Most of us are familiar with Dynaudio speakers primarily because of the ubiquity of their bass units. You know the ones, with the distinctive (and oft-copied) oversized dust-cap with slots around the edges. But it was only last year when I reviewed the small two-way Contour 1.3SE for an American magazine, that I actually played with a pair of complete Dynaudio speakers. For that assignment, I was sent over to the factory so I'd know a bit more about Dynaudio than its OEM successes. Understandably, the company suffers a major identity crisis in that most people think of these German-led Danes only for supplying woofers to the likes of Wilson Audio.
It was hard to escape this aspect of the company portfolio, and more than once I was reminded that standalone drive unit sales account for as little as 5-10 percent of the company's turnover. Instead, they want the world to know that they're among the dozen or so largest builders of complete speaker systems in the world, and that they've been at it for over a quarter century. Moreover, they now have the distinction of producing a range of speaker systems with possibly the widest coverage in the world: from ¬£399 per pair for the entry-level Audience 40, up to ¬£50,909 per pair for the Evidence. How's that for keeping hold of their customers as they evolve from beginners to lunatics?
Dynaudio's factory is in the same neck of the woods as Lego, the region's most famous concern, an area oozing CE-approved political-correctness, and reeking of that Scandinavian coolness which gave the world minimalist furniture, Vikings with attitude and leggy blondes. Moreover, there's a sense of confidence which is evident through Dynaudio's self-sufficiency. What we have here is a speaker company which makes everything bar the speaker terminals (gilded WBTs, of course), a throwback to the days when a speaker manufacturer was expected to have, at the very least, its own cabinet factory and a wide selection of self-made drive units.
What's occupied me this month is a new floorstander in the Contour series, a range specifically designed for A/V usage in that the models are shielded and the line-up features a centre channel voiced to match every model in the range. I auditioned the Contour T2.5 as a stereo pair, which is the other way it will be marketed, but I suspect that a large proportion will serve as main L/R speakers in a 5.1 surround rig, with smaller Contours for the side or rear roles; there are nine models in the range including the centre speaker and hit-rodded variants of the basic designs. The T2.5 is not, after all, a small speaker, with dimensions of 203x1020x300mm (WHD), which give this 35 litre enclosure the profile of a full-range Euro speaker conceived to fill rooms of up to 5x8m with ease.
Although it looks old-fashioned in light of swoopier modern designs with compound curvature, and those which have moved away from woods, the T2.5 is handsome and imposing. The review pair arrived in a luxurious rosewood veneer, with a severe black grille. The finish is hard to fault, the units are solid and hefty at 24kg, but the overall image is dated. Hell, even ATC has curved-edge models which avoid the look of the creases in cavalry twills. Admittedly, I spend most of my listening time gazing at either small Martin-Logans, old Quads or Sonus Faber Guarneris, so it's been some time since my field of vision was filled with cubist constructs of an earlier era; conversely, the Dynaudios will not upset traditionalists who favour boring boxes.
Having seen what goes into a Dynaudio cabinet, including copious amounts of bracing, I expected nothing less than a robust and resonance-free enclosure. It's fashioned of multi-layer sandwich construction with 19mm MDF sides and a front baffle made from a 22mm thick MDF section. In addition to the rosewood finish of the review samples, cherry is also offered at no extra cost, while most other woods are available as options. The cabinet is damped with bitumen, and comes with substantial spikes. In essence, there's nothing which needs tweaking.
Housed in the upper half of the front baffle are two 170mm single-piece moulded polypropylene cone woofers. They boast extra long 75mm aluminium wire voice coils for long-throw excursion, and are fitted with a double magnet system so they're fully shielded. They're positioned above and below a 28mm soft dome tweeter, which is 'Magnaflux-damped' and with voice coils wound with pure aluminium wire. The tweeter uses a 'Hybrid Double magnet system' composed of both neodymium and ferrite, with a damped rear chamber; the speaker is mounted to a 4mm die cast aluminium front section. Below the speaker array is a port, the front-firing position making these speakers more immune than you'd expect to the influence of positioning close to the wall. The actually prefer to work at least 0.5m from the walls, with 1m even better, but it's nice to know, should you be forced to locate them closer to the walls, that the port is free to breathe.
Fitted with an impedance-corrected crossover, the T2.4 is rated as a 6 ohm speaker. Dynaudio is lavish with the specifications, so I can tell you that the impedance never dips below 4.4 ohms, with a high of 10.3 ohms from 20-200Hz. Sensitivity is only 86dB/1W/1m, but it didn't seem all that hungry. In addition to using the Dynaudios with the 300W/ch Nu-Vistas, they were also driven with 25W/ch tube amps from Nightingale without problems. The crossover is made with high quality metal-foil polypropylene capacitors and low tolerance, air coils, and the crossover point is 1600Hz (6dB slopes); the reflex port is tuned to 32H, while the frequency response is stated as 29 Hz-25 kHz (+/- 3 dB).
Although I'm easy on speakers and have yet to blow a drive unit for too eager a twist of the volume control, I suspect that the T2.5 will take all you can throw at it. The amplifiers were barely working in the main listening room (12x18ft), and the levels and dynamic swings were more than satisfactory with powerhouse recordings like the soundtrack, signature tune 'Woke Up This Morning' and a host of 96/24 tracks courtesy of Classic Records. While I didn't feel any compulsion to schlep the Dynaudios into the A/V room, I have no doubt that they'll withstand the rigours of home cinema. But, ironically, they're almost too good for it.
It's too early in the history of home cinema to be deliberately contrary or smug, but I have a nasty feeling (which I believe is shared by others) that movie soundtracks aren't anywhere near as demanding as pure music. 'Subtlety' is not a quality which seems a prerequisite of home theatre - and, yes, I realise that such a statement oozes hypocrisy when coming from one who cherishes such high-end A/V wares as Lexicon processors and Martin-Logan's A/V-targeted speakers. But concurrent with listening to this speaker, I had A/V tasks to complete and found myself marvelling at the differences - NOT the similarities - in the two experiences. All that I admire about the Dynaudios, including a sweet, smooth top end and superb retrieval of fine detail, matter little in home cinema for most of the time.
Let me make something perfectly clear: I expect ALL A/V systems to be dual purpose in the sense that they'll be used for music-only duties as well as video, and therefore they need to cope with the refinement of music as well as the bombast of cinema. In that respect, speakers used for home theatre have to be as good as the speakers you'd use for pure music. But they won't show their stuff during film playback beyond demonstrating the much-needed capability to play loud, deep and clean. And with five channels surrounding you, they have 'help' in recreating a space.
It just so happens that my sessions with the Dynaudios followed a demonstration in the USA which set out to prove that two speakers are all you need to cope with home cinema. And while I have my reservations, that demonstration did sow seeds of doubt about multi-channel. Suffice it to say that the Dynaudios reminded me of that when I fed them the soundtrack portion from a few DVD movies mastered for 5.1.