Dynaudio Confidence C4 loudspeaker Wes Phillips, March 2007
At 69" (1770mm) high by 10" (255mm) wide by 17.5" (450mm) deep, the $18,000/pair Dynaudio Confidence C4 definitely falls into that category of loudspeaker known as "freaking large." So I was startled when, after I'd had to replace them for a short period with speakers half their size, my wife referred to the C4s as "not so big."
"But these are smaller."
"Yes, but they actually occupy a larger footprint," she observed. "And the Dynaudios are so slender, they seem to disappear into the room. Besides, the Dynaudios didn't sound big."
Didn't sound big? I'd been grooving on their solid low-bass delivery, especially the power of Elvin Jones' drumming on John Coltrane's One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (CD, Impulse! 2308-2). I'd been pinned to my seat by the ever-shifting underpinning of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi (CD, Telarc CD-80660)—man, small speakers just don't move that much air that effortlessly. And jeeze Louise, I was practically impaled on my listening wall, à la St. Sebastian, by the transient spikes of the Nemesis percussion ensemble's eponymous debut (SACD, Fidelio FACD017). What did she mean they didn't sound big?
"You know, they didn't sound that big—except when they had to."
She got that right. When guitarist Xuefei Yang played Isaac Albéniz's Asturias, on Romance del Amor (SACD, EMI Classics 677225), she was centered precisely between the C4s, albeit in a much bigger acoustic than my living room. The speakers, apparently, weren't even involved—at least, I wasn't aware of any sound emanating from them. Of course, it was all coming from the speakers: the guitar, the acoustic, the sense of space and place. It was just as Quintillian said: "The height of art is to conceal art." The Confidence C4 is an extremely artful loudspeaker. It just doesn't necessarily show.
Take, for example, Yang's recital: The tone of her guitar has lots of upper-register sparkle, which the C4 reproduced without spitchiness or grain. And while her guitar had body, it remained a small instrument in a large space. That's a conjuring feat that stand-mounted monitors have a tough time pulling off, in my experience. They can get the instrument and can place it in the listener's space with great precision, but it takes deep bass response to pull off the reproduction of a vast acoustic—and it takes a rare fine 'un to keep that acoustic completely discrete from the instrument's own sound. The C4s pulled that off with élan.
The C4 does require a large room, however, to get its two tweeters, two midranges, and two woofers to balance out. Although the manufacturer uses what it calls Dynaudio Directivity Control (DCC) to reduce floor and ceiling reflections, I found it necessary to place the speakers well away from the front and sidewalls. I ended up with the C4s 5' from the front wall, 36" from the sidewalls, and about 12' from my listening chair. This let the midbass and deep bass properly blend.
When driven by powerful amplifiers, such as the Krell Evolution 600 or Ayre MX-R monoblocks, the C4s produced immersive soundstages that had me questioning the necessity of more than two channels. Britten's Four Sea Interludes didn't so much fill my room as make it disappear deep into Cincinnati's Music Hall. Ah yes, you're thinking, that old trope. Well, yeah—but when you hear chimes being struck 60' away in a room you know is only 26' long, you tend to think in such terms, clichéd though they may be. I oughta know, because I was there...er, here...uh, somewhere special.
About those chimes: They sounded mighty real, cutting through the shimmering strings with brassy clangor. Yet I noted that John Atkinson, in his March 2003 review of the C4, found that its largish dome tweeters gave up a skootch of the in-room energy possessed by his then in-house fave, the mbl 111b. I set out to hear if I, too, would be bothered by that slight deficiency. I reckoned that Nemesis' dynamic impact and galloping rhythms might put the Dynaudio's Esotar2 tweeters to the test.
Xylophones, marimbas, timbales, and glockenspiels sure will tell you what a tweeter can do—and when played at in-room reference levels, I reckon they should pretty much nail you to your spot. Which the Esotar2s did, but perhaps with a little less spike than was real.
One of the first concerts I attended in New York City was a Steve Reich and Musicians recital. I received the tickets from a friend of one the musicians. This put me in a box that essentially hung over the stage, so I heard multiple marimbas and xylophones from a few feet away—and while they weren't really loud, they created a dense layer of harmonic overtones that clanged and rattled my brains worse than a Grand Funk Railroad concert.
The $18,000/pair Confidence C4s didn't quite capture that heady overtone stew—or, rather, they got the overtones, but smoothed them out enough that I could think straight. Ironically, rather than hearing this as an unmitigated shortcoming, I heard it as an improvement on the Dynaudio Evidence Temptations ($40,000/pair), which I reviewed for another publication about five years ago. I liked the Temptation, but found it a tad relentless, especially when reproducing less-than-perfect recordings. I guess that's a kind way of saying that, eventually, the Temptation wore me out.
The Confidence C4 did not try my patience. Oh no indeedy, quite the opposite. I never tired of listening to them. Don't get me wrong—I'm not claiming that the C4 is perfect. What speaker is? I just found that its strengths played to my preferences. The pair of them created a three-dimensional soundstage that put me in the recording venue, and they glorified the human voice and acoustic instruments.
Sarah Vaughan's duet with drummer Louie Bellson on "When Your Lover Is Gone," from How Long Has This Been Going On (CD, JVC XRCD JVCXR-0038-2), pinpointed the C4s' strengths: Bellson's brushwork exploded out of the recording studio, followed by Sassy's deep, husky voice, enhanced with artificial reverb yet clearly separate from it. From the moment Vaughan enters, however, she's leading, and I could hear Bellson listening as he follows. Wait—can a speaker really let you hear someone listen? Probably not, but the C4s put me there so realistically that it seemed as if they could.
I was describing how the C4 isn't quite perfect. But I kept forgetting that while listening to it. If your bread and butter is hard-driven rock'n'roll, the C4 might not be your dream speaker. While I couldn't find the bottom of its dynamic reserves, I don't tend to play my music at barometer-changing sound levels. I suspect that if you had to reproduce club or concert levels, you conceivably could tap 'em out.
The C4 didn't quite hit the subterranean depths, either. In my room, I could hear the lowest notes of contrabassoons (around 30Hz), but not the lowest notes of a B-flat tuba (around 25Hz). This was certainly deep enough to give me a sense of full-range orchestral response, but I suspect many rockers might find the bass I was getting a tad lacking in impact.
Not I. When I did play rock, such as Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men's Out in California (CD, Hightone 8144), the music had drive, impact, and superb dynamics. I could crank it up as loud as I wanted—but that might not be as loud as you want.
At the end of the day, I'd describe the Dynaudio Confidence C4 as a reference-level loudspeaker that remained likable no matter what I played. If that sounds like faint praise, it isn't intended as such. I've reviewed speakers I respect and speakers I admire, but speakers that I like form a much smaller group. I respect and admire the C4, but most of all, I like it and I want to listen to it. A lot.
In fact, I think I'll go do that right now. If you get a chance, you should, too.—Wes Phillips