Dynaudio Contour 20 loudspeaker review
Posted on 23 September 2017

 A review of the latest Dynaudio contour 20 is on Stereophile magazine.


The soul of a loudspeaker cannot be exclusively characterized by such unmeasurable, reviewer-friendly declarations as "lush tonality," "gossamer textures," "clear-water transparency," "microdetail," or "pacey dynamic rhythmic expression." Neither can it be fully described by such measurable characteristics as anechoic frequency response, dynamic impedance, or step response. More than anything else, a loudspeaker expresses its full character in how and where it directs the listener's attention. What a loudspeaker emphasizes—what it reveals, what it obscures, what it forces the listener to notice and think about—that is a loudspeaker's soul.
Best of all, noticing what we notice as we listen employs the three most sensitive and perfectly calibrated analytical devices on the planet: the ears, mind, and heart. I call this type of audio analysis mindful listening—and isn't that the principle this magazine was founded on? (footnote 1)
Fanatics of "accuracy to the source" fail to realize that an audio system's truthfulness is not something that exists on a scale of less to more—it is always more an opinion than a fact. Accuracy is whatever you think accuracy is. And what is more subjective than that?
I've heard a bunch of systems that delivered ruler-flat frequency response at the listening position, and every one of them sounded as dead and boring as Netherlands-pressed reissues of British Decca LPs. The music was boring not because the response was flat, but because whatever frequency-equalization shenanigans had been applied were muting the dynamics, suppressing the small-signal contrast structure, and reducing my impressions of transparency and vivo. To its credit, flat in-room response always delivered good vocal and instrumental tone, but musicality was noticeably reduced. Worst of all, "flat" never inspired me to listen more often or more closely to the music. For me, accuracy exists only when I become completely submerged in the music.
We are what we give our attention to, and I require a hi-fi rig to direct my attention toward how and why the music was made. I need to notice the performer's artistry and rhythmic inventions. Which brings me to Dynaudio's new Contour 20 loudspeaker ($5000/pair).
Like all Dynaudio products, the Contour 20 loudspeaker is made entirely in Denmark. This two-way speaker is luxuriously large and heavy for a stand-mounted model, measuring 17.3" high by 8.5" wide by 14.2" deep and weighing 34.2 lbs. Its 1.1" soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and 7.1" Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) cone mid/woofer are bolted to a ½"-thick aluminum front baffle. All of the Contour 20's vertical edges are radiused, and the side panels' rearward tapers are curved—the rear panel is narrower than the front.
The woofer features an asymmetric spider, said to increase overall motor symmetry, and is reflex-loaded with a port at the top of the rear panel; foam inserts are provided to allow this port either to be partly or fully blocked in case the bass is found excessive is some rooms or to be left unobstructed. The crossover features Mundorf capacitors, and electrical connection is via a single pair of high-quality binding posts at the base of the rear panel. The review samples were finished in 11 coats of high-gloss Black Lacquer. The handsome, 24"-high steel stands ($500/pair) have what appears to be a powder-coat finish, in gloss black.
Dynaudio says that the Contour 20s will play their best only when set up in an exact triangular configuration with respect to the listener (with the speakers closer to each other than they are from the listener), and only over a narrow range of ear heights. The Contours delivered good sound off axis, but the focus and specificity of the aural images they cast were best when I sat with my ears just below the tweeter axes and the speakers were toed in so that those axes crossed about 12" behind my head. At that spot, the soundstage was deepest and images were most microscopically focused.
Listening: Round One
The day I installed the Contour 20s, Steve Guttenberg, of C-Net and Sound & Vision, and Michael Manousselis, of Dynaudio North America, were sitting on my couch listening. After a few tunes, both were smiling and giving the thumbs-up, but I wasn't happy. Something seemed wrong. Then Steve said, "Digital sounds great, but LPs sound weird—no bass." Familiar recordings—Macy Gray's Stripped (Chesky JD389, HDtracks), the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (LP, Warner Bros. WS 1893)—didn't sound right.
That night, after Steve and Manousselis had gone home, I listened again. I was using Schiit Audio's Ragnarok integrated amp, which, at 100Wpc, I'd assumed to be of good and sufficient power, but my ears were hearing something different. I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I was having strange, uncomfortable moments. I began to wonder: Are these speakers that hard to drive? Then I feel asleep on the couch.
The next morning, looking to get the system properly dialed in, I inserted Bel Canto Design's REF500S stereo amplifier, which not only has lots of power (400Wpc into 4 ohms at 1% THD) but will drive speaker loads down to 2 ohms (footnote 2). Immediately, the focus and transparency improved and the high frequencies opened up. Still, the system wasn't doing it for me.
In desperation, I began measuring the Dynaudios' in-room response, looking for holes and bumps, and moving the speakers farther apart and farther out from the front wall—ie, the wall behind them—and, finally, closer to the front wall. I'd begun with the Contour 20s about 84" apart, 44" from the front wall to the front of each cabinet, and 76" from my ears. A day later, I'd stuffed the Contour 20s' ports with Dynaudio's foam plugs (supplied), and the cabinets were now 65" apart, 28" from the front wall, and 92" from me. LPs played on both of my turntables were sounding better, and I was beginning to get the idea that these were very good loudspeakers indeed. But I struggled to actually hear the excellence I suspected was there.

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