Review: Dynaudio Contour S3.4 Speaker
As my wife ran up the stairs in our home to see me, two things were obvious; one she was smiling, and secondly she had tears welled-up in her eyes. "those ARE Amazing" she said, referring to the new Dynaudio S3.4's
And so it begins...
I had originally heard from a journalist in Europe (well over a year ago) that the Contour line was being 'worked-on & re-visited' by Dynaudio. I inquired around for months through dealers, web-sites, audio friends, and all was pretty quiet re; the new Contour line. As the months past I gained little snippets of confirmation and knew that it was only a matter of time till they were 'officially disclosed'. By the time I actually had them in my living room; I have to admit that my expectations were quite high. The proverbial "bar" had recently been raised by the purchase of the Dyn Special25's that were enjoying their sweet-spot in our living room for the past few months. My wife and I thought that THAT was the last model for us for a long time. However, the curiosity of the new Contour line proved to be too much for us and we ordered a pair.
Note: [We also considered the choosing the larger S5.4 model but it didn't pass the room-friendly 'how-tall is it ?' test. The S5.4 does have the Esotar2 tweeter as well as an additional driver; compared to the the S3.4 model which houses the newly designed Estotec tweeter and newly designed mid/bass drivers. The S5.4 is a 3-way design; the S3.4 a 2 ½ way design. Other models we auditioned during the past year included the WilsonAudio Sophia, WilsonAudio WP6, Thiel2.4, Dyn Confidence2's, Contour3.0, and Dyn Contour3.3, Dyn C3, and B&W Nautilus802, and a few others]
The S3.4's arrived double-boxed a few weeks back and had a fairly easy and un-eventful break-in period as I played them continually with 2-channel audio and 2-channel dvd films at various volumes. Compared to the Special25's (more on the S25 later) which took well over 2-monthes to fully break-in; the S3.4's were quick to open up and relax. Cosmetically the S3.4's are a simple and refined Danish design with subtle cues from the more expensive Confidence and Evidence lines. The black base plinth's are a wonderful touch and anchor the S3.4 to the floor and incorporate a spike-level-adjustable feature from the top, i.e. you don't have to turn the S3.4 on it's side or upside down to adjust the spikes. The grill-cloth's are situated on the drivers metal face plates via hidden magnets, and can be taken on and off with a slow and steady pull; these are not flimsy connections at all and the magnetic tightness is surprising; no plastic nubs to break-off. The grills hug the corners in a tear-drop fashion and perfectly align with the outside perimeter of the drivers. From the profile view, you are able to see through the grill spacing and the profile of the drivers edges as well as the round side of the tweeter. All of it is tightly nestled behind the grills; giving it a 'multi layered sandwich effect'. The (2) 6.5" newly designed drivers reside vertically above the newly designed 1" soft-dome tweeter. The fit and finish are flawless; as one should expect in any loudspeaker priced at $5,000. Standard WBT clear binding posts (no bi-wire; i.e. clean and simple) are found at the bottom rear. The S3.4 are not imposing nor bulky, and will not physically overwhelm a smaller/medium sized room; as their footprint is very small and reasonable. Sliding them on carpet is a breeze. For comparison purposes: the front dimension of the S3.4's are narrower and slightly taller than the S25's (if you have the S25's on 24" stands), and the depth is very similar. Overall, the look and stance of the S3.4 is not predominantly "rectangular" as you'd expect, instead you will find your eyes following the hour-glass curves of the face-plate/grill clothes tear-drop shape directly flowing down towards the complementary curves of the base-plates.
So my wife rolls her eyes as I unpack yet another pair of speaker box's (S3.4) in our living room, I smile back to her and say: "...I know, I know -- let's just see how they do..."
After initial S3.4 break-in we both picked our most familiar and favorite cd's and dvd movies from the bookcase, and the evaluation began. (Note: music and film listed in a later section).
First things first:
How well do the S3.4's image ?
In a word: Superbly
Reasoning: You should know that imaging is one of the quality's that we are very fond of when auditioning speakers and eventually a big factor when selecting them for our home. Typically we are not huge fans of big floor-standing loudspeakers because they don't always typically image as well as smaller 2-way (physically smaller box) monitor(s). Well, the S3.4's do image equally as well as our S25's and prior 1.3SE's. In many ways the S3.4's bettered the smaller box models with respect to the height, size, and depth of the image. Not only does the 46" tall S3.4 disappear -- it does so, easily. We have owned most B&W Matrix models, a few B&W Nautilus models, and the WilsonAudio Witts. Many of them a fine speaker; however in most cases the imaging and overall picture/image of the music would suffer. An example of this is when you are listening to your audio/video system and then find yourself glancing directly over to one of the speakers. If the physical speaker is calling attention to itself; then you are not 'at that moment' immersed in the music - rather you are now listening 'TO' -or- 'AT' the music. This is also known as a distraction.
For us, loudspeaker "imaging" is like a magic trick (illusion); similar to when the magician (in our case the loudspeakers) is really good, you don't realize you are being tricked; you just enjoy the "magic" (music) first and foremost. However, when the magician is bad then you start noticing things or looking where you shouldn't be; or analyzing it; then you miss the “magic” part of the "show"; i.e. the trick isn't sooo magical anymore because you weren't fooled. In this case the S3.4's image superbly, as we have yet to catch ourselves being distracted by the speakers themselves.
How do they (S3.4's) sound ?
In a word: NATURAL(organic)
Reasoning: The S3.4's have a very ‘tangible’ and un-processed quality, and they are not like any prior speaker we've owned or auditioned. The S3.4's possess a new and exceptional 'voicing' as compared to all older models of Dyn's. The only way that I can articulate what my ears hear is to say that the timbre and resonance character has been made more organic and integrated. Part of what constitutes the organic flavor is the smoothness between drivers and overall tonal balance (not lean; not heavy; not light; not dark) as well as the drivers themselves; also the inverted driver array. The voicing of the S3.4's is one of it's greatest strengths and should appeal to many who audition them. There is a real sense of flow that you will immediately notice upon your first audition. Note1: [I'm not sure what Dynaudio uses for electronics to voice their speakers when they designed and developed their new Contours; but I bet it isn't the same gear as what they used to design and voice the prior Contour models. I heard that they used Gryphon electronics at one point. I digress, but I definitely prefer the new 'natural' character and voicing of the S3.4 in comparison to say the Dyn C2. The Confidence2 is a $12k loudspeaker that I've auditioned 3x in two different locations/systems. It has (2) Esotar2 tweeters, but each and every time I auditioned them I was left 'slightly cold' (no offense to Dynaudio) but for $12k I want some deeper bass; and I want imaging that extends past the vertical planes of the front face-plate; not just between the speakers.] Note2: [In comparison for less than ½ the cost of the C2 you can own the S3.4's and I think that the S3.4's give the C2 more than serious competition. In fact you can own both the S25 and the S3.4's and still have $2,200 left over.... Something to consider]. In short – think of the S3.4 sound as an open flowing natural portal without resistance.
Mark Knopfler - cd.The Ragpicker's Dream [warnerbros 9 48318]
Track 4 (on S25’s): definitely a subtle and slightly nasal quality in voice, slight boominess heard but not always discernable, piano is subtle, drum stick tap is in rear of image is heard but cannot hear the ‘wood’ of the drumstick.
Track 4 (on S3.4’s): nasal quality is still there but not as high pitched. Smoooooother overall, less analytical sounding; piano is rendered nicer in it’s tones; staging is relaxed and clearer and each note hangs for extended time, drum stick tap is now more closely miked and detailed – sounds like ‘wood’ tapping metal. Huge difference.
Track 8 (on S25’s): I hear the rhythm but don't sense it's impact, voice is warm and raspy, guitar is clean and clear without problems, turn it up picture is retained, no edginess.
Track 8 (on S3.4’s): kick drum and backing vocals are richer and realistic with some depth; layering and spacing (depth wise) of instruments is more precise and easy to pick out.
What about the bass ?
One criteria that we both dislike when auditioning any loudspeaker is: the amount of manufactured bass "bloom" in the lower bass regions. Many other loudspeaker makers seem quick and proud to cloud the lower regions with something other than musical instrument reproduction; we refer to it as "made-up bass noise". While listening to the S3.4's we did not hear any discernable made-up bass or artificial bloom - Period. What we did experience was fluent and expressive bass notes from real instruments. In comparison to the the S25's and 1.3SE's: both of those models are not able to match the frequency response of the S3.4's. Note: [We personally dislike the idea of trying to marry a sub to two main speakers. Given all the variables: the sub's volume/loudness, the x-over, the integration; the positioning, the quantity of sub's, etc etc. We prefer to take a speaker the way it comes (whether it be a 2-way or floor stander 3-way) so as to avoid the associated anxiety of integrating a subwoofer; and not having to ask: "is the sub(s) finally optimized ? lets try another setting and position for the sub....forget it." For a dedicated home-theatre, I can see using subwoofers.] The S3.4's have remarkable bass response; I cannot quote you a frequency range as of this writing; but it puts a smile on our face everytime the S3.4 starts digging deep - and it does so without adding any artificial ingredients, and it does so easily.
Example: Norah Jones - dvd.Live in New Orleans [blue note]
Track 5 (on S25’s): cymbals guitar piano - spot on, vocals overlay everything
Track 5: (on S3.4’s): bass line is much livelier and complements the song, piano is not as sparkly want to turn it up up up
Track 9 (on S25’s): sounds clear but something is lacking - boogie factor, organ is solid, lower bass is slightly muted; vocals are even
Track 9 (on S3.4’s): vocals seem smoother; kick drum is now felt - i.e. we have boogie factor !
Example:Steve Tyrell - cd.Standard Time [columbia ck86006]
Track 2 (on S25’s): firm bass, voice seems light and a touch of honky, piano is there but slightly veiled.
Track 2 (on S3.4’s): voice is more relaxed and less honk; piano notes are deeply in my ears like a pair of headphones
Track 7 (on S25’s): not much outside the physical sides of the box, narrow soundstage, piano is nice and clean, bass line is quiet,
Track 7 (on S3.4’s): larger soundstage; nothing beaming strait out of the speaker, bass line is more distinguishable, piano keys are easier to visualize; effortless and lot’s of breathing room between instruments; not darker but more “mood” in the song.
Is the new Esotec tweeter as good as the Esotar2 tweeter ?
In a word: yes
Reasoning: well, of course it depends on you, and your taste. We prefer the new Esotec more often than the Esotar2. Why ?, well on certain source material we found the Esotar2 (used in the Dyn S25) to reveal everything to a degree that some may find or refer to as 'too revealing'. The Esotar2 has many incredible attributes but can be less forgiving if you are not listening to well recorded material and have a substantially funded rack of electronics. The Esotar2 is a wonderful tweeter most of the time. The new Esotec seems to be as smooth without going to the 'Extreme fine line' of the Esotar2, In other words, you can probably enjoy more 'less perfectly recorded material' without reaching for the volume 'down' direction. I am most curious what the S5.4 will sound like with the Esotar2 tweeter in it; w/ similar design and construction as the S3.4's. Don't get me wrong, the Esotar2 with the right equipment and right source material is an unbelievable tweeter; probably the very best I've ever heard (under ideal source material and gear). Under less ideal conditions though - the Esotar2 tweeter can occasionally sound slightly "over exposed" NOT nasally; not hard; not fatiguing, not metallic, .. the kindest words too describe it could be that it: "dance the fine line of too extreme”. The only other tweeter which floored me was the original Esotar (found on the C3’s); sometimes I think that is sweeter than the Esotar2. In summary, for everday listening of 'non-audiophile recordings', as well as dvd films; the new S3.4 Esotec driver is SUPER SMOOTH and never sounds 'over exposed'. Note: [The same/new Esotec tweeter found in the new S1.4's should easily rival the 1.3SE's tweeter; making the 1.3SE tweeter seemed prematurely rolled-off. We lived with the 1.3SE's for more than 2-years and we are confident (in our experiences) that this new tweeter is more musical and natural sounding than the version in the 1.3SE's; and a smidge more forgiving that the Esotar2. ]
Example: Joni Mitchell - cd.Hejira [asylum 1087-2]
Track 3 (on S25’s); here comes the fine line of too much resolution on the upper voice of Joni through the s25's... reaching for the remote, imaging is very very good though. Bass line is quick and below the physical box of the speaker, harmonica is sweet and layered with the voice
Track 3 (on S3.4’s): listenable all the way through. Much different experience with the high frequencies, can play at same volume without wanting to turn it down
Track 8 (on S25’s): voice is getting muttled in the instruments and the chorus section get's bright and edgy.
Track 8 (on S3.4’s): imaging is spot on; voice is sweet without being edgy, guitar plucking is apparent
Example: Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane - cd [xrcd nj8276]
Track 4 (on S25’s): Clear and open, superb imaging well above height of speaker top
Electric guitar starts in w/black quiet background; sax comes back in to accompany; very nicely executed
Track 4 (on S3.4’s): matching S25 on realism; however there is more ‘ambiance’ of the recording setting and enviroment; bigger sense of space around the musician’s
Track 5 (on S25’s): Clear but depth of soundstage arrangement is short - not deep, once too many instruments the picture gets flat.
Track 5 (on S3.4’s): Soundstage is larger and doesn’t lose the mood of the music when all instruments are playing at the same time; no congestion.
I have lived happily with the 1.3Se's, S25's and the S3.4's. The 1.3Se are easily outclassed compared to the S25's and S3.4's with respect to overall sound, range, dynamics, and resolution. So it comes down to the S25's and S3.4's. I have played them side-by-side in my house and we both are confident in our observations within the context of our system; we cannot tell you how these perform under different equipment and room etc. Our listening indicates that the S3.4 has an inherent level of finesse and sonic strength that moves beyond the outstanding qualities found in the S25. Since the S25 has a 25-year warranty and is limited production; as well as the Esotar2 tweeter - it could be the last speaker purchase for many people and they could be completely satisfied for a very long time. The S25 does tend to omit some lower hz information (by design) which further illuminates it’s mid-range and upper strengths.
The Dynaudio S3.4's Contours in contrast, embody a new and Natural voicing that convincingly sounds right on most source material. The S3.4's present a strong organic character when portraying instruments and vocals; without the additives. The soundstage is always well developed and reachable. There is an ambience of space which is larger and more enveloping as compared to the S25. The rhythm and boogie-factor is felt in spades. They are well balanced, and very smooth, portraying all the beautiful timbre's and musical textures more times than not --without dancing the fine line of over extending it’s resolution capabilities.
To convey the intrinsic magic many of us search for in a loudspeaker, and given it's asking price and performance - I dare say that with the Dynaudio S3.4 we have " a new Classic".
Bravo Dynaudio, and thank you !
Plinius 8200mkII integrated amplifier
Transparent Cable :
MusicLink Ultra (new product/model with OpusMM technology) interconnect cabling
MusicWave Ultra (new product/model with OpusMM technology) loudspeaker cabling
Richard Gray's Power Company - RGPC 400S
Signal Cable - Magic Power AC Power Cord (10-gauge hospital grade)
Source: (In process of upgrading)
Sony DVD/CD Player (2-channel audio & dvd 2-channel; dual purpose)
Dynaudio S3.4 Contours
Dynaudio S25 (special anniversary)
Dynaudio 1.3SE (special editions, owned for 2years no longer have)
Target R6 speaker stands ((4)x 4" pillars, filled with sand)
Sony 32" (replacing with Sony HiDef XBR)
Music & Films used during review:
James Taylor - cd.October Road
John Coltrane - cd.Coltrane [impulse impd-215]
Joni Mitchell - cd.Hejira [asylum 1087-2]
Mark Knopfler - cd.The Ragpicker's Dream [warnerbros 9 48318]
Steve Tyrell - cd.Standard Time [columbia ck86006]
Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane - cd [xrcd nj8276]
Norah Jones - dvd.Live in New Orleans [blue note]
James Taylor - dvd.Live at the Beacon Theatre
Minority Report - dvd [dreamworks]
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - dvd [superbit sony]