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Polk, Definitive Technology First Speakers to Qualify IMAX Enhanced Certification

by November 20, 2020
Definitive & Polk IMAX Enhanced Speakers

Definitive & Polk IMAX Enhanced Speakers

IMAX enhanced logo.jpgTwo years ago, DTS and IMAX joined together to create the IMAX Enhanced certification program to ensure that content was being delivered for home theater consumption with the high quality that the producers intended. At the time, the IMAX Enhanced certification program was limited to TVs, audio-video receivers, and content, but today IMAX Enhanced brings that certification process to loudspeakers. The first loudspeakers to attain IMAX Enhanced certification come from two Sound United brands: Polk Audio and Definitive Technology. Only the highest-end loudspeakers from those brands managed to achieve IMAX Enhanced certification which perhaps indicates that the standards for the certification are rather high. The loudspeakers that achieved certification are the Definitive Technology Demand D17, D15, and D5c, and the Polk Audio Legend L800, L600, and L400. We reviewed the Demand D15 as well as the Legend L800 and L400, and we found them to all be excellent loudspeakers that have extraordinarily high performance. It’s not surprising that Polk Audio and Definitive Technology were the first to be granted certification since the engineering teams behind those brands were among the experts that DTS and IMAX turned to form an Enhanced program for loudspeakers.  

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What does it take to gain IMAX Enhanced certification for loudspeakers? To quote from the press release:

Our intent in joining the loudspeaker certification program was to reproduce the signature IMAX sound without compromise. It was essential to preserve the impact and dynamics moviegoers have come to expect from IMAX, therefore, we considered sound pressure level (SPL), frequency response and the consistency of the speaker’s performance when evaluating eligibility for loudspeaker certification,”

--Matt Lyons, VP of Engineering – Acoustics Product Development & Engineering at Polk Audio.

That isn’t a very specific criterion set for ascertaining the needs for IMAX Enhanced certification for loudspeakers, except that response linearity and dynamic range are factors. We don’t know how linear the response needs to be, or how much SPL that the speaker must be able to cleanly produce. We also don’t know if dispersion or directivity is a factor. The specific values for these characteristics are only available to licensees of the IMAX Enhanced certification.

To continue from the above-quoted section of the press release:

IMAX defined a specific set of frequency ranges to be used for testing, which we then ultimately measured against speaker performance. The resulting certification completes the ecosystem of IMAX Enhanced products including content, devices, and loudspeakers, all calibrated to offer the level of performance IMAX demands.

--Matt Lyons, VP of Engineering – Acoustics Product Development & Engineering at Polk Audio.

When we inquired about how the characteristics of loudspeaker performance were determined to get this certification, Paul Gallo, a director of product management at Xperi (which owns DTS), replied:

Performance specifications and Measurement techniques were derived from consultations with different loudspeaker manufacturers as well as the standards as outlined by the Consumer Technology Association. (The CTA has published methodologies for measuring in-home loudspeakers and subwoofers.)

When we asked about subwoofers, which weren’t mentioned in the press release, Paul Gallo replied:

We do allow for powered subwoofers to be included in the IMAX Enhanced Loudspeaker Certification program. Similar to our loudspeaker performance specs, powered subwoofers need to meet the frequency range and SPL levels as outlined in our licensee manual.

IMAX Enhanced vs THX Certification: What's the Difference?

Imax vs THX.jpgWith the inclusion of loudspeakers and subwoofers in its certification process, IMAX Enhanced looks to be supplanting THX as a performance guarantee in home audio and video products. THX has lost prominence among audio/video electronics in the last decade, although we have seen a resurgence in THX certification among loudspeakers and subwoofers over the last few years. THX certification for loudspeakers and subwoofers is fairly strict, and not many products are able to achieve it. One commonly misunderstood point about THX certification is not that it’s a mark of merely high performance, but that performance must fit inside the ecosystem of a larger THX system so that the user is experiencing exactly what the content creator intends. So the performance parameters that THX tests are not just to gauge performance but to make sure the behavior fits in well with all the other parts of a larger THX system. For this reason, most of the products that achieve THX certification were designed with THX certification from the start. It looks to us that IMAX Enhanced is simply a performance benchmark rather than an engineering profile to ensure that the parts of an audio/video reproduction system work together in a specific way. If that is the case, it should be easier for audio/video products to achieve IMAX Enhanced certification since they simply have to be ‘good’ without needing to behave in a particular way to integrate into a system of rigorous specifications. In other words, IMAX Enhanced seems to be just a performance standard rather than a compatibility standard.

D15 outdoors3.jpgPaul Gallo had this to say when asked about the differences between IMAX Enhanced and THX certification:

Our intent is to provide performance metrics that are non-disruptive to any brand’s particular signature sound. Where THX can be viewed as somewhat prescriptive, we wanted to make sure that our performance specs provided guidelines that met the playback needs to support the content but also allowed manufacturers to maintain their unique sonic differentiation.

Our first take on bringing IMAX Enhanced certification to loudspeakers is that we need to understand more about what the certification necessitates in terms of sound quality for it to be useful. How good does a speaker have to be to gain IMAX Enhanced certification? Our first clue is that so far it has only been reserved for the highest performers from Definitive Technology and Polk. That is a good sign, and it could make IMAX Enhanced certification meaningful for loudspeakers if that caliber of performance is the standard that has to be cleared. On the other hand, this certification program was just announced, and there is still plenty of time for it to be screwed up by handing it out like candy to much lesser performing loudspeakers. We will let readers know what further information we can learn about the IMAX Enhanced certification as we get it, but we think it more likely that time will tell whether the certification is noteworthy for consumers depending on what future speakers are awarded it. In the meantime, we remain cautiously optimistic about the IMAX Enhanced certification for loudspeakers.

What do you think about IMAX Certification of loudspeakers? Share your comments in the related forum thread below.


About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

8OhmsHolmes posts on November 21, 2020 21:10
Must be a gimic as the def tech speakers have low sensitivity and moderate power handling and still met the criteria. The DT center channel mentioned is 85.5 db sensitivity and 200 watts power handling.
shadyJ posts on November 21, 2020 00:23
ryanosaur, post: 1435349, member: 86393
Thanks Shady.
Agree that the linchpin is really in the meaning and definition of the testing and how true they keep the distribution of the award.
Based on the testing of the two lines, is there any commonality between the two that help you see a possible definition on IMAX Certification?
Well, both the Deftech Demands and Polk Legends have a superbly flat response. They have a pretty good dynamic range. The directivity control is OK for speakers that don't use waveguides. These speakers have a lot in common and shared a lot of the same engineering team. We need to see more speakers get certified before we can see what the limits of IMAX Enhanced certification is.
ryanosaur posts on November 21, 2020 00:10
Thanks Shady.
Agree that the linchpin is really in the meaning and definition of the testing and how true they keep the distribution of the award.
Based on the testing of the two lines, is there any commonality between the two that help you see a possible definition on IMAX Certification?
mazersteven posts on November 20, 2020 22:38
Maybe I'm wrong but it sounds like another way for the Audio/Home Theater industry under a Licensing Agreement to Market the IMAX brand and make more money.
lovinthehd posts on November 20, 2020 22:24
In a way I like the concept. I wonder how meaningful it would be unless it was widely participated in and spec and performance scoring included (or available) for review. However for me I'm good for the most part with what I have and am accustomed to seeing measurements so it doesn't really affect me but I suppose could help make a buying choice for someone else down the line if it takes hold….
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