Lifestyle speakers. The utterance of those very words are enough to make an audiophile shudder, as speakers designed to look good often do not come near sounding good. Usually, the justification of their existence is to avoid the boxy look of most speakers and have a smaller profile, which blends in better with most décor.
Dali is a Danish speaker company which is virtually unknown in the United States, yet is a well known company in Europe, being the second largest speaker maker behind B&W. They have a wide variety of speakers, from inexpensive to the audiophile-centered Euphonia line, which I had the pleasure of listening to and being impressed by at Home Entertainment Expo. I was assured by Ben Gosvig of Dali, formerly of EAD fame, that the sleek, slim profile of the Piano line hid speakers that actually sound good. Seeking an interesting challenge, I requested a full set of Piano speakers for review in my theater room at my office.
The Piano series has an aluminum finish with black grilles and uses a black granite base on its floorstanders. I chose the larger of the two floorstanders, the Noble, which has two five-inch woofer/midrange units and a one-inch soft dome tweeter. The center channel choice is the aptly named Vocal, which has two four and a half-inch woofers on either side of a one-inch soft dome tweeter. It is easily small enough to fit on a shelf or in an A/V rack. The rear speakers used the again aptly named Ambient. These are small rear speakers that have a four-inch woofer and a one-inch tweeter, designed for wall mounting with a face that angles downward. The subwoofer is the Forté, a very stylish piece in aluminum with a front firing ten-inch subwoofer and a 120 watt amp.
Binding posts for the Nobles are underneath the speakers, set up for single wiring. The center channel, unfortunately, did not have enough space around the binding posts to accept my center channel cable, so a suitable cable was made with 12 gauge wire. The rear speakers used similar in-wall wire. This was my one disappoint with the Piano speakers. As the binding posts are not really set up for the banana plugs of better cables, either bare wire or a small spade needed to be used.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The system was driven by a Simaudio Aurora amplifier (watch for an upcoming review), and the HALO C2 and Simaudio Stargate processors. Sources included a Sony DVD/SACD player and XM satellite radio. Cables used were the AudioQuest Gibraltar and 12-gauge wire. AudioQuest Pythons were used for interconnects. A Tributaries single-ended subwoofer cable was used to connect the Forté. All speakers were set to Small in the processor, and the subwoofer was crossed over at 80 Hz.
Read more about the Piano's performance on Page 2.
The Pianos were set up and run-in for about 30 hours before critical
listening was done, but interestingly enough, sounded pretty good out
of the box. Watching Star Trek: Nemesis, I was actually stunned how
easily the system pressurized the relatively large (16 foot x 10 foot)
theater room. The center channel does a wonderful job of anchoring this
system, as it is easily the clearest small center channel I have ever
heard. The midrange is smooth and clear, and the highs are slightly
rolled off, but not muffled. This attribute is desirable with movies,
as many soundtracks are mixed with very bright highs. Being used to the
incredibly clear and good center channels of my KEF Reference system
(and prior B&W Nautilus center), the very fact that I was enjoying
this relatively tiny lifestyle center was nothing short of astounding.
Dali could teach a number of speaker makers how to make a clear
sounding, small center channel.
The Nobles share similar sonic characteristics in a soft, smooth
midrange and a slightly rolled off top end. They simply do not make
much bass on their own. With this system a subwoofer is absolutely
necessary, in my opinion. Imaging was fairly good overall, but most
impressive was the aforementioned ability to play loudly and fill a
room with the soundtrack of a movie. Star Trek: Nemesis has a
soundtrack that varies significantly in loudness of its different
scenes, and the Piano system handled this admirably. The Simaudio amp
is actually quite good and has excellent reserves of power, yet the
Pianos were able to keep up with this beast of an amp without being
The Ambients do an admirable job of filling in the rear information
without drawing attention to themselves, which is what a good effects
speaker does. They are probably not as good for critical multi-channel
music listening, but will do a passable job in that arena.
The Forté subwoofer was especially surprising, as it is a very good
match for the Piano system and a fairly good subwoofer on its own. Its
relatively slim profile, covered almost completely in aluminum except
for the black face with controls, is actually quite attractive and fits
in a corner diagonally quite well. It is fairly fast and manages to put
out a good amount of bass that seems to blend very nicely indeed with
the rest of the system. It does not have the capability of going very
deep, but it does do a fairly convincing job of shaking the floor in a
movie while being fast enough to keep up with musical passages. It
certainly is the best lifestyle subwoofer I have heard to date
The Pianos' real forté (no pun intended) is home theater use, where
it shines. Two channel music sounded good with the Nobles and the
Forté, with reasonable imaging, but some lack of depth of soundstage.
It is doubtful that many owners of these speakers would use them for
such listening. Music would probably be listened to in a multi-channel
mode like Dolby Pro Logic II, with which the Piano system creates a
more convincing, deeper soundstage. Multi-channel music again sounds
good enough with this system that an audiophile would not walk out of
the room in disgust, and will actually sound quite good to the average
person. If this last passage sounds like I am damning the Pianos with
faint praise in regards to music listening, that is not so at all. The
very fact that they sound as listenable as they do with the small,
lifestyle profile that they have is nothing short of remarkable. Dali's
engineers should be commended for staying true to their audio roots
while designing this speaker system.
Overall, this system achieves its goal of looking good, cutting a
very small profile, and sounding good remarkably well. The center
channel is a marvel. It and the Forte simply excel at anchoring this
system. I would be able to recommend this system to anyone looking for
the lifestyle look and not feel guilty at all. I could even go over to
said person's house and listen to it without taking any pain pills. The
very fact that this system works together as well as it does speaks
volumes about Dali's pedigree as a speaker manufacturer, and I look
forward to hearing more of their products.
Design Principle: active (built-in amplifier and crossover), sealed enclosure
Unit: 10", air-dried pulp cone,
ventilated magnet system
Amplifier: 120 watt RMS
Inputs: fully balanced stereo speaker level,
Input Impedance: 1.0 kohm
Outputs: stereo line level RCA phono,
Input Impedance: 15 kohm
Controls: automatic summation of all inputs
Frequency Response: 29 - 150 Hz
Max. SPL: 109 dB
Power Consumption: 230 VAC 50 - 60 Hz
Dimensions: 56.6cm H x 57.2cm W x 21.2cm D
Weight: 42 lbs.
Frequency Response (+/- 3dB): 41 Hz - 24 kHz
Crossover Frequency: 2.8 kHz
Sensitivity (2.83V/1 m.): 89.5 dB
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohm
Maximum SPL: 109 dB
Rec. Amplifier Power (ohm): 40 - 160 watts
High Frequency Driver: 1" soft dome
Low Frequency Driver: (2) 5"
Enclosure Type: Reflex, 45.5 Hz Tuning
Dimensions: 45.7"H x 7.6"W x 9.1"D
Weight: 24.9 lbs.
Piano Vocal / Ambient
Frequency Response (+/- 3dB): 78Hz - 24kHz; 65 Hz - 24 kHz
Crossover Frequency: 2.8 kHz; 2.3 kHz
Sensitivity (2.83V/1 m.): 89 dB; 87 dB
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohm; 4 ohm
Maximum SPL: 109 dB; 105dB
Rec. Amplifier Power (ohm):
40 - 150 watts; 40 - 80 watts
High Frequency Driver: 1" soft dome; 1"soft dome
Low Frequency Driver: (2) 4.5"; (1) 4"
Enclosure Type: sealed; sealed
Dimensions: 5.4"H x 16"W x 7"D;
11.3"H x 5"W x 7.3"D
Weight: 10.1 lbs.; 6.4 lbs.
MSRP: Vocal: $555; Ambient: $850/pair