Dunlavy Audio Labs SC-IV/A loudspeaker FollowUp part 2

Although fig.1 reveals a lack of top-octave in-room energy, due, as my November 1998 measurements showed, to the tweeter's restricted dispersion in this region, there was simply too much treble energy apparent. It wasn't that the SC-IVA was bright as such, or that the highs were colored (though there was a narrow brand of presence-region brightness that gradually disappeared as I racked up the hours). But the upper mids and high frequencies consistently sounded somewhat shelved-up. This was not enough to make the speaker lack integration between its upper and lower ranges, but it did give the Dunlavy's presentation an upfront, front-row character. As a result, Paul Wertico's frantically brushed hi-hat cymbals on the Pat Metheny Group's "Last Train Home" (from Still Life (Talking), Geffen 24145-2) perceptibly protruded in front of Metheny's electric sitar and Steve Rodby's 16th-note bass ostinato—not by much, admittedly, but by enough to be noticeable. (But the cymbals did otherwise have a superbly natural tonal quality—this is a good tweeter.)

When he designed the SC-IV/A, John Dunlavy intended the speaker's drive-unit array to focus at a distance of 10' or greater, and the speaker's reference on-axis will not be achieved at distances closer than 8'. In my room, I was listening at a distance of almost exactly 8'. As shown by my measurements in the November 1998 review, the 'IV/A's highs do become better balanced the farther away you can sit from the speaker. So if you have a room about the size of mine or smaller, you might not be able to sit far enough away from the SC-IV/A to get the performance you've paid for. This is not a nearfield monitor.

Lower in frequency, solo piano revealed a very slight midrange hoot that made recordings sound more reverberant than they should. This is a difficult call, as it is very hard to know what the "correct" amount of perceived reverberation on a particular recording should be. But listening to my own piano recordings, which I have auditioned on literally scores of speakers, I became convinced that the SC-IV/A's presentation was slightly too "live."

In the "Measurements" sidebar that accompanied RD's original review, I had noted a strong resonance at 390Hz present on the speaker cabinet's sidewall. Because of its relatively high frequency and the SC-IV/A's high sensitivity (my estimate was 91dB(B)/2.83V/m), I had conjectured that this resonance might well not have any subjective consequences. But even though the resonance seems localized to the cabinet's center section, I suspect that the large radiating areas of the 'IV/A's enclosure panels make this resonance the cause of the slightly excessive reverberation that I perceived. I am quick to admit that this is conjecture on my part. But there was no other measured aspect of the Dunlavy that would correlate with my perception—unless the speaker was simply revealing the recorded reverberation to an extent that I had not experienced before, which is always possible.

But these were the only criticisms I had of the SC-IV/As. As RD described, their imaging was simply holographic. On "At Last," from Joni Mitchell's new Both Sides Now (Reprise 47620-2, HDCD-encoded and Stereophile's "Recording of the Month" in April), the Canadian queen's cigarette-scarred voice hung before me, surrounded by the luscious orchestral sounds that had been captured by Geoff Foster in London's AIR-Lyndhurst studio. (Dig the subtle right-hand ostinato piano.)

And I grew to love the SC-IV/A's low frequencies. I've mentioned before Walter Becker's definitive bass-guitar tone on the new Steely Dan CD, Two Against Nature (Giant/Reprise 24719-2). Reproduced over the SC-IV/A, the instrument's low register was deep yet dexterous, taut yet weighty, meaty without being boomy. If you need persuading that a big speaker doesn't need reflex-loaded woofers to achieve mighty bass, take a listen to this Dunlavy. A slightly overdamped sealed-box alignment tuned below 40Hz, along with some appropriate cone area, is all you need for truly righteous lows.

As has happened with some other speakers I have reviewed recently, I had problems when I tried to examine the limits of the SC-IV/A's dynamic range. I was playing, from a PC hard drive, 24-bit/88.2kHz masters of the "Appassionata" from Robert Silverman's recently completed recording of all of Beethoven's piano sonatas. Levels were cruising in the high 80s, but when Bob thundered down on the keyboard in the work's crashing, ascending arpeggio'd chords, there was a sharp crack, apparently from one of the left-hand speaker's midrange units. The voltage level was around 10V RMS, meaning that the Levinson amp was clearly not clipping. Giving the SC-IV/A the benefit of the doubt, I'll have to refer you to RD's comments on the Dunlavy's dynamics: "room-shaking power that was almost scary."

So where does that leave the Dunlavy SC-IV/A when it comes to reassessing its ranking in this magazine's "Recommended Components"? I have to admit that I just don't know. Yes, I was wrong about the speaker's LF extension—it does reach low enough in frequency in medium-sized rooms to merit a "full-range" recommendation. But its tonal balance does have an imbalance in favor of the upper mids and treble, in my opinion, and I was also somewhat bothered by the cabinet's resonant character. All I can say is that you should give a listen to a pair of well-broken-in Dunlavy SC-IV/As for yourself, and make sure you sit at least 10' away in a reasonably large room. If you're bowled over by what appears to be Class A sound, then Class A the verdict must surely be.—John Atkinson