When I review an affordable loudspeaker, first impressions are important. Once I've unpacked the speaker, noted the quality of its construction and finish, and have complimented or grumbled about the ergonomics of its five-way binding posts, I fire 'er up and give 'er a first listen. Occasionally, the sound will put a smile on my face, either because I'm impressed with the amount of uncolored detail emanating from such an affordable product, or because the speaker sounds so sweet that I'm intoxicated.
John Atkinson and I were in a Manhattan loft apartment that could have stood in for every sophisticated NYC loft you've ever seen in films. We were surrounded by fabulous contemporary art. Asian and South American antiquities were discreetly displayed. The furniture was sparse but choice. And, over in one corner, facing a conversation grouping of paintings, two sleek metal tower loudspeakers were making extremely convincing music. We managed to delay examination of this urban paradise long enough to drink adult beverages and inhale some music.
Loudspeakers have been commercially available for nearly a century, yet those whose drive-units are mounted to baffles of intentionally limited width didn't appear in significant numbers until the 1980s. That seems a bit strange, given that the technology to transform large boards into smaller boards has existed since the Neolithic era.
It was my hunt for new and interesting-looking turntables at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show that introduced me to the loudspeakers from DeVore Fidelity. In the Glass Amplifier room I spied a Teres turntable with a Darth Vader-ish look and sat down to listen. From a pair of nondescript, two-way, floorstanding speakers so small they were almost lost in the room, came surprisingly present, full-bodied, and notably coherent music. Their sound so far exceeded my low expectations that I exclaimed, "What are those?! Whoever designed them sure knows what he's doing!"
Direct Acoustics is a loudspeaker company in Weston, Massachusetts, that sells, by mail-order only, just one product: the two-way, floorstanding Silent Speaker II ($748/pair).
Its seemingly paradoxical name refers not to any inability of the Silent to create sound, but rather is intended by its maker to indicate two aspects of its performance. First is the ability of the loudspeaker boxes to "disappear" in the sense of not being readily apparent as sound sources. Well, okay, everyone wants that. The other intended sense of Silent is that the woofer and its loading arrangement were designed to minimize stray noises created by the woofer's excursion, or by the movements of air within, or in and out of, its vent or port.
"DAL firmly believes that a full set of credible measurements, made by qualified engineering staff using state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, can reliably predict the potential of a loudspeaker to accurately reproduce the complex sounds of music."—Dunlavy Audio Labs
The first time I encountered Dunlavy's Signature Collection loudspeakers was at the 1993 Chicago Summer CES. I was familiar with, and had a lot of respect for, the speakers John Dunlavy had designed for the Australian Duntech brand, but I thought this new line clearly transcended his previous efforts—and at significantly lower prices. The model that I ended up reviewing—and, after the review (Vol.17 No.4), buying—was the SC-IV, subsequently honored as Stereophile's 1994 Loudspeaker of the Year and Product of the Year. In 1995, the SC-IV underwent changes, including a new woofer and a modified tweeter, resulting in some sonic improvements (see my Follow-Up review in Vol.18 No.3).
In this age of $70,000-plus "flagship" designs, perhaps $25k is no longer an obscene amount to pay for a pair of loudspeakers. Still, it's mucho dinero. What makes a speaker worth this kind of bread? Does the product's intrinsic value really warrant such a lofty cost, or is it merely a matter of pricing at what the market will bear? The answers to these questions requires careful examination of not only the speaker, but also of the buyer's own soul, priorities, and pocketbook.
When it comes to loudspeaker drivers, Dynaudio has earned an enviable reputation for quality and reliability. To use an automotive analogy, they are the Mercedes Benz of the driver universe. If you're a speaker builder, the odds are that you have already experimented with these drivers. And even if you're not a speaker builder, it's quite possible that your speakers use Dynaudio drivers. After all, some of the finest speaker systems in the world do. A case in point is the Duntech Sovereign, which single-handedly embodies almost the entire Dynaudio catalog.
Judging absolute sound quality under the unfamiliar circumstances of an audio show is always fraught with difficulty. If a system sounds bad, there are so many possible reasons for it to do so that pointing a finger of blame at the components is possibly unfair. Conversely, when a room sounds good at a show, it is probable that the components being used deserve some recognition. Such was the case at Home Entertainment 2002 in New York last May, when Dynaudio's Confidence C4 made its debut.
It was one of those uncommonly warm late winter Sundays when you hardly need a coat. The fine weather had set aside any critical listening sessions, the door to the kitchen was open, and I was playing my audio system—then equipped with a pair of Spendor BC-1 loudspeakers—at moderate levels. Playing on the Linn turntable was an LP that the kids loved—"The Magic Garden Song," sung by the two female leads from the children's television show of the same name (footnote 1), My wife doesn't often comment positively on audio equipment, but that day she walked in from the kitchen to say, "Those voices sound real—as if two people just walked in our living room and started singing."
"Danes are boring," Dynaudio US's president Al Filippelli said. "Let's face it: They work hard, they tell the truth, they give full measure in deals, and they don't embroider. What you see is what you get."
I can't resist reading about a company's flagship loudspeaker—the price-no-object product that embodies the most advanced ideas from a company's research and design department. Flagship loudspeakers tend to be large, heavy, and complex, and are designed to perform best in large rooms; often, each part of each driver is hand-built to the highest level of quality, with precisely tight tolerances. The cost? Don't ask. Some two-channel, audio-only flagships cost more than a BMW M5 sports sedan or a Porsche 911.
Film sequels are a mixed blessing. If an action movie holds my attention, I can't wait to see the sequel: same characters, same actors, new adventures. And if the first film was successful, studios are more than willing to oblige. So Jurassic Park begat The Lost World, which begat Jurassic Park III. But the results are often unsatisfying.
With hindsight, it should have been obvious at the time that the 1970s witnessed a glorious flowering of high-end audio. Almost all the brands now regarded as leaders had their start in that decade, though with perhaps the exceptions of Audio Research, Linn, Magnepan, and Naim, those of us working at audio magazines missed the significance of the new names. Dynaudio, for example, was founded in 1977, but not until the end of the 1980s did I become fully aware of the ground being broken in drive-unit and overall system design by this Danish loudspeaker manufacturer.