Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder Review

Compact, portable, rugged and powerful, the Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder is everything we could want in a hybrid speaker/tablet stand.
Compact, portable, rugged and powerful, the Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder is everything we could want in a hybrid speaker/tablet stand.
Compact, portable, rugged and powerful, the Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder is everything we could want in a hybrid speaker/tablet stand.

Highs

  • Excellent value
  • Solid build, innovative design
  • Crisp, transparent sound, even at high volume
  • 10+ hours battery life per charge
  • Rugged and portable

Lows

  • Bass gets a tad wooly at high volumes
  • High clamping force may put undue pressure on laptop screens
  • Clamp may cover a small portion of laptop screens

If you’ve ever used your smartphone’s built-in speakers for listening to music, or relied on your tablet’s speakers for watching your favorite show on Netflix, you already know what we’re about to tell you: The speakers built into mobile devices sound terrible. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is a matter of space (or lack of it); much like today’s flat-panel televisions, there’s simply no room for decent speakers and amplification in these ultra-slim devices. Of course, the situation also presents an opportunity for an add-on sale – say, a $200 pair of headphones – which is a real boon to retailers.

But for those interested in sharing the sound with others, a Bluetooth speaker is the better accessory. There’s no shortage of battery-powered Bluetooth speakers around – just check out our roundup of some recent entries – but there does seem to be a significantly shorter supply of clever devices like the Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder.

The Sound Cylinder offers a clever solution for laptop and tablet users who don’t want to deal with the hassle of external loudspeakers requiring a wired connection. Like the recently reviewed Carbon Audio Zooka, the Sound Cylinder can function as a stand for tablets or clip on to the lid of laptops to provide sound that is meant to be significantly better than any on-board speakers. We loved the Zooka’s design, but felt it could have offered slightly better audio quality – an improvement we think folks would be willing to pay more for. Given Def Tech’s reputation for high-quality sound, we had high hopes its $200 cylinder would deliver just that. Let’s find out.

Out of the Box

Whoever developed the Sound Cylinder’s packaging deserves a raise this year. In a market flooded with boring cardboard boxes, Definitive Technology decided to deliver its latest device in a package that could just as easily house a nice bottle of scotch. Yes, the Sound Cylinder is packaged like a bottle of 25 year-old Glendronach.

The first thing that stands out about the Sound Cylinder is just how sleek-looking and compact it is. If not for the rubber clamp, one would swear Definitive Technology had stolen a baton constructed from aluminum/magnesium from the Games of London and stuck some speakers inside. If you are thinking of taking the Sound Cylinder with you on a business trip, you’ll appreciate that it is only 0.75 lbs and a diminutive 7.48 x 1.88 x 1.88 (WxDxH – in inches). When you extend the kickstand, the depth increases to 3-inches.

Even though the Sound Cylinder is light, that doesn’t mean it isn’t well constructed. Because Definitive Technology markets the product as a portable loudspeaker, we took that as an invitation to schlep it around for a week and see how it held up buried inside a laptop bag. We will discuss that later on, but rest assured, this thing is one solid piece of engineering.

Another standout feature that makes the Sound Cylinder unique is its magnesium covered clamp; which is designed for laptop screens and 7-inch or 10-inch tablets. The design allows you to watch your tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation making it particularly useful for watching movies on vacation.

Definitive includes an USB ac adapter, USB micro cable, stereo mini to stereo mini cable, and microfiber carry bag inside the cylinder packaging. No scotch.

Features

The Sound Cylinder is powered by an 8-watt Class D amplifier which drives all three channels inside the enclosure. Don’t let the low power rating fool you – this little speaker can play extremely loud.

On the processing end, Definitive has used an Analog Devices ADAU 1701 DSP module with integrated DAC, which performs the signal conversion and application of what Definitive calls their “Active Surround Array technology”. The device processes SBC and AAC codecs when it receives a signal via Bluetooth.

definitive technology sound cylinder front firing 32 mm midrange high frequency driver

The driver configuration includes two forward-facing, 1.3-inch composite full-range drivers and one 1.7-inch side-firing woofer. The 2.1 configuration’s quoted frequency response is 60Hz – 20kHz and Definitive Technology claims that it is capable of output levels measuring 85dB @ 1 meter. Already the Sound Cylinder promises better sound than the Zooka thanks to forward-firing speakers.

On one end of the Sound Cylinder, you’ll find the power button and volume controls. The other end is home to a perforated aluminum grill which protects the 1.7-inch side-firing woofer.

The backside of the Sound Cylinder provides a number of connection options. The Lithium-Ion battery-powered loudspeaker connects to its wall adapter via a micro USB cable, and you can also connect a device such as a tablet, smartphone, or even turntable (seriously) via a stereo 3.5 mm input jack with the supplied cable.

The Sound Cylinder is designed to sit upright while holding your tablet thanks to its fold-out kickstand which we found provides a firm support base. Slide your tablet into the clamp, open the kickstand, place it on a solid flat surface, and you’re ready to watch movies or surf the web.

The Sound Cylinder connects via Bluetooth and has a range of around 33 feet (10 meter), though we experienced some drop-out when we moved in between floors in our home.

The Sound Cylinder’s battery took more than two hours to achieve a full charge. Definitive Technology claims that you should be able to get a solid 8 hours per charge, though we know from experience that play time will depend on volume levels.

 This speaker is designed to work with iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows-based devices – anything that can connect via Bluetooth should work just fine. The only issue we found is that iOS devices need the latest OS update to connect.

Setup

Out of the box, the Sound Cylinder has a minimal charge, so we left it plugged in for two hours while we did some errands. Pairing the loudspeaker with a Samsung Series 7 laptop was relatively easy; it took about twenty seconds for the device to show up and connect.

Setting the ideal volume level will depend on the user but we found that leaving the Sound Cylinder’s volume one click below the maximum and adjusting with the laptop’s own volume slider achieved the best sonic results.

While the integrated kickstand works really well at providing a solid base, the angle does aim the speaker’s drivers a tad low, depending on the height of your surface. You’ll need to experiment with placement if you plan on watching in bed with the Sound Cylinder in your lap. We found that placing the speaker on a laptop desk while watching in bed tilted the loudspeaker enough to direct the sound higher, which improved the balance and sense of space.

definitive technology sound cylinder built in kickstand

When using a tablet, the clamp provides a secure grip and never interfered with the screen on either a Google Nexus 7 or Apple iPad 2.

Placing the Sound Cylinder on our laptop created two minor issues: the weight of the loudspeaker put some stress on the screen, and the rubber did cover a tiny portion of the screen. At no time did the clamp interfere with the laptop’s camera, we only tested the speaker with one laptop, so results may vary from one computer to another.

Performance

Since Sound Cylinder is marketed as a portable loudspeaker system, we took it on the road to see how it would deal with a little abuse. The speaker’s robust construction was a smart engineering choice on Definitive’s end because we think everyone’s going to want to take this everywhere. Yes, it really is that good.

When watching movies on your mobile device or laptop, the Sound Cylinder creates a near-field listening experience that will utterly transform how you watch streaming video content.

Being able to play loudly doesn’t make a device worth buying on its own, but the Sound Cylinder strikes the right balance between loud and transparent to make it a serious bargain. When we directed 24/96 FLAC files via JRiver Music Center 17 or Songbird to the speaker, it proved it was more than up to the task.

Vocals were clean and transparent. We threw a mix of Adele, Nick Cave, Richard Thompson, and Sam Cooke at the Sound Cylinder and it adeptly reproduced each artist’s voice, preserving the inner detail and micro-dynamics of each track.

We’ve always found Definitive Technology speakers to be rather crisp sounding; somewhat forward leaning with a cooler tonal balance, but also amazingly good at reproducing detail and space. The Sound Cylinder clearly comes from the same family. To get such a level of transparency from such a small transducer is a huge step-up for products in this category, but what impressed us the most was the slightly warmer tonal balance that made long listening sessions a real pleasure.

The Sound Cylinder is likely to be bombarded with a diet of MP3s, and while we think people need to give high resolution audio tracks a real chance, the loudspeaker elevates the lossy formats to a higher plane. You will hear detail, spatial cues, and texture that just don’t come through when listening to the internal loudspeakers on mobile devices. For those times when headphones won’t do the trick, a speaker like this is just what you need.

When watching movies on your mobile device or laptop, the Sound Cylinder creates a near-field listening experience that will utterly transform how you watch streaming video content. The bass driver can get a tad wooly if you play the volume too loud, but the improvement in dynamics gives films real presence and an expanded soundstage that will improve the sense of immersion.

definitive technology sound cylinder front firing 32 mm midrange high frequency driver

Musically speaking, the Sound Cylinder doesn’t really favor one genre of music over the other, but it certainly has the chops to handle heavy metal or symphonic works. One evening while listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, we closed our eyes and marveled at the depth of the sound, the airiness of the treble and how well the loudspeaker preserved the bite of horns without making us want to reach for the volume slider. Impressive, to say the least.

Conclusion

Between its innovative design, solid engineering, and first-class sound quality, it’s hard not to like the Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder. Not only does it work as advertised by turning any laptop or tablet into a portable 2.1 home theater, it has few issues that would preclude anything but our strongest recommendation.

We’d like to see the clamp put a little less stress on laptop screens, but this minor issue could be a design compromise intended to accomodate varying tablet thicknesses. Besides, such a small thing can’t alter the fact that the speaker offers a lot for only $200.

Highs:

  • Excellent value
  • Solid build, innovative design
  • Crisp, transparent sound, even at high volume
  • 10+ hours battery life per charge
  • Rugged and portable

Lows:

  • Bass gets a tad wooly at high volumes
  • High clamping force may put undue pressure on laptop screens
  • Clamp may cover a small portion of laptop screens
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Bose’s technology patents could save an earbud’s battery life

Possibly taking a cue from Apple's popular AirPods, Bose filed a patent application for earbud IR technology that could save battery life, improve sound quality, and possibly help people locate lost earbuds.
Product Review

Focal’s ultra-clear Sphear Wireless bring sexy back to banded Bluetooth buds

Focal’s Sphear Wireless are a sleek and simple pair of banded Bluetooth earbuds with exceptional sound and an affordable price, making them some of the only non-true wireless earbuds we’d consider buying right now.
Computing

Having enough RAM is important, but stick to these guidelines to save some money

Although not quite as exciting as processors and graphics cards, RAM is one of the most important parts of your PC. Not having enough can hurt performance. So, how much RAM do you need?
Movies & TV

The best movies you’ll find on Hulu right now (February 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Home Theater

Apple Music encourages subscribers to give friends a free 1-month pass

It's no secret that Apple has its sights set squarely on Spotify's enviable subscriber count, but how will Apple Music grow? By using existing customers to recruit new members by letting them send friends a one-month free pass.
Home Theater

They were robbed! From Crowe to Pacino, 10 times Oscar voters got it wrong

With the 91st Oscars rapidly approaching, now is a fine time to look back at several Oscar-worthy performances that were completely ignored by the Academy, as well as others that were nominated and astoundingly denied the little naked…
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: Yesterday, Tolkien, Triple Frontier, and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's trailers for Yesterday, Tolkien, Aladdin, Frozen 2, and Triple Frontier.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: Deadpool 2, The Umbrella Academy, and more

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: Deadpool 2, The Umbrella Academy, Lorena, and more.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (February 2019)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…
Movies & TV

Bill and Ted 3 celebrates the franchise's 30th birthday with excellent teaser

As the Bill and Ted franchise turns 30, a third installment that the cast and creative team call Bill and Ted Face the Music is officially in preproduction, though there are big hurdles to overcome.