In the past I haven’t been a great fan of computer speakers, my image of them is tired looking plastic boxes with poor quality sound. However, the first time I read about the Incline desktop speakers from Definitive Technology I was intrigued. Definitive Technology have completely re-designed the desktop speaker with the Incline, introducing a number of features that are not usually seen in desktop audio. I was pleased to get the opportunity to review the Incline to see if they look and sound as good in real-life as they do on paper.
Right out of the box they look very different from standard desktop speakers, they are relatively tall, and instead of standing upright they incline at 9.5 degrees. The Incline speakers are quite heavily weighted, so they feel solid and stable, and they look elegant on a desktop with their aluminum base and black grille cloth top.
As you sit so close to desktop speakers, most aim directly at your torso, whereas the Incline is instead aimed at your ears. It makes perfect sense that this would make a noticeable difference to the audio quality you hear, and begs the question “why didn’t anyone think of this before?”
Another factor that affects the audio experience with desktop speakers is they need to be placed close together, giving a very narrow sound field, which tends to sound flat and 2 dimensional. Definitive Technology’s response to this is to make the Incline Speakers bipolar – each Incline has speakers on both front and back to give a much richer more 3-D sound. Its front facing panel features a ¾-inch silk dome tweeter, one 4-inch polymer cone mid/woofer that is pressure-coupled to a 4-inch bass radiator and a 1-1/2-inch full-range driver on the rear panel completes the Incline’s lineup. Each speaker is bi-amplified – so there are four 20-Watt amplifiers altogether. They have a built-in Digital Signal Processor which digitally adjusts and enhances the audio signal.
The Incline Speakers are self-powered, and have definite Left and Right speakers – these are clearly marked on the bottom of the speakers. The left speaker connects to the right, all other connections are made to the right speaker. At first glance the right speaker has 3 ports: a speaker output to connect to the left speaker, a power supply and a USB input. However, if you remove the plate cover you can access 3 additional ports: an digital optical input, a line input (3.5mm) and a sub-woofer output. The product handbook doesn’t mention that you need to remove this plate to access the ports, it would be useful to have this added. By using the line input you can also connect the speakers to any audio with a 3.5mm output such as an iPhone, tablet or MP3 player, though this doesn’t utilize the Incline’s DSP so the sound quality is good, but not as good as via the USB. The sub-woofer output allows you to connect an external sub-woofer if you prefer more bass. When connecting to a computer via USB there are 2 modes – pressing and holding the power button for 5 seconds and pressing either the + or – volume control allows you to changes between them. With the default method you can change the speaker volume via the computer, but if you are willing to use the volume control buttons on the right speaker instead, the second option has a purer signal path for the best quality sound. Once you have set this the speaker remembers your preference until you reset it.
Now for the most important question- how do they sound?
I tried out the Inclines with a variety of different musical genres and with movies. I was very impressed with the Incline’s performance when listening to music from my digital music collection on my MacBook Pro connected via USB. I have a large collection of music on my computer recorded via Apple lossless, and amongst the artists I tested it with were Bob Marley, Enya, Crash Test Dummies, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Billy Bragg and Wilco, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mark Knopfler and a variety of traditional Irish music. Universally I found the sound to be very clear, crisp and balanced. The mid-range frequency is emphasized, they have a nice but not over-whelming bass and the is treble is clear creating a well-balanced sound. My preference is for a balanced rather than bass-heavy sound, and these speakers suited my preferences very well. If you prefer a heavy booming bass you can add an optional sub-woofer, but if you want to clearly hear details of the music, the Incline is great as it is. You can clearly hear the subtleties of different vocal ranges and pick out individual instruments. A song that demonstrated this well is the Superman Song by Crash Test Dummies –the main singer has a low, gravelly, bass voice that come across very clearly, but you can also hear the quiet backing soprano clearly.
With a flat screen external monitor and movie streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, I also enjoying watching movies via my computer. I tested the Incline speakers to see how they would perform for movie watching and they were great- they provided an immersive movie-watching experience which was a huge difference compared to listening via the MacBook Pro’s built-in speakers.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Incline Desktop Speakers performance. They look good, are very stable on the desktop, deliver impressive sound quality across a variety of different music genres and provide an immersive sound when movie watching. They provide a a well-balanced, crisp, clear sound, and the bipolar speaker design give a rich more three dimensional sound quality. As well as being used with a computer you can also use them to listen to music from an iPad, iPhone, mp3 player, or any audio source that has a USB, digital optical or headphone output jack. My one gripe is that it can be hard to find the hidden outputs, and that it would be nice to have a way to choose to have all the features in the left instead of right speaker, as my outlets and USB connectors are all on the left side of my computer so I do have to run all the wires across my desktop.
If you are ready to take your desktop audio to a new level I highly recommend the Incline Desktop Speakers from Definitive Technology. They have definitely changed my opinion on desktop audio- they look good, are a pleasure to listen to and are now a permanent feature in my office. Available from Definitive Technology.com and many retailers RRP
$399 per pair. As of 11/2014 the price is now only $249/ pair.
NOTE: A product was supplied by the company for review purposes, no other form of compensation was received, all opinions stated in the review are those of the author and have been offered honestly.
- Dimensions: 11.3″ H x 5″ W x 4.4″ D
- Front Driver complement: (1) 4″ bass/midrange driver, (1) 3/4″ silk dome tweeter; rear driver: (1) 4″ pressure coupled bass radiator
- Amplifier power: 80 Watts (4×20)
- Connections: Optical TOSLINK, USB, 3.5mm stereo “mini” analog line-level in, USB in, Port for firmware updates only; not an audio input, sub out, 20V DC power supply input, left speaker output port.
- Base: solid slab of machined aluminum
- Enclosure: Polystone mineral-filled polymer, wrapped in acoustically transparent grille cloth