Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk.II loudspeaker Dynaudio's Contour 1.3 Special Edition
If you're looking to put together an all-Scandinavian system, you might want to pair the Electrocompaniet ECI 3 with the new Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Special Edition.
Dynaudio builds the drivers used in some of the world's best speakers. Speaker drivers seem to be a Danish specialty—ScanSpeak and Vifa, too, are located in Denmark. Anyone can become a speaker "manufacturer" by buying drivers and stuffing them in a box. But to build your own speakers from scratch, as it were—that's another story.
That cabinetry is another Danish specialty is readily apparent in the astonishingly beautiful bird's-eye maple enclosure of the Contour 1.3 Special Edition. This is not some cheap'n'cheerful minimonitor banged out by machines on an assembly line.
Note the appellation "Special Edition." The Contour 1.3 Mk.II was introduced in 1998 for $2399/pair. Dynaudio's engineers asked themselves, What if we built a Contour 1.3 and could choose materials and design without regard to tight cost constraints? That's the difference with a "special edition"—it's not built to meet a particular price point. It's built first, then priced.
I didn't have a regular Contour 1.3 to compare, but Dynaudio says that all the two speakers share is the same cabinet size. The drivers are different—higher quality—and the rest of the parts are said to be of higher quality, too.
Such luxury does not come cheap. The Contour 1.3 SE will set you back $3499/pair. Figure another $500 or so for good-quality stands and you're looking at $4000/pair. I placed the speakers on sturdy 24" Osiris stands, which seemed perfect.
This is a two-way design. I generally like two-ways, often more so than three-ways from the same manufacturer. As the legendary Henry Kloss once told me, it's much easier to get a two-way right, which is why he was so big on two-ways at AR, KLH, and Advent. Each speaker weighs just over 22 lbs. Solidly built!
Sensitivity is given as 85dB/2.83V/1m, with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms.
I would not suggest pairing these speakers with tiny single-ended triodes—not with that low 85dB sensitivity. Yes, I tried it. As expected, the speakers died—just didn't come to life. Be wary of small tube amps and small integrateds with little current drive.
Dynaudio recommends placing the Contours about 4½' out into the room. I had to stop at 4' in my living room, but the sound was still excellent. Foam plugs are provided to stuff in the ports to damp the bass and let you place the speakers closer to a wall, or even on a bookshelf (which I don't recommend).
Of course, you lose imaging when you place any speaker closer to the wall. What's more, I wasn't so keen on the sound with the ports plugged: it took too much away from the speaker's excellently tuned bass response.
The tweeter is a 1" soft-dome unit with a 4mm die-cast aluminum front. The woofer is a 6½" polypropylene-cone unit inside a die-cast basket. This driver features an extra-long 3" voice-coil said to deliver very linear movement, ensuring fast, precise bass response. It fits inside its own cabinet—a box within the speaker box—and is mounted to overlap the side walls of the front cabinet, increasing the rigidity of the baffle.
And that's one of the things that separate the Dynaudio Contour 1.3 SE from most lesser monitor speakers of about the same size. When it's partnered with a hefty amplifier, this little speaker can do big bass, filling even a fairly large room with sound that has some foundation under it.
What else makes this speaker special?
Its ability to deliver a quality of sound that I can describe only as authoritative. The speaker can play loud, and fill even a fairly large room. That's not all—it delivers a quality of harmonic presentation, top to bottom, that I find very appealing. Refined. Natural. Full-bodied. The speakers image very well, as you'd expect from stand-mounted monitors. Because they're designed to be placed well out into a room, you don't sacrifice bass response to get the best imaging—a big advantage, in my book.
The Electrocompaniet ECI 3 would be a good choice in a smaller room. Maybe not enough power, though, in a larger room—especially if you like to listen loud. With the Pathos Twin Towers, the sound was somewhat leaner and dryer, but not objectionably so. Unfortunately, with only 35Wpc, I couldn't get the speakers to play loud without a sense of strain. Yes, I ran out of power.
And there's the rub.
Dynaudio says the impedance curve of these speakers is benign, and anyway, a nominal 6 ohm load should not, in and of itself, present great difficulties to an amplifier. But there is that low 85dB sensitivity. Believe it when Dynaudio recommends a minimum of 60Wpc in a small room and 80Wpc in more spacious digs. A big amp would not be inappropriate.
The other consideration is break-in time—always a problem for hi-fi writers in a hurry, and sometimes for dealers in a hurry, too. I didn't like the sound of this speaker at all, fresh out of the box. There was rawness in the midrange, the top seemed rolled-off, and I could describe the bass only as constipated.
But this is not how the speaker sounds when it's been well run-in, which it was for over 100 hours with the "Special Burn-In Noise" (track 20) on Stereophile's Test CD 3. (Caution: Don't play this track too loud, especially with new drivers.)
To sum up, the advantage of these speakers is their ability to deliver a full, rich tonal balance when placed well out in the room, where they can image properly. Many small monitors are frustrating: You have to move them back in order to get satisfactory bass, and then you lose the imaging. Not here. There's also the Contour 1.3 SE's ability to play loud, fill a room, and deal with demanding dynamics on a recording—provided, of course, you have sufficient power.
Finally, there's the way the speaker is voiced—beautifully, in my opinion—with smoothness and delicacy in the midrange and treble. This speaker has more than just resolution. It has refinement. And great neutrality—it's about as free from colorations as any box speaker I've heard.
Pity, though, that it makes rather hefty power demands. Then again, that's the way it often is with stand-mounted monitors, if they're to deliver full, rich sound and play loud without a sense of strain.
Other than the need for enough power, do I have any reservations?
Well, yes. And these reservations are more about less sensitive speakers in general than this model in particular. With less sensitive speakers, I find that I lose something I call the "jump factor." It takes so much power to get the sound out of the box.
I'd love to hear the McCormack DNA-0.5 on these speakers!—Sam Tellig