Dynaudio Contour 3.0 loudspeaker

It was one of those uncommonly warm late winter Sundays when you hardly need a coat. The fine weather had set aside any critical listening sessions, the door to the kitchen was open, and I was playing my audio system—then equipped with a pair of Spendor BC-1 loudspeakers—at moderate levels. Playing on the Linn turntable was an LP that the kids loved—"The Magic Garden Song," sung by the two female leads from the children's television show of the same name (footnote 1), My wife doesn't often comment positively on audio equipment, but that day she walked in from the kitchen to say, "Those voices sound real—as if two people just walked in our living room and started singing."

In the 13 years since, I've reviewed larger, more expensive, more exotic loudspeakers than the Spendors, as well as some outstanding minimonitors. I've played "The Magic Garden Song" countless times, as well as source material rich in spoken voice and singing. But since that day, nothing I could print here has been forthcoming from my wife but slammed bedroom doors and colorful pleas to lower the volume—until, that is, the Dynaudio Contour 3.0s arrived.

I first heard the Dynaudio Contour 3.0 loudspeakers earlier this year, at the 1998 International Consumer Electronics Show (ICES). They were being driven by a Krell FPB 600 stereo amplifier in a small room at the Alexis Park hotel. Even under the limitations of show auditioning—small rooms, talking, crowds walking in front of the speakers—I was impressed by the 3.0s' rich imaging, firm bass line, and natural-sounding male vocals. As Stereophile had just published a review by Wes Phillips of a larger Dynaudio speaker, the $6999/pair Contour 3.3 (footnote 2), Wes who doubles as the magazine's equipment and review gatekeeper, blessed my request to review the 3.0. Within the month, Mike Manousselis, Dynaudio's director of sales and marketing, had shipped me the show pair—already broken-in.

My wife spoke up within a minute of my starting to play the Contour 3.0s. "That's a lovely clarinet," she called out from the bedroom, referring to Ross Powell's solo introduction on John Rutter's "The Lord is My Light and My Salvation" (from Requiem: Five Anthems, Reference Recordings RR-57CD). Clarinet music is important to her; she was concertmaster and first clarinet in her high school band.

This got my attention. John Atkinson agrees that these spontaneous comments are meaningful. "I usually do my critical listening early in the morning," he said during the 1998 Stereophile Writers' Conference, "but I'm good for only about an hour." He reported that he finds reviewing to be tough, solitary work. Spontaneous comments from unbiased family members—"strongly disinterested" might be more accurate—can lighten the load. Besides, I'm happier when my wife likes the product I'm evaluating.

The object of her affection
The Contour 3.0, is a three-way reflex-loaded system that in many ways resembles the Contour 3.3. In his January review, WP described the bigger Dynaudio loudspeaker: "A narrow tower-style loudspeaker system in a plain if beautifully veneered cabinet, the Contour 3.3 has a straightforward driver array consisting of two 8" woofers, a single 5.25" midrange unit, and a 1.1" soft-dome tweeter." But besides being $2000 cheaper, how else does the Contour 3.0 compare with the 3.3?

It has one less woofer than the 3.3, saving 5" in cabinet height. Its single 8" woofer employs a 3"-diameter voice-coil—1" smaller than the 3.3's—and a different, simpler crossover. Dynaudio also rates it 3dB lower in voltage sensitivity.

That's it. In all other respects, it is identical. For this reason, I will briefly describe the high points of the speaker's construction and refer the reader to Wes's excellent review for additional details.

• The Contour 3.0's build quality, fit'n'finish, and woodworking are superb—it's one of the most beautiful high-fidelity products I've ever reviewed. The bird's-eye maple veneer is a knockout, and clearly the work of master woodworkers. Each speaker pair is covered with sections cut from a single sheet of veneer; "assurances are made that all grain matches," states the product literature. The resulting cabinet is not only beautiful but solid, dense, and hard, implying an optimally braced, well-damped construction. Don't rap your knuckles too hard on the cabinet—it's like a rock.

• The Contour 3.0 uses a sophisticated woofer. Its cone is compounded of a magnesium polymer (MSP) material developed by the manufacturer to minimize partial driver oscillations. The rib of the woofer's die-cast driver frame has been designed to eliminate reflections and tonal aberrations created by the traditional driver basket. The cone is controlled by a large 3" voice-coil working with dual magnets. (Dynaudio's Hexacoil voice-coils are constructed of lightweight aluminum wire coated with a thermoplastic material, wound onto a Kapton former, then treated to act as a solid mass for optimal stability, durability, density, and efficiency.)

• The tweeter uses a 1.1" soft-dome diaphragm. Dynaudio notes that the Contour's tweeter "features treated textile soft-dome diaphragms, Magnaflux- (magnetic-fluid-) cooled, hexagonally cut, pure aluminum wire voice-coils and heat-treated bobbins, and extra-large magnet systems."

• The Contour 3.0's crossover features first-order 6dB/octave slopes—said "to provide superb transient response and excellent phase integration of the drivers"—plus metal-foil polypropylene capacitors. Each driver is mounted in its own enclosure, these in turn set into the 1"-thick, multilayered MDF cabinet. The Contour's enclosure sits on a gray, 1"-thick base.

Footnote 1: Paula and Carole in the Magic Garden, CAP-1 (LP), CAP Productions, Inc., Box 101, Scarsdale, NY 10583.

Footnote 2: In January 1998, Vol.21 No.1.—JA

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