Dynaudio Contour 3.3 loudspeaker Page 2

In addition to a pair of knurled brass binding posts, each Contour 3.3 is also outfitted with OCOS transformers. These allow OCOS speaker cable to be directly inserted, bypassing the need for external transformers.

Thread-on spikes are provided for leveling the cabinets. These are cleverly designed: one end is pointed, the other rounded. The pointy end is perfect for penetrating carpet and coupling the speaker to the subfloor, while the rounded end is perfect for those with nicely finished wood floors or those, like myself, with brittle ceramic tile flooring. Considerate.

The veneers sheathing Dynaudio's speakers are hand-selected by Danish furniture craftsmen. One woodworker builds each pair, from start to finish. Dynaudio emphasizes that no endangered woods are used, that they have developed a special, all-natural, nontoxic glue for the purpose of assembling their speakers—and that they treat the cabinet interiors to prevent the formaldehyde out-gassing typical of MDF.

Where is it that fancy is bred?
My heart sank upon first listening to the Contour 3.3s: They sounded stiff and considerably bass-shy. I determined to really shake 'em up with an extended burn-in. I know the very subject of speaker break-in is enough to give some audiophiles the fantods, but its effects are measurable—and, in the case of the Dynaudios, dramatic. After nearly a week of constant play, alternating Rykodisc's A Week in Hawaii—Waterfall (RCD 30068) with the cacophonous burn-in track from Stereophile's Test CD 3 (STPH007-2), the Contour 3.3s no longer suffered from "gringo hips"—they now swung as freely in their bottom octaves as they did throughout the rest of the spectrum. Their bass response was still a smidge on the lean side, but it had impact and convincing presence.

Another trait, obvious from the start, was the extremely deleterious effects of the grillecloth. Lose the grilles. The Esotec tweeter is extraordinarily transparent—as close as I've ever heard to no tweeter at all—and the grille darkens and muffles it.

These are not difficult speakers to set up, yet they reward fine-tuning with astonishing benefits. In my room, final placement came down to establishing the tradeoffs between openness (distance from the front wall) and slam (proximity to same). I erred, as is my wont, slightly on the side of openness, placing the speakers some 3½' from the wall, 7' apart, and 11' from my listening position. In my room, at these distances, toe-in tended to make the soundstage smaller, so I pointed them straight forward. I placed a 9"-diameter Tube Trap 6" behind each speakers, each Trap's absorbent side facing the bass ports. Again, fine-tuning the distance between the rear of the speaker cabinet and the Tube Trap paid big dividends.

Had I been able, I would have preferred sitting even farther from the speakers. At 11', I felt as if I was looking up onto the soundstage, which manifested itself several feet above the floor. This didn't seem at all unnatural, but I suspect that if I could have sat a little farther back from the tweeter, which is mounted 43" from the floor, the soundstage would have appeared even lower.

One more setup tip: These speakers need to be taken control of. Al Filippelli recommends a high-current amplifier of at least 100Wpc, and my experience bore this out. Using the Krell FPB 600 and a pair of Mark Levinson No.33Hs, I had no complaints whatever. But many much less expensive amplifiers could have done the honors. As Al said, "These days, watts are cheap."

Both in the heart and in the head
The Contour 3.3 combines taut, detailed bass, neutral mids, and the most effortlessly detailed highs you can imagine. Does this make for a "boring" loudspeaker? Emphatically not. But the 3.3 is about as tonally transparent as any I've heard. You want to hear the differences between two tenor saxophonists, or two pianists, or even two different guitars played by the same player? Put the 3.3s at the end of the chain and begin to count the ways.

A few weeks ago, John Atkinson, Gretchen Grogan, and I recorded a live jazz concert at a Santa Fe country club: pianist Marc Copland, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Peter Herbert, and the legendary Billy Hart on drums (footnote 1). Hart is about the quietest drummer I've ever heard—he uses silence in large blocks, but also employs an unusually broad assortment of cymbals for textural and tonal embellishment. Listening to the final mixdown of this event, which John Atkinson had mixed expressly to emphasize the quartet's extraordinary dynamic range, I was struck repeatedly by the different pitches of Hart's cymbals, and by the many colors and contrasts he managed to extract from his entire kit. The Contour 3.3s readily differentiated between the different tones and washes without reducing any of the brassy colors or complex overtones.

Footnote 1: We had hoped to release this recording as a benefit for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, but one of the financial backers pulled out, leaving the whole project up in the air. Pity; it was a mighty fine outing for all four musicians. But as JA's first digital multitrack project, it was a useful dry run for the August 1998 sessions with the Jerome Harris Quintet that were used to make Stereophile's Rendezvous CD.
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