Bookshelf Speakers

Harman Kardon and Definitive Technology

ARTICLE INDEX

System Performance Observations

What more can be said about Avatar that has not already been said? I thought this movie was a cinch to win the Oscar for Best Picture this year. I can only imagine that Hurt Locker must have just barely edged out Avatar for this accolade. In my humble opinion, Avatar has a stronger message than Hurt Locker and it is so finely crafted. This Blu-Ray is so well produced and I've watched it a number of times already. This makes for excellent review material.

Affordable Systems Reviews; Harman Kardon and Definitive Technology

The disc loaded very rapidly on the BDP-1. The motion detail was a little better than average on this system. The CGI scenes looked better than the live action scenes, from both a resolution and a dynamic range standpoint. The colors were not as saturated as I remember from the theatrical presentation. Still, I felt transported to this mythical world due to the excellent motion smoothness and detail in the CGI scenes.

On the audio front, the bass needed to be adjusted slightly at first. This is where the side-mounted volume knob is very handy. The sub must have a limiter circuit because I only rarely heard sounds of doubling on this very active soundtrack. The sounds in the Hometree attack scene were very appropriately sickening. The sub doesn't have the highest degree of slam on movies. I got in-room bass response to about 32 Hz or so. Be that as it may, I found the bass to be strong and clean sounding on all actual program material.

The sound was characterized by a flat frequency response, an open sound field and a very articulate top end. The voices may sound a little nasal at times, but they were always sharp as a tack. The satellites also have very good mid-bass response as advertised. All in all, these speakers don't give up a lot to more expensive products from many other manufacturers . . . the sequence where Sully bonds and then flies the Eclan alongside Neytiri had me on the edge of my seat.

Next up was the Blu-Ray of Brothers. Although I felt that the acting was a little contrived throughout, I did enjoy this movie. It did a reasonably effective job demonstrating how war can shatter peoples' lives and even makes some of them into animals.

Affordable Systems Reviews; Harman Kardon and Definitive Technology

The sound was ever so slightly tilted up, but very, very smooth. The bass lines in the opening scene and on the music throughout provided a solid anchor to the sound when called upon. Voices, both loud and soft, just poured out of the center speaker. This system competently filled my large room with sound, but with a slightly restricted sound stage height. The system did a fantastic job with all the various environmental sounds in Brothers – with exceptional delicacy and air.
The Brothers disc loaded quickly in the BDP 1. The picture was smooth but detailed. The colors had a very natural tone. The ice rink scene in the snow fall was a good example of the system's strength at delivering a natural and detailed picture, even when there was a decent amount of motion in the picture.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. This incredible CD features 15 original Van Zandt compositions performed by 15 different guest artists. I ripped it to my iPod Touch using Apple Lossless Encoding and then played it back over The Bridge III.

Affordable Systems Reviews; Harman Kardon and Definitive Technology

Once the system was warmed up, the sound of Poet over the AVR 3600 was pleasant. I felt that "Highway Kind" by the Cowboy Junkies was haunting. And Emmylou Harris' voice floated from the center speaker on "Snake Song". I actually thought that all the voices sounded good, from the gravelly low tones of John Prine to the plaintive wails of Lucinda Williams. But the sound was hampered by a persistent digital haze that distorted the leading edges of notes. Still, I felt that the sound was fairly close to CD quality. Be that as it may, I wound up using The Bridge III for casual listening only.

The Definitive Technology speakers were quite impressive on Poet. The tweeters had an uncanny ability to render the upper harmonics of string instruments. The soundstage was wider than average while the front to back presentation was a little more forward than I usually get on this album. I was able to obtain a balanced bass response that was strong enough to provide a solid foundation for the music.

I closed out my critical listening with the 1993 CD release of Frank Sinatra Duets. This album, which had the Chairman singing along with an all star line-up of performers from Anita Baker to Luther Vandross, has gone triple platinum. I listened to this CD on the BDP 1 feeding the AVR 3600 over HDMI. I set the receiver to DPL II.

Affordable Systems Reviews; Harman Kardon and Definitive Technology

Several layers of digital haze were stripped away and I discovered this system's true potential sound quality. I could differentiate the precise locations of the performers. I thought that the sound field was very wide to the point that the orchestra sounded downright majestic. The sub was quite nimble and well integrated even if it didn't play super loud. Don't forget that this is an 8" sub that retails for just $399!

The standout tracks on Duets are "New York, New York" with Tony Bennett, "I've Got the World on a String" with Liza Minnelli and "I've Got You under My Skin" with Bono. This CD is a veritable hit parade. I found that the horns, especially the muted trumpets, sounded much more real than I expected at this price point. The speakers, in particular, really did sound big with this orchestra.