Dynaudio Contour 20 loudspeaker

The soul of a loudspeaker cannot be exclusively characterized by such unmeasurable, reviewer-friendly declarations as "lush tonality," "gossamer textures," "clear-water transparency," "microdetail," or "pacey dynamic rhythmic expression." Neither can it be fully described by such measurable characteristics as anechoic frequency response, dynamic impedance, or step response. More than anything else, a loudspeaker expresses its full character in how and where it directs the listener's attention. What a loudspeaker emphasizes—what it reveals, what it obscures, what it forces the listener to notice and think about—that is a loudspeaker's soul.

Best of all, noticing what we notice as we listen employs the three most sensitive and perfectly calibrated analytical devices on the planet: the ears, mind, and heart. I call this type of audio analysis mindful listening—and isn't that the principle this magazine was founded on? (footnote 1)

Fanatics of "accuracy to the source" fail to realize that an audio system's truthfulness is not something that exists on a scale of less to more—it is always more an opinion than a fact. Accuracy is whatever you think accuracy is. And what is more subjective than that?

I've heard a bunch of systems that delivered ruler-flat frequency response at the listening position, and every one of them sounded as dead and boring as Netherlands-pressed reissues of British Decca LPs. The music was boring not because the response was flat, but because whatever frequency-equalization shenanigans had been applied were muting the dynamics, suppressing the small-signal contrast structure, and reducing my impressions of transparency and vivo. To its credit, flat in-room response always delivered good vocal and instrumental tone, but musicality was noticeably reduced. Worst of all, "flat" never inspired me to listen more often or more closely to the music. For me, accuracy exists only when I become completely submerged in the music.

We are what we give our attention to, and I require a hi-fi rig to direct my attention toward how and why the music was made. I need to notice the performer's artistry and rhythmic inventions. Which brings me to Dynaudio's new Contour 20 loudspeaker ($5000/pair).

Description
Like all Dynaudio products, the Contour 20 loudspeaker is made entirely in Denmark. This two-way speaker is luxuriously large and heavy for a stand-mounted model, measuring 17.3" high by 8.5" wide by 14.2" deep and weighing 34.2 lbs. Its 1.1" soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and 7.1" Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) cone mid/woofer are bolted to a ½"-thick aluminum front baffle. All of the Contour 20's vertical edges are radiused, and the side panels' rearward tapers are curved—the rear panel is narrower than the front.

The woofer features an asymmetric spider, said to increase overall motor symmetry, and is reflex-loaded with a port at the top of the rear panel; foam inserts are provided to allow this port either to be partly or fully blocked in case the bass is found excessive is some rooms or to be left unobstructed. The crossover features Mundorf capacitors, and electrical connection is via a single pair of high-quality binding posts at the base of the rear panel. The review samples were finished in 11 coats of high-gloss Black Lacquer. The handsome, 24"-high steel stands ($500/pair) have what appears to be a powder-coat finish, in gloss black.

417dynaudio.250.jpgSetup
Dynaudio says that the Contour 20s will play their best only when set up in an exact triangular configuration with respect to the listener (with the speakers closer to each other than they are from the listener), and only over a narrow range of ear heights. The Contours delivered good sound off axis, but the focus and specificity of the aural images they cast were best when I sat with my ears just below the tweeter axes and the speakers were toed in so that those axes crossed about 12" behind my head. At that spot, the soundstage was deepest and images were most microscopically focused.

Listening: Round One
The day I installed the Contour 20s, Steve Guttenberg, of C-Net and Sound & Vision, and Michael Manousselis, of Dynaudio North America, were sitting on my couch listening. After a few tunes, both were smiling and giving the thumbs-up, but I wasn't happy. Something seemed wrong. Then Steve said, "Digital sounds great, but LPs sound weird—no bass." Familiar recordings—Macy Gray's Stripped (Chesky JD389, HDtracks), the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (LP, Warner Bros. WS 1893)—didn't sound right.

That night, after Steve and Manousselis had gone home, I listened again. I was using Schiit Audio's Ragnarok integrated amp, which, at 100Wpc, I'd assumed to be of good and sufficient power, but my ears were hearing something different. I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I was having strange, uncomfortable moments. I began to wonder: Are these speakers that hard to drive? Then I feel asleep on the couch.

The next morning, looking to get the system properly dialed in, I inserted Bel Canto Design's REF500S stereo amplifier, which not only has lots of power (400Wpc into 4 ohms at 1% THD) but will drive speaker loads down to 2 ohms (footnote 2). Immediately, the focus and transparency improved and the high frequencies opened up. Still, the system wasn't doing it for me.

In desperation, I began measuring the Dynaudios' in-room response, looking for holes and bumps, and moving the speakers farther apart and farther out from the front wall—ie, the wall behind them—and, finally, closer to the front wall. I'd begun with the Contour 20s about 84" apart, 44" from the front wall to the front of each cabinet, and 76" from my ears. A day later, I'd stuffed the Contour 20s' ports with Dynaudio's foam plugs (supplied), and the cabinets were now 65" apart, 28" from the front wall, and 92" from me. LPs played on both of my turntables were sounding better, and I was beginning to get the idea that these were very good loudspeakers indeed. But I struggled to actually hear the excellence I suspected was there.



Footnote 1: JA wrote in 2012: "Not only was The Stereophile going to tell it like it was, it was going to judge audio components by listening to them—a heretical idea in those days of meters and measurements. 'Dammit,' said Gordon, who died in 2009, 'if nobody else will report what an audio component sounds like, I'll do it myself!'"

Footnote 2: The Ref.500S is the stereo version of the Ref.600M monoblock that Kal Rubinson reviewed in October 2016.

COMPANY INFO
Dynaudio A/S
US distributor: Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 730-3280
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
dcolak's picture

"Fanatics of "accuracy to the source" fail to realize that an audio system's truthfulness is not something that exists on a scale of less to more—it is always more an opinion than a fact. Accuracy is whatever you think accuracy is. And what is more subjective than that?"

W H A T I N T H E W O R L D ? !

It is really simple, signal goes in, sound goes out. How accurately sound represents the signal? There is nothing "subjective" in it.

Jesus!!!

And no, your amp does not have 400 WPC, it's 400WPC into 4 ohm with 1% THD!

At best it has as much power as a well built 120 WPC amp.

HansRamon's picture

You like the danes?

HansRamon's picture

Why not an 8 inch woofer?

HansRamon's picture

Would have been nice with a review (comparison) of The Dynaudio Consequence instead....(take a look)

Anon2's picture

I was heartened to see the Contour perform well with a low-powered tube integrated amp. How would such a pairing hold up over time?

I have always enjoyed the sound of Dynaudios. The lower sensitivity and impedance have always concerned me as a potential purchaser, as has the extent to which one has to turn up the volume compared to a B&W, for example.

This review demonstrated that the new Contours, like the old s1.4, still require an aggravating amount of fiddling around to get the right in-room placement. At least your review shows that the optimal placement is attainable. An older review of the s1.4--issued by a publication north-of-the-border--left the reviewer, by my interpretation, unable to find a satisfactory placement for the older model.

I had another question about Dynaudio in general, and other soft-dome tweeter speakers. What's the long-term durability of soft-dome tweeters (and non-metallic woofers for that matter) compared to the aluminum that is found in other brands? Perhaps it's comparable; perhaps it's better. Given the expense of good speakers, some commentary--in a general, non-product-specific write-up--would be welcome at some point in Stereophile.

I have not heard the Contours, only the Confidence and Excite models. If you can find the appropriate amplification for these Dynaudio products, they are fine transducers indeed. Some reassurance that they can accommodate a broader array of amplification would also be welcome news to those who sell, and might buy, this brand of speaker.

jbreezy5's picture

Anon2,

Thought I would respond since I didn't see anyone else do it.

I own Dynaudio Audience 82 floorstanding speakers (13+ years), am familiar with Excite, Contour, Confidence and Temptations in the line since I have a local dealer who has, or has had, all on display.

My set-up is as follows:

Sources:

Jolida FX Tube DAC III (absolutely killer DAC regardless of price; I own 2 of them!)

Amplification:

Arcam A75+ integrated as preamplifier
B&K ST 125.2 power amplifier

Cabling:

Blue Jeans Cable speaker wires with locking bananas
Blue Jeans Cable RCA interconnects

If you want to get into Dyn's my recommendation is to have a 4-ohm rated, moderately high solid-state power amplifier (100-150 wpc), with tube or solid-state preamplification. If you opt for tube preamplification, you want high input impedance (33 kohms or higher) and low output impedance (200 ohms or lower) to avoid frequency extreme roll-offs. This is less of a concern with solid-state preamps, because most meet this criteria.

You may be able to go with tube power amplification, but I would recommend a powerful one, AT LEAST 50 wpc. The best thing to do in this case is to go listen before buying to be sure.

The above system matching recommendations come from my experiences as follows:

The only thing that I find "tricky" with Dyn's, if you will, is the way they handle power. They can sound very good with relatively low power (for example, my Arcam A75+ solid-state integrated amp at 50 wpc); this is due to the first-order crossovers being easy to drive, even though they are 4-ohm rated speakers. However, you really will get the most satisfying sound from them by giving them solid amounts of 4-ohm rated current. In this regard, I would suggest against low-powered tube amplification to drive them, as this will likely sound too dark, laid back, and anemic.

On the flip side, I had a Pass Labs X250.5 for a few years which was waaay more power than they needed; the effect of too much power on tap was that I had to turn the volume dial up more to get the speakers to come alive. Why? Because the amp had way more juice on tap than the speaker load demanded. The net result was a somewhat flat-footed sound until I significantly raised the volume pot. This is the importance of system matching; a more moderately powered amp, whether Pass Labs or some other competitor's is what I needed. Indeed, my very humble B&K ST 125.2 actually mates with my Dyn's better than the X250.5, even though the Pass amp is otherwise in every way superior (circumstances forced me to downgrade).

Continuing the discussion of system matching, if you opt to stay with a low-powered tube amp, you are thinking correctly to stay with higher sensitivity/higher impedance speakers.

Regarding your remarks about room placement for the Contours, JA's measurements suggest that should not be very difficult at all. That is my experience, as well. The Contours exhibit little vertical dispersion limitations and, as a result, JA concluded that stand height is not a major concern. The horizontal dispersion characteristics are typical Dynaudio, which is to say, it is not as wide as some of the competition. Therefore, these are NOT sound-staging champions, though they do fine. The Contour S1.4 you mentioned had an unconventional front baffle/driver arrangement which did affect the soundstaging/room placement, but that appears to no longer be a part of the Contour design. This may explain the different measurement results on this review.

Lastly, I have never experienced durability issues when comparing soft-dome and metal-dome tweeters from quality makers; YMMV. Dynaudio makes world-renowned tweeters.

Cheers!

Jbreezy

allhifi's picture

breezy tony: I suspect (beyond that Dynaudio should have remained a drive-unit manufacturer only)both breezy and tony's comments may be shared by a flock of abundant brand faithful.

Suggesting that a loudspeaker requires 'specific' driving amplification is both impractical and misleading;obsessive really.

Let's call this thinking it for what it is; a desperate attempt to validate Dynaudio loudspeakers -when much superior alternatives exist.

To suggest that: "...my very humble B&K ST 125.2 actually mates with my Dyn's better than the (Pass) X250.5" tells more of the author and the reality of Dynaudio loudspeakers than any possible, meaningful insight/discovery.

The dyn faithful appear willing to go to ends of the (flat, of course) earth as opposed to admitting/realizing their Dyn loudspeakers may indeed be the "problem". Put another way, their unconditional (brand) love affair is so convoluted that it simply does not occur to them that the shitty sound quality experienced could be anything but their choice of loudspeaker.

I can't imagine a legitimate (hi-fi) dealer seeking brands of hi-fi from around the globe with the single-minded pursuit of finding suitable amplification to (desperately) validate their flawed loudspeaker choice(s)?

And because dealers like tony's imaginary hifi would represent an entire line of one brand to heap upon their customers because "it sounds OK with my Dynaudio product" speaks volumes; so loud in fact that it should be turned down/off entirely.

I see another love affair in the making should this tag-team of breeze, tony and Herbert ever get together in person -a celebratory event if there ever was one.

For all others out there; run from the Dyn(amite)-grip that would otherwise have you spell bound -for eternity! (lol)

peter jasz

jbreezy5's picture

Allhifi,

Since you referenced my username and had a tone of disrespect, I will respond once.

First you mention that I am a "brand faithful". I certainly am a brand faithful of Dynaudio; however, I am not a "Dynaudio only" listener; nor did I ever expressly state or suggest that Dynaudio is the best brand of all or most speakers out there, both of which concepts are implicit when taken within the context of your entire post ("unconditional (brand) love affair" and "desperate attempt to validate Dynaudio loudspeakers -when much superior alternatives exist" - Allhifi).

I currently own, and have owned, MANY various brands/models of speakers since I first got into the audio hobby in 1997; not to mention, DACs, preamps, and amps.

Your claim that it "is both impractical and misleading" for a person to say that a speaker may perform better with a certain amplifier driving it versus another is, quite frankly, an uninformed conclusion.

Lessons learned from the practical wisdom of actual experts indicate that you are incorrect. Nelson Pass and John Atkinson are two I can think of immediately.

Need proof? Read Nelson Pass' write-up on his B1 Buffer preamp and learn from him WHY added gain in a preamp is redundant and was the basis for sharing this project preamp with the DIY community. This line of reasoning also seems to reflect in his current line of preamps which also have no added gain, leaving the amplifier alone to do its job, rather than having more amplification stages in the audio chain.

For another example, read John Atkinson's measurements write-up of the Monitor Audio GS10s, first paragraph, you will find the following quote:

"The electrical phase angle varies considerably, but as always the most extreme angles occur when the magnitude is high, diminishing the difficulty of the loading. The shape of the magnitude trace suggests that THE SPEAKER WILL SOUND A BIT FORWARD, PERHAPS EVEN BRIGHT, WHEN USED WITH TUBE AMPLIFIERS HAVING A HIGH SOURCE IMPEDANCE (all caps emphasis added by jbreezy)."
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/monitor-audio-gold-signature-gs10-lo...

Srajan Ebaen's (6Moons) purely subjective review of the Butler Audio TDB-2250, when he switched the amplifier from powering horn loudspeakers (higher sensitivity) to Gallo Ref 3s (lower sensitivity), is in line with the above-mentioned objective references, saying:

"Feeling confident that my hornspeaker interlude had revealed the essential sonic nature of our review subject when barely moved out of 'park', I now inserted the Gallo Reference 3s as examples of passive full-range speakers in the 88dB sensitivity range that would run the amp deeper into its power band and higher up its torque curve."

As can be seen with all 3 references, there are electrical factors in the amplifier-to-speaker interface that CAN-AND-DO directly impact the perceived sonic output for the listener.

I also never claimed that a "specific" amplifier must be used to get good sound from Dyns, but rather, that a recommended current/power rating from ANY manufacturer is desirable to obtain the best sound from them. I indeed would expect better sound from a similarly powered Pass Labs over the B&K.

Below is a direct quote from my original post:

"...This is the importance of system matching; A MORE MODERATELY POWERED AMP, WHETHER PASS LABS OR ANOTHER COMPETITOR'S (all caps emphasis added here by jbreezy) is what I needed. Indeed, my very humble B&K ST 125.2 actually mates with my Dyn's better than the X250.5, even though the Pass amp is otherwise in every way superior (circumstances forced me to downgrade)."

Additionally, it should be noted that you have a glaring logical contradiction in your post when speaking of Dynaudio as a brand in terms of sound quality saying that they have a "shitty sound quality" after stating in the first sentence that "Dynaudio should have remained a drive-unit manufacturer only".

This begs the following questions:
*Are you claiming that Dyns sound so terrible because of
their cabinets/crossovers?
**If so, are there magical caps/resistors they should be
using to improve the sound?
*On the other hand, if they sound so terrible b/c of their
speaker drivers, then why did you state that they should
only manufacture speaker drivers?

Hint: The correct answer is a non-response to all 3 questions.

I still contend that Dynaudio speakers sound superb, but it's ok if they are not your cup of tea. There are many other speaker manufacturers out there to enjoy, which I enjoy also.

Regarding your flat earth comment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_flat_Earth

That's right! Even Christians have been misconstrued as being flat-earthers! (See 3rd paragraph, last sentence).

I'm sorry to have to point out your eisegesis of my post so clearly, however, it was necessary since your post was quite rude.

Perhaps asking more questions, and making fewer assertions may result in more constructive dialogue. That would certainly be my preference.

- JBreezy -

allhifi's picture

Hey breeze: Indeed, amplifier choice is crucial to obtaining high performance.

Yet, for some (including you and tony ) that must search the world over for a "suitable" amp for your Dyn's is rather self explanatory; it's a barely passable design that requires amplification with specific colorations to sound acceptable. That's bad.

There are many fine sounding amplifiers today, and if the Dyn's can't sound good with most of these, I'd suggest the issue/ problem/weak sound lies with the transducer.

It's bizarre that an audiophile would have spend such an inordinate amount of time seeking a suitable amplifier; I'd say find a better loudspeaker.

That Dyn made/makes? solid drive-units has nothing to do with the company's inability to manufacture consistently top performering loudspeakers.

You references to impedance/phase angle plots (if one should exist to potentially cause issues for the amp) is yet again another indication of poor loudspeaker design decisions -do NOT force the amplifier into a uncomfortable zone. It's not Rocket Science breezy.

Finally "eisegesis" (woah, never heard that one before), flat-earth, Christians ... we're definitely on to something here ...

pj

jbreezy5's picture

Allhifi,

Thanks for respectful communication. The "shouts" in my last post were meant as highlights to key phrases, but I don't know of a good way to do that here.

I'm not an audiophile, and I'm not searching the world over for a suitable amp for the speakers.

The Dyns sounded good with low power, they sounded good with way more power than they needed. But they sound most alive with moderate-high power.

This kind of variability occurs with any type of speaker out there; it's not limited to Dyns. It's the reason most people with very high sensitivity speakers run flea-watt tube amps on them; people with low impedance/current demanding electrostats and planars pair them up with massive monoblocks. That's how to get the best sound from them.

Hope this is a more clear explanation.

Regards,

- Jbreezy -

allhifi's picture

Hi breezy: It's always wise to determine who it is one is communicating; a novice, few years experience, or a lifetime of hi-fi experience. One that includes thousands of people, hi-fi systems, spanning decades.

Also one who took each and every moment and opportunity to experiment with varying combinations of world-class electronics, cabling and AC power "systems". Why ? Because he loved it.
The thought (belief-desire) that he could assist/share this wealth of legitimate (lifetime of) knowledge for all who care about music and hi-fi.

Anyway, moving on; it must have been the other poster (tony) that searched the world over for an amplifier to meet his requirements.
As I read that, I thought that makes no sense, a loudspeaker should sound good-to-excellent at any volume level (with any respected design/make -of amp) when/if careful consideration is given to cabling considerations.

When you say:
" ...The Dyns sounded good with low power, they sounded good with way more power than they needed. But they sound most alive with moderate-high power."

That's confusing; are you saying that your loudspeakers sound better with, say a 100 W/C vs a 50W/C or 300 W/C amplifier ?

The loudspeaker should sound great at any volume level with an amplifier regardless of what is its power output states -when/if excellent amplification (including pre-amp) is present.

Continuing: " This kind of variability occurs with any type of speaker out there; it's not limited to Dyns."

That simply has not been my experience with conventional dynamic-driver transducers. Great loudspeakers/amps sound great at any volume level the pairing/system is capable of comfortably generating.
Yet, I'm lead to think the preamps gain attenuation sophistication (or lack thereof) may be largely responsible for the distinctive variations in sound quality over the range of its operation (i.e.lower volume levels, mid-level and so forth).
It's widely known that a typical volume potentiometer is anything but linear over its range of operation -yet performs best (linearity, ch. balance noise) when i its "middle" position.

The art of hi-fi, the result of picking up where science drops off. Without doubt, special, synergistic pairings abound, but if one cannot find a suitable "match" to their beloved product one must surely wonder if its time to find another loudspeaker to fill the role.

The entire purpose of my reply was to say that, if/when a reasonable attempt at/of combinations of amps/cabling does not yield impressive sound, it's time to find a new loudspeaker.

Sometimes, the longest held beliefs are the hardest to relinquish ...

pj

tonykaz's picture

Better Amplification?, good luck finding that.

I first read this report when my Print Issue of Stereophile arrived two weeks ago. You pinned me back in my chair as I read.

I've had the same experience of mix & match hunting to discover & release the magic that I knew was lurking there. As a Retail Dealer, I ordered every Amplification Sample I could negotiate. Finally, Karen Sumner sent me some Electrocompaniet and viola, the Music bloomed, and addiction set in. I carried the Full-Line of Electrocompaniet, all of which were Superb.

Those Norther European Drivers are special, nearly everything that has em can sound wonderful. Great Tube gear releases it just like the Electrocompaniet stuff. I had only two Tube Amps that were consistently outstanding : Audible Illusions Modulus Pre and Conrad-Johnson's MV-45a but the Audible Illusions didn't do Moving Coils so I only had the PreAmpliwire which was all I needed ( I was a Koetsu man ).

Your Review prompted me to have a look at PrimaLuna. Geez, these people are Tube hunters ( like Art Ferris of Audible Illusions ) which explains your findings. You fell into Dyn drivers & musical tubes, I doubt that any Solid State electronics will equal what you're reporting ( I still own and enjoy a good SS Class A Headphone Amp ).

Headphone wise, the Tube rollers are reporting magic from the Polish Feliks amp. There's quite a group of them on HeadFi.

I hope that Mr.Kevin Deal will allow you to review his Big Integrated Dialogue Premium HP !!! I can't think of another person that could put it thru it's full performance envelope or be able to report as clearly and understandably as you've seemed able to do ( I've just read all your stuff from 2014 onward ).

I'd even suggest that Tyll would welcome a Headphone contribution to Innerfidelty, about this Amp. Phew, that would be an exciting "Must-Read" bit of Journalism!

I congratulate and applaud J.A. for discovering you and releasing your talents.

This report on the Contour is one of the best Audio journalisms I've read in some time.

Tony in Michigan

Kal Rubinson's picture

The REF 500S is not "the stereo version of the Ref.600M monoblock." It is an earlier design that dates from about 2009-10 and, unlike the nCore-based REF 600M, it is based on B&O ICEpower modules. Nice little amp, nonetheless.

allhifi's picture

Herbert, Herbert, Herbert ... Octoberfest is not upon us, and yet you decide to 'Eine Prosit' a bit early !

What a mess of a review. On so many levels:

1) That's why we should have "Reference" equipment --so we don't waste 4-days of our lives attempting to 'figure out' the problem(s).

2) But I'm getting head of myself, your comments about validating measured performance with subjective impressions is a far more nuanced dance than your stark and wild interpretations.

3) And then you finally "discovered" amplifier problems / incompatibility issues ? What a (sad) start.

Spending what felt to be half of the article explaining your stupidity (and disturbing lack of professionalism), you then go on to describe the sound with 'words of expression' you just shunned in the opening paragraph !

You, Stereophile and the editor should apologize to readers and DynAudio for this immature piece of drek and at least offer the manufacturer another "review" lead by a professional. Or a few of extra 'rounds' on the (Stereophile) House come this Oktoberfest !

"ziggy-zaggy, ziggy-zaggy hoi, hoi hoi" lol

peter jasz
P.S. Herbert, lean off the brown pops until then !)

Freako's picture

Sadly, I have to back up to some degree allhifi's comments on the review of this speaker. A product in this league deserves to be tested and reviewed by someone with lots of knowledge and understanding of Dynaudio's products and philosophies. As an example, it shouldn't really be a surprise that Contour 20 (although being a completely newly developed model in every aspect, aside from the tweeter) would surely benefit from amps with an ability to provide lots of solid current to it. This is not entirely new with Dynaudio speakers. Another thing that bothered me all through the review, is that it seemed like this was Herb's first entry as a reviewer, looking like a blind man in a wheelchair crossing a busy highway during rush hour.

Sorry Herb - better luck next time
Regards

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