Dynaudio Special Twenty-Five loudspeaker Wes Phillips, May 2006
Since Dynaudio's stated purpose in launching the Focus line was to bring the exacting performance levels of its top-tier Contour series to a moderate price range, I compared the Dynaudio Focus 140s ($1800/pair) to Dynaudio's Special Twenty-Fives ($5200/pair)—especially since I have a pair and enjoy listening to them. The Twenty-Fives were Blu-Tacked to 24"-tall Cliff Stone Foundation stands in their usual positions in my listening room, somewhat closer to the front wall than the optimal positions for the Focus 140s.
It may strike you as odd that I put the larger, costlier speakers closer to a boundary than I did the smaller guys, but I've spent a lot of time with the Twenty-Fives, and as good as they are, they're tricky to set up. They need a little boundary-love to perk up their midbass, though too much will kill the speakers' impressive bass extension.
That bass extension did make a difference, with both the Propellerheads and the Manu Katché quintet. The synth-bass lines in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" were noticeably deeper through the Twenty-Fives, while the interaction between Katché's drumkit and the studio's room sound was more organic. "More organic" is reviewer shorthand for those two aural events sounding more interconnected, more a single thing than the discrete entities of "drumkit" and "room sound."
Although the Twenty-Fives gave me more low-end punch, I was irritated that they didn't quite "get" the mix of the Propellerheads track. Yes, the 'heads are about as sonically manipulative as groups come, but they're excellent craftsmen with good ears. I've heard "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" on a lot of different systems, and it usually sounds pretty impressive. What did the Focus 140s get right that the Special Twenty-Fives didn't?
Balance. Much as I love the Twenty-Fives, there's a slight disconnect between their superb bottom two-thirds and their top third. They can be a tad forward. Heck, they can be a tad tiring with some recordings, front-ends, even amplifiers. Decksandrumsandrockandroll is one of those recordings they just don't work with.
But once I got to thinking about questions of balance, I listened again to Katché's Neighborhood through both pairs of speakers, concentrating less this time on what the specific differences were and more on my enjoyment of the music. I sometimes refer to this as the Turtle Test: I've discovered that when I completely relax into the music, my neck is longer. When I'm tense, I tend to hold my shoulders higher.
Sure enough, I was more relaxed and longer-necked listening to Neighborhood through the Focus 140s. Hmmmm. Some of it was balance—from top to bottom, the 140s were pretty much seamless. Also—although this occurred to me only when I went back into minute-comparison mode—the 140s threw a deeper soundstage than did the Special Twenty-Fives, which were a shade better at putting me in the room but less precise at placing instruments specifically within that space. Weird? A little.
Does that mean I'm no longer in love with the Special Twenty-Fives? No. I am an audiophile, after all. I love quirky products with quixotic flaws. In the right room, with the right ancillary components, and—dare I say it?—the right cables, the Special Twenty-Fives can be just that: special. [Cue cash-register sound effect for each "right." ]—Wes Phillips