Dynaudio Contour Speaker System (S 1.4, S C, Sub 250) 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Brian Kahn   
Tuesday, 01 July 2008

Last summer, my wife and I decided to put our condominium on the market and buy a house. As part of the process, we had our realtor walk through the condo and make recommendations for “staging” it to make it more attractive to more buyers. The first thing she asked me to do was to get rid of my large floor-standing towers in the living room and replace them with something smaller. I was mortified, as I really enjoyed having full-sized speakers in my living/theater room. I spoke with Mike Manousselis of Dynaudio shortly thereafter and explained my situation. Mike assured me that he had a system from the Contour series that would fulfill my needs. It was like a scene out of one of those fix ‘em up shows on the DIY Network, but I needed a bigger house in a down real estate market, so desperate measures like boxing up my MartinLogans were in order.

Dynaudio is a Danish company that has been in business since 1977. I first became aware of them in the late ‘80s when I was competing in IASCA car audio tournaments (yes, my hearing has been tested recently and it is very good). Along with many other competitors, I used Dynaudio drivers in our cars. The particular driver I used was a seven-inch woofer that I understand is still widely used today.  In addition to the car audio competitors, Dynaudio sold drivers to many speaker manufacturers, including some of the big names in high-end audio. Dynaudio more recently supplemented their driver sales and began to manufacture speakers.

The Contour series is slightly above the midpoint in the range of Dynaudio lines, just below the Confidence and Evidence series of speakers. The series consists of two floor-standing models, one stand-mounted model, one wall-mounted model and two center channel models.

Shortly thereafter, I received four Contour 1.4 stand-mounted speakers ($3,300 pair), one Contour SC ($2,100 each) and two Sub 250s ($1,000 each), all in a Rosewood veneer. The finish is furniture-grade and other wood veneers are available. The Contour 1.4 is a compact speaker that looks smaller than its dimensions of 7.4 inches wide by 15.8 inches high by 13.4 inches high would suggest. The SC center channel is likewise compact at 19.3 inches wide by 9.1 inches high by 10.2 inches deep, as are the subwoofers, which measure roughly 12 inches square.

Despite the 1.4’s small size, it is extremely solid, weighing in at approximately 28 lbs. The design immediately got my attention, as the woofer is positioned above the tweeter, rather than in the more traditional position below. With the 1.4s mounted on their stands, the woofer is high enough to minimize interaction with the floor. The 1.4s are designed to work with Dynaudio’s Stand 4. When these are used together, the bottom of the speaker becomes the stand’s top plate. Of course, both the stands and the speakers can be used separately.

I decided to run the 1.4s without grilles to expose the 5mm thick metal baffle that covers the majority of the front panel of the speaker. The baffles themselves are quite attractive. They run the width of the cabinet at the top and through a gentle curve taper to about half that width just below the tweeter. The metal baffles have cutouts for the steel-framed 6.8-inch mid-woofer and 28mm soft dome tweeter. The fit and finish of the individual components and how they fit together is extremely good, evidence of high manufacturing standards. The baffles are isolated from the cabinets by a layer of resonance-absorbing material. Further bracing within the cabinet structure keeps vibrations, and their resultant coloration, to a minimum. The crossover assembly uses specially selected wiring and components mounted to a massive socket on the 1.4’s base by vibration-absorbing glue.

At the heart of the 1.4 are its drivers. As discussed above, Dynaudio has been long known as a manufacturer of premium drivers and the drivers utilized in their Contour series are indeed special. The mid-woofer utilizes a 6.8-inch geometrically optimized MSP cone diaphragm driven by a nearly three-inch pure aluminum voice coil. The tweeter is a new model from Dynaudio’s lauded Esotec series. The 1.1-inch soft dome tweeter has a multiple layer coating to maximize performance. The tweeter is also driven by a large, pure aluminum voice coil. The rear portion of the tweeter assembly has a cone that disperses the back wave into a special absorption chamber. The overall combined sensitivity is 85 db. Frequency range is not specified.

The SC center channel uses an Esotec tweeter nearly identical to that of the Contour 1.4. The tweeter is flanked by two six-inch mid-woofers of similar design to those in the 1.4s. Dynaudio makes an optional base for the SC that allows the speaker to be pivoted along its horizontal axis, aiming the drivers at the proper listening height.

Lastly, the Sub 250 is a powered 200-watt single 10-inch driver subwoofer. The cabinet is roughly one cubic foot with the amplifier cooling fins, connections and control panel on the back. The front features a simple, removable black cloth grille. The rear panel features an IEC power plug, selectable gain, low pass filter and phase switch. The SAT high pass is also selectable. For multiple subwoofers, there is a slave mode setting. Connections are of the RCA type and include LFE input/output, as well as SAT/Sub stereo inputs and outputs. Frequency range is specified as 29-250 Hz. 

Dynaudio supplied stands to go along with the Contours. The stands consist of two metal tubes that screw onto a base on the bottom and into the speakers on the top. The bottom base consists of two metal plates, sandwiching a rubber vibration-absorbing substance. The rear tube has provisions for running speaker cables. Both can be filled for additional damping. I strongly recommend filling the tubes, using loctite on all screws. My friend Jeremy Bryan reports great improvements in sound quality with modified Dynaudio stands. I can’t recall all the specific modifications, but I know the base plate was modified or replaced by a seriously heavy piece of metal plate.

I commenced my audition with one pair of Contour 1.4s and Sub 250s in my two-channel system. The speakers were placed a little over six feet apart and three feet from the front wall. The subwoofers were along the front wall just outside of the speakers. I began my listening sessions using my favorite integrated amplifier, Krell’s FBI. The FBI was connected to Classe’s CDP-202 via Transparent Cables’ MusicLink Ultra series cables. Speaker cables were Transparent Cables’ MusicWave Ultra speaker cables. The components were plugged into an EquiTech power conditioner with Richard Gray Power Company’s High Tension wires. Toward the end of my audition, I received a Conrad Johnson CT5 preamplifier, which I used both with the amplifier section of the Krell FBI and with Halcro’s massive DM38.

My surround system generally consists of Halcro’s SSP-200, EC-800 and MC-70, with Kimber and Tributaries cabling. The 1.4s were placed eight feet apart, flanking my projection screen with the SC under the center of the screen. The Sub 250s were placed in the front corners. The surround speakers were a second pair of 1.4s. Dynaudio also offers a similarly-performing wall mount speaker, the SR.

The Contour 1.4s were previously-used demo speakers that were already broken in. Nonetheless, I had let them run for a few days before sitting down to listen to them. I began my listening with both the Contour 1.4s and the Sub 250s. Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” from the album Live at Sin-e (Columbia Records) is a well-recorded piece that I have heard on several wonderful systems. The vocals were portrayed with a stunning sense of realism. Closing my eyes, it was easy to picture Buckley playing his guitar in the front of my room. The sense of space was uncanny. The Contours were good not only with vocals, but with instruments as well. The speakers were tight and accurate enough to capture the texture of the guitar without sounding overly analytical. Towards the end of the track, the dynamic range increases greatly. The 1.4s had no problem keeping up, showing no signs of strain despite their small size. Moving along in the same vein, but with more weight in the lower registers, I listened to Michel Jonasz’ “Le Temps Passe” from La Fabuleuse Histoire de Mister Swing (Warner Music Group). This track is good for demonstrating male vocals and has a sensuous drum track that goes low without loss of detail or resorting to an R&B one-note bass line. While I was able to get a nice blend between the Contours and the subwoofers, I found that the subwoofers were not necessary for most listening in my relatively small (12 feet by 16 feet) stereo listening room. The Contours hit the lower notes with sufficient weight and authority that I was not left wanting for more.

I then decided to see where the Contours’ limits were in a stereo system. Any pipe organ or rap bass line, when played at volume, will push these speakers to their limits. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Posse on Broadway” from the album Swass (American Recordings) easily found the lower extension limits of the Contours when played at moderately high volume.

Before moving the speakers to my multi-channel room, I revisited some songs I listened to with Dynaudio’s Audience speakers several years ago. I had Blues Traveler’s self-titled album (A&M Records) handy. I listened to “Dropping Some NYC” and “Gotta Get Mean” and found that the overall sonic characteristics between the two systems to be similar. Both speakers are extremely clean and detailed, with their bass reproduction leaning slightly towards the tight and detailed, rather than being heavy. The Contours were able to disappear easier than the Audiences, with cleaner, smoother highs and were overall more refined. The soundstage was similarly extended with both speakers, but the Contours had more solid and consistent placement within the soundstage.

The Contours’ stereo performance was exemplary, making them among my favorite stand-mounted speakers. The speakers disappeared with most listening material, leaving behind an appropriately-sized soundstage with solidly-placed individual sources. The Contour 1.4s never overloaded my listening room, yet they could not reproduce the lowest octaves, either. If you are going to listen to a lot of bass-heavy music at high volumes, you will need to supplement the 1.4s with one or more subwoofers or find larger speakers. The overall tonal character is slightly lean of neutral.

I eventually took the Contours out of the stereo room and placed them in my theater room.  Watching The Rock on DVD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), a movie full of high-energy sonics, I never found the Contours overwhelmed by either the soundtrack’s complexity or dynamics. I set my processor to cross the speakers over at 50Hz, relieving them from the strain of trying to reproduce frequencies below that level. In the shower room scene, the vocals were clear and distinct, as were the different amounts of reverb, depending on the person’s placement within the room. When the gunfight broke out, the speakers were able to easily able to discern the differences between the various weapons without congestion or compression.

The Godsmack concert video “Changes” (Zoe Records) features an incredibly dynamic drum duet, “Batalla de los Tambores.” While watching this duet at concert levels, I found the limits of the Contour 1.4s. When I ran the speakers that large without a crossover in place, they reached their limits and bottomed out. With the crossover in place, I was able to play the Contours as loud as I wanted to without break-up. The subwoofers sounded good as far as they went, but could not fill my 17-by-12-foot room to concert levels. To the extent that they reached, the drums were articulate, crisp and natural.

The Downside
The Contour 1.4s are great speakers within their boundaries, but they do have limits. The 1.4s are not capable of reproducing the dynamics of a large-scale orchestra, the bottom octave or highly dynamic music at concert volume. These limitations are simply the laws of physics. The limits can be extended by the use of subwoofers, such as the Sub 250s auditioned here or, if the room dictates, a more capable model from Dynaudio or another manufacturer.

The Dynaudio stand, while clever in its use of the speaker at the top plate, leave a bit to be desired. I would like to see, at least as an option for the audiophile, a more substantial, heavier stand. Further, due to the design, one cannot tighten the connection to the speakers without disassembly. In my experience, this connection often loosens over time due to vibration and should be easily accessible for tightening.

The Contour 1.4s are more about finesse than brute strength. They are capable of resolving a great amount of detail without strain or unnatural artifacts. For a music system, they are well-suited for small to medium rooms with all sources other than those with significant bottom octave information at high volume. The Contours are well-suited for multi-channel systems, so long as they are properly matched to one or more subwoofers.  Performance on movies was quite good. I had no problems hearing dialogue and the subtle differences between voices. While the Dynaudio Sub 250s sounded good, I personally would have preferred a subwoofer capable of extending the Contour 1.4’s capabilities further than the slight extension provided by these subwoofers.

All in all, the Dynaudio Contour 1.4 is extremely capable and will appeal to those seeking an accurate and articulate dynamic speaker in this size range.
Manufacturer Dynaudio
Model Contour Speaker System (S 1.4, S C, Sub 250)
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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