Definitive Technology SoloCinema Studio Soundbar System Page 2

The Sound
My impression of generally natural balance and coloration-free reproduction remained after I auditioned a dozen or so favorite speaker-evaluation CD tracks, and it remained even when I did something I don’t generally advise: I directly compared the soundbar with my everyday monitors, three-way stand-mount Energy Veritas (long discontinued but still excellent). Yeah, “real” speakers. Yet despite a projected 4x cost differential (including the amplifier powering them), the Def Tech system held up impressively. Octave-to-octave tonal balance was surprisingly close, though the Studio sounded consistently warmer, less airy, and less effortlessly defined on high-treble elements like brushed cymbal and acoustic guitar plucks. Bass equivalence, at least in terms of pop/jazz/chamber bass, was also surprisingly close, though I had to depress the Studio’s Bass control to –6 to find the closest match. Bass extension reached close to the 40-Hz region, and while upper bass was still somewhat more pronounced and obviously less tight and defined, it was by no means embarrassingly so. Like most other soundbars, Def Tech’s is clearly balanced a bit to the warmer, bass-emphasis side of the ledger, probably a conscious choice of the designers: Warmer is invariably preferred by less experienced listeners, and impact sells.

Spatially, the soundbar sounded both deeper and narrower at the same time, even though hall-sound air—the decaying tail of reverberation caught in naturalistic recordings—was audibly less airy or, I might simply say, less bright. Centered singers and soloists remained decidedly on-center, as I’d expect (the Studio has a dedicated center driver trio), but most sounds that panned left and right didn’t seem to enjoy even the full width of the soundbar, making for a somewhat condensed soundstage. Remember, the Studio has only two listening modes: Music and Movies. There’s no unprocessed, purely stereo option, and though each mode is adjustable ±10 steps, setting Music to –10 still doesn’t return pure stereo. With the Music adjustment centered at 0, an occasional left- or right-mixed instrument would sound quite far to one side, but most stereo recordings—studio-mixed ones in particular—remained comparatively tight in soundstage and focus. The Movie mode increased both relative bass and overall level somewhat, and it goosed the SSA processing to deliver sensations of both greater width and greater depth, but the general impression remained fairly similar.


Of course, most people buy a soundbar system for movie and TV sound, so I moved on to these directly. The Def Tech system arrived during my early days of Breaking Bad marathoning. I know I’m late to the fair on this one (as I am on most TV), but the Studio seemed to be perfectly adapted to this kind of duty. BB has quite a subtle sound design on occasion, but dialogue was consistently intelligible and natural; meanwhile, quiet effects sounded properly scaled but audible, and music was clean and unobtrusive yet effective. There was even enough low-end heft to induce an involuntary jump on something like the IED explosion in season 2’s episode 7, “Negro y Azul.”

Big-movie sound like that of the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion presented equally well. Dialogue remained solidly articulate, though I found that raising the Movie effect level above about 6 tended to compromise this a bit, and the Def Tech system had just enough bass impact and extension to outline a true cinematic experience on the many explosions. Spatiality was modest but subtly present within the forward hemisphere as the drones zipped about the screen—and I heard little or none of the phasey coloration that some faux-surround systems suffer. (Listening vertically on-axis proved quite important for best surround.) Equally valuable at least, Def Tech’s Studio plays loud for such a slim-Jim. Not reference-level loud by any stretch, and not as loud as some deeper-profiled soundbar systems, but loud enough to sketch the impact of a real system, especially in smaller rooms. Time and again, I was impressed by just how good the Studio’s sub/soundbar blend was. With the woofer adjacent to the soundbar, there were no bass- dislocation issues, and the duo made a more seamless match than many much fuller-size systems I’ve encountered. Furthermore, the Studio’s paucity of subwoofer controls just may be a masterstroke since it discourages the proud owner from turning up the sub until it booms on even the smallest onscreen backfire. Yay!


The Studio’s supplied remote is a bit light and plastic-y, but it incorporates some ergonomic button-sculpting and generous spacing that should aid by-touch operation. That said, the lateral volume controls and the odd Mute button placement take some getting used to, and its IR power and spread were disappointing, requiring careful aim. The system’s onscreen menu incorporates a straightforward learning routine to train the soundbar to respond to your TV’s handset or another one; I had no trouble following this without reference to the manual. Def Tech packs an IR emitter in the Studio’s accessories bag and puts an IR-out port on the back of the soundbar, in case a setup blocks the TV’s eye. However, there’s no HDMI passthrough, so you have to turn on the soundbar for even the briefest and most casual TV viewing. And the Studio takes fully 15 seconds to pass audio and HDMI video upon turn-on—too long, in my book (a fixed auto-off routine prevents simply leaving it on).

Of course, the only functions you’re likely to use on a regular basis are volume, source select, and perhaps the smartly included center channel level rocker. In that context, the Def Tech SoloCinema Studio should pretty much disappear, becoming as much a part of your audio/video trappings as a comfy chair or a bowl of popcorn. It never gets in the way of the action—high praise for any soundbar—and better still, it complements the action with a well-balanced dose of sonic aplomb and a surprising turn of volume.

Definitive Technology
(800) 228-7148