Review: Dali Euphonia MS4 Speaker

Category: Speakers

[Abstract Summary]:
I’ve heard and owned a lot of speakers over the past 20-years, and this one ranks as one of the Top-2 under $20k.

[Leap of Faith]:
I had ordered the Dali’s without ever haven seen or heard them in person. The risk as it turns out was well worth it. I made the leap based on in-depth discussions with my long-time audio dealer. At the time, I wasn’t even looking for another pair of speakers. But, something in his voice conveyed an enthusiasm and insight that I have long trusted.

[Arrival & Set Up]:
The Dali MS4's arrived together on two separate wooden palettes and were completely sealed and wrapped in black protective plastic. Having been shipped to my home in New Hampshire, my introduction to the Dali's had begun.

Each of the speakers black plastic housings were secured with thick plastic strapping around the thick cardboard boxes. Inside the boxes were 3-levels of thick styrofoam bumpers that hugged an inner plastic layer that held the wooden speakers snug in position.

The MS4's required a two-person effort to move them to our medium sized family room; one level up. Having now taken root in the footprint of my Dynaudio Contour S3.4's [now re-located to a nearby room for future A/B comparisons]; I hooked the Dali's up to the Plinius 9200 integrated amp, and utilized Transparent Audio Ultra's for cabling [Note: the Ultra's are the recently introduced models that utilize the MM/Opus technology, as well as the newly curved network boxed housings and revised innards]. The Richard Gray 400s fed the SignalCable Power cords to the Plinius 9200 as well as the digital source, all of it fed to the wall outlet.

[Insights on the Plinius 9200]:
Plinius is based out of New Zealand and has a strong following. Having been an owner of many Plinius products over the last 5 years I feel the need to highlight the [just released] newest product: the Plinius 9200. It's performance thus far is beyond stellar. I've owned the following Plinius models: 8150, 8100, 8200MKI, 8200MKII, and now the 9200. I've also owned and auditioned many other Brands of amps and pre-amps and various integrateds. However, the Plinius line of products is the only one I could live with on a long-term basis. What stands out about the newest 9200 ? Basically, the Plinius has never sounded better to my ears. The 9200 can drive loudspeakers at a performance level - equal to; and better than much more expensive separates [power and preamp]. The 9200 has significant sonic improvements over the 8200MKII. Though the 8200MKII was a pleasure to live with, I had no complaints or mis-givings during my time with it. However, some key differences between that and the 9200 ought to be mentioned here.

Without a doubt the Plinius 9200 is able to manage and manipulate most any loudspeakers that are leashed up to it. It's 'drive' and current-management is well beyond the 8200MKII model. The Plinius 9200 has been enhanced and the effort is readily heard. Many of you will appreciate the clean design and well executed 'minimal look', as well as the new thick one-piece wrap around faceplate of thick aluminum. The 9200 has also improved it’s performance while playing/listening at lower volume levels. Overall dynamics and bass response still have the desired impact -without having to play at medium & louder average volumes. The mid-range and highs are excellently reproduced without any indications of grain or lean-ness, or compression. My basic understanding of why the 9200 can perform this way is that it's power supply has a very high reserve current that allows the mid-range and treble to stay very clean. The 9200 in my opinion outperforms the Plinius SA100 & CDLad combo which I have heard many times.

My approach to building an enjoyable music system has always been, to keep it simple. ‘less IS more’. The Plinius 9200 is part of this formula.

[MS4 Break-in]:
A rotation of 2-channel audio cds, dvd films, and occasional HBO digital-cable broadcasting was played for approximately 80+ hours on medium to fuller volumes, prior to this write-up. [Note: the sound prior to break-in was less than ideal and 80+ hours is recommended]. During that time I re-read various articles about the Dali company and their design philosophy, as well as Audio Show reports and any Dali related discussion threads on the web. As a successful loudspeaker company headquartered in Denmark for the last 20 years, Dali's reputation from the international audio communities seemed promising. And, with the recently introduced Euphonia Series [the MS4 is part of this Series; 2cd in line from the largest Euphonia model; the MS5], the MS4's seemed to have the most publicity and good word of mouth. This model in particular will certainly capture the attention for those of you with an eye for strong design-lines, and appreciation for top of the line craftsmanship. Fans of Wilson Audio, B&W, Revel, Dynaudio, and other bold designs take note. [and yes, a desire for top-notch sonics was assumed].

[impressions of the Dali Aesthetics]:
A strong Danish design of converging edges married to tapered curves, all of which draw upwards towards a sloping top plane, which slants downward towards the listener. Each MS4 body is settled on top of a thickly tapered and massive polished black granite base plate which is also angled and not a typical ‘flat-slab’. The MS4’s ¾ profile view is certainly unique among loudspeaker designs, and pictures cannot do it justice. Beyond the design lines of the cabinet, the wood finish: 'Alpi' [in this case] is among the most beautiful and interesting wood grains I've encountered [including furniture]. It has a rich-holographic layered effect; very much like a tigers-eye gem stone, and it's wood grain layers seem to change as you move around them whether you are near or far from the physical speaker. The color shading reminds me of a dark burnt chestnut hue. The drivers [see specs below and note: I believe the frequency response from the Dali website to be extremely conservative as compared to experiences in my living room] are protected by a stiff and tapered grill and cloth which meets the housing plate of the drivers with considerably secure ness. The [4] rear cable binding posts are thickly machined and offer a lot of surface area contact for spades in my case, and can be bi-wired if needed. Copper wire jumpers are provided but can prove less than easy to configure on first attempts. Spikes are provided as well. The overall presence of this Dali is one of a slightly aggressive yet graceful stance.

[Dali MS4 Drivers]:
High frequency drivers : 1 x 29 mm soft dome + 1 x 10 x 55 mm Super ribbon tweeter
Low frequency drivers : 2 x 6.5”
Bas reflex system resonance : 31.5 Hz
Dimensions (HxWxD) : 40.75 x 8.75 x 17.0 inch.
Weight : 38 Kg / 84 lb

Comparisons are inevitable, so here you go. [note: for those interested I’ve owned most of the B&W Matrix, a couple B&W Nautilus, Wilson Audio Witts, Dynaudio 1.3SpecialEdition, Dynaudio Special25, and currently own the Dynaudio Contour S3.4, and now own the Dali MS4, and have extensively auditioned A LOT of other fine brands and models in audio shops over the years] . Back to my A/B: In a direct comparison to my other speakers the Dynaudio S3.4 in my home, the results were obvious and instant. The Dyn’s S3.4 certainly retain their pre-exiting merits, it is quite musical, and can be slightly forgiving on lesser than ideal source material. So after playing various tracks [between both models] one thing was apparent – the sound of the Dyn’s seemed flatter and rounder. Additionally, the bass of the Dyns now sounded thicker and tired. [Note here: I did not say flat/round/thick in absolute terms; I said: flatER/roundER/thickER ; like going in a direction not a final destination]. The sound of the Dyn S3.4s was still quite good but smaller in sound and overall clarity. The biggest distinction I observed was the emotional content. The Dyn’s seemed mellow, and the Dalis were fully engaged and expressive. If you take the emotional factor out of the A/B comparison and go on sound alone: the Dali MS4’s provided at least 20% more information during playback [including clarity, micro-dynamics, macro-dynamics, focus and layering]. Lastly, the A/B session highlighted a newly discovered trait of the Dyns, in that the resonance of the S3.4’s cabinet was now audibly-contributing to the Dynaudio sound at fuller volumes; whereas the MS4’s had no cabinet sound contribution at all – it was audibly invisible. I was personally surprised with the results. I had mentally prepared myself for a ‘close-race’ or very subtle refinements and/or minor differences. What I got [quickly and without a doubt] was a very ear-opening experience to say the least. In summary, if you love the Dynaudio’s sound as I do, that does not necessarily have to change. I still find the Dynaudio S3.4s to be a musical and well balanced loudspeaker. But, the Dyn’s did not compete in the same league as the Dali on the bass reproduction or the imaging, and definitely lacked the detail and extension of the Dali. I’ve got little doubt that the bigger brother of the Dyn S3.4, the S5.4 could keep up with the Dali. The biggest gap between the Dali and Dyn was the amount of missing audible information on the Dyn’s.

An audio friend of mine is getting a pair of Wilson Audio WP7 this week, and I hope to also do an ‘A/B’ comparison shortly; which should prove interesting. The Dali MS4 had taken everything I appreciated in audio gear and the listening experience, and re-presented it to me on an entirely new and deeply satisfying level.

[The MS4 Sound]:
Oh, sweet liberty ! The silence had been replaced by a room full of crystal clear and wonderfully enveloping music. Instruments were concisely outlined and hanging throughout the room. Then it appeared, out of no-where: a rapid-fire of gripping bass that was alarmingly real and articulate. The best way to describe the mid and lower bass presentation is, absolutely RIVETING. This is not your ill-defined, soft, rounded, slow and sloppy, flowery bass response. I am talking about rich and tightly woven bass notes. Would I ever mate these with a subwoofer ? I honestly don’t see the need. The MS4 cabinet design and internal bracing and magical drivers must take most of the credit here, as it didn’t add any resonance during the listening sessions [a compare to the Dynaudio A/B will show surprisingly different behavior later in this text]. The overall tonal balance was captivating, without drawing negative attention, or over-emphasis. Compression and edginess were non-issues. The tonal balance was without fault. [note: for those of you with bright/edgy/or thin sounding gear or cabling, you may want to consider fixing that first; as the Dali’s are going to show you any ‘nasties’ in your electronics chain]. The MS4’s were never hyper-analytical or over blown; the presentation was consistently beautiful with a powerful grace, and easily drew me in.

[Do they image well ?]
Without reservation, Yes they produce first-class imaging. I used only a hint of toe-in and sat (9.5’) feet back from the MS4’s, with the tweeter to tweeter distance apart being almost 7.5’. Music from Alison Krauss to Pat Methany, various instrumentals, vocals, dvd-films, all offered up a soundstage that was easily portrayed and obvious to discern. Ambiance and space around the instruments was consistently rendered and varied in size depending on the source material. Overall, no complaints in the imaging dept. Sound staging was strongly defined overall, with the minor exception of depth [on my initial setup & placement]. My original placement of the Dali MS4s’ seemed to limit a deep soundstage into the front listening wall. So with some minor adjustments [pulling the MS4’s further out into the room] I was able to correct this. You should note that this is not a dedicated listening room, it’s a real world living room. There is furniture and lamps, windows, doorways, and room for my 2-year old to watch ‘Bob the Builder’ on a regular basis. Since I am able to re-position the Dalis’ when active listening is the priority, I don’t see this as any weakness of any system/loudspeakers. As in most loudspeaker cases, the additional breathing space around the Dali’s – now contributed to the heightened airiness and deeper depth of the front soundstage.

Without hesitation I can easily say, the Dali MS4’s are the finest loudspeaker I’ve ever heard in my home, and one of the most accurate and pleasing loudspeakers [a Top-2 ranking for speakers under $20k] that I’ve heard anywhere over the past 20+ years.

The Dali Euphonia MS4 is a gift, a balanced combination of clarity and grace while being emotionally powerful.

Somehow Dali has managed to design a small foot-print, narrow front baffle, small-ish size, compelling curves, bonded to a non-vibrating core, all dressed up in a gorgeous exterior, at an asking price that is more than reasonable given it’s performance. I predict that the Dali MS4 will be going “toe-to-toe” with many other loudspeaker competitors, and will most likely - not even break a sweat. Of course you will need to be the final judge in those matters, and I certainly encourage you to do so.

Welcome to the USA Dali !

[Software Used]:
charlie haden & pat metheny . cd . beyond the missouri sky
tori amos . cd . scarlets walk
james taylor . cd . october road
john coltrane . cd . coltrane
mark knopfler . cd . the ragpicker's dream
bebel gilberto . cd . tanto tempo
james taylor . dvd . live at the beacon theatre
minority report . dvd
and others.

Associated gear
Plinius 9200
Amplifier: Plinius 9200
Sources (CDP): cd 2-channel, dvd 2-channel
Speakers: Dali MS4
Cables/Interconnects: Transparent Audio: MusicWave Ultra, MusicLink Ultra (new product/model with OpusMM technology) speaker & interconnect cabling
Room Size (LxWxH): 16 x 22 x 9
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Richard Gray 400S
"Wow, great review. And guess what? There's a pair for sale on Audiogon right now, but wait...they're yours. Kinda sleazy, don't you think?"

Dude. He reviewed the speakers in 2003 and your comment was from 2011.

Looks like he owned them 8-9 years. Sounds like a man of his word to me.
I find this thread somewhat amusing now. The first gap was 7 years and now only two. It's narrowing a bit!

I own theses speakers and don’t really understand how they could be labeled

as “bright”. They are very revealing and need good components as you will hear every parts of the chain.

I used them with Luna Mauve cables, prior to those I had Chord Epic that sounded very bright. My lampizator DAC once fed by a Plixir Conditioner found perfect tonal balance. It is being driven without efforts by an Analog Ausio Maestro Anniversary integrated. Also Gaia feet made a huge difference in the tonal balance and clarity.

In conclusion, you definitely need a good source for these speakers. Clean power, good cables, decent streamer and DAC if you go digital.