But in a big picture sense, what the BP-8040ST does better than it has any right to for its size or price is to produce huge, wraparound surround soundstages without—and this is the hard part—losing imaging specificity or focus. I really think Definitive is on to something good with its asymmetrical bipolar arrays, as this system (as compared to the last Definitive bipolar speakers I reviewed some years back) offers stable, well focused images while at the same time creating the illusion of superb stage width and depth. As a result, your ears are never drawn the super towers themselves, but rather are drawn to the three-dimensional wall of sound unfolding across and behind the front wall of your listening space. This big, seamless “wall of sound” is really one of the main reasons people buy bipolar speakers for in the first place, but with the new BP design the sheer size and scope of the stage is complemented by levels of imaging precision the earlier BP models could not match.
To give the BP-8040ST system a dynamic workout, I played the “Games” chapter of the Blu-ray version of Tron Legacy. The BP-8040ST’s did a very nice job with the throbbing synth bass passages heard in the beginning of the scene as white-clad female “programs” dress young Sam Flynn to prepare to do battle with other “programs” in the games on the grids. But as one of the robot-like programs observes while preparing Flynn’s armor, “he is different” (because, of course, Flynn is not a program at all but rather a human “user”). Yet on that particular bit of dialog, and also in the general sound effects that accompany the scene as the programs dress Flynn, astute observers will notice that the Definitive system’s upper midrange/treble detailing is not quite as focused as one might wish.
For example, the sound of the program’s voice saying “he is different” should sound unmistakably phase-shifted, a fact that is not at first as clear as it might be through the Definitive rig owing to the system’s slightly subdued-sounding highs. Similarly, as the four white-clad programs approach Sam Flynn, the click of their footsteps should plainly echo and reverberate through the dressing room, emphasizing Sam’s isolation and aloneness. But while those echoes are audible through the Definitive system, they are not as distinct as they could be, and in some systems would be. The good news, however, is the once the games begin, the sheer dynamic swagger and spatial presentation of the BP-8040ST comes to the foreground, making it easy for the viewer/listener to suspend disbelief and to buy into the otherworldly techno-environment of the Grid, which is the setting for almost all of the action in the film.
I also turned to one of my favorite (and most demanding) surround sound test films; namely, the academy award-winning picture, The Hurt Locker. The movie allows the full spectrum of the BP-8040ST’s to shine, but also exposes those areas where the speaker system’s performance could be even stronger. In the film’s opening chapter, for example, where we see an attempted bomb disposal mission go horribly wrong, the spatial characteristics of the BP-8040ST do a good job of capturing the swirling, shifting turns of events where a tense situation quickly unravels as a shopkeeper-turned-terrorist appears out of nowhere, methodically thumbing the buttons of his cellphone to trigger the bomb before Sergeant Thompson can get clear of the blast area. You sense, as this threat suddenly appears from the side of the sound stage, how even a moment’s hesitation can prove deadly. Specialist Eldridge shouts out one last warning when ordered to shoot the terrorist, and that split-second of hesitation costs Sergeant Thompson his life. The Definitive’s also do a good job of handling the bomb blast itself, which can potentially overload some systems. The punchiness and control of the Definitive woofer system really helps here.
The scene, like several others in this powerful film, is designed to use sonic cues to highlight the dramatic difference between life as experienced within the sweltering heat and relative isolation (and even serenity) of the bombproof suit vs. the swirling cacophony and imminent danger without. Ideally, the soundtrack presents tons of small yet significant upper midrange and treble details (or the pointed absence thereof) to dramatize and contrast the world of the suit vs. the world of the lawless streets of Baghdad. But the Definitives tend to underplay those details to some degree, suppressing some of the gripping immediacy of the soundtrack as a result. So, the Definitive gets high marks for dynamic punch and composure, and very high marks for spatial presentation, yet comes up just a bit short in terms of retrieving very low-level details that add emotional and sonic vividness to soundtracks such as this one.