Definitive Technology’s ProCinema 800 system is the cost-reduced little brother of the award-winning ProCinema 1000 system I reviewed in The Perfect Vision, issue 70. Where the ProCinema 1000 system was priced at $1649, the smaller but similarly configured ProCinema 800 rig will set you back an even more modest $1099, making this one of the lowestprice systems in our Buyer’s Guide survey. But frankly, you’d never guess the price on the basis of this system’s exquisite sound. In fact, if you heard the system blindfolded, my guess is that you’d instinctively tack an extra grand (or more) on its imagined asking price.
What makes the ProCinema system special are its ProMonitor 800 satellites and ProCenter 1000 center channel speaker, which sport two deceptively simple but innovative pieces of technology. First, the speakers incorporate tiny “pressure coupled planar medite” passive radiators (each a little larger than a drink coaster) that fit in the tops of satellites and ends of the center channel speaker. The radiators help give these speakers respectable bass response in spite of their extremely compact enclosures.
Second, the ProCinema speakers feature distinctive mid-bass drivers that use both outer and inner flexible surround rings (the soft rubber-like rings that suspend the driver cone and allow it to move forward and backward) and a centrally positioned waveguide that doubles as a heat sink. Definitive intended for these design refinements to improve dynamics and power handling, which they do, but a side benefit is that they also help the mid-bass drivers to sound astonishingly clear and refined— more like the drive units you’d expect to find in very expensive high-end stereo speakers.
Completing the system is a 300-watt ProSub 800 subwoofer, which uses an 8-inch polypropylene woofer and an 8-inch “infrasonic” passive radiator. Though modest in both size and price, the system has a big and exceptionally refined sound that is satisfying on movies and—especially—music.
If I had to describe the sound of the ProCinema 800 system in just two words, the words I would pick would be “transparency” and “focus.” Here’s why. Unlike many speaker systems in (or even well above) this price class, the ProCinema 800 system offers listeners a rare degree of “see-through” sonic clarity, so that the system itself steps out of the limelight to direct your attention toward the soundtrack or music at hand. In particular, the system does an unusually good job of reproducing the finer nuances of textural and transient details so that images of actors, sound effects, or musicians immediately come into sharp focus—kind of like the sonic equivalent of stepping up from an entry-level digital camera to the picture quality of a higher-resolution professional model.
In terms of tonal balance the ProCinema system is generally good, though its highs are tilted just slightly to the bright side of neutral. If you wish, you can use a good room EQ system to trim the highs back just a touch, but you may find—as I did— that the ProCinema system often sounds clearest and most natural when room EQ systems and all other forms of digital signal processing are turned off. The bottom line is that the pure, unprocessed sound of the ProCinema system is pretty hard to beat.
Bass response of the ProSub 800 system is more deeply extended than that of most other subs in our survey, though its dynamic capabilities fall at about the mid-pack level.
Sound effects connoisseurs love listening to the “Sky” chapter of Hero, because of its uncanny combination of environmental sounds (raindrops falling into small catch-bowls in an open-air pavilion), action noises (loud sounds of a sword striking a spear, punctuated by eerie martial arts cries), and instrumental music (the sounds of a haunting koto theme played by an old man seated toward the rear of the pavilion). The ProCinema 800 system simply had a field day with all those sonic textures, tonalities, and details and did a really enchanting job with each of them. The system stays quite clear and dynamically alive, even at relatively high volume levels, though when pushed very hard, it does begin to sound a bit thin.
If you listen to the loud, low-frequency effects heard as the hero Nameless makes his final charge toward Sky, you’ll quickly discover that the ProSub 800 reaches down lower than most subs in this class can go. But if you really crank up the volume, you may also find that the sub becomes a little bit ragged as the sound effect reaches its loudest, lowest point. Frankly, most listeners are unlikely to subject the system to this kind of low-frequency abuse, but if you think that you might, then consider spending an extra $100 to step up to Definitive’s ProSub 1000, which offers even deeper bass and more dynamic clout than the ProSub 800.
On music, the ProCinema 800 system proved a real charmer, sounding more like a high-end audiophile system than I ever imagined a $1099 surround rig could. I put on a very realistic multichannel SACD of The Fry Street Quartet performing the Haydn String Quartet in F Major, op. 77, no. 2 [Iso-Mike], and came away wowed by sound. The system not only nailed the distinct, though intricately interwoven, voices of the four stringed instruments but also demonstrated an uncanny ability to place each instrument in its own precise location within the soundstage. In terms of precise 3D imaging, the ProCinema system has few if any peers in this price class.