Unpacking the new BP9060, I realized that Definitive Technology is the Taylor Swift of the speaker biz. Just as Swift’s mainstream success has made most people forget her country roots, Definitive’s mainstream success has made most audiophiles forget that the company got its start with a relatively unknown and mildly controversial technology: the bipolar speaker.
A bipolar speaker has drivers on the front and rear of the enclosure, so it directs sound forward and backward. This creates a more spacious, but less focused, sound. It’s similar to the way electrostatic and magnetoplanar panel speakers work, except both sides of a bipolar speaker operate in-phase, and all the bipolar speakers I’ve seen use conventional drivers that offer better dynamics (with, some would argue, less delicacy) than panel speakers.
With the new BP9000 line, Definitive Technology gets back to its roots. As with the previous BP8000 Series, the output of the rear driver array is toned down in level to achieve a more satisfying compromise between the spacious bipolar sound and the more focused sound of a conventional speaker. The company says the rear array is reduced in level by -6dB relative to the front array. The rear array in the BP9060 also has just one 4.5-inch midrange driver, compared with two in the front array. Both sides sport a single 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter.
As has been common in large Definitive towers dating back to the mid-1990s, the BP9060 features a powered bass section, with an active 10-inch woofer powered by a 300-watt Class D amp. One new twist is the Intelligent Bass Control knob on the back. Rather than simply adjusting the volume of the subwoofer section, the IBC knob is said to affect only frequencies below 100 Hz, and thus not interfere with the upper bass and midrange frequencies.
The BP9060s are beautifully packaged, with all the accessories laid out in a kit that makes everything easy to put together. An aluminum base screws onto the bottom of each tower to provide added stability, and either carpet spikes or polymer feet can be screwed into the bottom of the base.
I didn’t need to do any fancy tweaking with the BP9060s. Definitive Technology’s Aaron Levine, who delivered the speakers, decided to put them where my Revels were, and they sounded great there. We then focused our attention on getting the IBC knobs dialed in. For most of my listening, I used the IBC knobs set either at halfway or about one o’clock. I had to turn them down to about 10 o’clock for comparisons with the Revels, in order to match the Revels’ bass level. Incidentally, there’s a little LED-lit “D” logo at the bottom of each tower to show the amp’s on; a switch on the back lets you turn it off if you find it distracting.
I did end up making one change later, though: I removed the 6.5-inch-thick foam panels that usually sit behind my front left and right speakers and replaced them with half-cylindrical diffusers. The foam reduced the contribution of the rear-firing speakers to the sound; I liked the sound of the BP9060s better without it, and I thought that using the diffusers rather than the absorptive panels was more true to the design intent of the speakers.
Performance I had such a good time with the BP9060s that it’s hard to know where to start in describing the sound. Sure, there’s that added spaciousness of the bipolar configuration, but with a reasonable amount of focus. Perhaps most important, the sound is neutral, without significant sonic colorations, and the bass rocks.
Here’s an example: “Sundancers” from the LP Scores! by the L.A. Four. This assemblage of studio veterans practically embodied the laid-back vibe of 1970s jazz, and the BP9060 portrayed their balanced, slick sound beautifully. Nothing leapt out of the mix, and the sound had a big sense of space without seeming artificial–which is the way I think it should sound, considering it was recorded live at the 1974 Concord Jazz Festival. I wouldn’t look to any live concert recording as a reference for imaging; however, through the BP9060s, Bud Shank’s flute struck a satisfying balance between focused stereo imaging and live ambience, and Shelly Manne’s snare sounded like it was really on a stage and I was really sitting about 30 feet away.
For me, recordings made by Chesky Records are the reference standard for stereo imaging and soundstaging…and the perfect way to judge what the BP9060 was doing right and wrong. “No Flight Tonight,” from the Chesky CD The Three Guitars, features guitarist Larry Coryell hard left and Brazilian musician Badi Assad combining her guitar playing with percussion done by her hands and mouth. The interesting thing about this recording is the contrast in the artists’ sounds: Coryell focused in the left speaker and Assad’s “organic” percussion reverberating in the church where this was recorded. I expected the BP9060s to make Coryell sound excessively spacious and reverberant, but no–the sound seemed exactly as focused as it needed to be, while Assad’s percussion exhibited the exciting spaciousness it should have.
No, the BP9060s didn’t image as solidly in the center as my Revel F206s did, but vocals and other center-oriented sounds were focused enough to seem realistic. On “Stepsister’s Lament” from C�cile McLorin Salvant’s For One to Love CD, the BP9060s couldn’t achieve that gratifying pinpoint image focus that a good conventional speaker can, but it’s not like Salvant’s voice was unfocused or unrealistic, and the bipolar arrangement didn’t seem to add any coloration to the speaker’s inherently neutral sound. It didn’t hurt that the bass on this track had so much weight, focus, and definition through the BP9060s.
I always put on at least one fairly crude, low-quality recording when I do a speaker review–just to see if the speaker makes a harsh recording too harsh or a muddy recording even muddier. For this review, I used legendary Memphis studio guitarist Steve Cropper’s version of “Land of 1000 Dances,” from his 1969 album With a Little Help From My Friends. This might be the most hard-grooving recording I’ve heard in my 40-plus years of collecting records and CDs. It’s far from clean and well-defined, but the BP9060s made it sound better than I thought it could. I was surprised to hear how little the sound varied when I switched between the BP9060s and the Revel F206s; to me, that indicates the tonal balance of the BP9060 is spot-on. Honestly, the BP9060s sounded better on “Land of 1000 Dances” because bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn’s notes sounded tighter and punchier than they did through the F206’s dual passive 6.5-inch woofers.
Conclusion I loved every minute of the month or so that I used this system (well, at least every minute that I was using the system). The BP9060s’ big bipolar sound is so enjoyable to listen to, and the overall tonality is fundamentally neutral; so, unless you just absolutely demand pinpoint-focus stereo imaging, I predict that you’ll love listening to this speaker day in and day out. When you combine this overall great sound with the graceful integration of the Atmos modules and the powerful, easy-to-tune active bass section, you get one of the most safely recommendable speakers I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.
Brent Butterworth. Home Theatre Review