DALI Ikon 6 loudspeaker
Sometimes these favorable first impressions wear off quickly. Maybe what at first struck me as uncolored detail turns, over time, into listener fatigue. Or perhaps what at first sounded sweetly intoxicating turns into euphonic colorations over the long haul. It's the rare speaker that, on first hearing, makes me smile because of its amount of uncolored detail and sweetly seductive sound. It's a rarer speaker still that keeps that first smile on my face throughout the entire reviewing process. The DALI Ikon 6 is such a speaker.
The Danish speaker manufacturer Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI) is well known to most Stereophile readers for its ranges of two-channel and home theater speakers covering a wide variety of price and application categories. I count 56 speaker models currently available on their website. The company's new Ikon line of affordable speakers comprises five two-channel as well as in-wall, on-wall, and subwoofer models, all featuring the series' custom-made drivers. The biwirable, floorstanding Ikon 6 is the second from the top of the line, at $1595/pair.
The Ikon 6 has two 6½" woofers, each housed in a diecast aluminum chassis designed to provide free airflow from the backside of the cone, and to minimize energy loss and compression within the driver. Each long-throw woofer has an 80mm main magnet and a 70mm reverse-polarized magnet. This is intended to prevent distortion by establishing a stable magnetic flux density in the voice-coil gap, and to reduce stray magnetic fields (thus making close placement to a video monitor a nonissue). The lightweight woofer cones are a mixture of paper and wood fibers constructed in a random pattern in order to minimize resonances. The dual-layer MDF cabinet has a 70mm bass-reflex port mounted on the front baffle beneath the woofers.
The Ikon 6's unique hybrid tweeter has been trickled down from DALI's more expensive Euphonia and Helicon series. The tweeter module includes a cloth-dome unit that runs from 3kHz to beyond 20kHz, as well as a ribbon that handles the range from 14kHz to beyond 30kHz. The lightweight textile dome is cooled by a thin magnetic fluid with a high flux-saturation point, for great power handling and control of coil movement. The cavity behind the dome is heavily damped as well. The ribbon tweeter's rear chamber is rigidly braced to protect the ribbon from the influence of the bass drivers. Both tweeters have been designed for wide horizontal dispersion.
To minimize the signal path, the crossover is laid out on two vibration-absorbing boards mounted directly on the terminals, and hardwired by hand.
I listened to the Ikon 6s with and without their grilles. DALI USA feels that the speaker sounds best with its grille off, but only after several hundred hours of break-in. After 100 hours of break-in, the differences were very subtle, but ultimately I preferred the sound with the grilles on. With grilles off, the high frequencies seemed to call attention to themselves a wee bit, but that may have been partly psychological—without the grille, the ribbon tweeter is visually striking.
I was immediately captivated by the Ikon 6s' rich, detailed, holographic presentation of just about every vocal CD I played. On "Our Prayer," from Brian Wilson's SMiLe (CD, Nonesuch 79846-2), the voices of the angelic a cappella choir were presented in a tactile silky blend. That other Wilson, Cassandra, has taken a different fork in Yogi Berra's famous road with her foray into electric pop, Thunderbird (CD, Blue Note 8 63398-2). I was particularly taken by her duets with guitarist Mark Ribot—the Ikon 6 revealed a level of seductive immediacy in Wilson's voice that I had not heard in her earlier recordings.
Grungy rock vocals were reproduced equally well. The blues-rock duo The Black Keys consist of Patrick Carney's drumkit creating a foundation for the vocals and distorted guitar of Dan Auerbach. Their latest recording, Rubber Factory (CD, Chrysalis 80379-2), was recorded in an abandoned rubber factory in Akron, Ohio. That spacious and reverberant venue was easily discernible through the Ikon 6s, Auerbach's voice reproduced in all its gritty, spitty glory.
With all of the recordings I played, the Ikon 6's unusual tweeter array reproduced detailed and extended high frequencies with no touch of bite or harshness. Transients were fast and articulate without seeming unnaturally sharp. I spent quite a bit of time listening to Minor Changes (CD, OA2 22020), the new release by young trumpeter Liam Sillery, who is equally talented as a player and composer. Although I can hear the influences of the likes of Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, and John Coltrane in Sillery's compositions, he largely writes and plays in his own coherent and original voice. Sillery's trumpet was reproduced by the Ikon 6 with the requisite spitty, burnished, golden glow. The atmospheric electronic effects on Sigur Ros's Takk (CD, Geffen B0005-345-02) were delicate, airy, and pristine. With respect to the occasional percussion blended into the mix, my notes read "excessively lifelike!"
The Ikon 6's bass performance was fairly natural, though a slight midbass warmth was noticeable with certain recordings. Ray Brown's bass solos on Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, JVC VICJ 60085) were completely uncolored in the middle and upper regions of his instrument's range, but took on a bit of warmth in the bottommost register. On the other hand, Reid Anderson's bass solos on The Bad Plus's Suspicious Activity (CD, Columbia 94720) exhibited no excessive warmth whatsoever. All rock recordings I played exhibited that slight midbass warmth, but it was very slight, and evenly distributed across a fairly broad frequency range.
I was also impressed with the Ikon 6s' soundstaging. Playing well-recorded classical works, the speakers "disappeared," and it was quite easy for me to hear the acoustics of the various recording venues. George Crumb's Quest (CD, Bridge 9069) brought out many of the speaker's strengths. The upper partials of the flute were extended without sounding etched, with copious amounts of natural air. The delicate, low-level percussion textures were easy to discern, with appropriate dynamic contrasts. My notes: "The stage!!!" Listening to more familiar recordings, however, I noticed that the Ikons' soundstage was a tad shallower than that of other speakers I've auditioned.
Orchestral works showed off the Ikon 6's high-level dynamic capabilities. The loudest portions of Antal Dorati and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence/Classic 90226) breathed like a live performance, and the bass drum was startlingly realistic. Tom Chiu's violin on David Chesky's Violin Concerto, from the CD layer of Chesky's Area 31 (SACD, Chesky SACD288), was reproduced with all the upper partials of the instrument's sound intact and gobs of rosin audible on the bow—but in no way did the violin seem bright. The pizzicato string-bass tutti passages seemed a bit warm, but not bothersomely so. However, when played at louder volumes, the highly modulated portions of both of these orchestral recordings seemed a touch compressed, coagulated, and cacophonous. This, to me, indicated that the Ikon 6 does not like to be played too loud when playing complex recordings.
That's not to say the Ikon 6 was not a great rock speaker. When the wife and kids are out of the house, I like to blast Hole's Celebrity Skin (CD, Geffen DGCD-25164) at +95dB levels. When I cranked the title track, it cooked with mind-blasting, in-your-face distorted guitars, bass, and drums. Sure, it sounded a bit compressed, but most of that compression had been executed during the mixing of the CD.
The Nola's midrange detail was comparable to the DALI's, with highs that were equally extended and crisp. However, the DALI's highs were more delicate. The Nola's midbass was not as warm as the DALI's, but the Nola's high-level dynamics were superior.
The Amphion Helium2 and DALI Ikon 6 had similarly detailed and gorgeous midranges. The Amphion's highs were equally extended and a bit more delicate, its mid- and upper bass very clean but much less extended. The DALI's high-level dynamics were superior while the Amphion revealed even more midrange detail—though its midrange textures were a bit more austere than the silky, liquid DALI's.
The Monitor Audio Silver RS6's highs were just as extended as the DALI's but with more inner detail and a bit more delicacy. The RS6 and Ikon 6 had similarly enticing and silky midranges, but I felt the DALIs were somewhat more holographic and voluptuous, the Monitor a bit more neutral. The Monitor's bass, however, was far superior, with crystalline clarity and speed in the midbass and subjectively deeper extension. The Silver RS6 also displayed wider dynamic contrasts.
In the Ikon 6, Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries has produced a visually attractive loudspeaker that has very few shortcomings and is a captivating performer over a wide range of musical material. For $1595/pair, the Ikon 6 is a superb value—I recommend it to anyone considering buying a floorstanding speaker for $2000/pair or less. Well done, DALI. I look forward to hearing more of your designs.