Review: Focal Micro Be vs. Dynaudio C1 mk1 Monitor

Category: Speakers

About two months ago I had a pair of Dynaudio C1 in my system for about a week and I have compared them extensively with my Focal Micro Utopia Be speakers. Even though both these great monitors have been retired now, I feel is not a bad idea to compare them and open a thread on this topic. Many might still be interested in these exceptional speakers, especially since their prices have gone down considerably.

My system consists of an Accuphase combo (the E-550 class A integrated - 30 watts into 8 ohms and doubling down to 2 ohms) and the DP-500 CD player, a pair of Focal Micro Utopia Be with Focal stands and a REL Stentor 3 subwoofer. My room is quite large (L x W x H: 7.5 x 4.3 x 2.7 meters, i.e. 24.6 x 14.7 x 8.9 feet) with the speakers firing along the short wall and situated a bit more than a meter from the back wall. The room is not treated but the speakers are placed out into the room quite far from any walls. Except for the back wall and the ceiling which are empty, the rest of the walls are covered with books/cd shelf and/or curtains to minimize reflections (see my virtual system for some "vague" pics).

I listen to all types of good music from jazz and classical to rock/pop and metal. But my current favorite (for the last two years or so) is Loreena McKennith. I usually listen music at around 70-75 dB during the day and 60 - 65 dB during the night (measurements made with a digital radio shack dB meters - the A weighted setting) and in general I get very good stereo image (pinpoint accuracy on the right recordings). Thus, it should be clear that I like speakers that can play any type of music and sound good when played at rather low volumes.

The CDs I use most of the time to evaluate components (thus also for this comparison) are:

1) Loreena McKennitt - Nights from Alhambra (track 8 on disc one)
2) Tord Gustavsen - Being there (tracks 1 and 4)
3) Ludovico Einaudi - La Scala Concert 03/03/03 (track 3 on disc one)
4) Dali CD - volume 2 (tracks 2, 5, 6, 7 and 13)
5) Marantz - High-End Audiophile Test DEMO SACD 12th edition (tracks 4 and 9)
6) Norah Jones - Come away with me (mostly track 10 to make sure I am right between the speakers and probably also parts of the tracks 1, 3, 5 and 7)
7) Diana Krall - Live in Paris (track 11)
8) AC/DC - High way to hell (track 1)
9) Dream Theater - Awake (tracks 1, 6, 7, and 11)

Since I am very familiar with my MicroBes which I have for 2.5 years or so, I have moved them to make place for the C1 and spent quite some time to place the C1 properly. Once in placed I have listen to the C1 for 3-4 days. I have listened the C1s with and without the REL subwoofer (which of course was optimized for the C1). Then, in the last 2-3 days I have compared the two speakers directly, i.e. alternative listen sessions that lasted between 5 and 30 minutes.

I will start the comparison by saying that I have liked the C1s very very much. I still like my MicroBes, but the C1s left quite an impression on me. The spectral balance of these two speakers is very different and two things are immediately apparent. With the C1s it is the low department that stands out immediately. It is really incredible how much bass these speakers can put out. With the MicroBes on the other hand it is the high frequencies that stand out, i.e. they have very clean and clear high that never sound harsh or fatigue. Now, this is not to say that one speakers has poor highs while the other one has poor bass. No definitively not. The Dynaudio Esotar2 tweeter is just as revealing and fast as the Be tweeter but it does not put out as much energy in the room as the beryllium tweeter. The situation is similar also in the bass department, the MicroBes have very good bass just not as much as the C1. I am sure both companies could have easily boosted up the highs or the bass on their designs, but they choose not to do so because they had different goals in mind.

With the MicroBes it is all about speed and transparency, they are like a magnifying glass revealing all the details in the music. They do this without being fatigue or thin. The C1s one the other hand, are not about details but about natural timber. As mentioned, they are just as fast and detailed as the MicroBes but they have a more relaxed presentation and have a much more fuller midrange. With the C1s the accent is on the music, if you want to hear the details you can hear them (you just need to concentrate a bit - just like with live music) but what is important is the music as a whole.

The C1 also imaged better than the MicroBe and, to me, also sounded more natural on most instruments and voices. The only exception was the pianos which IMO where better rendered by the Focals. The Focals, on the other hand, were more involving at low volumes (60 - 65 dBs) and could be integrated with a subwoofer easier and with better results (at both low and mid sound levels). The C1 definitively need a subwoofer when played at low level (60 - 65 dBs) while when played at 70-80 dBs can still benefit from a subwoofer. However, because of their very healthy bass output, they are rather difficult to integrate with a subwoofer. This was actually the reason why in the end I have decided not to buy the C1. When comparing these two speakers I knew that in two months I will be moving into a new home where I will have a much smaller room for my system (4.7 x 3.5 x 2.4 meters) and I was afraid the C1's bass output will overwhelm this smaller room. If only the dealer would have given me the plugs for the bass ports ...

I will conclude by saying that they are both special speakers, however, as much as I loved my MicroBes the C1s really left an impression on me (that other great monitors .e.g. Diablo Utopia and Wilson Duette, did not). Depending on ones priorities in sound I can see different people preferring one speaker over the other. However, ideally it would be to have a speaker that is a combination of these two (or of Diablo and C1), i.e. have all the details readily noticeable and also the seductive and full midrange of C1. Unfortunately, Dynaudio offers not bookshelf speaker in the Evidence line.

Finally, I will say a few words about the evolutions of the two speakers I have compared, i.e. Focal Utopia Diablo and Confidence C1 mk2, in the hope that other that have listen these new models might share their experiences. I have listen the Diablos and to me they were very much along the same lines as the MicroBes, i.e. very transparent and fast (even more so than the MicroBes). Their midrange was somewhat fuller than that of MicroBes but nowhere near as seductive as the one of C1. Therefore, given their high price I do not think I am interested in the Diablos. (I will be better off getting a pair of C1 mk1 and also keeping the MicroBes as it will cost me halve the retail prices of the Diablos.) On the other hand, I've read that the new C1 mk2 and signature models play music better than the old C1s at low volumes, have tighter bass, and are also clearer (maybe they are the Evidence bookshelf I wished earlier). I did not listen them yet, however, if that is indeed the case, than it is very likely that in the near future I will buy a pair of these babies (either the mk2ss or the signatures).

I am looking forward to your opinions.

Best regards,

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Diablo Utopia Be, Avantgarde Uno, Quad 2805
Does anyone know if the Esotar II tweeters in the new Confidence mkII line are any different in design than in the original Confidence line? Or are they just brought up in volume as Nvp is suggesting? These are such fine tweeters, perhaps the increased volume is just the thing to improve the overall sound.

BTW, I've finally been able to hear what my C1's can do (or have I?) when I added Gabriel Gold Reflection IC's and Rapture speaker cables. I never knew the C1's could put out that much very real base and create such a righteous soundstage. Its really dramatic. Since this experience, I've become a true believer in proper cables.
An update:

This week, i.e. one year and a month since i wrote the original review, I
bought a pair of Dynaudio C1 mk1 speakers with the Dynaudio Stand 4
stands. It was really unexpected. The seller was living 10-15 minutes driving
from my home, and since the price was fair, I though it might be worth while
to check out the speakers. Unfortunately, for my wallet of course :), the
speakers were in as new condition and the seller also had all the documents
and boxes (including the box of the stands!). Given the romance I had with
the C1 mk1 last year I could not resist and bought the speakers on the spot.

I have install the speakers last night and they sound beautifully. The situation
is consistent with the experience I had with the C1s last year when I wrote
the review. The C1s image much better than the Focal Utopia Micro Be, and
unlike the MicroBes are very room-friendly in this respect. I just put them in
the position were my MicroBes were, toe them in a bit and puff they
disappeared. Voices are dead center and instruments are very well localized
with realistic (physical) dimensions, viz. a violin is smaller than a guitar, a
double bass has roughly the size of a man.

The only down size is the amount of bass they produce, which at times
overpowers my room. As usually, the addition of my REL Stentor 3 subwoofer
improves significantly the definition and presence of the bass notes and, at
the same time, tightens things up. Before making the final adjustments for
the REL, though, I will try to optimize more carefully their position in the room
to tame down their low end. If, however, changing the speaker position will
affect the stereo image (which is currently very very good) I will just use the
foam plugs to control better the low end of the speaker.

Kind regards,
Jp1208, please leave Vapor out of this thread. I've taken your side in the "Vapor Cirrus White Loudspeakers" thread, do not make me doubt that decision.
Hi NVP, thanks for the comparison. One question, do you still use Accuphase E-550 to drive the C1's? Given its 30 watts class A output, I'm wondering if it is enough at moderate to loud level. I believe C1's are 4 Ohm and 86 db sensitivity.

I currently have Electra 1008 Be and Pass XA30.5 amp (same as E-550, doubling-down 30 watts class A). I'm thinking of trying out C1's or C1 Sig's.