Dunlavy for HT speakers

I'm currently running Snell C/V for fronts with a Snell XA55 center channel and Snell K.5II for rears. There's a pair of Dunlavy SC-IVA and also a single Dunlavy SC-1A/V up for auctoin currently. I listened to some Dunlavys a long time ago. I remember liking them, especially the Vs, but I can't really remember details on the IVA. I do like the Snells quite a bit. How much improvement will I see with the IVAs? The other question is about the center channel. I'm worried that may actually be a step backward. Anyone with experience with these two speaker brands have any thoughts? The rest of the equipment: Theta Carmen, Theta IIIA dac, Sunfire Ht processor, Adcom GFP750 preamp, Bryston amps, Rel Storm III sub, Synergistic Research interconnects, Tara Labs speaker cables. Thanks. -Dave
I owned Dunlavy SC-III's for five years and my best hi-fi friend ran the huge SC-V's for three years, both of which are quite similar to the SC-IV/A's. The SC-IV/A's were (and remain) very competitive at their price point, but they were designed primarily for high-end two-channel music systems and not home theater where imaging is not important and bombastic dynamics are. SC-IV/A's will go pretty loud and quite low in the bass, but they are a time-coherent design that uses first-order crossovers in order to improve imaging and accuracy, and as such, are fundamentally ill-suited to home theater where bombastic dynamics can overstress drivers, especially drivers that are operating out of their passband in first-order designs like Dunlavy. Dunlavy tweeters are especially vulnerable to overdriving. Also as a result of being built for time coherence, the sweet spot with Dunlavy's is very small, meaning that people sitting around a room watching home theater are not hearing what the speaker can do.

You want something with fourth-order crossovers for home theater, like Revels Salons. I owned Salons and they can go incredibly loud if you have enough clean power. My dealer, who is very experienced and has carried a lot of different speaker brands over the years, set up a pair of Salons in a home theater installation in New Jersey that were powered by the big 1,200 watt/channel McIntosh monoblocks -- he said he has never heard a louder pair of speakers. Salons also have tons of really deep bass, so there is no need for a subwoofer unless you are running them in a gymnasium, and excellent off-axis dispersion (i.e., huge sweet spot), meaning that everyone in the room will hear what they can do.

I also note that I have another friend who ran the SC-I's. They are superb monitor speakers for the money and can sound great in two-channel systems if coupled with a really fast subwoofer, but again, they have a tiny sweetspot, no bass below 80 Hz. because they are sealed-box, and can't handle a lot of power -- they were designed for high-end two-channel music listening. While Dunlavy did sell an "A/V" shielded version for use in home theater, it was merely a nod to market realities, as there are 97 home theater speakers sold for every 3 two-channel speakers and speaker designers who ignore the home theater market perish. Dunlavy in fact went out of business because his designs were serious attempts at building extremely good two-channel speakers, i.e., time-coherence, which requires first-order crossovers and sealed-box woofer loading, the latter requiring gigantic, room-unfriendly boxes. Ever stand next to an SC-V, or God forbid, an SC-VI? They are ridiculous, but if you're listening in the sweet spot, they do a very credible job of simulating the sound of live, unamplified music.

If you have a high-end two-channel system featuring a good turntable, Dunlavy's are a very good option if you do not want to spend a ton of money. If you are trying to shake the foundation with stomping dinosaurs, however, there are more appropriate options.
I've never heard a pair of Snells, nor do I know anything about the specific models you have, so this is more of a comment on the Dunlavy's than a comparison between the two.

Raquel makes some very good points, though there are lots of reasons I want good sound in a HT application beyond the bombastic effects. Clarity of dialogue, reproduction of the soundtrack, spatial effects - there are many aspects of sound in a HT application that are important to me.

That said, I don't think I'd go for Dunlavy's for their HT suitability. They are very nice speakers, and very affordable used. I think there are many speakers that would work better for HT, and the Dunlavys are HUGE. I wouldn't want to have them in my room, or have to move them at some point, if they're just for HT.

If the system is used for both HT and music, then I might go for them, depending on the ratio. I've heard the SC-IV/a's and I have owned a pair of the Alethas. They are wonderful on music, and I could listen to either for a long time. They would suffice just fine for HT, but they would be great for music.

As Raquel said, if you're looking for the best choice for great, dedicated HT, there are more appropriate options.
This is a combo system, both 2-channel and HT. Both are important. I actually listen to music louder than movies, but more often both are at moderate volume. Both of your comments are helpful, thanks. I'm wondering how bit a step up the Dunlavys would be for stereo listening over the C/Vs. Are there better options in that same price range that would do well for both applications?
While I appreciate the opinions of the others, I would respectfully disagree that Dunlavy loudspeakers are not suitable for home theater. I own Dunlavy Alethas, an SM-I center channel, 2 SCI/AV surrounds, and a Velodyne sub for LFE content on movies, so you're free to consider me somewhat biased.

I will concede the fact that Dunlavy's do have a narrower sweet spot than speakers that are specifically designed for wider dispersion, such as those meeting the THX requirements for SPL dispersion. And that may very well be a limitation in very small home theaters with multiple seats in spread-out locations.

However, the dynamics of all Dunlavy speakers are extraordinary. To the best of my knowledge, speakers don't know that they are playing the soundtrack from a movie or a recording of an orchestra. With the exception of the artificially generated LFE channel in movie soundtracks, the transient response required to accurately reproduce live music, is as taxing to a loudspeaker as are movie soundtracks. The naysayers should try sticking their head next to a crash cymbal or the horn of a trumpet sometime.

First order crossovers do indeed require drivers to operate over a wider frequency range, than a higher order filter. The 6 db/octave roll-off enables drivers targeted at different frequencies, such as tweeters/mid-range/woofers, to more evenly blend with and maintain absolute phase with one another. This is a design tenant of many manufacturers including John Dunlavy, Richard Vandersteen and others. However, the transient response of a driver is a function of the driver itself, not the crossover. So a driver's transient response at a given frequency is the same regardless of whether or not it's connected to a 6 db/octave first order filter or a 24 db/octave fourth order filter or no filter at all.

Lastly, I would also take issue with the opinion, presented as fact, as to why Dunlavy went out of business. The statement "Dunlavy in fact went out of business because his designs were serious attempts at building extremely good two-channel speakers, i.e., time-coherence, which requires first-order crossovers and sealed-box woofer loading, the latter requiring gigantic, room-unfriendly boxes.", is entirely inaccurate. If we're fortunate enough that John Dunlavy is still with us, one should ask him as to why the company is no longer in business.

To Dave, The SC-IVA is an excellent choice for the main L/R, however I would be a bit hesitant to pair them with an SC-I center channel speaker. As I said, I have the Alethas which use the same drivers as the SC-IVA. Several years ago, I had a conversation with John Dunlavy about the SC-I for the center channel. He recommended, the SM-I rather than the SC-I as the SM-I uses the same tweeter and mid-range drivers as the Alethas, and in your case the SC-IVA. His reasoning for this was that movies often contain sounds that move across the screen. For example, consider the noise from a car traveling left to right across the screen. The sound of the car would appear first in the left speaker, then the center, and then the right. If the voicing of the center was different than the L/R, your would hear a difference in the sound as it moved from one speaker to the other. This is why many home theater architects recommend, and many mixing studios employ, identical speakers all around. It's less critical in the rear surround channels.

I wouldn't skimp on the center channel speaker. I don't know the actual percentages, but the majority of sound in movie soundtracks, including almost all dialog, comes from the center channel.

While I have never listened to the Snell C/V, I believe the SC-IVA would be a significant upgrade. My only caution would be how well the SC-I would "mate" with the SC-IVA.
A driver operating out of its passband due to a shallow slope crossover cannot handle the power that it could if it were crossed over more steeply. I am not aware of any debate about this point, which is salient if the issue is suitability for home theater, where Patriot Games-type soundtracks are generally cherished and power handling thus very, very important.

Large-scale symphonic music can indeed be more taxing than the vast majority of movie sound tracks, and for this reason, speakers featuring first-order crossovers also generally fall down in power handling on extremely taxing music (there are a few exceptions, such as the gigantic DAL SC-V and SC-VI, each of which features seven drivers to share the punishment -- they can go quite loud). For overall musicality, however, I prefer the DAL / Vandersteen / AudioMachina time-coherent speakers, and despite listening to mostly symphonic music, I've never been troubled by first-order design congestion.

Regarding the demise of Dunlavy Audio Labs, Dave 1's point is well taken. I was never on the inside of this company, and being closely held and the fact that Mr. Dunlavy recently passed away, we will never know for certain what happened. That said, my dealer, whom I have known for fifteen years and who carried Dunlavy's Dunlavy Audio Labs brand from the company's inception through to the end, told me that the company perished because his gigantic speakers were simply unacceptable in what is an overwhelmingly home-theater oriented market place, and that the Cantata / Aletha line was DAL's room-friendly accomodation to the home theater market (that came too little too late). Knowing what I do about the business, that all sounds right, but it appears that Dave 1 was on the inside at DAL -- in any event, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell us how you know what you know.

A final comment with some additional details about the demise of the Dunlavy Audio Labs brand. My comments should not be read to imply that "DAL went out of business" while in John Dunlavy's hands, inasmuch as he did sell the DAL business to a neighbor in his industrial park that had no previous experience in hi-fi. The brand quickly disappeared thereafter and at least part of the remaining stock was purchased by Audio-Video Logic. Mr. Dunlavy was also a principal with Australian speaker manufacturer Duntech (for which he designed similar, gigantic sealed-box time-aligned speakers). For the record, I will say that Mr. Dunlavy was delightful the two or three times that I spoke with him, and I loved my SC-III's and every other DAL speaker I ever heard.

In any event, I fully stand by my original comments -- I believe that first-order crossover designs like Dunlavy are less than ideal for home theater.