Venture into any brick and mortar electronics store such as Best Buy or even Costco and you’ll probably notice a shift in focus has taken place in home electronics over the past few years. Expensive consumer gear such as dedicated home theater systems and A/V receivers have been pushed into the deepest, darkest, corners of the store where sales staff never have to worry about so much as dusting them off. Take a trip into a likely-desolate Magnolia boutique to see what we mean. The big money today is in mobile technology, and in the case of home theater, HDTVs and sound bars.
At $2000, the SoloCinema XTR is expensive, but being one of the most ambitious products in its category makes it worth taking a look at it.
With the exception of some new systems like the Sonos Playbar, Philips Fidelio and Vizio SB4251W-B4 (rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?), sound bars almost always involve a single sound bar combined with a wireless subwoofer – almost none of them offer a convincing surround experience.
Definitive Technology, which makes well-reputed dedicated surround sound systems, has unleashed its next-generation sound bar – the SoloCinema XTR – complete with HDMI connectivity and support for DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD surround codecs.
At $2000, the SoloCinema XTR is expensive, but being one of the most ambitious products in its category makes it worth taking a look at it. Here’s what we found.
Out of the Box
The SoloCinema XRT was delivered in an enormous box that required two people to schlep it into our media room. Don’t expect to fit this into the back of your Mini Cooper or Fiat should you decide to purchase it from your local Best Buy. Removing the system from its packaging was moderately frustrating because the ever-so-cautious people at Definitive Technology went overboard with all of the hard, protective foam, making for a tight extraction.
The SoloCinema XRT has to be one of the most solidly constructed sound bars we have ever tested, and while it is not the heaviest due to its aircraft-grade extruded aluminum enclosure, its 11.5 pound heft still inspires a sense of quality. In fact, after a careful inspection, it was clear there is nothing cheap about this sound bar from a construction standpoint. With that in mind, we were amazed by how svelte the overall package is at 43 x 5 3/16 (6-11/16 inches with supplied feet) x 2-3/4 (2-3/8″ with bracket) inches. Those dimensions make it ideal for HDTVs in the 42-inch to 55-inch range.
The sound bar, however, is only part of the package which also includes the wireless SoloCinema XRT powered subwoofer. The subwoofer is a sealed, front-firing design which relies on an 8-inch woofer to deliver all of that gut wrenching bass content from your favorite films. The subwoofer is powered by a 250-watt Class ‘D’ amplifier and will take up very little floor space at 19-3/4 x 13-5/16 x 6-1/2 (WxHxD-in inches). The little brute weighs 20 pounds and felt plenty solid as we lifted it out of the packaging. Both the sound bar and subwoofer are finished in a matte black.
Definitive Technology has you covered on the set-up front with both a metal bracket for on-wall installations and adjustable brackets (for both height and angle) for media console set-ups where it might be placed underneath an HDTV or directly in front of it. The metal bracket and supplied mounting template are easy to figure out, and while we appreciate the fact that Definitive Technology includes the appropriate hardware, using heavier bolts for additional peace of mind is never a bad idea.
Finally, the SoloCinema XRT comes with a remote control to handle all of its functions, and to control some of your sources as well. We’ll take a deeper look at this remote and its functionality later in the review.
We’re willing to bet that more than a few people started choking when they read this sound bar’s price tag. We completely understand. Notwithstanding the fact that the SoloCinema XRT costs 3-4 times the price of the average sound bar on display in aisle 6 at Best Buy, or that one could assemble a really decent dedicated 5.1 system with an A/V receiver for the same price, the SoloCinema XRT is really trying to simplify the process, therefore making it easier to sell that other person who occupies your home and hates the idea of five loudspeakers taking over the room.
For most people, the ability to connect 3-4 sources to the SoloCinema XRT and run just one HDMI cable to their HDTV is going to be a big plus. HDMI output is limited to 1080p, so 4K pass-through is not supported at this time. The system does, however, support the transmission of 3D content from Blu-ray. Also note that the HDMI output does not upscale any sources and basically acts as a video pass-through.
The SoloCinema XRT has a single pair of analog RCA inputs, which one could use to connect an external DAC, tuner, or even a phono stage to listen to records. There is also a single S/PDIF digital input that one could use to connect an Apple Airport Express to facilitate wireless streaming of your music collection. We also found a USB input, but Definitive Technology informs us it is meant solely for firmware updates.
If you decide to wall-mount the SoloCinema XRT, the bracket has a large hole to permit access to the real panel in the event that you need to connect or disconnect a source. The rear panel is recessed, and while it can be a tight fit with some of the audiophile-approved HDMI cables, the downward facing opening makes it easy to route your cables. We think both consumers and installers will find this useful.
At the heart of the SoloCinema XRT is its array of nine drivers; six 3 ½-inch XTDD anodized aluminum mid/bass dome drivers and three 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters. Each driver and tweeter is powered by its own digital amplifier with no crossover or passive filter in the mix. All signal processing is done digitally.
The aforementioned subwoofer, unfortunately, lacks crossover and phase adjustment. We understand that this was done as part of the overall technical design of the sound bar which begins to roll-off around 170 Hz, but it would be nice to have more control as subwoofers interact with each room differently.
For most people, the ability to connect 3-4 sources to the SoloCinema XRT and run just one HDMI cable to their HDTV is going to be a big plus.
Aside from its array of HDMI inputs the SoloCinema XRT is notable for its ability to process DTS-HD Master and Dolby TrueHD surround encodes. Why this has taken so is a bit of a mystery to us, but we think that such ability places the SoloCinema XRT way ahead of the pack when it comes to source signal quality. Blu-ray doesn’t just offer a huge step up in image quality but HD audio as well.
The SoloCinema XRT works its imitation surround sound magiv via Definitive’s patented Spatial Array technology combined with SRS TruSurround HD4 algorithms. To accomplish the feat of fooling your brain that it is listening to sound coming from five different locations, the sound bar uses inter-aural crosstalk cancellation, a process that blocks sound from the right channel from reaching your left ear (and vice versa). By blocking the crosstalk, your brain has an easier time processing the directional cues inside the signal that are designed to arrive at your ears at a specific time.
The SoloCinema XRT also features a movie mode for watching films and a music mode for listening to music. Users have the ability via the set-up menu to increase or decrease the impact of what Definitive refers to as SSA Immersion – or the intensity of the surround sound effect.
To control all of this, Definitive defers all command to the included remote control which allows users to independently control the volume levels for each of the channels, select the source, mute the sound, access the set-up menu, and toggle between the two listening modes.
Setting up the SoloCinema XRT is rather straight forward once you’ve decided on the location. If you decide to mount the sound bar on the wall, just remember that the spacing of the HDMI inputs is a tad tight and that thicker HDMI cables may present an issue. Once you have the cables inserted, just route them straight down into your media console or whatever is housing your equipment.
We’re not going to sugarcoat this at all: Put a piece of tape over the “music” button and pretend that it doesn’t exist.
If you decide to mount the sound bar on either one of the supplied brackets, there is a neat feature that allows you to adjust the height so that the SoloCinema XRT can be placed directly above your HDTVs base. Naturally, such placement may block the IR signal on the set, so Definitive placed three IR blasters on the real panel of the sound bar which can be programmed the its set-up menu to interact with the HDTV’s remote. Clever.
The final piece of set-up information pertains to the SSA Immersion mode. We found that, while the technology certainly works, we’re not sure if the process does a lot of good when it comes to music. The default setting for Movies is +10, and we never felt the need to dial that down at all with any film content. But the default Music setting of 0 left us reaching for the remote on almost every recording. We explain why below.
The SoloCinema XRT can play decidedly louder than any other sound bar that we have had the opportunity to try. In our dedicated home theater room, the sound bar was impressively punchy and crisp sounding, although we started to notice some hardness in the treble and some distortion as we pushed the volume near the top of its range.
With nearly all of the movie content that we watched, however, the SoloCinema XRT was more than capable of energizing the space with its volume set at the midpoint on the dial. It can be pushed, but you don’t need to shatter your eardrums or anger your neighbors to hear it really envelop you and recreate the sensation of listening to a true 5.1 set-up.
The Blu-ray release of The Hunger Games with its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix is a true torture test for most systems, but the SoloCinema XRT did not disappoint. Dialogue was crisp, easy to discern at even the lowest volume levels, and we were extremely impressed by the coherency of the presentation. This is not a sound bar that wimps out when asked to reproduce the dynamics of some rather aggressive mixes.
When warranted, the action sounded like it was moving down the side of the room and behind us; an effect we’ve never heard before from a sound bar at any price. It never sounded like we were actually listening to discrete spatial cues emanating from loudspeakers positioned behind our sofa, but we were pretty impressed with the effect and have to commend the engineers at Definitive on the effectiveness of the design.
Peter Gabriel’s inspiring New Blood: Live in London, is one of the few live-action Blu-ray 3D titles that is actually worth adding to your collection. Not only does Gabriel give the audience a visual spectacular worthy of repeat viewings, but the audio quality is far and above even the best concert videos that we have reviewed over the past few years.
Dialogue was crisp, easy to discern at even the lowest volume levels, and we were extremely impressed by the coherency of the presentation.
Gabriel’s vocals were front and center and it was truly fascinating to listen to notes decay with such delicacy. The SoloCinema XRT reproduces vocals as well as it does strings and while the midrange could use a smidgen of warmth, it’s hard to argue with such high levels of transparency and detail from a sound bar.
Regardless of which films we threw at it, the SoloCinema XRT took each new challenge in stride. Perhaps the biggest compliment that we can bestow upon it is that it often made us forget that we were listening to a 43-inch wide sound bar and not a dedicated surround system. It is really that good.
The SoloCinema XRT was bound to stumble at some point ,and we did discover a few issues worth mentioning. We tried every single film and music selection in both “movie” and “music” modes and, well, we’re not going to sugarcoat this at all: Put a piece of tape over the “music” button and pretend that it doesn’t exist. With music mode engaged, vocals took a huge step backwards, making it seem like you moved from aisle ‘e’ to aisle ‘xxx’ in the theater across town, and the rest of the sound including the bass jumped into our laps.
We suspected that the SSA Immersion setting was too high, so we we dropped it to -5. At that point, the vocals suddenly pushed to the edge of the stage which we found far more natural and easy to listen to. The only problem with that quick fix was that it didn’t help the overall coherency of the sound. Nothing really sounded in sync. Stick with “movie” mode for everything and only make minor SSA Immersion adjustments with music if the more forward sounding presentation becomes a tad much.
Our final complaint has to do with the supplied remote control. For $2,000, Definitive has some nerve supplying such a cheap piece of plastic with its statement product. From a functional perspective, it works ok (on the short term, anyway), and we understand that many users will program all of its commands into their own universal remote control anyway. Still, there is no excuse for such a lousy remote at this price point. Disappointing to say the least.
While not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, the SoloCinema XRT from Definitive Technology delivers the most immersive surround sound experience we have ever heard from a sound bar without actual surround speakers. A combination of unrivaled dynamics, a punchy and detailed midrange, and transparency that one usually only experiences from more expensive loudspeakers truly sets the SoloCinema XRT apart from the competition.
Between its comprehensive connectivity options, support for lossless HD surround formats, and solid engineering, the Definitive Technology SoloCinema XRT has set the bar extremely high in its category and has pretty much thrown down the gauntlet and declared itself the one sound bar to rule them all. One thing is certain: It’s going to take more than a fellowship of hobbits to make it kneel.
- First sound bar with DTS-HD Master and Dolby TrueHD support
- HDMI ins and outs make this a true home theater hub
- Impressive simulated surround
- Solid engineering and construction quality
- High “spouse/partner” acceptance factor
- Very expensive
- Cheap plastic remote that has no place in such an expensive system
- Rear panel space is tight for connections
- Music mode of little to no use
- Subwoofer does not allow crossover or phase adjustment