Dynaudio Confidence C1 loudspeaker
"So it would be good for people with smaller rooms?"
"That's what I thought at first, so I set them up in my small listening room, where they were fantastic, but later I decided I had to hear them in my big room, too. So I brought the C1s upstairs—and darned if they didn't shine in a room that most 'monitor' speakers can't fill."
"So let me get this straight," said Fred. "It's not small, it's not puny, it fills large rooms, and you say its bass is 'sufficient.' So what separates it from a full-range loudspeaker?"
"Just audiophiles' preconceived notions, I reckon."
I certainly misunderestimated the Confidence C1 when Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis first proposed that I audition it. I'd called him to request a pair of Confidence C4s to complement the Krell Evolution 202 preamplifier and Evolution 600 monoblocks I was reviewing. Manousselis was accommodating, but couldn't help himself: "As long as I'm filling out a bill of lading," he said, "why don't I send you a pair of Confidence C1s to review? It's the 'unknown' speaker in our line, and I think it's unjustly overlooked. It just might be my favorite Dynaudio."
Everybody in marketing uses hyperbole, but Manousselis has never steered me wrong. I bit. "Sure, Mike, send 'em over. I've been reviewing a lot of expensive speakers lately. It wouldn't hurt to slip something affordable into the queue."
"I never said they were cheap."
Indeed they aren't, at $6500/pair plus $450 for the stands. The money shows, however. Under its wonderfully finished veneer (rosewood, in the case of my samples), the C1's cabinet is as solid as they come: the enclosure is 0.8"-thick MDF, while the baffle, which stands proud of the box, is 1.25"-thick MDF sandwiched to a 0.3" MDF "spacer." All of that is assembled with antiresonant adhesive and internally braced and reinforced with 0.4" damping plates. The port on the rear panel is flared at both ends, which, Dynaudio claims, controls "turbulance."
The drivers are mounted to the baffle in an "inverted" array: the 1.1" (28mm) Esotar tweeter is below the 6.6" (170mm) molded-cone MSP woofer. Both drivers are designed and built by Dynaudio, and are used in the more expensive Confidence models as well.
The crossover employs a phase-correcting network that "correctly sums the acoustic responses of the tweeter and woofer," according to Dynaudio. That, plus the inverted array, says the company, minimizes high-frequency surface reflections while minimizing boundary loading from the bass driver—by which I presume that Dynaudio means that the first floor reflection is moved farther from the speaker. Further, the crossover imparts an "upward polar tilt, due to the distance of the voice coils to the baffle, emulating the effect of a sloped baffle .†.†. providing a much larger sonic window than would be otherwise possible."
The optional, 27"-high stand bolts onto the C1's base plate and can be filled with sand and/or shot—something I didn't do, as I'll need to disassemble them and ship them back to Manousselis. But if I were keeping the C1s, it would be worth the effort.
Little pot soon hot
I auditioned the Confidence C1 in both my small, treated downstairs listening room (9' by 15' by 7.5') and my big-rig upstairs room (13' by 25' by 9'), and with a variety of systems ranging from my ancient Creek 4340 integrated amplifier (40Wpc) to the big rig's combo of Conrad-Johnson ACT 2 Series 2 preamp and Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp. The C1s sang with 'em all. Dynaudio says the speaker's crossover network is impedance-corrected, making it an easy load for any amplifier. That's undoubtedly correct, technically—in practice, I found the C1s bloomed if I gave 'em grunt. I could drive them with less, but starting at around 200Wpc, they definitely came alive. As Jim Thiel is wont to say, these days, watts is cheap.
Dynaudio is correct in that the C1 is relatively easy to place in relation to room boundaries. This was a bigger issue in my small room, where being able to place them near the front and sidewalls returned huge benefits in sonic holography. In my large room, I found it less significant because of my need to balance the speakers' distances from the boundaries against my distance from the speakers—therefore I brought them into the room a bit more than might have been optimal, if only so that all of my furniture wouldn't be grouped at one end of an otherwise empty room. Did I lose some bass impact? Maybe, but the C1 certainly didn't lack that.
How far that little candle throws his beams
Some speakers are too big for small rooms; others are too small for big rooms. The Dynaudio C1 was a lot of speaker—but not too much—for my small room, and punched outside its weight class in my big room. However, whether in a small space or a big 'un, the pair of them always delivered magic.
In my small room, the C1s were majestic. They had slam, they had power, they carved images out of solid granite—from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. How could they fit an entire orchestra into a small space? Well, in the case of Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic's recording of Einojuhani Rautavaara's Symphony 7, "Angel of Light" (CD, Ondine ODE 869-2), they didn't—quite—but they presented a massive soundstage that seemed larger than the room, if not quite life-size, with wave after wave of shimmering string sound that crested in immense, dissonant surges. It was as much an emotional as a sonic epiphany.
In my larger room, with the speakers farther from both the side and front walls (and, of course, from me), the soundstage was slightly less physical and was contained more between the C1s. The ebb and flow of Rautavaara's work had been overwhelming downstairs; upstairs, it was more illuminating. The brightness of the score was more apparent in the large room—partially the result of its greater volume, but also of my sitting farther away from the speakers. What I gained was greater clarity and detail.
I'm not tiptoeing around the impact issue. In the small room, the C1s could deliver a room-shaking low end that was truly impressive; in the larger room they didn't have quite the same slam, but their ability to deliver dynamic power (other than in the bottom octave) was spectacular, as dramatically proved by the percussion battery in the Rautavaara's Molto allegro. Some of those tam-tam rimshots could have cracked eggs.
Where the C1s absolutely slew me in the large listening room was in their re-creation of the soundstages of small-ensemble recordings. Take a well-recorded jazz quartet, as on Javon Jackson and David Hazeltine's Sugar Hill: The Music of Duke Ellington (SACD, Chesky SACD333): the Dynaudios precisely placed the tenor sax, piano, double bass, and drums between and behind the speakers themselves, life-sized and breathing. Especially breathing—in "In My Solitude," the C1s' capturing of Jackson's deep, silver-tinged tenor breathiness and drummer Tony Reedus' cymbal sparkle wasn't simply convincing, it was compelling.
Again, in the smaller room, Hazeltine's piano was bigger and Paul Gill's bass dug a bit deeper; it was more like sitting in the first row of a jazz club. In the larger room, it was more like sitting one riser or so up. But no matter which room I had them in, the C1s put me there with the musicians.
The C1 and vocals? Don't get me started. This speaker was made to reproduce the human voice, from the slightest soprano to the buttery thunder of the basses of the male vocal group Cantus. My Quad 57s may finally have a rival for "best vocal speaker—evah!"
Wendell Holmes' gravelly tenor on "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?," on the Holmes Brothers' State of Grace (CD, Alligator ALCD 4912), sounded as though he'd buffed it with steel wool—and his yips in "Gasoline Drawers" made me jump every time I heard them. Wendell was in the room.
Joni Mitchell's voice on Both Sides Now (DVD-Audio, Reprise 48083) broke my heart every time I heard it. With Mitchell, and with Emmylou Harris on her Wrecking Ball (CD, Asylum 61854), the Dynaudios revealed the ravages of time and life on both singers' once-crystalline overtones—but they also revealed how much those same forces have taught these musicians. They may not be girls any more, but by God, they are women.
Shouldn't any speaker be able to do that? Yeah, but the Dynaudio did do it—and in spades.