Definitive Technology SoloCinema XTR Soundbar Page 2
Multiple tiny logos on the front of the soundbar make it plain that the SoloCinema XTR supports multiple formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. But with only nine drivers scrunched together in a 43-inch-wide soundbar (and the sub, of course), how does Definitive Technology have a prayer in hell of getting even a small semblance of surround sound out of it? A big part of it is Definitive Technology’s Spatial Array Technology that uses two sonic tricks to make a fool out of you—or at least fool that part of your brain that’s supposed to be paying attention to the audio cues around you in order to protect you from random zombie attacks. One bit of ear-foolery is the use of interaural crosstalk cancellation that stops leftchannel sounds from reaching your right ear (and vice versa). Minimizing this ear-to-ear crosstalk preserves the time-arrival-based directional cues in the audio signal that would otherwise get all mucked up and cause your brain to hurt. Definitive Technology’s other sleight-of-ear magic is the application of a special filter to the surround-channel signals to re-create the unique spectral balance of sound coming from behind your head. (Give yourself five points if you recognize the term head-related transfer function, or HRTF.)
So far, this is basically the same acoustic manipulation Definitive Technology uses in its other SSA-moniker soundbars. For the SoloCinema XTR, however, Def Tech adds in a tiny dose of TruSurround HD4 technology from SRS Labs (which was recently acquired by DTS). TruSurround is an exceptionally powerful processing tool with a gob-smacking number of parameters that can be adjusted to manipulate the tone, texture, and placement of sound elements. In this case, Def Tech uses SRS TruSurround HD4 to enhance the surround channel spatialization. (In other words, the company’s using it to put more carbon in the Spatial Array steel.)
Ears in the Back of Your Head
Unless you’re going to heft it Ulfberht style and terrorize your neighbors, you’re going to use the SoloCinema XTR to either watch movies or listen to music—and my guess is that if you’re buying an all-in-one soundbar to put under your flat-panel TV, movies (and TV shows like Nova) are your primary concern. That’s good because Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR is absolutely fabulous for watching movies. In fact, it’s several steps beyond fabulous and well into the phenomenal. While there are a number of other self-contained surround bars available, in my opinion, the SoloCinema XTR does the best job of any of them I’ve heard at extending the soundfield to the sides and—amazingly—a good way behind your head. No, the surround effects aren’t as explicitly placed, nor do they seamlessly wrap around the back of the room, as would be the case when using dedicated surround speakers; but the overall sense of envelopment, as well as the suggestive placement of surround effects (either somewhat behind your head or moving to or from the back) is uncanny when you take into account it’s all coming from a 43-inch-wide, 2.38-inch-deep chunk of aluminum sitting in the front of the room.
Take, for interest, the very interesting and, I’m certain, historically accurate biopic, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Of the many scenes that stand out, one is the frenetic stampede during which an axewielding Lincoln chases the vampire, Jack Barts, as the two men gymnastically jump from horse to horse. Many times, the horses galloped along the sides of the room toward the back—and then the SoloCinema XTR gave me the clear sense that the powerful animals were hurtling well past me before the pounding hooves faded away. Perhaps the most memorable scene, from a sound standpoint, is the melee at Adam’s plantation. Overall, the SoloCinema XTR’s subwoofer is an amazing little performer, and it dynamically comes into play as Lincoln and Speed approach the plantation. The reach and fullness of the bass output added an absolutely ominous feeling of impending doom. The way the background music (and, later, the reverberation and spaciousness of the mansion’s grand ballroom) wrapped around me into a nearcomplete arc was incredible. Overall, center-channel dialogue was both coherent and full, showing a clean and natural blend of the soundbar with the sub. Later during the fight, as Lincoln expertly slices his axe through a vampire, the sound of the blood spurting from the doomed bloodsucker was stunningly focused in the center amidst the mayhem and ferocity in the rest of the soundtrack. Finally, two particular events served to highlight how extraordinary the SoloCinema XTR is. At one point, a vampire takes a swing at Lincoln with a sword. The blade swooshed through the room, extending behind me in a way I’ve never heard from another soundbar.
At the end of the scene, when Lincoln and Speed flee from the vampires through the swamp, several startled bats distinctly flew from the far back right of the room to the front. Although it’s not an action movie, Albino Alligator relies quite heavily on the surround channels to create a claustrophobic mood of impending doom while three hapless criminal types hold five people hostage in a basement bar in New Orleans. The SoloCinema XTR brilliantly brought forth the subtleties and intensity of the movie’s soundtrack, keeping the nervous dialogue focused while expanding the music into what seemed like a fully formed environment around me.
The compact and well-designed remote control for the SoloCinema XTR offers two buttons near the bottom. One puts the system in Movie mode. The other changes it to Music mode. While a certain amount of Definitive Technology’s Spatial Array technology is an integral aspect of the system—it’s what makes the 43-inch soundbar sound like the speakers are twice that far apart—you do have the ability to adjust the surround effect intensity, or what Def Tech calls SSA Immersion, from a range of +10 to –10. The Movie mode default is the maximum +10, and this is the level I found to be most effective and enjoyable for movies. With two-channel music, however, I found that level to be too aggressive. It tended to emphasize the bass and stereo elements of the music while reducing the prominence of the vocals in the center.
The Music mode default setting is 0, which reduces the ambience and moves the vocals forward. Unlike with movies, for which I never felt the need to change the amount of SSA Immersion from the max level, music varied a bit more. Overall, I preferred a level of –5 for most music, but this wasn’t always the case. For me, a –5 setting was ideal for recordings featuring minimal added spaciousness or reverb. For example, Muddy Waters’ “Take the Bitter With the Sweet” (Chess Blues Classics 1957–67) is crisp and clear, with the piano, harmonica, and guitar widely spread across the front of the room. The same tightness in the bass, detail in instrumentation and vocals, along with a surprisingly broad soundstage was apparent with Marcus Miller’s “Blast” (Marcus), as it was with the sweet male and female vocal duo on Kate McGarry’s “O Cantador” (Girl Talk)—or even the overly forward vocals and powerful bass beat on PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” But with a more processed studio track like REM’s “Losing My Religion,” the –5 SSA Immersion level was too much and resulted in a muddled front soundstage. To maintain the proper stereo effect, I had to take the level all the way down to –10. Unfortunately, the remote control only offers the two preset Movie or Music settings. You have to use the onscreen menu to do any further tweaking. (One thing I would like to have seen was a sound mode indicator on the SoloCinema XTR’s front panel. Of course, that’s only important if you’re going to be listening to a lot of music.)
Overall, I found the Definitive Technology SoloCinema XTR to be an exceedingly energetic and spectacular all-inclusive home theater system. The industrial design is beautiful, and the less obvious convenience features—such as the subwoofer’s horizontal/vertical configuration, the adjustable-height foot stands, and the rear-firing IR blasters—help put it in the forefront of the crowded soundbar class. I have yet to experience another all-in-one soundbar that’s capable of creating such a wonderfully enveloping and thoroughly convincing soundfield for movies. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone whose primary interest is two-channel music rather than movies, the SoloCinema XTR does a fine job musically with the appropriate SSA Immersion setting for the piece you’re listening to. Yes, $1,999 is a good chunk of money for what is, at the end of the day, an +Ulfberht+ home theater experience. On the other hand, Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR moves that final “+” closer to being on the other side of the “T” than any other soundbar system I’ve heard to date. It’s not the real deal, but it’s a damn good fake—and well worth the price.