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Helicon 300 loudspeakers
as reviewed by John Brazier
The Dali Helicon 300s are gorgeous—so much so that, as fellow PFO writer Jim Grudzien unpacked them, he demanded that I look at the tops of the speakers so I could revel in their beauty before they were fully unpacked. The tops were stunning. Doing my due diligence, I visited Dali's website before I received the Helicons. If you do the same, be warned that the pictures of the Helicon 300s do not do them justice. I expected not-so-hot-looking speakers, but could not have been more wrong. If I were to consider a pair of speakers based on their looks, and how they complement a room, these would be the ones. If "significant other acceptance factor" is a consideration, you should consider them, too. The downside to looking so fantastic it is that the matching stands are a must, but the additional $1450 is a tough pill to swallow. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I did not have the stands, but it took very little imagination to visualize the combination sitting in my living room. I set the 300s on my black metal, four-pillar, 24-inch Sound Organization stands, which look fine.
The 300 is a traditional, bi-wireable, two-way bass reflex design. The binding posts are of above-average quality, and the speakers are supplied with pliable copper jumpers. "Two-way" is a bit of a misnomer. Although there is only one crossover point, there are two tweeters set above the 6.5-inch mid/woofer. One is a soft dome and the other is a ribbon, which is the configuration of all the Dali speakers in both the Helicon line and the pricier Euphonia line. The tweeter complement is encased in a common aluminum block, which is said to increase stiffness and create more body and air. The woofer is custom-made for the Helicon series, with new, extra-lightweight, wood-and-paper composite cones and dust caps, which, along with a high-acceleration-geometry cone shape, is said to create a faster driver.
The cabinets are constructed of multi-layer, high-pressure MDF with internal bracing. Each speaker weigh 20.9 pounds—about 7 pounds lighter than my current reference speakers, the Reference 3A MM De Cappo-is, which are similar in volume and size. I mention this only as a reference, as I consider the 3As to be among the most solidly built monitors. Performing the highly scientific rap test on the 300s exposed slight variations, from a solid knock to a more hollow sound.
Ben Gosvig of Dali USA tipped me off to the painfully long (150- to 200-hour) burn-in time of the Helicon 300s. Long burn-in times do not bother me, and should not bother you. If you like a pair of speakers and intend to keep them, a month or so of less-than-ideal performance is not a big deal. Even right out of the box, the 300s performed at 80 percent of capacity, and were fully enjoyable. Over time, the mids smoothed and the soundstage settled in, but the greatest improvement was in the bass. Dali reports a bottom end of 34.5Hz via the port. My experience suggests that that this is a bit too ambitious, at least in my home. To complete the key specs, the sensitivity of the 300s is 86dB (2.86v/1m) and their nominal impedance is 4 Ohms.
Setup was pretty straightforward. I followed Dali's recommended placement of about 8 feet apart and at least 25 cm from the rear wall, with no toe-in. Locating them 16 inches from the rear wall got the best out of what my room had to offer. I did play with toe-in, but found that this did not affect the sound (either negatively or positively).
My listening room is not dedicated, and I believe that the limiting factor in the performance of the 300s was my room. Because it serves as our living room, placement is limited, as are the use of any beneficial room treatments to mitigate reflections and such. That said, I found them to be great speakers. Their best attribute was their reproduction of human voice. I played Joss Stone's Mind, Body & Soul at different stages of the break-in period, and over time, her voice gained depth, dynamics, and body, until she sounded every bit as good as she does on my 3As.
The 300s have no predilection for male or female voices. Willie Nelson's 2002 release, The Great Divide, exemplifies the male end of the spectrum. "Mendocino County Line" has dynamics that are uniquely Willie's, and the Helicons were able to convincingly capture the brushed rasp of his voice. The paper-fiber cones worked in concert to bring him alive. Strangely, while the lead vocals were front and center, the other components of the soundstage lacked stability, and their capricious, arbitrary placement confused the presentation. This may be due to my less-than-perfect listening room, but other speakers that I have heard in my home have not suffered from this problem. I would have loved to clear out the extra bedroom and dial in the speakers, but, like most people, I have to combine my listening and living spaces.
I have never heard such a clean and extended top end from any other speakers in my home. I admit that I have not heard any other speakers with ribbon tweeters. At first, I was in awe of the top end of the 300s, but when I became accustomed to it, I had higher expectations for other speakers. Hillary Hahn's performance of Elgar's Violin Concerto and Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending reaches very high. I have been using this recording as a reference lately, as it is clean and has an uncanny realism. Even with my current reference speakers, the highs on this recording fizzle and crackle at the tippy-top. Not so with the 300s—Hahn's violin soared without restraint.
To test the 300s' bottom end, I played Zero 7's "Distraction," from the CD Simple Things. Fronted by a sultry female voice, the recording picks up on the bass fundamentals, while just below are true bass notes. A speaker's ability to define and separate similar low-frequency notes is a testament to its engineering. Simple Things was loaded with opportunities for the Helicons to shine, and they did not disappoint. Going even deeper, I broke out Massive Attack's Mezzanine, replete with funky, deep bass notes and kick drums. The Helicons were as tight and as deep as any stand-mounted monitors I have heard.
One of the reasons that I prefer stand-mounted speakers is their ability to disappear. There is nothing like listening to one of your favorite recordings and having the music envelop you. If the points of origin of low-frequency notes are indistinguishable, then the converse is perhaps true—the higher the frequency, the more distinguishable the points of origin. The Helicons' clean top end may have contributed to my inability to lose myself in the music.
These are very nice speakers. Their only "drawback" I heard was a relatively inconsistent soundstage. Notes would pop out of the speakers at inappropriate times and places. This, along with their inability to disappear in my home, are my only criticisms, though I am willing to concede that my listening room is no doubt more then likely responsible for these sonic anomalies, than are the speakers. The Dali Helicon 300s are very enjoyable. At a little under $3000 a pair, they are not inexpensive, and they have many competitors, but check out these beautiful and highly competent loudspeakers. John Brazier