A Tale of Two DALIs – DALI Menuets versus Spektor 1s – A Mini-Monitor Shoot Out
‘In the House’ Review by David Neice
DALI Menuet speaker pair – MSRP $2099 (Canadian)
DALI Spektor 1 speaker pair – MSRP $399 (Canadian)
DALI C8D Subwoofer – MSRP $699 (Canadian)
It turns out that the DALI Menuets are a vocal listener’s dream. Extreme precision in the Menuet’s midrange direct the listener to focus on vocals or else concentrate on the solo performance of an instrument. You will literally run through hundreds of CDs and records just to search out those last naunces of your favourite vocalist’s (or instrumentalist’s) delights. If mid-range accuracy is your particular audio nirvana, than belly up to the counter and listen to the DALI Menuets and be prepared to be surprised.
By contrast, the Spektor 1s are easy going all-rounders that inject a huge dollop of fun into the sonic landscape and urge the listener to pay attention to the whole performance. However, the price differential is significant. For the money, the Spektor 1s are the audio bargain of the decade, but they need a subwoofer in order to bloom. Buy a pair, add a sub, and you will experience a shaken martini on a draft beer budget!
The DALI Menuets singing at Chaos Manor
I am no stranger to DALI speakers; I own two pairs. Danish Audio Loudspeaker Industries (DALI) produces an enormous range of loudspeakers that are big sellers in Europe. Thanks to Lenbrook, a Canadian company and the North American distributor, they are also becoming more prominent over here. DALI has manufacturing facilities in China (for their budget lines) as well as in Europe for those speakers occupying their upper ranges with all their exceptional and stylish furniture-grade finishes.
This review will pit the DALI Spektor 1s against the DALI Menuets. Both are smaller than shoe box size mini-monitors designed for widely differing purposes and markets. The Spektor 1s are a budget choice aimed right at the rear surround sound market. The Menuets are up market and mate with higher-end DALI offerings such as those in the Rubicon range.
I first encountered the DALI Spektor 1s while doing a review of a mini-system that Noam had assembled last year. I was knocked out by these little crackers, and eventually bought a pair for a secondary system in my home.
It turns out that after adding a small sub, those tiny Spektor 1s never left my living room system. I then settled in for a long listen. There was something just right about the Spektor 1s that kept pulling me in and I initiated a discussion thread about their virtues. Others weighed in and opinions were formed – it seemed DALI had a winner.
More recently Noam was able to lend me a pair of DALI Menuets which are also tiny boxes but appear in the upper echelons of the DALI range of speakers, and have an enviable reputation as being “like Danish LS3/5a’s”.
So I thought I’d pit these two products against each other to see if we have a champion.
The Menuets – Description
The Menuets are a stand alone two-way design and not part of a specific DALI range – although for home theater mating, they are considered part of the Rubicon line, the second from the top in the DALI lineup. These speakers just ooze craftmanship and are beautifully finished and built in Europe. ‘Old world prestige’ and ‘first class veneer’ are the words they conjure.
The Menuets are a rear-ported design with very high-quality binding posts. It is possible to wall mount them, though I would not recommend that path. They need air around them and when mounted on 30″ stands and placed about two feet out from the wall, they perform superbly and the soundstage is incredible.
The dimensions of these tiny boxes is 250 X 150 X 230 mm. They are 86 db efficient and are rated as 4 ohm speakers. They can handle a range of power amplifiers from 20 to 100 watts. They have a 4.5 inch mid-woofer and a soft dome tweeter.
The Spektor 1s – Description
The Spektor 1s are in the entry level DALI Spektor range, which replaced the Zensor range a couple of years ago. I think they were designed to be ‘rear speakers’ in surround sound systems, but by a lucky accident they can fight for their own pride of place in a 2-channel setup.
As economical as they are, there are sacrifices. There is no real wood veneer here, and vinyl wrap is the order of the day, but still they are quite stylish for what they are.
Again, the Spektors are a rear-ported design with quality five way binding posts, and they can be used with the grilles on or off. The wood fibre 4.5 inch midwoofer is quite striking to see when the grilles are off. The soft dome tweeter is also quite stylish with the grills off and the fit and finish is very good as they benefit from DALI’s exclusive (owned and operated) Chinese manufacturing facility in Ningbo.
These are really tiny two way speakers, just 237 X 140 X 197 mm. They are rated at 83 db efficient and can handle a power range of 40-100 watts. They are nominally rated as 6 ohm speakers.
I have an embarrassing secret to reveal. For some time now I have been reviewing gear for ‘Wall of Sound’ without having a good solid state amplifier here at ‘Chaos Manor’. For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been relying on my Unison Research ‘Simply Italy’ integrated. I love this amp, but it has real limits in producing only about twelve single-ended watts per channel.
I realized that the Menuets were not going to open up if they were only being pushed by the ‘Simply Italy’. So I went on a short hunt for a nice slugger type solid state integrated amplifier, and I found it.
A fellow in London, Ontario had a used Primare A20 Mk II for sale and I went around and picked it up (thanks Michael). The Primare is some kind of overlooked gem in my view, and while there are not many fanzine type reviews out there for it, there are a happy user reports.
The A20 MK II is a dual-rail/dual mono design with two toroidal transformers and it puts out 70 watts into 8 ohms and 110 watts into 6 ohms. It weighs about 25 lbs. It was designed in Denmark and built in Sweden. It has four line level inputs and offers remote control volume, and somewhat delightfully it also has a remote powered balance control. Will wonders never cease?
I thought that this amplifier would really shake the tail of those Menuets, and it did. I found the Primare a tad rough when I first fired it up, but it had been sitting unused for quite a while. When it got warmed up and the capacitors got saturated it turned into a real beast; delicate and powerful and just to my taste.
For purposes of this review I will treat the two speaker systems as if they were in a head to head battle between speakers offered by two rival companies.
The Spektor 1s
What is my impression of the Spektor 1s? Well, what knocks me out about these little boxes is their sheer size. They are smaller than tiny, and yet they still throw a big sound field. Of course there are real limits to their performance, set by the laws of physics. The Spektor 1s cannot plumb any real depths of bass reproduction, but the mid-bass is so vital and compelling that you can actually overlook their absence of deep bass. As I look at them, I just keep shaking my head and thinking ‘it cannot be’ – they cannot be that tiny and at the same time that good.
The Spektor 1s are ‘all-rounders’ – you can throw anything at them and they will try to swing for the fence. They have that darling character that makes you just love them for what they will attempt. There is perhaps a smidgeon less resolution when compared directly to the Menuets but this is hardly noticeable. (Editor’s note: David is using his Spektors in a pretty high-end system…)
Ideally the Spektor 1s are seeking to load a small room and they are not made for big cavernous spaces. But in a small room context, such as in a condo or a smaller home, they are just about ideal.
Recently I have been playing CDs from the back catalogue of Laurie Anderson. ‘Big Science’ and ‘Strange Angels’ come immediately to mind. These are studio produced albums rich in reverb laden vocals in order to enlarge Anderson’s voice. I love the sassy vibe of these classic albums. Laurie was on a mission to do ‘performance art’ and all the nuances of her efforts are revealed nicely by the Spektor 1s. These speakers allow you to witness her total performance through their sonic lens. You are not tracking this or that instrument but rather reveling in the total sound picture. I like that a lot.
However, there is no doubt about it that to achieve full range reproduction, a good subwoofer is required. I think of the Spektor 1s as the new kid on the block that can potentially replace the Realistic Minimus 7s and the NHT SuperZeros. Lots of folks use these two older speaker designs with subwoofers and enjoy them in their modest systems.
I have a secondary system that uses NHT SuperZeros full range. For me their midrange balance is a very good solution for listening to CBC on FM. So if you are a fan of the Minimus or the SuperZero and have been looking around for a newer option, then a pair of Spektor 1s is highly recommended.
But the Spektor 1s will do more. I am going to say something here that is probably going to be treated like heresy. But I will go so far as to say that a pair of Spektor 1s on good 24 inch stands when coupled with a sparkling subwoofer will give you a taste for the sound field that is thrown by a pair of much higher end speakers. And it will do it for a hell of a lot less money.
Indeed, I have some of these higher end speakers lounging around my living room, almost unused since the Spektor 1s arrived. They are that good!
In contrast the Menuets are only a slightly larger cabinet, but have even more mid-bass presence as well as a real taste of deep bass. The Menuets will stand on their own – no subwoofer is required, but the addition of a sub does fill out the bottom octave of their reproduction range.
Once I got the Primare amplifier in place, the Menuets really started to sing. Their great strength is midrange presence and the ability to unpack enormous amounts of inner detail, particularly on dense track mixes.
For instance, recently I was listening to Florence and the Machine and their album ‘Ceremonials’, which was produced at Abbey Road Studios. The mix is incredibly dense and dark and filled with background flourishes in the style of the later Beatles albums. It is a ‘wall of sound’ type album. The speakers used at Abbey Road Studios are likely up to the task of resolving all these dense details, but home audio systems are going to struggle. In this sort of situation the Menuets shine. You can see through the mix to hear all the inner details that the engineer placed there to add flourishes to the sound field.
On an album like Paul Simon’s ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’, all the percussive effects of the South African drummers he used are painted in with extreme precision. The listener becomes immediately immersed in this whole rich sound field, with the snaps, crackles and pops of percussion filling the mind with musical possibilities.
Also quite noticeable is the ability of the Menuets to allow the listener to concentrate on the soloists in various tracks, whether they be vocalists or instrumentalists. I rummaged through dozens of CDs and vinyl albums to glean extra insight into the solo performances of many of my favourite artists, with Van Morrison’s life long catalogue receiving special attention. The Menuets have no trouble conveying the many alterations in Morrison’s voice over the 50 years of his public performances. One can wander through the ‘Van the Man’ decades and delight in the Menuet’s ability to convey the smallest shift in vocal nuance.
I was thinking recently about how the Menuets had grown on me. They sort of creep up on you and before you know it you are hooked. I threw the ultimate test at them – Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Pusherman’ off the album ‘Superfly’. They passed nicely. Polyrhythmic drum flourishes and cross-beats abound, and separation and imaging were excellent. These speakers are winners. Notice the clean front baffle, which utilizes magnets to support the grille covers. Cosmetically and sonically, it’s a bunch of little things…but they add up.
A Word About Subwoofers
For purposes of this review a compact DALI subwoofer (C8D) was utilized, this is a downfiring 8-inch unit. But it’s beyond the reach of this review to comment on it, except to say that it fulfilled the task at hand admirably. The blending or integration of a subwoofer with the monitors is a topic of serious concern, but that topic is also beyond the range of this review. Perhaps I will write something on subwoofer integration at a later date.
If you want a taste of high end sound on a student’s budget, then shop around for a pair of DALI Spektor 1s. I still listen to them nearly every day and I never tire of their astonishing performance, for what amounts to peanut costs.
However, If you want to know what a pair of LS3/5a’s (plus subwoofer) might sound like in your living room and don’t want to drop four to six grand and change to experience that particular audio dream, then pick up a pair of DALI Menuets and add a decent small subwoofer.
Of course, pride of ownership plays a role and if a pair of LS3/5a’s is your particular audio goal than who am I to challenge that? But if you hanker for a taste of that style of sound field and want to get there on a tight budget, then seek out the Menuets and carefully integrate a subwoofer. Voila. I kid you not.
Bottom line? Both speakers are highly recommended. It all depends on your budget.
Disclosure: WoS Editor Noam Bronstein is a DALI dealer.
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