Dynaudio Sapphire Loudspeaker
When I was trying to come up with a sub-title for this review of the Dynaudio Sapphire loudspeakers, I couldn’t help but feel as though all of the really clever descriptors had been used. “A Diamond In The Rough” or “A Real Gem!” or “You Can’t Get This Kind Of Rock At Wal-Mart!” all sounded trite and clichéd. Okay, so maybe that last one needed a bit more work, but you know what I’m trying to say. Anyway, after concluding the last, of a long line of truly unforgettable listening sessions, I began writing this review and literally spent an entire afternoon trying to sum up how I felt about the time I spent with these Danish beauties. So after lots of internal debate, the best word I could come up with was… “precious,” simply precious.
Look, the Dynaudio Sapphires have been around for few years now so I’m not going to act as though I’m breaking any new ground in this review. To be honest, when I first talked to Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis about reviewing a pair of speakers, I was pleasantly surprised when he suggested the Sapphires. I would have been perfectly happy to spend some time with any of the company’s excellent but less expensive offerings. But hey, if Christmas comes early you don’t question Santa Claus; you just accept the gift and enjoy it. This review instead will focus largely on the experience of listening to music through a loudspeaker that is so polished (pardon the pun) in its presentation that it cost me more than a few sleepless nights and deep dives into my CD stash, not to mention all the dough I plunked down on new music.
The Precious Look
For a company whose products have historically been described as just “boxes” or “towers,” the Sapphires have an aesthetic that would make it look right at home in the Art Institute of Chicago. (Frankly, it didn’t look too shabby in my family room either.) For those of you who may not be familiar with the Sapphire (where the heck have you been?), looking at it from the front, it looks like a giant exclamation point that broadens at the top. I’ve read a lot of other people’s attempts to describe the looks of the Sapphires and they always do them a disservice, so I won’t bother trying to describe them any further here. There are plenty of pictures of them on the web including here, but do yourself a favor and go and see it in person. In the flesh, It’s a gorgeous speaker to behold.
The Sapphire is a three-way, reflex loaded, floor-standing design that features Dynaudio’s legendary Esotar 1.1” soft dome tweeter, a 5.25″ Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) cone midrange driver, and two 8″ MSP-cone woofers. On the rear is fairly large port (3.5” dia.) and a single set of high-quality binding posts, covered in plastic housings that may make for a difficult connection depending on your cables. Foam plugs for the ports are provided for those who may find the bass to be a bit excessive. This wasn’t a problem for me, so I never felt a needed to use them. The speakers can sit on either heavy-duty spikes for carpeted floors or some sturdy rubber feet for hard surfaces. I used the spikes. The construction quality and finish of the Sapphires is worthy of fine Danish furniture. The pair I had came in a breathtaking, high-gloss “mocca” finish.
Set up was fairly straight forward. I pulled the speakers out about 36” from the rear wall, and spread them out about 12’ (center to center). My family room is fairly wide so there was plenty of room on the sides. The only thing that I played around with to get them really dialed in was about 5 to 10 degrees of toe-in. A little more toe-in tightened the focus of center staged performers, and a little less tamed a bit of brightness that came with some recordings (pretty much anything by Phil Collins and Michael Jackson).
The Precious System
The arrival of the Danish-made Sapphires coincided with the arrival of the German-made Behold Gentle integrated amp (review forthcoming) and Japanese-made Esoteric SA-50 SACD player. Everything was connected with the Swedish-made Entreq Konstantin cables.
With such an eclectic mix of design influences I thought it would only be fitting to start my listening off with Swiss-made harpist Andreas Vollenweider’s Vox [Kinko Music KIN 17562]. I found out immediately just how special a transducer the Sapphire was on the very first track titled, “Hey You, Yes… You!” Oddly enough this track opens with Vollenweider’s voice coming out of a quiet backdrop and saying, you guessed it, “Hey you, yes… you. Come here!” What follows is 47 minutes of some truly awesome European influenced New-Age jazz. If you’re not familiar with this artist (again, where’ve you been?) his music is loaded with layers of percussive effects, mellifluous vocals, and of course his brilliantly soulful harp. The fourth track on this disc, “Seven Doors” is a perfect example. It starts out like a samba tune with Latin vocals and congas, but then the rhythm section comes in driven by the harp. The Sapphire renders all of this flawlessly. I wanted for nothing more. The bass wasn’t quite as deep as I’m accustomed to from my reference Escalante Design Fremonts but it was still very deep and more musically natural sounding. But the real fun came from track six, “Enchanted Rocks” which begins with someone making a percussive instrument out of a bowl and some… that’s right, rocks (enchanted ones, I’ll assume). I can’t think of a better song, or disc for that matter, to allow a loudspeaker to demonstrate its dynamic range, and ability to reproduce subtle details. The Dynaudio Sapphire takes full advantage of all the cool stuff on this disc and I enjoyed it immensely.
Ah, but man cannot live musically on hard driving, European New Age harp music alone. I gotta have me a little female vocal too. In this case, we’re talking the elegant Erin Bode’s The Little Garden[Native Language XLM-0972-2. The second track on this disc, “Chasing After You”, epitomizes Sunday morning cool. A smooth, mid-tempo beat, accented with lite bongos, keys and of course Bode’s carmel coated voice. Again, everything just sounded good through the Sapphires. Good and right. Nothing was over emphasized or hard. The bongos sounded like skins and weren’t overblown to sound like they were occupying more space within the soundstage than they were supposed to. And speaking of soundstage, the ability to place voices and instruments in proper spaces, with realistic sounding height and depth is a real strength of the Sapphires.
Listening to the duet of guitarist, Antonio Forcione and vocalist, Sabina Sciubba on Meet Me In London [Naim cd021] gave testament to that. They’re cover of Dave Brubeck’s classic, “Take Five”, as portrayed via the Sapphires was simply jaw-dropping. Each performer took on a holographic quality and was brought to life in my listening room. The experience was musically true and a blast to listen to. This is why I love high-end audio.
Most of my listening sessions were with the Sapphires being driven by the 40 wpc Behold Gentle Integrated amp. Forty watts may not sound like much but it was more than enough to get good strain-free listening levels out of these 88dB efficient speakers. Whether I was listening at low, late volumes or cranking up a little George Clinton on the weekend, you get a sense that the Sapphires will be a synergistic match with a wide variety of amplification. This is a speaker that can anchor any hi-fi system the long haul.
The introduction of the Sapphires in 2007 commemorated Dynaudio’s 30th Anniversary. Only 1000 pairs were made so you’re not likely to find a lot of these gems available on Audiogon. I’m sure that those who are fortunate enough to own a pair will be keeping them. This combination of excellent sonics, thoughtful design, build quality and drop-dead gorgeous looks, is rare in a sub $20k loudspeaker.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews about the experience of being in what Clement Perry calls “Audio Hell,” where you become emotionally attached to a component that you can’t possibly afford to own. That’s exactly what has happened with the Dynaudio Sapphires. I have sensed that the time to part with them is drawing near and it makes me sad. I told my girlfriend the other night that I had somehow managed to misplace Mike Manousselis’ phone number and e-mail address and wouldn’t be able contact him right away to have the speakers picked up. She replies, “Why can’t you just go to their website and get their contact info?” I hate her.
But what I didn’t hate was the time I spent, not only listening to my music collection through the Sapphires but also evaluating other components with them. These speakers do not impose any type of sonic anomaly upon the music and allows you to hear how independent components impact the overall sound of the system. Again, there was no part of their performance that left me wanting. Well, it did leave me wanting one thing… Sigh, Audio Hell can be a cruel place. The Dynaudio Sapphires are highly and heartily recommended.
Three-way, reflex-loaded, floorstanding loudspeaker
Drive-units: 1.1″ (28mm) soft-dome tweeter, 5.25″ (130mm) Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) cone midrange unit, two 8″ (200mm) MSP-cone woofers
Crossover frequencies: 450Hz, 2.2kHz
Frequency response: 30Hz–25kHz, ±3dB
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended amplification: up to 300W.
Dimensions: 53.1″ (1350mm) H by 13″ (330mm) W by 12.8″ (325mm) D
Weight: 88 lbs (40kg) each
Finishes: Ivory, Amber, Bordeaux, Mocca high-gloss wood veneers; matte black.
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