Dunlavy Audio Labs Signature SC-VI loudspeaker Page 4
It's snowing outside. Since I live in Colorado, this is not an unusual spring occurrence. A snow day. Perfect weather for kicking back and listening to music. But the Dunlavy Signature VI was not designed for such slothful pursuits as just kicking back and casually listening. This baby is a tool, not a toy. Accuracy and fidelity are its principal attributes.
Pardon me if I harp on this concept of an "accurate" loudspeaker. I believe the ultimate goal of true high-end design must be toward accuracy. Just sounding good—even wondrous, magical, musical, impressive, entrancing, emotionally involving—has little to do with accuracy or true high-end design. If a transducer is accurate, well-recorded music will have all the previously noted properties; a speaker's job is "merely" to pass on this information, not to editorialize upon it.
The Dunlavy did not compel me to listen by the force of its unique personality, but by its fidelity to the music. It editorialized far less than any other speaker I've ever heard. The Signature SC-VI redefined neutrality. After living with the Signature VI, all other transducers I've ever heard sound to me like mere loudspeakers. All of them. I know you've heard such rhetoric before, perhaps even in these pages. But I believe you'll not find a full-range speaker that tests better, or sounds more transparent, regardless of price or technology, than the SC-VI.
I know that in this age of flagships and speaker super-statements, those are "fightin' words." Fine. I dare anyone to show me measured performance better than that of the Dunlavy Signature SC-VI. Yes, I know that there's far more to speaker design than mere specmanship. In the words of Daniel Van Recklinghausen, "If a product tests bad and sounds bad, it is bad. If a product tests well and sounds bad, you're testing for the wrong things."
John Dunlavy has staked his reputation and career on his ability to test for the right things. My ears tell me he's trotting down the right path. In months of intensive listening, I have yet to discover any serious shortcomings in the Dunlavy Signature VI. I have uncovered many situations in which the speakers revealed limitations due to less than ideal physical placement, or less than perfect ancillary equipment. But never, in more than six months of constant testing, probing, and examination, have I found any sonic flaws intrinsic to the Signature VI. It's as close to perfect as any speaker on Earth. I've got the personal experience and the numbers to prove it.
More fightin' words: I don't think I'll be reviewing many other manufacturers' flagship speakers for a very long time. Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn. I could contentedly live with the Dunlavy Signature VIs for the rest of my life. Unless forced into a domicile with nothing but itty-bitty rooms, I probably will.
A vanishing act
Most large speakers I've heard sound like large speakers—they're incapable of disappearing. Even the much-ballyhooed Wilson X-1/Grand SLAMM has a tough time doing any kind of vanishing act (footnote 3). The Signature SC-VI may be a large speaker, but it sounded like a small speaker with bottom-end extension, dynamics, and "slam." With the right source material, I found that a pair of SC-VIs could totally disappear.
I listened to Clifford Jordan's sax on Live at Ethell's (Mapleshade MHS 512629A). The sound was immediate, palpable, dynamically unconstricted, and originated from a precise point in space—a vanishing act that would make David Copperfield proud.
The first time I ever heard Dunlavy speakers—a pair of SC-IVs—was in the Spectral suite at the Summer 1993 CES. The speakers were spaced farther apart than I'd ever imagined possible, and one particular chair was sitting on top a of a big X on the floor marking the "sweet spot." I soon discovered that the imaging worked only from that particular spot. All the other listening chairs had a similar harmonic balance, but none had the three-dimensional soundstaging offered by Chair X. I was confounded by what appeared to be the largest one-person speakers I'd ever heard.
The Signature SC-VIs are similar. If I didn't sit dead center, the imaging doesn't happen. But when I was in the sweet spot, not only did they disappear, they created a seamless three-dimensional image limited only by the electronics and the source material. While the imaging window was larger than the "head in a vise" required by the Quad ESLs, I could still, with a bit of sideways body-English, easily fling myself out of the SC-VIs' zone of imaging perfection. However, when more than one listener at a time wanted to appreciate their soundstaging, it was "stereo choo-choo" time (footnote 4). J. Gordon Holt observed during one listening session that "the Signature VIs are the largest pair of headphones in the history of audio."
Some listeners might be dismayed by the seating specificity demanded by the Dunlavys. A moment's deliberation and it becomes obvious that if a speaker is critically time-/path-aligned, there will be only a small center-line in space along which all frequencies focus properly. If you want to experience the delights of full-frequency phase coherence, you must sit somewhere on this line. That's just the way it is. Speakers that have large, designed-in listening windows are by definition compromises.
Footnote 3: I auditioned the X-1 at Listen-Up, Wilson's Denver dealer. This pair had been set up in Listen-Up's largest listening room (still too small, in my opinion) by David Wilson himself. Rather than imaging properly, they merely generated lateral planes of sound—treble on top, midrange in the middle, bass near the floor. Not musically convincing.
Footnote 4: This arcane ritual is performed by placing chairs in a row, one behind the next, to center each listener between the speakers. Engineer's caps are optional.