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.
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).
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.
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.
The Cylinder oozes class, featuring just one multi-function LED embedded in the power button. So far, so good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Excellent sound reproduction
- High build quality
- Long battery life
- Cheap considering integrated tech and performance
- Clamp gets in the way of video viewing
- Limited effective sound angle
- Pricey in comparison to lesser offerings