My fondness for big speakers is longstanding, but I'm almost as big a fan of smaller speakers that sound big. Take Definitive Technology's StudioMonitor 55 speaker ($299 each). Measuring 13x7.8x12.3 inches it's not all that big, but it weighs a hefty 15.4 pounds. The StudioMonitor 55 is a handsome, but conventional-looking design, until you peel off the cloth grille on the top of the speaker and see the "racetrack bass radiator." It's a unique Def Tech feature, and one that really helps the StudioMonitor 55 outperform similarly sized speakers.
The speaker also features a cast-basket 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter. The Linear Response Waveguide that looks like a big knob in the center of the woofer helps improve dispersion. The woofer also features Def Tech's patented Balanced Double Surround System that supports the woofer cone at its inner and outer edges to keep distortion low. The medium-density fiberboard cabinet feels rock-solid, and the vinyl wood grain finish with high-gloss black baffle looks great. The rear panel houses bi-amp/bi-wire binding posts.
The two key advantages big speakers have over little ones are they make more bass and play louder, so I was shocked by how much bass these speakers can produce. It was so deep I could feel the bass through my feet on the floor! I'm not kidding! That rarely happens with speakers this size, but the others don't have a racetrack bass radiator providing extra oomph down there. Some small speakers boost midbass frequencies to make them sound more potent than they really are, but the StudioMonitor 55's bass is linear and smooth.
The StudioMonitor 55s didn't seem to mind playing loud enough to rock out in my large loft space. Sure, there are limits to how loud they can go, but it was plenty loud for me. Not only that, the StudioMonitor 55's freewheeling dynamics were beyond my expectations for a midsize bookshelf speaker.
Which reminds me, though it will fit in a bookcase, it won't sound its best there. Like all high-quality speakers the StudioMonitor 55s' sound will "open up" when they're placed on stands a foot or more away from walls and large furniture. Only then will you hear the StudioMonitor 55s' incredible stereo imaging. In my room they projected a wide, deep, and downright spacious soundstage. They sound so big some of you might be satisfied with a pair of these in a two-channel home theater system. I watched a few movies, sans subwoofer, and loved the sound.
Or if you insist on a 5.1 system, go ahead and add Def Tech's CS-8040HD center-channel speaker ($499); StudioMonitor 45s as surround speakers ($398); and the SuperCube 4000 subwoofer ($799). Is two-channel home theater is starting to look a bit more attractive now? It's your choice, of course, but you can always start with a pair of StudioMonitor 55s, and if you really miss 5.1, add the other speakers and sub at a later date.
The Black Keys' "Attack & Release" CD packed a mighty wallop, and I was truly shocked by the speakers' ability to convey Patrick Carney's hard-hitting drums. Bass definition and punch were exceptional, but the 55 isn't just about power, it's a very refined speaker, so classical music and jazz also sounded wonderful.
Of course, if you really want to rock out or throw a party, it still pays to consider a larger Def Tech or maybe that monster Klipsch RF-7II tower I wrote about a few weeks ago; size still matters.
I used the Emotiva Mini-X amp (now on sale for $175) for most of my listening tests, and the pairing was a winning combination. Add a phone or music player and you've got a very serious system for well under a grand. Sure, that's still a lot of money, but there's a good chance you could enjoy the system for 10 or more years. That's one of the best things about quality audio, it lasts a long time, so it's a great investment.
I also listened to the StudioMonitor 55s with my Bel Canto REF500S, a 250-watt-per-channel stereo amp, and the sound was considerably more dynamic and alive. More than that, the speakers' see-through transparency jumped a couple of notches. The smaller Studio Monitor 45 speaker runs $199 each and shares most of the 55's features.