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Definitive Technology Incline Desktop Speakers Review

by November 26, 2013
Definitive Technology Incline Speaker-Closeup

Definitive Technology Incline Speaker-Closeup

  • Product Name: Incline Bipolar Desktop Speakers
  • Manufacturer: Definitive Technology
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: November 26, 2013 08:00
  • MSRP: $ 399/set
  • Buy Now
  • Frequency Response: 45Hz - 18kHz +/– 5dB
  • Dimensions: 11.3" H x 5" W x 4.4" D (depth includes base); 28.8cm H x 12.7cm W x 11.1cm D
  •  Driver complement: front firing: (1) 4" bass/midrange driver, (1) 4" pressure-coupled bass radiator, (1) .75" silk dome tweeter; rear-firing: (1) 1.5" full range driver (rear panel)
  • Low Pass Filter:  LPF @ 2140 Hz, 4th order, Linkwitz Riley; HPF @ 1960 Hz, 4th order, Linkwitz Riley.
  • Amplifier power: 80 Watts (4x20)
  • Connections: USB, optical TOSLINK, 3.5mm stereo “mini” analog line-level in, sub out, 20V DC power supply input, left speaker output port

Pros

  • Audiophile Sound in a desktop package
  • Full sound without a sub
  • Superlative imaging
  • Minimal distortion and compression at high volume
  • Bipolar design gives room-filling sound
  • Small footprint with great looks and design

Cons

  • Vibrations from deep bass content may resonate onto less sturdy work surfaces
  • Plastic cover needs to be removed to expose additional source inputs
  • Overly basic manual omits several items

 

Definitive Technology Incline Speakers Introduction

I remember the experience vividly at the MacWorld Expo in Boston sometime in the late 90s.  As I was walking amidst the furor of thousands of show attendees I heard it: the clear musical "window" audiophiles live for.  Right there was a tiny stand with a Mac and a pair of Monsoon MM-700 Planar Magnetic Desktop Speakers. 

People must have thought I was crazy. I just stood there--like someone standing in the middle of Grand Central Station--listening to the music. Even though they were a stretch for my budget, I purchased the speakers then and there.  

I don’t know why, but it seems like good sound has never been a sought after feature of computer users.  I know I’ve long valued my Monsoons. Since I purchased them some15 or so years ago, I've rarely experienced true audiophile sound from computer speakers.  Except for a handful of exceptions like B&W, KEF, and FOCAL, I’ve often wished that more audiophile speaker makers would develop quality desktop audio products.

Fast forward to today and hopefully we're seeing a change. Definitive Technology, a company well known in both home theater and audiophile circles, has just released its first ever two-channel audio desktop speaker system geared towards bringing audiophile fidelity to computer audio.

Venturing into a new market space isn’t easy. Desktop speakers designs have particular challenges associated with them that differ from traditional, freestanding speaker designs.  I asked what some of those unique challenges were.

A representative over at Definitive Technology told me that some of the obvious challenges they had to address were 1) size: getting a speaker that has a small footprint to fit on a desktop with a computer, phone, monitor and more and at the same time give high output and good bass; 2) aesthetics: making sure the speakers looked good on a desk and next to a monitor; and 3) price: most people aren’t going to pay for speakers that cost more than their laptop or computer setup.

 Definitive Technology Incline Side View

The Definitive Technology Incline Desktop Loudspeakers have a relatively small footprint and feature a 9.5 degree angle

Some not so obvious challenges the Definitive team also had to address in designing the Incline speakers were: ear height, bass response, soundstage, and bounce colorations.  Look at most desktop speakers and you’ll notice that the tweeters fire right into your chest cavity.  Now contrast that with most audiophile speaker setups.  They have the speaker tweeters at ear height.  Definitive chose to tackle these issues by making the Incline speakers taller rather than wider or deeper.  Taller speakers allowed the engineering team to move the bass/midrange driver farther away from the desk surface and reduce colorations while also raising the tweeter closer to ear height. The added height increased the cabinet volume that made the Incline’s loud, deep bass possible.    Tilting the speakers back 9.5 degrees helped even more. 

Features

True to their Definitive Technology heritage, the Inclines are bipolar speakers.  If you’re unfamiliar with Definitive and their bipolar speaker designs, then all you need to know is that bipolar speakers feature drivers on both the front and back of the speakers.  Bipolar speakers radiate sound from both the front and back of the speakers in the same phase (unlike dipole speakers, which radiate sound from the front and back out of phase).  When I asked a representative about the advantage of the bipolar configuration in a desktop model, he mentioned that the bipolar aspect of the Incline would widen and deepen the soundstage instead of presenting the typical narrow image of closely spaced near-field speakers. 

 

 Definitive Technology Inclines Bipople Effect

The Inclines are Bipoles and have Drivers on both the Front and Back of the speaker

The Incline speakers’ front facing drivers include a 4-inch polymer cone mid/woofer that is pressure-coupled to a 4-inch bass radiator; there is also a ¾-inch silk dome tweeter.  The driver on the back of the speaker is not low pass filtered and allowed to run full range. statement until I was curious to see the frequency response of the speakers and ran them through my Revel Low Frequency Optimization Disc (see my note after the conclusion of the review).

The speakers are amplified with four (4) 20-Watt amplifiers.  Audiophiles read it again: each speaker is bi-amplified.  Definitive told me biamping overcame the output issues normally associated with small speakers and also gave them the headroom needed to apply bass-shaping EQ.  Equalizing bass is a common technique in small powered speakers, but it eats up power. Building in lots of clean power helped address this issue.  

The speaker unit is wrapped in an acoustically transparent cloth and the speaker sits on a solid slab of machined aluminum.  There’s also thin rubber footing/gasket under the machined aluminum slab, which you don’t notice once the speakers are setup. 

Audio Input Options

The Incline has a great selection of flexible digital and analog inputs: Optical Toslink, USB, and 3.5mm stereo “mini” analog line-level in.  If you chose a digital input, the Incline’s built-in 56-bit DSP will handle the processing. 

If you have multiple sources connected, don’t look for an input source selector switch.  There isn’t one. It’s handled automatically, but the user manual doesn’t tell you what source trumps what in the hierarchy.  You need to figure it out.

To test out how the hierarchy of sources worked, I plugged in my iPhone via the 3.5mm analog input and it automatically overrode the USB audio.  The only way to get USB audio back was to physically unplug the 3.5mm plug from the back of the Inclines—not just stop the audio from the source.  Basically, if you plug in another source in addition to the USB, then the Inclines switch to that non-USB input. When you unplug the other sources, then USB appears to be the default. None of this is documented in the user manual (I’ll get into more of that later).

Those who want to add serious bass to their desktop experience can do so via the Incline’s standard RCA subwoofer out port.  If you connect a subwoofer to the Inclines, then all low frequency boost and processing is defeated on the Incline's woofer and a high pass filter is applied at 80Hz. The sub out jack outputs an unprocessed signal with a 400Hz low pass filter. A representative from Definitive told me that the reason why the low pass filter is so high is to give the user freedom to choose the low pass filter (on the sub) that yields the best blending between sub and Incline. That’s pretty slick..  While Definitive doesn’t specifically make a sub to mate with the Inclines, the ProSub 800 would be the logical choice.

USB Audio Modes

It’s not immediately obvious, but the Incline speakers can process the USB signal from your computer in two different ways.  The first (and default) method allows you to adjust the volume from your computer.  The second method bypasses the computer’s gain stages and volume controls.  Definitive says bypassing the computer’s (usually) inferior gain stages and volume controls maintains a purer signal path and gives you the highest sound quality.   Once you engage this second method, your computer’s volume controls won’t have any impact on the speakers’ volume.  You’ll only be able to adjust the volume from the Incline’s volume keys, located on the right speaker.

Switching modes is a two-steps process.  To go into the default mode to adjust volume from your computer, you press and hold the power button for 5 seconds and then press the Volume + button.  To put the Inclines into the “more pure” audio mode, you again press the power button for 5 seconds but this time press the Volume – button.  There’s no visible indicator on the speakers as to which mode you’re in.  The Incline speakers remembered the mode they were last put in even if unplugged. 

I need to note that there were a few times that I did have some issues switching modes.  In particular, if I was in the first mode, there were a few times I couldn’t get the speakers into “bypass” consistently.  I did this to try and A-B the bypass mode.  Instead, when I tried pressing the volume down button, it would simply lower the volume—even though the power button was flashing and indicating that I could now switch modes.  It seemed as though I couldn’t switch modes quickly.  If I waited 10-20 seconds, between switches, then it was OK.

Because of that sporadic experience, I left the speakers in the USB bypass mode for all my listening.  In case you’re wondering, maybe I heard a small difference between the two modes—if anything, it was a better sense of smoothness in the music—but it also could have been psychoacoustic so I’m very cautious about putting any stock in that observation.  Then again there may be a bigger, noticeable difference if you have a cheap PC knockoff computer with inferior audio stages.  I leave the final judgment up to the individual user and their own setup environment.

Unboxing

The Incline speakers come in a handle-sporting box that makes them easy to pickup and carry after purchase.  In case you end up dropping the box as you battle through Christmas crowds, you’ll take comfort knowing that the Inclines are well protected.  The speakers sit well packed in a custom-molded Styrofoam in a cool-looking configuration.   The front cover adds a 1.7cm layer of protective foam.

 

 Incline Speaker Box Incline Interior Box Packaging

The Definitive Technology Inclines come well boxed with a carrying handle

Accessories in the box include an AC Adapter; 2 meter Master/Slave Tether to connect the left and right speakers; 3.5 mm Stereo 'Mini' Cable; and USB Type B Cable.  The user guide is more like a quick setup and is very Spartan.  In fact, the setup guide is so basic that buyers of the speakers will want to refer to this review for some precious nuggets of information to help you avoid potential questions or frustration.

Included in the box is a nice assortment of accessories for everything you’d need to get you up and running including a 3.5 mm Stereo 'Mini' Cable; and USB Type  B Cable.

About the author:

Theo is a serious audiophile and home theater enthusiast—a passion he's enjoyed for over 20 years. He heads up many of our speaker system and receiver reviews as well as covering the latest in streaming technologies and Ultra HD video.

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Recent Forum Posts:

noah katz posts on October 29, 2020 01:33
In case @TheoN is still around or someone else can help, I'm puzzled by the following parts of the review.

“It’s not immediately obvious, but the Incline speakers can process the USB signal from your computer in two different ways. The first (and default) method allows you to adjust the volume from your computer. The second method bypasses the computer’s gain stages and volume controls. Definitive says bypassing the computer’s (usually) inferior gain stages and volume controls maintains a purer signal path and gives you the highest sound quality. Once you engage this second method, your computer’s volume controls won’t have any impact on the speakers’ volume. You’ll only be able to adjust the volume from the Incline’s volume keys, located on the right speaker. ”


Regarding the first method, if the computer's USB audio output is used, the output is digital and presumably volume is controlled in the digital domain, so there are no gain stages involved.


Or perhaps the problem is that the computer's DAC doesn't have enough bits of resolution so that sound quality is compromised at lower levels?

“The Incline has a great selection of flexible digital and analog inputs: Optical Toslink, USB, and 3.5mm stereo “mini” analog line-level in. If you choose a digital input, the Incline’s built-in 56-bit DSP will handle the processing.”

This seems to imply that when using the 3.5mm output, either the DSP/response shaping won't be used, which seems like it would result in radically different/inferior sound, or that the Inclines' will reconvert the signal back to digital before feeding to the DSP.

Can someone straighten this out for me?
Justin1996 posts on January 27, 2016 21:13
Stupid question but what is Definitive Technology? In brief
slipperybidness posts on January 13, 2016 16:40
Chilly, post: 1113112, member: 77712
This post is a little dated but I have a question I cannot find the answer. I have the inclines and PRO800 sub that are wonderful.

I know the USB connecting uses the built in DAC on the speaker. If I have a sound card connecting to the inclines through an optical cable is the sound controlled by the DAC in the sound card or the DAC in the speaker?
Well, optical connection = digital connection
So, it seems that you must be feeding digi to the DAC in the DT
Chilly posts on January 13, 2016 15:58
This post is a little dated but I have a question I cannot find the answer. I have the inclines and PRO800 sub that are wonderful.

I know the USB connecting uses the built in DAC on the speaker. If I have a sound card connecting to the inclines through an optical cable is the sound controlled by the DAC in the sound card or the DAC in the speaker?
AllanMarcus posts on May 18, 2014 23:06
Moronic design decision!

TheoN, post: 1013265
Hi Allan,

It was a lot of fun reviewing the Inclines. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to listen to either the AudioEngine A5s or the Polk Heritage desktop speakers. I thus can't offer you an educated opinion on that one to tell you my impressions about the differences between the speakers. Simply from a design and spec's POV, there are a few differences that strike me:

First, the Inclines are bipolar speakers vs. the Audio Engine and the Polks. The bipolar speakers do enhances the sense of soundstage depth and breadth. If that's something you like, then you'll like the Inclines.

Second, on paper the Inclines go down into the low 40's at +/-3dB. The AudioEngine speakers are only listed as going down to 50Hz.

Third, there are connectivity differences between all the speakers. The Polk seems to have the fewest options of all. The Inclines give you lots and a sub out.

Fourth, the Inclines have a “direct” mode as indicated in the review. That may or may not be something of value.

Fifth, they all sure do look different. Aesthetics play a role

Like most well-designed speakers this may simply come down to preference and I'd encourage you to try both out in your own setup and decide on which will work best for you.


Thanks for the feedback. I just ordered a pair for my son, but he has a turntable and a computer input. The turntable has a pre-amp built in, so a simple RCA to 3.5mm should work. It's just such a moronic design decision not to have a way to switch inputs. He will have to unplug the turntable to play from his computer. I may have to get him a small pre-amp/switcher. Good think I got the speakers used from amazon for a significant discount.

I imagine DefTech will add an input option in the next version. I would have loved to have heard the engineering pitch for three inputs, but only one can be used. Something like: Our marketing folks tell us that our audiophile customer are idiots, so let's design something only an idiot would appreciate.

At least the sound quality is good.
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