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Reviewing Definitive Technology’s D11 Bookshelf Speaker

Definitive delivered a top-of-the-line bookshelf speaker that can actually still fit on a bookshelf, as the D11 stands just 13 inches tall and 12.5 inches deep.

Few–if any–other components in a modern audio-video system have a longer lifespan than that of speakers. With modern materials mostly eliminating the dreaded “foam rot” of yore, a pair of well cared-for speakers can last years without experiencing any degradation in sound quality, and are able to keep up with whatever technological advances happen around them.

While video and AVR technologies are updated yearly, speaker upgrades tend to move at a more deliberate pace as manufacturers spend years developing, testing, and refining before releasing a new model. The upshot of this is that the launch of a new speaker often includes generational performance improvements rather than just some minor tweaks.

Definitive Technology last updated its bookshelf series nearly six years ago with the introduction of the redesigned Studio Monitor series. Since that time, the company has undergone quite a bit of change, namely a new speaker and industrial design team, and coming under the ownership umbrella of Sound United along with Polk, Denon, Marantz, Boston Acoustics, and, most recently, Classé.

[Niles Adds Landscape Audio Series]

While the Studio Monitors still satisfied sonically, they have a boxy, woodgrain finish that doesn’t really fit in with the sleek design aesthetic of recent Definitive launches and featured outdated tweeter technology. Definitive addressed this by giving its bookshelf lineup a complete revamp by rolling out the new Demand Series at this past CEDIA.

The Demand Series features three models: the diminutive D7 ($499/pair), the middle-child D9 ($749/pair), and the flagship D11 (reviewed here at $999/pair). Also available are the ST1 stands that raise the speakers 32 inches and secure the speaker in place via a bottom threaded insert. Usually a company’s flagship “bookshelf” model is so large it more resembles a mini floorstander, so I appreciated that Definitive delivered a top-of-the-line bookshelf speaker that can actually still fit on a bookshelf, as the D11 stands just 13 inches tall and 12.5 inches deep.

Visually, the speakers look cool, sleek, modern, and, frankly, quite masculine. They have sharp, square edges finished in five layers of high-gloss black paint polished to a mirror-like finish with a trim of aluminum around the front where the grille attaches. Removing the magnetically attached grille reveals the aluminum front baffle with the black drivers standing in stark contrast. It’s an impressive look and if I didn’t have kids, I’d leave the grilles off. These speakers look like they should be in a modern, sparse office or luxury penthouse condo surrounded by black leather and chrome-appointed furniture and walls of glass; picture the classic Maxell cassette ad.

Removing the speaker grilles also exposes one of the new technology twists incorporated in the Demand Series: laterally offset tweeters. Look at virtually any other loudspeaker design and the tweeters are centered on the cabinet, but here Definitive has offset the tweeters by 5 degrees to “deliver better high-frequency dispersion for more precise center stereo image by eliminating undesirable symmetric diffraction from the corners of the front baffle.” This means the speakers are labeled as left and right on the rear panel. This is also a new 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter that incorporates a 20/20 Wave Alignment Lens for smoother high-frequency response and better dispersion.

Bass is produced by a 6.5-inch Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS) mid-bass driver that features a new Linear Response Waveguide to extend on- and off-axis frequency response and a passive radiator. Wasting no inch of valuable real estate, Definitive covered the top of the speaker in grille cloth to conceal the 6- by 10-inch passive radiator that extends low-frequency response.

The rear panel sports dual five-way binding posts allowing you to bi-wire or bi-amp the speaker. The speaker is rated for amplification ranging from 20 to 200 watts, and I found its 90dB sensitivity pretty amplifier friendly. Those looking for a simple, high-performance two-channel listening system could pair some D11s with Definitive’s own W Amp wireless streaming amplifier and have a high-resolution music system that takes up little space.

I don’t take the opportunity to just sit and enjoy two-channel music nearly enough, so auditioning the D11s was an absolute treat. Just plunking myself into the stereo sweet spot and really listening to music for a while is kind of a lost pleasure, and the D11s really reward the effort.

I went through my music library and Tidal to enjoy a host of favorite songs and the D11s delivered sonic bliss with each cut. When you can close your eyes and be transported to the recording space–visualizing and focusing on each performer–that’s when you know a system has reached the next performance plane, and the D11s’ high resolution detail reveals sonic layers in in everything I played.

I’ve mentioned Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue times in previous reviews, and I’m so familiar with the album at this point that I continue returning to it to see how systems handle it. The D11s’ presented the soundstage on “So What” perfectly, with each instrument in a clearly defined space with plenty of width, but with Miles’ trumpet locked and starring center stage.

Diana Krall’s latest album, Turn Up The Quiet, features 11 jazz standards selected by Krall and the MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) recording on Tidal sounds terrific. The album’s opening track, “Like Someone In Love,” begins with John Clayton, Jr. plucking notes on a standing bass that demonstrates the D11s’ ability to effortlessly and clearly articulate a full range of bass notes. The speakers also convey the dimensionality of the strings ringing and the texture of Clayton’s fingers sliding across the strings while still giving Krall’s husky-breathy vocals plenty of space to shine.

Few recordings are as stripped down, simple, and unprocessed as The Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session. This album was recorded with the band circled around a single microphone at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, with only the church’s acoustics providing natural reverb. This sparse recording offers nowhere for a poor-sounding speaker to hide, and the D11s definitely rose to the challenge. Margo Timmins’ vocals have a liquid and dreamy texture that floats centered in the space before you, while each instrument seems to have just a bit of extra weight and dimensionality due to the church’s reflectivity. The D11’s tweeter handles Peter Timmins’ cymbal work on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with the balance, detail, and delicacy it deserves, clearly presenting each strike.

A speaker-listening session wouldn’t be complete without “High Roller” from The Crystal Method’s Vegas. This track is fueled by a driving electronic bass track, with deep bass notes that test a speaker’s mettle. The D11s demonstrated they can reach admirably deep into the audible spectrum, delivering the “big note,” but not capable of producing truly tactile bass. For truly full-range listening, the D11s’ 6.5-inch BDSS drivers would benefit from assistance from a powered sub.

Definitive Technology created a name for itself by crafting high-performance speakers at reasonable prices, and the Demand Series definitely carries this legacy forward. For projects where size and aesthetics are equally as important as performance, the Demand Series D11 speakers are sure to deliver.