Dynaudio Contour 20 loudspeaker

The soul of a loudspeaker cannot be exclusively characterized by such unmeasurable, reviewer-friendly declarations as "lush tonality," "gossamer textures," "clear-water transparency," "microdetail," or "pacey dynamic rhythmic expression." Neither can it be fully described by such measurable characteristics as anechoic frequency response, dynamic impedance, or step response. More than anything else, a loudspeaker expresses its full character in how and where it directs the listener's attention. What a loudspeaker emphasizes—what it reveals, what it obscures, what it forces the listener to notice and think about—that is a loudspeaker's soul.

Best of all, noticing what we notice as we listen employs the three most sensitive and perfectly calibrated analytical devices on the planet: the ears, mind, and heart. I call this type of audio analysis mindful listening—and isn't that the principle this magazine was founded on? (footnote 1)

Fanatics of "accuracy to the source" fail to realize that an audio system's truthfulness is not something that exists on a scale of less to more—it is always more an opinion than a fact. Accuracy is whatever you think accuracy is. And what is more subjective than that?

I've heard a bunch of systems that delivered ruler-flat frequency response at the listening position, and every one of them sounded as dead and boring as Netherlands-pressed reissues of British Decca LPs. The music was boring not because the response was flat, but because whatever frequency-equalization shenanigans had been applied were muting the dynamics, suppressing the small-signal contrast structure, and reducing my impressions of transparency and vivo. To its credit, flat in-room response always delivered good vocal and instrumental tone, but musicality was noticeably reduced. Worst of all, "flat" never inspired me to listen more often or more closely to the music. For me, accuracy exists only when I become completely submerged in the music.

We are what we give our attention to, and I require a hi-fi rig to direct my attention toward how and why the music was made. I need to notice the performer's artistry and rhythmic inventions. Which brings me to Dynaudio's new Contour 20 loudspeaker ($5000/pair).

Description
Like all Dynaudio products, the Contour 20 loudspeaker is made entirely in Denmark. This two-way speaker is luxuriously large and heavy for a stand-mounted model, measuring 17.3" high by 8.5" wide by 14.2" deep and weighing 34.2 lbs. Its 1.1" soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and 7.1" Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) cone mid/woofer are bolted to a ½"-thick aluminum front baffle. All of the Contour 20's vertical edges are radiused, and the side panels' rearward tapers are curved—the rear panel is narrower than the front.

The woofer features an asymmetric spider, said to increase overall motor symmetry, and is reflex-loaded with a port at the top of the rear panel; foam inserts are provided to allow this port either to be partly or fully blocked in case the bass is found excessive is some rooms or to be left unobstructed. The crossover features Mundorf capacitors, and electrical connection is via a single pair of high-quality binding posts at the base of the rear panel. The review samples were finished in 11 coats of high-gloss Black Lacquer. The handsome, 24"-high steel stands ($500/pair) have what appears to be a powder-coat finish, in gloss black.

417dynaudio.250.jpgSetup
Dynaudio says that the Contour 20s will play their best only when set up in an exact triangular configuration with respect to the listener (with the speakers closer to each other than they are from the listener), and only over a narrow range of ear heights. The Contours delivered good sound off axis, but the focus and specificity of the aural images they cast were best when I sat with my ears just below the tweeter axes and the speakers were toed in so that those axes crossed about 12" behind my head. At that spot, the soundstage was deepest and images were most microscopically focused.

Listening: Round One
The day I installed the Contour 20s, Steve Guttenberg, of C-Net and Sound & Vision, and Michael Manousselis, of Dynaudio North America, were sitting on my couch listening. After a few tunes, both were smiling and giving the thumbs-up, but I wasn't happy. Something seemed wrong. Then Steve said, "Digital sounds great, but LPs sound weird—no bass." Familiar recordings—Macy Gray's Stripped (Chesky JD389, HDtracks), the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (LP, Warner Bros. WS 1893)—didn't sound right.

That night, after Steve and Manousselis had gone home, I listened again. I was using Schiit Audio's Ragnarok integrated amp, which, at 100Wpc, I'd assumed to be of good and sufficient power, but my ears were hearing something different. I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I was having strange, uncomfortable moments. I began to wonder: Are these speakers that hard to drive? Then I feel asleep on the couch.

The next morning, looking to get the system properly dialed in, I inserted Bel Canto Design's REF500S stereo amplifier, which not only has lots of power (400Wpc into 4 ohms at 1% THD) but will drive speaker loads down to 2 ohms (footnote 2). Immediately, the focus and transparency improved and the high frequencies opened up. Still, the system wasn't doing it for me.

In desperation, I began measuring the Dynaudios' in-room response, looking for holes and bumps, and moving the speakers farther apart and farther out from the front wall—ie, the wall behind them—and, finally, closer to the front wall. I'd begun with the Contour 20s about 84" apart, 44" from the front wall to the front of each cabinet, and 76" from my ears. A day later, I'd stuffed the Contour 20s' ports with Dynaudio's foam plugs (supplied), and the cabinets were now 65" apart, 28" from the front wall, and 92" from me. LPs played on both of my turntables were sounding better, and I was beginning to get the idea that these were very good loudspeakers indeed. But I struggled to actually hear the excellence I suspected was there.



Footnote 1: JA wrote in 2012: "Not only was The Stereophile going to tell it like it was, it was going to judge audio components by listening to them—a heretical idea in those days of meters and measurements. 'Dammit,' said Gordon, who died in 2009, 'if nobody else will report what an audio component sounds like, I'll do it myself!'"

Footnote 2: The Ref.500S is the stereo version of the Ref.600M monoblock that Kal Rubinson reviewed in October 2016.

COMPANY INFO
Dynaudio A/S
US distributor: Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 730-3280
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
dcolak's picture

"Fanatics of "accuracy to the source" fail to realize that an audio system's truthfulness is not something that exists on a scale of less to more—it is always more an opinion than a fact. Accuracy is whatever you think accuracy is. And what is more subjective than that?"

W H A T I N T H E W O R L D ? !

It is really simple, signal goes in, sound goes out. How accurately sound represents the signal? There is nothing "subjective" in it.

Jesus!!!

And no, your amp does not have 400 WPC, it's 400WPC into 4 ohm with 1% THD!

At best it has as much power as a well built 120 WPC amp.

HansRamon's picture

You like the danes?

HansRamon's picture

Why not an 8 inch woofer?

HansRamon's picture

Would have been nice with a review (comparison) of The Dynaudio Consequence instead....(take a look)

low2midhifi's picture

I was heartened to see the Contour perform well with a low-powered tube integrated amp. How would such a pairing hold up over time?

I have always enjoyed the sound of Dynaudios. The lower sensitivity and impedance have always concerned me as a potential purchaser, as has the extent to which one has to turn up the volume compared to a B&W, for example.

This review demonstrated that the new Contours, like the old s1.4, still require an aggravating amount of fiddling around to get the right in-room placement. At least your review shows that the optimal placement is attainable. An older review of the s1.4--issued by a publication north-of-the-border--left the reviewer, by my interpretation, unable to find a satisfactory placement for the older model.

I had another question about Dynaudio in general, and other soft-dome tweeter speakers. What's the long-term durability of soft-dome tweeters (and non-metallic woofers for that matter) compared to the aluminum that is found in other brands? Perhaps it's comparable; perhaps it's better. Given the expense of good speakers, some commentary--in a general, non-product-specific write-up--would be welcome at some point in Stereophile.

I have not heard the Contours, only the Confidence and Excite models. If you can find the appropriate amplification for these Dynaudio products, they are fine transducers indeed. Some reassurance that they can accommodate a broader array of amplification would also be welcome news to those who sell, and might buy, this brand of speaker.

tonykaz's picture

Better Amplification?, good luck finding that.

I first read this report when my Print Issue of Stereophile arrived two weeks ago. You pinned me back in my chair as I read.

I've had the same experience of mix & match hunting to discover & release the magic that I knew was lurking there. As a Retail Dealer, I ordered every Amplification Sample I could negotiate. Finally, Karen Sumner sent me some Electrocompaniet and viola, the Music bloomed, and addiction set in. I carried the Full-Line of Electrocompaniet, all of which were Superb.

Those Norther European Drivers are special, nearly everything that has em can sound wonderful. Great Tube gear releases it just like the Electrocompaniet stuff. I had only two Tube Amps that were consistently outstanding : Audible Illusions Modulus Pre and Conrad-Johnson's MV-45a but the Audible Illusions didn't do Moving Coils so I only had the PreAmpliwire which was all I needed ( I was a Koetsu man ).

Your Review prompted me to have a look at PrimaLuna. Geez, these people are Tube hunters ( like Art Ferris of Audible Illusions ) which explains your findings. You fell into Dyn drivers & musical tubes, I doubt that any Solid State electronics will equal what you're reporting ( I still own and enjoy a good SS Class A Headphone Amp ).

Headphone wise, the Tube rollers are reporting magic from the Polish Feliks amp. There's quite a group of them on HeadFi.

I hope that Mr.Kevin Deal will allow you to review his Big Integrated Dialogue Premium HP !!! I can't think of another person that could put it thru it's full performance envelope or be able to report as clearly and understandably as you've seemed able to do ( I've just read all your stuff from 2014 onward ).

I'd even suggest that Tyll would welcome a Headphone contribution to Innerfidelty, about this Amp. Phew, that would be an exciting "Must-Read" bit of Journalism!

I congratulate and applaud J.A. for discovering you and releasing your talents.

This report on the Contour is one of the best Audio journalisms I've read in some time.

Tony in Michigan

Kal Rubinson's picture

The REF 500S is not "the stereo version of the Ref.600M monoblock." It is an earlier design that dates from about 2009-10 and, unlike the nCore-based REF 600M, it is based on B&O ICEpower modules. Nice little amp, nonetheless.

allhifi's picture

Herbert, Herbert, Herbert ... Octoberfest is not upon us, and yet you decide to 'Eine Prosit' a bit early !

What a mess of a review. On so many levels:

1) That's why we should have "Reference" equipment --so we don't waste 4-days of our lives attempting to 'figure out' the problem(s).

2) But I'm getting head of myself, your comments about validating measured performance with subjective impressions is a far more nuanced dance than your stark and wild interpretations.

3) And then you finally "discovered" amplifier problems / incompatibility issues ? What a (sad) start.

Spending what felt to be half of the article explaining your stupidity (and disturbing lack of professionalism), you then go on to describe the sound with 'words of expression' you just shunned in the opening paragraph !

You, Stereophile and the editor should apologize to readers and DynAudio for this immature piece of drek and at least offer the manufacturer another "review" lead by a professional. Or a few of extra 'rounds' on the (Stereophile) House come this Oktoberfest !

"ziggy-zaggy, ziggy-zaggy hoi, hoi hoi" lol

peter jasz
P.S. Herbert, lean off the brown pops until then !)