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Equipment Review

May 2003

Dynaudio Confidence C4 Loudspeakers

by John Leosco

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Review Summary
Sound "Holistic approach to musical reproduction" in which "the outcome is an integrated portrayal no matter the source"; "lightning quick, transparent, and remarkably clean"; offer "a mid-hall perspective, the players located either just in front of, between and around, or behind the loudspeaker plane."
Features "Slim, elegant, exquisitely finished pillars" that feature all Dynaudio drivers, including the Esotar² soft-dome tweeter; "special resonance-damping high-density fiberboard" baffle"; "Dynaudio Directivity Control (DDC) regulates dispersion on the vertical plane to minimize ceiling and floor reflections."
Use The C4s need power -- "if you’re considering these speakers, make sure you have enough horsepower on hand to make them gallop"; ample bass response may be a concern in some rooms.
Value "Simply no getting around" their $16,000 price, but given their sound with a less expensive Plinius amp and need for only one run of speaker cables, they may be within reach once considered part of a complete system.

Sometimes people ask me when my passion for music and audio began. The idea of listening for both pleasure and enlightenment was a part of my routine at a very young age. I remember hearing Paul Harvey’s news and commentary while my mother prepared Campbell’s soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches for lunch long before I attended kindergarten. Once my grade-school days commenced, I’d always return home to the sound of an album in mid-performance. The television didn’t get flipped on until evening. We only had four TV channels to choose from in those days, the three major networks and PBS. Besides, music was simply more captivating. Personal computers and video games were merely an idea in some engineer’s noggin.

As a lad, I’d often descend into the basement. Among the shadows, the solid bleached-oak cabinet of a 1954 Magnavox console still held luster -- the fallen victim of a '60s' format war. A couple of large woofers split by a horn midrange driver, each powered by its very own 6V6 vacuum tube, soothed with monophonic sound. Don’t laugh. This Magnavox was musical, and its limitations were irrelevant. Frankie Laine would belt out the lines on Command Performance [Columbia CL625], and I’d be transported to a different place, maybe this time as an invited guest to the Queen’s Ball. Want to attend a bullfight? Then drop the stylus on Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The cellar was my sanctuary.

Thirty-plus years later, two wooden crates suspiciously resembling coffins straight out of the Wild West, were delivered to my door, an ominous sign for the superstitious and those over 40. Even Brian the truck driver was curious of the contents; hence questions about things audio and the aforementioned history lesson. A label on the shipment read: "Dynaudio -- Authentic Fidelity -- Confidence C4 -- Rosewood -- Made in Denmark -- Danes don’t lie." I admitted to Brian that I haven’t met enough people from Scandinavia, or Danes in particular, to corroborate the last statement.

21st century totem poles

Opening the crates revealed a pair of slim, elegant, exquisitely finished pillars. Lovely hand-polished furniture-grade veneer offered no flaws and virtually invisible joints as if each speaker were sawn from a single tree trunk. Each Confidence C4 measures 69"H x 10"W x 17 1/2"D and weighs 110 pounds, the loudspeaker cabinet permanently supported above a 16" x 16" metallic plinth. The C4's towering aesthetic form occupies a small footprint within the listening area while creating an internal volume of 60 cavernous liters. The bass-reflex design is vented toward the rear through two 2 3/4" flared ports. A single set of WBT gold binding posts inconspicuously resides on the back just above the pedestal, so you can't biwire or biamp.

What initially appeared to be an architectural masterpiece technologically impresses as well. Up front a distinctive baffle bulges outward like a rectangular shield. In fact, the 1 1/2"-thick gray-colored extension is a special resonance-damping high-density fiberboard attached to the cabinet face. The baffle’s shape is contoured with precise lines and curves to achieve balanced transmission. Additionally, the side walls are widened and stiffened, with smoked-glass ellipses adjacent to the woofers. Both elements serve to optimize diffraction and help eliminate midband and high-frequency resonance.

Symmetrically mounted on the innovative baffle are three pairs of drivers, all made by Dynaudio, of course. The 20cm woofers and 15cm midranges have one-piece cones of magnesium silicate polymer (MSP). The midrange units are set into motion by 38mm pure-aluminum-wire voice coils, and the woofers are driven by 75mm coils with large neodymium magnet rings. Lightweight aluminum enables the voice-coil diameter to be larger without the mass of a heavier copper conductor. A flat-cone geometry is made possible, the voice-coil-to-cone attachment is much stronger due to a greater adhesive surface, and the coil’s cooling properties are also dramatically increased.

The new Esotar² soft-dome tweeter utilizes textile silk material with a unique coating to provide smooth high-frequency roll-off. Efficient magnetic material together with an aluminum vented voice coil are said to deliver an ultra-dynamic impulse response. To control resonance, a rear-mounted acoustic absorber deadens back-wave energy, and a magnetic fluid acts like a sensitive shock absorber to internally damp the voice coil. Dual tweeters on the Confidence C4 are connected to a massive aluminum plate centrally secured into the baffle, a solid surface that combats unwanted vibrations with the added benefit of heat dissipation.

Dynaudio wanted to design a loudspeaker that would be less influenced by room acoustics. First developed for the Evidence models and now passed down to the Confidence line, Dynaudio Directivity Control (DDC) regulates dispersion on the vertical plane to minimize ceiling and floor reflections. Each driver type has a specific radiation pattern that is frequency dependent. At higher frequencies the energy radiated by a driver is more direct, and in the lower registers it is more dispersed. With DDC, each set of identical opposing drivers operates in tandem within the same frequency range up to a certain level, then the lower driver is faded out, leaving the rest of the duties to the uppermost unit. Total energy radiated into the listening area should be balanced both at nearfield and distant positions, while yielding a reduced angle of radiation above and below the listening window.

The complex first-order network responsible for driver integration has specified crossover frequencies at 730Hz, 2000Hz, and 8000Hz, with 6dB/octave slopes. The crossover is housed in a separate chamber and is built from high-quality components, including a glass-fiber-reinforced printed circuit board with thick copper traces, low-loss capacitors, and zero-compression resistors.

The Confidence C4 loudspeaker has a specified frequency response of 27Hz-25kHz +/- 2dB. Sensitivity is specified at 89dB (2.83V/1m) with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. All of the C4's engineering and craftsmanship will set you back $16,000 USD for a pair in rosewood, maple, or cherry finish. A dynamic duo in black lacquer runs $17,800.

Care and feeding

Unpacking and moving large full-range loudspeakers can be a hernia waiting to happen, but the Confidence C4s are a refreshing departure from the norm. With the speakers weighing in at just over 100 pounds each, two sets of hands are recommended for removing the speakers from their packing crates. However, they were a breeze to spin and crab-walk into position on the plinths’ edges.

Once the speakers are situated, four hex-head screws with pointed tips located in the plinths’ corners may be lowered from the top to level the speaker. Leveling was a cinch, but I wish the spikes were needle-sharp enough to burrow through carpet and a thick pad down to solid floor. Heck, I’m willing to tear up a perfectly good rug for better stability.

I settled on an eight-foot speaker spread with each transducer nine feet away from my chair, but the Confidence C4s sounded pretty darn good regardless of exacting placement. Bass response was smooth and extended when the Dynaudios were at least two feet removed from the front wall in my asymmetrical room. Images really snapped into focus with the speakers quite severely toed-in, the drivers aimed to intersect about seven feet behind my head.

I can’t definitively say the Dynaudio Confidence C4s are a difficult load, but my reference Ayre V-1x amplifier sure wouldn’t effectively drive ‘em -- sounding lethargic in the process. Maybe the specified 3.3-ohm minimum impedance between 20Hz and 200Hz with a 57-degree phase shift in the same region was to blame. Fortunately, the recently reviewed Plinius SA-102 amplifier controlled the C4s with its burly current delivery and proved to be an ideal stablemate. If you’re considering these speakers, make sure you have enough horsepower on hand to make them gallop.

The rest of my review system consisted of a PS Audio Lambda CD transport feeding a Dodson Audio DA-217 Mk II D digital converter via an Illuminations D-60 digital cable. An Ayre K-1x preamplifier varied level through single-ended AudioQuest Diamond interconnects. Synergistic Research Designer’s Reference speaker cables bridged the amplifier-to-speaker gap. An API Power Wedge 116 conditioned AC power to the front-end components.

Come fly with me

Dynaudio’s high-tech drivers and efforts toward reducing loudspeaker resonance and room reflections have paid off -- big time. The Confidence C4s sound lightning quick, transparent, and remarkably clean. Despite how rapidly each uncolored individual note rings down, it has the requisite harmonics -- and no more -- to replay familiar tunes with stunning realism. From The Best of Sade [Epic EK 85287], "The Sweetest Taboo" opens with a tropical curtain of rainfall splayed nearly from wall to wall. Maracas enter and briskly shake, every pebble strike defining their hollow form, while complex, rhythmic percussion distinctly taps out a Latin beat. Sade Adu’s naturally aloof vocals were focused and rock steady. The Caribbean flavor was so fresh, I envisioned myself relaxing on a sandy beach somewhere, sipping a Mai Tai.

Thunder and lightning aside, what allured me most was the clearly holistic approach to musical reproduction of the Confidence C4. Instead of reciting a critical analysis or a dissection of the music into its elements, the Dynaudio loudspeakers seem more concerned with communicating the whole and the interdependence of its parts. Whether or not the first-order crossover with a wide-band blending of drivers is responsible, the outcome is an integrated portrayal no matter the source.

An excellent example is the sublime compact disc Diana Krall Live in Paris [Verve 440 065 109-2]. I could talk about Krall’s confident and creative phrasings at center stage surrounded with tinkling piano strikes, silky-smooth strings, and immediate bass, offset by a twangy electric guitar and stainless, shimmering cymbals, but doing so would miss the point entirely. Notes from the various players mingle without a fundamental loss of identity, just like in real life. Oh, the intimacy of fine small-group jazz! I can close my eyes and ingest the thick ambiance almost as if I’d flown the Concorde over to Europe and walked amongst the crowd at the Paris Olympia to experience the event firsthand. Wonderful!

And this is the way it was throughout the review period: Utterly precise images were cast before me with a mid-hall perspective, the players located either just in front of, between and around, or behind the loudspeaker plane. Raising the volume, even to ridiculous levels, did not shove the musicians forward into my face or submerge me in a wake of sound. Rather, positioning and size held steady amidst superb escalating dynamics without a trace of hardness or strain. Fatigue didn’t set in even during lengthy listening sessions. Soundstage breadth wholly depended on venue and recording; it was sufficiently large and never constrained by the speakers.

Only in the lower frequencies did the Confidence C4s display imperfection in my 22' x 15' x 8' room, plus adjoining areas. On Janet Jackson’s All For You [Virgin 7243 8 10144 2 4], the particularly strong bass lines appear a little too prominent, at times even dominating the scene and overpowering the room with pulsing rumbles. I hadn’t experienced the phenomenon before with this disc, and drastically changing speaker positions didn’t help much. Perhaps the rear-firing ports tend to excite my room more than my downward-vented B&W Nautilus 801. With my classical and jazz references, lows from the Dynaudios were often realistic and sometimes prodigious. However, the powerful bass was always well-damped, firm, and in character with the loudspeaker.

England vs. Denmark

The Dynaudio Confidence C4s and my long-term B&W Nautilus 801s are both very dynamic, revealing, and extended transducers. But across the board, the B&W Nautilus 801 is comparatively the flamboyant one. Its full bass appears balanced, but feels more conspicuous, with prolonged effects after the initial impact. The Nautilus' midrange is sweeter, with slightly richer harmonics, and the highs ring a bit more emphatically. The 801s tend to project the soundfield outward, closer to the listener. If you rush to be in the front row at a concert, consider the B&W Nautilus 801s. On the other hand, the Dynaudio Confidence C4s offer up a riveting, crystalline, mid-hall representation marked by transparency and speed.

The Confidence C4s do cost $5000 more per pair than the Nautilus 801s, and there’s simply no getting around the difference in price. But let me try to lessen the blow a little. The Plinius SA-102 amp performed admirably driving the Dynaudios, and it costs $5000. The C4s also need only one pair of speaker cables, so the total for a speaker/amp/cable combo may be as "little" as $22,000. From my experience, getting the maximum potential from the B&W Nautilus 801s will require more expensive amplification, and you’ll likely want to biwire them. Before you’re through, a Nautilus-based outfit may cost as much or even much more than a Dynaudio package.

Old friends

The Dynaudio Confidence C4 is a distinguished, musical loudspeaker that reminds me of why I got involved with audio in the first place: to visit faraway lands, experience exotic places, and reminisce with old friends -- all without leaving my listening room. I bet they’ll do the same for you.

An old friend stopped by the other night. Bear Family has released a Frankie Laine retrospective entitled I Believe [BCD 16367] containing the Columbia tracks he recorded from 1951-1955, 163 in all. Laine’s booming voice in big mono sounds great, each inflection explicitly clear. "Rose, Rose I Love You" recalls the aching pain of an American serviceman departing the Orient soon to be separated from the love of his life, his Asian flower, forevermore. "Jealousy" contains all of the searing emotion the textbook definition of the word implies. Once again, 30-some years since the first time and listening this time to the Dynaudio Confidence C4s, I was totally enthralled and in awe with what I heard.

...John Leosco

Dynaudio Confidence C4 Loudspeakers
Price: $16,000 per pair in standard finishes.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Dynaudio A/S
Sverigesvej 15
DK-8660 Skanderborg Denmark
Phone: +45 86 52 34 11
Fax: +45 86 52 31 16

US distributor:
Dynaudio North America
1144 Tower Lane, Bensenville, IL 60106
Phone: (630) 238-4200
Fax: (630) 238-0112

E-mail: sales@dynaudiousa.com
Website: www.dynaudiousa.com  

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