Dunlavy Audio Labs Signature SC-VI loudspeaker Page 5

While many audiophile speakers are purposely designed so the front edge of their soundstage begins well behind the speakers, the Signature VIs are not. Even with tube amps, the front of the Dunlavy soundstage started at the speakers' grilles and went back from there. Since the Dunlavys needed to be set up a good deal farther apart than most speakers, very little musical material seemed to be coming from beyond the outer boundaries of the speakers. A shortcoming? I don't think so. It just demonstrates that I have a fairly dead room without spurious side reflections, and the Signature VIs threw out little in the way of out-of-phase effects. With the right material and components, depth rendition was startlingly real, with excellent three-dimensional layering and superb rendition of rear and side walls as well as ceilings, floors, baffles, and stray ushers. Now, at last, on my own recordings I can tell exactly who in the cello section has asthma.

The subjective bass response of the Signature VI was remarkable, rendering with uncanny accuracy the truck noises, mike-stand bumps, and floor thumps captured on many commercial recordings. Slightly more musical sounds, like the cannon blasts and bass-drum strokes on recent recordings I've made of the Boulder Philharmonic, were rendered with uncommon dynamic, timbral, and locational precision. Bass-drum "bloom," where the drum stroke begins in one location, after which the sound blossoms up and across the stage, was properly portrayed by the Signature VIs.

While acoustic bass like that on Terrell's "Piece of Time" (Angry Southern Gentleman, Pointblank 8 40099 2) sounded big, round, and bulbous, the tight electric bass on Jennifer Trynin's Cockamamie (Squint/Warner Bros. 45931-2) never sounded exaggerated or enlarged. (Cockamamie also has great Mesa Boogie and Marshall electric guitar crunch sounds.) While many big speaker systems have a strong tendency to sound bigger than life, the Signature VI never exhibited any traces of bass runaway, or Bassus giganticus.

The top-end presentation of many moving-coil speakers, even those with hyper-expensive tweeters, is often perceived by listeners as a problem. Rizwan A. Rahmani, for example, noted in his March Letter to the Editor (Vol.19 No.3, p.23) that he found the Thiel CS7's top end "biting and bleached." That is the dilemma of a designer producing an accurate speaker: It can reveal information about treasured recordings that you'd rather not know—and once the bad news is revealed, your first reaction is to try to massacre the messenger. Many pop recordings played through the Signature VIs left me screaming obscenities at the recording engineer and producer for their absurd microphone choices and heavy-handed use of digital reverb. Too many times the sound of eggs frying on digitally damaged hi-hat cymbals topped off otherwise palatable mixes—like the one on Shania Twain's multiplatinum (6 million served so far) The Woman in Me (Mercury Nashville 314-522 886). Accuracy is a double-edged sword: an accurate loudspeaker reveals the commercial recording world to be a place where "good enough" is not even barely passable.

The Signature VI was not a sweet-sounding speaker if the source material wasn't sweet. Thankfully, while the Dunlavy's tweeters were accurate, they weren't nasty by nature. Yes, many releases left me muttering curses, but few drove me completely out of the room, or had me scrambling to find my earplugs.

"Top-end air," one of those phrases audiophiles use regularly, seems to have multiple meanings depending on just who's bandying it about. For me, top-end air represents a speaker's ability to properly render upper harmonics. If the upper harmonics are truncated, the result is a closed-in soundstage with a dark-sounding spectral balance.

The Signature VIs certainly didn't suffer from a dearth of upper harmonics. On well-recorded classical music like violinist Ani Kavafian's LP of works by Fritz Kreisler (Musical Heritage Society MHS 3760), all the dimensional information and the violin's upper harmonics were clearly apparent through the Signature VIs. Even the subtle top-end differences between Japanese, Late American, and early American (1S) pressings of the first Led Zeppelin album were easily discernible.

Magical midrange
Until recently, midrange transparency was the exclusive province of electrostatic and ribbon loudspeakers. Times change. The Dunlavy SC-VI is among the new breed of dynamic speakers that can produce a midrange devoid of boxy colorations, grain, and hoot. The Dunlavy's ability to portray midrange texture was sufficiently acute to make differences in CD transports, wire, speaker cables, VTA adjustments, and other hi-fi minutiae clearly apparent.

The speaker's portrayal of low-level midrange detail seemed to be limited only by the source material and upstream components. Regardless of how complex or thick a recording was, with the Signature VIs it was possible to hear into the mix to identify the sonic character of each individual instrumental part. There were exceptions: the Shania Twain release is so heavily gated (each instrumental track is deliberately set up to drop out below a certain level) that instruments disappeared only to reappear magically later in the song. Through the Dunlavys, any recording could be aurally dissected without busting a gut.

Soft to loud
Dynamics—true, natural, relaxed, but lightning-fast—were one of the most striking attributes of the Dunlavy Signature SC-VI. During a listening session at Dunlavy's factory soundroom, I found the SC-VI easily bested both the IV and V in its ability to effortlessly reproduce even the most drastic dynamic contrasts. Forget about pop recordings with their measly 10dB range of quiet to loud—or even commercial classical releases, which sometimes have a whole 30dB of dynamic range. With truly dynamic recordings, like live concert tapes of Wagner's Rienzi or Tannh$#252;user Overtures, or Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, there can be a 60dB contrast range (footnote 5). Most systems exhibit stress when asked to reproduce realistic orchestral levels. The Signature VIs seem to be largely immune to the usual hardening during dynamic peaks and reduction of inner detail during fff passages.

Unfortunately, few amplifiers have the power needed to successfully carry the Dunlavys through extreme dynamic contrasts. The Crown Macro Reference (at the Dunlavy soundroom) and the OCM 500s (in my home system) seemed to be among the few that were up to the challenge. Single-ended triodes—unless refrigerator-sized, with AM transmission-tubes for outputs—need not apply.

Footnote 5: Don't confuse this concept with signal/noise. Here I'm talking about the difference between the music's quietest and loudest passages, not the difference between the music and the noise floor.
Dunlavy Audio Labs
P.O. Box 49399
Colorado Springs, CO 80949-9399
(719) 592-1159