Songs Faber Olympica I vs Dynaudio Contour 20 - My Review

I'm in the market for a stand-mounted speaker to be used in a fairly small 13'x17' room.  These days there are not many dealers around where you can actually compare 2 speakers with good equipment and proper setup.  Fortunately, I'm not too far from Quintessence Audio in Morton Grove, IL.  The owner, Mick, for many years has specialized in very good gear including Audio Research, Simaudio, Atoll, Air Tight, Berkeley Audio Design and many others.

In my price range, Mick suggested listening to the Dynaudio Contour 20, a brand new speaker updating the older 1.4 Contour model and the more expensive Sonus Faber Olympica I, which has been out for several years. I spent about 30 minutes with each of these speakers hooked-up to the same Simaudio separates (amp, preamp and Cd player - not sure of the model).  Both sets of speakers were setup using laser lights and tape measures to ensure proper spacing distance to the listener and toe-in angle.  

I brought in 2 CD's - Rachael Yamagata's Happenstance (Acoustic version) and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, neither audiophile recordings, but both decently recorded.  

My listening started with the Dynaudios.  My first impression, maybe the truest impression of all, were that the Contour 20 was a very neutral speaker, very transparent and detailed, but a bit cool and dry in the bass.  I do not really like describing the sound of loudspeakers in obsessive detail because I'm much more concerned about whether the speaker immerses me in the music and makes me feel happy, sad, energized or whatever the music is trying to convey.  On the Contour 20, the backgrounds were "black," there was lots of fine musical detail rendered clearly, the frequency response was very good for a monitor-sized speaker (it really dug low on the bass drum on Yamagata's "Paper Doll"), but I was left more impressed with the sound than immersed in the music.  I thought the Contour 20 checked off a lot of boxes (electrostatic-like clarity, detail, wide frequency response), but did not check-off my most important box  - the ability to create a lifelike impression of the music that draws me into the performance.

Mick and his assistant then hooked-up the Olympica I speakers, using the Sonus Faber stands designed for the speaker which angle the speaker backwards slightly for better time alignment.  These speakers are bi-wirable, but were hooked up using the supplied jumpers with the same Kubala-Sosna speaker cable.  My first impression on seeing them was mixed; they were smaller than the Dynaudios, sporting only a 5.5" or 6" woofer, but beautifully finished with walnut panels and leather surfaces.  Very nice, but I thought they might sound weak next to the Contour 20's.  I need not have worried.  Out of these speakers flowed beautiful sound, definitely warmer and more "present" than the Dynaudios with sound very coherent .  Rachel Yamagata's awesome voice sounded "there" as if she was in the room.  The acoustic guitar throughout the album was dynamic and warm, sounding like the real thing.  The bass on "Paper Doll" did not dig as deep though, but was present.  The bottom line - I just enjoyed listening to the SF speakers and became more involved in the songs being played.

I am not trying, in any way, to diminish the sound of the very accomplished Contour 20s. It is an excellent speaker that does outperform the Olympicas in frequency response and does play louder without breaking-up.  It may be more detailed.  A musician who works at Quintessence prefers the Contour 20 over the Olympica I.  My opinion is just that - MY opinion and nothing more.  But I do think the Sonus Faber speakers really bring music to life in a very warm and present fashion.  For me, this is the most important factor.  I'm really looking forward to putting these in my system and enjoying music through these beauties!

Agree very much.  The C20 sounded to me to be almost too perfect.  It's as if they were being used as a recording monitor.  You're so right in that the boxes were mostly all ticked.  Clarity, detail, soundstage, dynamics, etc.  In the end the music was too analytical and did not draw me into the music.  The dynamics seemed to be accentuated on some music where I knew that particular music was not supposed to actually be that dynamic.  In the end I sold them for personal reasons, but I realized the sound just wasn't for me.  That being said, I have great respect for the Dyns.  They're just not for me.

Never heard the Olympicas, but glad you found the speaker for you.  For me, I'm moving to Vandersteen as they connect me to the soul of the music.  Regards...

I haven't heard the olympica 1's but have the ll's in friends set up.They are my favorite speakers of all I have heard. To me it just sounds like music that communicates all the nuances of it very well. Everybody thinks of 'musical' differently, like musicians think of music differently. I am of the mind when getting equipment to choose which communicates better and pick that one and it saves me from upgrading as much, I hope and I think anyway.
Enjoy those speakers.
I have the O3 and I agree... a great speaker, easy to enjoy, easy to live with. 
strange (or maybe not): I recently had the chance to compare Contour 20 to ProAc Response 1SC and my opinions on Dynaudio’s at first listen are absolutely same as tasos1’s.
The C20’s had deeper and tighter bass, more details, "speed" and dynamics than R1SC’s, but I was willing to the take home the ProAc’s because they delivered more "music" and "life".
That’s not exactly a criticism on C20’s: I did not read any measurements but i can bet they are very good, and they are really hard to criticize based on objective data.
That was just my feeling about listening pleasure; looks like I’m not the only one having that feeling and I wonder if that means something.
I had Dynaudio 52SE before I bought my Sf Cremona Auditor Ms.  I was always surprised at the audio output of the Danes and was enamored by the soundstaging of those speakers.  I had always heard that stand mount monitors produced a more realistic soundstage vs floor standers.  I was curious about other choices so I went and listened to the Sonus faber Cremona Auditor Ms.  I left thay day in a new appreciation of monitor style speakers.  I have now had these Sf monitors for 5 yrs and my next choice will be another monitor form Sf - probably the Guaneri Evos before they are gone.
miner42  I have owned both monitor and floor-standing speakers.  I think in some smaller rooms (even average-sized rooms) smaller monitor speakers work better.  I think the bass of a larger floor-standing speaker can cause lots of issues and detract from a coherent presentation.  Obviously, a smaller box will have fewer resonant issues and thus can present a soundstage completely free of the speaker cabinets.  But then the full presentation of a larger speaker is very attractive - no small speaker can compete with the power and frequency response of a well designed floor-standing speaker.  Such a tough choice!

Can  I get a job same place you gentleman are working ! The pay must be very good, to say the least .
I just compared the two speakers today. The amp was the new Mcintosh MA252 Hybrid integrated. An older top of the line Arcam CD player (good enough) and Nordost cables. 

It was a very close call. I liked both of them. The Dynaudio seemed to go a little lower but the SF seemed perhaps more punchy in the bass. The Dynaudio was more even from top to bottom and more balanced overall. But I also found it all a bit matter of fact and boring. I mean slightly in comparison. The SF had more character. A bit warmer and less sibilance. A little thicker sounding. Maybe more fun and inviting sound. I could really be happy with either one. If I had to choose it would depend on the amp. I wouldn't use solid state with the Dynaudio as I think they need some tubes somewhere in the chain or they might get sharp with voices and bad recordings compared to Dynaudios of the past. With the Mac amp I'd give a slight edge to the SF because I think I found the music a little more interesting and it held my attention more. However, I do appreciate the top to bottom evenness and the over-all coherence of the Dynaudio. Really hard choice and you can't go wrong with either one. 
Did anyone listen to the Contour 20 speakers with tube amplification or was it all solid state? I have heard the C20 with tubes and it was not at all analytical. Is the C20 the problem or was it just playing what it was fed?
As my review mentioned, I did listen to the Contour 20's with solid state gear (very good ones).  Most modern tube gear no longer has a warm tonality, and tends to be fairly neutral, so I'm not sure if this would make a difference, although tube gear can have a liveliness only matched by the best solid state equipment.  The 20's were not overly analytical - just a bit "matter-of-fact" for my taste.  Maybe a tube amp would help; this is certainly worth a try.  Just make sure that the tube gear you use performs well into lower impedances and has enough drive as Dynaudio speakers in general like fair amounts of power. 
I know this is an old thread but I wanted to comment in case anyone else comes across it. I kind of agree with the comments that the Contour 20 can be a bit too neutral, but that all changed for me with the addition of a pair of SVS subs. Simply put, they add just enough meat on the bones to create a totally immersive musical experience. Having good inert stands is also a must in my opinion.