Definitive Technology Mythos Gem Speaker System
Flat-panel TVs—both plasma and LCD—are wall candy. I've never heard anyone say, "I'm going to buy a plasma TV because the picture looks so much better than what you get from a (fill in your favorite display technology acronym here) projection TV." Nope. People buy flat-panel TVs for one or more of three reasons: they're thin; they're cool; and, boy, do they make your friends RGB with envy. Half a millennium ago, I'm sure that people who could afford it covered their walls with the finest tapestries for exactly the same reasons. Is it any wonder then that panel after panel goes into homes with teeny, tiny, embarrassingly little home-theater-in-a-grocery-bag speakers next to them—or simply with no speakers at all? I blame the salespeople (or lack thereof). I blame the imperialistic, aggressive TV manufacturers who would have us all on bended knee in subservience to the great, glowing flat-panel on the wall. (Talk about must-see TV. . .) And I blame AM talk radio for convincing people that the idea of really good audio cohabitating with nice video is just another wacko liberal concept that will undermine this country. (Yeah, I have issues.)
Therein lies my fondness for Definitive Technology's Mythos Series speakers. With their sleek, slender shape, they're like the speaker equivalent of a secret agent stealthily slipping into uptight, frou-frou living rooms everywhere. Once wired and in place, they disperse their subversive propaganda in the form of truly spectacular audio; and, two by two, ears around the world finally come to their senses and rally behind our cause. In my opinion, Mythos speakers are a marvelous twofer: You get great sound and great looks, regardless of what reason brought them through the door.
The Mythos Ethos
Until recently, the Mythos lineup was missing a small, bookshelf-ish speaker, if for nothing else than to use as a baby surround speaker. Now, the Mythos Gem comes along, a modest-sized speaker with its Mythos pedigree apparent in its boyishly good aluminum looks. Although I've heard hints that the original concept for the Gem was for it to be a surround speaker, it has matured into an Atom Ant–like, do-it-all small wonder. Essentially, the Gem is a mighty, mini Mythos, all cute and cuddly—well, with aluminum cabinets, thick inner walls, and internal damping pads, it's not really cuddly. In fact, it's significantly heavier than it looks, as it's built along the same lines as the other Mythos speakers. The bigger floorstanding models, such as the Mythos Four, have gracefully curved cabinets with nary a parallel wall off of which a naughty standing wave can begin bouncing in its sonically muddling way. The Gem's design, as well as those of some of the other modest Mythos speakers, inverts the curve on the back of the cabinet, turning it inward. This maintains the no-parallel-walls design yet allows you to mount the speaker on a wall (next to a plasma TV, maybe?). The included keyhole-type mounting brackets hold the Gems snugly against the wall, and there's a threaded insert on the back should you prefer to use a pivoting wall mount.
At this point, it's already easy to conclude that the Gem is a step above the ordinary satellite speaker. But a couple of additional aspects push it technologically—and audibly—to the top of its very affordable class. In addition to an aluminum-dome, silk-surround tweeter (one per Gem), each speaker uses a pair of 3-inch drivers (one above and one below the tweeter) specifically angled to the left and right, creating what Definitive calls a wide-dispersion array. As a result, unlike a traditional bipole or dipole surround speaker, the Gem can do the job of front, surround, or any other speaker position you can think of. If you're subwoofer averse, though, you'd better search around for another small speaker to listen to. While lots of small speakers are designed with a midbass bump to give you the impression that they've got more junk in the trunk than they really do, the Gems are tuned to roll off smoothly and accurately. The result is less coloration in the midrange and much better blending with a subwoofer.
In addition to four Gems, the Mythos system Definitive sent my way included a SuperCube III sub and a Mythos Seven—the baby center channel of the Mythos line. Its driver complement matches the Gem's, although the 3.5-inch bass/midrange drivers are forward-firing rather than angled, and it includes a pair of pressure-driven 3.5-inch planar-technology bass radiators. It sounds funny talking about a 3.5-inch bass radiator, but it's a scaled-down version of the drivers that help make Definitive's SuperCube subwoofers such heavy hitters. As for the Mythos Seven, it's intended to extend the midbass reach, which was readily apparent with dialogue-driven movies like Frank Miller's Sin City.
When it comes to music, the Gems are light and fast on their feet and play with an openness and transparency that's not easy to find in a small speaker in the less-than-$500-a-pair price range. They filled both the Ray Brown Trio's Soular Energy DVD-Audio and Chesky's SACD compilation 17th Century Music and Dance from the Viennese Court with delightful detail. But the one piece that really brought home the Gems' excellence was Chesky's 4.0 mix of Bucky Pizzarelli's Swing Live on DVD-Audio. I like this recording because of the very natural ambiance in the surround channels, which the Gems recreated spectacularly. I'd forgotten that this mix doesn't use the center channel—and, thanks to the way the Gems performed, I had no idea that the Mythos Seven was as silent as a mime until I read the liner notes again.
Need a Subwoofer?
Definitive Technology needs to include the following advisory on their SuperCube subs: "Warning: Pregnant women, people with heart, back, kidney, or liver problems, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who live near a potentially explosive meth lab, anyone living on the New Madrid fault line, and Canadians should avoid using this subwoofer without consulting their doctor, seismologist, or spiritual advisor." The other SuperCube subs I've listened to (often while huddled in the corner for fear of the building coming down) have had amazingly low but very musical bass output—and lots of it. The SuperCube III is no exception.
Definitive says that the SuperCubes share technology that combines small cabinets, active long-throw drivers with huge magnets, pressure-driven infrasonic radiators, and high-power digital amps. (Now we're talking!) I've never been able to verify what's inside of a SuperCube subwoofer. I've been reluctant to take one apart lest everything fly out at once like one of those spring-loaded snakes in a can. Seriously, these suckers seem denser and heavier than lead, which means those digital amps are probably powered by a small thermonuclear reactor.
The SuperCube III looks like its bigger siblings (with signature piano-black gloss end caps and a black sock covering all but the jack panel and heatsinks on the back) and acts like them, too. It's a brute, albeit a small, 10.25-inch-cubed one. But, unlike the beefy grade-school bully who could use his weight to hold you down while he pounded your face yet couldn't run fast enough to catch you if you got away, the SuperCube III is as spritely in performance as it is powerful. Try comparing the pounding soundtrack from the getaway scene in The Transporter with the much more rapid cannon and shrapnel impacts in Master and Commander, and you'll hear how this incarnation of the SuperCube can slap you or whap you—or simply stomp you into the ground if it so chooses.
So what's a persnickety plasma person who doesn't know jack about sound to do? Get this mini Mythos system, let your friends ogle its great looks, and then fall under its sonic spell. You'll be converted. If you're reading this magazine, you probably don't need to be converted, but I'll bet you know a person or two who does. The Gems with the Mythos Seven and SuperCube III is a can't-go-wrong, first-class, you'll-thank-me-in-the-morning recommendation. On the other hand, if you're already a devotee of superior sound but would like something a little classier in looks that's also a bit smaller than what you'd typically need to satisfy your audio cravings, you'll find that the Mythos Gems are absolutely sparkling—to your eyes and ears. Diamonds may be forever, but these Gems are for everyone.
• Excellent integration of sats and sub
• The beauty is more than skin deep
• Gems work great in just about any speaker location