Definitive Technology BP7002 home theater speaker system

Looking for a good test DVD for Definitive Technology's BP7002 system, I settled on the swashbuckling Master and Commander. The commander, Jack Aubrey, portrayed by Russell Crowe, set sail in 1805 in this adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's historically accurate novel, but the special effects and sound quality are definitely 21st century. Whether it's fusillades of cannonballs or the roaring 40s blowing around Cape Horn , the DVD can test the mettle and endurance of any speaker system - not to mention the floor, ceiling, and walls. If the Definitive Tech speakers did their jobs right, I'd need a Dramamine.

The system consists of a pair of BP7002 front towers, the hefty C/L/R 2500 center speaker, and the trapezoidal BP 2X surrounds. Unlike the front left/right speakers in your typical home theater systems, the BP7002s are bipolar, as are the surrounds. Bipolar speakers typically produce a more spacious sound by radiating equally (and in phase) from both the front and back.

All three front speakers have powered subwoofers built in, eliminating the need for an external sub with all its connection issues while relieving your receiver or power amplifier from having to feed the power-hungry woofers. The sub in the C/L/R 2500 center speaker fires upward to simplify its positioning, and the speaker is shielded to prevent its magnets from distorting the color on direct-view tube TVs. It has the common configuration of a tweeter flanked by a pair of woofers, which produces better-defined sound in a horizontal orientation than a single woofer and tweeter.

You can wire all three front speakers to your amplifier or receiver with plain speaker cable, as I did, allowing their crossovers to send the appropriate frequencies to each driver, including the subwoofers. Or you can connect the line-level subwoofer/LFE (low-frequency effects) output of your receiver to the center sub and use speaker connections for the left and right.

While the BP7002 system is relatively sleek, it could overpower a small room. Fortunately, my 15 x 24-foot home theater proved to be an ideal match. And even though the system sports 26 drivers in all, I used a modest 90-watt-per-channel receiver to power the whole shebang.

MOVIE PERFORMANCE The trio of built-in subs, with their powerful Class D amplifiers, created a deep ocean of bass across the front. Did someone say, "18-pound cannonball across the bow"? Adjusting the volume so dialogue was reproduced at a "normal" speaking level raised the effects levels to the point where light fixtures rattled and a direct cannonball hit nearly knocked the wind out of me. Good thing my room has a concrete floor (beneath thin carpeting) and concrete walls (behind wood paneling).

The bowels of the HMS Surprise sway and bob as the movie opens. The surround effects completely enveloped me with the creaking and groaning of the wooden timbers, the gurgling and rumbling of the sea, and the various clangs as objects sliding around strike each other and the ship. This virtual tour ends with the loud clanging of the ship's bell. The sound of metal striking metal was as immediate as if the bell was in my room.

Even with the video off, the Definitive Tech system left no doubt about the nature of the action and environment. Being prone to seasickness, I actually felt a bit queasy. It's a rare speaker system that pulls off this kind of illusion so convincingly. The sound was so completely enveloping that I felt like I was in a large movie theater rather than in a small home theater where sound can seem confined to the speakers.

When the officer of the watch sights the enemy and the drummer beats to quarters, it almost ejected me from my seat. As the crew makes preparations for the fight, the sound of cutlery in the galley as it's swept into storage seemed as real as upstairs in my kitchen. Silverware didn't clang or click - it clattered.

The first 18-pounders crashing into the Surprise's deck was a testament to the power of the BP7002 system. As the wood splintered and flew and the cannonade broadsides dramatically raised the volume, the speakers reproduced the carnage without a hint of strain.

No system would pass muster if it failed to convincingly reproduce voices. The Definitive Tech passed admirably. Voices sounded smooth, natural, and believable, although during Master and Commander I sometimes wished the center speaker gave them more of an edge to compete better with the distracting effects .

MUSIC PERFORMANCE After winning the battle of standing up to an action movie, the BP7002 system faced a more musical challenge, starting with two-channel stereo. (Though I should note that the violin and cello music in the movie - the two main characters play these instruments for relaxation - also sounded natural and authentic.) From Ron Carter's first bass notes in McCoy Tyner's New York Reunion, I knew the system had mastered music, too.

The bass sounded big without being bloated, the strings taut but not thin. The high hat sparkled but never sounded metallic under Al Forster's brushes. I'm no piano expert, but I could tell that Tyner was playing a more defined, tighter, somewhat cooler keyboard than an ordinary Steinway. The CD's liner notes revealed that it was a Hamburg Steinway. The piano came from the left side in a deep and wide stereo image that placed the quartet in just the right positions in the soundstage.

For music in surround sound, I spun the DVD-Audio release of Neil Young's classic Harvest. While the weird mix puts the listener in the center of the action and makes Neil's vocals sound a little off to the side, the BP7002 system brought this 30-plus-year-old recording to life. The acoustic guitar was crisp, Neil's voice was full and natural in all its nasal glory, and the kick drum in "Heart of Gold" sounded like it was in my room.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Definitive Technology BP7002 system played at realistic volumes with plenty of reserves, accurately reproducing any music I fed it and bringing movies to life. Other than taking up some real estate (especially the large center speaker) and requiring a trio of wall outlets to power the built-in subwoofers, it's hard to fault. If you want speakers that handle surround sound and stereo equally well, put this system at the top of your short list. And while its sound would make any TV seem bigger, it's especially well suited for use with a big-screen projection system or plasma display.