My colleagues at SoundStage! have accused me of being a by-the-pound guy. There’s some truth to that. By any reasonable standard, my speakers have always been heavy, and so have the amplifiers that have driven them. For the most part, heavy gear is just a fact of life in ultra-high-end audio. The upper-end speaker models from Magico, Rockport, Wilson, et al., have always been heavyweights. Same goes for amps -- the Boulders, Gryphons, Soulutions, etc. With these companies, I always knew that the fact that they made their products with heavier materials and parts was a good thing: lots of bracing inside speaker cabinets, and big power supplies inside amps, were what we were told made great sound possible. It meant you were getting your money’s worth.
The other day a fellow writer and I were talking about the issue of value in audio gear. I contended that, as much as we like to think that value should be assigned by sound quality alone, there’s no question that the actual stuff we get when we buy something counts for a lot. Does anyone really think that a class-D power amplifier that costs $50,000 but weighs only 20 pounds would fly, no matter how good it sounded? I don’t think so. At that price, a few hundred pounds of D’Agostino metal has a much better chance of being bought by an audiophile. Even if the two products did sound the same (they wouldn’t), the perception of greater value would be firmly in the corner of the D’Agostino.
All of this brings me to Dynaudio. The Danish company’s products have always, at least to my eyes, fallen in the middle of the pack in the stuff-per-dollar department. Their flagship loudspeaker, the Evidence Platinum ($85,000 USD per pair), weighs just a hair over 250 pounds. It’s not a speaker you can tuck under your arm and carry around, but it’s not nearly as heavy as many of the over-$50k/pair designs from Dynaudio’s competitors.
So imagine my surprise when the Dynaudio Contour 60 loudspeakers showed up at my garage door with a shipping weight of 196 pounds each. These speakers retail for $10,000/pair -- chump change in SoundStage! Ultra’s neck of the woods. For that kind of dough, you don’t expect a per-pair weight (including shipping pallet) in excess of 400 pounds. On the surface, at least, there was great potential for the ratio of stuff per dollar.
With the help of a hand truck and my always-game wife, I hauled the Contour 60s upstairs to my listening room, the Music Vault, and got to unboxing. Each speaker itself, including grille and feet, measures 53.3"H x 11.6"W x 18.1"D and weighs 119 pounds. Yes, that means that the shipping materials are pretty heavy at 77 pounds per speaker -- nonetheless, the Contour 60 is one substantial speaker. Dynaudio’s flagship speaker model, the Evidence Platinum, has four woofers per speaker, each 7” in diameter. I was surprised to find that the two woofers in each Contour 60 are specified as being 9.5” in diameter -- they make the Evidence’s woofers look tiny. The drive-unit complement is rounded out by a 6” midrange and a 1.1” Esotar2 soft-dome tweeter. Dynaudio uses no exotic materials in their drivers -- the cones are made of magnesium silicate polymer (MSP), and the tweeter is fabric. But rest assured that you’re not getting shortchanged on the tech side. Dynaudio claims that the woofers, compared to their earlier designs, have “70% increased excursion, a 24% taller voice-coil winding height, 20% larger diaphragm area, [and] a ‘taller-than-usual’ 7.6mm elliptical surround.” And because Dynaudio designs and builds their drivers in-house, they can afford to develop drive units for specific speaker models -- as they did for the Contour 60.
Although the Contour 60 is a large three-way design -- a good thing, in my book -- it’s not just about quantity. In this case, the crossover components that distribute the audio signals three ways among the four drivers are high-quality devices made by Mundorf of Germany, whose products find their way into some of the best speakers on the planet. The great thing about purpose-built drivers like those in Dynaudio speakers is that the crossover has less work to do -- the drivers’ electrical properties make less work for the crossover -- and, everything else being equal, a simpler crossover typically leads to better sound. In this case, the crossover frequencies are 220 and 4500Hz, with second-order slopes.
The Contour 60’s cabinet, too, is pretty impressive. For the most part it’s made of MDF, veneered inside and out for long-term structural integrity. The cabinet’s side panels are slightly curved, with rounded corner edges, to minimize the diffraction of the soundwaves produced by the drivers; inside, the panels are braced, and their walls are fairly thick: 1.5” (rear panel), 1” (front), and 0.75” (sides). The panels are damped using what Dynaudio calls KERF-cut damping plates: grooved panels of MDF placed strategically on the inside walls. The rear panel is thicker than the front, where the drivers are, because the 1"-thick baffle backs a 1/2”-thick sheet of extruded aluminum, to which the drivers are actually attached. When you see the Contour 60s in person, you might think the aluminum looks a little thin, but that look is misleading. Most of the aluminum’s thickness is set into the cabinet, leaving exposed to view only a thin plate, its right and left edges bent to follow the curve of the speaker’s rounded corner edge. This attention to robust cabinetry adds up to a structure that, subjected to the knuckle-rap test, proved impressively inert. This speaker should stand the test of time.
The Contour 60’s curved side panels taper to a narrow rear panel that’s pretty bare, sporting only a single pair of rugged, five-way binding posts at the bottom (the speaker can’t be biwired), and two plastic ports of about 2.5” internal diameter, flaring to 3.5” at the opening. One port is at the top of the cabinet, the other about 8” above the binding posts. Four outrigger feet widen and stabilize the speaker’s stance and provide attachment points for the included spikes.
The technical specifications are fairly typical of large, three-way speakers: a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, sensitivity of 88dB/2.83V/m, and power handling of 390W. The specified frequency response of 28Hz-23kHz, +/-3dB, should mean full-range response in a decent-sized room.
The Contour 60 comes in a choice of six finishes: Walnut Light Satin, Grey Oak High Gloss (optional), Black Piano Lacquer, White Piano Lacquer, Rosewood Dark High Gloss (optional), and my review samples’ Ivory Oak. Optional finishes carry a 15-percent upcharge. I saw nothing but excellent craftsmanship everywhere I looked, and while I’m no interior decorator, I could imagine the Ivory Oak finish nicely blending into most any décor.
Setup and system
Most audiophiles believe that speakers that require painstaking setup are inherently better. “They sounded terrible -- until I moved them just another quarter-inch!” But I’ve found that properly designed loudspeakers are easier to set up than poorly engineered designs. Good off-axis performance -- and remember, Dynaudio has its own anechoic chamber -- means that soundwaves reflected off the walls will be similar to the sounds coming directly from the drivers, so that when those soundwaves combine at the listening position you hear a pretty close approximation of what the designer intended you to hear, which hopefully also means what the musicians intended you to hear.
That doesn’t mean you can just plop down such a speaker anywhere and it’ll sound good -- I took my time setting up the Contour 60s. But having set up close to a hundred pairs of speakers in the Music Vault over the years, I know the space pretty well, and the positions the Dynaudios ended up in were pretty close to where I first tried them. The Contour 60s sounded good in those first positions, which is where speakers usually work well in the Vault; their sound improved only marginally as I made some micro-adjustments. Their final positions were: 12’ apart, 6.5’ from the front wall, 5.5’ from the sidewalls, 12’ from my listening position, and toed in so that their tweeter axes crossed a couple of feet behind my head.
My electronics included a newly acquired, vintage Coda Model 11 stereo amplifier that outputs 100Wpc in class-A. (You can read about the Coda in “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System: Part Three.”) The Coda was driven by a Hegel Music Systems HD30 digital-to-analog converter with built-in volume control. Cables were Explorer-series models from Siltech. Music streamed from an Apple MacBook Pro laptop running Sierra 10.12.6, Roon, and Tidal, as well as an Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player.
When I first fired up the Contour 60s in my room, I expected big bass. Those four big woofers just had to produce a deep, full bass response, and I figured that that’s what would characterize their sound. So I started listening, and, um . . . not so much bass. Other aspects of the Dynaudios’ sound were terrific: imaging, clarity, a wide and deep soundstage. These were all easily identifiable, and gave me great hope that I’d end up really enjoying the Contour 60s’ sound. But I wasn’t bowled over by big bass.
A few days after first firing up the Dynaudios, I was watching the Blu-ray edition of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and in one of the action scenes it happened: a rumble of super-deep bass and the shaking of the Music Vault. The Contour 60s were capable of deep, solid bass response that could energize my room after all. I then realized I’d made a rookie mistake, one often made when hooking up a good subwoofer and dialing in the system for a fairly neutral frequency response: Rather than expecting to immediately hear “more and better bass,” you shouldn’t hear a subwoofer at all. Deep bass should just happen, but only when the music or the film soundtrack calls for it. I’d expected that deep bass would define the Contour 60’s sound. Instead, the speaker’s deep-bass capability was simply standing at the ready, inaudible -- and intangible -- until needed.
So I pulled out some bass-heavy cuts to hear precisely how the Contour 60 stacked up in the lows. I began with “Orinoco Flow,” from The Very Best of Enya (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Reprise/Tidal), and I could feel the low synth bass at my listening position. What impressed me was that the sounds of the crashing waves weren’t obscured, and Enya’s lead and multitracked backing vocals remained clear and distinct, even as the deep bass powered underneath. This type of sound reproduction -- deep bass and all other aspects of the sound, all intact and clean -- is the special province of big three-way speakers: speakers like the Dynaudio Contour 60. At 1:50 into “Orinoco Flow,” the big Danes locked in to my room with deep, solid bass that, if not quite subwoofer-like, was close. The foundation of the music was solidly formed, with the rest of the audioband built firmly atop it.
I was even more impressed when I pulled out my all-time favorite bass torture test, Bruno Coulais’s music for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 AIFF, Virgin). At the beginning of “Norbu,” a large bass drum rolls through the room from front to back -- through the right system, the decay of each drumstroke fades smoothly and linearly into the next stroke. With the Dynaudios, I could easily feel the initial stroke in my chest, and could sense that the decay died away behind me as the sound of the drumstroke traveled from the front of my room to the rear. This was big-speaker sound, and the Contour 60s were showing no sign of distress.
Now comfortable that the Contour 60s were more than capable in the low bass -- they easily went down to 25Hz in my room -- I turned my ears to voices and cued up “Sweet Hand of Mercy,” from Rebecca Pidgeon’s Slingshot (16/44.1 FLAC, Decca/Tidal). This studio recording by no means has the subtly captured ambience of her early albums on Chesky Records, sounding more like a contemporary country recording, albeit with a touch more warmth and clarity than you hear from your typical country release. What did come clearly through the Dynaudios was Pidgeon’s warm, comfort-infused voice, sounding present and familiar through the Contour 60s. Pidgeon’s voice was locked at the dead center of the soundstage, and was tonally dense and without apparent coloration. I could easily hear that her voice sounded a touch more refined, less raw, than what I enjoy from her Chesky releases. All of this indicates to me that the Contour 60s were easily able to differentiate between Pidgeon’s early and later recordings, and could precisely reveal the subtle sonic differences between them.
Next up was John Mayer’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” from Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony). I was curious to hear the guitar at the start of the track, and how its sound interacted with the crowd’s intermittent cheering. The guitar had a nicely rendered tone through the Dynaudios, underscoring the ability of their Esotar2 tweeters to reproduce Mayer’s meaty, resonant pluckings. The crowd didn’t come across as a wash of sound, but thankfully was more distinct. Smaller background sounds were more finely reproduced. For instance, there are two cheers, one at the 0:10 mark and the second right on its heels at 0:11 -- I could easily hear the second cheer as higher-pitched but at about the same amplitude. The Contour 60s could easily suss out the subtler details in really good live recordings.
Comparing the sound of these speakers with my memories of the sounds of Dynaudios past, I can make a few general remarks that should help you decide whether an audition of the Contour 60s would be worthwhile in the context of your taste in sound. In December 2012 I reviewed the Dynaudio Confidence C2 Signature, which at the time retailed for $15,000/pair. I wrote: “the C2 Sigs couldn’t quite deliver [Bruno Coulais’s] ‘Norbu’ . . . with the power and authority of the largest floorstanders I’ve had in the Music Vault. No surprise there. In my room, the C2 Sigs sounded powerful down to the low-30Hz area. . . .” I can tell you with great, um, confidence, that the Contour 60s did deliver lower and more authoritative bass than the C2s did in my room. It was a hands-down win for the 60s: more bass, better bass, bass superiority period. And despite the fact that the C2 has two tweeters to the 60’s one, the general sound of the highs of the two speakers was more similar than not: revealing but never harsh, and effortless in delivery.
Also in the Music Vault, in 2010, I reviewed the Dynaudio Focus 360 for sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi, when that speaker retailed for $7000/pair. The Contour 60 weighs almost 40 pounds more, and its woofers have tons more surface area. It’s got more internal volume and is built more substantially, easily eclipsing the 360 in the stuff-per-dollar department when considering the seven ensuing years. The 60 played way deeper and louder in the bass, as you might expect, and had a similarly neutral yet even more revealing midrange, an area in which the 360 shone. The Contour 60 just had it all over the Focus 360 in terms of sound and build. No contest there.
I haven’t yet nailed down the issue of value in this review. First I wanted to give you a good description of the sound of the Contour 60 without throwing in all sorts of “for the price” qualifications, which tend to ruin reviews for me. Many times, when you hear that from reviewers, you can translate it to “my equipment is much more expensive than this thing and I want you to realize mine’s better.” Dynaudio has delivered a terrific value in the Contour 60. It’s a better value than any of Dynaudio’s past efforts that I’ve heard, and has raised the bar for what the company must do in the future in model lines priced above the Contour line, to offer better or even equal value.
The Contour 60 is a big speaker that sounds like a big speaker that costs a lot more. It can reproduce deep, powerful bass; it has a clear, essentially neutral midrange; and it has a revealing tweeter that never sounds harsh. Its tonal balance is a bit left-to-right, meaning that its bass is a touch full, and the highs a slight bit tapered down. This is the tonal balance most people strive for in their listening rooms. Know that your great recordings will sound great, your lesser recordings not so bad, and your level of enjoyment will be high, no matter what music you play through these speakers.
In addition to the great sound, in the Contour 60 you’ll also get a speaker that’s built extremely well and has some upscale features, like that thick aluminum baffle, that many speakers costing much more wear proudly. The finish options are diverse and, from what I’ve seen, finely executed. Given Dynaudio’s generous warranty of eight years, and the prominence of the brand’s name for resale value, there’s really no going wrong with the Dynaudio Contour 60. It’s one of the best ways to spend ten grand in the high end that I’ve seen in my many years of reviewing.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- TAD ME-1
- Amplifier -- Coda Model 11
- DAC-preamplifier -- Hegel Music Systems HD30
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running Sierra 10.12.6, Roon, and Tidal streaming service; Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player
- Cables -- Siltech Explorer interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
Dynaudio Contour 60 Loudspeakers
Price: $10,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Eight years parts and labor (with registration).
Phone: +45 8652-3411
Fax: +45 8652-3116
Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
Phone: (847) 730-3280
Fax: (847) 730-3207