Review: Dali Helicon 800 Speaker
Anticipating a move to smaller quarters with a smaller listening room, along with my bad back, I made preparations to downsize my speakers.
So, I sold my B&W Nautilus 802, and my VSA VR4-SR. I picked up a pair of VSA VR4-jr. to replace them.
With the VR4-SR gone, I dutifully set up the VR4-jr in my large listening room, for what I expected to be a short time. However with the housing market at such a low, I literally have amost no showings for months, so I dug in for the time being.
The JRs were pre-owned in excellent condition, so they were well broken in. The problem: I found them rather disappointing. Particularly in bass definition, regardless of lead shot, spiking, etc. The dynamics were not what I was used to. The cheaper tweeter, though competent enough, wasn't in the same league as the SR. I also realized I was kind of tired of the VR look and the unexceptional wood veneering and fit and finish of these Chinese-made products.
That's when, merely by chance, I heard the Dali Helicon 800. I was rather impressed not only by the sound, but by the gorgeous cabinet work and incredible veneering finished in a rubbed, high gloss finish. Photos don't do these speakers justice. They are simply scrumptious.
But I don't want a speaker based on appearance. Based on this audition, and Absolute Sound's speaker of the year award to the smaller Helicon 400, I decided to buy the 800's. I had the opportunity to buy a new pair at discount, and went with it.
Unboxing them, I was literally knocked out by their appearance.. After hooking them up, they initially sounded midrange distant and somewhat bright and disjointed. I made a desperate call to Dali USA, where they gently calmed me down, and told me to expect many stages of break in, with changes in different drivers at differing speeds. I was convinced I needed to wait and give them time.
After 50 hours, a coherent, musical sound emerged and filled my large listening room with music with a presentation different than my past speakers.
The Helicon 800 has a very airy, open, clear sound, likely due, at least in part, to the unique tweeter design. Even though the ribbon crosses over at 13K, it affects frequency ranges far lower. Cymbals, violins, brass, voices, nearly all instruments were surrounded and separated by a live cushion of air that was most appealing, musical and natural sounding. Images had an unwavering stability in the soundstage. You can hear into the deep reaches of the soundstage more than what my other speakers were capable of.
The Nautilus 802 is more forward and flattened in depth. It is also more aggressive sounding, particularly in the midrange, upper midrange and lower treble. The B&W did not have the delicate airiness or ultimate detail of the Helicon, nor the ultimate finesse, and it also had a metallic edge that became noticeable on certain material and lesser recordings.
The Helicon's bass is just a bit warm and bloomy, but is very pleasant and never boomy or uncontrolled. I prefer this type of bass to the overdamped, overtight bass that some audiophiles prize. The VR senior had the best bass of all, as well it should with the high quality metal drivers it uses. Still, I found the Helicon bass to be more than capable for most needs. This speaker can be played at very loud volumes and belt out the bass passages with no signs of distress.
The overall sonic picture is one of a very large soundstage, both in width and depth, though neither forward nor recessed. It is certainly less in your face than either the Nautilus or the VR senior, both of which are more forward sounding designs.
I found the Helicon 800 to be a speaker just slightly warm of neutral in the lower and mid regions, with a revealing and airy high end that is best served by trying different cable combinations and equipment matching. It will show you what's wrong with your equipment, but it will also reward you with easy placement, mellifluous, pleasant, and musical sound that reveals detail in an easy manner. It is simply a speaker to enjoy listening to music on, without feeling you are listening to a hyped up, hi-fi sounding speaker.
No speaker, or component for that matter, is perfect. But I have found the Dali to be such a musical, pleasant and beautiful looking instrument that I am happy to keep this speaker. At 90 pounds, it is a weight and size that is manageable and moveable. I have no knowledge of the Mark 2 version, which is said to have larger woofer magnets, which necessitated changing the crossover and the cabinet slightly to accommodate the electrical parameters. It may sound different, maybe better, or maybe some of the magic I hear will be gone. Hence, I have no interest in changing, plus the beautiful front veneering is gone on the Mark 2, which I enjoy admiring, as all my listening is done with the grills removed.
Dali is relatively new to the US market, but I anticipate the more exposure Dali speakers receive, the more admirers these fine Danish designs of impeccable fit, finish and sonics will garner. Do keep in mind that the speakers need to be broken in and their associated equipment carefully chosen. I have since heard Dali's at dealerships where they didn't sound that good at all.. But then, I don't have much respect for the majority of dealers I have encountered over the years, or their ability to hear, setup and match equipment competently.
At the price the Helicon 800 is available on the used market, it is a true bargain, and I know of no full range speaker that could match its overall abilities at this price level.
Conrad Johnson CT5 preamplifier
Bel Canto DAC3
Pass Labs X250.5
B&W Nautilus 802
Von Schweikert VRjr
Von Schweikert VRsr