Dynaudio Sapphire loudspeaker

With hindsight, it should have been obvious at the time that the 1970s witnessed a glorious flowering of high-end audio. Almost all the brands now regarded as leaders had their start in that decade, though with perhaps the exceptions of Audio Research, Linn, Magnepan, and Naim, those of us working at audio magazines missed the significance of the new names. Dynaudio, for example, was founded in 1977, but not until the end of the 1980s did I become fully aware of the ground being broken in drive-unit and overall system design by this Danish loudspeaker manufacturer.

Dynaudio celebrated its 25th anniversary with the Special Twenty-Five stand-mounted speaker, briefly written about by John Marks in "The Fifth Element" in the March 2003 issue, with a comprehensive Follow-Up by me in June 2005. The Twenty-Five combined Dynaudio's famed Esotar2 1.1" fabric-dome tweeter with an 8" plastic-cone woofer in a ported enclosure that endowed the speaker with surprisingly extended, powerful low frequencies. Wes Phillips offered his impressions of the Special Twenty-Five in May 2006, advising that, as good as the Dynaudio is, it's tricky to set up. "They need a little boundary-love to perk up their midbass," he wrote, "though too much will kill the speakers' impressive bass extension." The Special Twenty-Five was clearly one of WP's favorite smaller speakers.

One of my own favorite speakers in the past six years has also been a Dynaudio, the floorstanding Confidence C4, which uses two Esotar2 tweeters. I enthusiastically reviewed the C4 in March 2003, so when Dynaudio previewed its 30th-anniversary model, the Sapphire, at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, I decided that the Stereophile reviewer to write about it would be me.

Which, given the demands of my day job—editing this magazine—inevitably delayed the publication of the review. But, as they say, if something's worth having, it's worth waiting for. When I heard the Sapphires at the 2008 Festival Son & Image in Montreal, I reminded Dynaudio North America's Mike Manousselis that I was finally ready to take delivery.

An intriguing-looking floorstander, the Sapphire stands a little more than 4' tall, and its faceted enclosure gets slightly wider toward the top. The front of the cabinet is beautifully finished with a high-gloss varnish; the rectangular section at the rear is painted matte back. The drive-unit array features the Esotar2 tweeter at the top of the front baffle, mounted above first a 5.25" midrange unit, then two 8" woofers.

Each of the three lower-frequency units is constructed on a diecast aluminum chassis profiled to present minimal acoustic obstruction to the cone's backwave. They feature cones formed from a plastic that has been reinforced and damped with magnesium silicate, aka talc, which Dynaudio calls Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP). The woofers have large, 3"-diameter aluminum voice-coils wound on light Kapton formers and powerful motors using twin neodymium magnets. The reflex bass alignment is achieved with a flared port 3.5" in diameter on the cabinet rear above the terminal panel. Foam plugs are supplied to block the ports if the owner finds the bass excessive. The midrange unit also has an MSP cone, an aluminum voice-coil, and a neodymium magnet, and is acoustically loaded by its own subenclosure.

As is usual with Dynaudio designs—but unusual for speakers with flat front baffles—the Sapphire's crossover has first-order slopes. The crossover frequencies are specified as 450Hz and 2.2kHz. Electrical connection is via a single pair of shrouded binding posts mounted at the base of the cabinet's rear panel, and the internal wiring is of large gauge.

The cabinet is extensively braced and lined with thick, high-density foam. Although all drive-units are rabbeted into the veneered baffle, their chassis actually stand a bit proud rather than being flush. The bulky grille comprises black cloth stretched over a wooden frame, this routed to accommodate the woofer chassis; a ½"-thick felt blanket with a rectangular hole surrounds the tweeter dome.

The Sapphire costs $16,500/pair—not unreasonable, considering its engineering excellence and superb finish and appearance. Production is limited to 1000 pairs worldwide, of which 700 pairs had been sold by summer 2008.

Michael Manousselis visited in early June to help me unpack the Sapphires from their shipping crates and set them up in my listening room. Using tracks from Accentuations, Dynaudio's naturally recorded CD of works for steel- and nylon-strung acoustic guitars (Dynaudio 27000 68004, available from Music Direct), Mike adjusted the speakers' positions until the transition from midbass to low bass was seamless, then experimented with toe-in, after which he fixed the carpet-piercing spikes to the speakers' bases and declared himself satisfied. The Sapphires' grilles had been dispensed with, and the speakers were not quite toed-in to the listening position.

The Sapphire's tweeter is 45" from the floor, or 9" above the height of my ears in my listening chair. Even so, pink noise sounded smooth and evenly balanced, with little change apparent when I sat upright. A little vertical venetian blinding was apparent when I moved my head from side to side, however.

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