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Ever since Dolby Atmos appeared on the home audio scene two years ago it has posed a challenge for potential buyers as well as speaker designers. For the user it was "should I buy new height speakers, drill holes in my roof, or dangle ill-fitting modules from the top of my existing speakers?" Definitive Technology has come up with the most elegant solution we've seen so far, but it's not cheap.
The BP9040 tower speaker and its innovative Atmos dock enables users to keep height speakers as an option, without needing to invest in Atmos from the get-go. If you're not all that excited by Atmos or DTS:X, just stick with the BP9040 a la carte ($1,800 per pair). If you change your mind in a year or two, pick up a set of A90 add-on height speakers ($500 per pair), plug 'em in, redo the set-up of your home theater, and you'll be in business.
The Def Tech's sound quality is geared toward movies, especially after adding the optional docking speakers, with the onboard subwoofers adding real punch to action movies. Music is pretty serviceable but you'll need a warm amp to counter the bright-sounding drivers.
At $2,300 with the A90 add-on, the BP9040 speaker is breathing rarified air, and while it offers excellent home theater sound, it is up against stiff competition. In our comparison we ended up preferring the Pioneer SP-EFS73, which is less expensive ($1,400 per pair), even though you will need to add a subwoofer.
Without the optional height speaker docked on top, the BP9040 is a 39-inch tall tower speaker encased in an acoustically-transparent mesh. The cosmetics are simply lovely, complete with aluminum accents from the top cover and the solid formed base. The speaker's black grille hides a bipolar speaker arrangement which consists of two 4.5-inch drivers in a D'Appolito configuration around a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter in the front, and in the back another dome tweeter and single 4.5-inch driver. This unusual arrangement is designed to increase the sweet spot and make the speakers sound "big."
At the top of the speaker, hidden under a slab of velvet-lined aluminum, lives a port for the optional A90 attachment, which costs $499 per pair. The A90 is a height effects speaker for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks and is designed to sit flush with the main unit. The back of the speaker is designed to accommodate the add-on with two sets of terminals at the bottom which add up to a much cleaner look than other after-market options.
Continuing the trend for innovation is the bass section of the speaker -- the BP9040 features a powered 8-inch subwoofer with a dedicated volume control. While the speaker includes a LFE connection the company recommends running the speakers full range (consult your receiver manual on how to direct subwoofer effects to your speakers). Paired with this are two passive radiators also eight inches across.
The BP9040 is at a mid-point in the new BP9000 collection, which also includes the BP9020, costing $1,300 per pair, the BP9060 ($2,200 per pair), and the flagship BP9080X, which runs $3,500 and includes an integrated Atmos speaker.
We started with the BP9040s setup with their optional, plug-in A90 Dolby Atmos/DTS:X speaker modules. We did nudge the volume of the modules 3dB higher than the BP9040 tower's level, which helped add a little extra vertical spaciousness to the sound.
For home theater trials, we used Definitive Technology's matching CS9040 center channel speaker. Since the company didn't send their matching SR9040 surround speakers, we opted for a pair of GoldenEar Technology Aon 2 bookshelf speakers. The BP9040 towers each have a built-in 8-inch powered subwoofer, so we didn't use a separate subwoofer with the system.
Be aware that since the towers have built-in amplifiers for the subwoofers you have to plug each tower into an AC wall outlet. One big advantage of having a sub in each tower is that you can fine-tune the sub volume separately for each speaker to compensate for your room boundaries -- if the right speaker is closer to your room's corner than the left speaker, for example.
The BP9040 system sounded bright and clear. We noted again and again that the bass definition was superb, so bass guitars and bass drums were unusually distinct. Still, as we listened we felt the tonal balance was lacking in fullness and soundstage depth was in short supply, which really surprised us because of the "bipolar" design. The BP9040 system's soundstage was flatter and had less depth than we get from our Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 based system.
With the circle of drums scene on the "House of Flying Daggers" DVD the BP9040s clearly delineated each drum thwack, we could hear the drum heads vibrating more clearly than we heard from the Elite SP-EFS73 system. With the Pioneer system we used a Klipsch R-110-SW 10-inch subwoofer, which had much deeper and more powerful bass than the BP9040 system's two 8-inch powered subs -- it was a difference we could literally feel! So when we pummeled both systems with the "Deadpool" Blu-ray's nonstop mayhem, the BP9040 lacked the visceral punch of the SP-EFS73 system. That system also sounded more spacious and room-filling; the BP9040 system's soundstage wasn't as enveloping.
We were pleased by the projected sound of the BP9040's A90 modules, they literally added another dimension to the sound. We felt the A90s produced a better illusion of height than the SP-EFS73's tower speakers built-in Atmos height drivers.
When we listened to the BP9040 towers in stereo for music with the Onkyo TX-NR646 receiver we were more concerned with the lean quality of the sound. So we switched over to our Rotel RA 1592 stereo integrated amp, and that filled out the sound. For that reason we recommend pairing the BP9040 system with warm sounding Rotel, Sony or Denon electronics. Overall, however, the Pioneer's warmer balance and keener imaging is better suited to music fans.
The BP9040 system looks smart -- we love the optional A90 Atmos/DTS-X modules and believe they represent true innovation in this field-- and the sound is crisp and clear. In the end, however, we preferred the Pioneer Elite system's warmer/richer sound. The Def Tech speakers are for movie enthusiasts who want to become truly engrossed in their favorite films, and not so much for music fans.