I don’t believe that Definitive Technology gets the audiophile street cred that it deserves. In some respects, they were one of the first companies whose reputation was predicated on designing speakers that allowed folks living on real-world budgets to get a taste of genuine hi-fi sound. Short of iconic designs like the Mythos ST and Mythos STS, Definitive was always more concerned about the sound of their creations than about their looks. Their best-known speakers, their bipolar tower models, were clad not in veneered cabinets but in simple black fabric socks that made them look like obelisks. They were distinctive, if not exactly stylish. The fact that they can be purchased from Best Buy and Crutchfield lends the brand more of a consumer feel, rather than the holier-than-thou audiophile patina. Just because you can buy a speaker online rather than through a bricks-and-mortar dealer doesn’t mean it can’t sound great.
Following Definitive Technology’s acquisition by Sound United -- which also owns Polk Audio, Marantz, and Classé, among other hi-fi brands -- the company’s attention to appearance has considerably evolved. Their new visual style is sleek, minimal, and futuristic, with copious use of brushed aluminum that contrasts with and complements their longstanding color of choice: black.
After Roger Kanno reviewed Definitive’s new flagship tower model, the BP9080x, in September 2017, and bestowed on it a Reviewers’ Choice award, I was more than curious to hear how one of their new Demand bookshelf models would sound. The Demand line is three models deep: the Demand D7 ($499/pair) marries a 1” tweeter to a 4.5” midrange-woofer; the Demand D9 ($749/pair) and the Demand D11 ($999/pair) have that same 1” tweeter, but larger midrange-woofers (5.25” and 6.5”, respectively) -- and, instead of the more common bass-reflex port found on the D7, each has a passive radiator (5”x9” and 6”x10”, respectively). The D9 looked like the sweet spot of the Demand lineup, and in short order I was setting up a pair of review samples in my living room.
Year after year, I continue to be impressed by how much speaker you can buy for under $1000/pair. It seems as if the materials used improve every bit as much as the build quality and tolerances, and the D9 is a perfect example. This 11.7”H x 6.5”W x 12”D, 17-pound speaker is straight-up classy, and not just for its price. Its rectilinear, 3/4”-thick cabinet has an attractive front baffle of 6mm-thick brushed aluminum bonded to a 15mm-thick layer of MDF that hides the drivers’ mounting bolts, for a clean, industrial look. The finish of the high-gloss black cabinet was excellent -- every bit as good as that of my reference bookshelf speakers, the twice-as-expensive KEF LS50s. Each D9 bears three Definitive Technology logos: the full name is stamped into the aluminum on the top of the speaker, a stylized “D.” is stamped into the bottom right corner, and the full name appears again, stenciled in tiny print, on the tweeter’s black surround. That may sound like overkill, but in daily use I didn’t notice any of them.
These little guys would look fantastic in a modern apartment or loft. Their fit’n’finish were perfect, except for the aluminum baffle not quite lining up with the right side of the cabinet on each speaker. To be fair, I could tell this only by touch -- I’m griping about 1mm on a $749 pair of speakers. Out back are two pairs of five-way binding posts for those who fancy biwiring, and the top of the cabinet is covered with a mesh to protect the passive, upward-radiating bass diaphragm.
The D9’s drive units, including the passive radiators, are derived from Definitive’s more expensive BP9000-series floorstanders, which their engineers say they’ve improved for the Demand models. The 1” aluminum-dome tweeter is offset to the left on the left speaker and to the right on the right, to minimize the diffraction of soundwaves by the cabinet’s edges. The 5.25” midrange-woofer uses Definitive’s Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS) technology, which features a traditional butyl surround for the cone, as well as a second, smaller surround that encircles the waveguide at the cone’s center. Definitive also believes that the D9’s 5” x 9” passive radiator is superior to a traditional bass port, as it produces no port noise, and makes possible smoother, deeper bass response.
The Demand D9’s frequency response is specified as 64Hz-22kHz, ±3dB, its nominal impedance as 8 ohms, and its efficiency as 88dB/W/m. The crossover network uses a second-order slope (12dB/octave), and the two drivers hand off to each other at 2.2kHz. The D9 should be easy to drive -- Definitive specifies a minimum amplification requirement of 20W.
The D9s came with an owner’s manual, a small felt wipe to keep the cabinets free of dust and fingerprints, and a pair of magnetic grilles that I promptly ditched.
Setting up the Demand D9s was dead simple. I perched them on my two-decade-old, 24”-high, no-name stands, 7’ apart and 1’ from my front wall. I angled the speakers toward my listening position, 8’ away, until I could just see the inner side of the cabinets.
I then wired them up to my Hegel Music Systems H360 integrated amplifier-DAC with DH Labs Q-10 Signature speaker cables, and plugged the H360 into my Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner with a Nordost Blue Heaven power cord. I streamed music via Tidal HiFi through the Hegel’s AirPlay input using my iPhone 7, and through the Hegel’s USB input using my MacBook Pro computer, using a DH Labs Silversonic USB link. I also made occasional use of Hegel’s HD30 DAC, which I hooked up to the H360’s balanced inputs with Nordost Blue Heaven XLR interconnects.
It was a Saturday night, and my wife and I stood in our living room, talking. The Definitive Technology Demand D9s had been in my system for more than a month, and I’d put on Blips and Blops, one of Tidal’s playlists of electronic music, updated monthly with new content. The first song had come and gone, but I’d barely registered that music was playing. The second song, French 79’s “Diamond Veins,” featuring Sarah Rebecca (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Tidal), which I’d never heard before, then began, Rebecca’s over-breathy, forward-sounding voice leaping from the right of the soundstage. I immediately stopped listening to my wife -- surely the first time that had ever happened -- craned my neck to better listen, and stood there transfixed. “Holy shit,” I muttered.
After you’ve spent years reviewing dozens upon dozens of products, such moments of genuine surprise -- moments that demand full, rapt attention, and seem to promise that the product triggering them can make possible profound emotional responses to music -- become increasingly rare. And from a product that can be had for well under $1000? All the rarer -- and better. It turned out that most of “Diamond Veins” isn’t very good, but I played its first 45 seconds over and over, just to hear Rebecca’s exquisite opening vocal. Her voice seemed to hang just behind the cabinet of the right-channel D9 as if the speaker weren’t even there, with breathtaking immediacy, clarity, and purity. It no doubt helped that the D9s were being driven by $6000 worth of Norwegian integrated electronics -- I’ve always believed that the most important ingredient in the hi-fi recipe is the loudspeaker.
The quality and cohesion of the D9’s tweeter and midrange-bass drivers proved sensational. Listening to the single “Mess You Made,” by Sam Lynch (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal), I began to appreciate this minimonitor’s enviable ability to resolve fine details. Lynch’s delicate voice was outlined with uncommon accuracy between the two D9s and completely detached from them. This spare, minimalist recording allowed Lynch’s closely miked voice and the accompanying reverb’d electric guitar to play in stark relief against an otherwise silent recording space. I was captivated. Her voice was chock-full of texture and detail, the D9s displaying an almost preternatural sense of pace. I wouldn’t characterize the Demand D9 as sounding bashful or relaxed -- its slight emphasis of the top of Lynch’s voice further accentuated this already hot-sounding recording.
Fearful that the D9 had a contoured midrange profile, I put on “Hello,” the monster hit from Adele’s 25 (16/44.1 FLAC, XL/Tidal). Adele’s voice is deeper and richer than Lynch’s, and the Definitive D9s conveyed to my ears healthy measures of her power and drive. That upper-midrange emphasis I’d heard seemed to vanish, revealing her lower register. “Hello” also highlighted just how good the Demand D9’s tweeter is: as refined a tweeter as I’ve heard at anywhere near this price. I heard huge amounts of air and space around Adele’s voice, yet it remained überclean and refined, with nothing in the way of hash or grain. This was a bit of a shock. All I could hear were pristine, effortless extension and the seamless integration of the tweeter’s output with that of Definitive’s BDSS midrange-bass driver. Seriously impressive.
Avicii, aka Tim Bergling, who took his own life on April 20, 2018, was one of the more interesting DJs of the past decade. His breakout single was “Levels” (2011), a dance track that sampled Etta James and was certified Platinum in the US. For his next big single, the Swedish DJ, best known for his infectiously catchy synths and melodies, arrived at Miami’s Ultra music festival in 2013 with R&B artist Aloe Blacc, Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger, and several banjoists in tow. Together they debuted “Wake Me Up,” from True (16/44.1 FLAC, Polydor/Tidal), a catchy, clever mashup of EDM, soulful lyrics, and toe-tappingly-good acoustic guitar chords. It sounded more like Mumford & Sons than one of the world’s top DJs. The young, presumably intoxicated crowd was bemused, even angered, but “Wake Me Up” went on to be a massive global hit -- and, in the process, briefly resurrect Folktronica. As in most dance hits, the vocals are a bit bright, transients snap in an almost unnatural way, and the thumping midbass synths do a lot of the artist’s heavy lifting.
With Hegel’s HD30 DAC hooked up to my system, I now had more than $10,000 worth of Scandinavian gear in front of the D9s -- an unlikely marriage, but the Demands rose to the challenge. R&B singer Aloe Blacc’s beautifully imaged voice popped from the soundstage with absurd definition, exhibiting the kind of dynamic contrast I’d expect from Magico speakers, flanked in either channel by Mike Einziger’s acoustic guitar -- I could easily hear every note in every chord he played. The attack and decay, the sheer speed of Blacc’s voice and Einziger’s guitar, were scintillating. The overall trebly character of the sound was due mostly to the track itself, but partly to the speakers. The D9s didn’t sound bright with this or any other track, but their treble was certainly prominent. If you value vibrancy, verve, and pop, the Demand D9 should be at the top of your list.
The Demand D9’s bass performance was quite good, if a bit complicated. In “Dreaming of the Crash,” from Hans Zimmer’s original score for the film Interstellar (16/44.1 FLAC, WaterTower Music/Tidal), the Definitives laid out a wide, deep soundstage punctuated by heavy wind and crashing waves. The bass line that enters at 1:50 is seriously low-pitched material, and I was caught off guard by how much the D9s, with their 5” x 9” passive radiators, were able to re-create it. With tracks like this, the D9s sounded more like small floorstanders than average-size bookshelf speakers. When I cranked up the volume the D9s were able to keep their composure, with nothing in the way of compression, or their passive radiators starting to flap about. That said, it was clear that this speaker’s output was notably looser below 100Hz than above, even at low volumes. This no doubt contributed to its sounding like a bigger speaker than it is -- though that full, ripe bottom end lacked the near-absolute control I heard through the mids and highs.
But those upward-radiating passive diaphragms made for some unique listening experiences. With some tracks with heavy upper-bass content, such as “Dreaming of the Crash,” the D9s seemed to project energy down into my floor, through my coffee table and couch, and finally into my legs and backside. (When I listen and write, I tend to sprawl.) The Demand D9s couldn’t actually produce subsonic bass, the type you feel more than hear -- for that, you’d need one of Definitive’s bipolar tower models with built-in powered subwoofer. Rather, the D9s loaded my room in a pretty peculiar way. This could certainly be due to my room, setup, stands, or some combination thereof, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I swapped out the Definitive Technology Demand D9s for my reference bookshelf speakers, KEF’s LS50s ($1499.99/pair), placing the British speakers exactly where the D9s had been. The LS50 is a benchmark product, with its highly damped, curved cabinet, and a coaxial Uni-Q driver that, like the D9, features a 5.25” midrange-bass driver. The LS50 costs twice the price of the Demand D9, and its cabinet feels denser and more solidly constructed -- but the two models weigh about the same, and the KEF’s piano-black finish was no nicer than the Definitive’s; the two speakers are equally handsome in different ways.
When I played “Wake Me Up” through the KEFs, I was taken aback at what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear an increase in resolution or articulated detail. I didn’t hear a sweeter or more sophisticated treble. I didn’t hear obviously better imaging, despite the KEFs’ well-engineered coaxial drivers. Overall, the two speakers sounded remarkably similar, with differences that had more to do with voicing than with any outright ability. The leading edges of Einziger’s guitar notes were less sibilant and accentuated through the LS50s, but otherwise sounded the same as they had through the Demand D9s. Blacc’s voice was a touch more 3D, but I could hear no additional low-level detail. In fact, the biggest difference between the two bookshelfs was in their reproductions of the bass line: The KEF gave up 5-10Hz of extension to the Definitive Technology, but countered with notably more control. The LS50’s bottom octave was very well integrated with the rest of the audioband, despite shelving off higher. This gave the LS50 a more balanced, neutral sound overall; the D9’s sound was rounder and punchier in the bass, livelier in the highs.
If it were my cash on the line, I’d opt for the Definitive Technology. Its mild concessions in bass control and three-dimensionality were more than offset by the fact that, above 100Hz, it matched the KEF’s every move. The liveliness of the Demand D9’s tweeter might not tickle every listener’s fancy, but not once during the listening period did I want to swap out the Definitives for my KEF LS50s -- or even my floorstanding KEF R700s. Make of that what you will.
Definitive Technology’s Demand D9 is a bona fide bargain. Partner it with some high-quality electronics and you’ll be rewarded with sound quality usually obtainable only at two or even three times its price of $749/pair. With its brushed-aluminum front baffle and glossy piano-black finish, the Demand D9 looks as if it’s about to attend a black-tie-only event, which should suit many a living room. Definitive Technology might be under new ownership, but they remain true to their values: authentic high-end engineering and sound at prices that almost any audiophile can afford, with a little hard work. Emphatically recommended.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- KEF LS50 and R700, Paradigm Monitor SE Atom
- Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
- Integrated amplifier-DAC -- Hegel Music Systems H360
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Hegel Music Systems HD30
- DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro computer running Tidal HiFi and iTunes, Apple iPhone 7
- Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
- Digital link -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
Definitive Technology Demand D9 Loudspeakers
Price: $749 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
1 Viper Way
Vista, CA 92081
Phone: (800) 228-7148
Fax: (410) 363-9998