” system without room EQ, plan to spend some time dancing the speakers around your listening room. Too close to back or side walls, and the speakers become somewhat boomy. At least 18” from any adjacent boundary is the minimum that the speakers will demand in order to sound their best. My side walls are about six and twelve feet away from the right and left speakers, respectively. Side wall reflections, therefore, are not much of a problem for me. My room, however, requires me to place the speakers 18” from the wall behind them, so I’ve installed ATS pads to reduce slap echo. Vertical height also seems to make a big difference in the speakers’ sound. I initially put the speakers on my (improvised) 24” stands but this placed the tweeters somewhat below my seated ear level. I then got some 29” stands that are about the right height for me. I’m tall, however, so you’ll have to evaluate the appropriate height in your listening environment. The tweeter becomes significantly less aggressive if moved a couple of inches above or below ear level, so I may yet have to experiment with height in search of better woofer-tweeter integration. DefTech claims a sensitivity of 92 decibels at one watt at one meter for these speakers. Again, I believe that this is a bit of marketing hyperbole. Although the 30 wpc Rogue integrated would drive the speakers to reasonable levels, my “reasonable levels” are probably what you might consider to be “soft” levels. If you want to play the speakers loudly, bring watts! Since I don’t have a sound pressure level meter, I can’t say exactly what levels I listen at. Eventually, I’ll find a SPL at a yard sale & will do some measuring then. SUMMARY: These are not perfect speakers. The discontinuity between the two woofers and the single tweeter is one major defect. The pickiness of the speakers regarding placement is another major defect. Despite the speakers’ shortcomings, once properly set-up and broken-in, the speakers are capable of far better sound than one might expect. Further, you’ll never find another speaker of this size and configuration (a stand mounted “bookshelf” speaker) that will offer anything close to the DefTech’s bass quality, quantity, and extension. I don’t feel that I’ve yet found the best that the SM65s have to offer. I think that with some height adjustment, some additional break-in, and possibly some more (or less) room treatment that I can coax really exceptional performance from these speakers. If, however, you’re the type of listener who just wants to hook up the system and listen, then these may not be the speakers for you. The amount of “tweaking” required by these speakers demands effort on the part of the listener. I’ll also say that, at least with the Rogue tube amp, speaker wires made an audible difference with these speakers. Kimber 12TC made for excessive bass. Nordost Flatline made for anemic bass. Original Monster cable made for the best bass. With the Emotiva XPA-2 in the system, the speakers don’t seem to care about the wires used. I tried both single and bi-wiring; no significant difference could I hear. If you need extended bass without a subwoofer, and if you’re using an audio-video rig with room correction, then I can recommend these speakers without reservation. Otherwise, consider carefully whether you’re willing to spend the time and effort required to get the best from the SM65s. Boomzilla – April, 2013

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