October 2000Dynaudio Audience 80 Loudspeakers
by Tom Lyle
Dynaudios reputation precedes them. This Danish company manufactures drivers for many other speaker brands and offers some superb loudspeakers of their own -- some with very high prices. Still, Dynaudio says they recognize that price is often a consideration when purchasing speakers, especially for younger hi-fi enthusiasts whose pockets may not be as deep as their aspirations. For them, Dynaudio offers up their Audience series. These "real value for the dollar" speakers, as Dynaudio calls them, will provide a sensible upgrade path that will enable enthusiasts to remain brand-loyal. The Audience series comprises the compact Audience 40 (reviewed on SoundStage! earlier this year), four larger models, two subwoofers, and two speakers designed for multichannel applications.
The Audience 80 is at the top of the Audience line. It is a medium-sized, three-way, bass-reflex floorstander measuring 8.5"W x 40.4"H x 12.3"D. All of its drivers have what Dynaudio claims are "pure" aluminum wire voice coils. The Audience 80's dual 7.5" woofers feature polypropylene cones, its 5.9" midrange driver has a cone and dustcap molded as one piece, and its 1.1" tweeter is a soft dome with magnetic fluid surrounded by a diecast aluminum front. The crossover frequencies are "impedance corrected" (although Dynaudio claims that this impedance doesnt change all that much), and are 580Hz and 2100Hz respectively. The Audience 80s have a relatively high quoted sensitivity at 89dB/W/m, which isnt that bad considering the speakers nominal 4-ohm impedance. Dynaudios recommended power for the Audience 80s in small rooms is 30 watts, and I dont think this is unreasonable. The speaker's peak long-term power handling is 210 watts. The Audience 80's manufacturer-rated frequency response at +/- 3dB is 34Hz to 24kHz, and the speakers weigh in at a hair over 61 pounds each.
I was very impressed with the appearance of these speakers when I first saw them. The vinyl-covered cabinets in light cherry were actually quite good-looking. They are also available in black ash or rosewood vinyl finishes. The difference in their appearance if they were covered with an actual wood veneer would be negligible in my opinion; that is, only the owner would probably know the difference. This is because if you aren't very close to the cabinets, it is quite difficult to tell that these speakers aren't finished in real wood! Their fit and finish, with the rounded front baffles, a pretty snazzy-looking grille design, gold-plated speaker binding posts (although they are not available with a bi-wire option), and very solid-looking construction, gives these speakers an anything-but-budget appearance.
The speakers performed best when set a little closer together than the distance of my listening position, which was about eight or nine feet from the center of the two speakers. They were slightly toed-in, so the tweeters were aimed about a foot or so from my shoulders. This put the tweeter slightly off-axis, and whether I was sitting straight in my chair, slouching, or standing, there wasnt all that much variation in the high-frequency performance. The speakers seemed more sensitive to horizontal movement of the listening position than vertical, and even though this sensitivity made the speaker placement significant, it wasnt a grave matter. The amount of bass increased if the speakers were placed closer to the approximately two and a half feet I had them from the front wall, but at the expense of the rest of their sound. Dynaudio includes foam plugs for the ports, obviously to alleviate some of the problem of using the speakers where the only option is using them close to the front wall. Yes, they reduced the amount of bass, so it was no longer boomy, but again, placing the speakers so close to the wall wasnt the best for their overall sound.
After the break-in period, which was about 150 hours or so, I began my listening sessions. One of the first things I liked about the Audience 80s' sound was how close to "real" their transient response in the upper bass and midrange was. I think it should be a requirement for all audiophiles to go out and hear live music every so often -- that is, unless they are not interested in hearing where their systems, especially their speakers, fall short in the area of realism. Just a short time after my first audition of these speakers I went to hear a live jazz/rock ensemble in a small club. The amplification was minor, and the sound system was merely there to augment and balance the instruments. Some instruments, such as the sax, didnt even use a microphone. I was amazed at how close the Audience 80s came in the quickness and clarity of their midbass and upper bass to these aspects of the live sound. No, the sound is not exactly like the real thing, but what impressed me was how much closer it came than that of other similarly priced speakers. When I would spin an album of a well-recorded jazz album, say John Coltrane's A Love Supreme [Uni/Impulse 155], this was unmistakable. The quickness in the midbass and upper bass regions from Elvin Jones drumkit and Jimmy Garrisons double bass was astounding. Many term a speaker or other component with this quality as having good timing or pace. These terms are understatement in describing the Audience 80s.
The Coltrane album also showed off the Audience 80s' midrange clarity, which was also a strong point of these speakers. Coltranes sax had a brilliance and purity that was uncanny. Vocals, too, exhibited this proficiency. On Dead Can Dances Spiritchaser [WEA/Warner 46230], both Lisa Gerrard's and Brendan Perrys voices sounded as though they were in the room, like I was hearing them in the room in which they were recorded or in a cavernous basilica as their heavily effected sound is intended to convey. The vocals never became spitty or sibilant. The excellent performance apparent in the midrange was equaled by the treble. It was never overbearing, and although very detailed, it never sounded etched.
With all speakers except those with prices in the stratosphere (and even those arent omnipotent) compromises are going to have to be made. With speakers in the price range of the Audience 80s, finding a middle ground between those compromises that are acceptable and those that are not should be judiciously made. I think the trade-off that was made substituting the quantity of the bass for the quality was a sensible one. The bass of the Audience 80s doesnt reach the very depths, and I think the claimed low-end response of 34Hz is just about correct, although it seemed to roll-off a few Hertz above that. But what a tight, tuneful, and quick bass it is. I dont think you could ask for anything more in regard to a low end that doesnt try to get more out of a woofer than is physically prudent. Yet the Audience 80s can still convey all the bass information that is on a CD or LP (or video or DVD if these are your thing) because of the speakers' low-frequency precision.
Above, I stated that one of the first things I noticed about the Audience 80s' sound was the quickness in the lower half of the frequency spectrum. But what I think many listeners will notice first will be the Audience 80s' soundstage. If properly set up -- that is, away from the room boundaries without too many reflective surfaces to the sides -- these speakers throw a soundstage that's very wide and deep. They have soundstage adeptness more like good minimonitors, which is rare for floorstanding speakers at any price.
I admit that not many owners of these speakers are going to listen to them powered by a 250Wpc Krell amplifier, so the speakers also spent some time powered by a 50Wpc integrated amp I had on loan for review, the Shearne Phase 2 Reference. I ended up listening to the Phase 2/Dynaudio combo for quite a while. Yes, the Dynaudio speakers performed better when powered by the Krell, but they were still very listenable with the Shearne. When I listened to the album by Dead Can Dance, it was a good example of program material that showed off both the Shearne integrated and the Dynaudio speakers. The bass was still controlled, and the mids and highs sounded first-rate, with the detail, clarity, and an unaffectedness that I came to love about these speakers.
But were the Audience 80s perfect? By no means, and I didnt expect them to be. Ive already touched upon their lack of deep bass, which is understandable given their price. Also, the midrange was sometimes a bit forward-sounding. This was more obvious when playing complex material or at a volume that exceeded the Audience 80s' overall capacity to stay in control. During this time the sound also became a little confused -- mostly at the frequency range of the woofer/midrange crossover. If I didnt otherwise become so accustomed to the Audience 80s' superb transient response in this region, I might not have noticed the problem as much. I think most listeners will be happy with these speakers' maximum level. Yet with some music, especially some power orchestral or electronic, some listeners may have to be just a little more conservative with the volume setting.
Which are better speakers -- my $2695-per-pair Legacy Classics or the Dynaudio Audience 80s? Thats a tough one, and the only answer I can come up with is "neither." Both excel in different areas. The Audience 80s' quickness from the midbass on up is excellent. Plus, their soundstaging abilities are superb. The Legacies' deep-bass prowess and larger size makes them more of a full-range speaker that can create more of a wall of sound. The Legacies can also be bi-wired, have a rear-firing tweeter and woofer, and have a real wood veneer. But like I said, the Dynaudio speakers have such an articulate and natural sound that they will appeal to many an audiophile, as they did to me in the months they were in my system.
I prefer the Legacies. But this is more a matter of taste -- and mostly because I am not using a subwoofer in my system. I think that using a subwoofer with the Dynaudios would make it a very tough decision as to which speaker I would recommend, although it would no longer mean we were comparing two speaker systems that were priced equally given that we would have to add in the additional cost of the sub. But for someone using a low-powered amplifier, for example a single-ended-triode model, there is no question that the Dynaudio Audience 80s would be the better choice. As efficient as the Legacies are, they cannot compete with the Dynaudios in this regard.
Audiophiles have many choices when shopping for speakers around the $2500 price point. Ive heard innumerable models, and the Dynaudio Audience 80 is one of the best. Its detailed sound, freedom from coloration, and relatively small footprint make it a perfect choice for an audiophile with a medium-sized room and a medium-sized budget. It also machetes a clear upgrade path with the foreseeable addition of a subwoofer, perhaps Dynaudios own 20a or 30a, and will reveal any improvements to upstream equipment. These things make the Dynaudio Audience 80 highly recommended.
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