No one ever said that Definitive Technology was a low-key brand. Known since the 80s for its big, bipolar speakers and even bolder adverts, Def Tech has been an American icon for decades now. Moving into 2020 though, their new Demand Series which landed on Indian shores last year, added the flagship floorstander to the line-up, the D17.
Breaking away from the bipolar tradition, the Demand Series was a whole new way of thinking for the brand in various aspects besides acoustics. The emphasis on industrial design is obvious as they are designed in California and proudly wear that badge wherever they can and they eschew the bipolar configuration for front-firing drivers and side-firing passive radiators. Sonically, this new direction has resulted in a very different kind of sound that what you may remember Definitive for. Is it for the better? Let’s find out….
Although our review samples were gloss black, Definitive Technology has the Demand Series available in gloss white too and I believe with their light grey, full-length grilles, they would be even more decor friendly. Of course, the 5 layers of high gloss paintwork gives the black variant a pleasing presence in the room too. The front baffle, made from extruded aluminium makes both finishes look identical from a straight-up position, so it’s only the top and the sides that give away the actual finish of the speakers. Around the back, two pairs of sturdy binding posts mean that you could bi-wire or bi-amp them and we chose the former with our reference AVM monoblocks and Roon Nucleus + Limetree Bridge + SoulNote DAC as the upstream electronics.
Without their grilles on, the D17 definitely exudes a very high-tech, avant-garde look that justifies their “Designed in California” claim. Fortunately, every form here has a function to it, starting with the offset aluminium tweeters that are mirror-imaged for the left and right towers. Said to reduce edge diffraction from the corners of the cabinet when there is equal distance on either side of the tweeter, Def Tech is aiming for a sharp and focused sound here. It’s further aided by their 20/20 Wave Alignment Lens, which basically works like a mini waveguide for the annealed tweeter’s response and improve its off-axis linearity. Moving on to the 6.5in polypropylene driver, it too gets its own Linear Response Waveguide and it’s this element that gives the Demand series its distinctive look, even amongst more expensive loudspeakers. Coupled with the Balanced Double Surround System, it gives this midrange the accuracy of a smaller driver while combining the excursion and output levels of a larger driver. It’s a clever system and one that works. Twin carbon-fibre woofers of the same size as the midrange dominate the front baffle and these are again, all-new and not seen on any other Def Tech speakers. I’m glad that their size is capped at 6.5in since it allows for better transient response and speed, something that the dual 10in passive radiators help with immensely. Besides making them easier to place around the room, the dual side-firing radiators also effectively increase output and extension, while keeping the front baffle as narrow as possible for a 3-way design like this. Even the plinths that hold the spikes in place have a lot of thought (and design) put into them not only to make them look attractive but also very stable on any kind of surface and effective decoupling with the floor.
So on paper and in the flesh, the D17 towers look like winners with all the right ingredients for a phenomenal entree. Good news is that they actually sound phenomenal too! Without giving away any spoilers, it’s safe to say that that the D17 builds on the Def Tech heritage to please cinephiles on a budget but now with a generous sprinkling of audiophile magic sauce. Placing them in our room, with medium toe-in resulted in a big enough soundstage with pin-point centre imaging that was honestly, very addictive. Whether it was Pat Coil’s Escape Clause on the Sheffield Drive sampler with its fast-paced jazz ensemble or Work Song by Hozier, the D17 had a tight grip on rhythm will digging deep for definition in the bass that made for a listening experience that was both musical and clinical at the same time. Compared to our reference PMC Twenty5.26 towers, the D17 exhibited sharper imaging and a stronger centre image, but its soundstage wasn’t as deep and lush, so it does boil down to personal tastes and even the acoustics in your listening space.
Needless to say, the D17’s can more than keep up with some of the best at the price and in fact in terms of value, outshine most. The clarity on female vocals is uncanny and forgetting the hardware becomes an easy task if they’re properly set-up into your room. The aluminium tweeter, if you’re apprehensive about such materials is smooth and refined at the top-end, never causing fatigue even over extended hours of listening and overall as a 3-way system, the D17 really can go loud and deep enough to make for a stellar backbone of a 5.1 speaker system too. For 2-channel listening, I never felt the need to engage the reference REL subwoofer at all and the total of four bass and four passive radiators seem to do the job pretty well, with superb speed and accuracy.
Capable of serious SPLs, the Demand series blends the traits that Definitive Technology is known for, like high-excursion drivers and perfectly matched surround and centre speakers but this time, with more accuracy than bipolar designs and more flexibility in placement around the room. Their modern industrial design is a major step-up compared to the big old sock of previous generations too and this attribute alone will charm even those who aren’t looking for peak performance. But the value they represent is still very much rooted in what the brand stands for and on the Demand series, it’s highlighted better than ever before!