Definitive Technology enjoys a hard-won reputation for ofering inovative loudspeakers that deliver high performance at modest prices. A good example would be its $1649 ProCinema 1000 5.1-channel speaker system, which in the deluxe configuration we tested comprises four ProMonitor 1000 mini-monitors, a ProCenter 2000 center-channel speaker, and a ProSub 1000 powered subwoofer. From the outside the ProCinema system looks much like any number of other good “generic” sat/sub systems on the market. But appearances are deceiving, because once you hear the ProCinema system you’ll know there is nothing generic about its sound.
From the outset this compact system sounded much bigger than it looks. I tried a variety of multichannel orchestral recordings with vigorous dynamic themes and came away impressed by the grace the system showed under pressure. On the “March to the Scaffold” movement from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique [Järvi/Cincinnati, Telarc SACD], the ProCinema system boldly reproduced the bright sheen and bite of the orchestra’s brass section, even as it forcefully recreated the concussive waves of bass energy from the battery of percussion instruments. Similarly, the system did a fine job with Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake,” from The Globe Sessions [A&M, SACD], capturing the choppy bark of the electric guitar, the hard pop of the snare drum, and chunky, propulsive rumble of the bass guitar. Though the ProCinema system does not offer the seemingly limitless dynamic clout that certain large floorstanders do, it latches on to high-energy orchestral and rock passages with a compelling, exuberant verve.
The ProCinema system’s dynamic strengths also helped convey the drama, tension, and explosive impact of good film soundtracks. I trotted out a series of familiar cinematic blockbusters— the “Echo Game” scene from House of Flying Daggers [Sony], the “Sky” scene from Hero [Miramax], “The Flying Boat” scene from The Aviator [Warner Bros.], and the “Under Attack” scene from Master and Commander [20th Century/Fox]—and was struck by the way the system simultaneously reproduced delicate textural details while answering the abrupt, even brutal, low-frequency demands these passages impose. Many small systems can play loudly, but few do so while conveying any real sense of poise or dynamic authority. The ProCinema system was an exception. Only when driven to excessive volumes did it exhibit traces of hardness and compression.
I attribute the system’s fine dynamics to two design innovations incorporated in the ProCinema satellite and centerchannel speakers. First, the speakers introduce evolutionary mid/bass drivers whose diaphragms are supported both by outer and inner suspension rings (traditionally, diaphragms are supported by outer surround rings only). The drivers also incorporate cylindrical waveguides that double as heat sinks. These new mid/bass drivers may be the finest that Definitive has produced—delivering terrific dynamic punch with very low distortion. Second, the designs incorporate small passive radiators mounted in the tops (or, for the center channel, in the ends) of their cabinets. These give the speakers a smoother, more full-bodied sound, especially in the mid- and upperbass regions—areas where many small monitors tend to sound somewhat thin. More importantly, the passive radiators help the ProCinema satellites integrate well with their companion subwoofer.
In talks with Definitive’s president, Sandy Gross, and chief technology officer, Don Givogue, I gathered that the new ProCinema mid/bass drivers and passive radiators were developed with the primary aim of enhancing dynamic capabilities—a design goal that has been well met. But the new drivers also provide a collateral benefit that, to my way of thinking, is huge. Specifically, they reproduce midrange textures, details, and nuances like nobody’s business, giving the ProCinema speakers the sort of high-end resolving power I never expected to hear from a budget-priced surround system.
The ProCinema system serves up clean, clear highs and a midrange that is shockingly detailed and nuanced. In fact, sophisticated midrange sound is this system’s crowning achievement, revealing small instrumental and vocal textures and details that many small systems simply cannot reproduce. For example, the ProCinema system captured the almost subliminal upper-range inflections of Valerie Joyce’s voice on New York Blue [Chesky]. What makes Joyce’s vocal inflections tricky, and the Definitives’ ability to reproduce them impressive, is that they fall in that elusive region where midrange fundamentals are just starting to melt into high harmonics and overtones. What the ProCinemas reveal is that Joyce controls her upper register expertly, using it to add a breathy touch of expressiveness where appropriate. Lower in the audio spectrum, the speakers also nailed the fingering noises, plucked string sounds, and deep, almost butterscotchsmooth tone of Charlie Haden’s acoustic bass in Nocturnes [Verve].
One small criticism I would offer, however, is that Definitive’s aluminumdome tweeters, though respectable, are not in the same performance league as the new low-distortion ProCinema mid/bass drivers discussed above. While the two drivers generally integrate well, the tweeters sometimes exhibit a slightly coarse, hard-edged quality that stands out in contrast to the mid/bass drivers’ smooth, open sound. Though these discontinuities are relatively minor in an absolute sense, they do at times undercut the system’s otherwise fine imaging. But remember that the ProCinema tweeters are arguably as good if not better than those found in most competing surround systems at this price.
Completing the system is the 300- watt ProSub 1000, which draws much of its technology from Definitive’s award-winning SuperCube subwoofers. In practice this means that the ProSub goes very low and produces energetic bass with dynamic capabilities that are well matched to the rest of the system. Pitch definition is good, though not quite on a par with the best I’ve heard, either from full-range speakers or other subs in this price range (for example, from Epos’ highly articulate ELS sub). But that said, I would observe that the ProSub1000 also offers considerably greater bass wallop than most of its competitors, putting a solid midbass foundation beneath music and film soundtracks alike.
Overall, I consider the $1649 ProCinema 1000 system a bargain. It looks small, plays big, and gives listeners a substantial taste of the revealing midrange qualities normally associated with higherend two-channel speaker systems. TAS