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Close up of Contour 20

Heavenly Reference

February 01, 2017

Sometimes everything comes together so well that high praise is well deserved. This is true of the new Dynaudio Contour loudspeakers.

+ Refined and balanced sound with extended bass and silky smooth high frequencies. So perfect that it is hard to find words.

- It does not come free.

6 stars out of 6

Contour 20 in the room

It is not exactly bookshelf-friendly and you will need a pair of good stands and a capable amplifier. But then you have a pair of the finest speakers that we have ever tested at below 75,000 Norwegian kr. (8,250 Euros).

They are so good that they make you think: Why pay more for a floor-standing loudspeaker, when a compact model can sound this good?

Dynaudio’s new Contour Series is so good, so musical and complete that it is near perfection in a medium sized room. Despite its 44 cm height, it doesn’t dominate the room. At least, not if you select the White Oak finish that our review pair came in. The warm, white veneer matches well with light walls in Scandinavian homes and there is nothing out of place about the sound either.

The five other finishes are Matte Walnut, High Gloss Grey Oak, High Gloss White and High Gloss Rosewood.

This is the most compact and affordable model yet in the newly developed Contour range, a series which made its debut as far back as 1989 and has now been re-styled with new drivers, crossovers and significantly upgraded sound quality.

They are in the same class as the warm-sounding Sonus Faber Olympica I, the crystal-clear Audiovector SR1 Avantgarde Arreté and the almost just as new Bower & Wilkins 805 D3 (test forthcoming). Actually, it is also a challenger to Dynaudio Confidence C1, which is in a class above it in terms of price and build quality. But Contour is, in my opinion, better than even the more expensive Confidence C1. This is not so strange.

Started from scratch

Dynaudio has borrowed the stylish Esotar 2 tweeter from the Confidence range and developed a new woofer, crossover and cabinet for C20 and all the other models in the new series.

The drivers are mounted on a massive aluminium baffle, milled on a CNC machine and fitted to the front of all Contour models. With rounded front corners, internal bracing and damping, the designers have succeeded in moving resonances outside the audible range.

The 18 cm woofer continues to be made from a single piece of moulded magnesium polymer with a diaphragm of varying thickness. It is thicker where it needs to be, yet as thin as possible in non-critical areas. This ensures lower mass and also a more rigid surface and more uniform motion.

The C20 cabinet has a rear-mounted bass reflex port which can be damped with the included foam plug to prevent loose bass, if the speaker must be positioned near the rear wall. Even the new screw terminals are among the very best we have tried.

In my room, the speaker worked fine at a distance of 20 cm, but I would recommend 50 cm for even better balance in the soundstage.

Is there anything to criticise? Not as far as I can hear.

 

Contour 20 in Black Piano Lacquer

Elegant, Refined, Potent

The loudspeakers require decent stands. Preferably, Dynaudio’s own. Also, try moderate tilt to raise the midrange and especially the tweeter. Use the best amplifier you can afford. You don’t need a lot of Watts. A 75W MacIntosh MC275 wil do fine or you could also use Denon PMA-2500 at less than half the price or, as I did during most of the test period, a 300W MacIntosh MA8000.

They offer a boxless experience. The enclosure disappears in mid-air in front of you and you are in the presence of music that floats like a pulsating 3D image in Augmented Reality with sound so free from accentuations and colourations that it feels frightening.

A simple recording of voice and guitar can sound sublime. James Vincent McMurrow’s Raising Water can hardly be called an audiophile recording, but still it sounds so vivid and dynamic on the Dynaudio’s that one can’t stop listening to the music. Better recordings such as Radka Toneff’s remastered Fairy Tales elevate the experience from sublime to divine. Only a handful of electrostatic loudspeakers, the larger Sonus Fabers and Piega’s aluminium loudspeakers with obscenely expensive coaxial ribbon drivers are examples of speakers which sound better. A little.

But I cannot name a speaker of similar size that can make Steve Dobrogosz’ piano sound so powerful and hushed with so much tone. The Dynaudio’s are definitely the most tonally neutral compact loudspeaker that I have heard. The piano notes on The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress hangs in the air longer after the fingers have left the keyboard. 

The sound, or absence of it, in the background of the recording places the vocal and piano on a pitch-black canvas.

If you prefer a warmer sound, Sonus Faber Olympica I is a good alternative. But it lacks the Dynaudio’s deep bass extension and is more restrained at the very top of the high frequency range. The smaller Audiovector SR1 AA is a bit airier in the upper range, but cannot match the C20 for physical bass.

Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song is reproduced with emotional beauty. ‘Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet’ is sung in that deep voice while two chorus girls at the rear of the soundstage add depth to the experience. Is there anything to criticise? Not as far as I can hear.

With more demanding rhythms, such as David Bowie’s Lazarus, no one expects such a compact speaker to go down so deep. But it does. Even with an 18 cm woofer in a 44 cm tall enclosure, it kicks with a powerful deep bass way beyond its size. It almost breaks the laws of physics.

At the same time, the bottom end is rock solid as needed and soft where appropriate; testimony to a successful compromise between control and extension.

To dig deeper through the many layers of the soundstage, classical music hits the bullseye. You also hear why the Esotar tweeter is acknowledged as one of the best available. Strings and voices, for example, in opera sound divine. Bryn Terfel, Cecilia Bartoli or Renee Fleming? It doesn’t matter. These speakers take it all in stride. Baritone, mezzo or soprano, everything comes through crystal-clear and focused, but never hard or harsh. The same is true for strings and brass. 

Not even when you occasionally play loud, which is tempting to do, because they can take being hooked up to a muscular, playful amplifier. 

In closing, I should mention that Dvoráks Ave Maria, with Magdalena Kozená, has etched itself into my spine after this test. Talk about goosebumps! 

REFERENCE

If you’re looking for a pair of fine loudspeakers that won’t dominate your room, but will look attractive alongside your furniture, Dynaudio Contour 20 is the perfect choice. They open the door to true high end at a size and price that won’t give you a heart attack. They appeal equally to heart and mind and deliver the music on a silver platter. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that they are the reference among compact speakers below 75,000 Norwegian kr. (8,250 Euros).

Yeah, that’s how good they are. Try them for yourself.

This review was originally published by lyd og bilde