Definitive Technology Descend DN12 12” Subwoofer Review

Posted on 19th July, 2022

Definitive Technology Descend DN12 12” Subwoofer Review

Tony O’Brien feels the earth move with this compact, affordable subwoofer…

Definitive Technology

Descend DN12 12” Subwoofer

AUD $1,999 RRP each

Thirty years may be a short career in industry terms, but it's been an illustrious one for US-based speaker manufacturer Definitive Technology. Since its inception in 1990, the company has established itself as one of America's most revered loudspeaker makers.

Under the guiding hand of Sound United, the brand has continued to thrive while staying true to its original mission – to take the performance of more expensive speakers and shrink them down while sounding just as good. It's the same philosophy that Definitive Technology's Descend subwoofers have been built upon. The DN8, DN10, DN12 and DN15 all promise comparable performance to larger designs. 


Sporting a 12” long-throw woofer, the DN12 – like all of the Descend Range – uses the company's 3XR Technology. This incorporates three matching bass drivers, the DN12 having a trio of 12” long-throw woofers, as its name suggests. There's a forward-facing powered woofer, flanked by passive radiators on the left and right sides of the cabinet.

The benefits are manifold, the American manufacturer claims. Despite being sealed, the DN12 can play as loud and low as larger ported designs but is free of port noise or chuffing, which can plague reflex-loaded designs. The sealed cabinet and multiple drivers also ensure a smoother frequency response, it's said. Thus the DN12 is designed to be a loud, clear-sounding subwoofer that performs more like a 15” ported design. 

A custom 500W RMS (1,500W peak) Class H sliding rail amplifier supplies the juice. Like Class G, Class H amplifiers work in Class A mode at normal listening levels, switching to Class B for transient peaks, which are boosted by additional power supplies. It's a more complicated, albeit efficient design, theoretically capable of driving more difficult loads than Class AB. 

This amplifier section is mated to a 56-bit digital signal processing chip that closely monitors the woofers to prevent any distortion or damage at higher levels. Despite promising to play as low as a 15” ported sub, its frequency response is said to be 25Hz to 150Hz (-3dB), which isn't quite as low as some but good enough for most. 

It's clear that Definitive Technology takes pride in what it does. Opening the box, you're greeted with a glossy user manual and a small cloth drawstring bag containing a remote control. It's a level of detail that I'm not accustomed to seeing at this price point. The subwoofer itself is enclosed in a large cloth bag nestled between packaging foam. 

Measuring 476x458x485mm, the DN12 eclipsed my smaller 10” subs in terms of size. It comes in a smart Midnight Black finish, while other models in the range also offer the choice of Arctic White. It has an inoffensive, somewhat understated appearance. This is primarily due to the speaker grills, which cover the front and sides of the cabinet, are not removable. It's topped off with a stylish matt black top plate bearing the Definitive logo.

All connections and controls are on the back of the sub. They consist of high-level inputs, line-in, LFE input, IR input, USB service input and a 12-volt trigger. In addition to the volume control, there's a low pass filter, phase (-135 to +180 in 45-degree increments), power (auto, on and 12v) and E.Q. Rather than a customisable PEQ, the DN12 offers three EQ presets, consisting of Flat, Loud and Deep. 

The controls are accessible from the bundled remote. It's a surprisingly well-made and sleek little thing, and works in conjunction with one of the most unique and cool features of the DN12… Pressing the remote activates a large LED display tucked behind the grill that is informative and easy to read. It makes measurement and set-up a breeze in terms of seeing what it's up to. It really is the best of both worlds, a large, easy-to-read display when you need it that disappears after a few seconds, leaving the room free of unwanted distractions.


Set-up is a relatively straightforward affair. Testing the subwoofer's EQ presets with Room EQ Wizard (REW), and a UMIK-1 microphone revealed that the Flat preset offered the most neutral response. Loud resulted in more energy in the 40 to 90Hz range while Deep boosted the lowest frequencies.

Most will already have an AV receiver or processor with room correction software such as Audyssey, ARC or Dirac. Unless you're a more advanced user, we'd recommend following Definitive Technology's recommendation – setting the EQ to flat and letting your room correction software do the work to avoid overdriving speakers. That's what I did. After some basic adjustments for volume and phase, I let the onboard Dirac Live/Bass Control on my JBL Synthesis SDR-35 equalise the DN12 in conjunction with the other speakers.

Replacing my usual subs, my review pair of DN12s were partnered with my VAF Signature i91 front and centres and i90 rear and overhead speakers, creating a 5.1.2 Atmos layout. The remainder of the system consisted of an Epson EH-LS12000B projectorLumagen Radiance Pro 4242Panasonic UB-9000 4K Blu-ray playerApple TV and a Severtson Cinegray 100” 16.9 projector screen.


The DN12 produces clean, unobtrusive bass that naturally extends the dynamic range of bookshelf speakers. Its bottom end is surprisingly fast and tight, given the multiple woofers. As clean sounding as it is, this sub is capable of producing seat rumbling low frequencies when called for.

For example, being a child of the eighties, the 4K Ultra HD transfer of Escape From L.A. was just too good to pass up with the review DN12s in situ. With Snake's second film foray, the DN12s distinguished themselves with an apparent lack of bass. At first glance, that may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but it speaks volumes about this sub's ability to produce fast and clean bass that doesn't linger beyond its expiry date. It's a quality that I usually associate with more expensive subwoofers and surprising, given the DN12s price point.

As Snake was welcomed to LA, the duo of DN12s blended beautifully with the main speakers, giving my standmounters the extra dynamic range they needed. It also brought an excellent sense of weight and extension to the guitar in the soundtrack. 

Much the same could be said with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack found on the 4K Ultra HD of 2022's Scream 5. Horror soundtracks often rely on lower frequency information to unsettle the viewer, and with a subwoofer capable of producing infrasonic frequencies, it can make for a satisfyingly spooky viewing experience. Here the pair of DN12s did an admirable job of producing the soundtrack's lower frequencies, helping to create a sense of danger and urgency. Those seeking to reproduce the very bottom octave will be left wanting, however.

With the excellent Atmos soundtrack found on the 4K Ultra HD of John Wick, the DN12s excited and entertained. As Wick opened up the throttle on his '69 Mustang, the rumble of the engine was not only heard but felt as the engine roared into life. As he entered the Red Circle, the subwoofers did an excellent job with the pumping music of the nightclub. 

Indeed, the DN12s sound larger than I expect from a 12” driver, and in the hands of the competent DN12s, you feel like you're standing next to Wick in the nightclub. As the action unfolded, these subs gave a gratifying sense of impact. Gunshots were delivered quickly and cleanly but with enough impact to be felt at the central listening position.

The Dolby Atmos track on the UHD of 2013's Man of Steel is reference-grade, prime material to audition the DN12s. Here they proved they were not only capable of plenty of impact but also great speed. As the visceral sound of Lara's beating heart reverberated through the room, it was delivered with a speed that belied its price.


Definitive Technolgy's DN12 has quite a few surprises up its sleeve. Although it can't quite plumb the deepest subterranean depths, there's enough foundational bass on offer to please most. What truly impresses is its transient speed, especially given the asking price. Producing fast and clean bass, it never overwhelms the senses nor pokes its nose where it's not wanted.

Easily capable of producing seat-rumbling bass when called upon, it just sounds much bigger than it should for a 12” subwoofer. Factor in excellent build quality, real attention to detail in its design, and looks that blend into most environments, and this is an excellent all-rounder - an essential addition to your affordable subwoofer audition list.

For more information visit Definitive Technology


    Tony O'Brien's avatar

    Tony O'Brien

    As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.

    Posted in:Hi-Fi Home Theatre Loudspeakers Subwoofers
    Tags: definitive technology  sound united 


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