Many audio enthusiasts associate the name Definitive Technology with so called “home theatre speakers,” but the fact is that the company also has roots that go deep in the area of affordable, high-performance monitors. Over the past year, then, the company has rolled out a three-product family of stand-mount Studio Monitors, the smallest and most affordable of which is the £550 Studio Monitor 45 (or SM 45, for short).
The SM 45 is a two-way, bass reflex-type monitor that is larger than you might at first expect (viewed from the side, it proves to be nearly a foot tall and deep). The driver complement includes a second-generation version of Definitive’s 25mm pure aluminium dome tweeter (which receives special heat treatment processing and a ceramic coating) plus one of the firm’s signature 133mm BDSS (Balanced Double Surround System) mid-bass drivers fitted with Definitive’s recently developed LRW (Linear Response Waveguide) phase plug. Together, BDSS and LRW technologies are said to give the mid-bass driver dramatically greater excursion (and thus dynamic) capabilities, lower distortion, smoother frequency response, and improved off-axis performance. A curved baffle plate with rounded edges also helps fight diffraction.
I found the SM 45s didn’t need a lot of run-in time and weren’t terribly fussy about placement. However, they need a little clearance from adjacent walls and sound best on stands that position their tweeters at ear level.
From the start, three aspects of the SM 45’s sound hit home for me. First, they sounded unexpectedly full-bodied and offered an astonishing amount of bass reach (down into the upper 30Hz region)—reach few other small monitors can match. Frequency response is smooth but perhaps not strictly neutral, as he speakers do introduce a broad, gentle touch of bass lift from about 80Hz on down. However, there’s not so much low-end emphasis as to sound garish, but rather enough to remind you that this is a serious, near full-range monitor—one that seeks to provide big-speaker depth and richness.
In terms of dynamic energy and significant bass extension the SM 45s manage to sound bigger and more full-bodied than their appearance might at first suggest. I found the speakers easily filled my mid- sized listening room with sound and that they readily embraced quiet and contemplative as well as more rambunctious types of musical material with equal measures of poise and good-natured grace. What is more, the SM 45s tackled records with significant amounts of punchy bass content in a fearless and for the most part very satisfying way.
Granted, the Definitives can, when fed extremely low-frequency material at high volume levels, be overdriven to the point where their mid-bass drivers momentarily bottom out. I experienced this problem once or twice on low-frequency torture- test tracks that feature prodigious quantities of bottom octave bass energy. Realistically, this sort of brutal low-end onslaught can cause the SM 45s (and many other speakers I’ve heard) to stumble, but most of the time and on most musical material the SM 45s remain largely unflappable.
Second, the Definitives are much more dynamically expansive than most other monitors their size and price that I have heard. Many small monitors tend to dictate terms as to the types of musical material they can or cannot handle well, but happily Definitive’s SM 45s are not like this. No fuss, and no whining; just music—almost any kind of music—rendered with big-hearted warmth.
Third, I found the SM 45s were relaxed, effortless, and at times down right holographic imagers. Many small speakers claim to have these properties and can even achieve them to some extent, but the Definitives take ‘disappearing act’ imaging to a much higher level and do so without requiring endless tweaking, fiddling, or fine-tuning.
To appreciate the broad appeal of the SM 45s, it’s instructive to put on a piece of music that could, under typical circumstances, embarrass most small monitors—a piece such as the very taxing closing section of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (Tilson-Thomas, San Francisco Symphony, SFS Media, SACD). Rather than falling flat on its face and sounding painfully overstressed, the little SM 45s just wade right in and play the music. Are there occasional moments of compression, low-level congestion and the like? Of course, but overall the Definitives’ presentation not only hangs together, but also retains a significant amount of the scale, grandeur, and reach that makes this piece so majestic.
Similarly, the SM 45s approach bass and drum recordings in a fearless way. For an example, try the aptly named track ‘Bass ‘n’ Drums’ from Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones’ solo album Zooma [Discipline Global Mobile]. This terrific recording is beautiful both in its power and simplicity as John Paul Jones on electric bass and percussionist Denny Fongheiser create a punchy, loping, intensely syncopated duet captured in a pleasingly reverberating studio space. In my experience, the track sounds most realistic when turned up to moderately high volume levels, where at its best it can give the sense of sitting in on the musicians’ recording session. This track has been known to make some small speakers wilt, but the SM 45s gave a gutsy performance and did not seem at all out of their element, doing a fine job of capturing some of Jones’ note bends on the low ‘E’ string of his bass as well as the powerful ‘thwomp’ of Fongheiser’s kick drum. But the really surprising part was the way the SM 45s simultaneously captured the delicate, reverberant acoustics of the studio space and the complex shimmer of Fongheiser’s cymbal and of his high-hats opening and closing.
Naturally, the SM 45s work for smaller pieces too, such as the title track from Anne Bisson’s Blue Mind [Fidelio, LP], where Bisson’s voice and piano sound pure and well-focused, although the accompanying acoustic bass does sound hearty almost to a fault. But overall, the musical effect is one where dense tonal colours, vivid imaging, and an overarching quality of sumptuous richness carry the day.
While the SM 45s may not offer the highest levels of resolution or strict textbook accuracy (because they introduce a certain amount of ‘guilty pleasure’ bass lift), they provide giant helpings of musical richness, relaxation and enjoyment at a ridiculously modest price. For these reasons and many more, Definitive Technology’s SM 45s are a no-brainer recommendation for music lovers whose sights are set high, but whose budgets are limited.
Type: two-way, bass reflex, dual-driver, stand-mount monitor
Driver complement: 25mm pure aluminium dome tweeter, 133mm BDSS (Balanced Double Surround System) mid-bass driver with LRW (Linear Response Waveguide) pole piece.
Frequency response: 35Hz – 30kHz
Impedance: 8 Ohm
Dimensions (H x W x D): 29.69x 17.14x 29.69cm
Weight: 5.4kg unboxed.
Tel: +44 (0) 1279 647 039