Review: Dunlavy Audio Labs SC-IVa

Category: Speakers

When I decided seven years ago to upgrade my audio system, I started by finding a speaker I loved. I searched for almost a year listening to every speaker available in the Minneapolis area. I found Magnepan and MartinLogan to be stunning but too dry and fatiguing for my taste. The midrange was not as deep and rich as I was looking for. Wilson had great sound but beyond the budget I was hoping to stay in. B&W sounded thick and boomy to me and Meridian was electronic and artificial. Thiel, Audio Physics and Dunlavy became the finalists. Being a late ‘60s early ‘70s guy, I came from Marantz and MaIntosh electronics and JBL and Altec Lansing speakers. The size and depth of the sound of Dunlavy along with the exceptional midrange were the final factors in my choosing Dunlavy IV as the speaker I wanted. The problem was I could only afford the Dunlavy III, exceptional midrange but not the ultimate bottom end of the IV.
It was about two years after buying the III's that I had the opportunity to upgrade to the IV's. It turned out that over those two years Dunlavy had improved the IV's and had a new model, IVa. They amazed me to find the IVa was even richer and deeper than the old IV model. The Dunlavy IVa speaker consists of two 10" woofers, two 5" mids and one 1" composite textile dome tweeter. Frequency response is 25Hz to 20 kHz, and Sensitivity is 91 dB with an Impedance of 5 ohms. Size is 72" high, 15" deep and 12" wide with a weigh of 190 lbs. each. $8495/pr
I believe Dunlavy speakers have no rivals within their price category. John Dunlavy is obsessed with designing the most accurate reproductions of sound. To meet this stringent standard Dunlavy has built one of the worlds best-equipped laboratories in order to test his designs. This has lead to some very harsh discussions between John Atkinson of Stereophile and John Dunlavy. It seems that JA does not like being out engineered by one of the great loudspeaker designers and the result was punishing JD by putting the once Stereophile "product of the year" Class A component into their B class after Dunlavy improved the speaker to JA's recommendation. Despite the politics of Stereophile Magazine, this speaker will hold its own with speakers two and three times its cost.
The highs are clear, grain less and extremely extended. JA spoke of them appearing a bit forward but I have never felt that was the case with this speaker, and can hardly believe a comment like that when compared with some of Stereophiles favorites MartinLogan and Meridian. Comments like these only strengthen my lack of trust for this Magazine. The midrange on all Dunlavy speakers is amazingly magical. I have not tried any other speaker that is as pure and life like with the female voice than Dunlavy. They display all the color and texture of the midrange with a crispness and transparency. Bass has long been the contention point of the IV series. The fact that they rate them at 25Hz meaning that it cuts off one organ pedal is hardly an issue for me. On the double bass, even the lowest note is crisply defined with no bloating or smear. The famous subway as heard on Water Lilly Acoustics "Natures Realm" with the Philadelphia Orchestra is deep under my floor forward and to the right. On Cowboy Junkies "Trinity Sessions" the foot pounding on the stage is as if he were in my livingroom pounding on my floor. I have no lack for bass from my speakers, in fact any more might be too much. Sound stage is wide and very deep. Excellent transient speeds, superb impact yet with an effortless smoothness. I truly believe these are the best speakers I can afford and is very much at home in my system. They have never left me lacking or longing for something better. That says a lot for a guy who is always looking for more, but never from my speakers. These are simply great speakers, and their service is exceptional as I found out with my III's, I twice had drivers replaced although it turned out the speakers had nothing to do with the problems I was having.

Associated gear
Sony SCD-1 SACD player
Placette active pre-amp
Plinius SA-102 amps
Nordost Valhalla speaker cable
Nordost Valhalla and NBS Statement interconnects
NBS Statement power cords
Hydra power conditioner

Similar products
Thiel CS7 series
Audio Physic Virgo
Wilson Watt/puppy
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When I had mine I found that sleeping on my goose-down pillow made my 4As sound much better; the only thing honking then was me as I slept!

To many loudspeakers, not enough time...
Precisely! I've had so many speakers I have no connection emotionally with any of them. Must move on in my search for the next's a sickness, but I enjoy it! Should have been a reviewer I geuss. Maybe Maggies??
Glad you guys could see the humor in that. One phrase that I like in regard to Dunlavy speakers is "Don't shoot the messenger" When I first recieved my 4a's, I thought they were bright and bass shy. I decided to play around a bit with placement and put them against the long wall 12 ft apart and sat 10 ft back. I eventually toed them in until the tweeters were firing almost directly at me. What I gained in the bass was substantial, not to mention a soundstage wider than the placement of the speakers and PINPOINT holographic imaging. Let me tell you, if you own these speakers and they don't image like minimonitors, you dont have them setup right - period. Read the professional reviews, they will tell you the same thing. What was amazing to me was that they imaged like this with mediocre gear. The midrange and high frequencys however were a different story. A move from a Krell to a Pass Labs amp just changed everything, no more glare, no more grain, no more listener fatigue and way more detail. I was literally hearing things I hadn't heard on my cd's before. This told me one thing. The speakers were letting me hear my amplifier, and I have never owned a speaker that showed changes in gear quite like these. A tribute to their honesty. Can you handle the truth? I guess some people can't. Fact: The Dunlavy 5's are the most widely used speaker in the cd mastering industry.
All kidding aside, I owned the 5's for 4 years. As monitors they are fantastic. For rock at high spl's they are very good. For jazz, quite good...again, at moderately loud levels. Classical shows up there timbral problems and grainy crossovers. Not very airy on top. Expressiveness and tension at low volume levels is 'nil. Again, they are great speakers for what they do right...scale, weight, authority and slam. When one goes to a wilson, totem, Avalon etc...then you realize what was wrong! Nothing is perfect however, so enjoy the Dunlavy's for what they do right...we all have different tastes.
I thank both Dave b and Daytrader for getting us past what became a very ugly follow-up to a review. As all things I have heard in audio, no two people hear or enjoy the same things. For my personal taste...
... I will stay with the Dunlavy. As Cmpromo found they are very sensitive to set-up (possibly too sensitive) and very equipment dependant. These two issues along with a very small sweet spot could be negatives for many people, not me however. to my ears their has not been another system that I have experienced that betters the sound of what I have.
I need not be right in any other persons mind, only my own in that it is me who listens the most. I simply hoped to share my personal experience with these speakers (and all my equipment) by writing a review. I am happy we all found a place where we could all talk with civility.

A special note to daytrader; I am very sorry you and I got off on an extremely bad start. I apologise hear in public for any immaturity I may have shown, I look at our comments and I am embarrassed for myself. I'm sorry, and yes, I did learn from my near death, I guess I remain flawed however.