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Dynaudio Audience 42 Bookshelf Speakers

Great Things Come in Small Packages

[Italian version]

Product: Audience 42 Bookshelf Speakers
Manufacturer: Dynaudio
Approx.cost: $ 700 USD/Euro
Reviewer: Scott Faller - TNT USA
Published: February, 2003

[Dynaudio Audience 42's]
The 42's in Cherry and Maple


Trivial Bits

Where do I start with the Dyn's?

I guess my local dealer is as good a place to begin as any. Here in St Louis, we have a shop called Music for Pleasure. The word "shop" doesn't really do this place justice. MFP is a high end Audio Salon. In fact (guessing actually), these guys probably rank in the top ten best Salons in the States. They carry full lines of Krell, Linn, Naim, Arcam, Primaire, Clayton Audio, Tag MacLaren, Nottingham, Dynavector, Martin Logan, Acoustic Energy, Transparent, and Dynaudio (plus a few others I've forgotten). Their shop has (count 'em) eight dedicated listening rooms. Each room has only one full system in it. If you want to hear a Linn system (LP 12 and speakers included), just walk into MFP. They also have a large open area with six more systems of varying types set up.

What these guys have done, is to provide a true and accurate listening environment that will come really close to what you would (probably) hear in your own home. The rooms are decorated in ultra modern, minimalist fashion so that you can get the most music out of each room (it's that whole Feng Shui thing). This is an extremely cool shop. I've yet to see it's rival, if there is one. If you happen to be passing through St Louis, they are well worth the visit. You will most certainly be impressed even if you are a tube fanatic.

Over the years, this is where I cut my teeth with the Dynaudio speaker line. Back before they moved to their new location, I had the extreme good fortune to listen (quite frequently I might add) to the Dynaudio Evidence Master speakers, all $105,000 worth of them (the Masters base price is $85,000, want 'em in Steinway Black and you can add just a few more bucks :-) They were in the shop for about a year or so. The owner of MFP decided he wanted a pair for himself.

The piano black Evidence's were finished by Steinway (the piano guru's). These were the only pair in existence at the time, in fact, there are only two pairs in the world now. The Masters were driven by none other than the flagship Krell 650Mc's, balanced mono blocks (the 650Mc's have since been replaced with the 750Mx's) and the Krell combination Pre and CD player KPS 25sc. Together, the Krell gear weighed in at slightly over $45,000. The cables were the $31,000 Transparent Opus (carpet cockroaches) and the Opus interconnects. In a word (or few), this was like attaining Nirvana. I could have kacked right there on the spot, without regret and felt that I had experienced everything in life. The sound was like none other that I have ever experienced, or probably ever will again. This wasn't about money. This was about music. In-f***ing-credible is the only way put it (sorry about that :-)

Enough of obsessing over Evidence and that system, I could never (in my wildest dreams) afford it, but that sound will stay with me forever.

In the meanwhile, I've been left to dream and relegated to listen to the more reasonably priced Dynaudio speakers. That's not to say I can afford the Temptations or Confidence's MFP has on the floor either :-) Not to worry, Dynaudio has a pair of speakers to fit everybody's budget. The Audience series that I have here starts at about $700 and goes up from there. Not bad considering the quality of sound you get from their entry line speakers.

Over the years, I've fallen in love with the Dyn sound. If weren't aware, Dynaudio manufactures their own drivers and cabinets. Their drivers have long been a favorite for the DIY speaker crowd. Unfortunately for us, Dyn decided to not to offer raw drivers anymore. Shame, I wish I had invested in a bunch before they pulled them, just so I could play with some different DIY designs. Oh well :-|

Manufacturers Published Data

Model Name

Dynaudio Audience 42

Type

Bookshelf, 2 way, Bass Reflex

Driver Compliment

28 mm Tweeter, 15 cm woofer

Frequency Response

53 Hz to 23 kHz

Sensitivity

86 dB

Nominal Impedance

4 ohms

Power Handling

150 watts (long term power handling)

Size

170 x 282 x 246 cm

Weight

4.8 kg

Crossover Frequency

1800 Hz

Lets Listen for a While

The Dyn's behind the Korato/AKSA Combo
One of the things you have to realize about Dyn speakers, they have that Front Row Center sound. They hide absolutely nothing. Some people don't care for that sound and would probably prefer a more "relaxed" speaker. I'm on the opposite end of that spectrum. I want to hear the footsteps of the performers as they walk around the stage. When you ask for that much detail out of a system, they usually end up cold and clinical sounding, devoid of life and emotion. All the great things about music.

The combination of the Korato, AKSA, Tjoeb and the Dyn's is anything but devoid of life. The Dyn's provide all the detail I could ever hope for without being lifeless, much less being fatiguing. This systems presentation is slightly on the warm side using the JAN's in the Tjoeb but personally, I think it's a great combination. Plus, it's loads of fun to listen to and very inviting to boot.

Generally speaking, I could drive the Dyn's up to about 102dB without much audible distortion. The 102dB was on transients and not continious volume levels. One of the great tests was listening to Dean Peers. He is an absolute master of the four string electric bass. His song Lords Tundra is a virtuoso and acts as a great guide to all aspiring bass players. This music is fast, ultra dynamic and well defined. And how did the Dyn's do? They just plain rocked.

The Dyn's Behind RAM 301
After listening for a while to all different types of music, I found that the Dyn's seem to like a bit more current (and wattage) to perform at their best. As good as the RAM's sound, I'm afraid that Dyn's aren't probably a good match for a low power, low(er) current amp if you are looking to rock the house. At 86dB and a 4 ohm load, these can be just a tad difficult to drive into high sound pressure levels on a low powered amp. On the other hand, if you listen at moderate levels, a lower powered solid state amp will do you just fine. Add the tubed pre (like the RAM 301's have) and you are talking some pretty fine sounding music.

The Dyn's Behind the HH Scott 299
Now this was an interesting combination. I don't know how many of you out there ever considered driving a pair of Dyn's with valved gear, but his combination has some real merit. Obviously the puny watts of the 299 (all 18 of them) won't exactly rock the house, but if you fed the 42's about 40 or 50 push pull tube watts, these things would sound great, seriously great.

The pure tube setup has a completely different feel and presentation than the tubed front end and solid state follower. There is something inherently inviting and musical about the all tubed system and the Dyn's. The one thing I lost was that solid state slam. That will vary (obviously) by the tube design you choose but it held true with the 299. It's not that the bass is bad by any means, it's just different with tubes.

You know, after listening to the Dyn's for a while driven by the 299, I think the bass my have subjectively improved. By improved, I don't mean the slam is back, but the bass has smoothed out significantly and may be more lifelike than with the solid state gear. If you are into acoustic music like Jazz and Classical, this could be a combination well worthy of looking into.

Anyway, just another option. Don't think for a minute that you can't match the Dyn's with pure tubes because you can. And when you do, you'll find music at the heart of the system, and to me, that's all that matters.

Objective Stuff

Fit, Finish and Basic Design
The 42's are your basic bookshelf or mini-monitor, 2 way design. They are rear ported and come with foam port plugs in case you have to push them back against the wall or (actually) set them on a bookshelf.

These little jewels definitely need a little room to breath. In my room, I found they sounded the smoothest about 30" away from the back wall and 48" away from the side walls. The stands I used were the TNT Stubby's.
Since the 42's are rear ported, back wall placement is pretty critical. The closer to the wall you get, the boomier the bass is. This can actually work to your advantage on certain bass-lite recordings. A quick repositioning of the speakers, and instantly you have some extra bass reinforcement without the use of tone controls. Whether it works every time will vary by the recording and your room (of course). The 42's also come with a port plug. It's just a round piece of foam that you can put in the port in case you have to place them against a wall.

If you've ever listened to a pair of Dynaudio speakers, you'll realize that the Dyn-elves build one hell of a fine speaker. One of Dynaudio's design beliefs is that a drivers voice coil size should be at least one half the diameter of the driver itself. In the 42's case, this 6" driver has a 3" voice coil. Not many (if any) manufacturers have that same philosophy.

Dynaudio has recently gone through some major upgrades to their stock product line. First, they have strengthened the cabinets with additional bracing. The front baffles now utilize 3/4" MDF to further reduce resonance's. The interior side walls now are lined with bitumen sheets to help with back wave damping and internal buildups. And finally, the Dyn-elves have updated the crossovers to help refine the sound in conjunction with their other upgrades. BTW, the crossovers are a simple 1st order, 6dB per octave for both the woofer and tweeter, for those of you (and me) appreciating for the minimalist approach to designs.

The pair I have here, has the Maple finish. It's drop dead gorgeous. The 42's have the typical matte gray front baffle finish. The 6" woofer is surface mounted and silk dome tweeter is flush mounted (partially) behind the woofer. This gets the acoustic centers of the two drivers pretty darned close to equal, helping with time alignment.

[woof.....er .... Get It ? Ha!!!]

Dynamics
This has always been one of my major draws to the Dynaudio speaker line. They are hugely dynamic speakers compared to many of their monkey coffin kin. This is where I feel the voice coil (and magnet) size plays a big part of the sound. Just like the Alnico magnet and it's absolute control over full range and vintage speakers, the larger voice coil and huge magnet design steers the dynamics and sound quality of these little gems.

It's interesting, many, many speakers when cranked hard, fold under the pressure. They get thin, harsh, suffer from compression and become (sometimes) unlistenable. When you start cranking the Dyn's, they stay surprisingly stable. If you like your music loud, these little gems just plain rock.

Treble Extension
The 42's have great extension. That "air" around the instruments that we love so well, is there in spades.

Treble Clarity
Dynaudio speakers are well loved for their Esotar soft dome tweeters. To those of you who have listened to Dyn's before, know well, how detailed and smooth this tweeter is. Many times, lessor tweeters can add all kinds of artificial effects to the highs. Cymbals can take on a metallic sheen. The highs get tizzy and very fatiguing. You won't find any of this with the 42's. The treble is crisp and very natural (albeit front row). As you probably know, I use a ribbon tweeter in the Beast. Though, the treble isn't as razor sharp as the Carvers, it is very, very good.

Midrange Clarity
The Dyn's midrange is very good. Measuring the speakers in room frequency response (at my listening seat, off axis, using my Sencore SP295c), confirmed what I thought I had heard. A very slight recess of the midrange centered at about 1.6kHz. That's just fine with me though. That frequency happens to be almost dead center of their 1.8k crossover range. If this recess wasn't there, these speakers would probably mow you down. They could be too much to handle, for me anyway. Actually, I find the midrange very natural in it's presentation. Absolutely no veiling at all. The transition from woofer to tweeter blends very well and is quite smooth without any noticeable nasties.

Female vocals are very smooth and accurate and loaded with detail. When you run across a voice like Ella Fitzgerald who's vocal range covers the frequency gamut, any weirdness that might take place in the midrange and crossover frequency would stand out like a sore thumb. Well, not here. The transition trough the mid's to the treble region is as smooth as can be.

[pure finesse]

Bass Clarity
One of my favorite songs to use for this test is Blue Man Groups Mandelgroove. Not only is this a great song dynamically, it has some kick ass bass and drum tracks. When the Blue guys start pounding on the Big Drum (12' diameter) it should come through clear as a bell, and on the Dyn's, it does. Not a hint of veiling or bass driver distortion covering it up.

Also at about 1:25 of the same track, the boys break in with some unidentifiable instrument as a virtuoso. I assume it's a bass guitar but it isn't listed on the liner notes. Sometimes you never really know what these guys are playing. The upper octaves and harmonics of that instrument should sound clear and concise and they do on the 42's. Bottom line, the Dyn's really shine in bass definition.

Bass Extension
Here is where the Dyn's excel. For a relatively tiny bookshelf speaker, these things put out an inordinate amount of bass. Granted they are doing via an EBS (extended bass shelf) design, but the Dyn-elves have figured how to tame that beast. It's a nice, fairly smooth trip down the old bass octave lane.

When it comes to small diameter bass drivers, when you hit them with heavy bass, they usually begin to bark and scream for mercy especially at higher SPL's. Not so with the 42's. As I am playing things like Blue Man Group, Mouth Music and Nils Petter Molvaer, it's almost as if these little speakers are daring me to turn it up louder. That's not to say they can't be blown, they sure can if you start feeding them 20Hz bass notes and driving them really hard at the same time. But you would be amazed at how tolerant the Dyn's are. It's almost scary.

It's not very often that you run across a small speaker that sounds "big". See, typically small speakers sound ..... well ..... small, and big speakers sound . well .... big. I'm not sure if you understand what I mean by that. Go out and find a really good sounding, classic 3 way design that utilizes a 10" or 12" woofer. Listen to it for a while, then switch over to a mini-monitor and you'll know exactly what I mean. The big speaker has a very distinct presence about it. It has an engulfing presentation or feel of ambiance to it. The 42's have almost that same presentation. One key difference, these come in a really small package.

So much of that presentation comes from the bass extension into the lower octaves. The Dyn's extend down there pretty low. Their chart says it begins to roll off (pretty heavy) at about 45Hz. I found, pretty much, the same thing. The bass is solid and not at all flabby, down into the lowest octaves.

Soundstage Depth
The soundstage of the 42's is fairly decent. Since these are a front row center speaker, you don't get that huge depth of sound field that you may get with other, more relaxed speakers. This is not a bad thing at all. See, it all comes down to compromises in speaker designs. If you like loads of detail and up front sound, you are going to sacrifice some depth of field. It just happens, it's the physics of speakers (and hearing). Also, much of the presentation is room dependant. My livelier room, may well detract a bit from the stage depth. That's Ok, all of the speakers that pass through my room will be on the same level playing field.

[could we all pay attention here for a minute.......PLEEEEASE]

I picked a couple of CD's that I feel have a fairly deep presentation of the sound field. Ry Cooder's, Buena Vista Social Club and Enya's Watermark. Both present a huge soundstage on my other systems.

In my room, the soundstage on BVSC's first cut Chan Chan, placed the Bongos and Congas about ten or so feet back behind the speakers. Ibrahim and Compay Segundo found themselves back about five or so feet. Generally, not bad at all for a front row speaker. Granted it doesn't come close to matching the depth of the Beast, but few rigs do.

Soundstage Width
Continuing on with BVSC, when you get the speakers properly placed in your room, assuming it isn't over damped and you are using decent gear, you'll find that the sound field width extends two to three feet (if not just a tad further) beyond the outside of the speakers.

Soundstage Height
Again using BVSC, Ibrahim's voice is focused at speaker height but the higher octaves of the instruments project themselves about three to four feet above the speakers. On Enyas Watermark, the height easily came close to reaching my ceiling.

Imaging and Focus
Not to beat you to death with BVSC but, this CD is a fabulous guide through imaging. The way the tracks were mixed, instruments and vocals can be easily placed on the stage. Though the 42's image fairly well, this could be one of their weaker points. It's not bad though. You still get ample imaging and general placement, it's just that the figures and instruments are slightly out of focus. Not quite as sharp as I've heard out of other speakers and systems. To be fair, the other speakers and systems were much more expensive. This, again, could be very room dependant too. Keep in mind, the competition during these tests may well fair less favorably than the 42's. I don't know that yet, but we will find out together.

Subjective Stuff

Overall Coloration
Generally, these speakers aren't very colored at all. Most everything sounds as it should. Marian McPartlands Baldwin sounds like a Baldwin (bite and all), Cymbals are clean an crisp without a sheen or tizziness. YoYo Ma's cello has all it's rich harmonic structures. Allison Kraus's voice is as light and airy as if she were standing right in front of me.

If anything, these speakers tend to have a just a hint of bass coloration. But I might be imagining things too. It very well could be the recordings I picked or the tubes I chose for the Korato and the Tjoeb.

Row
As I've said before, these are most definitely Front Row Center speakers. They leave nothing to the imagination at all.

Weirdness
I can't complain about much in this department. The only thing I can think of is it is truly weird that a speaker this small can sound so big. I guess the Danes were right, the only thing to do during those long cold winters is to improve upon speaker designs.

Miss You
These will get ranked way up there on the Miss You Meter. Fortunately, I have them around for the duration of the reviews. Who knows, one of these days if I ever decide to settle into a "normal" stereo rather than being actively crossed over and tri-amped, I'll invest in one of the 42's bigger brothers.

Objective Ratings

Category

Mark

Comments

Fit and Finish

0

Very nice, high WAF factor

Dynamics

0

One of the best on the market

Treble - Extension

0

Very good

Treble - Clarity

0

Very good, smooth and defined

Midrange - Clarity

0

Natural and unveiled

Bass - Clarity

0

Very good, well defined

Bass - Extension

0

For a small speaker, it's outstanding

Soundstage - Depth

0

Very respectable

Soundstage - Width

0

Very good

Soundstage - Height

0

Very Good

Imaging - Focus

0

Decent, quite respectable

Subjective Ratings

Overall Coloration

0

Minimal coloration, Just a hint in the bass

Row

1

1st Row

Weirdness

0

Nothing notable

"Miss You" Factor

5

Thankfully they are around for a while

[and you thought I was going to say something interesting]


So..........

Bang for the buck, these could be my favorite speakers in this price class (heading into this series of reviews anyway :-) If I had a limited budget, I would definitely have these as a finalist in my choices of speakers. These speakers play all kinds of music well, from Rock to Classical and everything in between. In the end, that's what we want.

A pair of speakers, without heavy coloration, can draw you into the music rather than calling attention to itself. That's just what the Dynaudio Audience 42's does. You get really deep bass (for a little bookshelf) and loads of details from the mid's and highs. These are the things we live for.

Thanks/Reference Gear

I'd like to personally thank all of the manufacturers who have made this series of speaker reviews possible. Remember, without these guys, you wouldn't be reading this :-) Surf on into their sites. They all sell affordable gear well worthy of your consideration.

Reference Gear

Gear

Manufacturer and Model

Distributor

CD Player

Njoe Tjoeb, Upsampled

Upscale Audio - Kevin Deal

Pre Amp

Korato KVP-20

Korato Group

Audio Switching

NEC AVX-910

NLA My personal gear

Amplifier

ASKA - Aspen 55 watt Amplifier

Aspen Amplifiers Pty. Ltd.

Amplifier(s)

RAM 301 - 30 watt Modified Jolida

Response Audio - Bill Baker

Amplifier

HH Scott 299A Integrated - EL84 PP

NLA - My Personal Gear

Interconnects

Silver Plated Copper, Teflon Insul

Home Brew

Speaker Cables

Silver Plated Copper, Teflon Insul

Home Brew

Speakers (ref)

Dynaudio Audience 42

Dynaudio USA Michael Manousselis

Speakers (review)

X

X

Geek Toys

Sencore SP-295c

Sencore

Next Up

Soliloquy SAT 5's

[spaz]


© Copyright 2003 Scott Faller - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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