Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI) grew out of Scandinavia’s leading audio retail chain, HiFi Klubben, in 1983 -- both companies were founded by Peter Lyngdorf. DALI now claims more than a million owners of their products worldwide, in 70 different countries.

DALI produces a wide range of loudspeaker types, from the new Katch active Bluetooth model to a full range of home-theater products that includes subwoofers, center-channels, and on-wall, in-wall, and in-ceiling speakers. They also make a wide range of speakers designed for two-channel listening, from the Spektor 1 ($229/pair, all prices USD) to the Epicon 8 ($19,999/pair). The subject of this review, the Opticon 8, is the top floorstander in the Opticon range, which in terms of price sits at the center of DALI’s lines of passive, two-channel speakers, below the Epicon and Rubicon models, and above the Oberons and Spektors.

DALI

Description

The Opticon line comprises the Opticon 1 ($799/pair) and 2 ($999/pair) two-way minimonitors; the Opticon 5 ($1799/pair), 6 ($2199/pair), and 8 ($3299/pair) floorstanders; the Opticon Vokal 2.5-way center-channel ($699 each); and the 2.5-way Opticon LCR on-wall ($799 each).

The Opticon floorstanders use DALI’s hybrid tweeter, a unique 1.5-way design that, in the Opticon 8, is set rather low on the front baffle. The Opticon 8 is a 3.5-way design in which the 1.5-way tweeter module hands off to a 6.5” midrange driver at 2.3kHz, and the midrange driver is crossed over at 390Hz to two 8” woofers: one at the top of the front baffle, the other toward the bottom.

A glimpse at the Opticon 8’s baffle tells you that DALI focuses their attention on driver technology. The woofer and midrange cones are made of a pulp mix of paper and wood fiber that, according to DALI, ensures very low surface resonance and gives the cones their distinctive brown color. The motor’s magnet has a large ferrite core surrounding a pole piece made entirely of the unique Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC). According to DALI, “SMC is a coated magnet granule that can be shaped into any form that you would want. . . . [SMC’s] unique ability to deliver a high magnetic conductivity and a very low electrical conductivity delivers all the wanted qualities of a really good speaker magnet without the traditional downsides. The result is a significant lowering of colouration of the reproduced sound.”

DALI

The hybrid tweeter design is something DALI has been exploiting for many years. In the Opticon 8 it comprises a 1” soft fabric dome working above 2.3kHz, and a thin ribbon, 0.7”W x 1.8”L, that’s gently rolled in above 10kHz to complement and reinforce the dome’s output. DALI claims that the dome has a low resonant frequency and high power handling. Cooled with magnetic fluid, it’s allowed to operate to its natural upper rolloff limit, beyond 20kHz. The ribbon achieves full output at 14kHz, and is allowed to operate to its natural rolloff frequency beyond 30kHz, far above the audioband. According to DALI, the ribbon has superb horizontal dispersion in the higher frequencies. They also claim that the dome and ribbon are both free of resonances and high-Q peaks within their operating bandwidths.

Otherwise, the Opticon 8’s outward appearance isn’t impressive. Each speaker measures 45.6”H x 9.6”W x 18”D and weighs 77 pounds. The cabinet, made of 1”-thick MDF, has a sharply rectangular cross section whose lack of rounded edges or corners only adds to the plain feel, and around back, the mitered joins are visible. My review samples were finished in a faux Light Walnut veneer that DALI describes as “high-grade vinyl” -- maybe, but to me it looked like plain old vinyl. Also available are Black Ash and White-Matt Satin vinyl veneers. The faux-wood finishes come with gloss-black front baffles; the white comes with a gloss-white baffle.

DALI

On the rear panel are two ports -- one directly behind each 8” woofer -- and two pairs of quality five-way binding posts. DALI’s specifications include a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, a sensitivity of 88dB/W/m, and a frequency response of 38Hz-32kHz, ±3dB.

Setup

Unpacking and setting up the Opticon 8s was easy enough to manage by myself. Inside each shipping carton is an instruction manual, a grille that affixes to the front baffle using mounting holes cleverly disguised as driver mounting screws, and the metal hardware for the speaker’s footers. Once I’d got the speakers out of their boxes, I installed the metal hardware with spikes (I have carpet over concrete) and placed the speakers in the usual speaker positions in my room: toed in 18°, with their rear panels about 14” from one long wall, and describing a 9’ equilateral triangle with my high-backed recliner. (As you’ll read below, I later adjusted the toe-in.) My relatively small listening room (15’W x 12’L) is well damped with broadband absorption on the side and speaker walls.

My source component was a Bluesound Node streamer used as a Roon endpoint and controlled via Roon’s Remote app installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S smartphone. The Node was connected via optical link to a miniDSP DDRC-22D processor (with Dirac Live turned off), its digital output in turn connected via optical link to the DAC in my McIntosh Laboratory C47 preamplifier. The C47 was connected to a McIntosh MC302 power amp via balanced (XLR) interconnects, and the MC302’s 4-ohm output taps drove the Opticon 8s via generic speaker cables made of 12-gauge oxygen-free copper and terminated with locking banana plugs.

DALI

Because, in my reference system, I use Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 minimonitors that hand off at 120Hz to two SVS SB-4000 subwoofers, whenever I review a pair of floorstanding speakers I have to decide how to configure my system to present the most appropriate comparison for the speaker reviewed. In this case, the manufacturers’ suggested retail prices were factors. The Opticon 8 costs $3299/pair; the B&W 705 S2s, with stands, costs $3000/pair. So throughout this review I compared the DALIs with the B&Ws run full-range, with both the subwoofers and Dirac Live room equalization shut off.

When I matched the output levels of the two pairs of speakers using a 1kHz warble tone, I found the Opticon 8s to be 1dB more efficient than the 705 S2s (which were connected to the 8-ohm taps of my MC302). Each time I switched between speaker pairs, I adjusted the volume on my C47 preamp accordingly. Before doing any serious listening to the DALIs, I played music at a decent volume through the Opticon 8s for a few days.

Toe-in experiments

Shortly after I’d begun listening to the Opticon 8s, I realized, thanks to both a perusal of the manual and a friendly e-mail from DALI’s US distributor, Lenbrook Industries, that DALI stresses that these speakers should be used firing straight ahead: that is, with no toe-in. DALI insists that their speakers boast horizontal dispersion and smooth off-axis response, and in their brochures juxtapose two diagrams: In the first, a pair of DALI speakers fire straight ahead as multiple listeners bask in a wide sweet spot; the second diagram shows a conventional pair of toed-in speakers and the same group of listeners, but this time the sweet spot is wide enough for only one listener to enjoy. I decided to test this.

DALI

First, with no toe-in, I thought the imaging was fine, with no hole in the middle of the soundstage. But voices weren’t as tightly focused as they’d been when I first listened to the Opticon 8s with my default speaker toe-in of 18°. (Toeing in speakers 30° points their tweeter axes straight at my listening chair.) With 8° of toe-in -- a lot closer to DALI’s recommendation of no toe-in at all -- I still heard a wide soundstage, but now with the tight image focus I’d first heard with 18° of toe-in.

I then experimented with toe-ins of 0° vs. 18° with the Opticon 8s and my B&W 705 S2s, to judge these angles’ effects on the size of the sweet spot. At 18° of toe-in for both speaker pairs, the B&Ws edged out the DALIs in terms of image focus; and, with both speakers, the sweet spot collapsed when I moved my head left or right. Firing the speakers straight ahead produced the opposite results: the DALIs produced a more focused center image than the B&Ws, as well as a wider sweet spot. When I moved my head from left to right, the DALIs were better at maintaining the illusion of a singer’s voice centrally position between them. But all things considered, with the Opticon 8s I most preferred my compromise of 8° of toe-in.

Serious listening

I began with an all-time favorite: “The End of the Innocence,” from Don Henley’s Actual Miles: Henley’s Greatest Hits (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Geffen). Through the DALI Opticon 8s, the sound of the piano at the beginning was neither warm nor bright, but neutral. Each note had weight, rich tonality, and a decay that went on and on. There was no excessive zing or bloat to the piano’s sound -- it sounded right. The cymbal to left of center was clearly delineated without calling attention to itself. When Henley’s voice entered, it hung convincingly in space, dead center on the soundstage, and clearly above the tweeter plane -- this despite the midrange driver’s low placement below the tweeter. This surprised me -- that tweeter-module position had led me to expect the Opticon 8s to image low.

DALI

Transparency was good but not great -- a hint of thickness in Henley’s voice reminded me that I was listening to a pair of boxes. I confirmed this when I then compared the DALIs directly with my B&W 705 S2s, whose presentation of Henley’s voice was not only more forward and present, but more transparent -- the cabinets left no fingerprint on the sound. Still, the Opticon 8s’ transparency was very good, and commensurate with a large, five-driver floorstander costing $3299/pair. But I have a sneaking suspicion that increased transparency would be one of the main windfalls in moving up the ladder to DALI’s more expensive speaker lines, which boast curved cabinets with walls that are thicker and thus more rigid.

If the B&Ws had the DALIs beat in terms of transparency and image focus, the DALIs won the day in terms of neutrality, ease of listening, soundstage width, and overall scale. The 705 S2s produced excessive sibilance whenever Henley sang an ess sound; the Opticon 8s definitely did not. The DALIs didn’t over- or under-emphasize any part of the audioband -- this, coupled with an ultrawide soundstage, made for enveloping and inviting listening.

DALI

Next up was “Thunderstruck,” from AC/DC’s The Razors Edge (16/44.1 FLAC, Atco). The DALIs showed me they could rock by retaining their composure while playing really loud. A pounding kick drum enters 29 seconds in, and that was when I knew I’d have a good time pushing the Opticon 8s to unhealthy volumes. I could feel the impact of the drum in my chest, and the fullness of the bass extension in my legs. I turned the volume way up, and the DALIs kept pace without seeming to compress or produce wince-inducing glare -- as I flirted with SPLs of 100dB at the listening position, they kept rockin’ and my toes kept tappin’.

The Opticon 8s’ overall sound was bigger, fuller, and more satisfying than the B&W 705 S2s’, due in large part to the DALIs’ extra fullness in the bass, but also to their ability to play louder with no loss of listening ease. While the two speakers’ bass punches were similar at matched levels -- a testament to what the little B&Ws can do -- the fullness I felt in the lower half of my body with the DALIs was largely absent with the B&Ws. Using my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone, I measured the speakers’ in-room -3dB points: the Opticon 8s registered a very impressive 22Hz, compared to the 705 S2s’ 33Hz.

DALI

I concluded my listening tests with something softer: “Feelin’ the Same Way,” from Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me (24/192 FLAC, Blue Note/HDtracks). Again, directly compared with the B&Ws, the DALIs couldn’t quite compete in terms of transparency -- through the 705 S2s, Jones’s voice had more presence, more air, and more holographic, reach-out-and-touch-it palpability. But the DALIs bettered the B&Ws with their lack of excessive brightness and sibilance -- in a word, their neutrality -- as well as in soundstage width and overall bass fullness. This track’s delicately plucked guitars, mixed fairly hard right and left, showed what the DALIs excelled at -- the sounds of the guitars extended beyond the cabinets’ outer edges, seeming to emanate from all around instead of directly out of the speakers’ baffles. All in all, the Opticon 8s provided a large-scale, pleasingly immersive listening experience.

Conclusion

The DALI Opticon 8’s cabinets aren’t the prettiest or best built, and the speaker isn’t the last word in transparency. But for $3299/pair, the Opticon 8 offers a lot: five well-engineered drivers in a sophisticated 3.5-way configuration that results in: deep, tight, room-filling bass; a neutral, detailed midrange; a delicately extended top end with superb horizontal dispersion; and a very wide soundstage with a commensurately broad sweet spot that more than one person can simultaneously enjoy. The Opticon 8 offers very good value.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
  • Subwoofer -- SVS SB-4000 (2)
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A custom balanced line-level 120Hz high pass filter (between preamp and amp)
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Room correction EQ -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live 2.0 (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital sources -- Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node streamer, Windows 10 laptop computer running Roon
  • Analog source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- 12-gauge oxygen-free copper (generic) terminated with locking banana plugs
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier series balanced (XLR)
  • Digital interconnect -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

DALI Opticon 8 Loudspeakers
Price: $3299 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

DALI
Dali Allé 1
9610 Nørager
Denmark
Phone: +45 9672-1155

Website: www.dali-speakers.com