I'm quite sure that most audiophiles that read this magazine have seen, heard, or at the very least, read a review of a Dynaudio speaker. But many might not know that its first products were the P-Series loudspeakers using outsourced drivers. But within three years Dynaudio created an in-house research and development department to fabricate their own drivers. Only a short time thereafter Dynaudio not only began using these drivers in their own cabinets, but also sold custom drivers to other loudspeaker manufacturers. Marketing their drivers developed into a very successful operation, one reason being that at that time there were very few high quality drivers being mass produced that were capable of performing well enough to be included in audiophile products. Fast forward to the present day, where Dynaudio is still manufacturing drivers for other speaker makers, but is also thriving with its own renowned brand of high-end loudspeakers for home, automotive, multimedia, and professional systems.
The 110's drivers are housed in a asymmetrical 6.75 x 12 x 11.25 (WxHxD in inches) cabinet that has side walls that taper toward the back wall, the cabinet's shape designed to decrease resonance and increase its rigidity. My knuckle test elicited a solid "tick" rather than a "tock", and if I was foolish enough to apply too much force to the whack I suffered a bit more than slight discomfort. The speakers weigh a substantial 16 lbs. each, and the veneered cabinet's fit ‘n' finish was exemplary. The samples were finished in a perfect for my listening room black ash; the other finishes available are maple, rosewood, and cherry. The four Ohm Focus 110 has claimed frequency response of 45 Hz to 25 kHz plus or minus 3 dB, and a very low sensitivity of 85 dB/W/m (which is roughly an even lower 82dB/W/m at 8 Ohms). I did not try to drive these speakers with a low powered amplifier, so the impedance and sensitivity ratings were not really an issue (and I'm confident these speakers wouldn't fair so well with a small SET amp). The crossover frequency is 1600 Hz, and their maximum power handling is 150 watts. The Dynaudio Focus 110's warranty is for a period of five years, and covers both parts and labor.
The grills are held in place by longish pegs that raised them about 0.5-inch off the front baffle, which leads to a sort of modern look that was quite pleasing to me and the rest of the family. I left the grills off when critically listening to the speakers since there was a small but noticeable increase in high frequency energy and greater soundstage and imaging prowess when removed. Most of my listening was performed with the speakers hooked in my smaller listening room through my second system. I put the Dynaudios on 22-inch stands filled with marble chip, the bottom of the speakers affixed to the platforms with a very thin layer of poster putty. They were driven with a pair of 70 watt PrimaLuna ProLogue 6 power amps fitted with the stock EL34 tubes, and from time to time the amplifiers were a pair of getting-on-in-years solid-state Muse Model 150s. The preamp was a tubed Balanced Audio Technology VK-3i, and on the odd occasion a vintage 1992 solid-state Jeff Roland Coherence 1. The sources were an Arcam CD player, and when listening to the system off-axis, a late 1970s AR tuner. The interconnects were a mix of Cardas and Monster, and the speaker cables either Kimber or Monster. Near the end of the review I hooked the speakers up to the big rig, which included an overpowered for these speakers Krell amp situated in a larger listening room.
So, after I burned in the speakers with the FM tuner for a few days, I did a little experimenting with the 110s position to prepare them for a couple of months of critical and casual listening in my second system. It was surprising how little their character changed when moved from what I determined was their ideal location. Sure, like most small dynamic speakers their bass got louder (and less distinct) when placed close to the rear wall, and their soundstage quality changed if placing the speakers closer or farther apart, or whether I toed them in or not. But by and large, their soundstage and overall sound was not as position dependant as I would have expected. I ended up with them firing straight ahead, with my listening chair about as far from the center of the speakers as they were spread apart. They were about 2 to 3 feet from the front wall, and about three feet from the side walls. In this position I was able to take advantage of their ample soundstage and their tonal balance was optimized.
I spun the plain vanilla CD version of The Beatle's Love album. The Dynaudios exhibited a solid mid-bass regardless of where I set the volume. The bass was tight and tuneful, and although I realize that Dynaudio specs them down to 45 Hz, but I got usable bass as low as an amazing 38 Hz in the approximately 11 x 14 foot room. When a non-audiophile guest (a Muggle? (look it up)) dropped by, he asked where I hid the subwoofer. No lie. Although there wasn't any true deep bass present, the bass that existed was so taut and powerful one could feel it shaking the floorboards. I could see how he might have been fooled into thinking the system was subwoofed.
On the all important midrange front, when playing "Eleanor
Rigby" the string section sounded as real as could be expected from this album.
There was a very natural string sound emanating from the speakers, and Abbey
Road Studio's ambience (at least I assume it was
Of course, this pair of small speakers performed as just about any high quality small monitor and exhibited a soundstage that was beyond reproach. But one of the disadvantages of small speakers is that it was obvious that the instrument sizes and the overall scale of the soundstage were miniaturized. So, even though the soundstage portrayed a sonic portrayal of the performance, or a studio performance, as the case may be, each instrument was much smaller than actual size. No big deal there and no surprise, really. It's hardly worth mentioning. But I just did.
As I already mentioned, these speakers led themselves to long listening sessions, but that was not because they had a "polite" treble -- I would not call their treble polite, no, no, no, The treble didn't extend to the far reaches enough to send me into a screaming fit, it gently rolled off as it reached the outer limits On the difficult album Free Jazz, the double quartet improvisation Ornette Coleman recorded in 1961 on the Atlantic label, even though it is a dense interchange of ideas, the detail and neutrality of the treble helped make it a very satisfying listen. On Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell's drum kits, their ride, high hat, and crash cymbals had a natural sizzle, ring, and ping. They were spot on. The treble on Ornette Coleman's alto sax was exceptional, as was the very natural portrayal of the bass clarinet of Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard's trumpet, and Don Cherry's pocket trumpet. Although these instruments rely heavily on there midrange energy, the treble is muy importante, and the Dynaudio 110's proficiency made it possible to get lost (maybe a bad choice of word given this free-jazz concoction) in the music.
On one occasion I inadvertently set the volume much higher than I normally do (or rather, I set the volume at what I thought would be appropriate, but I was wrong). Not only was I was amazed how LOUD these speakers played, but how good they sounded at this volume (playing Motorhead's No Remorse collection, thank you very much). I decided to have some fun, and left it that way for more than a few tracks. Not only were the speakers able to move some air, the speaker's overall sound was rather uncompressed, undistorted, and exceptionally nimble. Later, when moved the speakers to the acoustically treated much larger room upstairs, not surprisingly, they couldn't reach the same kind of level without running into some problems. The speaker complained by compressing a bit and exhibiting some distortion in the lows. I learned my lesson; the majority of my listening was performed in the smaller more "live" sounding room, and (usually) at much more sane levels.
I really shouldn't harp on these speaker's shortcomings. Considering their size and price their faults were very minor. So minor were their faults made themselves apparent only when either putting my sonic microscope up to the speakers, or less abstractly, comparing them to much more expensive speakers. With that in mind I'll mention that I occasionally became aware of the Focus 110's slight forwardness. This might have been noticeable at the point of the crossover, but maybe a little higher than that, in the lower treble. But it was easier to focus on the speakers strengths, And one should keep in mind that I'm definitely nitpicking here; the forward sound was not as bad as I'm making it out to be.
Even though $1500 is not considered costly in some high-end
circles, it still doesn't place the Dynaudio Focus 110 in the budget category. The
law of diminishing returns has not quite kicked in yet, though there are many
contenders for far less. Still, they performed well
beyond the level of what can be considered a budget speaker. So, what
sets these speakers apart from the kazillion other small monitors on the market?
If country of origin and/or construction is important to you, even though in the
majority of cases it shouldn't be, the fact that they are built in
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