Steven Stone is the former editor of AudiophileReview.com. He a longtime audiophile and home theater writer, as well as a musician and recording engineer. Steven has written for publications like Stereophile, as well as HomeTheaterReview.com, AudiophileReview.com, and The Absolute Sound.
Steven is plays guitar, mandolin, and Ashbory bass and is a collector of fine musical instruments.
Let's clear one thing up right from the get-go: DALI is short for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries and has nothing to do with a certain Spanish surrealist painter. Now that we've cleared that up, let's move on to more important subjects, such as the Opticon 1 loudspeaker ($500 each). This small, two-way, ported-box loudspeaker is the most compact transducer in DALI's Opticon Series. Designed for small rooms or nearfield listening, the Opticon 1 is a prime example of just how much performance can be finessed out of a what at first appears to be a fairly standard-issue ported-box speaker.
The Opticon 1 is hand assembled in DALI's factory in Denmark. Unlike with many loudspeaker manufacturers, all of the components in the Opticon 1 are also manufactured in-house. Each driver has unique elements only available in DALI loudspeakers. The midrange/bass driver uses DALI's SMC (Soft Magnetic Compound) instead of more traditional hard magnets. SMC has the unique ability to deliver high magnetic conductivity coupled with very low electrical conductivity. According to DALI, this technology offers "a significant lowering of the coloration of the reproduced sound."
The Opticon 1's 26mm soft dome tweeter is a brand new design developed exclusively for the Opticon Series. The soft dome material itself is so thin and lightweight that it requires a special coating material to protect its outer surface. It also uses "ultra-thin" magnetic cooling fluid with a high flux saturation point, which allows it to deliver greater power handling.
The Opticon 1's 4.75-inch woofer is made of a combination of paper and wood fiber pulp. The woofer has a soft rubber surround designed to deliver a very low dampening effect so that the woofer motor sees the least amount of physical resistance possible. The driver's chassis is made of aluminum, so it will cause no magnetic interference to the magnet motor. The motor uses a pole piece made of SMC, which is positioned between two soft iron plates--supplying the ideal environment for the Opticon 1's two-layer voice coil.
The Opticon 1's cabinet is made of medium density fiberboard (MDF), which is then covered by a vinyl veneer. The front panel is made of 25mm-thick MDF with six screws holding the tweeter firmly in place. There is also a metal front-plate held by four screws that surrounds the tweeter. The midrange/woofer uses only five screws, in addition to a rubber gasket that sits into a milled-out rim to make an airtight seal. The Opticon 1's specifically tuned rear port is cleverly placed on the rear of the speaker so that it is above the five-way speaker connections and pointing downwards. Cloth grill covers are held in place by magnets, so the front panel has a clean, modern look even with them removed, which is how I did most of my listening.
The Opticon 1s spent majority of the review in my computer-based nearfield system. They were on a pair of IsoAcoustics desktop speaker stands, which put my ears on a plane between the tweeter and midrange/woofer drivers. I powered the Opticon 1s with a variety of power amplifiers, including the Bel Canto REF600M, First Watt F7, and Optoma NuForce ST-200. The speaker cable that connected the Opticon 1s to the power amps was Audience AU24SE. Front ends during the review were the SPL Phonitor X and Moon Audio Dragon Inspire IHA-1 used as analog preamplifiers with the Mytek Brooklyn DAC serving as the USB DAC.
Most of my listening recently has been through full-range, crossover-less transducers, including the Audience 1+1 V2 loudspeakers and the Focal Utopia headphones. When I replaced the Audience 1+1 V2 loudspeakers with the Opticon 1s, I expected that I would immediately notice the Opticon crossover's effect on the overall cohesiveness of the sound. Well, that expectation was wrong. I was surprised to discover that I was not aware of any sonic discontinuities that I could attribute to the crossover.
Besides excellent driver integration, the Opticon 1 also impressed me with its implacable dynamics. No matter how loudly it played, the Opticon 1's sonic character didn't change. This dynamic control reminded me of the ATC SCM-7 II, which also could play loudly with no signs of stress. While the Opticon 1's micro-dynamics were not quite as well-defined as the Audience 1+1 V2's, its macro dynamics were the Audience's equal.
Bass extension from the Opticon 1 was good as far as it went, which is somewhere between 60 and 70 Hz. For low bass, you will need to augment the Opticon 1 with a subwoofer. It took very little time to dial in my Velodyne DD10+ subwoofer, whose final adjustments were a 60-Hz crossover setting with 23 as the gain. With this combination, even the low synth bass pulses of DJ Snake's "Too Damn Low" came through cleanly and clearly.
The high-frequency extension was excellent--smooth, with no particular frequencies that jumped out or receded into murkiness. When I ran mono sine-wave frequency sweeps via the AudioTest app, the signal stayed dead center with no shifts to either side. This means that the tweeters were closely matched with no noticeable deviations within their frequency range.
While the Opticon 1's imaging abilities were good, they were not quite state-of-the-art. Image size was nearly the equal of the Audience 1+1 V2, but it was not quite as specific. Edges were not as clearly defined, and the spaces between instruments weren't as empty, as if there was a slight haze when compared with the 1+1 V2. When compared with the ATC SCM-7 II, the Opticon acquitted itself well, equaling the SCM-7's spatial and imaging abilities.
• The Opticon 1 is beautifully built.
• The Opticon 1's sonic performance is excellent.
• The Opticon 1's are easy to drive.
• The Opticon 1s need a subwoofer to extend mid- and low-bass frequencies.
• No dedicated stands are available.
• The only cabinet finishes are black and white.
Comparison and Competition
There are probably more small, two-way, ported enclosure speakers available for purchase than any other loudspeaker design. The reason is pretty obvious: any talented loudspeaker designer can produce a more than acceptable-sounding transducer that can be priced affordably. Andrew Jones' entry-level designs for Pioneer and now Elac are a case in point. There are also two-way designs priced in the middle six figures that produce state-of-the-art sound, such as the Raidho D-1.1 or Magico Q1. Given this humongously wide price range, the big question is, what price range offers the highest value for the money? After living with the Opticon 1 for several months, I would have to rank it as one of the best values you will find. Why? Because it has no serious sonic flaws, is quite well made, and looks good.
The Role Sampan FTL ($1,195/pair) is approximately the same price but has a different set of sonic attributes. The Sampan is a single-driver, crossover-less design that delivers more precise imaging and a slightly larger soundstage, but it does not have the bass extension or macro-dynamic abilities of the Opticon 1.
If your budget is limited to $1,000 for a pair of loudspeakers for desktop or nearfield use, the DALI Opticon 1 loudspeaker should be on your radar. In many ways, it is a modern equivalent of the venerable Yamaha NS-10 or Spendor LS3/5A BBC monitor--in that it is a two-way ported enclosure with dynamic drivers that is ideally suited for near or midfield listening. And while I wouldn't call the DALI listening experience surrealistic, I would say that the Opticon 1 will give you an experience that will keep it real, 24/7.
• Check out our Bookshelf and Small Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• DALI Introduces the Opticon Speaker Series at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the DALI website for more product information.