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 d�cor.
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 Fort�, 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 Fort�. All speakers were set to Small in the processor, and the subwoofer was crossed over at 80 Hz.
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 overwhelmed.
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 Fort� 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 fort� (no pun intended) is home theater use, where it shines. Two channel music sounded good with the Nobles and the Fort�, 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