Product Review - Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk II Bookshelf Speakers - June, 2002 Arvind Kohli

Specifications:

Drivers: 1”Soft Dome Tweeter, 6.5” Magnesium Silicate Polymer Woofer
MFR: 43 Hz - 24 kHz
± 2.5 dB
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
Efficiency: 86 dB/W/M
Power Handling Capacity: 150 watts (long term)
Dimension: 15"H x 8"W x 11.5"D
Weight: 19.6 Pounds Each;
Available Finishes: Rosewood, Cherry, Rustic Cherry, Beech, Black Ash, Bird’s Eye Maple, Walnut, White Matte, Black Matte.
MSRP: $2399 USA/Pair
 

 

Dynaudio North America, 1144 Tower Lane, Bensenville, Illinois 60106; Phone (630) 238-4200; E-Mail: info@dynaudiousa; Web: http://www.dynaudiousa.com
 

Introduction

Buying speakers can be frustrating and exciting at the same time. With about 500 brands and several thousand models, there are plenty to choose from. And with each model having a different set of design features and components, the consumer is faced with the bewildering question of which one to buy. The two most common general types of questions I am asked are: how does one brand compare to another within the same price bracket? And how do models of different price brackets compare within a brand?

Following up on my review of the Dynaudio Contour 1.1, I decided to compare that model to their pricier 1.3 Mk II. The basic question on hand is, what do you get for the extra $700? From my comparison of the 1.1 to other brands, I was consistently impressed with the Dynaudio and really needed to understand how the 1.1 could really be improved in any significant way.

I will not repeat the background information on Dynaudio, since it has not significantly changed from the 1.1 review. I suggest you read that review first, it contains a lot of details that are not being reiterated here.

The Basics

The 1.3 Mk II is the second iteration of that model and a step up from the 1.1 previously reviewed. The 1.3 Mk II has a significantly larger enclosure than the 1.1, and features their box-in-box construction that was not offered in the original 1.3 either. I will explain the box-in-box construction in detail further below. The 1.3 Mk II also offers a newer version of the D260 used in the original version. The new tweeter is said to be 1.5 dB more efficient, has lower distortion and has a damped rear chamber. The damped rear chamber is critical for soft dome tweeters, as it prevents the backwaves of the driver from bouncing off the insides and coming through the fabric, out of phase with the original signal, potentially resulting in a smeared sound. The reflected sound waves can also constructively or destructively interfere as a function of frequency, so that a damped rear chamber can smooth out the frequency response.

Compared to the 1.1, the 1.3 Mk II also has a slightly larger woofer, 17 cm vs. 15 cm. However, the voice coil is 75 mm, instead of the 38 mm engine found on the 1.1. This larger coil is said to increase bass response, bass control, dynamic range, and power handling. It also makes the unit a little more current hungry, although that is not really apparent from the product specs.

[Editor: The size of the voice coil may benefit power handling and dynamic range, but we don't know about increasing bass response. If it makes more bass, that would be an efficiency issue, which isn't a function of the coil size so much as the inductance. If it increases extension, that would be a function of the cone mass, suspension, and box size, not the coil size. The only way to become more current hungry is to lower the impedance, regardless of whether they reflect that in printed specifications.]

The 1.3 Mk II has a different crossover from the 1.1 and the original 1.3, but the differences are only to better integrate the drivers in the speaker. Like most speaker manufacturers, Dynaudio designs the crossover after designing the drivers and cabinet.

The Design

My listening room is 16’ by 16’ by 8’. I also experimented with the distances from the rear walls from as little as 6” to as much as 5’. Dynaudio suggests that the supplied foam plugs are really optional at any distance greater than 1.2”. I found a distance of 3’ to 5’ to be ideal. With lesser distances (i.e., less than 12”) I found too much reinforcement at high volumes, although this was not very noticeable at low volumes. Without giving away too much of the conclusion, I must mention here that if you are looking to buy these speakers, you will want to play them loudly (Ferraris are not purchased to follow speed limits either.) So be prepared to accommodate a distance of 3’ to 5’ from the rear wall.

The review samples were already broken-in, so I was spared the customary agony of waiting for a listening session. Al Fillipelli of Dynaudio USA felt that break-in is not as complex as it is made out to be. According to him, some mechanical changes do occur over time, but if a product does not sound musical out of the box, there is a problem. I have found one case (the Triangle Titus) where the product sounded very poor out of the box, only to change character completely after a considerable break-in. In-house tests at Dynaudio have shown that a lot of the changes in sound after break-in are a result of an increase in 2nd order harmonics. This would make the product sound warmer and more pleasant.

Speaker height is recommended at just below ear level (on stands or bookshelves). For toe-in, start with the speakers firing straight ahead and toe-in slight only if really needed. This also depends on how far away you sit. The further the distance the less the impact of height and angle. I found firing them straight worked the best for me.

Distance ratio is recommended at a 30% greater distance from the speaker plane than the distance between them, that is a 50% greater distance than in the standard equilateral triangle setup. This is due to the shallow 1st order crossover, discussed further below. I did not find much difference when using an equilateral triangle setup.

The review sample was furnished in a Cherry veneer. Other available finishes are Beech, Black Ash, Rustic Cherry, and Rosewood. Available at a 10% premium is Bird’s Eye Maple, White Matte Lacquer, Black Matte Lacquer, and Walnut.

Although the box is considerably larger than the svelte Contour 1.1, it sports the same look and build quality. This includes the single set of binding posts on the rear. I agree with this approach, and would only consider using more than one run of wire if active bi-amping was also being employed.

The box-in-box construction is quite an amazing design. It starts with two MDF boards glued to form a 1.25” front baffle (compared to 0.75” for the model 1.1) to which two concentric five-sided boxes are fastened. There is a 1/8” inch gap between the boxes, and this is filled with a gel that damps energy transmission. The total thickness of the two boxes and the gel is 7/8”. The tweeter is in a self-enclosed chamber that is rear-damped. The woofer is actually fastened to the outer box. Effectively, this provides a front baffle equal to the 11.5” depth of the cabinet. You can imagine the rigidity this provides the tweeter and woofer, resulting in an environment suitable for pinpoint imaging. Furthermore, the interior of the cabinet is cross-braced to add rigidity and reduce cabinet resonance.

The impedance curve of the 1.3 Mk II is fairly flat, with a nominal of 4 Ohms, minimum of 3.5 and maximum of 14.4 (manufacturer's specs). The rated sensitivity is 86 db/w/m, making this a fairly current hungry beast, so make sure you feed it accordingly. Power requirements are suggested as a minimum of 25 wpc in a small room, and 65 wpc in a medium sized room. The long term (indefinite time period) power handling is rated as 150 wpc, and all the Contour drivers will handle up to a whopping 1000 watts for a 10 millisecond peak. However, this does not mean the speaker will actually deliver 116 dB at one meter. Dynaudio woofers are equipped with a progressively resistive spider, i.e. the harder you push them, the more they resist. This provides for a built in physical protection from damage. Realistically, I estimate you could continuously run them at about 105 dB, with two speakers and room gain, with no worry for damage. Needless to say, this is excessively loud and I beg you on behalf of your ears not to visit that neighborhood.

The frequency response is rated as 43 Hz to 24 kHz within 5 dB. Both drivers have a shallow first order slope (6 dB per octave) at about 2.6 kHz. Dynaudio uses shallow slopes in all their speakers, and according to Al Fillipelli, this is to prevent ringing that is found when the slope is too sharp. Shallow crossovers give a greater overlap of frequencies produced by both drivers than a steep crossover would. Sitting at a greater distance increases the impression of the speaker being a ‘point source’, and you are less able to detect the same frequencies from two sources. Why not a steep crossover? The steeper the crossover, the more capacitors in the signal path and the greater the storage of current. Some of the best designs are those with the simplest crossovers. In the Dynaudio culture, it is generally regarded that the best engineers are the ones that use the least materials (or least components for crossovers) to get the job done.

The trick with shallow crossovers is to keep the overlapping signals in phase and time-coherent. This is considered to be a primary goal in the design of all Dynaudio speakers, and a Phase Correction Circuit that runs in parallel to the drivers (i.e., not in the signal path) ensures this is done. This circuit is also said to greatly reduce back-EMF.

All Dynaudio speakers are covered by a limited 5 year warranty.

The Sound

The most important listening tests in this review were the direct comparisons to the Contour 1.1 and also the Triangle Titus XS. Listening tests were done with the volume calibrated at 60 dB and 80 dB pink noise level as measured at the listening position. Here is what I heard.

One of my new reference recordings is "Padlock Blue" (Cootie Stark, Sugarman, Musicmaker, 91002-2). Made with minimalist audiophile recording techniques and high-end gear, this track includes vocal peaks that spike at 15 dB over the mean. This track is a great test for the speakers' ability to handle the dynamics and bottom end extension. The 1.3 Mk II by far had the greatest bottom end extension of the three speakers, to the extent that I could distinctly hear the double bass at both volume settings, even when the background got fairly busy. With the 1.1, the instrument disappeared at the lower (60 dB) setting, and with the Titus, the bass was non existent at both volume settings. Now my trusty Velodyne would add all the needed bass with any of these speakers, but the 1.3 Mk II playing without the sub, produced the most coherent sound. It is very difficult to get the phase of an outboard subwoofer to properly integrate with satellite speakers. So for music, I prefer the speaker to able to extend down to about 40 Hz, so I don’t have to use a sub when listening to most music.

All three speakers handled the dynamic peaks with excellence. The Titus sounded more lively at the lower volume setting, but the Dynaudios came out ahead at the higher volume level. Particularly, the 1.3 Mk II delivered the peaks with complete ease and naturalness, making the crackle in the singer’s voice very evident and convincing.

On "Fanfare for the Common Man" (Copland; Fanfare, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, Telarc, 80078) the 1.3 MkII really differentiated themselves from the other speakers. The impact of the kettle drums was actually tactile. The experience of feeling the drums in addition to hearing them immensely adds to the sense of realism. The 1.3 MkII also created the most expansive soundstage with and incredible sense of depth. Again, I would attribute this to the bass response extending below 40 Hz and being in phase.

The 1.1 needed help from a sub to fill in that last bit of extension, and then phase matching issues crept in. The bass response on the Titus was significantly loose and lacking extension in comparison to both Dynaudios. But, the speed of the light paper woofer on the Titus did deliver better transients, and especially at the lower listening level the Titus was very enjoyable. This is a good example of the trade-offs found in different approaches to speaker design.

Another track that really differentiated the 1.3 MkII from the pack was "Boplicity" (Sam Sklair, Virgo, VTL, VTL020). This album was recorded at the former Manley Studios with equipment and techniques that would bring tears of joy to an audiophile’s eye, and has become one of my benchmarks. Recording engineers and producers could learn a lot about equipment choice and setup from these guys.

Since the instruments were not recorded close-up, the double bass is not overemphasized. Only the 1.3 MkII could do a convincing reproduction of the instrument, making it easily identifiable even in the busiest passages. Again, I could not only hear, but also feel the impact. The 1.1 made me strain a bit to hear the bass, which reduced the sense of realism and ease. The Titus seemed to put out almost as much depth as the 1.1, but without the tightness and definition. The Titus gave the clarinet a very fat, smooth, and pleasing sound. I wonder if this could be due to the generation of relatively more second order harmonics. The 1.3 Mk II again had the deepest and steadiest soundstage, and seemed to etch out a little more detail on the mechanics of the piano and clarinet.

On "Afro (freestyle skit)" (Eryka Badu, Baduism, Universal, UD53027), the three were pretty much tied except for the obvious bass response results as on the tracks above. On some trials I thought I heard more detail on the 1.3 Mk II, and on other trials I did not. When results are this close, I throw them out the window and call it even. That did not stop me from spending a lot of time repeatedly listening to this track and enjoying myself.

Overall, the 1.3 MkII did deliver the extended bass response and control that I expected of it. And even on tracks with a great amount of low bass, I preferred the sound of the 1.3 Mk II alone to the other speakers paired with a sub. I guess there is a lot to be said for the spectrum of delivered sound to be phase coherent.

Additionally, the 1.3 MkII delivered an awesome soundstage that I did not expect or realize existed in some of these recordings till now. My single impression was that it is absolutely glorious at high volumes, far beyond what I have been able to express in the passages above. The only negative would be that it seemed to be a little shy at low volumes, especially when compared to the Titus or its own magic at higher levels. And in some cases the speed of the Titus added that extra bit of realism that the Dynaudios did not yield. I did not have any trouble driving the speakers to very loud levels with any of the three amplifiers (listed below). The NAD 317 did not exploit the full potential of these speakers, and my favorite match was with the Sim Audio I-5. But, I would not hesitate to use any of these amps in this setup.

Conclusion

Not only did the 1.3 Mk II live up to my expectations of a speaker at this pricepoint and a Dynaudio product, but I was impressed beyond my anticipation.

The important thing to know when buying audio gear is selecting equipment that will be well matched to your needs and constraints. With the 1.3 MkII, they really put out their best stuff at higher volumes and need an amp that can handle low impedances. They are extremely open, detailed, sound astonishingly neutral, have the most expansive soundstage I have ever heard, and will not require a subwoofer for most musical material.

Really, it would be on my short list to audition if you are in the market for bookshelf speakers. I would suggest auditioning even if you are not in the market, they are that good.

Associated Equipment:
Speakers:; Triangle Titus XS; : Dynaudio Contour 1.1
Subwoofer: Velodyne F1500R
Amplifiers: Bryston 4B Pro; NAD 317 (Integrated), Sim Audio I-5 (Integrated)
Preamplifiers: PS Audio IV
Digital Source: Panasonic A320; Pioneer D414
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Connectors: Self designed.

 

- Arvind Kohli -
 

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© Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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