Contour 3.3 loudspeakers

as reviewed by Pat Brady, Dave Clark, and Bryan Gladstone

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Magneplanar 1.6 QR and an Audio Pro DP40 subwoofer (modified).

VTL Super Deluxe preamp with built in phono stage (MM/MC) and 60s-vintage matched RCA tube set. Electron Kinetics Eagle 400 monoblock amplifiers.

Cal Audio Delta CD transport and Alpha DAC with 50s-vintage matched Telefunken tube set. VPI HW19 Mark IV turntable with SAMA (stand alone motor assembly), Audioquest PT-8 tonearm, and Benz Glider and van den Hul MC One moving coil cartridges.

Transparent Audio Power Link Ultra power strip and Power Link Plus power cords, MIT 330 CVT and 330 interconnects and 750 Plus speaker cables, Audio Works Datalink digital cable.

Vantage Point sand-filled audio racks and various isolation devices. Dedicated 20 amp AC circuit. A bottle of BV Merlot.


one.jpg (6551 bytes)Webster defines pedigree as “a distinguished ancestry” or “the recorded purity of breed of an individual or strain.” Certainly the pedigree of a dog has a tremendous influence on its perceived desirability, and the price people are willing to pay for it. The Dynaudio company of Denmark> has a distinguished pedigree due to its history of designing and building innovative, well-engineered products that are as robust as they are musical. Dynaudio has designed and/or built high quality components for many respected and admired loudspeaker manufacturers. Quite often, some if not all of the praise other speaker manufacturers receive is attributable to the Dynaudio components they use. Several years ago, Dynaudio started designing and manufacturing loudspeakers under their own name. The product under review is the Contour 3.3.

Before I received the 3.3s, I tapped into Dynaudio’s website and was very impressed by the intelligent and detailed description of the speakers. I won’t elaborate on the technical specifications, as they are easily available on the website, but it is worth mentioning that the 3.3s are entirely hand built, and are beautiful to behold. They also fit very well with the decor of our home. I’ve been enamored of Danish design for a long time, and my wife and I have several pieces of Danish furniture produced in the 1950s and 60s. In addition to being very attractive, this highly functional and ergonomic furniture is crafted with the finest quality wood and workmanship imaginable. The fit and finish of these pieces is so absolutely impeccable that the Danish cabinetmakers fashioned the parts you don’t normally see as beautifully as the parts you do. I’m pleased to report that Denmark’s cabinet making tradition is in evidence in these speakers. I carefully inspected every square inch of the cabinets. The bird’s-eye maple veneer was thick, and reeked of quality and richness. The side panels are produced with exceptionally accurate grain matching, to produce a mirror-image effect. This is a speaker you will love to fondle just for the pleasure of it. The sound of my knuckles rapping the wood was the same as hitting my head with a rock. This is one very stiff and solid cabinet. The WBT binding posts are gold plated and beautifully made, but not the best design I’ve encountered. Tightening the post did not inspire confidence that I was getting the best possible connection. Getting a secure fit required wiggling the spade connector back and forth with one hand while tightening the post with the other, although on occasion the post could not be tightened further, yet the spade was still loose enough to be pulled out with a tug. Perhaps this is due to the size of the spades on my MIT cables.

Setup was relatively straightforward. I placed the speakers in approximately the same positions I have my Maggies parked. Dynaudio supplies two foam inserts for plugging the two rear bass ports, but my initial listening was performed with both ports unplugged and the supplied spikes installed. I started my first listening session with “Bees Wing,” a track from Richard Thompson’s excellently produced CD, Mirror Blue. This is a delightful love song, well recorded, with gorgeous guitar work throughout. I was immediately struck by the rich detail and grainy texture of Thompson’s voice. I’ve been to several Richard Thompson concerts, and this sounded just like him. The guitar work was impeccably rendered, with speed, transparency, and a strikingly realistic tone. The mix of voice and guitar hung in a spatial relationship that wooed me into thinking “Yes, this is what it’s all about.” I listened to the song several times and enjoyed it each time.

Next was my favorite track, “I Ride in Your Slipstream.” Those of you unfamiliar with this song need to do something about it. It’s a kick-butt rocker that jumps right out of the pen and continues to build momentum until the end. There’s an abundance of low frequency information blasting through a wall of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and drums, and here is where I first encountered a problem with excessive, boomy, and out-of-control midbass. My listening room is fairly well damped, and I’ve paid close attention to the details in order to make my listening environment as acoustically neutral as possible. I tried everything to tame this highly distracting phenomenon. I moved the speakers around to minimize what I thought might be an interaction, one at a time as well as two at a time. I removed and reinstalled the floor spikes. Nothing made any difference!

I was disturbed. I played tracks from a wide variety of CDs and LPs. I played rock, jazz, and world music. To varying degrees, the same problem existed regardless of what was spinning. I could not listen to any music that had even a slight bass emphasis, except at very low volume. Even my wife commented several times about the excessive bass. It was with disappointment and a certain degree of sadness that I packed these puppies up after just one week of listening, as I had hoped to be swept off my feet by them. I love the way they look, and their pedigree implies they are special indeed. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. In my opinion, the Contour 3.3 has a long way to go before it’s a winner. Pat Brady





Reimer Speaker Systems Tetons.

Clayton Audio M100 monoblock amplifiers. E.A.R. 834P phono stage. Blue Circle BC3000 preamp w/Tunsgram tubes, and BCG3.1 power supply.

EAD T1000 transport and EVS Millenium II DAC with Audient Technologies’ Tactic and Audit, and Taddeo Digital Antidote Two. Linn Axiss turntable with K9 cartridge and Basik Plus arm.

JPS Superconductor+ interconnects, digital, and NC speaker cables. Sahuaro Slipstream, Blue Circle BC63, and JPS Kaptovator AC cables.

PS Audio P300 Power Plant.
Dedicated 20 and 15 amp ac circuits. Shakti Stones and On-Lines. EchoBuster room treatments. BDR cones and board, DH cones, Vibrapods, Mondo racks and stands, Townshend Audio 2D and 3D Seismic Sinks, various hard woods, etc.


two.jpg (6646 bytes)For the past eighteen years I have had the privilege and challenge of teaching some of the brightest and most gifted students at the school where I am employed as a fifth grade teacher of math and science. The privilege comes from being able to work with a great group of kids who have the ability and opportunity to become successful college graduates, and the challenge comes from getting them to actually be in a position for this to occur. An effective classroom environment is based on meeting the needs of the students. To do so requires one to change the program or strategies used so that each student’s learning is optimized. This means that if Johnny or Suzy needs to work with Tommy or Debbie to get their work done, so be it. It also means that what works for one child may not work for another. In my class, there are open assignments with multiple answers or solutions to a problem, none any more correct than another. It is an active class, in which students float from one group or teaching approach to the next, staying where they are able to work and learn the best.

While this works for the vast majority, there are still those who are unable to blossom into successful students. No matter what I do, I am unable to unlock their true potential as learners, and they do not succeed. Are they failures? I would like to think not. Perhaps in another system, with a different approach, they may become what I hope for. Unfortunately, I am unable to meet the needs of everyone, regardless of how much I try. Sometimes, students require what I can not offer, but the right program is not readily available, or not an option. I believe that all students can learn and be successful, though I am sane enough to realize that not all students are created equal.

What does all this have to do with the Dynaudio Contour 3.3 loudspeakers? As much as I tried, I was never able to get them to really work in my system. I think that they may be better suited to an environment I was unable to offer. At best, the 3.3s sounded dull and lifeless, with an overly rich and ripe bottom end. Too much bloom and not enough slam. Additionally, music was anchored to the speakers and never really let loose rhythmically. Regardless of what I did, the 3.3s never came alive like my similarly-priced Reimer Tetons can do with the same electronics and music. I tried the Dynaudios in as many places as practical, ending up at just over four feet from the back wall (measured from the front baffle). I tried various degrees of toe-in toward the listener. All helped, but nothing mitigated the problems. Neither did stuffing the ports with the supplied foam inserts. These are good speakers, very good in fact. I have heard them at several shows sounding quite wonderful, but with my electronics and room they were a sad disappointment. A bigger room, perhaps? Maybe, but the Reimers are much larger, with more driver area, and they work quite well.

Compared to the Reimers, the 3.3s lacked cohesion, clarity, pace, and openness. I found them more fatiguing and less involving then any $7000 pair of speakers should be. Music took on a sameness that was shaded to the dark side. It lacked the subtleties that are woven deep within the musical tapestry. Complex instrumental passages were confusing. These are very well-thought-out speakers, using some of the best components and cabinetry around, and they come from one of the most respected loudspeaker manufacturers around. So what gives? Well, if I had to point my finger, it would have to be the Clayton M100s. Is 100 watts enough? While the 3.3s are not the last word in efficiency (89dB @ 4 ohms), the M100s and the rest of my system are a fine theoretical match. And, one of the better rooms at the 2000 CES featured Clayton amps and the Dynaudio Reference Confidence 3 loudspeakers. Talk about fast, coherent, and clean! This system possessed everything that mine, using the 3.3s and the M100s, lacked. But the CES system used the bigger 200-watt stereo Claytons, as well as DH Labs cables. More power, a cable that features silver on copper versus my JPS Superconductor 2s, which tend to be warmer and richer than silver cables. Yes, I think we are on to something here—poor system synergy.

The 3.3s want power, and lots of it. Make that fast, clean power that leans to the analytical side rather than the warmer, more easygoing side. The longer I listened to the 3.3s, the more I could see what they were capable of achieving, but were unable to realize due to the system they had been placed in. While they sounded as I’ve described above, I also heard a very dynamic speaker with amazingly deep and powerful bass, way deeper and more powerful than any smallish loudspeaker with this complement of drivers had any right to be. The 3.3s were pretty much equal to the Reimers in this regard, and the Reimers have the driver complement and cabinet design to justify their prodigious bass capabilities. Even so, to get any sense of what the 3.3s could do, I had to play music at a level that was just too loud for serious listening.

The first thing that came to mind was to pair these with the Gryphon integrated amp that Dynaudio North America sent along for review, but alas, the colleague who had it was deep into his review process. Different cabling was also a wash. I was stuck with a mismatched system that lacked the program to get the 3.3s to work at their full potential. I have heard them sound way better, and believe that in the right environment they can be truly revelatory. One just has to find the right environment to make them work, which unfortunately I was unable to do. Dave Clark





ProAc Response 2 with Target stands.

Jeff Rowland Consonance preamplifier (phono stage removed). Krell KPA phono preamplifier w/upgraded power supply. Jeff Rowland Model 1 or Conrad Johnson Premier 11 amplifier.

VPI HW-19 IV with VPI PLC, Eminent Technology Tonearm 2, Wisa pump and surge tank. Benz Micro MC3 cartridge. Audio Alchemy Digital Drive System transport. Audio Alchemy DTI v1.0. Meridian 606 D/A converter.

Cardas Golden Hexlink 5c interconnects and speaker cables.


three.jpg (8484 bytes)I made the decision to buy mini-monitors some time ago, for reasons of both price and space, as my listening room is very small. After living with my ProAc Response 2s for some time, though, I’ve begun to miss the larger soundstage and bass underpinnings that floorstanding speakers can give. The problem is, floorstanders of equal or greater quality will set me back a pretty penny, and how do I fit them in my room? In the last few years, however, the price-to-performance ratio in loudspeakers has improved, and there are many floorstanders whose size is not much greater than the ProAcs mounted on their obligatory stands, and the Dynaudio Contour 3.3s have cemented my resolve to move back to larger, full range speakers.

Some will say there is nothing unusual about the design of the 3.3s. They don’t have the curves or esoteric cabinet materials that some manufacturers are now using, though they are finely-built boxes. Finished in beech veneer, the review pair was both beautiful and solid. The veneer is even mitered at the corners, making it very difficult to tell that the cabinets are not made from solid wood. The side panels, despite their size, are dense and stiff, suggesting extensive internal bracing to alleviate cabinet resonance. The 3.3s have two ports on the rear of each cabinet, and come supplied with foam plugs to be used if the speakers are to be placed near a back wall. Although not mentioned by the manufacturer, I found that I could tune the bass a bit by using only one plug in either port or by inserting the plugs only partially. This effectively, albeit unscientifically, adjusted backpressure. Like the other speakers in the Dynaudio line, however, there is no option for mass loading with sand or lead.

Because the Contours are so revealing, my notes taken while listening to them are a mess, full of contradicting remarks. Listening notes made while listening to LPs are completely different from those made while listening to CDs. For example, one night I sat down to listen to Joan Armatrading’s self-titled album, expecting great dynamics. I did not get them, and thought the problem might be that my low-power amps were giving up under the Dynaudios’ greed for power. Looking through my collection for extremely dynamic recordings of female vocalists, the next two records I put on told a different story. Carly Simon’s Anticipation showed far more contrast between soft and loud, but with a severely softened attack on drums and guitar, while Linda Ronstadt’s Round Midnight was positively alive. It seems the Contours cannot be used to hide warts. They will reveal flaws in less-than-adequate playback equipment just as ruthlessly as they reveal the timbre of a recording. Fortunately, though, they don’t make poorly-recorded records painful to listen to.

One reason I’ve been hesitant to move to floorstanding speakers is that I seldom find bass that I like at a price I can swallow. I abhor accentuated bass that does not integrate well with the midrange. This "thumper" bass has become even more prevalent and bothersome to vinyl lovers as manufacturers have begun to tune their products for digital-only playback. The low end of the Contours suffers none of this. I found the bass produced by its two 20-cm woofers to be absolutely musically convincing but never overbearing. At times the bass is barely there because it blends so seamlessly into the midrange and the music. The Contours will not kick you in the gut, imparting artificial bass for added impact. When called upon by tympanis or an upright bass, the 3.3s deliver detail, air, and imaging, even in the lower octaves. Some will want a bit more visceral excitement from the low end than the 3.3s can provide, but this is asking for a presentation that deviates from reality.

The midrange of the 3.3s is astonishingly neutral. The Contours straddle the line between the euphonic and the analytical styles. There is a slight boxiness or nasal quality to the midrange that can make strings sound just a bit wiry, but with extended listening I got used to the Contours’ anomalies, and they did not bother me. I look for speakers that can create a convincing illusion of reality, and can forgive some faults in exchange for that illusion. The Contours also sound just the slightest bit relaxed, but this does nothing to damage the magic. They are not dynamically limited, but can sound that way because they play with such ease. In fact, once drawn in, the presentation seems perfectly logical. What is left is one of the most believable presentations I have ever heard in my home. Image depth seems to go on forever. Width is not quite as extended as I’ve heard with other speakers, but there is no sense of the side wall cutting off the image prematurely. Instead, the edges just trail off smoothly at the sides. The Contours create an amazingly convincing holographic sense of space and surroundings, and place instruments or performers precisely within this space.

Detail is abundant through the Contours, without sounding analytical or etched. Listening to the wonderful Pizza Tapes from Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Tony Rice, each guitar is separated in space in a way I have never heard before. The Contours clearly reveal the sounds of fingers touching strings, as well as Jerry Garcia’s wheezing while playing. The Contours also excel at vocals, revealing another layer of detail over my ProAcs. Through the 3.3s, the very quiet trailing edges of vocals become evident. You even get a sense of the breath control and emotion of vocalists. This shows a level of inner detail that I am simply at a loss for words to describe.

A few months ago I reviewed the Dynaudio Audience 72s. Although the Contours use a different tweeter, I find a similar sibilance in the uppermost registers of the high end. Like the 72s, there is a crispy overtone well above the frequencies produced by most instruments. Because this is in the very highest frequencies, it does not affect the music. Rather, it is separate from the primary image, much like ticks and pops in a record. Although many will be able to listen through this, it is worth mentioning.

The Contour 3.3s have a dynamic ease that provides a sense of realism I’ve never experienced in my listening room. They seem to play effortlessly at any volume. Listening volume is limited by room resonance in my small room, overloading long before any compression or congestion is evident from the Dynaudios. Detail and image are not affected at any listening volume. I found myself listening critically and comfortably at much higher volumes than usual.

As much as I liked the Contour 3.3s, I can’t help but think that I don’t have the right equipment to allow them to perform at their best. Like the Audience speakers, the Contours are not extremely efficient. They long for and deserve a more powerful amp than I can offer. In the audioMUSINGS tradition, I simply inserted the Dynaudios into my system to see how they would sound. In my room, I was able to get away with this, but in larger rooms, seventy watts just isn’t going to cut it. Independent of the power issue, some speakers like tube amplification and others prefer solid state. My gut tells me that valves may not be the best amplification solution for the Dynaudios. Your mileage may vary.

It should be noted that in my critique of the Dynaudios, I am comparing them to my memory of some of the finest, price-no-object speakers I have heard. Their overall performance puts them squarely amongst that high-level competition. The Contours provide an effortless sense of power, with a midrange that is utterly fluid and free of grain. The boxes disappear so convincingly that they seem to take up space in the room needlessly. The music seems to come from somewhere else. They do require lots of power, and the high-quality power they need does not come cheap. In addition, their transparency and timbral anomalies require careful system matching. I don’t think the Contours are the best answer with my electronics. Then again, I liked them so much that I might just consider replacing the rest of my equipment in order to hold onto them.
Bryan Gladstone




Dynaudio Contour 3.3 loudspeakers
Retail $6995

Dynaudio North America
TEL: 630. 238. 4200
email address: Info@dynaudiousa.com
web address: www.dynaudio.com