Definitive Technology Mythos Gem Home Theater Speaker System Page 2

PLUS Seductively attractive, compact design. Remarkably small subwoofer. Smooth, balanced sound. Ample dynamic range for a small system.

MINUS Optional stands are pricey. Playback volume limited by size.

I put the front left/right satellites on Mythos stands 6 inches to either side of my 42-inch widescreen TV. The surrounds, also on stands, were slightly to the rear and about 3 feet to the sides of my listening position. The center speaker fit perfectly on the narrow bezel of my TV, while the sub occupied my proven spot, a foot from the wall and to the right of the TV.

MUSIC PERFORMANCE To test two-channel stereo playback, I revved up the title song of John Fogerty's recent CD Déjà Vu All Over Again and immediately received an adrenaline rush from the high-energy production pouring out of the Gems.This song opens with Kenny Aronoff's ominous kick drum contrasting with percussionist Alex Acuna's high-end tambourine-like rattles, and it showed that this system can walk and chew gum at the same time. Except for a subtle lack of openness in the upper midrange, there was plenty of everything - all of it delivered without excess. When Fogerty started singing, he came through dead center, and I could understand every word while he raged on the guitar.

The Fogerty tracks were new, so I reached back into the '70s for the multichannel remix of Chicago on DVD-Audio to test the Gem system's surround music mettle. Calling what I heard a "wall of sound" would be inaccurate - it was more like an enveloping horseshoe waterfall of sound. "Poem for the People" begins with crisp electric piano up front. The production then swells like a creek after a rainstorm, all the while keeping Robert Lamm's vocals centered as the harmonies fill in nicely around him. Once again the drums and percussion were tight without being constricted, torrid without sizzling. The Gems conveyed seamless continuity between front and rear, and anchored the sound with convincing bass.

MOVIE PERFORMANCE Computer-animated movies project sight and sound more vivid than life. The Incredibles, which combines James Bond, Superman, Star Wars, and a dash of The Simpsons, piles on the sound like a crazed soda jerk shooting whipped cream on a triple-dip sundae. This movie breaks a lot of glass and shatters a lot of ice. The Mythos Gem system sharply reproduced all those potentially shrill sounds without making anyone's ears bleed. When the superheroes burst into a burning building, the roaring rumble of the conflagration was so convincing that for a moment I wished I'd installed sprinklers in my home theater.

Then there's the reality check, the everyday sounds that ring either true or false. The clatter of Mr. Incredible's typing on his computer keyboard sounded a lot like mine as I write this review. I actually paused the video during the insurance-office scene because I thought the phone chirping in the surrounds was my own phone chirping upstairs. This was proof of the surrounds' ability to provide a diffuse rear sound field free of localization that could betray the speakers' positions. Mr. Incredible's first encounter with the robot monster Omnidroid tested the system's dynamic range and ability to play at extreme volume. The speakers survived, although given their diminutive size they'll only rock your room, not lift the house from its foundation.

BOTTOM LINE Every home theater speaker system requires some tradeoffs, usually pitting size, style, and sonic performance against price. In this case, Definitive Technology has managed to minimize the compromises inherent in a $2,000 system (though that price is misleading if you go for the pricey stands). Even the pickiest decorator would probably accept, if not welcome, the Mythos Gems into a room. And while it's one thing to shrink the satellites, a subwoofer this small thundering this mightily is indeed impressive.

But what ultimately earns my respect for these speakers is that during the movie they seemed to disappear as completely as Vio­let, the Incredibles' disappearing teenage daughter, offering big, powerful sound without calling attention to themselves or their size. In speakers, just like some teenagers, that's a pretty desirable trait.