Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk.II loudspeaker

Dynaudio's $2399/pair Contour 1.3 Mk.II follows on from the Mk.I, which grabbed Russ Novak's enthusiastic attention in November 1996 (Vol.19 No.11). Because a full description was included in the original review, I will only touch briefly on the differences between the original version and the sample reviewed this month. A Special Edition of the Contour 1.3 is also available for $3499/pair. Sam Tellig's comments on the sound of this loudspeaker appeared in the December 1999 Stereophile and are included at the end of this review.

The smart-looking Mk.II 1.3 looks identical to the original version, but there are extensive changes under the skin. The tweeter is an improved version of Dynaudio's Esotec D-260 28mm soft-dome unit. While the 6.5" woofer has the same large-dome dustcap typical of Dynaudio's low-frequency drivers, there is now a dual-magnet motor system to give better control and deeper bass, the -3dB low-frequency point usefully shifting from 45Hz to 40Hz. While the crossover slopes are still specified at 6dB/octave, the crossover frequency has moved up from 2kHz to 2.6kHz. High-quality components are used and compensation networks flatten the impedance curve above 200Hz.

The cabinet construction now features dual-layer sandwich construction, and the baffle is made of a resonance-damping material, both changes made to minimize vibrational problems. Electrical connection is via a single set of gold-plated terminals mounted beneath the rearward-facing reflex port. I left the chunky grille off for my auditioning.

The Dynaudio proved quite sensitive to listener ear height. I found the best integration between the drive-units to be just below the tweeter axis—listen above that axis, and a narrow band in the mid-treble is increasingly evident. Tonally, the Contour 1.3 is balanced on the cool side, with a little too much energy apparent in the 5kHz-10kHz octave. Tape hiss on analog-mastered recordings—Stereophile's Concert CD (STPH005-2), for example—was more apparent than it was with the Joseph RM7si (also reviewed in August 2000) or my reference B&W Silver Signature.

But oh, what a wealth of detail could be perceived. After initially "not getting the point" of Bryan Ferry's As Time Goes By CD (Virgin America 8 48270 2) and being put off by his bleating tenor, I have grown to appreciate this tribute to the crooners of the 1930s and '40s. The arrangements are intelligent, the singer's interpretations fascinatingly idiosyncratic, the musical content generous. But, as on so many rock albums these days, the engineering is perverse, and this is laid bare by the transparent Dynaudio speaker. On the title track, for example, the noise-gating of the genuinely antique-sounding vocal mike is very obvious, with hiss coming and going with the chromium-plated voice. And the action noise on the piano is offputting—why did they have to mike it so close? But offsetting these quibbles was how readily the Contours let through subtle details in the scoring, such as the delightful inner clarinet parts behind the relentless 4-to-the-bar arrangement of "Sweet and Lovely."

A naïve listener would be tempted to ascribe such faults to the speaker, not the recording. But when I put on one of the best modern recordings to plow the same musical furrow as Ferry—Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now (Reprise 47620-2), this magazine's "Recording of the Month" for April 2000—the presence of recording and balance engineers with skill and musical taste was also readily laid bare by the little Dynaudios. Apparently the Danish company's speakers are increasingly making an impact in the pro-audio community—just not quickly enough, to judge from the Ferry album.

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