Before starting this review, I must note that I recently purchased a pair of the Dynaudio Contour 20i stand mount loudspeakers as my principal loudspeakers. Why? I have loved the sound of Dynaudio loudspeakers for more than twenty years. And I need loudspeakers that are fully revealing of the signal they are being supplied since I am using these to review other equipment. This is my review of those speakers.
- The Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers are stand-mount speakers
- 440mm tall by 215mm wide by 396mm deep
- 14kg each
- Made in Denmark
- Two-way design, crossover at 2200 hertz
- 28mm Esotar2i tweeter
- 180mm Magnesium Silicate Polymer woofer
- Baffle consists of aluminium plate inset into cabinet
- Bass reflex design
- 86dB (2.83 volts at 1 metre) sensitivity
- 180 watts IEC power handling
- 4 ohms impedance
- 39 to 23,000 hertz ±3dB frequency response
- Available in high gloss black, walnut or high gloss grey oak finish, all with black baffle and grille
- Simply first-class sound. Great detail, the authority of floorstanders and a dynamism and responsiveness second to none. They should be paired with first class amplification, given the lower-than-average sensitivity and 4-ohm nominal impedance.
- Available at fine high fidelity retailers and direct from the authorised New Zealand distributor here
- Price: $10,500
Why I chose them
For many years I’ve used VAF Research Signature i93 floorstanding loudspeakers. They are penetrating units and, like Dynaudio, feature superb dynamics. But they were not always entirely accurate, and they were getting old. Plus I was moving into a townhouse, where I suspected that their ability to output 20 hertz might not be fully appreciated. Deep bass penetrates further, to the possible annoyance of our new neighbours.
I’ve been reviewing Dynaudio loudspeaker on and off for more than twenty years. They have consistently been excellent. Not just musical and enjoyable, but also accurate. The Contour 20i speakers were from the right brand, and had the right specifications. Specifically, I wanted bass still, just not as deep as the i93s. Solid down to 40 hertz was what I wanted, and that’s what the Contour 20i speakers deliver, with their rated frequency response of 39 to 23,000 hertz ±3dB.
The Dynaudio Heritage Special speakers (my review here) were also on my shortlist. They come with a newer, better tweeter, but aren’t quite as solid in the bass. So the Contour 20i speakers met my practical needs.
And the fact that they look gorgeous certainly didn’t count against them.
Each speaker comes well packed in its own sturdy box, with a soft material protecting the finish. Included are foam rubber bungs to fill the rear-pointing bass reflex ports. These can be useful if your situation demands closer placement to a wall than is optimal. The terminals are large, with gold-plated contacts. Dynaudio is not a company to follow the crowd. It has one pair of terminals only on these speakers. Indeed, even on its $89,000 Confidence 60 floorstanders. No biwiring here. (That’s a stance with which I heartily agree.)
The Contour 20i speakers are stand mount models. That implies stands. I purchased the optional Dynaudio Stand 20 speaker stands and the adaptor plate to suit the Contour 20i speakers. The underside of the speaker has four metal threaded inserts for securing it to the stand.
I was moving premises around the time I purchased these, so I ran them as extensively as possible prior to the move on assembled, but empty, stands. The metal Dynaudio Stand 20 speaker stands are stylish enough to match the Contour 20i speakers, and with top plates to match they’re pretty well perfect. Inside they have two cavities. The rear one has holes at top and bottom so you can feed your loudspeaker cables through them for a sleeker look. The larger front cavity is intended to be filled. With the move impending, I put that off.
After moving I purchased a 12kg bag of washed playground sand from Bunnings, brought it back to my office, spread it out on a tarpaulin and ran the air conditioner hot for about twelve hours, occasionally stirring the sand, to make sure it was completely dry. You do not want mouldy sand in your speaker stands. Then I filled the front cavities of the two stands all the way to the top. This used perhaps eighty percent of the 12kg bag. The top plate bolts down onto the stand, the speakers bolt to the top plate. When I was finished, each speaker and its stand together weighed 27.5 kilograms. The stands sounded like solid wood when I rapped them with my knuckles, not like hollow metal.
Listening with the Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers
So, with speakers bolted to stands, and the stands themselves fully loaded, it was time to listen properly. By this time the speakers must have had better than fifty hours on the clock, so I think we can consider them largely run in.
I started with something gentle, but lushly recorded and a test of a speaker’s smoothness: Camille Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, performed by Pieter Wispelwey (cello) and the Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, on Channel Classics SACD. This is a work of beautifully subtle texture, and the seemingly uncompressed recording makes significant demands on the dynamic range of any system. The cello was detailed and, frankly, thrilling to listen to in all its detail and rhythmic sharpness. Meanwhile, the orchestral violins were silky in their delivery. The bass orchestral underpinning was solid as required.
When the cello starts playing a few bars into the second movement, accompanied only by the violins, the Dynaudio Contour 20i speakers reminded me that sheer, magical and moving beauty in music is mostly the exclusive preserve of the classical genre, and is all too rare even in that. Excitement is found in all forms of music. Beauty is relatively rare.
Speaking of excitement, I moved on to “The Music Box” from the 2008 remastered version of Genesis’ Nursery Cryme on CD. From the opening chords of the (I think) electric piano and straight into the Peter Gabriel’s closely miked vocals, there was both a superb presence and enormous detail. The window into the gentle playing of the high hat, distant and layered in the right channel, was new to me. When the rock performance gets going properly a few minutes into the song, even though I had the amplifier up very loud for the opening, the detail was retained perfectly. I could pick out every signal drum stroke – and there were many, many of them – from the mix. And every other element of the music. There was a complete absence of any sense of strain.
Same genre, same period, but a different resolution. Some years ago I ripped King Crimson’s unjustly neglected 1971 album Islands from its DVD Audio special edition to network storage in FLAC format. Played using the streaming capabilities of the Simaudio Moon 280D DAC delivered it at is full 192kHz, 24-bit resolution. I feel like Crimson somehow managed to retain the same kinds of engineers to make their recordings that were used by jazz musicians. The capture is astonishingly detailed, up front and simply complete. Which is how the music was delivered from the first track. I suspect that the Steven Wilson remix helps too.
But I quickly skipped through to the second track, “Sailor’s Tale”, an angular, clearly Philip Glass-influenced instrumental, in which Robert Fripp delivers a guitar solo which has never been repeated, copied or attempted by anyone, ever, as far as I can tell. (Unlike Glass, this track resolves.) Again, every element was in its proper place, and the driving Ian Wallace drums pierce through the mix with superb body. The bass guitar accompaniment was delivered with power, depth and control.
But if you really want to check out bass, grabbing just about any Telarc orchestral recording is a good idea. In this case, thanks to the house move and the consequent shuffling of my CD collection, I had stumbled across a Telarc recording of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (famous for its “March to the Scaffold” section). But the track of interest was his Les Francs-Juges Overture. It was this that convinced me that there was no want of bass performance here.
Almost eight minutes in the bass drum starts. It is so, so deep and powerful. It’s not just the impact of the drum – it’s actually played with good restraint – but the hall reverberations, the rumble as the bass energy makes its way around the performance space and returns to be captured by the microphones.
Finally, how about some simple acoustic stuff? Thank goodness for people with poor taste, I say. For that reason I was able to pick up a near pristine second-hand copy of Laura Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle at a very nice price. The bite on her guitar? Superb. The transparency for her near-overloaded vocals. Excellent. The fullness, roundness of percussive instruments? About as good as it gets. Sound stage depth? Excellent.
But just the way her voice hovers there in space between the loudspeakers, occupying the same volume that an actual singer would in the room. Truly, truly lovely.
A little bit of objectivity
I was rather surprised by that rumbling of the bass drum. What kind of bass output can these things produce anyway? To check, I placed a measurement microphone up very close to one of the speaker cabinets, at its side about halfway between the woofer and the bass reflex port. This is not going to tell you what you’ll hear. It just shows the output the speaker is capable of producing. I use pink noise for this test, and then after recording, I filter it at 3dB per octave across the whole bandwidth to rebalance the sound as though it were a regular frequency response. (Pink noise is closer in tonal balance to real-world music than is white noise.)
The result was a super even output from 44 hertz to 190 hertz – the upper frequency is about the area to which the output is pretty non-directional. Below 44 hertz, the response dipped to around -8db at 38 hertz, and then rose again below that point to the same level it had been at when it got to spot on 30 hertz. Below that it was back down by 6dB at 25 hertz. Here’s what that looks like:
Let’s understand what’s going on there. That dip at 38 hertz is to be expected. Bass reflex speakers actually deliver their output from the port out of phase with the woofer. Measured up close like this, with the microphone evenly between them, there’s destructive interference. With different path-lengths out in the room, the output is going to be very different.
Thus, for example, I’ve just played three sine wave tones – 30 hertz, 35 hertz and 40 hertz – through the speakers. When I recorded the output, the 30 hertz section had an RMS power of -9dB (these figures are only relative to each other, not absolute), while the 35 hertz section had an average power of -28dB, and the 40 hertz section went back up to -12dB. That’s at the microphone. Sitting over here near the edge of the room with my instruments, all three tones sounded almost the same in level, with the 30 hertz section the quietest.
So, yet, these loudspeakers can produce real, surprisingly deep bass output. (I may have to be careful with the neighbours after all.)
I did not attempt to measure the full range frequency response. That may have told you something about my room, but not much about the speakers. All I can say about that is, to my ears the response was beautifully balanced, tonally.
I am confident I made the perfect decision for me. And if you’re looking for loudspeakers in this pricing ballpark, do yourself a favour and audition the Dynaudio Contour 20i stand mount loudspeakers.