Dynaudio Sapphire loudspeaker Page 2

The 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) extended smoothly down to the 40Hz band, with some energy still audible in the 25Hz band but not the 20Hz band. The 32Hz warble tone was somewhat exaggerated in level, which added a richness to the sounds of bass instruments that go that low, but also exaggerated the air-conditioning noise of some live recordings. At last October's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, for example, I picked up a copy of Ray Kimber's 2008 Super IsoMike Test SACD (IsoMike AUD079), which includes pianist Robert Silverman playing two Mozart works, from a forthcoming set of Mozart's complete piano music recorded by Ray Kimber and Graemme Brown with the IsoMike. The playing is as Mozartean in its delicacy of touch as I expected from Bob, having heard him play one of the featured works, the third movement of the Sonata 9 in d (K.311), at Home Entertainment 2005 in New York; and the sound is immediate, a testament to the IsoMike array's "reach," which allows it to be placed quite a ways away from the instrument without losing detail or impact. But with the Dynaudios used with their ports unblocked and the recording played at a realistic level, the low-frequency background noise of the hall was occasionally noticeable.

But oh, how that big-bottomed bass enhanced some recordings. In "Long Distance Love," from Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat (CD, Warner Archives/Rhino R2 79912), an awesomely phat bass guitar underpins the late Lowell George's vocal line. The Dynaudios reproduced this bass line even at high levels without strain or doubling, with an even delivery across the instrument's range. While there was a little too much midbass in absolute terms, this was not accompanied by boom, blur, or bass overhang. With similarly unruffled aplomb, the Sapphires dealt with the thunderous organ-pedal notes on John Marks' recording of James Busby's performance of Herbert Howells' Master Tallis's Testament, from Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago 101). Well, yes, both the KEF Reference 207/2 and the Revel Ultima Salon2 will play this cut at higher levels with greater authority, but both of those speakers are significantly more expensive than the Sapphire.

It was hard to write about the character of the Sapphire's midrange, because there really was no character. In the midrange, the Dynaudio was the perfect chameleon, which made it the perfect speaker for piano recordings. Back in January 2000, I recorded Robert Silverman performing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas (CD, OrpheumMasters KSP-830, no longer available). Bob excelled on this set, but I think he scaled the peak of pianistic possibilities in Sonata 23, the "Appassionata." The Sapphire's clarity and attack, its well-defined and extended low frequencies, the slightly exaggerated midbass without inappropriate overhang, transported me back to the small recital hall in Santa Monica in which we'd recorded the cycle. Audio system as time machine!

The Sapphires' stereo imaging was stable and well defined. Overall, however, while the soundstage was wide, it was also somewhat shallow, even if plenty of reverberant detail was apparent. For example, on While You Are Alive, my new recording of Minnesotan male choir Cantus (CD, Cantus CTS-1208), I could clearly and unambiguously hear the position of each of the nine singers as he enters in the consecutive canons that begin the final movement of Edie Hill's A Sound Like This. I could just as clearly hear when a singer turns away from the microphone array to light up the hall acoustic. But the perspective was foreshortened, in much the manner of a telephoto lens compressing the depth of a visual image.

A recent recommendation from Cantus producer and musical director Erick Lichte was Sensuous: la musique d 21° siècle (CD, Warner Japan ECE016), from the DJ Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada). "Fit Song" illustrated the only problem I had with the Sapphire: while Mike Manousselis had preferred the speakers' upper-frequency balance in my room with their grilles off, some recordings definitely needed the grilles in place to prevent the Sapphires from sounding too bright.

A standout of recordings I've recently had in heavy rotation is Richie Havens' Nobody Left to Crown (CD, Verve Forecast B0011631-02). His reworking of Pete Townshend's "Won't Get Fooled Again" breathes new life into the song. Recorded at Manhattan's venerable Sear Sound Studio, this CD has highs that sounded naturally balanced through the grilleless Sapphires. But playing Cornelius's "Fit Song," in which sampled vocals ride atop clangy but open-sounding drums, a choppy offbeat guitar line, and a subterranean triangle-wave synth bass line, the brightness had me sticking my fingers in my ears until I could fit the grilles back in place. With the grilles and the relatively soft-toned Mark Levinson No.33H, Ayre MX-R, or Musical Fidelity 750K monoblocks (the last reviewed in December), I was able to appreciate the drum dynamics as well as subtleties of the mix—such as the sudden opening and closing of the reverb returns on the guitar—while the Sapphire's generous bass balance made the most of the low-frequency synth sweeps. But even with the grilles in place, with leaner-balanced amplifiers, such as the Musical Fidelity 550K—fuggedaboudit!

So I decided to continue the auditioning with the grilles on. But then, with December's "Recording of the Month," Threshold of Night, a collection of the music of Tarik O'Regan performed by Conspirare Company of Voices (SACD/CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807490), the grilles proved too heavy-handed. O'Regan's From Heaven Distilled a Clemency contrasts solo with massed voices and scrubbing strings, but the grilles tamped down the top-octave air and spaciousness a bit too much. Similarly, with the grilles in place, Carol Wincenc's flute in the Allegro of the Mozart Flute Quartet, K.285, on Editor's Choice sounded too chiffy, the top two octaves too sweet. For naturally miked recordings such as these, the grilles had to come off again.

Just before I began writing this review, I was prowling the corridors of our local Costco, stocking up on toilet tissue and paper towels in bulk while my wife checked out the laundry supplies. My attention was caught by a wall of flat-screen TVs playing a Blu-ray disc of what appeared to be a live concert featuring teen heart-throb John Mayer—except that he was playing Stratocaster with Pino Palladino on bass guitar and Steve Jordan on drums, both A-List sidemen. I stopped to look—I couldn't listen because the display was silent—then headed upstairs to pick up Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (DVD-V, Columbia 8697-22727-9).

Back home—after I'd loaded the household supplies in the box room, of course—I popped the disc into the Ayre C-5xe universal player and fast-forwarded until I heard the driving backbeat shuffle of "Every Day I Have the Blues." Who knew the boy had such guitar chops? Even though the two-channel audio on the DVD is Dolby Stereo, which to my ears always adds a plummy lumpiness to the sound of bass instruments, it demonstrated what the Dynaudio Sapphire was all about: high-frequency clarity, low-frequency power and impact, and overall dynamics and "jump factor"—all of which allow the music to flow unimpeded by artifacts.

Summing up
I can't think of a more pleasant way to have spent my summer than with the Dynaudio Sapphires. They offer big-hearted lows, an uncolored midrange, and clean, grain-free highs. Whether or not to use the grilles will depend on both your music and your room: If your tastes run to modern rock and your room is small and/or lively, you'll need the grilles. But if you prefer naturally balanced classical recordings, and especially if your room is larger and/or well-damped, then using the speakers sans grilles will give you the best combination of detail and top-octave air.

Recommended with a bullet. The remaining 300 pairs of Sapphires won't hang around much longer, so most of us will have to wait to see what Dynaudio comes up with for its 40th anniversary.

Dynaudio A/S
US distributor: Dynaudio North America
1140 Tower Lane
Bensenville, IL 60106
(630) 238-4200