Dynaudio Contour 3.0 loudspeaker Page 3

All of these previous experiences—my wife's comments, the resolution of fine background detail, the dead-on reproduction of the male chorus in the Rutter Requiem—led me to expect outstanding midrange performance when playing vocal music over the Contour 3.0. I was not disappointed. Odetta's close-miked vocal on "America the Beautiful" (Strike a Deep Chord: Blues Guitars for the Homeless, Justice JR 0003-2) was particularly startling: the Contour 3.0s projected a clear, three-dimensional holographic image of the singer, slightly forward and raised, and centered between the two loudspeakers. Her voice had a raw realism about it, with no compression or overload, and didn't overload the Contour 3.0; the accompaniment of piano, string bass, and brushed drums could be clearly heard.

Similarly, the Contours caught all the changes in tonality and timbre as Stevie Nicks varied her closeness to the microphone—sometimes too far away, sometimes too close—when singing "Landslide" on Fleetwood Mac's The Dance. No sign of unruly midbass resonances were evident on Willie Nelson's Across the Borderline (Columbia CK 52752). Bonnie Raitt's voice was very involving on their duet, "Getting Over You"—raspy, bittersweet, dark—while Nelson's voice sounded clear, nasal, and warm without being too overblown or tubby.

Harry Connick, Jr.'s voice singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" on the When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack (Columbia CK 45319) was just right: close-miked, focused, and tight. In addition, the Contour 3.0s allowed me to pick up a small amount of reverberation added to Connick's vocals—something I had never heard before, even on much more expensive loudspeaker systems.

Vocals sounded completely natural and realistic. Take the recently closed Paul Simon musical The Capeman, a recent Broadway show that was widely regarded to be a musical success but a theatrical failure. Simon has released the music on Songs from The Capeman (Warner Bros. 46814-2). Having heard the music live at two previews, I've used this CD as a test. Good systems can capture the subtle differences between the two male vocal leads—Ruben Blades' nasal, weary baritone and Marc Anthony's clear, youthful tenor—on the show-stopping "Time is an Ocean" duet. On lesser systems, the singers' voices blend, and it becomes difficult to determine who is singing. Not so with the Contour 3.0s, which brought out each singer's subtle vocal tonalities and timbre.

Richard Thompson's instrumental finish to "Why Must I Plead," from his Rumor and Sigh (Capitol CDP 7 95713 2), also benefited from the Contour 3.0s' holographic soundstage, which positioned his guitar's sonic image well to the right.

I found that, like the PMC LB-1 minimonitor I reviewed in the May '98 Stereophile, the Contour 3.0 sounded so involving and natural that I was swept into the music. Sherrill Milnes singing "Ah! Veglia, o donna, questo fiore" in Act II of Verdi's Rigoletto (London 414 269-2) was spellbinding, as the Contour 3.0s reproduced his rich, lustrous baritone against the broad background of the orchestral soundstage. On the same recording, they transmitted the young Pavarotti's joyous abandon and vocal power in the Duke's opening solo, "Questa o quella per me pari sona." The Contour 3.0s handled his final high note without compression or distortion.

What about the upper midrange and treble? Compared to the other dynamic loudspeakers under test, the Contour 3.0s were best at rendering the sense of the hall, soundstage, and depth of field on Chabrier España, from Classic Records' remastering of the Mercury Living Presence LP of the same name (SR90212) (footnote 4). The clarity and three-dimensional realism of the three triangle notes that open the Pastorale selection from that disc were so realistic and clear that they startled me. The Contours also did better than the comparison speakers in revealing the reverberation on Maggie Boyle's soprano on James Horner's Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 66051-2), and brought out the flute and delicate plucked-string sequence over the forte 35Hz synthesizer notes. The bells and percussion notes in the opening of Stevie Nicks' "Silver Springs," from Fleetwood Mac's The Dance, were transparent, lilting, and clean.

Finally, the Contour 3.0 was outstanding in its ability to deliver the pace and drive of music. I heard it in highly rhythmic orchestral pieces, such as Gli;gere's vivid, exciting Russian Sailors' Dance on Frederick Fennell's Beachcomber: Encores for Band album (Reference RR-62CD), and it was evident in recordings of opera vocals. Though I love the melody of "Gualtier Maldè...Care nome," another aria from Rigoletto, Joan Sutherland's scales in this piece seemed excessively done on the comparison loudspeakers. Over the Contour 3.0s, her holographic image and wonderful rich soprano were entrancing, and communicated her ecstasy as she fell in love with the Duke of Mantova. This happened even with rock music. The Contour 3.0 fully captured the slow, languorous, dreamy introduction of David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire" on the Cat People soundtrack, then exploded into the pulsating driving force of kickdrum, synthesizer, and bass guitar as Bowie began singing "Putting out fire with gasoline."

At $4999/pair, the Contour 3.0 should be a carefully considered investment. It should be auditioned against the other high-end, high-performance, beautifully crafted, three-way loudspeakers that have made it into Stereophile's "Recommended Components": the Aerial Acoustics 8 ($5000/pair), the NHT 3.3 ($4300/pair), the ProAc Response 2.5 ($4500/pair), and the Thiel CS3.6 ($4300/pair). Like most of these systems—the Thiel CS3.6 and the ProAc 2.5 in particular—the Contour 3.0 benefits greatly from careful matching with a very powerful amplifier. Of course, this will add even more to the cost of ownership.

As with all audio products, the Contour 3.0 has its limitations. Its bass response, while tight and solid, doesn't reach down to 20Hz. Though its lack of coloration allows it to capture the human voice better than most speakers at any price point, it doesn't have the sheer transparency of a Quad ESL-63. Its average voltage sensitivity and tendency to "thud" when driven at high levels by a very powerful amplifier in a big room means that a larger loudspeaker system—like Dynaudio's Contour 3.3—is better for such applications.

All that said, Dynaudio's Contour 3.0 does so many things so well—when driven by an amplifier with the Bryston 7B-ST's power and control—that it is the dynamic loudspeaker to beat in the $5000/pair price range. Its rhythmic drive, dynamic range, low distortion, and bass definition inject the listener with the energy of a live rock concert. Its ability to involve the listener in the music is simply awesome. The cabinet work, fit'n'finish, and sturdiness are second to none. The realism of spoken voice and vocal music over the Contour has to be heard to be appreciated—I know of no better loudspeaker for such material.

My wife was on to something special when she noticed the clarinet playing over the Dynaudio Contour 3.0, and I have to thank her for it. This loudspeaker does so many things sonically right that it has become my reference for a floorstanding, full-range, three-way dynamic system. I strongly recommend it for any high-end audio system, for both the audiophile and his or her spouse. Not only is it one of the most beautifully made loudspeakers you can buy, it just might do for you what it did for me: reinvolve you with the music in your CD or vinyl record collection. That's what I've been doing for the last few weeks, and it's been a wonderful experience.

Footnote 4: Classic Records' vinyl remasterings are available through Classic Music Distribution at (800) 457-2577, or by writing to Classic Records, 1444 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028.
3043 N. Rose St.
Franklin Park, IL 60131
(847) 288-1767