DALI Euphonia surround speaker system Page 2
Absolute harmonic neutrality is as easy to hold on to as a well-greased eel. The Euphonia system erred slightly on the lean side of neutral. Its lower midrange and upper bass didn't have quite the fullness of the Vienna Acoustics Strauss or Tannoy Dimension systems (which I reviewed in the March/April 2003 and October 2002 issues, respectively). The DALI system's harmonic balance most closely paralleled the Monitor Audio Studio Gold system, but with a smidgen less lower-midrange presence. Placing the front three speakers somewhat closer to the front wall did help fill out their lower-midrange presentation, but in my setup the reduction in imaging specificity and lateral cohesion was too great a sacrifice for a slight improvement in overall harmonic balance.
Since my time with the Tannoy Dimensions' supertweeters, I've become well aware of the advantages of a speaker that can offer high-frequency extension above 20kHz. I'm sure that part of the DALI system's excellent decipherability and articulation stemmed from its ultra-high-frequency ribbon tweeter. And the Euphonias' exceptionally wide sweet spot must have come from the ribbon tweeter's broad yet even lateral dispersion. The multiple tweeter arrays of the Wegg3 speakers (reviewed in the February 2002 issue) also proved to me that using more than one tweeter can substantially improve power-handling and high-frequency dynamic headroom. The Euphonia tweeter module delivered these myriad sonic improvements with no apparent downsides. The high frequencies of even the most punishing dynamic material never sounded hard or steely, while rude, raw sound effects retained their intentional fingernails-on-blackboard edge.
At least 90% of what we hear on soundtracks and music is in the midrange. If the midrange isn't right, it doesn't matter how well a system handles the frequency extremes. The Euphonia's midrange made the grade. Although the Merlefest Live 15th Anniversary Jam DVD has a lousy picture, the sound is great. On "Patrick Meets the Brickbats," featuring Jerry Douglas with Bryan Sutton, Douglas' dobro and Sutton's guitar both sound exceeding real. Not only are they genuinely vibrant, but it's easy to tell which instrument is playing which parts. The Euphonia system's excellent definition and superior low-level detail kept the two instruments from blending together, even when both were spitting out machine-gun sprays of notes.
When applied to speaker drivers, speed denotes a transducer's ability to react rapidly with little loss of energy or efficiency. The Euphonia's 61/2-inch midrange/woofer drivers were designed with extremely low mass so that they can stop and start on a dime. Their speed let them deliver transient information without smearing: Individual instruments in orchestral crescendos weren't smothered in the mix, and movies with dialog layered atop sound effects and music weren't homogenized into formless messes.
A speaker designer's most difficult task is matching the harmonic balance and dynamic capabilities of the center-channel speaker with the right and left mains. Producing a center speaker identical to the L/Rs doesn't always work. Simply placing a center speaker atop or beneath a direct-view monitor, or near the floor, puts it in a different sonic environment that will introduce noticeable harmonic changes. The DALI engineers designed the CS 4 for just such placements, and their efforts were largely successful. Atop my Proton monitor, the CS 4 blended convincingly with the MS 4s. The only noticeable sonic differences between direct stereo and derived surround modes involved instrument placement, imaging, and relative balances in the mix, not dynamic contrast or overall harmonic timbre.
While a 61/2-inch driver has an advantage over a larger one when it comes to speed and responsiveness, it's at a disadvantage when it comes to moving a lot of air and creating substantial amounts of bass. Even with their ported enclosures, I couldn't expect the Euphonia speakers to have the midbass power of speakers with larger drivers. Still, the DALI system had adequate energy in the lower midrange and upper bass; it never sounded thin. Only in comparison to the Vienna Acoustics Strauss system did the DALI system sound lean. With SACD and DVD-Audio material, the differences between the two systems seemed more obvious because the subwoofer couldn't fill in the low end due to the lack of bass management in my system for these formats.
At $4800, the AS 2 subwoofer makes up a fourth of the cost of the entire Euphonia system. The only sub I've reviewed that was more expensive was the $9300 Wegg3 Tranquility Bass. Its build quality and appearance make the AS 2 well worth its price, but in terms of actual performance the AS 2 didn't seem superior to the $2450 Earthquake Supernova Mk.IV-15. The Earthquake's more conventional shape gives it greater flexibility in placement, including near corners and at room boundaries. Both subs have the ability to shake the room when necessary, but greater flexibility and $2350 in savings make the Earthquake an attractive alternative to the DALI.
You can use the crossover built into the AS 2 to control the bass extension and crossover for the front left and right speakers, but I used the bass management in my Meridian and Lexicon A/V processors. As with most subwoofers, blending the AS 2's upper-frequency response seamlessly with the rest of the Euphonia system required a certain amount of trial and error. I settled on 60Hz as the crossover point. Even after arriving at the right settings for music sources, I needed to increase the subwoofer levels with certain movies, such as Apollo 13, to get enough low-bass rumble.
Although the RS 3 rear-channel speakers don't have the bass extension of the MS 4 or CS 4, they had a similar sonic signature. On the DTS recording of Boyz II Men II, the vocals emanating from the rear speakers had the same midrange weight and dynamics as those in front. Due to the radiation pattern of the Euphonia tweeter module, the RS 3 speakers should be set up vertically for a wider, more even dispersion. But even with the RS 3s set up horizontally, I found that they integrated nicely with the rest of the system. The RS 3s were good enough that, in a small room, you could easily use five of them and a subwoofer and have a complete surround system.
A few years ago, only a few top-flight, dedicated home-theater speaker systems could be found between $10,000 and $20,000. In the last two years I've reviewed not one, but four systems in this range that all delivered sound I could happily live with for years. The DALI Euphonia system belongs among this elite group. The speakers' fit, finish, and attention to fine details rival those of any speaker, regardless of price, and they deliver first-rate overall system performance.
Though not as harmonically lush as the Vienna Acoustics Mahler Strauss or Tannoy Dimension systems, the Euphonia's more matter-of-fact presentation will appeal to anyone who wants a speaker system that delivers the sonic goods without sugarcoating them.