Sure, I could play my usual bass torture tests when I want to find out if a small speaker delivers satisfying low end, but I think a better test is to see what the speaker does with “regular guy” music. So I pulled out Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger CD and cranked up “Rusty Cage” through the SM65s, playing them full-range in stereo with no subwoofer. This tune confirmed that the SM65’s bass output is above average for a bookshelf speaker. In fact, it sounded like a small tower speaker. The bass was tight as all hell, with tons of impact and punch from Matt Cameron’s kick drum and Ben Shepherd’s electric bass. The SM65s could even pump out the ultra-deep notes in hip-hop and electronic music, although I did hear traces of distortion at times.
The strongest point of the SM65 might also be its weakest point: the treble. I noticed when watching the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray that the SM65’s treble is clear, precise, and vivid. The Tinker soundtrack is packed with beautifully recorded orchestral music and sly sound effects, such as a bee buzzing around inside a car. Captivating as the movie’s plot was, the clarity of the SM65’s treble and the intensity of the sound effects kept diverting my attention to the audio. The strings and percussion sounded delicious, with fantastic detail and spaciousness.
So what’s weak about that? For my taste, the treble was a little too hot when I played stereo music; I’d prefer it if the tweeter level were 1 or 2 decibels lower. You may have a different opinion, depending on your taste and the acoustics of your room. Putting the grilles on tamed the treble a bit, but also took some of the life out of the sound.
Interestingly, when I listened to the SM45 in stereo, the smaller speaker’s treble seemed perfectly in balance without losing any of the positive qualities I heard in the SM65. In fact, I preferred the SM45 overall because its drivers and crossover are better integrated. The tonal balance is more natural and the mids sound a tad smoother. And even though the SM45 lacks a fancy-schmancy passive radiator, it easily plays low enough to mate with any subwoofer — or to possibly even use without a subwoofer.
Neither the SM65 nor the SM45 can slam out impacts and explosions like a real subwoofer, though, and that’s where the SuperCube 8000 comes in. The SC8000 sounds to me like a nice compromise between a small “punch sub” — i.e., one tuned to deliver maximum impact from 40 to 80 Hz — and a big monster sub that shakes the floors with powerful response down to 20 Hz.
When I played the King Kong DVD, the SC8000 pumped out punchy impacts and a decent amount of couch shake during the brontosaurus stampede scene — yet it couldn’t reproduce the deepest organ notes of the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 from the Boston Audio Society’s Test CD-1. Here’s where those EQ modes came in handy. The low-end boost of EQ1 turned those bronto stomps into a gratifyingly tactile experience without causing distortion. And EQ3 gave “Hey Nineteen,” from Steely Dan’s Gold CD, lots of extra groove without in any way screwing up the sound. EQ2 and EQ4 focused more on the mid and upper bass; I didn’t like those modes, but maybe they’re good for gaming or something.
If you’re looking to build a small, subwoofer-less home theater system or a great compact stereo system, the DefTech SM65 is a good choice. My preference would be the SM45, which has a slightly more natural tonal balance that sounded great no matter what movies or music I played. You’ll probably want a sub with that, though, and the SC8000’s potent bass performance and useful EQ modes make it a good match for compact speakers.
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