DALI Zensor 1 loudspeaker Page 2
The Zensor 1 had a remarkable sense of pacing when presented with an interplay of churning percussion as a backdrop for a solo melodic instrument. In "Song IV," from Peter Zummo's Zummo with an X (CD, New World 80656-2), Bill Ruyle sets up a hypnotic, repetitive, contrapuntal tabla continuo that provides a bedrock foundation for Zummo's long, angular, equally hypnotic trombone melodies. When I played this 20-minute-long track, the music embraced meI found myself transfixed, and could focus on nothing else until the track was finished.
In "Blind Man Blind Man," from Herbie Hancock's My Point of View (CD, Blue Note 5 21226 2), bassist Chuck Israels provides a strong vamp to drummer Tony Williams' naturally good pacing and drive, which sounded unusually coherent through the Zensor 1. In Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos (CD, Atlantic 83116), in which Ribot pays tribute to the music of Arsenio Rodriguez, the dual percussion of the Rodriguez brothers provided perfect transients interlocked in rhythmic coherence through the DALIs.
The Zensor 1's reproduction of the bass was a bit schizophrenic. There was a slight thickening of certain frequencies in the upper bass that, for the most part, didn't interfere with the presentation of the music, but that sometimes either enhanced the drama of the performance or added a slight thickness where that wasn't warranted. In "Chairman Mao," from Denny Zeitlin and Charlie Haden's Time Remembers One Time Once (CD, ECM 1239), Haden's bass solo was woody and raspy, breathing as it did when I heard him in concert in the mid-1970s with Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman, and Paul Motian.
With certain recordings, the DALI's bass performance fooled me into thinking I was listening to large floorstanding speakers. Marc Johnson's string bass on his Shades of Jade (CD, ECM 1894) was, according to my notes, "the most natural and convincing string bass I've heard from speakers this small." But Marc Ribot's electric archtop guitar on his aforementioned recording had a gruff thickness in the lower midrange and upper bass that gave it a thick, chesty quality. This may have been what Ribot was trying to produce, but with some recordings, this thickness was laid on a bit too thick. For example, in "Bent Blue," from guitarist Jim Hall's Jim Hall and Basses (CD, Telarc CD-83506), Christian McBride's double bass was a bit thumpy in the instrument's middle register.
But overall, and especially with classical music, the Zensor 1s sounded like BIG speakers. György Ligeti's Cello Concerto, in an open-sounding recording by cellist soloist Siegfried Palm, and Reinbert De Leeuw conducting the Schînberg Ensemble (CD, Teldec 8573-87631-2), had an airy sense of space, drama, and dynamics. I listened to the very distinctive sound of the highland bagpipes in Dewar's Bagpipe Festival Live at the Knitting Factory (CD, Knitting Factory Works KFWCD-133). I know the bagpipes very wellmy son, Jordan, a competitive Irish step dancer, has danced many times in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade, my wife and I marching behind him. As we need to line up more than two hours before the parade's start, each year we're privileged to stand behind a regiment of pipers practicing for their parade show. This in-your-face instrument sounds a bit like an amplifier clipping in full throat. And with piper George Balderose's "Piobaireachd: The Lament for Alisdair Dearg," the effect was very in-your-face through the DALIs. In fact, the sound was so boisterous that it was difficult to focus on anything else while the music was playing.
Even though the Zensor 1 is a tiny speaker, the pair of them were capable of creating a big, enveloping orchestral sound. In David Chesky's Violin Concerto as performed by violinist Tom Chiu, with Anthony Aibel conducting Area 31 (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288; CD layer), the entrance of the timpani in the first movement provided a sense of drama and room size with plenty of air. However, when pushed beyond its limits, the Zensors were unable to fill a large room with disco-realistic music. When I played Lady Gaga's Born This Way (CD, Streamline/Interscope B001337302) at levels in excess of 95dB, the DALIs compressed and got glary in the upper midrange, losing the music's dramatic impact.
The Epos ELS3 was more veiled and less open on top than the DALI, though its overall timbral signature was very natural. High frequencies through the ELS3 were less refined than through the DALI, but low-level dynamics were equally excellent. The ELS3's bass was as extended as the Zensor 1's, but the Epos's upper bass was cleaner. Sibilants were less natural through the ELS3, and the DALI's high-level dynamics were also a touch better.
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 had deeper, warmer bass than either the DALI or the ELS3. The Diamond's high-frequency articulation was not as good as the Zensor 1's, but was superior to the ELS3's. The Wharfedale's resolution of detail, too, was somewhere between the DALI's and the ELS3's, and that detail and the Diamond 10.1's reproduction of transients were also less articulate than the DALI's.
The Epos M5i revealed more delicacy, detail, and decay than the DALI, but its levels of high-frequency delicacy and articulation were equal to those of the Zensor 1. However, the M5i had the deepest, most natural bass of all four speakers, and the best high-level dynamic resolution.
In the Zensor 1, DALI has produced an astoundingly realistic loudspeaker for its size and price. The Zensor 1's flaws are minimal, and its strengths compete with bookshelf speakers costing twice as much, or more. I'm astounded at how so minuscule a speaker can create such a big sound over such a broad range of music. This attractive little baby sets a new benchmark in its class that will be tough to beat. Well done!