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Review: Definitive Technology's Sound Cylinder delivers premium audio in compact package

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
When Apple switched to the proprietary Lightning protocol with its latest salvo of iOS device launches, many users were pushed toward Bluetooth solutions in lieu of true Lightning-capable speakers, but compromises in sound quality provided for less-than-stellar performance. Definitive Technology looks to change that with its new Sound Cylinder, a high-end Bluetooth-enabled speaker that delivers true 2.1 channel audio.

Cylinder Front


Based out of Maryland, Definitive Technology is no stranger to high-fidelity audio with over 20 years of experience in delivering unique products to A/V enthusiasts. The brand fostered a name for itself by incorporating innovative tech and appealing industrial design into its audiophile loudspeakers, earning a number of accolades along way, but has yet to branch out from the living room. Until now.

To say Definitive is testing the hotly contested waters of mobile accessories would be a gross understatement; with Sound Cylinder, they are jumping in head first.

Design



Like any new product, first impressions are based on looks, and the Sound Cylinder's tubular design is quite aesthetically pleasing. Head on, the unit's face is dominated by a grill reminiscent of the long-in-the-tooth Mac Pro, bookended by two slightly tapered protruding end caps. The left end houses power and volume controls, while the right serves as a port for the side-firing woofer (more on that later).

Cylinder Front


Unlike cheaper products that use plasticized materials, Definitive plied copious amounts of aluminum and magnesium alloy to give the Cylinder a high-quality sheen. The metal offers substantial torsional stiffness, giving the housing a solid feel especially for its deceptively light weight, though this level of build quality should be expected with a retail price of $199.

One would be forgiven in thinking that the device is actually a hard-wired dock, what with the non-removable rubberized piece jutting out just above the grill. The component is in fact a strong magnesium-armed clamp that can be adjusted to grasp onto tablets of most any size, including Apple's 9.7-inch iPad. Definitive's Cylinder can also be affixed to the top of a monitor or laptop, and with the unit at near ear-level, it easily bests the performance of Apple's MacBook Pro speakers.

Stowed in the rear of the speaker is a rubber soled magnesium kickstand strong enough to prop up an attached tablet. In testing, the kickstand showed little flex and the hinge mechanism was securely attached to the speaker chassis.

Cylinder Back


Also hidden away on the back of the device is a thumb actuator for the clamp, which is snugly attached to a strong spring mechanism for opening and closing the rubberized jaws. Wrapping up the unit's rear, literally, is a generous swath of rubber to prevent sliding.

Cylinder Clamp
Clamp actuator.


The Cylinder oozes class, featuring just one multi-function LED embedded in the power button. So far, so good.


Technology



It's impressive how much technology Definitive managed to squeeze into the Cylinder's small frame. From true two channel audio with separate active bass woofer to the on-board DSP chip, the package is easily one of the most advanced units available at any price point.

Mid and top end frequencies are handled by two full-range 33mm composite speakers, which are co-located at the front of the unit facing the user. To help out with oomph on the low end, Definitive crammed in a 43mm side-firing woofer, leaving just 5mm for isolation and casing. Driving all three channels is an 8-watt Class D amplifier.

Cylinder Woofer
Side-firing woofer port.


The brains behind the brawn is an Analog Devices DSP module with integrated DAC, which pulls double duty in signal conversion and application of what Definitive calls Active Surround Array technology. Taken from the firm's cinema sound bars, the tech combines time processing and frequency response shaping (Head Related Transfer Function) algorithms to widen the sound image.

From Definitive's technical white paper on surround imaging technologies:

One of the ways a listener perceives a sound originating behind the listener (besides time arrival) is by the change in spectral balance of the sound caused by the shape and orientation of the human ear. The processor changes the frequency response of the rear channels to mimic the effect of the head transfer function, thereby providing additional behind-the-listener directional cues.


Obviously the Cylinder doesn't have multiple drivers per channel, so much of the HRTF tech is overkill, but that Definitive even chose to include a version of it in a portable should be commended.

Cylinder Mac


In Use



The Cylinder simply wows when you turn it on. Perhaps most impressive is how powerful this speaker is. In fact, the sound gets better as it gets louder, begging you to crank up the volume until the limiter kicks in.

Cylinder Woofer


For our short musical tests, we used a range of tracks from all genres. Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald handled female jazz vocals, Dmitri Shostakovich as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra took care of classical, the Beatle's were used for mono reproduction and early Aphex Twin cuts tested represented electronica, to name but a few. Our choices went from dynamic to soft and subtle and everything in between. Recordings were Apple Lossless, FLAC at 320 kbps, and standard 128 kbps mp3 files.

Vocals were crisp, but not sibilant or overpowering, instead leaning a bit toward the smooth and silky. Both wind and string instruments were reproduced admirably in classical, though at times lower register tones seeped into the high end, muddling the sound. The Cylinder seems especially well-suited for rock, with electric guitar and bass fidelity having just the right amount of rawness to underline the vocal track.

Cylinder Controls


Clarity and presence of soundstage were most surprising, but there is definitely a sweet spot that needs to be dialed in to make the most out the system. In testing, our unit reached optimal output at about 40 percent of max, with peaking starting creep in at around 90 percent. At normal listening volumes, the Surround Array shines, offering a nearly tangible depth of sound we've never before experienced with a speaker so compact.

When the drivers and amp are pushed hard, though, the soundstage crumples, bass drops off precipitously, and the top end borders on sibilance. Still, 90 percent of full blast is exquisitely loud and more than enough for distances up to 15 feet away.

While the DSP created rich, warm full-bodied sound, using the tech is double-edged sword. Like the effective viewing angle of an LCD monitor, the Cylinder's two drivers project a cone of sound for which phase is optimized. Outside the effective range, anything more than about 60 degrees off-axis in our tests, music sounds thin and flat.

Cylinder with iPads


The Cylinder's performance is very good, but there was one gripe we had pertaining to the speaker's design. While sturdy, the clamp's height is slightly larger than even the 9.7-inch iPad's bezel, meaning that when the unit is attached to almost any iOS device, there's a bit of black creeping into the display area. When viewing a letter-boxed movie in landscape mode, this is a non-issue, but in any other configuration, especially with the iPad mini, the overlap is noticeable. The controls are also a bit "spongy" with little feedback.

Cylinder Landscape


Another quibble was a slight delay when watching video content. While timing issues are to be expected from a Bluetooth device, the discrepancy is disappointing given the speaker's cinema audio pedigree. For those who can't stand out of sync dialogue, the Cylinder supports line level input via a supplied 3.5mm mini-to-mini cable, which rectifies the problem. Sadly, sometimes you just can't get around using wires.

Mounting options include iPad stand, standalone or atop a computer monitor. Battery life was as advertised, working for roughly ten hours before needing a recharge.

Bottom line



If you're looking for a high-quality, high-performance portable speaker system, or just one to leave around the house for a quick ELO fix, the Cylinder delivers in spades. Overshadowed by Cylinder's power and finesse, Bluetooth is but icing on the brushed aluminum cake. Definitive's Sound Cylinder is available for $199 through Amazon or the company's website.

Score: 4 out of 5



ratings_hl_40.png

Pros
  • Excellent sound reproduction
  • High build quality
  • Long battery life
  • Cheap considering integrated tech and performance

Cons
  • Clamp gets in the way of video viewing
  • Limited effective sound angle
  • Pricey in comparison to lesser offerings
post #2 of 17
I wonder if you can clamp it to the top of an iMac, MacBookPro/Air, or a monitor. That would be cool if you could........

I just went to Def Tech's web site and they have it pictured going on top of a laptop.

Def Tech does make some affordable higher end speakers, so at $200, this looks like a VERY nicely made/designed product worth looking at.
post #3 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


Score: 4 out of 5



ratings_hl_40.png

Pros
  • Excellent sound reproduction
  • High build quality
  • Long battery life

Cons
  • Clamp gets in the way of video viewing
  • Limited effective sound angle
  • Pricey

$200? Pricey?  I think for what you are getting, this is VERY reasonable.  Zooka has their cheaper product for only $99 and for the extra $100, I would go with this instead.  Materials, drivers, etc.  That's what this is, a more expensive, much better sounding Zooka.

 

Yeah, if it were made out of plastic with cheap drivers, but these guys do a decent job.  Obviously, whomever wrote this article doesn't have much experience with high end audio mfg.   I'm surprised it isn't $300 to $400. Def Tech makes decent speakers and they aren't cheap.  They are more mid priced high end audio.


Edited by drblank - 3/8/13 at 6:29pm
post #4 of 17
How is this different from a Jambox?
post #5 of 17

I think your question needs to be more specific. What differences are you interest in? They are both high end Bluetooth speakers. One is cylindrical. One is square. One comes in colors. One is aluminum. They probably have different weights and dimensions. They are made by different companies in different factories from different parts.

post #6 of 17
I have absolutely no confidence that the sound of this speaker is even passable. Jambox? Muddy bass, as all these types of speakers do. They "port" the bass speaker, which means there's a hole in the casing which lets the bass echo on the way out, giving more volume to the bass, but making it sound muddy (many people like that).

I'm sure this doesn't sound any better than the other bluetooth speakers out there - kind of nice build on the outside, but if you think it's going to sound anything like Definitive's regular speakers, good luck.
post #7 of 17
This looks like a decent speaker. I have the Bose Soundlink Bluetooth speaker and just love the portability of a bluetooth connected speaker. I will admit you do sacrifice a bit of sound quality, both in the size as well as the Bluetooth compression. But these are small portable speakers that are made to vastly improve the sound that the iPad/iPhone provide on their own. And as I can speak for the Bose speaker it does this without question. Given this review, this sounds like a great product as well. What I like best is being able to surf YouTube or watch moves on my iPad without having to fumble with headphones or worry about cords between the iPad and speaker.
post #8 of 17

What is the f*cking point of an iOS sound system that doesn't do AirPlay?  Seriously.  

 

It just means it's missing a few features and a whole lot of convenience because the manufacturer is trying to appease Android users as well.  

post #9 of 17
How much did they pay you for this advertisement?
post #10 of 17
needs lightning connector. No airplay. No sale
It's the heat death of the universe, my friends.
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It's the heat death of the universe, my friends.
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post #11 of 17
@elroth - It's true that a bazillion audio companies talk about 'premium audio in a compact package' but if you experience the cylinder in real life, you'll know it's the real deal. (full disclosure, I'm on the development team of Definitive).

To answer your question, this is different than Jambox (and most other me-too Jambox speakers) in several ways:

1 - It sounds exponentially better than the Jambox, but in a size that is as small or even smaller.
2 - It can be a stand/handle for your iPad while watching movies, etc.

This truly is the portable equivalent to a high-end Definitive loudspeaker.
post #12 of 17
Originally Posted by Hannie Bal View Post
How much did they pay you for this advertisement?

 

See, I like these sort of articles WAY better than the recent others. This is an actual review of a product. So even if the product was given to the writer for free in exchange for said review, at least we, the users, get something (information) out of the posting thereof.

 

I don't really care for the "deals" articles. They ought to have their own section (we don't have a marketplace, but Huddler has a template all ready to go) and not show up on the main page or forums. But I like reviews, even if I had no intention of buying anything in any amount of time.

Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
Reply

Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
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post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by mex4eric View Post

How is this different from a Jambox?

Jambox doesn't mount on the device for one.  I haven't compared between this and the Jambox, but right off the bat, Def Tech is a speaker company with years of experience making decent quality speaker systems, so they will MOST LIKELY be using better drivers and electronics.  Obviously, we'd have to crack them open to find out, but Def Tech, I know uses decent quality components/drivers for the price they charge.  I have friends that have bought their products as well as I've own a pair of their higher end surround sound speakers, so I have some experience with this company.

 

A lot of these speaker systems coming out from relatively unknown companies may have some great ideas in terms of physical design, but they might lack the experience in the listening experience and choosing drivers, components, etc. 

 

Obviously, the best way to tell is get your best sounding audio tracks and play them side by side between all of the different products you want to consider.

 

Some people have a developed ear so they can tell subtle differences much easier than others.

 

With comparison between this and the Zooka which is a close comparison in terms of physical design meant to either be mounted to an iPad as a stand/speaker, or a laptop or thin monitor as a mounted speaker system to alleviate  clutter, I'm sure the Def Tech is probably going to be the better sounding out of those that are of comparable design.  The Zooka is a plastic case, hence only $99, and two midrange/tweeters side mounted, so you will get a sound field that is dispersed differently. These have the two midrange/tweeters forward firing which will give you better direct sound and a side firing bass driver.  Obviously, the Def Tech is using decent DACs, but I don't know what the Jambox is using.  Either way, I'm probably sure that the Def Techs will probably sound better than the $199 Jamboxes, but again, I would have to do a side by side.  Maybe someone will do that and post the actual differences.

post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by elroth View Post

I have absolutely no confidence that the sound of this speaker is even passable. Jambox? Muddy bass, as all these types of speakers do. They "port" the bass speaker, which means there's a hole in the casing which lets the bass echo on the way out, giving more volume to the bass, but making it sound muddy (many people like that).

I'm sure this doesn't sound any better than the other bluetooth speakers out there - kind of nice build on the outside, but if you think it's going to sound anything like Definitive's regular speakers, good luck.

In defense of Def Tech, this does have a separate bass driver which is side firing.  It's not meant to be a loud speaker system, but for personal casual listening, I'm sure these things sound fine for what they are.

post #15 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

What is the f*cking point of an iOS sound system that doesn't do AirPlay?  Seriously.  

 

It just means it's missing a few features and a whole lot of convenience because the manufacturer is trying to appease Android users as well.  

AirPlay, to my knowledge requires more expensive components to be added which will increase cost as well as they might draw more power which would give less battery time when in operation are the two considerations.

 

I know what you are talking about.  BlueTooth turns off after not in use and then you have to press buttons to reconnect, which is kind of a pain.  I agree with you on the BlueTooth vs AirPlay, but I think it has more to do with battery life and cost considerations.

 

Well, when you think about that this device can be used with almost any laptop (Mac, PC, etc.), pretty much any tablet, smartphone, media player, they basically tripled their market for selling these things when they use BlueTooth, so I'm sure that is something considered, but AirPlay is typically more expensive to implement and for battery powered devices such as this, I'm sure it was also a cost issue.

post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by chabig View Post

I think your question needs to be more specific. What differences are you interest in? They are both high end Bluetooth speakers. One is cylindrical. One is square. One comes in colors. One is aluminum. They probably have different weights and dimensions. They are made by different companies in different factories from different parts.

The Def Tech is a 2.1 system.  The $179 Jambox is only two speakers with a passive bass radiator vs power bass driver.  The $299 Jambox has two passive bass radiators.

 

It didn't mention whether the Sound Cylinder has a microphone in it.  If it was mentioned, then I didn't have my glasses. They are useful at times when used with a smartphone.

post #17 of 17

For those that don't know the difference between a passive bass radiator and an active woofer.

 

A passive bass radiator is basically a speaker without a magnet/voice coil and power amp driving it. So, it will generate SOME bass frequencies just by moving from the air pressure generated inside the cabinet. It's sometimes used in combination with active bass drivers in sub woofers and powered speaker cabinets to add  a little extra bass without increasing the cost significantly because the passive radiator has no magnet/voice coil and amp driving it.  It's basically an inexpensive way to increase bass response without a lot of added cost.  

 

An active woofer is a REAL speaker powered by a REAL amp and it generates the lower frequencies in a more traditional sense.

 

Lots of sub woofers on the market use a combination of both to get more bass from a small package.  But, for this device, Def Tech is using an active and Jambox is using passive.

 

The Def Tech Sound Cylinder is an active design, the Jambox uses either 1 ($179 model) or 2 ($299 model) passive bass radiators.  Which is going to sound better?  

 

Theoretically an active bass driver should THEORETICALLY sound better and go louder, so from a theoretical standpoint, for a device of this size, I would expect the Def Tech to sound better in the bass department than the Jambox.  But I would have to listen to them side by side to make a final determination.  It's all in the implementation, cabinet size, drivers, amps, etc.

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