Definitive Technology PowerMonitor 500 speaker system
They’ve got power and know how to use it
By Mike McGann
All you have to do is look at the ads for audio/video receivers to know it’s true. The first thing listed is almost always the power rating. Wacky power rating issues aside, generally the more power you put into your room, the better the sound, but people can sometimes get too hung up on numbers.
Power can make or break how your room sounds, but it depends on how you use it. Definitive Technology, long known for innovative speaker design, has come up with an interesting way to give you all the power you can ever use.
Def Tech’s new PowerMonitor 500 speaker (the smallest of three monitor designs in the new lineup) bundles a surprisingly small package crammed with power and performance. Sure, there’s the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and 4 1/2-inch mid-range driver, which may look kind of similar to what you might find in dozens of mini monitor speakers. The average part of the speakers end there. Definitive adds a side-firing eight-inch woofer, powered by its own 150-watt amplifier to create a package that packs a wallop for just $425.
We were able to get four PowerMonitor 500s, a matching, larger center channel speaker (more on that later) the L/C/R 2300 ($599), a ProSub 200TL 12-inch subwoofer ($549) with a 250-watt amp (probably more subwoofer than this system requires) and a pair of Pro Monitor 80s ($225/pair) to use as rear surrounds in my 7.1 setup.
Make no mistake, these are not large speakers. Next to the MB Quart OLS 1030 tower speakers that have been living in my theater lately, they look positively tiny, until you fire them up.
Cosmetically, they very much look like a member of the Def Tech family, with a wrap-around grill set between piano black gloss tops and bottoms. Without question, it remains a simple and elegant look, fitting nicely into most decors. More importantly, at this size, it can fit easily and subtly as well. The Pro Monitor 50s are rear ported, but can be used on a bookshelf or in a cabinet, as they need only about an inch of room to be effective.
Set up takes a bit more work, as there are more variables to deal with. Each of the speakers, much like a subwoofer, has level controls, forcing you to manually adjust each one to get the perfect sound. It only took me a little time to get the hang of it, setting our reference Onkyo TX-DS989 receiver in a neutral fashion and making the major adjustments at the speakers.
The PowerMonitors found an acoustic flaw in my room, too. Having never placed speakers capable of sound below 50 Hz on my side surround shelves, I never knew there was a resonance buzz at about
40 Hz. I ended up having to remount a lighting bracket, which had previously been quiet, but was brought to life by the nearby bass source.
While my lighting bracket was less than delighted, the room otherwise seemed to come alive. All of the PowerMonitor 500s extended deeply into the sub-30 Hz area, matching the bass performance of the better high-end towers.
Better yet, the center channel speaker matched that bass performance of the other four speakers, going more than 20 Hz deeper than what I’ve found with most center channel speakers. Aside from smoothing out the bass response, the built-in subs also cut down on room mode, the phenomena that causes bass sound to be lower in some parts of the room. Moving around my theater, I heard a pretty consistent bass response.
The sound was nothing short of impressive. I began my testing with stereo music, as usual. Rapidly, I was blown away by the detail and imaging. Mark Knopfler’s vocals on Sailing to Philadelphia were deep and rich, with instrument placement clearly distinct. At the same time, bass response was outstanding. If there’s a bass hole in this system, I couldn’t find it.
Five-channel audio was just as good, again richly detailed. The upper end had more than enough clarity to reveal the difference between Dolby Digital and DVD-Audio. I played Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily both ways and found the crispness and spaciousness drastically improved by playing it in DVD-Audio mode.
Movie soundtracks were just as much a revelation. Dialogue was very sharp and clear. As an example, the sometimes murky banter in Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me during the party scene came across sharp and clear.
Interestingly, another side effect of the built-in powered woofers was the seeming movement of bass sound, adding realism. I noted this particularly while watching the plane explosion scene in Cast Away. I really couldn’t hear a flaw in these speakers. The tweeters are clear, sharp and well defined like the best of British speakers, but the powered woofer gives them a deep, strong lower mid-range I’ve rarely heard before from such extremely accurate speakers, and certainly not in this price range.
Considering that Def Tech sent me more subwoofer than this system needs, one could put together an exceptionally good performing system for less than $3,000. Not to mention that you can get tower-like sound if you don’t have space for towers (or live with someone who will begin tossing your possessions out the window if you try to put them in their living room), the PowerMonitor 500 is hard to beat from a number of standpoints. This may be the best value on the speaker market today, a great blend of affordable pricing and world class performance.
November 1, 2001
Definitive Technology PowerMonitor 500 speaker system