Dynaudio Special Forty loudspeaker Page 2

The 1/3-octave bass-warble tones on Editor's Choice sounded powerful down to the 50Hz band, with the 40Hz warble a little lower in level than the bands above them, and the 32Hz warble exaggerated by the lowest mode in my room. The 25 and 20Hz warbles weren't audible at normal listening levels. The half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice spoke cleanly above 63Hz; Dynaudio claims that the Special Forty's woofer offers low levels of distortion and, given the lack of audible "doubling" with this track, I'm inclined to believe them. However, some slight emphasis was audible between 200 and 600Hz.

The Special Fortys offered a surprisingly solid bass foundation, considering their modest size. Joey DeFrancesco's Hammond-organ bass pedals in "Miss Otis Regrets," from Van Morrison's You're Driving Me Crazy (16-bit/44.1kHz WAV, Exile/Legacy 19075820041; see this issue's "My Back Pages"), were reproduced with sufficient weight to give Van the Man's vocalizing a solid foundation. With our "Recording of the Month" for August 2017, Evelina Vorontsova performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata 2 (16/44.1, STH Quality Classics 1416092), the piano's lowest notes offered sufficient power coupled with superb definition. My Fender Precision bass guitar in the channel-identification tracks on Editor's Choice sounded surprisingly powerful, yet again without any boom obscuring the instrument's attack.

Given its size and the fact that it's a two-way design with a relatively small woofer, the Special Forty did well with high-level rock. Because I am, at heart, an old rocker and this review will be published in our Zeptember issue, I cued up "Whole Lotta Love," from Led Zeppelin's reunion concert, Celebration Day (24/48 FLAC, Rhino/HDtracks). Seven minutes and 26 seconds later I stopped dancing, reached over to the iPad, and hit Repeat. If you have a fairly small room and like to play your classic rock loud, the Dynaudio Special Fortys might be all you need.

With the Dynaudios driven by Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks, not only Van Morrison's but vocal recordings in general were reproduced with a superb sense of palpability. The live recording of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Peter Lieberson's Rilke Songs and other works (16/44.1 ALAC, Wigmore Hall Live 0013) has long been a favorite, and Roon in its Radio random-play mode called up from this album her performance of the first of Mahler's Rückert Lieder, "Ich atmet' einen linden duft." The sense of poignancy was overwhelming. I turned off Radio and listened to all five songs, seduced by the quality of verisimilitude I experienced while listening through the Dynaudios.

918dynaudio.top.jpg

With Radio turned back on after the applause at the end of the Mahler, Roon pulled up my 24/192 needle drop of Peter Skellern singing "About a Quarter to Nine," a song made famous by Al Jolson, from Skellern's 1982 album, A String of Pearls (UK LP, Mercury). Skellern's adenoidal baritone in the verse was again poignantly palpable via the Special Fortys, and when the rhythm section joins Skellern's piano for the refrain, it was goose-bump time.

However, this track confirmed something I'd been suspecting: The Special Forty's top octave was a touch on the mellow side, though this was never a problem with orchestral recordings. After a long time, I've recently been listening to our October 2014 "Recording of the Month": Bruckner's Symphony 9, performed by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra conducted by the late Claudio Abbado (24/48 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon 479 3441/HDtracks). This recording's rich, warm balance was complemented by the Dynaudio's clean, fatigue-free high frequencies.

I returned to Vorontsova's recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata 2 because, after 63 minutes of Bruckner, I needed to hear some more readily accessible melodies—and followed that with another "Recording of the Month," this one for June 2018: After Bach, pianist Brad Mehldau's serial mashup of keyboard works by J.S. Bach with his own Bach-flavored improvisations (CD, Nonesuch 7559-79318-0). Again, the surprising weight of the piano's left-hand register through the Dynaudio, coupled with the speaker's clean treble and stable, well-defined stereo imaging, let this music communicate most effectively. But, especially with the Mehldau, I was starting to notice some unevenness in the Special Forty's reproduction of the piano's middle register. And when I played the Academy of Ancient Music's performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto 2 (24/88.2 FLAC, Harmonia Mundi), I was sufficiently bothered by some midrange congestion to investigate.

With the Mehldau piano recording playing, I listened to the enclosure's panels with a stethoscope. While the top panel was quiet, the sidewalls were afflicted with several resonant modes that affected the midrange. The amplitudes of these spurious vibrations were sufficiently high that I could hear them with the stethoscope placed on the center pillar of the Blu-Tack–coupled stand. The audibility of this behavior will depend on the size of the area of the cabinet panel affected, the relative phase of the radiation, and how well that area couples to the air. However, the touch of midrange congestion was something I'd first noticed from my listening chair.

I tried placing a cloth bag of lead shot atop each speaker, and while this did reduce the cabinet talk a little, it destroyed the Special Fortys' beautiful appearance. I then tried AudioQuest Sorbothane pads instead of Blu-Tack between speakers and stands. If anything, the enclosures' vibrational behavior worsened, then further worsened when I returned the bags of lead shot to the speakers' tops.

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I then replaced each Sorbothane pad with a trio of upturned Black Diamond cones under each speaker. In theory this should have made things even worse, as it allows the resonances to be fully developed. However, I felt that the midrange congestion was reduced in level, perhaps because, with the speaker/stand interface now providing no damping, the Q (Quality factor) of the resonances was increased, meaning that each resonance covered a narrower range of frequencies. With the upturned cones there was also less energy coupled into the stand. All I can suggest is that if you buy Dynaudio Special Fortys, you experiment with different interface materials between the speakers and your stands.

Conclusions
For a relatively small speaker, Dynaudio's Special Forty does a lot of things exceptionally well. Its clean, powerful low frequencies, its stable, well-defined, accurate stereo imaging, its clean, grain-free high frequencies, and its superb way with recorded voices are complemented by looks to die for. It is indeed, for want of a better word, special. How, then, to put that lively cabinet behavior into proper perspective?

After writing every word in this review other than these Conclusions, I did something I never do: I searched the Web to see what other reviewers of the Special Forty have had to say. However, while their descriptions, in the nine reviews I read, of the Special Forty's sound quality and tonal balance pretty much aligned with my own, not one other reviewer had noted an over-lively enclosure or any congestion in the midrange!

Perhaps, then, not too much should be made of this potential Achilles' heel. As I write these words, I'm again listening to the Rachmaninoff, and yes, in critical listening mode, I can hear the congestion in the piano's midrange. But in listening-to-music mode, that congestion is outweighed by everything else the Dynaudio Special Forty does right—which seems to be just about everything.

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

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new KEF LS-50 Nocturnes are powered wireless speakers, for $2500 ........ Everything we always wanted (and then some more) ........ May be JA could review them? ....... BTW, they won't obey voice commands or tell the outside weather or broadcast the latest news (or can they via you know who?) :-) .........

JimAustin's picture

I do like the graphics--are they any different INSIDE than the regular LS-50 wireless ?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The only way we all will know is, if you review them ......... Don't wait for the boss .......... Get them and review them :-) ..........

JimAustin's picture

Hello, KEF? I'd like to review the LS-50W--the pretty ones please, with the android markings. :-)

Perhaps I shall. Any idea if they sound different from the non-wireless LS-50, which Stereophile has covered extensively?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I know Stereophile has reviewed the passive version of the LS-50 ........ This new active wireless version can do many other things ........ It has USB input in addition to analog input ......... It has wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity ....... It can connect to streaming services like Tidal ........ It is almost like a smart speaker (like HomePod) ...... The sound quality may be similar to the passive version :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It has built in DSP ....... So, it is possible it may sound better than the passive version ........ It also has sub-woofer output ....... It also has optical input in addition to USB input ......... All this "razzle-dazzle" for $2500 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Try them also with a powered sub-woofer, if you could ........... Go for the gold :-) ............

Indydan's picture

I think the LS50, whether active or passive has received more than enough reviews. The passive LS50 is one of the most overrated audio products ever.
I still cannot fathom how Stereophile has it in Class A (restricted lf) with the likes of Wilson and Magico.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

What about these new LS-50 Nocturnes? .......... They have built-in DSP along with other capabilities ....... The DSP may help with sound quality ..........

Indydan's picture

The LS50 Nocturne were recently reviewed by TAS. I find them ugly to look at!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I know about the TAS review ......... I trust the ears of Jim Austin :-) .......... Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder :-) ...........

Jason P Jackson's picture

Compared to the Dynaudios reviewed here, LS-50's have less SD, meaning less cone area hence less ultimate loudness. If you have a small room or don't listen to music particularly loud, this won't matter so much. However, I believe, in a larger room the Dynaudio's will outperform them in the bass and power range.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agreed ....... Pairing the Nocturnes with a powered sub-woofer(s), would most likely increase the loudness capability. Also, that would provide more bass extension and loudness. We can still use all the other capabilities of the Nocturnes, which I mentioned. Of course that would increase the total cost. But, think about this ........ no need for amp, pre-amp ......... all the wires ........ may be not even any DAC. It has both optical and USB inputs ,,,,,,,, It has analog input ......... so, it is possible to hook-up even analog rig .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

To add to the above ........... We can use the Nocturnes as a second system ....... We can hook-up lap-top/desk-top/phone/portable DAP directly to the Nocturnes ........ or, use the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities ............

Jason P Jackson's picture

I'm convinced. You'll end up with a great system. And the KEF's are better braced-less panel resonance.

Indydan's picture

You have researched the LS50 Nocturnes quite a bit. You sound sold on them. Are you going to buy them?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I might ....... I am waiting for a review by Stereophile :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... Stereophile Class-A rated SVS powered sub $2000 ....... Total cost of Nocturnes + SVS sub $4500 .........

Jason P Jackson's picture

...and the Nocturnes also happen to look gorgeous. To me anyway

Richard D. George's picture

I have several stand mounted Dynaudio's in out mountain home, including a pair of Focus 160's. Beautiful treble and surprisingly robust bass, given the speaker size.

It is unfortunate about the cabinet resonance. This is not something I would have expected from Dynaudio.

At a different price point, the Contour 20's sure look and sound wonderful.

Jason P Jackson's picture

I agree. The fact Dynaudio has a released a loudspeaker at this price with the degree of cabinet resonances revealed here has me absolutely baffled. Unless perhaps this is a means to compensate for the floor-bounce cancellation characteristic of all standmount designs (in most rooms). There are obviously other factors at play e.g. boundary and especially rear wall reinforcement which can ameliorate the suckout/ cancellation issue in the lower midrange. However, this is rarely a fix. Standmount boxes perched on 600mm stands in big rooms will nearly always have this colouration. If you believe that an acoustic guitar that sounds the size of a tennis ball is hifi, then you are in luck. But for me, I've spent my dollars on a well designed 3 way speaker system that has no such problem. And they were second hand too.

tonykaz's picture

Increasing the Mass and Dampening are the only ways to lower those Resonances.

These Speakers weigh in at only 10 lbs each yet they have rather largish panels.

JA is probably the only one able to notice details like this, I've seen Stethoscopes in pictures of his Work Area.

Tony in Michigan

Long-time listener's picture

Mr. Atkinson, you note that "not one other reviewer had noted an over-lively enclosure or any congestion in the midrange." I also note that you mention an overly-emphasized upper midrange in several different places in your review. I bought the 40s based on only one or two very early positive reviews, and on Dynaudio's reputation for quality speakers. I was pleased with the extra detail and bass extension (after my Excite X12s), but after listening a week or two, I wrote their customer service rep, assuming there must be a problem with my pair: they sounded consistently hard and forward in the upper midrange. No no no, they told me, Dynaudio speakers do not emphasize any part of the frequency spectrum. No no no, they said, there is no problem with the crossover or the tweeter at the bottom of its range. That cannot be--it must be your amp, they said. Today the unpleasant hardness still remains.

I'm trying to decide whether to upgrade may amp, as per their suggestions, or get a different speaker. My amp is and old NAD C272 -- 150 watts into both 8 or 4 ohms -- and I realize that price-wise it's not in the Special 40s' league. On the other hand, many people say amps is amps. What to do?

On another note, all the pictures on line, including here, show the Special 40 as straight-up red. My pair is a kind of pinkish-maroon, certainly not what I was hoping for or expecting.

This was supposed to be the last speaker of my lifetime, and I thought it would be a good choice. I'm disappointed.

Thank you for your review, more honest than most, and more honest than the impression the Dynaudio customer service reps gave me.

Long-time listener

ken mac's picture

You try another amp. I've heard the Special 40s and the rest of the Dynaudio line here at a local NYC store with a variety of amps from inexpensive Marantz integrateds to expensive LIne Magnetics. They've never sounded harsh or forward, but neutral in the best sense of the word. And spatially beautiful. Why not check out the Heed Elixir or Rega Brio? Not crazy bucks and great sound.

Ortofan's picture

... if you want to try changing power amplifiers, consider the Schiit Vidar, or possibly the Parasound A23.
https://www.schiit.com/products/vidar
http://www.parasound.com/a23.php
Otherwise, perhaps you'd be better served by some sort of tube amp.

Axiom05's picture

A good dealer should help you work through these issues. Your dealer should be able to loan you a different amp to try. The dealer should also provide an avenue to replace the speakers for something you are more happy with either through exchange or trade-in. Don't start throwing more money into the system until you have determined where the problem lies.

Richard D. George's picture

Try Contour 20’s, in addition to getting a better amp. I think you will really like the Contours. Maybe your dealer could make the swap less painful.

Richard D. George's picture

Another thought if budget is an issue is to find a used pair of Focus 160’s and buy a better amp. Down the road you could then consider more expensive stand-mounts like Contour 20’s. I have the Focus 160’s and will probably hang on to them when I get a pair of Contour 20’s (or maybe Contour 30 floor standers).

Ortofan's picture

... ELAC Adante AS-61.

ken mac's picture

Died with Mr Hirsch.

Ortofan's picture

... Harman-Kardon Citation II.

Long-time listener's picture

Given where I'm at and what's available here, I'm considering an ATC P1 (driven directly from an NAD M51), or a Simaudio Neo 340i integrated.

I note that both with pink-noise and on the in-room response, JA pointed out emphases in the upper midrange. Measurements on Soundstage also show off-axis flares between 2 and 5 kHz. How much can I expect a better amp to really cure my problem? Thanks

Ortofan's picture

... is troubling you, then you might want to try the Marantz PM8006 integrated amp, which has a midrange tone control whose action is centered around 900Hz.
http://us.marantz.com/us/Products/Pages/ProductDetails.aspx?CatId=HiFiComponents&SubCatId=0&ProductId=PM8006

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another suggestion is Pass XA-25 ........ Stereophile Class-A ..... Under $5k ........ XA-25 may be the amp to beat under $5k ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another possible pairing is with the new Rogue Audio tube/transistor hybrid integrated, Sphinx-V2 for $1395 (that is not a typo, $1395) ...........

jaiello's picture

I have owned a pair of the Special 40 for about 10 days now. I have about 50 hours of break in on them. I understand that they need closer to 200 hours to really begin to sound their best. That said I think they sound wonderful. I don't hear that congestion that JA hears but maybe we don't listen at the same levels or same type of music. I prefer 50s and 60s jazz. I listen a moderate volume levels. Before I bought these I tried both the KEF LS50 and the Buchardt S300 MKII SE. The KEF have awesome mid range but couldn't satisfy me in the lower bass regions. The Buchardt had loads of bass but the mid range magic I was seeking was lacking. The Special 40 seem to me like the best of both those speakers. I am 65. This is probably my last speaker purchase. I bought the Red Birch. I just love to sit there and look at them. Beautiful speakers.

Long-time listener's picture

(As of May 2019): I think you gave up on that Buchardt Audio S300 MKIISE way too soon. I own both it and the Dynaudio Special 40, and I prefer the Buchardt overall. The Special 40, it seems to me, is disappointing in being much less than the sum of its parts. They use great drivers, but the cabinet has problems; and I also question whether their first-order crossover was the right choice. The Buchardt, on the other hand, is smartly designed and produces sound that, overall, is more open, with better soundstage depth, less nasality, and better integration of the drivers for a more organic sound. Dynaudio's tweeter is probably better, and occasionally I feel that makes a difference in terms of a slightly more well-defined tone in instruments like oboes, for example. But listening to something like Sade's "Lover's Rock" CD, on the Buchardt's I can follow more easily what the bassist is doing, and the bass and drums seem set in a more open space; her voice sounds fresher, more present, and more free of the speakers in space; and imaging and soundstaging is deeper and better. There's none of the unevenness and congestion that John Atkinson heard in the midrange. Overall, even if in certain limited areas the Dynaudio does better, the Buchardt is really just a more musical speaker.

Indydan's picture

It's a shame about the cabinet resonances. I thought that for the price, these speakers were too good to be true. Dynaudio put in some very good drivers, as well as a beautiful cabinet finish. Expecting a bullet proof cabinet for this price was asking too much.

woodford's picture

i've had a pair for about a year, and have used them with amps from Musical Fidelity, Peachtree, Icon, Lyngdorf, and a classic marantz receiver. i've owned "bookshelf" speakers from Focal (1007), B&W (Matrix 805), KEF (LS50w) and others, and these are by far the most satisfyingly musical standmounts i've heard in my system.

i don't hear the congestion JA mentions.

and as he and others have said, the finish is spectacular, particularly in red.

Indydan's picture

It's good that your pair of 40s doesn't sound congested. I am happy you like them.

jaykay3's picture

Bummed about this review.
I have focus 160s - which are incredible with Naim equipment, btw...
I was planning on the Specials being my next pair but now maybe no...

Indydan's picture

Duplicate post.

Indydan's picture

I was also somewhat considering the 40s, along with the ATC SCM19. I'll probably still listen to the 40s before making any purchase. I am not too thrilled about this resonance problem though.

Long-time listener's picture

I have auditioned at home the Aerial 5T, which has shown me how much better resolution is possible in the midrange of a speaker this size. But the Aerials, to my ears, were seriously lacking in bass weight.

What I have ended up doing is this: I use three hardwood footers that raise the Dynaudios about an inch above the surface, two in the front corners and one in the middle at the back, and at the same time, I place a stone on top of each speaker, in the middle but a little toward the front. This helps hold the cabinet still and improves the resolution. Previously it was a little like looking at tri-color printing in which the three shades were not aligned, but now things are in better focus. And I find it helps to toe-in the speakers until they face almost directly at you. If you listen too much off-axis, it emphasizes the upper-midrange hardness that I found so unpleasant. Still not a perfect speaker, but better.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Every speaker has a different sound. Ditto for every amplifier / integrated amplifier / preamplifier / DAC / turntable / cartridge. In addition because of differences in cable geometry and materials which, in turn, affect capacitance and inductance as well as the ability to convey signals effectively, different cables sound different with different components.

One approach is to strive to purchase components that sound as full, balanced, and neutral as you can afford, and match them synergistically with other neutral-sounding components. Another is to strive for a sound that pleases you, regardless of whether its balanced or neutral. (Tube warmth and bloom are examples of same.)

A third approach is to acknowledge the deficiencies of a particular product you already own and choose not to replace, and find other components that can help compensate for and balance out the deficiencies. That's another way of saying that you can search for components that counter-balance imbalances in other components. In all three scenarios, I consider cables (speaker / interconnects /power) as components.

None of these approaches can be implemented effectively solely by looking at measurements. You need to put everything together and listen.

Long-time listener's picture

.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Shall I list the number of component choices I made years ago that I came to regret? No point shoulding ourselves to death. We learn and move on... unless we want to stop learning. They who are not busy being born are busy dying.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"He not busy being born, is busy dying" ............. Bob Dylan :-) ..........

"There is nothing so stable as change" ............... Bob Dylan :-) ...........

Jason P Jackson's picture

Now for me, that saying is one slap in the face.

dalethorn's picture

But he who is born again - not of flesh, but of the spirit - shall never die.

johnnythunder's picture

We live and learn by our mistakes and some of the best audio decisions I've made have been based on reviews and some of the worst too. I know it can be somewhat disappointing to read a negative review of something you've already purchased and hear that an expert find's it somewhat "flawed." But ultimately, just trust your ears. If you like the equipment, nothing any reviewer says should really matter (within reason of course, like if someone points out a safety risk.) I never spend that much on equipment that a bad decision will derail me forever. I just take it as a learning experience and sell the equipment (or give it to my daughter which I did with a pair of (to me) ultimately horrible speakers!) And if I had the disposable income to shrug off a 5 or 6 figure mistake, I could correct it just as easily.

rlo's picture

I own both the Special Fortys and the ATC SCM19 v2 currently. I’ve had the ATCs going on a year now, and the S 40s for about 4 months. I’m thinking of selling the ATCs...the Dynaudios are just eminently wonderful music makers. Definitely more relaxed in the treble region than the ATCs. And voices are just sublimely smooth with perfect body, compared to the ATCs which are leaner and slightly grainier though the mids (in comparison). The ATCs sounds like they have lower distortion overall (I’ve never heard a cleaner, clearer speaker than the latest gen ATCs) but that doesn’t automatically make them better music makers. Are the Dynaudios less accurate and have slightly more distortion? Maybe. But they are simply more fun to listen to and they give me a more “real” experience that I can listen to for longer with less fatigue. I love these speakers.

EDIT: Oh and I forgot the big wide open soundstage on the Dynaudios, which is not a strongsuit of the ATCs at all. There is very precise imaging on the ATCs but mainly within a space that is confined between the speakers. The Dynaudios fill my entire room with sound that extends outside, above, below and behind the speakers.

johnnythunder's picture

Smooth and musical vs. incisive and dynamic and to me, somewhat aggressive. ATCs speakers, like Proacs, are a speaker for a lover of fast, clean, dynamic music. Linn and Naim lovers should love them. If I listened to Led Zeppelin all day with perfect source components I'd like ATCs for a while. I'd also like a big tube amp with JBLs too. Dynaudio 40s strike me as a perfect small system speaker to listen to singer songwriter, classical solo and chamber music etc....A generalization perhaps but this is based on my own auditions of all three brands at shows etc.

Indydan's picture

I have a Naim amp and source. I admit that your written description of the ATCs appeals to me (except for the agressive part).
Your description of the Dynaudio Special 40 sounds like Harbeth!

avanti1960's picture

and found no trace of ill effects from enclosure resonances. They may very well have been voiced in the crossover to compensate as many other speaker manufacturers do.
However the treble was overly extended and slightly edgy for my tastes. They did not sound natural as is often a Dynaudio signature characteristic. This should have been mentioned in the review.

rlo's picture

The review specifically mentioned “The Special Forty's top octave was a touch on the mellow side” and “This recording's rich, warm balance was complemented by the Dynaudio's clean, fatigue-free high frequencies.”.

If you don’t like these speaker’s extended treble and find them “edgy”, you will hate most ATC, Focal, B&W, KEF and many more speakers. These speakers are not edgy in the treble IMO and I would not judge them by a Hi-Fi show listening session - I’m sure the room and the other equipment used would have had a significant impact on what you heard and what you typically hear at home.

avanti1960's picture

yes, i do not care for the speakers you mentioned either. i prefer a speaker that sounds natural like the ones i own and love. many speakers have an exaggerated sense of air and sparkle and many people like that. i'm just not one of them. i believe this is an important distinction to make when reviewing speakers.

rlo's picture

Did you ever think that maybe your preference is for rolled off highs? Nothing wrong with that, but this may not exactly be neutral from a measurement standpoint. If that’s the case, then of course they are not going to call this out in the review because it’s simply not objectively true, and not true to the majority of other listeners who like those other speakers just fine and don’t find them “exaggerated”.

Archguy's picture

Tested a full eight feet out into the listening space.

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