Review: Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder Bluetooth Speaker for iPad
While it's not terribly difficult to price a Bluetooth speaker "correctly," the sheer number of alternatives currently in the marketplace has left developers hunting for ways to differentiate new offerings from one another. Today, we're looking at three recently-released speakers that take somewhat different approaches to that challenge: G-Project's G-Boom ($100) chose the value route, packing a familiar shape with far better speakers and features than most users would expect for the price. By comparison, a fancy tube-shaped speaker called Sound Cylinder ($199) from Definitive Technologies opts for clean design and the ability to double as an iPad stand, and Geneva Lab's Geneva WorldRadio ($300) leverages modern design and nostalgia to offset a limited feature set. From our standpoint, G-Boom is clearly a better raw value than the others, but if you're looking for something unique, Sound Cylinder and WorldRadio each have some appeal.
As tube-shaped speakers go—and there have been a few of them over the past few years—Sound Cylinder is certainly the nicest-looking design we’ve seen. Unlike common OEM tube speakers, which are merely hollow pipes with plastic or rubber end caps, this aluminum and magnesium accessory appears to have been given unusual industrial design attention. Measuring 7.5” long with a 1.8” diameter, the tube feels entirely sturdy despite having been perforated on all sides but one by dotted grilles, and interrupted on the back by a jet black rubber compartment. Using colors and finishes that match all full-sized iPads released to date, Definitive Technologies has created a speaker that looks fully worthy of Apple’s tablets, with clean power and volume buttons on the left side, power and audio inputs on the back, and another speaker grille on the right. The end caps appear to be magnesium, but so closely match the tube that it’s hard to tell the aluminum and magnesium parts from one another.
Sound Cylinder continues its smart design with two related elements: pinch-gripping rubber-coated iPad holders at the top, and a flip-out silver stand on the back. These are the most conspicuously plastic components in the accessory; a thumb-ready pressurized slider is centered on the back inside the flip-out stand, and if you push the slider down, the iPad holders open up to grip any version of the tablet. Release the thumb slider and the holders tighten enough to firmly hold a full-sized iPad, or loosely but fully support a bare iPad mini. Sound Cylinder will hold your device in a case in either landscape or portrait orientation—a major plus—and with the plastic but stable rear stand, keep it on a very slight, non-adjustable recline. Everything from the size and shape works, and just makes sense.
Definitive Technology includes a reasonable set of pack-ins with the speaker. In addition to a 3.5mm audio cable, you get a Micro-USB cable for recharging, plus a wall charger, and a simple drawstring carrying bag. While the bag isn’t particularly tailored to the speaker, it’s large enough to hold it and the accessories should you want to carry them around together.
From a technology standpoint, Sound Cylinder is pretty standard. There’s a 10-hour rechargeable battery inside, along with a Bluetooth 2.1 chip, and what Definitive describes as a “2.1-channel” speaker array with “midrange/high frequency drivers” and “rich, warm bass sound.” Specs aren’t provided for the speakers, but it appears that there are two front-firing drivers inside, along with a third bass driver that fires from the right. The perforated grilles effectively obscure whatever audio hardware is actually in Sound Cylinder, but slight reflections suggest that the front drivers are around 1” or smaller in size, and the tube’s diameter would cap the side-firing bass driver’s size at under 1.5”, more likely in the 1.25” or smaller range. No speakerphone functionality is included, or particularly needed for the iPad.
The biggest issue with Sound Cylinder is regrettably a repeat of something we’ve seen in every tube speaker we’ve tested: the audio quality is only okay. Apart from its wider stereo separation, which extends only slightly past the edges of its 7.5” frame, it’s on par with the much smaller $100 Logitech UE Mobile Boombox in volume and clarity, which is to say “good by small $100 speaker standards, not great by larger $200 speaker standards.” By contrast with the Mobile Boombox, Sound Cylinder’s audio is less bassy and more midrange-focused—flat, but skewing mid and high. We actually preferred the less expensive Mobile Boombox because its renditions of tracks are noticeably warmer; despite Sound Cylinder’s inclusion of a dedicated bass driver, there’s just no thump in its audio.
Most of our speaker reviews make the specific point that audio quality for the dollar is the key consideration in assigning a rating, but Sound Cylinder is a little different from the typical iPad speaker. Definitive Technology merits extra credit for coming up with a truly good and usable iPad stand—one that’s capable of working with portrait and landscape iPads of any size—as well as a speaker that’s simultaneously portable and sonically an improvement on what’s inside any past- or current-generation iPad model. The only problem we see is a big one, namely that you could sonically do better with a considerably less expensive small speaker, and still have enough cash left over for both a great case and a great stand. Largely because of its overly high price tag, Sound Cylinder merits a limited recommendation, but we really did like the overall combination of design and features. We hope that Definitive Technology will build upon this model with a more sonically impressive sequel.