Review: Definitive Technology AW5500 outdoor speaker

As I mentioned at the outset, bass is hard to do outdoors. You don't have "room gain" - i.e., the tendency of typical residential rooms to boost bass. Everyone seems to want their outdoor speakers to be about 1 foot tall, and it's hard to get deep notes out of such small boxes. Adding a subwoofer outdoors is complicated.

Definitive Technology's solution to this conundrum is to add a passive radiator to its outdoor speakers. The passive radiator reinforces low-bass response similar to the way a port does, while maintaining a fully sealed, climate-proof enclosure - something that probably can't be achieved with a port.

The 12.7-inch-high AW5500 has a triangular profile, with a BDSS (balanced double surround system) 5.25-inch woofer and a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter on one front surface and the 5x 8-inch passive radiator on the other front surface. While most outdoor speakers have a sealed back and a removable baffle, the AW5500 has a removable back, and the drivers install from behind. It's a nicely rigid design, but I couldn't disassemble it to look at the guts without doing cosmetic damage.

The downside to this design is that when the speaker's mounted vertically, the woofer/tweeter side is on the right of both speakers, which impairs stereo imaging. You can turn the woofer/tweeter side to face straight out, but it looks a little weird that way. My solution was to flip the right speaker upside down. Of course, this put the woofer and tweeter upside-down relative to the left speaker, but I found this delivered the best stereo imaging.

Performance

Our listeners had a generally positive impression of the AW5500, though it was hampered a bit by what we considered a less-than-lively sound. I tied it for first, Geoff ranked it second, and Lauren ranked it third.

To my ears, the more wussy the music, the better the AW5500 scored against its competitors. One of my favorite wussy (but undeniably beautiful) tunes is "Guitarreando" by the Hanser-McClellan Guitar Duo. On this recording of just two nylon-string guitars, the other speakers marred the sound with zippy treble and uneven midrange. The AW5500 came closer to getting it right. The sound wasn't detailed or engaging, but it also wasn't annoying, as it was with the others.

It also creamed the competition when I played an undeniably non-wussy, non-beautiful recording: Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days." Here the AW5500 sounded much smoother and more balanced than its competitors, which either emphasized or de-emphasized parts of the audio spectrum in fairly obvious ways. It still sounded a little dull, though.

Let's hear from the other panelists now. Geoff: "It's got a fairly full and balanced sound, with good treble, a smooth timbre in the midrange, and a reasonably open soundstage. But the sound seems a little boring and innocuous."And Lauren: "It has a midrange-heavy sound, but the lower midrange is missing. There's not enough bass for hip-hop, but if you're just going to listen to classic rock on the patio, it's fine."

The Verdict

The AW5500 sounds pretty good, but it could use a little more sonic spice, so to speak.

Test Bench

Frequency response of the AW5500 measures 78 Hz to 20 kHz ±8.1 dB on-axis, ±6.6 dB avg 0°-30°. Measured impedance is 3.9? minimum, 8? average. Sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz averages 85.9 dB.

 

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