Dali Suite 2.8 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Ben Shyman   
Thursday, 01 September 2005

Home theater manufacturers continue to offer consumers better performance for less money. Gone are the days when high-quality home theaters cost tens of thousands of dollars. Driving this trend is the proliferation and availability of affordable high-definition televisions, which come in the form of plasma, LCD, D-ILA and DLP rear-projection sets that cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,500. Add in a reasonable 5.1-channel audio playback system and you can have an amazing home theater without breaking the bank. But what if you are a more serious listener and seek to build a component-based home theater that trumps the theater-in-a-box solution? Now more than ever, components are available that challenge laws of diminishing returns by offering much of the outstanding performance, build quality and aesthetics of high-end systems for a fraction of the high-end price.

Dali Loudspeakers is a relatively new player in the ultra-competitive U.S. audio-video market. In Europe, Dali is a force with over 25 years in manufacturing experience, owned by Audio Nord International, which also owns a pretty substantive retail chain. Currently, there are over 80 models in the Dali line, 50 of which are now available in the United States.

The Dali Suite 2.8 speaker system I evaluated is the company’s entry level 5.1-channel offering in North America. This Dali system consisted of Suite 2.8 floor-standing front speakers ($1,350 per pair), a Suite C 0.8 center channel speaker ($550), Suite R 0.8 rear speakers ($650/pair) and a Suite S 1.2 subwoofer ($795). Dali designed the Suite 2.8 specifically for value-oriented consumers likely to build a home theater featuring receivers from mainstream Japanese manufacturers like Sony, Yamaha and Onkyo. Knowing this, however, not for a second during my evaluation did I ever feel that the Dali Suite 2.8 was mismatched to my Proceed AVP2 processor and AMP5 five-channel amplifier. In fact, the Dali Suite seemed right at home. The full Suite 2.8 speaker system costs only $3,345 and comes in a handsome cherry veneer with black grilles or a silver finish with gray grilles.

If you are like me, the first impression a home theater component makes upon you happens before you even open the box. The Danes pride themselves on being environmentally responsible, so it is no surprise Dali uses recycled cardboard to package the Suite 2.8 system. The topic of “eco trash” has graced the pages of CNN.com in recent months and is a worry to those of us who fear for the environmental state of our planet. Dali deserves just compliments for where their heart is in terms of packaging. At the same time, their boxes weren’t robust enough to make it to my apartment in Manhattan (and a palette) without damage to the point where one could see the wood veneer on the subwoofer before opening the box. The value of sticking with environmentally friendly boxes is high, but a new design is needed in order to guarantee safe shipment from Denmark, as well as within the North American continent. Who knows when you might sell such a system to upgrade in the Dali line? You will certainly need to use your boxes all over again.

Setting up the Dali Suite 2.8 was truly simple. The speakers, including the subwoofer, are relatively light for their size and attaching floor spikes or rubber feet to each took only a few minutes. The cherry wood veneer finish of each cabinet is handsome and accentuated by the curved tapered shape, which provides each speaker with an expensive look beyond its price and, according to Dali, adds acoustical advantages as well. The grilles attach firmly and provide a very clean look.

The main front floor-standing speakers have a small footprint and the center channel cabinet has a reasonable profile at about eight inches high. The main speakers, with their 6.5-inch woofers, are less than a foot wide. This makes speaker placement relatively easy. With the bass reflex port on the front main and center channel speakers located on the front of the cabinet, the main speakers can be placed somewhat closer to a wall and the center cabinet can be situated without blocking the air port. I would however offer that the center cabinet is fairly deep and wide at 16 and 24 inches, respectively, and you should plan its placement in your system accordingly.

I appreciated the smart design of the rear speaker cabinets which are made to be hung vertically or horizontally on a wall or simply placed on stands. Attaching my Transparent speaker cables with their larger-than-average spade lugs was not ideal, however, and I would have preferred terminals on the rear speaker cabinet that are more spade-friendly.

Regarding the subwoofer, I was fortunate in that the very first place I situated the Suite S 1.2, it blended seamlessly into my listening environment. I say “fortunate” because the power cord is not detachable and is much too short for my liking. Finding a location for a subwoofer usually takes patience and frequently requires trying several different locations. With the unit having such a short power cord, subwoofer location is limited, unless you get lucky as I did, or are willing to use an extension cord (which is usually not ideal), or have many electrical outlets in your listening area. Dali should put a power cord of no less than 25 feet on its subwoofer.

The Music
I began my evaluation listening to some live music. Branford Marsalis Quartet performing John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam at the Bimhuis (Universal Music/VI) has been in regular listening rotation in my home. The two-disc set comes with a DVD featuring 16:9 widescreen video and Dolby 5.1 audio, as well as a CD with PCM stereo. While the DVD is spectacular in 5.1 surround, I chose the CD to start my evaluation because I wanted to first listen only to the main front channel speakers and subwoofer. The quality of the performance of Live in Amsterdam is a near-10. It is easy to feel the love and sense of awe that Marsalis and his supporting cast have for John Coltrane and one can freely imagine that Coltrane would have been honored to hear such a well-produced and finely performed exhibition of his grandest musical achievement.

A Love Supreme Live is a 48-minute emotional rollercoaster of dramatic changes in tempo and volume and is the type of music that, when performed live and transferred to two-channel stereo, needs quality instrument separation and tonal balance to avoid leaving a listener fatigued or lost in the shuffle. Listening to A Love Supreme on the Dali Suite, Marsalis’ saxophone was firmly present and never washed out, even during the most energetic and active moments of the performance. It was always easy to hear the phrasing and instrumentation, down to the smallest details of each member of the quartet. I was impressed by the Dalis’ ability to reproduce drums that had the attack and aggressiveness of a live drum kit. Furthermore, cymbals sounded crisp without ever being overly bright or thin, as many other value-oriented speakers at this price point frequently do. During quiet passages, particularly Eric Revis’ acoustic bass solo, the Dalis reproduced frequencies deeper than I would have guessed were possible for a system in this price range. It was easy to hear and feel the most delicate nuances in the lower sound spectrum without the subwoofer sounding boomy or intrusive. The Dalis impressed me on A Love Supreme Live and I was ready to listen to more demanding high-resolution surround sound recordings.

Steely Dan’s Gaucho (Geffen) is one of the best sounding SACDs in my collection and one that I always reach for when demonstrating surround sound music to guests at my home. The mix is aggressive, with horns, vocals, guitars and percussion tantalizing the listener from all five channels. I paid particular attention here and was impressed by the responsiveness of the Suite’s center channel speaker. Responsible for the predominance of vocals during 5.1 channel music and movies, it is a simple fact that if your center channel cannot faithfully and consistently reproduce vocals with clarity, your system will never cut the mustard. In my opinion, the center channel is the most important speaker in any 5.1-channel system and the Suite has a better than average one. In fact, it was my favorite speaker in the Suite and with good reason. Donald Fagen’s vocals, which originate from all three front speakers on much of recording, blended seamlessly across the listening soundstage, thanks to the dynamic and clear frequency reproduction capability of the center channel.

Gaucho also revealed the lively nature of the Dali Suite. The album’s title track begins with the lead saxophone originating from the rear channel and has a beautiful and distinctive vocal arrangement, which really piqued my enjoyment with these speakers. Gaucho is decorated with some great percussion, including a high-hat cymbal that seemingly never pauses and many chimes, most notably during the first few moments of “Babylon Sisters.” All were nicely reproduced and I did not find the Dali’s tweeter to be bright, in fact to the contrary it was well balanced. It was at this point the Dali Suite seemed ready to face the challenges of some rock.

David Bowie became a mega-rock star with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Virgin). I recently reviewed this SACD for AudioVideoRevolution.com, thus I am pretty familiar with the subtle qualities and details of its “ambitious” surround sound mix. I listened to Ziggy at moderate to extreme volume and was able to make some immediate observations about the Dali Suite. First, the Dali Suite can handle of lot of juice, which is important if you listen to your music loud. It is also an important quality, given the incredible dynamic range of DVD movies. With the Dali Suite rated at four ohms and my Proceed AMP5 delivering a healthy 250 watts per channel into that resistance, the Dali Suite never wavered, burped or distorted, even at what I consider irritating listening levels. This is not to say that you need to give the Dalis a lot of juice. They have a sensitivity of 90 dB, so even smaller amounts of power should make them sing. Second, I was only able to get the Dali Suite to begin to show weakness in its lower-frequency performance at very high listening levels. On “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” the Dali Suite was highly articulate, with Bowie’s vocals and acoustic guitar, but the bottom end did roll off some as I pushed the volume higher, leaving me yearning for deeper bass that was beyond the capability of the Suite’s subwoofer. The mid and upper bass was tight and forward; it simply lacked that couch-shaking quality that one could get from a larger or more powerful sub. While I would characterize the Dali Suite’s center channel as its anchor and strength, the subwoofer is clearly its main weakness if you are looking for earth-shaking bass. This is not to suggest that the Dali Suite does not rock out and that hard rock and heavy metal listeners will be unhappy. When I listened to the title track “Ziggy Stardust,” the Dali Suite performed like a system way beyond its price, even in the lower octaves. The familiar guitar riff on Ziggy Stardust was resonate and thick and drums once again had an attack and punch that made my listening journey through Ziggy Stardust nothing short of exactly what Bowie intended.

The Movies
Anyone over age 30 remembers 1980 when a group of young college students resurrected shattered American morale by accomplishing the impossible dream of beating the undisputed greatest ice hockey team in the world, which was also from the United States’ Cold War arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union. Kurt Russell, as hockey genius Coach Herb Brooks, delivers the best performance of his career in “Miracle” (Walt Disney Pictures). While any ice hockey fan will tell you the gold medal recipient of ice hockey movies will always be “Slap Shot,” it is almost impossible not to enjoy “Miracle,” with its fresh cinematography and intense THX-Certified audio soundtrack. Almost all the ice hockey action is filmed at ice level, creating an intimate experience unlike anything you have probably ever seen watching the NHL either rink-side or on television.

In Chapter 8, “Legs Feed the Wolf,” Russell presents to his young players his new strategy for beating the Soviets. The vocal track here is highly articulate and precise. Russell’s voice has a depth and presence that makes listening to “Miracle” easy and highly enjoyable, even when sitting well off-axis. When the scene shits to the ice for practice, the soundtrack really comes to life. The music provides intensity to the drama as the unique sounds of ice hockey encompass the listener. Sounds of pucks being shot off sticks, the ring of a puck hitting the post, steel blades cutting the ice and Russell’s whistle directing the hockey action are all beautifully rendered by the Dali Suite. The quick-tempo music with its strings and deep bass accentuated the action, yet never muddied the soundtrack in the slightest. Perhaps one of the best characteristics of the Dali Suite is its seamless performance and integration, which was highly evident here. The Suite is so well engineered and designed that its components act as one. In my opinion, this cannot be said for most other 5.1-channel systems in its class.

In Scene 16, “This is Your Time,” the Dali Suite demonstrated its ability to handle the most delicate moments of a movie soundtrack. In preparation for the game against the Soviets, the United Sates team is in its locker room and the intensity of the scene is created by a lack of action and quick movement. A player is heating and taping his hockey stick. The Dali Suite did such a great job presenting this unique moment that the heat of the blowtorch melting the Plexiglas-reinforced blade and the coarseness and stickiness of the tape rise quickly to the senses. I was thoroughly impressed with the Suite here.

No system in my home goes untested without playing some scenes from my favorite series of movies, “Star Wars.” In this case, I chose “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (Twentieth Century Fox) for testing the Dalis. In Chapter 27, “This is No Cave,” the scene begins with several Imperial ships searching for the Millennium Falcon hidden on a giant asteroid. The Dalis are accurate in presenting a three-dimensional soundstage as the ships move across the scene and the sound of their engines goes from the front to the rear channel speakers. Later, when Han Solo, the Wookie and the Princess are abruptly attacked by prehistoric creatures called Minocs, the squealing of these wretched monsters emanates from the rear speakers in startling fashion, adding a three-dimensional quality to the fight. When Vader tells Skywalker that he is his father in Chapter 46, “Vader’s Revelation,” his deep, dark voice sounds convincingly evil in the Dali center channel. The center channel is the Dali system’s best attribute. It breathed new life into the Trilogy.

The Downside
The speakers should ship with high-quality jumpers for straight wiring in lieu of bi-wiring. In the U.S. market, consumers need an extra connection like a hole in the head. The audio benefit (if any) isn’t worth the grief. At a minimum, there should be a gold-plated jumper to bridge the two connectors. The provided zip chord is an insult to the quality of the speakers.

The subwoofer power cord is too short. The addition of an extension cord is an invitation for noise for today’s modern home theater. What Dali should consider for future products is a really long cord, a detachable cord or a long retractable cord, the kind you would find in a Miele vacuum cleaner.

Speakers this fantastic should have more versatile speaker terminals that more readily accept spade-type connectors. They are the standard for U.S. home theater systems.

The Dali Suite 2.8 speaker system represents one of the best speaker values on the market today. I am confident that the Suite 2.8 system provides about 75 percent of the experience of my reference Revel home theater system, yet sells for about one-quarter the price. Consumers looking for outstanding speaker value in the under-$5,000 price point would be totally crazy not to consider the Dali Suite 2.8 system, along with offerings from B&W, Energy and Paradigm. The bottom line is that I loved these speakers and never knew home theater could sound so good for only $3,500.
Manufacturer Dali
Model Suite 2.8 Speaker System
Reviewer Ben Shyman

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