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Positive Feedback ISSUE 8
as reviewed by Larry Cox and Jim Grudzien
Because of my "seniority" here at Positive Feedbackhah!I've usually only written about stuff that I like, and that interested me before I started listening to it. This explains why so many of my reviews have been positive. The money I get paid ($0) doesn't justify the pain of listening to a product that doesn't intrigue me. However, when I agreed to listen to a product Jim Grudzien had heard at CES, I did so without even having heard of the line.
DALI is the acronym for Danish Audio Loudspeaker Industry. DALI sells twenty percent of all speakers in the Nordic region of Europe. The company has seemingly flourished without a U.S. presence, having been absent from this market for about five years. It has now set its sights on not only getting a toehold in the U.S., but creating a major presence here. They want to be one of the top ten loudspeaker manufacturers in the world by 2004, and as DALI acknowledges, that ain't likely to occur without a U.S. presence.
DALI uses two-person teams to build each loudspeaker from start to finish. Each speaker has a metal badge with the builders' signatures on it, so if you're happy with your DALIs, you'll even know whom to thank. The Grands lead the DALI product line that is second from the top, with only the Megaline and Euphonia lines being higher. The Grands are well made, neat in appearance, and fairly large. Although they present a relatively narrow face, they are sixteen inches deep and over forty-six inches high, and were a large and heavy presence in our living room. They are bi-wired, for bananas only. My first nit is the wisdom of using bananas, let alone two sets of bananas, for a speaker. Bananas require the tension developed by a small, largely unsupported part of the metal connector to maintain contact, while having to resist the far greater tension of the cable. The pressure-fit connection of the banana can't stop a speaker cable from coming loose. While loose speaker cables probably won't harm your speakers, if both connectors to a speaker come loose and touch each other, it could fry your fabulous amplifier. DALI's bananas are no worse than anyone else's, but it's worth mentioning, particularly if you have stiff speaker cables. During my time with the Grands, if I wanted to move the speakers, I had to turn off my amplifiers and remove the bananas, because the bananas were unable to resist the cables' stiffness, and inevitably popped out of their sockets.
The Grands are five-driver speakers, each containing two rear-firing ports, two eight-inch woofers, two five-inch midrange drivers, and a slightly-larger-than-one-inch modified silk dome tweeter. With a sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal 4-ohm impedance that drops to no more than 3.2 ohms, the Grands presented no problems for my 100-watt E.A.R. 509 monoblocks. They represent a lot of speaker for a reasonable price, though they will be "inexpensive" only to those who are financially set.
Before I began writing for audioMUSINGS and Positive Feedback Online, I owned Vandersteen 2Cis. The Vandersteens had deep bass response, and easily filled the relatively large room they were in, in a zaftig sort of way. They sounded full, rich, and less defined than "skinnier" speaker would be. Although I've had some excellent speakers in the ten years since, none has really had the full "Party on, Garth" sound and bottom end that rules the room like the Vandersteens, so having the DALIs in the house was a treat.
With those rear-firing ports, the DALIs' considerable bass required placing them about four or five feet from the rear wall in order to keep the bass from overloading the room. Once bass reinforcement from the back wall was reduced, they had good bass response. There was a two-foot range in which the bass sounded best, and within that two feet there was probably a six-inch range that gave the fullest, tightest low end. With the Grands optimally situated, their bass was full and fun, althoughas with many ported speakersit didn't seem as tight as with sealed boxes. After having many, many smaller speakers in my new listening room, it was a joy not to need a subwoofer. A subwoofer might have filled things in more, but wasn't necessary to get deep, satisfying bass with the Grands.
DALI recommends that the Grands be pointed straight ahead, so I started listening that way. The sound was pleasing, full-bodied, somewhat diffuse, and comparable to my Vandersteens in its rounded, robust character. The sound was far from that of sharp and harshly-drawn speakers that tell you everything there is to know about a recording, your system, and your room. Rather, the sound was somewhat romantic in its ability to conjure up the emotion of music. It seems that in audio you can get a rich sound or you can get a resolving sound, but it takes a lot of money to get both.
Favorite discs like Mary Black's No Frontiers, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Facing Future, Secret Garden's In the Secret Garden, and Julian Bream's rendering of Concerto de Aranjuez blossomed through the DALIs. The Grands conveyed the largeness of each recording, including ones in which the mix was spare. No Frontiers is a relatively spare recording, in which a simple four-piece group was allowed to hold more real estate (bigger images) and to expand (more space between performers), with an exceptional and enjoyable bottom end for both the drum kit and the electric bass. The size of the acoustic environment was well documented by the Grands, with the added treat of an intimate musical experience.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was almost lifelike in size (which says something special, as he weighed over six hundred pounds), yet the Grands retained the paradoxical delicacy of his vocals. Secret Garden sounded lush, and as colorful and rich as a Monet watercolor. The Concerto de Aranjuez exhibited a seamless expansion from Mr. Bream's solo lute playing to the entire orchestra during crescendos. I've been listening to a wonderful test CD from Ensemble Audio of Switzerland, called Sounds in Natural Perspective. A mix of the simple and the complex, it is a collection of music that begins with the spring season (Copland's Appalachian Spring) and ends with wintera Christmas Choir recorded by Simax. The spring-to-winter breadth of the CD's subject matter is matched by its breadth of music, from solo violin to a massive choir to the deep bass of a Bach fugue. After I got over how much I enjoyed the sound of Sounds, I noticed how well the Grands did orchestral music. Dave Clark has been harping on the fact that small speakers sound small, and now that I have heard the Grands, I can see what he means. Imaging and soundstage, important to Dave, are still not important to me, but what I did like was that there was more room for music to develop. The recreation of an event could be as large as the original event.
The DALI Grands were very, very nice, but I have one last little nitwith no toe-in, the sound was slightly diffuse. Perhaps that's why the sound had room to develop. The diffusion wasn't a big problem, just something at odds with the rest of the speakers' performance. After listening to ATCs, Spendors, and Verity Audio's very fine Taminos, I wanted more resolution, so I committed the faux pas of toeing the speakers in. This greatly improved both image specificity and clarity, getting me closer to the ATCs' electrostatic clarity and the Taminos' precision. Although all the virtues I mentioned above remained intact, one further nit arose with vocals, both male and female. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole developed an ever-so-slight but continuous graininess, which also showed up in No Frontiers, Pink Martini's Sympathique, Emmylou Harris' Red Dirt Girl, and other music dominated by vocals. This is probably why DALI suggests no toe-in.
Nevertheless, I contemplated purchasing the review pair. The Grands offer a lot of value for your money. They are easy to drive. They have loads of good bass, allowing me to consider forgoing a subwoofer in my very large room. The Grands' sound was really engaging. It filled the room, and locked down the rhythm such that it turned on a quarter, if not a dime. However, the Grands were missing a little of the resolution that I have come to want in a speaker.
The DALI Grands are highly recommended for people with large rooms, and who love the emotional experience of music. They aren't finicky about amplification, and can be matched to a modest amplifier and still give plenty of sound. If and when you're ready to upgrade your electronics, you'll step up their performance, but you won't need to have all of your ducks in a row before springing for the Grands. Nevertheless, if you want seamless, immediate detail with a focused sound, you will need to look elsewhere. Larry Cox
When I first experienced the Dali line at T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas, I admitted to Ben Gosvig, their national sales manager, that I'd never heard of them. He told me that they were being re-introduced to the USA after a four- to five-year absence. Am I glad they are!
The pair of Dali Grands that I received had an absolutely beautiful rosewood finish. They stand 46-1/2 inches high, 16-1/2 inches deep, and 11 inches wide, and weigh a hefty 99 pounds apiece. Each speaker employs two 8-inch woofers, two 5-inch midrange drivers, and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. Their frequency range is 33 Hz to 27 kHz, and they have a sensitivity of 90dB. They are 4-ohm speakers, and their power rating is 50-500 watts. The workmanship on the Grands is absolutely impeccable. They are solid as rocks. The cabinets are perfectly stained, beautifully sculpted wood. Dali actually applies veneer to both sides of the cabinet, to reduce stress and provide additional reinforcement. The speakers are bi-wireable, although they only accept banana plugs, and have two ports on the rear to reduce the effects of port turbulence. The Grands are designed to be fired straight ahead. I found that this not only creates a huge soundstage, but eliminates the need to sit in the "hot seat" for optimal listening pleasure. A Grand owner of my acquaintance recommended toeing them in 5 to 10 degrees. This increased focus but reduced the soundstage.
When the Grands arrived, I still had the review sample of the Nightingale Armonia, a 20-watt tube integrated amp, on hand. I hooked it up to the Grands and played the Songs from a Secret Garden CD. The sound was very sweet, in fact was so beautiful that my wife came out of another room to hear it. All this and they weren't broken in yet! For this review I used the Armonia and my 105-watt (210 into 4 ohms) Denon home theater receiver. Each had its own sound on the Grands; both were good. The Armonia was more musical, liquid, sweet, and sexy sounding (especially with female vocals), but was on the slow side, which caused the bass to lag and to sound bloated and soft. The Armonia's 20 watts probably had something to do with thisI don't think it had enough power to adequately drive the Grands. A set of spikes (none were supplied) would probably have helped with the bass. The Denon was much faster, had more punch, firmed up the bass, and sounded more precise. I found the Grands to be fairly accommodating, but they like a rather fast amp and plenty of power. At times I even wondered if my Denon had enough power for them.
While I had the Grands, my musical play list was all over the place, from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Hans Theesink, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Radka Toneff, and Secret Garden. I put the Grands through a rigorous workout, playing them softly and very loudly. With Radka Toneff singing "The Moon is a Cruel Mistress," I could hear the despair in her voice. Hans Theesink's rendition of "The Planet", from his Call Me CD, emphasizes his deep, deep voice. On the Grands it sounded rich and full, with Jon Sass' tuba playing filling my rather large listening room, much like a live concert. Boy, can the Grands do bass!
With Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the Grands provided a very life-like presentation. Israel's voice, the major force on his CDs, was delicate and light, but also had weight, with the right amount of male chestiness. This can only be achieved with a speaker that does a good job with bass. The backup instruments, primarily his ukulele, seemed to have the correct amount of attack and decay.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing the soundtrack from Fantasia 2000, was an ear-opening experience. From the slinky, sexy clarinet at the opening of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue to the big, bold brass at the opening of Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, the Grands reproduced the full range of the music in a most realistic manner, especially when firing straight ahead. There is a passage about 2 and 1/2 minutes into Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1919 version), in which all the instruments seem to come alive, with a large blast that almost knocked me off my chair. The Grands do complex music extremely wellthe more complex the music, the more these speakers shine.
The Secret Gardens CD, Songs from a Secret Garden, opens with the tune "Nocturne," with the hauntingly sexy voice of Gunnhild Tvinnereim accompanied by the RTE Concert Orchestra. This is a truly lovely CD, and another example of the Grands' ability to convey the mood of the music and evoke an emotional response from the listener.
What about rock music, you ask? The Grands were simply superb with the likes of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over. Each song was a wonderful trip down memory lane. The bass line on Rumours was exemplary, and Stevie Nicks voice was as good as I've heard it. The Eagles are a staple in my home, and Hell Freezes Over has always gotten its fair share of play time. I loved the opening acoustic guitar solo by Don Felder on "Hotel California," each pluck and strum of the strings sounding as if he were in the room with me. An upright drum is struck after the solo, and BAM! I could feel it in my chest when I had the volume turned up a bit. Yes, the Grands can do rock.
As with all speakers, there are plusses and minuses with the Grands, but the plusses far outweigh the minuses. On the down side, they are quite large, they require a fast amp with a lot of power, no spikes are provided, and they only accept banana terminations. The positives are plenty: From the highest high to the deepest low, the Grands had me glued to my chair, enjoying every moment. They handle complex music effortlessly, and love to be played loud, but don't lose much when turned down. They excel with all types of music, from a soprano sax solo to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. These Dalis were Grand, indeed.
They aren't the most revealing speakers out there, but should match up well with most amps, though the more power the better. The Grands will convey whatever musical message your system has to offer. I've decided to keep this pair for myself. Highly recommended. Jim Grudzien